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Atlas O Introduces the Alco C424/C425

Review  by David Otte — January 2006, Model Railroad News

The wonderful array of diesel locomotives now available to 21st Century O gaugers just expanded again with Atlas O’s release of the American Locomotive Company’s Century Series C424/C425. In their premier release of this model, the New Jersey based manufacturer is offering the Alco unit in multiple versions: C424 Phase 1 models will be decorated for the Erie Lackawanna, Reading, and Delaware & Hudson; a C424 with a Phase 2 carbody will wear Burlington Northern’s Cascade Green and Black; Canadian Pacific fans will see a Phase 3 model; and finally a C-425 Phase 1 appears in Norfolk & Western Colors. Each roadname is available in two different road numbers and for those wishing to detail and paint their own road name, an undecorated version is available for each Phase as well. Furthermore, as has become the trend with Atlas O releases, these new models are available in both the 3-rail and 2-rail formats including unpowered units.

Alco’s C424 and C425

Alco’s new Century Series, which debuted in 1963, was the Schenectady-based company’s response to General Electric’s and Electro Motive Division’s entry into the high horsepower locomotive market. The GE U25B and EMD GP30 offered railroads 2,500 and 2,250 horsepower respectively for pulling fast freights, and Alco could not afford to let this new competition go unchallenged. Their comeback was a series of 2,000, 2,400, 2,500, and 3,000 horsepower four-axle locomotives. The best selling model of this series was the 2,400 horsepower DL-640-A better known as the C424. Although the C420 had more sales in the US (131), the C424 was very popular in Canada (92) and Mexico (45) adding to the 53 built for US customers. These 190 units were constructed between 1963 and 1966 for the Erie Lackawanna, Reading, Pennsylvania, Spokane Portland & Seattle, Green Bay & Western, Erie Mining, Toledo, Peoria & Western, Wabash, the Belt Railway of Chicago, National of Mexico, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific.

The C424 utilized the Alco 251E 16-cylinder prime mover to supply its 2,400 horsepower. While it shared many of the components and subassemblies of its 2,000 horsepower 12 cylinder C420 brother, the 59 feet 4 inch locomotive was actually 12 feet shorter in length. This can be attributed to the lack of a steam generator compartment in the nose of the C424. Starting with the 2,400 horsepower model, Alco wisely determined that passenger service was on a serious decline by the early 1960s and the orders for new passenger locomotives were few and far between. Thus the C424 and higher horsepower C425 are easily recognizable from the C420 due to their short nose.

However, the visual differences don’t end here. Alco made several modifications to the C424 design during its years in production and railfans have split these external changes into three Phases. Phase 1 models are easy to identify with their rear overhanging number boards and twin horizontal engine air intakes in front of the radiator housing on the rear side of the carbody. Due to safety concerns, Alco later changed the number board housing to a recessed design as the overhang caused a problem for employees climbing the rear of the hood. Also the dual engine air intakes were reduced to just one vertical opening. These modifications resulted in the Phase 2 designation. Finally, Phase 3 carbodies are very similar to the previous Phase except that the battery boxes, which in the past were located on the sides beneath the cab, were relocated to the rear of the locomotive under the walkway.

In October of 1964, at the request of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad’s management and continued competitive pressures, Alco debuted the 2,500 horsepower C425. It utilized a 16 cylinder 251C prime mover and was nearly identical to the 2,400 horsepower model’s Phase 2 and 3 carbody. The most noticeable visual difference involved the radiator design. In order to increase airflow through the radiator necessary for cooling down the components of the higher-powered C425, a larger cooling fan was utilized. The increased fan diameter required the sides of the radiator air ducting, located directly below the radiator housing, to be bumped out about four inches from the rear sides of the carbody. This redesign resulted in an external bulge starting above the radiator air intake grilles and stepping up in width until reaching the upper radiator housing.

Built concurrently with the Phase 2 and 3 C424s, all 91 C425s were built for US railroads. Along with the Eire Lackawanna, these included the Chicago & North Western, New Haven, Wabash, Norfolk & Western, Pennsylvania, and Spokane, Portland & Seattle.

Atlas O’s Century Series Four-axle Workhorses

I am always happy to review a model of an Alco prototype, as their unique appearance sets them off well from the more commonplace EMD Geeps – they’re a dime a dozen. That’s why Atlas O’s release of the 2,400 and 2,500 horsepower members of the Century series is a special one for us Alcohaulics and I must admit to a bit of excitement when I first opened our sample engine’s big blue box.

Taking the almost six pound locomotive in hand, my first inclination was to check the proportions of the model. Measuring 15 inches long over the coupler pulling faces, the Atlas O Alco scales out to be 60 feet compared to the prototype’s length of 59 feet 4 inches – not bad considering our 3-rail sample’s oversized knuckle couplers. Other general dimensions such as height over the cab, overall width, wheelbase, and truck wheelbase were correct within a scale inch of published data on the C424 and C425. Basically, it’s a scale model with the necessary adjustments, such as the swinging truck mounted pilot/coupler assembly and oversized wheel flanges, for operation on tin plate layouts. In contrast, the 2-rail version of this model has the pilots attached to the frame with a body mounted scale sized magnetic operating knuckle coupler and more appropriately sized flanges can be found on the wheel sets. Of course, these modifications result in a minimum-operating radius of 36 inches compared to the 3-rail version’s much tighter turning ability — 36-inch diameter curves.

Along with this O-gauge Alco, you receive the standard Atlas O method of construction and level of detail for which the manufacturer has become well known. The injection molded car body with its crisp and accurate molded-in details is supported by a die cast metal chassis, which itself displays some very nice molded-in details in the form of safety tread on the walkways. The model rides on accurate AAR Type B die-cast metal trucks with die-cast metal pilots and fuel tank finishing off the list of major components.

Added to this quality construction is the usual plethora of hand applied detail parts. Most noticeable are the multiple handles applied to the various compartment doors along the sides of the long hood, the metal wire hand rail and grab irons, and the positionable cab side window wind deflectors. Also present are hand painted crew figures, flush fitting window glazing, add-on windshield wipers, airhorn, see-through pilot drop steps, coupler cut bars, air and multiple unit hoses, and side frames with separately applied metal coil springs, brake cylinders, and sanding lines. There is even a scale-sized chain extending from beneath the fireman’s side of the cab down to the brake cylinders of the front truck simulating the handbrake linkage.

OK, now that I have established that it is business as usual for this Atlas O offering, it’s time to look even more closely at the telltale signs of our review sample, a Burlington Northern C424, to determine which Phase of C424 production it represents. At first glance, the most noticeable attribute about our sample is that it is lacking the overhanging rear number boards of Phase 1 production models. Next, a single vertically oriented screened covered engine air inlet is visible directly in front of the radiator housing. This fact, along with the presence of battery boxes under both sides of the cab, indicate a Phase 2 C424.

However, there does appear to be a couple of minor Phase 2 details missing from our sample. When Alco reconfigured the rear number boards of the C424 recessing them into the carbody, the designers moved the rear class lights down to a location beneath the number boards. The lamp assemblies were then accessed through small, adjacent hatches in the carbody. These small hatches are not represented on the rear end of the Atlas O model. Furthermore, located centered between these two hatches was another access door for filling the rear sand box. This is also absent from our sample. Although these omissions are probably a concern for the rivet counters in the hobby, they probably won’t be missed at all by most O-gauge operators.

Now that we have identified our sample as a Phase 2 variant, it appears that Atlas O has appropriately matched the decoration to the model. Our BN C424 carries the road number 4246. Tracing this unit back through the BN locomotive roster, we find that 4246 was one of seven C424s inherited from the Spokane Portland & Seattle. The SP&S took delivery of these engines, numbered 300 – 306 in June 1964 — all with Phase 2 characteristics. Engine 306, which carried builder’s number 3381-07, would later be renumbered by the BN to 4246 after the 1970 merger that created the railroad from the union of the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Burlington, and SP&S. The Alco road switcher remained in service until retirement in August of 1980.

The overall decoration exhibited by our sample was of high quality as I expected from Atlas O, and furthermore accurately followed BN practices. I found several photos of C424 number 4246, and it appears to me that the O-gauge manufacturer captured all aspects of the Cascade green and black painted unit. Numbers and lettering were skillfully and accurately located, pilot step treads and hand rail were highlighted in white paint, diagonal white stripes appear on the nose, and small white rectangles representing the reflective Scotchlite safety appliqués stretch out along the frame. The only thing left for the modeler to add to make this C424 even more realistic as a BN unit is an amber colored rotary beacon atop the cab.

Performance

In the performance category, the Atlas O Alco runs and sounds great. Our 3-rail model came fully loaded with all the goodies of the day: twin can motors and flywheels, TrainMaster Command Control (TMCC), Railsounds, a fan-driven smoke unit, Electrocouplers, and the Engineer On Board (EOB) speed control system. Again, this is all standard equipment for current production Atlas O 3-rail locomotives and on our sample functioned as advertised. One attribute stood out during testing, though. Besides the usual Railsounds features of bell, squealing brakes, and the chatter of crew members over the radio, I noticed that the sounds of the prime mover were distinctly not EMD and, in other words, different from the recently released Atlas O EMD GP9 and GP60 models. Maybe not exact in all aspects, the diesel roar had that unrefined, deep throated sound of a 251 prime mover and the horn even proved to be a bit unique as well adding a noticeable Alco presence on our test layout easily distinguishable from the several EMD models being operated at the same time.

Operation on our test track went smoothly and without incident. The C424 maneuvered adequately around curves as small as 36 inches in diameter and actually even made it around old Lionel standard O31 curve sections and #O22 turnouts, but on several occasions pulled the lead car in the test consist off the rail. So, plan on sticking to the recommended minimum of O36 curves with the model looking more realistic on O42 and larger. While on our O42 test loop, I clocked the model under TMCC at a slow speed of 3.13 scale miles per hour with EOB turned on and a top speed of 109 miles per hour — definitely outside of the prototype’s maximum speed range (approximately 70 – 80 miles per hour depending on the gear ratio). In conventional mode and under the power of an MTH Z4000, the low speed came in at a somewhat respectable 11.1 scale miles per hour while operating at 7.2 volts and drawing 1.1 amps. Finally, the directional LED headlights and classification lights were nice and bright with the rear facing class lights showing red and the lights above the cab green while the locomotive moved in the forward position and the font class lights changing to red when the model was going in reverse.

Final Thoughts

The Atlas O C424/425 locomotive is a welcomed addition to O scale — especially if you are looking for a change of pace from the EMD diesel horde. The model is certainly pleasing to the eyes and ears and is a reminder that Atlas O continues to maintain its renowned high level of quality, decoration, and operating characteristics that has kept the rest of the model railroad industry on its toes. The new four-axle Alco definitely delivers the goods and is well worth a trip to your local Atlas O dealer.


 

  

 

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