I'm fairly new at this game, but after buying several locomotives I
have come to the conclusion that my Atlas engines seems to be the
smoothest running, most reliable and more detailed. My Bachman is
mostly junk and I'm always fighting DCC issues with my Athern.
At this point I'm leaning toward the Atlas brand and was wondering if
there are some models of Atlas I should stay away from. Do they have a
premium line and a cheap line?
I buy engines mostly because they catch my eye. I'm not a hard core
modeler like some, I just try to have fun with them.
I would be interested to see the opinions of other people on this
I rate Atlas as 8-9 on a scale of 10. Other brands rated below (based on
my experience, and that of people I know). Ratings are based mostly on
mechanisms. The better quality brands are all pretty much on the same
level inn terms of accuracy and detail.
Lifelike 2000: 8-9
Lifelike 1000: 7-9
Bachmann Spectrum: 7-8
Bachmann non-Spectrum: 5-7
Athearn Genesis: 8-9
IHC steam: 5-8 (recent releases are better)
IHC diesel: 5-6
Walthers (diesels): 6-7
Model Power: 3-6
MDC/Roundhouse steam (kits)(old): 6 on the bodies; mechanisms if
fine-tuned and well run in 8, 4 or less otherwise.
Athearn (old, US made): 6 on the bodies, 8-9 on the mechanisms (power
hogs but last forever).
NB that some recent Atlas were made by Kato, but current Atlas is made
in China. Old Atlas was made by Roco of Austria, I rate these at 7-8.
IMO Kato makes the best, most durable mechanisms. The other high ranking
brands above have less durable mechanisms, which is why they a point or
two lower. Some Athearn steam has design glitches (eg, their 2-8-2's
pilot truck tends to derail.)
No experience with IHC, Model Power or MDC/Roundhouse motive power.
My experience and that related by members of my club pretty much agree
on Wolf's ratings concerning mechanisms.
If you consider factory equipped sound, MRC seems to be universally disliked.
BLI, P2K seem to be loved by their owners. Atlas is ok.
Has Kato produced a sound unit??
Excuse me, I'll be right back. I have to log onto a server in Romania
and verify all of my EBay, PayPal, bank and Social Security information
before they suspend my accounts.
Working the rockie road of the G&PX
On that last point, keep in mind that DCC decoders can be replaced
pretty easily. From what I've heard here, Athearn uses fairly crappy
ones (MRC). So if you like the loco's looks but not the way it runs, you
can fix it with a little work.
Any system of knowledge that is capable of listing films in order
of use of the word "fuck" is incapable of writing a good summary
You didn't mention if money was a real factor. Also, steam vs. diesel is an
important consideration as well. Some good steam engines get passed up
simply because modelers aren't interested in them.
Atlas is about as good as it gets in my book, but I've not done any DCC work
on any engines. My experience with Athearn is that it runs pretty well too,
especially some of the newer stuff... some of their old rubber band drive
engines were a lttle "challenging."
I've not tried any Broadway Limited diesels, but the steam engines I have &
have seen are pretty good as well. The do tend to be pricey though.
One final thing... keep your intended use in mind. If it's for you, that's
one thing, but if it's for a younger modeler, durability and lack of
intricate detail may actually be an advantage. Some of those super
detailing parts just aren't designed for smaller, eager hands.
Just my thoughts.
I understand the kid thing. I left my grandson alone one time while I
watched the super bowl. When I came back my athern had no detail. My
trees were transplanted and I had a new road going to my lake. That
taught me a lesson for sure. Good thing my grandson is worth it.
I buy and model strictly for my grandson - so I mostly set aside any
personal preferences for his choices. It seems that lucky for me he
generally preferrs the Bachmann stuff - so that is mostly what we
have. I thinl the box it comes in has something to do with it and
also contributing is the colors of the cars/locos. That is why long
ago I gave up having any sort of authentic layout - what with NYC,
PRR mixed wwith Santa Fe and others. From a modelers view it's
pretty funny, but he makes his choices as a 3 year old with his own
reasons - and Pops (as I am called) couldn't be more proud.
The Bachman Spectrum engines are supposed to be pretty good, based on
comments I have seen in this group. I have Bachman 4-8-4 Southern Pacific
War Baby that runs like a charm.
But I only have two HO engines, the other being a Bachman 0-6-0 Smokey
Mountain Express which runs in fits and starts until I give it a nudge.
No problem. I've decided to focus on O gauge since I like the big, hefty
I'm the same way with my O gauge trains. I read the specs and all, but I
tend to be drawn first by the appearance. All of my engines are C&O or
Chessie System. The only exceptions are the Polar Express (which I keep
stored for Christmas) and a couple of RMT BEEP engines that were cute
(Atomic Energy Commission, and U.S. Air Force.)
I would like a Blue Comet set at some point though. But I haven't decided
whether to go with MTH's pricey set, Williams cheaper O-27 set, or wait for
Lionel to come out with another Blue Comet set (that would no doubt be very
With cars I also go with an eclectic selection. I like tank cars
especially. But I also have quite a few aquarium cars, and a selection of
Area 51 Alien theme, NASA, Atomic Energy Commission, etc.
Exact Scale? I don't pay much attention to it. I also don't pay any
attention to eras. The little people who live on my layout are train lovers
so they buy decommissioned trains, restore them to new condition, and put
them into service. So I can run old steamers, and new diesels together with
Of course very few of those people know about the Area 51/NASA stuff. Not
unless they have security clearance.
In the 1980s and early 1990s (before DCC came pre-installed in stuff) my
preference was definitely for Athearn. At that time they did not make
steam locomotives, leaving Model Die Casting, Bowser, and Mantua to go
after the steam market. Athearn's Hustler switcher and RDCs had a rubber
band drive which was a problem because the rubber would age and fail.
Northwest Short Line made re-gear kits that would replace the rubber band
Steam locomotive kits depend so much on the skill of the person putting
them together (MDC, Mantua, Bowser as examples) that it is very difficult
to say much about them.
In recent years, there have been a lot of buy-outs in the model railroad
industry. Athearn and Model Die Casting/Roundhouse have been purchased by
a company that contracted out manufacturing to China. Bachmann and
LifeLike have been made in China for over two decades now, but LikeLike
has been purchased by a different company. Bachmann now owns several
European lines as well as the models for the older North American market.
With all this consolidation and moving of production to contract
factories, manufacturing seeems to have become rather inconsistant.
The only one out there that seem to have control over their own factory
any more is Kato.
Keep in mind that one source of trouble can be the control system. Trying
to run a $75 locomotive with a $4 Tyco train set power pack from the 1970s
will most likely not produce desired results. A good quality locomotive
will always run like crap if it is being supplied with crap power. A good
power supply, on the other hand, can do wonders for even a poor
locomotive. For example, Model Rectifier Corp's Tech II series of the
late 1980s put out pulsed DC so that it could start and run at low speed
the poor quality motors found in some models. I could throttle my Athearn
switcher down to an inch every 5 minutes with one of those things, so
realistic low speeds were not a problem even with the low-tech motors
Athearn was using at the time.
So, take criticism over certain model locomotives with a grain of salt
sometimes. If a model locomotive doesn't run quite right, there could be
any number of problems.
The despammed service works OK, but unfortunately
I rate locomotives on looks and running. Under looks we want nice
paint, sharp lettering, nice fine detail, glased windows, headlamps that
light, good plastic molding, and road name. And durability, stays
looking nice and parts don't fall off when handled.
Under running we want smooth slow speed crawl, quiet operation, lots
of tractive effort and good "rail holding" (stays on track and does not
derail). And reliability, takes a licking and keeps on ticking.
Most features you can evaluate for your self looking at the
locomotive in the hobby shop and running it on the shop's test track.
Durability and reliability are pretty good with every maker, and every
maker is very good about repairing or replacing defective units. In
short, you can buy pretty much anything that looks good to you and take
it home and be happy with it.
In my estimation, Kato and Atlas make the nicest models, followed by
Proto2000, Bachmann, Athearn , Bowser and IHC. I'll buy any of them and
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