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Reviewer: Ken Goslett

Mfd. by Atlas Model Railroad Co., Inc. 378 Florence Ave., Hillside, NJ 07205

The latest HO scale locomotive offerings from Atlas are the Fairbanks-Morse H24-66 diesel locomotives. Better known as “Train Masters,” these 2,400-horsepower brutes were long, tall and powerful road switchers that have been favorites of railfans and modelers for years. Breaking new ground for Atlas, the Gold version of the Train Master models have not only DCC decoders, but also an appealing sound system integrated with a very realistic momentum simulation. As a further enhancement, the sound/ momentum system works equally well with either convention d.c. power packs or digital command control.

The Fairbanks Morse Company, of Beloit, Wisconsin, entered the diesel locomotive business in 1944 with a line of switching units. These were followed by road switchers and streamlined cab units, but Beloit’s ultimate offering was the mighty Train Master, powered by a 2,400-horsepower, twelve-cylinder opposed piston engine riding on double equalized six-wheel trucks. Described in company literature as “The Most Useful Locomotive Ever Built,” the Train Master was legendry for its pulling power and rapid acceleration. Unfortunately for its builder the opposed piston engine was unusual in railroad applications. With two pistons per cylinder, its design proved baffling to many railroad shop forces, while its consumption of cooling water frustrated them further.

The first Train Masters, demonstrators TM-1 and TM-2, were delivered in April of 1953 and toured American railroads east of the Mississippi. These included the B&O, CNJ, DT&I, Long Island, New Haven, NYC, PRR, Reading, Virginian, Wabash, and WM. The demonstrations must have been successful, as F-M landed orders from Jersey Central, Pennsy, Reading, Virginian and Wabash. No mention is made of testing on either the DL& W or the Erie. Trails on the former were unnecessary, as the Lackawanna had already committed to the Train Master based on a feasibility study that showed cost savings through unit reduction on freight trains.

A second pair of demos, units TM-3 and TM-4, headed west of the Mississippi in hopes of impressing the AT&SF, C&NW, DM&IR, D&RGW, GN, IC, RI, SP, and UP. Of these, only the Southern Pacific bought into F-M’s sales pitch. However, a small order for five units was received from Southern subsidiary CNO&TP, bringing the U.S. sales total to 105 units for eight railroads.

In Canada, F-M’s subsidiary Canadian Locomotive Company, of Kingston, Ontario, delivered two promotional units, one each for Canadian National and Canadian Pacific. The former did not purchase any additional units, while the latter opted for twenty more. No Train Masters were delivered new to Mexican carriers. For more detailed information modelers should consult David Sweetland’s excellent soft-cover book, Train Master, published by Diesel Era.

To quote from an earlier article on Train Masters in RMC, the units “came in three body styles or “phases,” as railfans have come to call them. The first style, Phase 1a, had air intake louvers in a continuous line along the top of the long hood and a wide separation strip between the radiator fans. The succeeding Phase 1b variation was minor and involved a dip in the long hood handrails to better follow the profile of the side walkways. Phase 2 units had fewer air intake louvers and with a large gap between them. Radiators on these Phase 2 units were divided by only a tiny metal strip.”

For their HO scale offering Atlas has chosen to duplicate all three phases of the Train Master. These variations are combined with four different ends to produce realistic representations of the prototype units. There is an end with small number boards and a Lackawanna style headlight arrangement. Another end has the “bug-eye” class lights typical of CNJ units. A third has the large number boards and high headlight found on Pennsy and Virginian examples. The fourth model has the dual headlights of the Southern Pacific. All Atlas models have dynamic brake fans and grilles.

Body shell dimensions and details are excellent. See-through grilles compliment metal-blade fans at the radiator end of the model. Radiator shutters and carbody louvers are well represented. Hood doors stand out well without having exaggerated relief and are equipped with freestanding F-M style, curved door handles. Class light molding is exceptional, even showing the hinge and latch arrangement that allowed the prototype railroads to open the lights to change the bulbs. The m.u. receptacle and pilot lights are equally well rendered. Rivet detail highlights the access plates along the model’s side sills. The only criticism involves the exhaust stacks, which might be spaced a bit further apart than what I recall. I’ll check.

Below the deck, the model rides on an excellent reproduction of the F-M Train Master truck. Its pedestal, spring, damper and brake rigging detail is second to none. A speed recorder cable and sand hoses are the crowning touch.

Before describing the model’s operating characteristics it is import to distinguish between the Silver and Gold versions of the Atlas Train Master. Although both versions are powered on all axles and pickup current from all wheels for a centrally-located motor with dual flywheels, they cannot be operated together. The Gold versions have an integrated sound/momentum system controlling the motor whether the model is operated by a conventional power pack or a Digital Command Control system.

Let’s begin with the Silver series model, in this case a CPR Train Master. Tested right out of the box, without break-in, the CPR unit began moving at less than one volt. Its progress along the track at fewer than two scale miles per hour was so slow as to be almost unnoticeable. It should be pointed out that this excellent slow speed performance was achieved with an antiquated power pack delivering full wave d.c. to the rails. No spike or assist pulse was coming from the power pack. At six volts, the model was gliding almost silently at 40 s.m.p.h., and an increase to twelve volts resulted in a top speed of 90 s.m.p.h. Weighing in at 21.7 ounces (623.5 grams) the unit was a strong puller, cresting our test grade with more cars in tow than any test unit in recent memory.

Starting current for the Silver series unit was 0.10 amps, which rose to 0.33 amps running and pulling. The highest current value measured was 0.5 amps at stall. When the unit finally lost its feet on the grade it spun its wheels gracefully without vibrating or shaking. No derailments occurred over rough track or poor quality turnouts. However, some minor surging was noted when the unit was coming down a very steep grade with a heavy train. In short, performance was first rate.

The decoder and QSI sound-equipped Gold series Train Master, in this case decorated for Jersey Central, came in a box twice the size of its Silver sibling. The unit was removed from its foam cradle and placed immediately onto the same test layout with its conventional d.c. power pack. Upon turning the throttle knob to about the 90-degree position (5 volts), the unit’s sound system came to life, emitting the sound of an idling locomotive. While idling, the number boards and headlight (on dim) are illuminated in the direction of intended travel. The model remained stationary until the voltage was increased beyond 8 volts, when it first switched the headlight to bright and began to creep forward. Further throttle increased caused the prime mover sound to throttle up while the momentum system gradually fed more power to the model’s motor, thereby increasing the speed with a realistic delay. Closing the throttle back to the 90-degree position (5 to 7 volts) dropped the prime mover sound effects back to idle while the unit coasted smoothly onward, decreasing to a stop in a prototypical fashion. At the sound of a brake release the power pack’s direction switch could be reversed to change the locomotive’s direction of movement.

Over the years I have tried a number of power pack momentum systems and, to be honest, I have never found them satisfactory or enjoyable. However, the Atlas/QSI system in the Gold Train Master is an exception. It is realistic without being intrusive or annoying. It was fun to switch with and brought back memories of my time spend working in a railroad yard. The Atlas Gold unit operated uncannily like an actual locomotive.

The model’s entire speed range of 2 s.m.p.h. to 90 s.m.h.p. occurs when the power pack is delivering between 8 and 12 volts. Although this may seem a bit odd in theory, it works beautifully in practice. The operator is not aware that the speed/voltage relationship has been compressed. All he or she must remember is to not close the throttle below 5 volts or the model and its sound system will stop dead in its tracks.

Once moving, a slow flip of the power pack’s direction switch causes the horn to sound a blast. Most Train Maters have single-trumpet, “blatt” horns and the QSI system mimics them well. A quick flip of the direction switch activates a very realistic bell sound which is cancelled by another quick flip of the switch. The bell sound trails off in prototypical fashion as if it was an air-activated clapper.

I found the model’s dual speaker sound system to be too loud as it came from the factory. Doubtless it was set this way in order to be heard above the din of customers in the typical hobby shop. Reaching for the instruction booklet I soon learned how to re-program the model’s sound and momentum functions. It was at this point that the Jersey Central Train Master began to “talk” to me. No, I’m not crazy; it really does talk and in English (and mercifully without a Jersey City accent).

By turning on the power and beginning the first of a series of three quick flips of the direction switch (on a non-DCC layout), the model entered “program mode” and announced this by flashing its headlights front and rear and saying aloud “Entering program mode.” Twenty different sound/momentum features can be adjusted or reset as the talking locomotive counts through its program option numbers. The operator stops on a particular option by flipping the direction switch and then uses subsequent flips to make selections.

This may sound complicated, but it isn’t. I quickly re-programmed the sample to volume level 11, a setting I recommend for home use. Individual sound volumes for the bell, horn, airbrake release, radiator fan and radiator shutter sounds can be adjusted as well. Option No. 3 gives a “helper” setting so that the model, if used as a trailing unit in a locomotive consist, will not blow its horn nor ring its bell, leaving that privilege exclusively to the lead unit. It is important to remind the reader at this point that the model was operating on a conventional throttle and not a Digital Command Control system. Thus those modelers not wishing to convert to DCC can have a state-of-the-art sound equipped model that performs all functions excellently with a regular power pack.

On a DCC system, even more functions, including coupler clash, uncoupling sounds, prime mover shutdown with subsequent fan cooling and radiator shutter closure are possible. Changing settings is as simple as changing a CV (Configuration Variable), which most DCC users can do without skipping a beat. All of this is explained in the comprehensive, clearly written and well-illustrated 36-page instruction manual included with all Gold series models.

Atlas offers the Train Master in delivery schemes for Lackawanna (Phase 1a), Southern Pacific black (Phase 1b), Virginian (Phase 1b), Canadian Pacific (Phase 2), Jersey Central (Phase 2) and Pennsy (Phase 2). Two road numbers, plus unnumbered, are available on Silver series models, while two different numbers are available on Gold units.

Decorating on the models is simply excellent. The colors are accurate and stripes are straight. The number boards have numbers in white on a black background. Printed builder’s plates for both F-M and CLC are exquisite. Where required, step edges are painted, as are the safety colors on the appropriate portions of hand rails and grabs.

The Train Master was a very special locomotive. Its impact on railroads, locomotive builders, railfans and modelers far exceeded its limited sales. It was simply ahead of its time. The Atlas Train Master is not merely an excellent model: in its Gold version, it is the future of our hobby. Based on these tests the future will be both friendly and fun.

The suggested retail price for the Silver version is $139.95, while the Gold models sell for $249.95. A second run is planned for April, 2005, and will feature the demos, EL, Wabash, Reading and SP gray.

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