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This review is from Classic Toy Trains, March 2001. Reprinted with permission of Kalmbach Publishing Company.


The Atlas O SD35

by Bob Keller

Home Run! That’s the short and simple critique of the visual realism of the SD35 offered by Atlas O.

The firm’s first engine, an SW7/9, broke ground with a die-case metal shell and exceptional detail. Atlas O’s second engine, the AEM-7, may have been an eccentric choice, but it is a superb model that delivers great performance. The SD35 has built upon these earlier engines and delivers just about everything that a hi-railer could ask for in a diesel locomotive.

In a nutshell, the prototype SD35 is a 2,500-horsepower, six-axle road switcher that was built from 1964 to 1966. This engine is an important link between first-generation diesels and more modern diesel road power. GM’s Electro-Motive Division sold 360 SD35s to U.S. railroads between 1964 and 1966 and 65 of the SDP35 passenger version between 1965 and 1965.

The Model

Atlas O could have made one diesel body shell and painted it in several road names but didn’t. Different railroads specified different placement of bells, headlights, and other features on their SD35s, and Atlas O has matched this. The prototype SD35s were offered in high- and low-nose versions as well as a passenger service version, and Atlas O has matched that, too.

The model measures 56 scale feet long and 15 scale feet high (14 inches long by 3 inches high), on target with the prototype’s 56 by 15 feet.

The engines feature numerous add-on grab irons and illuminated number boards and marker lights on the front and back. There is a delicate safety chain on the front and rear decks and fold-down “bridges” on each deck. The pilots have a terrific array of air hoses and multiple-unit connections, as well as a simulated uncoupler bar and footboards. Where appropriate, the locomotives come with an optional snowplow.

The side windows have sun shades and there are wiper blades on front and back windows. Inside the car are crew figures. You’ll want to note, though, that since the Norfolk & Western ran its engines long-hood first, the crew figures are sitting “backward” when compared to the figures in the Seaboard and Jersey Central versions.

The model has lift rings on top (for “lifting” out heavy engine components), and the array of ventilators on the roof was very nice. They were all see-through with white fan blades, but although separate pieces, the fans don’t rotate unless blown with a gust of air. The engine has metal handrails, and the decks have traction tread.

About the only thing missing were etched metal instead of plastic grills along the sides of the body shell; but frankly, the grills were so well done that you wouldn’t realize that they were solid unless you held the locomotive up against a light.

The shell detailing is just plain outstanding, so much so that care well beyond the toy train norm must be taken when handling the locomotive or you would be snapping off lift rings and air hoses left and right.

The frame is die-cast metal, and the die-cast metal SD35 trucks are terrific and have features like sanding lines and brake lines. The fuel tank also serves as a housing for the speaker.

Atlas O accurately modeled the squared-off rear of the SDP35, which lacks the “V” shape common to most EMD locomotives. The rear of the SDP35 hood is extended to house a steam generator.

On the SDP35 Atlas O has also included simulated steam lines (to heat passenger cars), water sight gauges, and extra safety chains on the narrower rear deck, a detail that looks great!

We examined locomotives painted for the Central of New Jersey, Seaboard, and Norfolk & Western, and all of the paint jobs were flawless. There are a builder’s plates, trust plates, and other nomenclature items that are the icing on the cake.

On the test track

This locomotive is a notable departure from earlier Atlas O engines. The Atlas O switcher and AEM-7 both had a single can motor with shafts driving each truck, a setup commonly used in HO engines. Atlas O has scrapped that system for the typical O gauge setup: one can-style motor above each truck. This also makes room in the center of the locomotive for the Lionel TMCC circuit boards.

The SD35 is a lot of fun to run. Orbiting our layout with the sound system off, the locomotive’s motors were nearly silent, the clickety-clack of the track making more noise than the mechanism.

Right out of the box, performance was smooth in all speed ranges. Our low-end speed average was 13.7 scale mph, and our high-end average was 122.8 scale mph. With a 25-car freight train in tow at 18 volts, we timed the unit at 115 scale mph.

The drawbar pull of the SD35 is 3 pounds, 4 ounces, which roughly equates to 156 modern freight cars.

The SD35 requires O-36 or wider diameter curves. Its three-axle trucks have unflanged wheels in the center so the locomotive can negotiate sharp curves. For layouts with O-72 and wider curves that don’t need unflanged center wheels, Atlas O includes extra flanged wheelsets in the box.

The SD35s we tested were sensitive to bad track. A hump between track joints caused the flanged front axle to momentarily left above the rails. When that happened entering a switch, the locomotive periodically derailed.

We ran two different SD35s through the same bad section of Lionel O-27 tubular track and O-42 curve switches and had derailments.

For the SD35, Atlas O went with arguably the best sound system available on the market: Lionel’s RailSounds. This system is head above the Dallee system used in Atlas’ switcher and AEM-7. The system sounds robust and realistic, and offers a range of features you can access in command mode, such as stepping up the engine rpms and activating various chatter functions. Too noisy? There is an on/off sound switch beneath the cab, or you can lower the volume in steps with command mode.

We compared the SD35’s sound system with that of Lionel’s SD50 from a few years ago and found that the engines sound basically similar, although some of the CTT staff thought that the die-cast metal frame and speaker housing gave the Atlas O engine a deeper, throatier accent!

The Atlas horn is above and beyond the older version, and the bell is quite snappy. The engine also featured the usual array of “chattercom” and “gabbysounds” to spice up operating.

When operating in the conventional mode, you have a fair representation of the capabilities of both RailSounds and TrainMaster command system. Running this engine with the CAB-1 in command mode, you can activate couplers remotely, activate various sound effects, adjust volume control, and perhaps best of all, gin up the revs of the engine.

One note on installing the sound system’s 9-volt battery (which is, by the way, included): The shell is easy enough to remove, but you’ll need to take care to pull out the handrail tab from the cab body – they are attached to the chassis and won’t move with the shell.

We ran three different SD35s during testing and found on one home layout, while using command control, the knuckle couplers on two of the locomotives repeatedly opened on their own. The couplers opened when the locomotive wheels sparked slightly going through some switches, suggesting that the locomotive’s circuitry read the spark as an “open coupler” command. We couldn’t duplicate the problem on our workshop layout, nor on another home layout with other command control locomotives.

A welcome surprise was the box for the SD35. Rather than opening an end flap and sliding out a foam-encased locomotive, the SD35’s heavy-cardboard box opened from the top like a shoebox, making removal and storage of the locomotive easier.

The Atlas O SD35 is a darned nice locomotive. Atlas O has packed an outstanding level of detail into the body and selected a motor system that offers more pulling ability than most modelers will ever need.


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