review is from Classic Toy Trains, March 2001. Reprinted with
permission of Kalmbach Publishing Company.
SIX AXLES OF
Atlas O SD35
by Bob Keller
That’s the short and simple critique of the visual realism of
the SD35 offered by Atlas O.
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.
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.
measures 56 scale feet long and 15 scale feet high (14 inches long
by 3 ¾ inches high), on target with the prototype’s 56 by 15
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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.