First Look Review
by: Frederick Boucher [ ]
IntroductionAthearn continues their series of DCC and sound equipped N scale locomotives with this Santa Fe FP45. Featuring code 55 flanges, knuckle-spring couplers, and fine handrails on the front and rear decks, it offers a further step in the standard for the scale.
EMD FP45Electro Motive Division had a winner with their SD45 locomotive. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, (Santa Fe) needed new locomotives for their famous passenger trains and wanted continuity with their “covered wagons”: FP and E units from EMD, and ALCo PA units. Santa Fe had EMD install steam heaters and most obviously, enclose the open walkways and part of the decks with a cowl. This also protected the crews from the harsh weather often found in Santa Fe territory.
These engines were handsome and successful. Another railroad that bought FP45s was Milwaukee Road. Eventually several railroads rostered new or used FP45s. A freight version was built with different gearing, the F45. For further history, see the text at the end of this review.
Athearn N FP45 with DCC and SoundAthearn lists 134 FP45 and F45 models in 12 roadnames and liveries. The model arrives in a sturdy card shelve. Inside is a hard clear case with a top held fast by tabs. This case displays and protects the model ensconced in a formed clear plastic top and bottom cradle. Included is a reference paper for the DCC and sound. The model weights 8 ounces. Length is 75 feet from coupler to coupler, and 72 feet from front to rear deck.
• Fully assembled and ready for your layout
• 5-pole skewed armature motor with brass flywheels
• All-wheel drive and electrical pick-up
• Cab interior
• Detailed multi-piece fuel tanks
• Wire handrails
• Photo-etched non-skid endwalks
• Flush mounted individual window 'glass'
• McHenry knuckle spring coupler installed
• Factory installed SoundTraxx Tsunami dual-mode DC/DCC decoder with onboard sound
1. Burlington Northern
2. Great Northern
3. Milwaukee Road
4. Montana Rail Link
5. New York Susquehanna & Western
6. Santa Fe
• Super Chief
8. Utah Railway
9. Wisconsin & Southern
10. Wisconsin Central
The model is sharply molded. I cannot find any sink marks, or other obvious molding flaws. There is a bit of minor flash along some handrails. Also, the holes for the rails are noticeably larger than the rail. Unfortunately the MU and trainline hoses, and all of the grab irons are molded on. This is not necessary as demonstrated by the separately applied rails along the steps on the front and rear decks; additionally, the grilles for the exhausts, radiators, dynamic brakes, and air intakes are not molded open either. I suppose that while these items could have been engineered open and covered with photo-etch screens, it would add to the cost and is not always noticeable in N scale.
Athearn did not include any schematic showing parts or how to remove the shell or couplers. A brief inspection shows the shell is held onto the metal chassis by tabs. However, it appears that the couplers should first be removed (They are held on with screws) before attempting the remove the body shell. The shell does not fully cover the frame. You can see bare metal from track level. It is not noticeable if you are looking down on the engine.
Each of the following details are specific to railroad and era and may not be on each locomotive.
- Dynamic brakes
- Snowplow or streamlined pilot
- Flush or hinged number boards
- Rectangular or oval cab door windows
- Selectable effect lighting (Not with this model)
- Photo-etched metal and see-through molded intake grilles (Not with this model)
- As built or rebuilt pilots and cut levers (Not with this model)
- High or low headlights with appropriate housings
- Air conditioner, beacon, antennae (Not with this model)
- Lost wax casting brass horns
You can see the light green molded cab interior if you really try to; I had to use my Optivisor and focused light. The noticeable handrails on the decks are separately applied. A delicate air horn cluster crowns the brow of the cab. Molded wipers detail the windshields. The end steps are properly molded open in back.
Six code 55 compatible wheels are surrounded by nicely detailed flexicoil truck side frames with fine detail, such as brake shoes.
The fuel tank features a small sight gauge. Small mirrors jut out from the cab windows.
McHenry knuckle-spring couplers with magnetic uncoupling are factory applied.
Livery & FinishSanta Fe returned to their iconic Warbonnet livery with these locomotives. The blue and yellow scheme was freight engine livery, while passenger service used red and stainless steel; when passenger service ended those engines became freight dogs and were repainted.
Other than the company logo, nose emblem and locomotive numbers, I could not find other markings until using a magnifier; then I found "FUEL" -- legibly! -- printed near the fuel tank cap!
The painting and printing is sharp and generally smooth. I found what appears to be dust under the paint in a few places, and a spot on the rear roof that looks like a bit too much paint pooled and formed a lip.
The hand rungs and flank grab irons are painted black, a few which show slight scuffing. Also, the seals along the windows are simulated with paint, a bit rough on one. I mention it as I noticed it without magnification. Considering the "3 Foot Rule" it isn't that noticeable, and I certainly do not believe I could paint it better anymore. One other thing I only noticed when processing the photos is a lot of dark speckles on the loco.
Athearn attempted to compensate for the molded grilles and intakes with a dark gray wash along the intakes behind the cab. This is a common modeling technique although in this case is not executed well.
Whether your taste is to run out of the box or weather your models, this FP45 will look good. With the molded detail the model should take a wash and drybrushing well.
Let There Be Sound!Model railroaders have a saying, “No matter how many locomotives you have, if you only have one with sound, then you only have one locomotive!” When one of these models is activated, you’ll want to stop what you are doing to enjoy the feature. Whether powered by analog (DC) or DCC, the SoundTraxx Tsunami Digital Sound Decoder will bring the model to life audibly and visually. While a Quick Start Guide is supplied, you will have to access the Athearn website for the full User’s Guide. With it Athearn explains how to adjust the Configuration Variables of the myriad of functions.
First, the sound quality. The speaker is small. The factory set volume and quality was pleasing to my ears. However, you can adjust the volume to suite your tastes.
When power is applied the locomotive mimics the startup sequence of the EMD prime mover. The engine smooths into a nice rumble, the generators engage, and
the turbo whines to life. Other automated random sounds will be heard such as sharp, brief air releases, radiator fans and shutters, and the thump of compressors. As you increases and slow the speed, the engine revs accordingly.
Manual default sounds available are:
• Air horn
• “Short” horn
• Dynamic brakes
• Air release
• Brake squeal
• Coupler crash
Tsunami works with both DC and DCC. DC cannot trigger all of the functions but some are automated. If your DCC system has limited function keys, you have the ability to program the system to automatically sound signals for moving forward, backwards, stopping, and grade crossings.
When power reaches the model the headlight comes on. It illuminates on a low setting until more power is applied. Lighting is directional -- the loco moves forward, the headlight illuminates; reverse and the tender light comes on. This model does not feature cab or number board lighting; N scale decoders only have two lighting inputs.
Big Metal RollingWhile this is a fine N scale model for static display, how does she move? Straight out of the box, I ran this model back and forth across my Bachmann Easytrack. She rolls smoothly although motion begins and ends suddenly. The slowest I could move her is a scale 10 mph. Almost any model will run smoother after a break-in period, and a bit of extra lubrication works wonders, too. Fast or slow, forward or reverse, DCC or analog, I had no trouble that I can attribute to the model.
SummaryThis model is a good balance of detail and functionality for an N scale locomotive. Whether DCC or analog, it is a good looking model. Good paint and markings; some painting flaws are not noticeable unless you really want to find them. The separate handrails, knuckle couplers, and open steps enhance the appearance; oversized mounting holes for the deck handrails detract somewhat. If your layout is eye level then the visible frame will distract from the model’s appearance.
The sound is good and the model runs smoothly. DCC models do not always run as slowly as analog models although you should be able to adjust the performance somewhat.
This is a pleasing model that runs well, sounds good, and looks good. I certainly hope that N scale locomotives continue to advance in detail, performance, and finish as have their larger brethren. With DCC and sound these are a generation ahead of what I am used to. Recommended.
EMD FP45 HistoryBy the early 1960's the Electro-Motive Division (EMD) was at a big disadvantage. Their 567 engine, in use for over 20 years, had reached it's peak at 2.500 horsepower in a turbocharged 16-cylinder version. EMD released a new 645 engine in 1966. The most powerful locomotive using this series of engine was the SD45, powered by a 20-cylinder turbocharged 645E engine producing 3600 horsepower. Orders from railroads all over the country, especially western roads, poured in. Great Northern received the first one off the production line and Santa Fe took delivery of a 90-unit order the first year.
At the same time Santa Fe was looking to replace it's aging fleet of passenger locomotives. They wanted something more stylish than a freight hood unit with a steam generator for their famous Super Chief train. EMD had already extended the SD45 frame and added a steam generator to the rear creating the SDP45. They responded to Santa Fe's request by adding a cowl body to the SDP45 thus creating the FP45.
Santa Fe took delivery of the first nine FP45's in December of 1967. Numbered 100-108, they were painted in the red and silver warbonnet passenger scheme with black Roman-style Santa Fe lettering on the sides. The cowl offered a cleaner engine compartment and internal walkways, both of which would lead to production of the F45, a regular SD45 with the cowl. Santa Fe acquired forty F45's in 1968, numbered 1900-1939 and delivered in the blue and yellow 'pinstripe' scheme. The second twenty were equipped with steam lines for use on passenger trains. When Amtrak took over passenger service the FP45's went into the freight pool, receiving blue and yellow paint. The pinstripe paint scheme gave way to the blue and yellow warbonnet scheme by 1980. In the early 80's all 40 FP45's and 8 F45's were rebuilt at the San Bernadino shops. During the failed merger with Southern Pacific seven FP45's and twenty F45's received red and yellow 'Kodachrome' paint. On July 4th, 1989, FP45's 5992 and 5998 were released from the San Bernadino shops as numbers 101 and 102 in the newly revived red and silver 'Super Fleet' scheme with a large Santa Fe on the sides. Two F45's were wrecked and scrapped and one was sold to Wisconsin Central while the remaining six were donated to various railroad museums. Six F45's were sold to Wisconsin Central and the remaining units went to Morrison-Knudsen as lease units with one being assigned and painted for Utah Railway.
Milwaukee Road was the other railroad that bought FP45's. Arriving in late 1968 for Hiawatha passenger service, they wore the UP yellow and gray scheme and were numbered 1-5. They differed from other F45's and FP45's as they did not have dynamic brakes installed. Even before Amtrak arrived these locomotives were re-assigned to freight service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.
Great Northern acquired fourteen F45's, numbered 427-440 and painted in the Big Sky Blue scheme, in 1969. The internal walkways were important to the GN given the winter weather on the line between the Twin Cities and Seattle. Crews no longer had to worry about ice and snow covered walkways like on their hood units. GN planned to run all of their main line freights with a F45 on the point. GN ordered an additional 12 units, which were delivered as Burlington Northern 6614-6625 in 1970. BN continued the F45 purchase in 1971 with 20 additional units numbered 6626-6645. The 46 F45's were regular power on the Chicago to West Coast trains over the former GN lines. Three of the original GN units were leased to Utah Railway for five years after being retired by BN. Two other units were sold to Susquehanna and three went first to Trancisco, then to Wisconsin and Southern, and finally to Montana Rail Link. One of the two Susquehanna units was re-sold to MRL in 1993. - Athearn FP45 Page
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