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BEST HO scale Locomotives?

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  • Member since
    May, 2012
  • 17 posts
BEST HO scale Locomotives?
Posted by FC2TurboMSS on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 3:06 PM

There is already a thread on here that asks this question, however, one of the posters stated more factors to determine the answer would be helpful.  So here is my specifics for the question.

1.  I am modeling Conrail, mid to late 70s

2.  I am looking at main-line diesels (currently am thinking the SD45-2), but i don't want to pigeon hole the results to one engine.  Just as long as it was manufactured prior to 1979.

3.  If this helps, my layout is going to be a coal mine to coal power plant arrangement centered around Conrail's area of operations. 

4.  Turnout Radius is not of concern as I am running 24" radii on the mainline.

I am looking for the most realistic locomotive in function and appearance in that order.  Reliablity is a very close third for obvious reasons.

Thank you for your inputs!

  • Member since
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  • From: underhill vt
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Posted by fisker76 on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 3:26 PM

I think you'll do alright with the Athearn Genesis sd45-2, Kato or Athearn SD40-2, or Kato SD40

Atlas also made an SD35 and B23-7

Erik Fiske

I couldn't fix your brakes, so I made your horn louder

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Posted by maxman on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 4:17 PM

Looking at my copy of The Conrail Motive Power Review by Paul Withers road freight units built 1979 and prior would be (earliest build date listed):

GP30 - 5/1962;    GP35 - 5/1964;    GP40 - 12/1965;    GP40-2 - 12/1973;    SD40 - 2/1966

SD40-2 - 6/1977;    SD45 - 6/67;    SD45-2 - 11/1972;    B23-7 - 5/1978;    C30-7 - 11/1977

U23B - 8/1972;    U36B - 12/1974;    U36C - 11/1972


Road switcher units are as follows:

GP8 (rebuilt GP7) - 9/1976;    GP10 (rebuilt GP9) - 1976;    GP15-1 - 7/1979;    GP38 - 6/1969

GP38-2 - 5/1972;    SD38 - 5/1970;    U23C - 10/1970

Note that the book covers units that Conrail still had between 1986 and 1991.  Conrail had other units that they inherited that were gone during the period covered by the book, such as U33C.

Most of the road freight units have been modeled by Atlas and Athearn, plus a couple by Kato.

You did mention a coal mine to power plant scheme.  Depending on location, Conrail would have used the 4-axle units to get the train from the mine to the yard, put on 6-axle units to get from the yard to the destination yard, and 4-axle power to get from there to the power plant.  Or they could have used 6-axle units for the entire trip.  Depended upon rail loading.

If you need information on yard switchers for the same period, let me know and I can look up the info in the book.

Hope this is helpful.


  • Member since
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  • From: Jersey Shore
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Posted by wojosa31 on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 11:33 PM

The most reliable, as well as the most common diesel units on the Conrail roster, were the SD40; the SD40-2; the GP38; the GP38-2; the GP40; and the GP40-2. A close runner up would be the B23-7.

These were the locomotives I was assigned the most. In most cases, Conrail's Blue Room determined locomotive assignments by a formula of HP per ton. pr axle per ton.

For a Unit Train hauling Coal from mine to power plant, or export coal dumper, 6 axle power would have been the norm. I would go with SD40- SD40-2 primarily, although ALCo and GE power would have also been used in the '70s.

Factoid: Conrail's Mechanical department rated EMD's SD40-2 as the most reliable locomotive rostered by Conrail.  That is one reason why 14 years after Conrail's dismemberment, SD40-2 locomotives are still around.

Joe [OncewasBoris]

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Posted by FC2TurboMSS on Thursday, August 30, 2012 5:34 AM

thanks for the information.  I'm taking from your response you were on Conrail's payroll.  Ever run coal to the PP&L Brunner Island Power Plant?

I'm not really looking for the most common loco as much as looking for the most detailed (again in both function and appearance) HO scale model of loco. 

Besides, I kind of like the idea of a unique/rare locomotive running my loads.

In the 70s, how many locomotives were in the consist?  I know today NS runs two locomotives for our 100+ unit trains to my plant.  These are typically ES44AC of late.  How many SD-40s would be in the consist back then?  The number of coal cars has always been around 100 per unit train.



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Posted by FC2TurboMSS on Thursday, August 30, 2012 5:37 AM

Thanks for the info.  I'm going to be using a SW9 for my yard switcher (not conrail).  At least one of them.  The other switcher we have in my local plant's yard is an old GE 85 ton switcher but I can't find any scale models of this.  If push comes to shove, I think I can modify a 55 ton to look about right.  If you know of ANY 85 ton jobs, I'd be interested in that information.  I don't even care what brand it is because chances are if its not of good quality it'll just sit static.



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Posted by UP 4-12-2 on Thursday, August 30, 2012 12:33 PM

Looking for the most detailed model of a diesel from the pre-1979 Conrail period?

That is not the easiest question to answer at all.

My answer is going to be "it depends based upon the specific model in question".

If you truly want the most road-specific detail, Overland Models brass might be the way to go, as they have generally done a great job especially with diesels from that particular era...but then many folks will complain about the price and say they want plastic only.  Now I myself have had the occasional QA/QC issue, but generally speaking, with Overland Models you are going to get exactly what you pay for.

Most of the prototype diesel models in question are far from being the newest/latest diesel in real life and as such have escaped the detail upgrades that other models have received in recent years.

Kato anything--I'd pretty much forget it because they were generic models with roughly generic features and few road specific details.  Upgradeable, sure, but you must invest the time, research and modeling skills to do it.

The Atlas GP40-2 and C-420 are the best detailed models they've ever offered (not coincidentally also the most recent non-Trainman releases.)  Anything else they have at this point is somewhat dated regarding detailing, and will not meet the "best detailed" criteria, period.

Bowser has done a terrific job of upgrading the old Stewart C-628 and C-630 to today's detailing standards, and has a brand new from the ground up C-636 coming.  These all are terrific models, though C628/C630 are still not 100% correct for all roadname variations because the Alco prototypes changed so very often--it would be virtually impossible to produce one plastic big Alco Century 628 or 630 model that would be dead on 100% accurate for more than one or two railroads.  They've done a great job with the PRR/PC/Reading/Lehigh Valley/Conrail big Alco's--even offering the correct Conrail patch paint jobs for correct individual units based upon the prototype photos.  The Bowser models are now loaded with separately applied cast brass details and still available at a "reasonable" price, yet will compare very favorably against the brass imports that have been done in the past.

For late F units surviving into the 1970's, the Athearn Genesis models have been the way to go.  Buy the Ex-Rio Grande lettered with Penn Central lettering F-Units.  They were awesome!  Extremely well modeled if accuracy and fidelity to prototype is the primary concern!

Also the Walthers Proto 2000 Alco RS-27 in Penn Central and Conrail.  Excellent, exquisite model!  Great handrails can actually be handled without breaking and stay looking good, and as accurate a diesel model as I've ever seen--and they lasted well into the '70's in real life.

I do not believe you are going to find an SD40-2 that is in the same detailing league as any of the specific units I've mentioned above...Excepting recently tooled Canadian releases.

My 2c.




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Posted by FC2TurboMSS on Thursday, August 30, 2012 2:41 PM


Thank you very much for your 2c.  It was worth a bit more than $

I guess I have some more research to do.  The price on the bowser's wasn't to scary, but I haven't worked up the nerve to check out the Brass stuff yet.  I have found the SD45-2 and I'm thinking I may get that and try and cut my teeth on sprucing it up myself.  I've found a very good pic of the actual prototype of the one I have my eye on, and perhaps I can bring it up to snuff.  Again, thanks for all the input, it was most helpful.

  • Member since
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  • From: Southeast Texas
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Posted by mobilman44 on Thursday, August 30, 2012 3:31 PM


I am not a Conrail expert, but I have owned an awful lot of HO locos over the years.  For the most part, you get what you pay for these days.   Diesels by Stewart/Bowser, Athearn, BLI, Atlas, Intermountain and Proto (Walthers/Lifelike) are just fine.   Yes, some models have their quirks and problems, but your chances of getting a lemon are slim.   And if you do, the manufacturer will typically take care of the problem.

Again, you typically will get what you pay for........................ 





Living in southeast Texas, modeling the "postwar" Santa Fe and Illinois Central 

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Posted by UP 4-12-2 on Friday, August 31, 2012 12:00 AM

I deliberately did not discuss the Athearn Genesis SD45-2.  Some of them came in plastic clamshells that were too tight a fit and actually damage the model during shipping through UPS or USPS, and my Santa Fe units arrived damaged as a result (top rear corners of the "lip" above the louvers are beautifully executed, but delicate and vulnerable to clamshell damage).  Also, the front edge of the cab roof and sides is vulnerable to clamshell damage.  I've seen otherwise gorgeous models that were...not acceptable to me as a result.

It is best to inspect SD45-2's in a store--you may find ones that have not traveled through USPS or UPS shipping.  (The larger stores received them in case lots--they survive better that way--in Athearn's original shipping box).  Beware the Ebay diesel sellers--some of them pack very poorly and fine models that are loaded with details get damaged as a result.

Also, Atlas has done some MP15DC switchers that have been really good, but since I'm a mainline guy, I normally forget to mention switch engines.

Also, the Atlas SD-35 models have been very nice. They would have been used in heavy transfer and mineral service in real life.

Proto 2000 U28B's and U30B's were beautiful--the neat see through grills at the rear also show the piping on the applicable phase of production.  However, some have oddball gear ratios such that they would need DCC to run with other power.  They do run very well though and are generally affordable as they've been around awhile now.  Some linger in dealer inventory so you will see them out there.


If you must mail order, M.B. Klein does an exceptional job of packing models safely and their charges are reasonable for shipping.  Unfortunately, the late model diesel releases don't stay in their inventory very long, but they have or had the Big Alcos recently.

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