The Guide to HO Steam Locomotives

This document is a guide to HO steam locomotives (of North American prototype). It is organized by Manufacturer. Under each manufacturer, both the strong and weak points of their steam locomotives are listed. Feel free to submit any comments that might be of value to others.
Page Contents: [ Athearn | Bachmann | Bachmann Spectrum | Bowser | Broadway Limited Imports | IHC | Life-Like/Proto 2000 | Mantua | MDC/Roundhouse | MTH | Rivarossi | Trix | Brass ]
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Athearn

In 1999 Athearn entered the steam locomotive market with the Genesis Series USRA 2-8-2 and 4-6-2. The models were manufactured by Samhongsa. At the time, this was the first new steam locomotive offering in many years. The other companies offering steam locomotives at this time were Rivarossi, MDC/Roundhouse, Tyco/Mantua, and Bowser. However, those models were still being produced using decades old technology. The Athearn Genesis models included can motors, flywheels, improved (non-tender) electrical pickup, very quiet operation, DCC-ready wiring and moderate detail. Since this initial offering, the Mikado has been discontinued. Athearn now offers:

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Bachmann

Bachmann has produced model trains in three distinct categories. Each of these categories is different in both quality and price. These three categories are:

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Bachmann Spectrum

Bachmann has produced model trains in three distinct categories. Each of these categories is different in both quality and price. These three categories are: Bachmann offers several wheel arrangements in their spectrum series. They come equipped with E-Z Mate Mark II couplers. Locomotive details seem to be good. I have heard mixed reports on how well they run. Perhaps it is prudent to buy a Bachmann locomotive where it is easy to return it should you be disappointed.

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Bowser

Bowser produced PRR steam locomotives, USRA versions of the 4-6-2, 2-8-2, and 2-10-2 wheel arrangements, and a Big Boy and Challenger. These models were primarily sold in kit form, however, I have seen assembled models in hobby stores from time to time.

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Broadway Limited Imports

Broadway Limited Imports models are very high quality plastic models with a few metal details. They are powerful, well detailed engines that come factory equipped with a sound decoder that can run on both DC and Digital Command Control (DCC). They are fairly expensive, but reasonable regarding they have sound and are DCC equipped. They are prototype specific. They have produced everything from a USRA Heavy Mike to a PRR T-1. They produce mainly HO scale models with one O scale narrow gauge item -- a D&RGW C-16 in 0n2 1/2. Apart from a chassis design problem on one model and the mandatory glitches in first time production runs, they're reliable from all the comments I have heard.

BLI also has a cheaper line of locomotives (still with DCC and sound) with molded on boiler details and some other omitted features from its Paragon Series (BLI's standard line) called the Powerhoude Classics series. Only a Heavy USRA Mike and a Rio Grande C-16 have been released in this series. BLI had a problem with locomotives shorting out for various reasons, but they have fixed this. A second release heavy 2-8-2 has no problems. They also had a few detail shortcomings on a recent HO scale model of ATSF #3751. BLI has announced a PRR K-4s in the new "Paragon Platinum Series", in which the boiler shell is cast metal and (from what BLI says) has even more separate details. This engine is on the pricey side for not being a Mallet, at $450. So far BLI has shown a liking for Eastern prototypes, although BLI has announced four (one UP and three Santa Fe)western engines. Like all of the other manufacturers, BLI seems to ignore any Midwestern or Deep Southern prototypes unless you count the two N&W offerings they have. Their selling point right now seems to be offering prototype-specific steamers with sound and DCC.

Information provided by Christopher Meyer.

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IHC (International Hobby Corporation)

IHC is the latest incarnation of AHM (Associated Hobby Manufacturers). In the 70s AHM imported Rivarossi locomotives. The current batch of steam locomotive built for IHC are manufactured by Mehano in Izola, Slovenia.

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Life-Like Proto 2000 Heritage Steam Collection

Life-Like claims that their Proto 2000 2-8-8-2 is the most meticulously detailed, best-running injection-molded steam locomotive ever produced! From the comments I have received from readers, I would have to say that the above statement is probably true.

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Mantua

Mantua started in Mantua, New Jersey. Mantua later changed its name to Tyco (The Tyler Company). Tyco then split into two companies: Mantua and Tyco. The portion that became Mantua again concentrated on model trains. Tyco concentrated on other toys. In October 2001, Mantua ceased manufacturing model trains. Model Expo bought all of the ready-to-run locomotives and offered them for sale through their mail order catalog. Since then, Model Power has begun selling "Mantua Classics".

Because Mantua was a major manufacturer of HO steam, and because many people still have Mantua locomotives, information on them will remain as part of this page.

In the late 1990s, Mantua steam locomotives underwent a transformation. They used to offer the following wheel arrangements: 0-4-0, 0-6-0, 2-8-2, 4-4-2, 4-6-2, 4-6-4 (two versions, one with pacific boiler and one with mikado boiler), and a 2-6-6-2 articulated logging locomotive. They were all powered by an open frame motor. The newer incantation of these locomotives included more wheel arrangements including several camelbacks. The newer models also came in a variety of road names and had Sagami can motors and improved gearing. I have heard that these can motors made a considerable difference in locomotive performance.

Mantua made steam locomotives in the "small to medium" size range. The switcher is a fairly accurate model of a Reading 0-4-0, except that it scales out about a foot too high. The 0-6-0 version is not a model of anything other than an 0-4-0 body on a 0-6-0 chassis. The switchers come with a rubber tire on one wheel.

Mantua applied two versions of a larger boiler to different chassis to produce both light and heavy USRA designs of both the 4-6-2 and the 2-8-2 wheel arrangements. The 4-6-2 is very close to a USRA light 4-6-2 or a B&O class P-7 4-6-2. The 2-8-2 is very close to a Lehigh Valley 2-8-2 or CB&Q O-3. They also used it as a generic camelback boiler.

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MDC (Model Die Casting/Roundhouse)

I have never built an MDC steamer. However, I have gathered the following information from others. From what I gather, building these kits into a well running locomotive is a challenge. If anyone wishes to add more details to this information, you may send it to me.

MDC uses essentially the same boiler for both the Mogul and Consolidation. Their boilers are well cast in a combination of plastic over a metal core. The side rods use a plastic crank pin rather than a screw. Sometimes they come out while operating, but super glue solves this problem. The motor may require slight shimming to achieve proper gear meshing. They have good low speed performance and are very quiet for an open frame motor.

MDC now offers its 2-truck shay "ready to run". This item runs very nicely and has bright led directional lights.

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MTH

MTH offers a number of variations of four different steam locomotives which include: The locomotives come equipped with onboard sound and command control electronics. The prices range from $400 to $500.

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Rivarossi

For many years, Rivarossi steam locomotives were manufactured in Italy. During the 1960s and 70s they were imported to the U.S. by AHM (Associated Hobby Manufacturers) and sold for $20-$60! In the late 1990s through 2000, they were imported to the U.S. by ModelExpo. More recently, they were imported to the U.S. by Walthers and cost much more -- as much as $240. In 2004 Hornby acquired Rivarossi and moved the production to China. The locomotives that Rivarossi produces include some of the more well known American steam locomotives such as the UP Big Boy and Challenger, the SP Cab Forward, and the NYC Hudson.

Rivarossi models are sold "ready-to-run". Parts can be expensive and difficult to find. Back in the 1990s, the best supplier of Rivarossi parts was Model Railcraft Supply Depot. However, in 1996 MRSD sold its Rivarossi Parts business to Golf Manor Hobbies in Cincinnati, Ohio (513) 351-3849. In the 2000s, Golf Manor went out of business. In 2009 many Rivarossi parts have been seen being sold on eBay.

In 2002, Rivarossi released a new model -- a Chesapeake & Ohio Allegheny (2-6-6-6)! Rivarossi always had a tendency to concentrate on "big steam" and this is one more example. The list price is currently in the range of $300 - $400. The Allegheny comes without traction tires (which are commonly found on all other locomotives from Rivarossi). However, they can purchased as an option.

1969 Big Boy Schematics

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Trix

I first heard of Trix when someone sent me email saying that they just bought an HO Trix BigBoy. I have only heard good things about Trix and that it is owned by Marklin.

Marklin also offers a USRA (New York Central) 2-8-2 "Mikado".

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Brass

Having "Brass" as a category covers a lot, but I will try to summarize.

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