A Question for Serious Modlers

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by glenn railey, Jun 3, 2006.

  1. glenn railey

    glenn railey Member

    I recently have moved from O Scale to N Scale last year.
    As from a previous post I have been looking at Model Power and Precision Craft engines. I don't own either at the present time.

    The question I have is, What are the best engines to purchase?
    I would like information from folks who have experience using these.
    My interest is durability, consistent running, smooth running, and versatility.

    I would appreciate any feedback that you can provide.

    I am also wanting to go to a DCC layout.

    This was kindof dealt with in some other posts but not in a definitive manner.

  2. Will_annand

    Will_annand Active Member

    For deisels, Atlas, Kato and Intermountain.
    For Steam the Bachmann Spectrum 2-8-0 is the best runner I have seen (steam or deisel). Also Model Power or Atlas are very good. If you can find Minitrix Steam they are excellent.
  3. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member

    I second Will's assessment. You can't go wrong with the Atlas and Kato diesels today. And the B'mann 2-8-0 is a charm. You will absolutely love it. Quiet, to a fault. I always have to look for mine around the layout - but that is the same for the Kato and Atlas Diesels also. I have DCC in 8 diesels and 1 of my 4 2-8-0's. I need to find someone to install decoders/sound in the others.
  4. 3railguy

    3railguy Member

    Kato makes in most cases the smoothest, most reliable diesels with superior electrical pick up. They seem to run for ever with the least maintenance compared to others. The couplers are mediocre and break easily under heavy load or when lashing diesels. I've replaced them with Micro Trains couplers. Otherwise you can depend on Kato like an old Lionel engine. Many are easy to convert to DCC.

    The Kato Mikado is like Kato diesels. Smooth running, reliable and excellent electrical pick-up. They are difficult to convert to DCC.

    I own a Spectrum 2-8-0 too and like others say, she is an excellent engine. It is better detailed than the Kato mike and lower geared. They are easy to convert to DCC. There are quality control issues with Spectrum steam and you should test run before you buy. Forget Spectrum diesels unless you get them cheap. They are too troublesome.

    Intermountain F7's are incredibly smooth and better detailed than Kato F units. Kato has some catching up to do. I have a pair of Intermountain tunnel motors which I had to do some tweaking to get optimum performance. They use an Atlas SD-50 drive.

    Most of my diesels are Atlas. Atlas has the best selection and they make good diesels. They are well detailed and smooth running. If they are labled "DCC ready", converting to DCC is a simple mater of swapping boards or you can buy DCC versions. Some are noiser than others. A couple required some tweaking. Atlas diesels are geared lower than Kato and the two are difficult to lash up. Be cautious of older runs. They aren't as well detailed and smooth running as the newer re-tooled Chineese imports.

    I do not own any Model Power engines. They get mixed reports and fall somewhere between the good stuff and trainset stuff. Their new Pacific is supposed to be good but many have reported they are noisy while others like them a lot.

    Life Like (now owned by Walthers) GP-20s, SW switchers, and GP-18's are well detailed and excellent runners. They used to come with rapidos and you can still find them for less than $30.00. They require major surgery to convert to DCC in most cases. Otherwise they are an excellent value at that price and are easy to swap to Micro Trains couplers. I will not pay Walthers prices for them. They aren't worth it in my opinion.

    If you want to give N scale a try, a Kato F unit starter set with Unitrack is a good introduction to N scale. It doesn't include a power pack but you can buy a good one for around $40.00

    LifeLike SW switcher and GP-20 sets can be had for under $75. They come with good engines, cheapy cars, and cheapy power pack but for circle running they do the job well.
  5. MCL_RDG

    MCL_RDG Member

    If you're gonna go DCC...

    ...buy DCC ready or "compatible"! (Is it just me or did I spell that wrong- doesn't look right. Where's the "Scratchin' head-lookin' 'miffed' annimated icon. Might as well have "another" thing to take uP bandwidth)

  6. 3railguy

    3railguy Member

    The difference between "DCC ready" and "DCC compatible" is DCC ready engines have a provision for a DCC board with electrical contacts where you just pop it in. In the case of newer Atlas engines, they usually come with an electronic board that controls the headlights and this board is replaced with a DCC board of the same size. DCC compatible engines often require more work such as soldering and filing.

    DCC boards only get better and cheaper so it doesn't hurt to buy DCC ready engines now if you plan to use DCC in the future.
  7. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    As one who regularly changes over the older equipment to DCC, I can atest to this. Many of your older N scale locos simply cannot be switched over. Of those that can, the work and money involved can be enough to make it not worthwhile. Stick to DCC compatible and DCC ready locos. Get the others only if you're like me and enjoy N scale's early "tinplate" heritage.
  8. jsoflo

    jsoflo Member

    I mostly second what everyone else is saying but add this:

    In my humble opinion Kato and Atlas diesels run best. Having said that for running and converting to DCC I think that Kato is well above an Atlas, here's why: Kato's are far easier to convert to DCC due to the set-up, I saw some at the n scale net refer correctly that when doing a DCC switch on Atlas, when you have to pull the frame apart there are many small parts that can easily end up everywhere, this has never been a problem with the Kato. Further, I think that the contacts with the trucks are better on the Kato's and are far less susceptable to finding problem areas in the track.

    The Kato's run forever without cleaning compared to the Atlas, which are very good at picking up dirt and stopping. I spend a lot of time cleaning track and Atlas wheels. The Kato's are great pullers and are very consistent.

    This is not to say Atlas is not good, its really a testimony to how great the Kato diesels are.

    I've never used a Bachman or model power. As for life-like, I have had 3 LL's, one was the greatest thing since sliced bread, pulled hard under all conditions, couldn't be stopped by bad track, dirt or electrical issues and had to be retired when I converted to DCC due to the difficulty in alterations needed. The other two LL diesels needed incessant "hand from the sky" nudges to complete a loop. 1 for 3 in my book (not too good-- BUT I hear the newer P2K LL are excellent and easily converted to DCC.
    Thats all I know, enjoy!
  9. 3railguy

    3railguy Member


    I agree that Kato engines are generally easier to convert to DCC than Atlas but it's really a mixed bag and depends on the engine I think. There are no retro-fit boards yet for the new SD-40-2's and modifications need to be made. The Kato mikado is like a chineese jigsaw puzzel getting the board in there and has given even the most advanced modelers fits.

    If you are carful when pulling apart frame halves of an Atlas engine by laying it on it's side, prying up slowly and watching closely, you can avoid parts flying off. Otherwise there is no hacking or soldering.
  10. Pete

    Pete Member

    Here's a link to a webpage where someone has rated most of the N scale locomotives that are (or have been) offered through the years from various manufacturers. He includes his personal observations/experiences, as well as available magazine reviews for each type.

  11. jsoflo

    jsoflo Member

    Yeah, I have zero experience with Kato steam. As for the new Sd40-2 mid productions, good news, the decoder is apparently coming, have a look at the digitrax web site, there is a decoder but it is apparently not shipping yet, can't wait for it to get here!

    As for converting Atlas, I have been successful in avoiding trouble most of the time, and I must admit that I start with the handicap of big hands and a slight constant genetic "shake"
    good points 3railguy,
    take care!
  12. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    I'll give a vote for Kato. Love 'em. I've got two Atlas engines that came DCC equipped and they run at about half the speed of everyone elses engines at the club. We've all messed with 'em and can't seem to figure it out.
  13. johnny b

    johnny b Member

    The Atlas deisels are nice runners but I do have some trouble with the dirty track and wheels. I have to clean the track and wheels quite often. I also have an Inter Mountian F& and I love it. Very smooth and quiet and seems to run without any problems on dirty track or wheels.
  14. piston_8

    piston_8 New Member

    I have one older atlas SD35 and a newer atlas gp38. The newer GP-38 is 25% to 35% slower because of the upgrade Atlas did for a more proto type top speed. It is in the gearing and motor speed. I also have MicroAce steam and Kato steam. MicroAce bought the older Kato steam as I understand, they are great runners no problems in 15 years.
  15. glenn railey

    glenn railey Member

    Thanks for the feedback! Definetly food for thought!!

  16. santafefan

    santafefan New Member

    I am very pleased to see that some modelers have had success with the Bachmann Spectrum 2-8-0, the one I purchased did the Hippy Hippy Shake as it made its way round the track

    Still wanting to give Spectrum a go I decided to get their F7A/B, what a wreck that turned out to be, it sounded more like a coffee grinder, noisiest darn loco I ever owned, no need for DCC with this baby, just earmuffs.

    For me Kato, Atlas and Lifelike, very Smmooooth and quiet.

  17. 3railguy

    3railguy Member

    I have a Bachman Plus F7 set and it is like you say. A noisy amperage hog but no stalling or jerking. It draws enough amperage to burn crud off the track so I give them a few laps when I begin an operating session..LOL..... After several minutes of running, the aroma of hot grease brings back fond memories of the Tyco I had as a kid. I paid $35 for an AB set and considering a good set of F units such as Intermountain or Kato is around $120-140, I have no complaints.

    Your 2-8-0's jerky operation may have to do with dirty wheel electrical contacts. Mine started acting up so I coated them with Atlas conducta cleaner and it helped a lot.
  18. jsoflo

    jsoflo Member

    have to add (agree) my factory DCC equipped Atlas diesels are also mighty picky about when THEY wanna go and when THEY don't, and even with proto speed they too are mysteriously slow. hmm, thought it was just me.

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