Levels of detail

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Chessie1973, Jun 28, 2004.

  1. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    I got extremely lucky today and purchased my very first Atlas locomotive.

    It is an Atlas Master series SD-35 in CSX Blue and Grey paint without a road number. It was the locomotive that ran on my LHS's layout for the past year or so and she still pulls like a champ. (besides I only paid 40 dollars for it :thumb: )

    I have an IHC SD-35 in the Stealth all grey with blue lettering scheme as well.

    I decided to compare the two today. All I have to say is the IHC is not exactly a bad model, not by any means, but the Atlas just puts it to shame in details. Side by side from a distance you cant tell much of a difference.

    But when you look more closely at them the details on the atlas just leap out at you. all the tiny extra detail parts really do make a huge difference in things I have learned.

    The reason why I am writing this however is for those folks who are either discouraged at the complexity of the hobby or are getting sticker shock from the prices of some of the high end Loco's and rolling stock out there.

    My Atlas Loco lists for I believe 159.95 as the standard version and the version I got I am unsure of due to the DCC decoder being factory installled but I am sure it is probably close to 200 dollars or so.

    My IHC sells for apprximately 60 dollars plus another 30 for the Digitrax decoder I installed.

    (BTW the IHC uses the exact same Digitrax decoder that the Atlas would if it didnt have the Atlas factory decoder installed )

    Here is my point

    For probably about 20 dollars worth of detail parts my IHC can be brought up to the exact same level of detail as my Atlas.

    The running mechanisms are comparable as well. the IHC is slightly more throaty in motor sound however.

    So don't get discouraged by the costs of things. As Shaygetz and I were discussing in his Flea market thread, you can make some fantastic looking rolling stock for next to nothing but a little time and effort just by fixing up these "toy" train cars that most "serious" model railroaders out there. (you know the type, the ones who look at you like a little kid if you so much as mention anything but P2K, Atlas or Bachmann Spectrum)

    The whole point of this hobby is that it is YOUR model railroad. You don't have to please anyone but yourself. If you want to paint a locomotive up like the partridge family bus then go right ahead. No one will think less of you.

    We are all here to enjoy a very relaxing and enjoyable hobby. I do it presonally so I can spend time with my mother ( I am 30 she is 29 and holding ;) ) And we both love watching our trains run around out little 4x8 loop of track with next to no scenery. Sure it may look like the same setup I had back in 1976 when I was 3, but we still both love to work on it.

    So Have fun and get those creative juices flowing and find ways to make you less than perfect equipment put those show offs who just bought there nice perf4ectly detailed models to shame. Especially when you tell them that piece of rolling stock was something they would have thrown in the trash can.
  2. pdt

    pdt Member

    The Atlas B40-8s I bought a few years ago inspired me to get the rest of my locomotives up to the same level of detail. I can't afford to purchase a new (heck, even a used) locomotive more than twice a year, so I have to make the most of what I've got.

    It's true that once you place an out-of-the-box Athearn up against one of the latest Atlas Master locomotives there's a huge difference. Add the appropriate details, and there's very little difference from more than a foot away. Here's an example:


    The blue locomotive is a factory-painted Athearn model, the green locomotive is an Atlas Master locomotive. I paid about the same amount of money for each, once you factor in the huge discount I lucked into on the BN locomotive and the detail parts I added/fabricated for the Athearn model. The best part is, I can hardly tell them apart, in terms of appearance. It took some serious work to get the Athearn model to run in the same league as the Atlas model, but hey, that's part of the fun.

    Anyway, I completely agree with the spirit of your post. Getting there is half the fun!
  3. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    That is a perfect example of what I was talking about.

    When I get off work ( I work third shift as a security guard) I will try to remember to take a similar pic of my two SD-35's for a comparison of the detail levels of non modified units.

    Honestly I actually prefer the Athearn type shells over the Atlas two piece design. You have to be extremely careful with them or they will fly apart on you when you handle them. I installed a decoder in a Atlas CSX "Pumkin" U-Boat for my LHS owner last week and I offered to buy him a new shell because two of those annoying little snap clips that hold the top of the shell had cracked and broken on me after only two times fitting the shell as carefully as I could.

    You models look great BTW. I honestly could not have told you which one was the Atlas unless you pointed it out. Great detailing on that Athearn.

    Admittedly there are some limits to detailing, like for those of us like me who couldnt paint our way out of a watercoloring book. For that I am willing to perhaps spend a little more for a better paint job. But honestly I have learned that many railroads had simpler paint schemes, like the CSX "Stealth" paint scheme. All Grey from the walkway up and blue from the walkway down, with blue lettering. Or Clinchfield's Black with yellow lettering.

    It really all depends on the amount of effort and time you are willing to put into a model to make it look nice. Heck, I am still happy with my old Athearns even though they are slowly getting replaced as I can afford to buy better units.

    EDIT: One thing I forgot to mention is that the Athearn RTR rolling stock has some pretty good detail on it as well. I have an Athearn High Rise Boxcar I bought in RTR that has individual ladders, Brake Wheels, and steps that are all inscale plastic moldings that looks great. Not bad for roughly half the price of a comparable Atlas model in RTR.
  4. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    Here's some pics of my two SD-35's I have

    First the Atlas

    Attached Files:

  5. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    Next the IHC

    Attached Files:

  6. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    And finally a side by side comparison.

    In this photo the differences reqally stand out. It appears that the IHC is out of scale compard to the Atlas. The entire locomotive sits too high and also appear "beefier" than the Atls does.

    Also notice the bell on the Atlas. The IHC has one but it is a nearly unrecognizable lump just to the front of the fuel tank.

    Also notcis the handrail differences between the two (forgive the broken Handrail on the walkway to the front from the cab. Never have found that little bit that broke off.)

    The Atlas handrails are much thinner and look more to scale than the IHC ones do.

    Keep in mind, when running, the IHC looks great, but it just wouldn't look right in an MU setup due to the differences. But seperately they look just fine.

    Attached Files:

  7. NYC-BKO

    NYC-BKO Member

    Chessie, you are right, the level of detail isn't bad on these type of models, it only takes a little effort and some after market details to make a nice model. This is part of the hobby, yes it is nice to get one that comes out of the box RTR and fully detailed but I like to see what I can do with the low level ones to make'em presentable, and as you said most do run pretty good, some just need a better motor and they run excellent. I try to keep them seperated too, ie: I don't run my Athearn GP-7 with the P2K Geeps so the wide hood isn't noticeable, I run it with F's, I also used a slightly larger nose herald on it so the hood doesn't look as wide.
    It will be interesting to see what you do with the IHC unit, keep us posted. Maybe a set of Atlas handrails if available would make a world of difference? LOL
  8. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    It's funny you mention that. I have already confirmed that I can order the handrail set from Atlas very cheaply. I was actually thinking of ordering all the detail parts for the SD-35 from Atlas and seeing what I could do to my IHC.

    I also need to replace the cab roof on it since the roof melted due to the lightbulb being mounted so close to the shell. Right now it looks like someone shot a hole through the sheet metal with a shotgun in the cab. :eek:

    I may order a few of the Atlas detail parts and see what I can do with them. Perhaps kitbash the IHC a bit to get it a little closer to scale.

    If all else fails I will just order a new shell from Atlas and see if I can make it work on the IHC since IHC has yet to return my emails or calls about a new shell.
  9. Ray Marinaccio

    Ray Marinaccio Active Member

    That's a good deal for the atlas loco Chessie.
    I've had a lot of fun upgrading IHC and similar locos like the AHM, and Model Power dual drive locos.
    Here's an SD40.

    Attached Files:

  10. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    Yeah I couldn't resist a deal like that on an Atlas Master loco.

    I looked it up on the Atlas list and apparently this one was the first of thier last three production releases of the SD-35 they did back around 2000-2001.

    I am going to see if I can perhaps talk the owner of the LHS down on an open box Roco DCC setup he has that comes with another CSX loco that is decoder equipped. He once offered me the DCC system for 70 dollars without the rolling stock but he might sell it cheaper this weekend since he is moving out of the location due to selling the shop to a new owner. He hs been selling stuff at 50% off for the past two weeks and I have snagged some really good deals on some nice licos like the IHC 4-8-2 Mountain in B&O I bought my mother for 40 dollars.

    But back on topic, the IHC r4eally does run well and other than looking pretty out of scale in comparison to my "new" Atlas it is a great Loco. I am considering trying a repaint and redecaling of it into the CSX Pumkin paint for MOW duty with my new Walthers MOW Train #1
  11. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    First I want to thank you guys for saying want I be saying for years..One does not need the high dollar locomotives to enjoy the hobby.. :thumb:
    One can take a locomotive such as a Athearn,IHC,Spectrums,and some of the others and add detail parts and have a mighty fine looking and running locomotives..Guys,All that Athearn drive needs is a little tweaking here and there a very light oiling 'round and that drive will run as smooth as any.Now,you can go the next step and hard wire the motor pickups and if you remove that headlight you will see that unit will run smoother and take less current.. :thumb:

    Now,some time in the coming few days I plan on sharing the way I get my stock Athearns to creep from tie to tie.Its not hard to do and there is no added costs involved as you should have everything you'll need on hand.
  12. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    Your welcome Brakie.

    What actually spurred me into writing this topic was some recent threads on some other forums which shall emain nameless (after all, nothing beats the gauge , right?).

    The general discussion of those threads was what the best loco manufacturer was and and many people were putting down Athearn and IHC and the like as being "trash" and not worth buying because the details were terrible and they ran like crap.

    But from my experience, the Athearn units are more reliable and far less fragile than Atlas and the like. I have spent 100 dollars on one of my loco's, it is a Stewart A/B set that runs like a dream. It even outperforms my Atlas at slow speeds. And that is with a cheap MRC AD370 sound decoder in it.

    People sometimes get too wrapped up in brand names and forget that the whole point or Model Railroading is the Modeling . Sure some people don't really have the time or the skills to make a less than perfect loco or piece of rolling stock into a real gem of a model and will spend the money for the superdetailed right out of the box RTR items.

    But some of us actually do like to model things, and we enjoy taking the time to put those tiny details onto a locomotive or rolling stock.

    It's all a personal preference thing.
  13. RioGrande

    RioGrande Member


    My approach to buying HO engines is to buy whatever is appropriate for my RR - the Rio Grande. I do avoid certain brands, but mainly because there are issues with them and they are "cheap" and more toy like. There is room for everyone to buy and enjoy what they like for sure. But I own a number of Athearn loco's and realize that unless something better comes along, they will have to be tuned and detailed. In my case, I have Athearn SD40T-2's and GP40-2's. Frankly, I don't know what these people who are calling Athearn "trash" are doing if they need tunnel motors or GP40-2's for their railroad. Athearn is the only game in town for certain loco's.

    I do the same for freight cars... Athearn is the only game in town for a number of freight cars - and they are nice looking cars and work well with some tuning and KD conversions. Same with MDC and Accurail. I will say that I am selective in what I buy, because I have limited funds, and I know that many of the rolling stock which is offered is "bogus" - IOW, the RR a car is painted for never owned that particular box car or what have you. But with some research and careful buying you can get alot of stuff from Athearn, Walthers, Accurail, MDC and so on, which is a pretty good match for real freight cars.

    As for "modeling" - let's not be so extreme as to say that if you avoid detailing or even kitbashing a loco, or build from kits, that you're not a "true" model RRer. There are is a whole continuum in the hobby from those who "model" rolling stock, to those who don't, and buy RTR stuff and instead, "model" a railroad. IMHO, there is room for all kinds in the hobby and modeling a RR is a BIG job which requires modeling skills any way you look at it.

    So I still believe a person can buy allot, perhaps mostly RTR stuff and "model" a RR. As we know, there are back drops, scenery, buildings and industry, electronics, wood working, track planning and laying etc etc. So I don't look down my nose at people who buy lost of nicely detailed RTR stuff (I do it too) and avoid kits. However, I also buy and build kits because hey - if you want to build a "well rounded" roster, representing a wide variety of equipment ran during a certain era, you have to buy everything - including RTR, kits, Athearn, KATO, Atlas and so on.

    I have to say that I enjoy the results of detailing models, but as my close up vision gets less close (I"m 45), it is less of a pleasure than it used to be 15 or 20 years ago and I'm appreciating my nicely detailed RTR loco's more and more. Luv my new Athearn SD50 D&RGW!!!
  14. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    yeah i agree. I wasn't meaning to put down those who chose to by RTR or anything.

    It does take a lot of skill to model things like scenery and buildings even if all you do is buy a sceneicing kit and go at it.

    Model railroading is a hobby that shouldn't really be elitist. It should be enjoyed by all levels of skill even if all you have is a loop of EZ Track and a train set. the important thing is that you are running trains and enjoying yourself.

    most of my rolling stock is either Athern BB or RTR stuff like Athearn Genesis, Atlas, P2K Walthers, etc. I like to build the models personally and detail them as best as I am capable. Even RTR things need some adjustments even if it is putting kadee #5's on them
  15. RioGrande

    RioGrande Member

    Super duper! Yep - I was aiming my phillosohpical comments at people on both ends of the extreme's. Since I have been banished to a small apartment for a period of time, I maybe setting up an EZ track layout myself for a while. :-(

    I suppose the issues about RTR stuff is that it isn't always easy to pry them apart to get KD#5's in them (eg early Genesis) or we are worried about disturbing or breaking the details. At least with the Athearn and MDC kits, we can tweak and gauge as we build without worry!
  16. petey

    petey Member

    Here are some more ideas along these lines. There are some good sleepers out there: Bachmann's standard GP50, great detail & some extras, like a 5 chime horn; Bach's standard 2-8-0, great detail; Bach's 4-8-4, these last two are good enough that Bowser has put out drive chassis to repower them; at this point used early P2K diesels ought to be a good buy. Here's another very nice one, Model Power E7s, actually built by Roco; the earlier Atlas/Roco diesels; Tyco E7 for the shells, such as, their City of SF(anybody want one of these?). Another hint, florists wire for handrails, comes in various gauges (thicknesses) and may be soft or medium hard. Takes careful handling, because they are softer than model stuff, but also, easier to get the correct profiles. Good place for detail parts: LL P2K kits or individual pieces. Order directly from LL. I think you can buy a detail kit for specific loco types. I got, what I think was about five hundred detail pieces, for their FA diesel. Anybody need some of these parts?
  17. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Chessie: can you get an air conditioner to cover the hole that was melted in the cab roof?
    We need to think about what we're buying our trains for. Some of us will enjoy taking a basic loco and putting hours of work into detailing it. Some of us are millionaires and want to buy perfection straight off the shelf. There's a lot of middle ground and you can work both extremes as well.
    And maybe you just want an adequate loco for operating.
  18. DT1967

    DT1967 New Member

    I'm starting with a lower level of detail and working towards a better level of detail as the freelance 0-5-0 skycranes get under control. I have 6 of them that can "help" move things off the rails.

    I have three kids and playing trains with them is far more important than preserving detail on a piece of plastic.

    In fact I bought an Athearn dummy engine this weekend so my oldest son could have a back engine for his consist. Low tech DC layout here. The squeals of delight were worth more than the $16 and the GP35 with the missing details is more valuable to me than anything costing 10 times as much.

    That is what I enjoy in this hobby and for others their paths are different. The main thing is find an engine that you enjoy. It's not a competion but a hobby.
  19. Chessie1973

    Chessie1973 Member

    DT1967 ,

    That is exactly my point really.

    Some folks enjoy making their models as close to the prototype as humanly possible. Others enjoy just having something that resembles the train they want.

    Others are satified with a simple toy train with a loop of track on a 4x8 sheet of plywood.

    The important thing is that it is YOUR layout and you decide what you want to do with it.

    I personally enjoy the challenge of making my models more detailed than they came from the factory.

    The fact that you have young ones who enjoy trains with you is great. I love going to the local Train club exhibits and watching the kids facs as they marvel at the trains on the layouts. It brings a smile to my face every time to see a child looking in awe at the miniature world unfolding before them.

    It gives you something you can hopefully pass on to them as they grow as well.
  20. Fred_M

    Fred_M Guest

    Hi DT1967 and welcome to the gauge. On my layout Thomas always has trackage rights for the kids. Fred

Share This Page