Loco Look Back 4: K-Line's USRA 2-8-2 (October 2003)

Posted by Bob Keller
on Thursday, May 31, 2018


They may have been the same locomotive, but K-Line made each as unique as possible.

K-Line Pennsy 2-8-2 looks ready to dig into a string of loaded hoppers and haul them to Pittsburgh!

The Southern version looks good enough to take on the finest passenger trains of the Southern!

Loco Look back 4: K-Line’s USRA 2-8-2 Mikado October 2003 CTT

First, a prototype note: The US Railway Administration (USRA) was for formed in December, 1917. It was an attempt to streamline control of railroads and their operation for the First World War. One project was to create a group of standardized locomotive designs from switchers to mallet locomotives. This was to steer railroads toward proven designs and avoid wasting wartime resources on experimental types. There were many USRA locomotives ordered and built, but the war was over four months after the first locomotive was delivered. The fact many railroads found the USRA designs to be good enough for them to make new versions incorporating their own modifications, suggests the idea was a success.

K-Line covered the range of O gauge. From starter sets and entry-level gear to higher-end locomotives and gems like their F59 diesel and commuter cars. Some of its products were junk, some of it was good entry-level gear, much of it was solidly designed and reliable, and many of their later products simply knocked the ball out of the park. The firms USRA 2-8-2 Mikados are a case where they did just about everything right.

They had a basic locomotive design and fine-tuned it to match some of the detailing unique to certain railroads. 

I had chance to test two of the mikes, one in the Southern Railways beautiful green livery and the other was in the more somber Pennsylvania’s colors. Why two? Because K-Line wanted to emphasize that the models were intended to mirror more detailing by railroad, rather than simply producing the same locomotive and slapping a variety of road names on them.

I'm painting with a broad brush, but the market, at the time, was perfectly willing to buy locomotive that was identical to all the rest, save for a road name or specific text font or color. Today, I think a fair sized group in the hobby would balk at the one-size-fits-all” approach, at least above a certain price point. 

The locomotive may have been the same model, there were significant variations such as bell and headlight placement: Pennsy headlight up high, bell to the rear between the domes; the Southern headlight centered and bell on top of the smokebox). The front engine number on the Pennsy was in the center of the smokebox, and the Southern’s was attached to the headlight. Did I mention the flat freight pilot versus cow-catcher? The builder’s plates were different as well (Altoona vs. Lima). 

Obviously the livery was different on both locomotives, but the exquisite nature of the complex Southern paint scheme was one of the finest I’ve seen. That was, most likely, the main reason K-Line shipped us these two variations. Well, it certainly worked! The Pennsy version’s was excellent and helped along the notion it was a freight-hauler, not a frilly passenger engine.

The only bad news was that we had a 50% failure rate on the engines. This wasn't unusual for K-Line at the time. I once received three different TMCC/RailSounds-equipped diesels from K-Line. Right out of the box one ran fine, the second was totally dead, and the third ran fine but didn't generate sounds.

One of the Mikes (It was 15 years ago and I don’t recall which) simply sat there generating sound. The other performed quite well. The low speed was 7.8 scale miles per hour and the high speed was 75.2. The smoke unit was a bit slow warming up, but otherwise it was a fine smoke unit.

The locomotive came in original recipe (conventional with SignalSounds) for $529.95 and extra-crispy (RailSounds and TMCC) for $649.95. A recent check of eBay showed two up for auction in the range of $350 or less.

 I liked the locomotives so much, that I tracked down a SignalSounds New York Central version and added it to my fleet! This was another case of K-Line going a step or two further than otherwise expected, resulting in many happy customers.

For further reading: Check out “Uncle Sam’s Locomotives” Trains, Mar 1991

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