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RS-3: Atlas v. Athearn

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RS-3: Atlas v. Athearn
Posted by steamfreightboy on Sunday, May 15, 2011 6:49 AM

I am considering getting a new loco. I have riden in an RS-3, so I think it would be cool to have one on my railroad. I have looked at both athearn and atlas RS-3s, and they seem pretty compairable, even though the atlas is a little more expensive. I have read that while the athearn model looks nicer, the atlas runs just a little bit better. I have an old athearn BB, and it seems to run pretty well, though. I also noticed that the athearn model was DCC ready, while the atlas is not. How hard is it to install a decoder in the atlas for someone who has not hardwired a decoder before? Is it worth the extra time and money to go with atlas, or should I just go with athearn?

Sigh

Thanks,

sfb

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Posted by richhotrain on Sunday, May 15, 2011 7:00 AM

I have a pair of Athearn RS-3's and they are good runners with good detail.  Installation of decoders was pretty easy. I used Digitrax DH163D decoders.

What roadname are you interested in?

Rich

 

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Posted by steamfreightboy on Sunday, May 15, 2011 7:30 AM

richhotrain

What roadname are you interested in?

Rich

 

Not really sure yet. I might eventually repaint it to match the one I rode.

"It's your layout, only you have to like it." Lin's Junction
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Posted by Fire fighter Mike on Sunday, May 15, 2011 9:53 AM

I picked up a used Atlas RS3 and I find it runs great. Right now I run it occasionaly only because I have a DCC layout and the decoder I bought for it fried. However in saying that I belive I got a bad decoder as I have installed a a few of them and never had any problems and it did work for a bit but the stopped and shorted out. I used a TCS decoder in mine which wasn't DCC ready but the TCS board(s) are pretty simple to put in all you really have to do is wire the two boards together which is real easy and wire the motor on a little more complicated but not much just have to make sure the motor is isolated from the body or else it's gonna cook the decoder as soon as you put it on the track. Of course thats in N-scale so I can't say what it would be like to put one in a HO scale but if it's anything like the N-scale it was pretty easy.

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Posted by Hamltnblue on Sunday, May 15, 2011 10:08 AM

I prefer Atlas over Athearn. Besides the better running, Atlas loco's have more robust handrails. 

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Posted by swoodnj on Sunday, May 15, 2011 10:35 AM

It depends on how much of a stickler for detail you are. Atlas has the edge on the mechanism for sure. But the Atlas shell is less accurate than the Athearn in several areas, including the cab roof contour, window size, long hood length...I forget what else. If these things don't matter to you than you would likely be happy with either. And even though I feel the Atlas has the better mechanism, the Athearn can run pretty well too, especially with a break in.

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Posted by locoi1sa on Sunday, May 15, 2011 10:51 AM

  I have both. The Atlas run a lot better and putting a decoder and LED lights in is easier than you think. They were all board replacements. The Athearns are a quick plug 9 pin decoder install. Both of my Athearns had the cracked axle gear problem and the mechanisms needed the regular Athearn tune up of shimming the worms and motor bush spring shortening. They are a little lighter on their feet also. Speed matching between the two makes was not too bad to do. I sometimes lash up 5 to 7 Alco RS units on the clubs layout. It makes a very impressive train with all those ALCOs up front. 

  I have not seen any revues of the Spectrum RS units. If someone has any of them I would like to hear how they are.

      Pete

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 I started with nothing and still have most of it left!

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Posted by last mountain & eastern hogger on Sunday, May 15, 2011 12:35 PM

Whistling

I have the Atlas classic RS-3 and it is a very great loco. very good puller, and very quiet.  Thumbs UpThumbs Up

Don`t have the Athern so can`t compare.

Johnboy out.....................................................

from Saskatchewan, in the Great White North.. 

We have met the enemy,  and he is us............ (Pogo)

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Posted by rrinker on Sunday, May 15, 2011 1:01 PM

 Bottom line, the Atlas runs better, the Athearn has better details. My Atlas ones are all the older ones with Kato drives, they are superb. I have 2 Athearn ones, one had contact issues and needed some help to get runnign reliably. The other was fine out of the box.

 The newest Atlas ones have a decoder socket, the older ones use a fairly simple board replacement. The Athearn ones have a 9 pin plug in for a decoder. I also have an older MDC kits that has an early Proto2000 FA drive, that one takes a decoder install akin to an old Athearn Blue Box.

 None of them are completely accurate for Reading. I'm limiting upgrades to the horns and the cab drip rails, and the bell under the front frame.

                    --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Sunday, May 15, 2011 2:37 PM

It's true that on the average, Atlas loco's run much better than Athearn.  Atlas is up there with KATO on running properties.  Athearn has always tended to be weaker in the chassis and mechanism with some QAQC issues here and there.  The RTR tends to be rougher running, some are coffee grinders, while others can be quite smooth.  I have an RTR SD50 that cog's a bit but is pretty smooth for a standard RTR Athearn, but I've heard of alot of people complain about their SD's and GP's.  I haven't had a chance to run many of mine so I'm hoping they are all decent.  I have a lot of SD45's and Tunnel motors from Athearn since they do SP and D&RGW loco's nicely as far as the shells and paint and details go.

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Posted by BIG JERR on Sunday, May 15, 2011 8:23 PM

have at least one of each ,atlas hands down on running &build ,athern has some nice but delicate details seams I'm always knock en the hand rails loose . J.W.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Sunday, May 15, 2011 8:39 PM

Just to add more confusion, this one is a Proto 1000.

It's actually an RSC-3, with 3-axle trucks instead of 2.  The 3-axle trucks allowed the engine to run on lower-quality track, since the weight was distributed over 6 axles instead of just 4.  For modelers, this has the added advantage of more pickups and therefore more reliable power.

This engine had no DCC plug.  I first wired in a DH123, which was easy, and later replaced it with a Soundtraxx LH unit, which took some squeezing.  Now, it's a solid, reliable engine that clanks up to speed as only an Alco can.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by aloco on Monday, May 16, 2011 1:10 AM

I have seventeen Atlas RS-3s and eighteen Athearn RS-3s.   The Athearn units have nicer shells, and the Atlas units run better.

The old Kato-built Atlas RS-3s will take a Digitrax DH163KO decoder.

The Atlas Classic RS-3s will take a Digitrax DH165AO decoder.

The Atthearn RS-3 takes a Digitrax DH123 decoder.

I think TCS and NCE make decoders that will fit the Atlas Classic and Athearn RS-3s, but I don't know which ones.

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, May 16, 2011 7:31 AM

 TCS for Athearns with the 9 pin connector is the T1A (no harness - it's a buck cheaper than the T1 which comes with wires and a 9 pin plug). For the Atlas the board replacement is the A4X.

                          --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 6:50 AM

riogrande5761

Athearn has always tended to be weaker in the chassis and mechanism with some QAQC issues here and there.  The RTR tends to be rougher running, some are coffee grinders, while others can be quite smooth. 

Yeah, I have noticed that on my pair of Athearn RTR RS-3 locos.  One runs fairly quietly (or should I say less noisy) while the other makes a fair amount of noise although both locos run "smoothly".

Any suggestions on how to quiet down these locos?  The noise seems to come from the drive train.

Rich

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 7:29 AM

richhotrain

 riogrande5761:

Athearn has always tended to be weaker in the chassis and mechanism with some QAQC issues here and there.  The RTR tends to be rougher running, some are coffee grinders, while others can be quite smooth. 

 

Yeah, I have noticed that on my pair of Athearn RTR RS-3 locos.  One runs fairly quietly (or should I say less noisy) while the other makes a fair amount of noise although both locos run "smoothly".

Any suggestions on how to quiet down these locos?  The noise seems to come from the drive train.

Rich

There are two possible sources usually in Athearn loco's.  The motor itself makes a chirping sound and some have polished the commutator contacts.  The other are the gears.  I don't know if the problem is still the same as the old blue box but some used to put in Pearl Drops abrasive tooth paste and run it on a test track for a good while in each direction and then clean out the gear boxes and put in a plastic compatible lube.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:17 AM

riogrande5761

 richhotrain:

 riogrande5761:

Athearn has always tended to be weaker in the chassis and mechanism with some QAQC issues here and there.  The RTR tends to be rougher running, some are coffee grinders, while others can be quite smooth. 

 

Yeah, I have noticed that on my pair of Athearn RTR RS-3 locos.  One runs fairly quietly (or should I say less noisy) while the other makes a fair amount of noise although both locos run "smoothly".

Any suggestions on how to quiet down these locos?  The noise seems to come from the drive train.

Rich

There are two possible sources usually in Athearn loco's.  The motor itself makes a chirping sound and some have polished the commutator contacts.  The other are the gears.  I don't know if the problem is still the same as the old blue box but some used to put in Pearl Drops abrasive tooth paste and run it on a test track for a good while in each direction and then clean out the gear boxes and put in a plastic compatible lube.

Wow, now that's a novel approach.  The loco is an RTR, bot Blue Box, but I am willing to try anything.  Thanks for the tip.  I will report back on the results.

Rich

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:20 AM

The bulbs in the Athearn RTR RS-1 are ATHG63843 and "No Resistors Should Be Needed For The Light Bulbs" according to the instruction sheet that came with the loco.

So, I assume that these bulbs are 12 volt.  Can anyone verify that?

Also, does anyone know the size of these bulbs in millimeters (mm).

Thanks.

Rich

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Posted by Renegade1c on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:53 AM

richhotrain

The bulbs in the Athearn RTR RS-1 are ATHG63843 and "No Resistors Should Be Needed For The Light Bulbs" according to the instruction sheet that came with the loco.

So, I assume that these bulbs are 12 volt.  Can anyone verify that?

Also, does anyone know the size of these bulbs in millimeters (mm).

Thanks.

Rich

I would not assume they are 12 volt. I always assume they are 1.5 volt and work my way up. This prevents burn outs of bulbs and/or LEDS (LED's are never 12 volt).  It seems most manufacturers are using lower voltage lighting these days (either for LED's or small incandescent bulbs). I own one RTR RS-3 and the bulbs  are rated to 1.5 volt . All my other RTR athearns use the same bulbs and they are 1.5 volt.

if you use the 9 pin plug attached to the factory circuit board you shouldn't have to worry about adding resistors. if for some reason you do remove the board and hard wire the decoder then you would have to add resistors.

I hope this helps.


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http://www.coloradofrontrangerr.com/

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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 9:22 AM

 The Athearn bulbs are 1.5 volt. If you plug a decoder in the 9 pin connector they will be fine, the reistos are on the circuit board. If you remove the circuit board you will need resistors for the lights.

                       --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:28 AM

richhotrain

 riogrande5761:

 richhotrain:

 riogrande5761:

Athearn has always tended to be weaker in the chassis and mechanism with some QAQC issues here and there.  The RTR tends to be rougher running, some are coffee grinders, while others can be quite smooth. 

 

Yeah, I have noticed that on my pair of Athearn RTR RS-3 locos.  One runs fairly quietly (or should I say less noisy) while the other makes a fair amount of noise although both locos run "smoothly".

Any suggestions on how to quiet down these locos?  The noise seems to come from the drive train.

Rich

There are two possible sources usually in Athearn loco's.  The motor itself makes a chirping sound and some have polished the commutator contacts.  The other are the gears.  I don't know if the problem is still the same as the old blue box but some used to put in Pearl Drops abrasive tooth paste and run it on a test track for a good while in each direction and then clean out the gear boxes and put in a plastic compatible lube.

 

Wow, now that's a novel approach.  The loco is an RTR, bot Blue Box, but I am willing to try anything.  Thanks for the tip.  I will report back on the results.

Rich

Tell me the difference between the blue box and the RTR mechanism?  Hex drive is the only major difference I am aware of and ok, the RTR have the hand rails applied and a extra details, better paint job but this post is about running qualities.

Even with the advent of the RTR loco's replacing the blue box "kit" loco, many still complain of grindy sounding engines.  Therefore my assumption is the mechanism hasn't hasn't changed radically.  I've always lamented that why can't Athearn spend a little more on a better motor to match their very nice looking RTR loco's?  Their newer SP tunnel motors for example look nearly like highly detailed brass loco's. 

Anyway, I know I'm repeating methods used on blue box loco's but if the mechanism hasn't changed much, what else can you do?  It's either the motor or the gears, or maybe both.  Some will try to exchange and try to roll the dice and get a better running loco from the same batch, others will try to remedy themselves.  To a certain extent, breaking them in may smooth some out to a degree.

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 9:13 PM

Athearn replied to my inquiry and said that the ATH63843 bulbs are 1.5 volt, rated at 12 to 16 ma., and are 1.34 mm diameter.

Rich

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Posted by Paul3 on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 11:11 AM

riogrande5761,
The differences between BB and RTR drives are generally as follows:

1). Hex shaft interface with flywheel - Removes the slip shaft coupling that caused a lot of flopping around and vibration noise.

2). Ball & Peg interface with worm - As a snap-in coupling, removes more slop from the drive.

3). Plastic worm - The old brass worms, while hardy, were not the quietest around.  The new slippery plastic worm is quieter.

4). Shouldered gears - The old gears had teeth that went right to the edge of the wheel hub, meaning that these teeth would run on the sides of the gear box...sometimes severely.  The shouldered gear tooth profile prevents that and reduces noise.

5). Nickle-Silver wheels - The old sintered metal wheels have a rough surface that not only collects dirt, but also sounds louder than the smoothly plated N-S wheels.

However, that being said, there is one more source of grinding noise that has cropped up with the RTR's vs. the old BB's.  The parts quality control and the assembly quality control has suffered since the move to China.  In California, the ladies that assembled all the Athearn motors had been doing so for decades and each engine was assembled then test driven around a loop of track (I've seen pictures of the process).  A grinding engine would be rejected and re-built .  Today, the Chinese-made parts seem to be looser when assembled and the people assembling them don't take the same care that the ladies in CA used to.  For example, a friend's engine came new in the box with the motor windings grinding against the magnets in the motor.  That never would have happened in CA.

BTW, to improve things with an Athearn motor, try running it and twisting the motor ends around.  There should be a "sweet spot" where the motor is perfectly aligned.  I did that to my friend's GP40X, and now it sounds like an Atlas.  And I'm not kidding.  I then epoxyed the motor together to hold it in place.

Paul A. Cutler III

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Posted by steamfreightboy on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 12:29 PM

steamfreightboy

 richhotrain:

What roadname are you interested in?

Rich

 

 

Not really sure yet. I might eventually repaint it to match the one I rode.

The details on the athearn MILW #465/469 match my prototype pretty well (as far as I can tell), except it is short hood forward (prototype ran long hood forward), but the orange paint on the bottom also matches it well too. Would it be possible to paint over the black paint on top, or do I need to strip the paint on the entire thing?

sfb

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Posted by richhotrain on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 6:27 PM

steamfreightboy

 steamfreightboy:

 richhotrain:

What roadname are you interested in?

Rich

 

 

Not really sure yet. I might eventually repaint it to match the one I rode.

 

The details on the athearn MILW #465/469 match my prototype pretty well (as far as I can tell), except it is short hood forward (prototype ran long hood forward), but the orange paint on the bottom also matches it well too. Would it be possible to paint over the black paint on top, or do I need to strip the paint on the entire thing?

sfb

I wish I could help you, but I have no experience painting locomotives.  You may want to start a new thread to catch the attention of those who have such experience.

Rich

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 6:48 PM

Paul3

riogrande5761,
The differences between BB and RTR drives are generally as follows:

However, that being said, there is one more source of grinding noise that has cropped up with the RTR's vs. the old BB's.  The parts quality control and the assembly quality control has suffered since the move to China.  In California, the ladies that assembled all the Athearn motors had been doing so for decades and each engine was assembled then test driven around a loop of track (I've seen pictures of the process).  A grinding engine would be rejected and re-built .  Today, the Chinese-made parts seem to be looser when assembled and the people assembling them don't take the same care that the ladies in CA used to.  For example, a friend's engine came new in the box with the motor windings grinding against the magnets in the motor.  That never would have happened in CA.

BTW, to improve things with an Athearn motor, try running it and twisting the motor ends around.  There should be a "sweet spot" where the motor is perfectly aligned.  I did that to my friend's GP40X, and now it sounds like an Atlas.  And I'm not kidding.  I then epoxyed the motor together to hold it in place.

Paul A. Cutler III



Paul,

Thanks for the insights and tips for the newer RTR Athearns.  I have added quite a few since the RTR line has been introduced (at least 35 that I can count from memory) and I'm sure some of them will need some attention to improve the running characteristics.

BTW, it looks like one of my few remaining blue box engines slipped past Uncle Irvs QAQC "ladies".  I still have 2 blue box GP40-2's and one of them was a coffee grinder extra-ordinaire, it vibrated pretty badly out of the box.  I took it appart and its been in a pieces and parts box for years as I never did rebuild the darn thing.

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Posted by aloco on Thursday, May 19, 2011 4:53 AM

I have one Atheran RS-3 that didn't run properly when I took it out of the box.  But it was not the motor that was the problem - it was the gears.   The gears were too loose and floppy, so I found some gears from an old Life-Like Proto GP18 and I put them in.  Now the loco runs fine.

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Posted by steamfreightboy on Monday, May 23, 2011 7:28 AM

Does anyone have a Bachmann RS-3? How well do they run after the decoder is replaced and how are the details on it?

Thanks,

sfb

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Posted by WSOR 3801 on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 11:57 AM

steamfreightboy

 

 steamfreightboy:

 

 

The details on the athearn MILW #465/469 match my prototype pretty well (as far as I can tell), except it is short hood forward (prototype ran long hood forward), but the orange paint on the bottom also matches it well too. Would it be possible to paint over the black paint on top, or do I need to strip the paint on the entire thing?

sfb

The MILW RS-3s (and RSD-5s) were set up short hood forward.  The 465 and 469 (actually 465-470) retained their normal trucks for their service lives.  The earlier RS-3s (450-464) had their road trucks removed and sent to EMD for use under GP30s.  They received trucks from retired Alco switchers. 

The MILW units were late production Phase III units, with different carbody filter arrangement (pretty much no louvers in the long hood, just screened openings).  About the only model of this carbody was made by Stewart, as a flat kit.

Mike WSOR engineer | HO scale since 1988 | Visit our club www.WCGandyDancers.com

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Posted by nik .n on Tuesday, May 24, 2011 12:09 PM

Well, one way to get exactly what you want is to get an Atlas chassis and mate it with an Athern shell. Stick out tongue

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