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This review appeared in Model Railroader, February, 1999. Reprinted with permission of Kalmbach Publishing Company.


This nicely detailed and extremely smooth-running model from Atlas O captures the classic lines of Electro-Motive Division switchers of the 1950s. This is the first locomotive release from Atlas O and it lives up to the quality that modelers in other scales have comet to expect from Atlas. Our sample is a two-rail DC-powered model; three-rail AC engines are also available.

Several 1950s EMD switchers shared the same basic body with only minor detail variations, and Atlas has incorporated these details into its models. Our sample depicts one of the four SW8s (nos. 126-129) owned by Chicago & North Western subsidiary Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha. Other than the CStPM&O initials under the cab, it’s identical externally to C&NW’s SW600s as shown in the prototype photo below.

The SW8, SW600, and SW900 all shared the same body. The SW600 had a six-cylinder 60-hp and the SW8 and SW900 each used an eight cylinder 900-hp engine. The same basic superstructure was used on SW9s and SW1200s, which had 12-cylinder 1,200-hp engines. The main spotting difference is that the SW9 and SW1200 each have two exhaust stacks. Also, the SW8 and SW9 have six louvers on the battery box behind the cab while the SW600, SW900, and SW1200 have five, except for engines built in the first few months of their production run. This happens to include our sample, C&NW 126.

EMD built the first SW600 in 1954 and the last SW1200 in 1966, and many of all classes are still in use.

Atlas O has designed its ready-to-run model to be easily reconfigured to match each variation by making the stack and battery box louvers separate plastic castings. The company is currently offering SW8s and SW9s.

Other separate castings include the front and top radiator grill castings (the grills are a metal mesh), horn, front and rear headlights, and air reservoirs. The cab has an interior, including crew.

The top grill casings don’t lie flat, but they could easily be glued in place with a bit of cyanoacrylate adhesive.

The plastic see-through steps are beautifully done and look particularly impressive in O scale. The handrails are .040" in diameter and are cast from an acetal plastic. They, along with the horn and uncoupling levers, must be installed by the modeler. The model also has working directional headlights.

The model checks out well compared to drawings in the MODEL RAILROADER Cyclopedia: Vol. 2, Diesel Locomotives (published by Kalmbach).

The cab is plastic but the hood and frame are die-cast zinc alloy. The trucks have metal gearboxes with a removable plastic cover plate on the bottom. The sideframes screw onto the bottom of the gearbox and, as on most HO models, are strictly decorative. The engine comes with body-mounted magnetically operated Atlas O knuckle couplers. These are compatible with Kadee and other automatic knuckle couplers.

The flanges measure .043" deep, well under the NMRA recommended maximum depth. All the wheelsets on our sample were slightly wide in gauge (about .007"). I removed the sideframes and used a vise to gently squeeze the wheels onto the axles.

A large can motor with two turned brass flywheels provides power through double-ball-joint universals to the gearboxes. Power pickup is from wipers on the back of all eight wheels. The mechanism runs very smoothly and, combined with the weight of the metal frame and hood, provided excellent tractive effort. The engine should pull about 40 average cars on level track. The speed range is close to prototypical and operation is very smooth.

A circuit board, which controls the directional lighting and also has a DCC socket, is attached above the rear truck. There’s plenty of room inside the hood for a decoder. There’s also a speaker opening under the top radiator grill.

The Chicago & North Western paint scheme on our sample is complex and the overall finish on the model is quite good. The lettering is very crisp and the wraparound zebra striping is well done. However, in some areas along the hood the yellow paint seems heavy and the color separation between the yellow and top of the hood is a little fuzzy in a few spots. The louvers and hinges on the hood don’t seem as crisp as on a plastic shell. This may be due to the paint, as the latches are nicely done.

Atlas O has produced an excellent model. The body design means that accurate variations will be easy to produce. Modelers in O scale should welcome this model.

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