This review appeared
in Model Railroad News, January, 1999. Reprinted with permission of Lamplight
ATLAS Os BIG MOTIVE POWER
Having had the experience of reviewing Atlas Os impressive new
track system and rolling stock, I highly anticipated the arrival of the young
companys first entry into the O gauge motive power market-the EMD SW8/SW9
locomotive. Atlas O is offering the ready-to-run switcher in both 2-rail and 3-rail
Roadnames are being offered with two different roadnames and
include: (SW8 models) Atlantic Coast Line, Chicago and Northwestern, Erie Lackawana, Great
Northern, New York Central, Texas and Pacific, Canadian Pacific; (SW9 models) Boston and
Maine, Central of New Jersey, Chesapeake and Ohio, Pennsylvannia, Union Pacific, and
Western Pacific. Undecorated models are available as well.
When EMD introduced their 567 series engine in 1938, they began a
long line of successful selling switcher locomotives that would be produced well into the
1960s. The SW8 and SW9 models were both based on the 567B variant engine and shared the
same fram and car body. Externally they can be distinguished by the SW8s lack of a
rear exhaust stack. Internally though, the SW8 had an 800 horesepower eight cylinder
engine, and the SW9, a 1200 horsepower twelve cylinder engine.
The SW8 was manufactured from September, 1950, through January,
1954. The SW9 was manufactured from November, 1950, through December, 1953. Both models
were replaced by EMD with the SW600/900/1200 group switchers the last of the 567
series. A total of 371 SW8s, and 815 SW9s were produced. These locomotives were used
throughout the United States and Canada by almost all the major railroads and can still be
found in service today.
SW8/9 in O gauge
The new Atlas O model is an extremely accurate reproduction of these
EMD switchers. Comparing the O gauge model to prototype drawings and photos, I found all
the important details to be present. The correct number of service doors, louver rows, and
lifting eyes were on the hood. All the hand grabs were accounted for. The proper style
bell and bracket were used. The often over-looked pulley cover housing the traction motor
blowere offset, which is located on the right side of the hood in front of the cab, was
replicated as well.
The switchers dimensions were dead-on at a scale: 40-6"
in frame length, and 10 in width. Even the switchers nicely detailed AAR type
A trucks wheel base measured correctly at 8. The only item I could find
missing (and this is being really picky) are the welded on crescent shaped poling pockets
that would have been located on each corner of the frame.
This O gauge locomotive is very well constructed and the assembly of
our sample was flawless. Some of the impressive details include: separately applied
handgrabs, railings, windshield wipers, cut levers, and bell; die cast chassis, hood,
couplers, and truck side frames; see through steps, footboards, and metal grills; fully
painted crew figures (that are actually painted different from one another); and an
illuminated control panel. The unit also has voltage regulated directional headlights
(constant lighting would have been preferred though). While this is a ready-to-run model,
the corner and endrails along with the horn are packaged separately for safe keeping
during shipping. They assemble easily by press fitting into the appropriate hole on the
Our 3-rail sample came decorated as Chicago and Northwestern SW8
#129. The C&NW owned four of these switchers through their subsidiary the Chicago, St.
Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha. Purchased in September of 1951, the units were given in
Septemeber of 1951, the units were given the road numbers 126-129 and remained on the
roster until the mid 1970s.
Atlas O has done a superb job decorateing this model. The C&NW
paint scheme was accurately executed down to the "Omaha Road" sub-lettering and
the correct location of the EMD emblem on the C&NW units on the frame above the
front truck. The impressive striping on the rear of the cab and radiator is crisp and
opaque, as are the lettering and herald. I found the paint to be of good consistency
except for a few areas around the louvers on the hood side where the yellow paint had been
applied a little too thick.
The switcher performed very well on the test track. It negotiated
O31 diameter curves and switches without a problem. The die cast couplers worked well,
never uncoupling prematurely. The SW8, which is equipped with a single can motor and duel
flywheels, ran smoothly and flawlessly. The drive train design is very similar to
Atlas HO and N locomotives. The motor sits horizontally in the chassis with drive
shafts extending out to the gear boxes located in each truck. The combination of eight
wheel drive, four traction tires, and all the weight of the die cast components make for a
The four pound switcher pulled forty cars of mix vintage rolling
stock effortlessly on our test track and still could have handled additional cars. When
powering the track with a Lionel 190 watt KW transformer, the model began moving at 6.6
volts and had a low scale speed of 17.0 miles per hour without load. Much better
performances was obtained when using Model Rectifier Corporations newer 270 watt Duel
027 power supply. A respectable low scale speed of 9.4 miles per
hour was achieved at only 2.6 volts. At this speed the locomotive is perfect for switch
A nice option on the Atlas O model is the Dallee Electronics, Inc.
reverse unit, which can be changed from a forward-first operation to a neutral-first
operation, as well as having the ability to lock out the reverse unit. These options can
be selected by switches conveniently located under the fuel tank. Note: the instructions
indicate that only a very brief power interruption is necessary for the reverse
unit to sequence properly. They do advise those modelers to use the lever control to
sequence the reverse unit rather than the direction button.
We discovered no problems with sequencing the reverse unit with
either of our test transformers. This system uses stored power within its onboard
microcontroller to keep the electronics functioning during sequencing. While other O gauge
manufacturers rely on an onboard battery to do this, the space saving Dallee system seemed
to work quite well.
The 3-rail versions of the SW8/9 also include a Dallee Electronics,
Inc. sound system. The system includes sounds of the EMD prime mover, horn, bell, air
release, and compressor. The volume of the sound unit is adjustable through the exhaust
stack by use of a small, straight blade screwdriver. While the horn and bell sounded well,
the prime mover was difficult at times to hear even when the volume was at maximum. At
very slow speeds the rumble of the engine could be heard without much effort, but was not
as audible when traveling at higher speeds. Atlas O does address this in their instruction
sheet though. The actual EMD prime mover generatres a very low frequency sound, which they
have tried to realistically reporduce. This combined with the space limitations of using a
larger speaker may make the prime mover sounds difficult to hear over back ground sounds
generated from the track and the rolling wheels of the locomotive and cars.
While some modelers may be dissatisfied with this sound system,
Atlas O has really done an outstanding job overall in providing a beautiful and great
running model of the SW8/SW9 locomotive. Most 3-railers and 2-railers will easily find a
place on their rosters for these widely used EMD switchers.
With their first O gauge locomotive, Atlas O has not only proven
themselves as a major competitor in the O gauge market, but has raised the stakes with a
new level of accuracy and detail that O gauge modelers will come to appreciate and