newbie question about: Bachmann 4-8-4 quality and DCC

Discussion in 'N / Z Scale Model Trains' started by fst_creeper, Apr 11, 2007.

  1. fst_creeper

    fst_creeper New Member


    Please bear with me but I'm returning to model rr'ing after a 22 year hiatus and I've got some basic questions.

    I've decided on N gauge due to space limitations. I'd like to use DCC. I'm looking at a sort of modern era hybrid layout with historic engine mixed with current operations (think milw 261) . So with that, I'd like a model close to the 261 and i've spotted the Bachmann 58157 which is as close of i've found within my budget. So now actually to my questions. I know that prior to 2001 there were a lot of issues with the bachmann engines like this one, are they better now?

    And, what kind of headache is it to convert them to use DCC?

    Thanks for any and all help in advance.
  2. trainnut65

    trainnut65 Member

    Well bachmann is still holding the world sound rec. and from what i have seen of there loco i would not waste my money on them i have one that is two months old and it is wore out i mean wore out. the gears are wore down and it was never a good running loco. And i also have a BAchmann spectrum N scale SD 40 that has not got a lot of run time on it that the gears are busted in it . And it was so lough i could not stand to hear it running. so i would not waste my money on them. now if you are looking for a good locomotive save your dimes and get a Atlas are Kato. are even a lifelike is better than bachmann, i have some lifelikes that run great. not the best but a lot better. And for eazy install on dcc get a Atlas are kato that is DCC ready.
  3. BRPHO

    BRPHO New Member

    I have the Bachman 4-8-4 Northern steamer from the empire builder n scale set.

    Nice looking engine but that is the only nice thing I have to say about it!

    The steam engine won't even pull itself around the layout with its tender let alone pull all the freight cars in the set also......

    I have thought about sending it back to Bachman to get it repaired but I have heard it takes months for them to get the train back to you....

    If you want a steamer to sit on a siding and look pretty as scenery this is the engine to buy.

    I would recommend also saving your money and buying one of the steam locos offered in the $100 range from one of the manufacturers currently.

    You will be happier in the end!

    Now I do have some of the bachman diesel engines from the 2 engine inexpensive sets(powered/unpowered with caboose) that run very well and pull quite a few freight cars and I am quite happy with them.......

    Hope the info I provided helps from my experience with my bachman 4-8-4 northern.

    It will make a great shelf queen like mine is or scenery piece!

    Take care!

    Wayne :wave:
  4. fst_creeper

    fst_creeper New Member

    Well that's disappointing. :( I was hoping the lack of comments on the engine in the last 4-5 years had indicated a revamp and improvement.

    OK, then a followup question. Can you guys point me to a reasonably priced 4-8-4 that would pass for a alco s-3 like the 261? Preferable one DCC ready or one that is fairly easy to do a conversion on?

    Way back in the day I was an electronics technician so some small scale soldering does not bother me.

    And again, thanks for the advice.
  5. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

  6. fst_creeper

    fst_creeper New Member

    I don't think the J would fool my little engineer. My son has an alarming ability to pick out details. He might miss a 4-6-4 if the lines are roughly right, but the body has to be very close. The s-2 perhaps... Although I've been told that s-1 look so much like a s-3 that most model makers decided to just make the s-1 ( a niagara with out the front shrouds) so perhaps that is an option.

    There is a LHS that deals only in N. To be truthfull, it is a older gentleman that runs it out of his house. But his selection is incredible (but he doesn't like DCC). I think he might have some older atlas and life-like n scale models (older as in 1998-2001) that are new in the box.

    We again, thanks for the tips and help.
  7. skipgear

    skipgear Member

    The most recent runs of the standard line 4-8-4 are not as bad as the people on here are making the out to be. It is not perfect but by any means, but not as bad as the posters have made it out to be. The biggest thing it needs is tender pickup for more reliable operation. The standard line 4-8-4 that comes in the plastic jewel cases are very good pullers. Mine topped out at 30 cars on a 11 3/4" radius test loop. After a little tinkering and moving the traction tired driver to the rear position, it now pulls 45 cars before wanting to nose. I haven't added weight to cure that yet.

    My main complaint besides the lack of tender pickup is that the loco would run much better if it was geared much lower. When you start lugging it down with a load, the tall gearing makes it a little touchy to start up.

    As far as DCC, the standard line is not DCC friendly but it is possible. I converted one for a customer about a year ago along with adding tender pickups. It ran quite well with a decoder in it.

    The biggest thing that you can do for any steam is to run it. Most loco's will take a couple hours of runtime before they really smooth out. Steam is for those that like to tinker. There are 2-3 times the moving parts that have to wear in and work together compared to a diesel. Break in is very important for steam.

    If you want smoother running steam, you should look at the spectrum loco's. My hands down best choice for a first time steamer is the Bachmann 2-8-0. They run smooth as any diesel and pull like a "feight train". My Bachmann 2-8-0 tops out at 64 cars on level. The detail matches brass and they have fully live tender pickup.
  8. fst_creeper

    fst_creeper New Member

    So then, in your opinion it is mostly an issue of current supply... if I were to go this route (and I'm not saying I am) and add tender pickups, is it a simple (like anything like this is simple) matter of adding bruch contacts to hit the back of the wheels? Like a spring loaded copper reed brush? Or do I need to get new wheels, change the trucks, yada, yada, yada....

    I've heard others speak in other forums to gear quality (not just Bachmann either) and retro fitting brass tube "bushings" to worn plastic gear shanks. In the opinion of others reading this (eyes trainnut) might this be a solution to your wear issues?

    I'm not looking for a huge work horse here, but something that can pull 9-10 cars like the 261 does on excursions. Yes, I know that the engine is/was actually a fairly powerfull freight unit that typically meets all of its current power needs at like 15-20% of its capacity.

    My issue here is sticker shock and not mine. My wife is fairly understanding, but $100+ for one engine is going to cause conniptions that will register on [FONT=&quot]seismographs [/FONT]half a world away until she's had some time to adjust. Yet I've been guided..nay tasked to have "a 261 train", for my son, to run on my layout that I'm planning. So I've got conflicting requirements. She's looking for this to be a bonding, educational and patience building exercise for him, and she thinks having a train that he's got a connection to (we took him on the fall excursion trip for his 4th birthday) will help.

    Now once my initial setup is done and the missus understands that $149.99 for "5 ounces of metal and plastic" is reasonable, I'll likely add more "excursion steam" models to the layout and I will be in a position to A) spend more and B) be free of the "261 like" requirements.

    And should anyone get the wrong idea, it is not my intent to have my 4 year old operating my N scale setup. But I'm already setting up a 4' X 8' HO layout for him with flea market track, stock and locomotives so "we can run trains together"

    Thanks again everyone for all the advice and comments! :thumb: It has been invaulable and very educational! I wish there had been something like "The Gauge" 22 odd years ago. I might not have had such a long hiatus.
  9. skipgear

    skipgear Member


    Below is a picture of the loco that I added tender pickups and DCC too. It is the Santa Fe version with the 8 axle tender.



    The pickups are not hard to make, just some brass shim stock or perferably phosphorbronze for the wipers. To do the version you selected with the vanderbuilt tender, there is an even easier answer. Pickup one of the freight aux. tenders for the Spectrum J class. They have 3 axle trucks with needle point pickup that makes life even easier and more efficient than the wiper method.

    The gear issue mentioned plagued the older loco's with white plastic gears. The plastic would react with the lube and shrink and crack over time. The loco's from the most recent release (last year or so) do not seem to have this problem. The plastic has been changed in the newer loco's. As far as sleeving the broken gears, I may have been the one to come up. I posted a fix for that a year or so back to fix an old UP F-7 that my son loved and I wanted to keep it running for him.

    Oh and no worry about a 4 year old playing with N. My son has been playing with it since he has been walking and (He will be 3 in June). He has his own Thomas themed layout with a Tomix Thomas, Annie & Clarabel that fits over our coffee table in the living room. Teach him to respect the trains and give him some inexpensive cars to learn with and he will be fine. My son can put articulated steam on the rails, build a 30 car train and knows the difference between a knuckle and rapido coupler when coupling the cars. I think he knows more road names than most adults. His favorites are B&O (my fav.) and Union Pacific (his great grandpa was an engineer on BigBoy's and Challenge'rs for UP durring the transition era).


    BTW - I'm not sure where you are at but the shop I work at, we sell the Bachmann Northerns for around $85. I wouldn't pay more than that for one. The Spectrum loco's start around $100 and can be found cheaper if you look around.
  10. fst_creeper

    fst_creeper New Member

    So if I am seeing things correctly there are insulators on the axel (see image, circled in red).[​IMG] And I assume the current is being passed through the mounting screws. So then the weight in the other image must be insulated.? And what is the function of the yellow wire as it appears that you have the black and red going under the weight?

    The 4 year old.... All I can say is treasure what you have there. I love my son desperately but I have to be honest and say that no matter how much his mom and I work with him, "concentrated destruction" sums him up well. He's getting better about things all the time, but trains are too exciting, too new and he's way too hands on to hope for much now. But really I had a buch of HO stuff, I can wrap my layout around his and track is a great testbed for my to learn stuff on (like ballasting track, building rockwork....). And by the time mine can go up, he'll be a bit more used to trains in the house.

    Price... I'm mostly looking at online retailers. Online I've found it for $55. LHS get some of my money but the markups seem a bit large for my tastes. I've owned businesses and understand the need to make a living, but if they reduced the price a bit more they'd sell more and still be ahead. But online retailer's are subject for another post really.

    Again, thanks everyone!:thumb:
  11. skipgear

    skipgear Member

    The yellow just connects to the black wire. The positive lead on the decoder wasn't long enough to make it all the way back. There is no need to insulate the weight. It sets up far enough off the tender chassis that there is room for the solder tab to slip under with room to spare. The stock screws are long enough and just a small piece of brass or PB is all that is needed for the tab. Yes the wheels are insulated on one side. It would be nicer to have an all wheels live tender but honestly, with 16 wheels, half the wheels is equal to an average all wheel live tender. I have aspirations to rebuild the one I have into this:

  12. Ray Marinaccio

    Ray Marinaccio Active Member

    I've rebuilt a few of these and find them to be a decent locomotive after the gear issue is resolved and extra pickups are added.
    Here is a link to how I sleeved the gears.

    Those are nice pickups Tony.
    I agree that putting pickups to only half the tender wheels is adequate., adding more may cause to much drag on the wheels.
    Here's how I added them to the same tender.

    As for the younguns playing with N scale.
    I set up my N scale layout at a show and let the kids play with it, they had a blast and nothing got broke.
  13. skipgear

    skipgear Member

    I have a new plan to try for pickups. That loco was done for a customer a bout a year ago. Since then I have been doing something that comes as close to a needle point pickup as you can get with out having the PB side plates.

    I have been doing the following pickup style on some HO cars for a friend, about 15 in all now, and they work great. Almost no change in rolling resistance and flicker free pickup. Now to shrink it down to N scale.

  14. Ray Marinaccio

    Ray Marinaccio Active Member

    Nice work Tony, I'll have to try that.
    I did a few tender trucks by adding dimpled pates into the journals and attaching feeder wires. It worked well but was alot of work.
  15. fst_creeper

    fst_creeper New Member

    That looks awesome, but difficult.

    So, have you ever tried using some self adhesive metal tape to pickup from the points? It could be taped to the journal and is flexible and soft enough to be streched into the dimples. Connecting a lead would be harder, but it should be low friction yet a solid contact.
  16. skipgear

    skipgear Member

    It's acutally much easier than my previous version which was a wiper on the back of the wheel.

    Here is a quick picture tutorial.

    Drill a small hole next to the side frame of the truck. Just small enough for the wire you are using. I am using very flexible wire left over from decoder installs for the HO. In N scale I may try to replicate a Kato/Bachmann post and tender floor wiper instead of wires.

    Solder the flexible wire to a piece of .008 Phosphor Bronze wire long enough to span the axle pockets.

    See image in previous post

    Feed wire through hole, CA glue the wiper at the hole, repeat 4 times and rinse.

    In N scale, the tollerances are tighter and I haven't tried it yet but it should work. You will need Kato or Bachmann Spectrum tender axles to do it. Preferably Kato because the wheel tread is narrower and would give more room between the truck side frame and the wheel for the wiper wire.

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