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Worst HO Scale Locomotive you've ever owned or ran?

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Posted by josephbw on Saturday, September 25, 2021 8:55 AM

Back in the late 70's, my wife bought me a Tyco Chatanooga Choo Choo 2-8-0, for Christmas. It was a poor runner at first and only got worse the more I ran it.

But it did get me started in the hobby.

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Posted by NHTX on Saturday, September 25, 2021 2:19 PM

     n012944,  Athearn's ANYTHING with a rubber band drive!  Anyone ever try to switch with a Hustler?

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Posted by maxman on Saturday, September 25, 2021 3:08 PM

NHTX

     n012944,  Athearn's ANYTHING with a rubber band drive!  Anyone ever try to switch with a Hustler?

 

 
Just because you can't keep up doesn't mean there's a fault with the engineWhistling
DrW
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Posted by DrW on Saturday, September 25, 2021 4:13 PM

After reading all the responses, I have a question. In the time frame where many of us grew up (50s/60s), were there any brands that produced reliably running HO engines? I grew up in Germany and had a 7' x 3.5' Märklin layout, put together by my mom (God bless her soul). I had 5 engines, and they all ran like a charm; the slow-speed control was excellent. The two electric locomotive models even had working pantographs, allowing to run two trains at the same time (one fed by 3rd rail, the other by catenary). Of course, 3-rail AC makes reliable operation a bit easier; but I remember one of my friends had a 2-rail DC Trix layout, and there were no operational problems either.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Saturday, September 25, 2021 4:33 PM

DrW
In the time frame where many of us grew up (50s/60s), were there any brands that produced reliably running HO engines?

It was before my time, but I have heard over-and-over that Varney was solid and reliable in the early days of HO scale.

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by RR_Mel on Saturday, September 25, 2021 6:05 PM

I started out in HO scale in 1951 with a MDC Roundhouse 0-6-0 as my first locomotive and a couple of years later bought a Varney “little Joe” Dockside switcher, both were and still are great runners.

My worst ever locomotive was not one but three Southern Pacific Bachmann pancake motor 4-8-4 GS4s in the 1990s, after about a year the driver wheels fell off all three locomotives.  

Beautiful shells but totally worthless runners.  I kept the shells and tenders and sold the mechanisms as junk.  Later on I used the Bachmann GS4 shells for kitbashing Rivarossi Cab Forwards into AC-9 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone class locomotives.

 
Mel

 
My Model Railroad   
http://melvineperry.blogspot.com/
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.

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Posted by ndbprr on Sunday, September 26, 2021 9:29 AM

Penn Line GG1.  Compressed length. Zinc wheel centers. Lousy end door inserts.  Terrible tiny Pantagraph and top heavy.  At the time the only one available.

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Posted by 7j43k on Sunday, September 26, 2021 10:11 AM

DrW

After reading all the responses, I have a question. In the time frame where many of us grew up (50s/60s), were there any brands that produced reliably running HO engines? 

 

Most everything in the US that fit that requirement was sold as a kit.

Hobbytown diesels were quite good.  Athearn was coming up.

Penn Line seemed to be good.  Mantua was kinda pretty good.  I think Varney was going downhill in running quality, but there might still have been some good ones available.

I can't think of any RTR stuff that was good, except brass.  I got my brass 4-8-4 in about 1963, and it was very nice.  And came painted--RTR.

 

 

Ed

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Posted by Great Northern Fan 54 on Sunday, September 26, 2021 11:50 AM

ndbprr

Penn Line GG1.  Compressed length. Zinc wheel centers. Lousy end door inserts.  Terrible tiny Pantagraph and top heavy.  At the time the only one available.

 

Yikes, those are pieces of junk

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Posted by ndbprr on Monday, September 27, 2021 7:27 AM

This is high jacking the thread but you have no idea how bad track was.  In the 50s pent up demand for housing resulted in developments of 900 Sq ft. Houses. A really big house was 1100 to 1200 sq. Ft.  18" curves were considered huge.  Brass was the only rail choice and 3' legnths were stapled to fiber strip ties that swelled with moisture content.  There were no NMRA standards for anything and Baker loop and hook couplers were the standard for good operation. It was pretty much  a Kit and scratch build era.  4'x8'  was considered a luxury layout.  Then somebody figured out that ping pong table plywood was available in 5'x10' pieces plus you needed a tiny basement or a dedicated room in those small houses.

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Posted by Tin Can II on Monday, September 27, 2021 8:50 AM

I received a Tyco/Mantua F7 kit for Christmas in the early 70s.  Kit in that you had to attach the trucks to the body with screws.  As I was barely a teen, I had no specialized tools (small screwdrivers) but my dad had an eyeglasses screwdriver I borrowed.  One powered truck, one dummy truck.  That thing ran horribly, it either ran 200 scale mph or not at all; and it sounded like a coffee grinder when running.  But I didn't know much better, and I loved the fact that my family got me something train related for Christmas.  

 

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Posted by wjstix on Monday, September 27, 2021 9:58 AM

I tried to model in HO in the early seventies, but eventually everything I had (Tyco 4-6-2, GP-20, and F-7, and an odd (probably German prototype) 0-6-0T lettered for GN) just quit working. Fortunately, I was able to buy a friend's c.1957 Lionel train set for $3, which ran fine, and ended up doing three-rail (eventually running scale 'hi rail' stuff) for 15 years before switching back to HO.

Of course, in the early seventies, info was hard to find, and it was only years later I realized it was the brass track that was the problem; if I'd had nickel-silver it probably would have run OK.

Stix
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Posted by GN24 on Thursday, October 7, 2021 12:40 PM

model power 0-4-0 it would spark and it would never actually run it just jolted along the track and it also looked like a piece of crap. so i used it for parts

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Posted by GN24 on Thursday, October 7, 2021 12:40 PM

it was pathetic

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Posted by garyla on Thursday, October 7, 2021 9:24 PM

AT&T brand Alco Century 415.  What a disgrace.  It had a super cheap open motor which only ran for a few minutes. I converted the thing into a dummy unit, only making official what it had already become on its own.  IHC later used the same shell (with the fat handrails and all), but employed a nice-running Mehano motor.

 

If I ever met a train I didn't like, I can't remember when it happened!
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Posted by MisterBeasley on Friday, October 8, 2021 12:23 PM

I had an old Tyco/Mantua Mikado that I got in a yard sale box of old trains in the early 1960s.  I thing it was brush painted black over pot metal.  The pilot fell off and the pilot truck always derailed so I took it off.  I packed it up when I went to college.  I found it again forty years later when I returned to the hobby.  I never even tried to run it.

I suppose that knowing what I do now, I could have put in a new motor and fixed it, but I doubt that I would have the enthusiasm for it.

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

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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Saturday, October 9, 2021 10:37 AM

Actually yes, it has a nice heavy Cary boxcab body and a rebuilt drive train, so it probably doesn't count. It's used as the plant switcher in my tie and bridge timber creosoting plant (many large lines had such, often narrow gauge) using modified British four wheeled cars that are shoved into and hauled out of the retorts. You have flatcars of lumber, tank cars of creosote and hoppers of coal for the power plant in and flat cars of treated lumber out

Truro Creosoting Plant: Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History

carycatalog1983page07.jpg (740×1020) (hoseeker.net)

s-l300.jpg (300×225) (ebayimg.com)

 

 

 

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Posted by Graham Line on Sunday, October 10, 2021 3:47 PM

Most expensive disappointment was a brass Hallmark GP15-1.  It came out not too long after the real thing appeared in the '70s and seemed to be just what I needed.  Except:  It took at least half-throttle to move, stopped immediately when the throttle was turned down, was pretty indifferently detailed. No amount of tuning seemed to help.  Traded it to a dealer who specialized in brass.

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Posted by PRR8259 on Sunday, October 10, 2021 7:32 PM

The Mantua engines or previous Mantua-Tyco engines made in Woodbury Heights, NJ were half decent runners.  However, in the mid-1970's John Tyler (Tyco) took over production and offshored production to Hong Kong which is when the real horrible crappy Tyco stuff was made.  At a point in the 1980's, Mantua re-started production in New Jersey under their own name, but not all the engines.  Also, prior to 1975, it had been Mantua-Tyco (which was stamped on the bottom of the fuel tanks of the diesels, etc.)

When I'm saying decent runners: they had to be run OFTEN.  Otherwise they could actually build up an oxidation film between the brushes and the commutator.  I was taught by the train store how to turn the commutator a little bit and then you could get them running (if they weren't).  If one ran their trains every day like I did during the fall, winter and spring prior to baseball season, they actually ran very well and reasonably reliably.  I got many years out of the very early 1970's (1972 vintage) Mantua Tyco engines, both steam and diesels.

We had brass track in those days, so between the oxidation of the brass rails and the brass wheels on many of the available engines, that alone caused running issues.   However, the motors themselves worked well as long as you kept running them pretty often.

I don't know the point at which Athearn switched from the rubber band drive to their relatively bulletproof drive mechanism, but by 1979 or 1980 one could purchase Athearn diesels the just ran and ran and ran with very few problems whatsoever other than some gear noise.

By the late 70's Atlas was starting to produce some very nice engines that ran well.

The Model Power Sharknose which came out about 1975 or 1976 ran very well.  There were Austrian-made versions and Yugoslavian-made versions if I recall.  I had an Austrian made one.  It was relatively bullet proof!  I was told by the folks at Bowser that that was one of the very first uses of a can motor in a rtr model train locomotive (obviously not counting brass imports).  I ran it so much that I eventually fried two can motors, and when the third can motor (they were easy to get as the local store had them) was getting worn, then the gears were finally starting to wear, too.  However, that engine got so much high speed passenger train mileage on my layout...we more than got our money's worth out of it.

So I would say that by 1975 some really good running trains were available rtr, but it depended upon which prototype you had to have as there was still a lot of cheaply made stuff that lingered on the market for years.  The Tyco crap in particular was so plentiful that it remained in dealer inventories for at least 15 years after production was stopped, so the unsuspecting or unknowledgeable buyer in the 1980's could still easily end up with total crap.

Respectfully submitted-

John

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Posted by cats think well of me on Sunday, October 10, 2021 8:08 PM

Oh my, the worst HO Loco (s) I've ever had and run. Good question, as overall, most of mine have been pretty good to excellent, even the low-end train set engines I had as a kiddo. I did not have a lot of issues with those, but I took reasonable care of those trains and did not play to hard with those as I recall. Looking back they didn't run great, but they ran when I wanted to play with my trains. 

A Proto2000 EMD BL2 comes to mind, but I knew getting it that it would need work. It seemed that model hadn't had a good life for the 30-years or so before I got it, and I just didn't have the patience to get it running well, so I sold it.

My PSC Boston and Maine T1b 2-8-4 is a model that had spent probably all its life sitting in its box. I've gotten it running quite smoothly with much tinkering, but still doesn't perform as I'd like. No low speed perfomance. I'm tempted to swap motors one day. 

I think my worst was a Bachmann Spectrum PRR K4s that I bought brand new with my Christmas money, I was in high school, about 20-years ago. The models were now DCC ready! And, it blew a DH-123 decoder with less than 20-minutes run time. I was not happy! It had started to give me issues, so I had the tender shell off, and let out the smoke! For one reason or another, I didn't prioritize fixing trains much then, I never got around to properly fixing it for years, and when I decided, finally, to send it to Bachmann to get exchanged for another one, they did not have any in stock, and sent me one of their Berkshires instead which I sold.

My Athearn USRA Mikado was one of the nicest running steamers I ever owned, but it need a lot of work to go over the less than stellar, like real less than stellar, trackwork at the modular train club layout I'd belonged to at the time. But I loved it and ran it all the time. I added weight to the lead and trailing truck, weight in the limited space in the boiler, and took the wrapping off of the wire bundle going into the tender. That helped, but it still would be picky about the track condition.

Alvie

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Posted by GMTRacing on Monday, October 11, 2021 11:39 AM

I first restarted with the hobby in the mid 70's buying a couple of Tyco closeout New Haven F-7 trainsets at K-Mart on a whim. I didn't expect much and they didn't disappoint. They had decent paint, sidewinder pancake motors, no windows, no nothing and as far as I know the New Haven never had F-7s but they sort of ran and long enough for me to get going. The track was brass but after 4 years in the navy I knew all about polishing brass so no problem there. Made to a price not a standard and I knew not to expect much so I was ok. I still have them in a box though the motors are mostly corroded solid.     J.R. 

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Posted by PM Railfan on Monday, October 11, 2021 12:34 PM

Probably the only good thing that came from tearing so many models apart as a child is, i dont really have any 'bad runners', in that sense. I usually fix them, as Im sure you do. Im not really into 'parting things out'. If its spose to run, dog gonnit... RUN! So over the years I avoided buying the monkey shine models.

Generally, its either broke from misuse, or flaw in the design. Broken stuff is usually fixable. Something designed to be a cow cookie, will stay that way. There is one model that really stands out but my premise remains the same for all that are similar to it.

The Bachmann 2-8-0. Absolutely gorgeous in detail for a 'kids' model. But under the domes - mule fritters! Most anything with a 'split axle' design is gonna fail. Even the Proto series got a bad rep because of 'broken axles'. Had they been solid..... never woulda happened.

Id say a close second was the notorious 'tender drive' that TyCo used on their 'smoking' 2-8-0s. Though this model lends itself to being repowered 'the correct way(!)' because the chassis is still the same one used when it was a powered loco/dragging tender. Similar models were the Rivarossi 4-4-0s. Torque twist themselves right off the rails. Never owned one, but have had my hands on them.

In that respect, what could be done? I mean the loco is so small scalewise.... where else would the motor go? TyCo's tender drive was just sheer stupidity. Same as for the Bachmann above.

Lastly, one that does peeve me royally was Rivarossi's Red Box Rejects. Oh sure, the models looked great, and were powered fine.... but that plastic gearbox is the broken spine on this one. I love Riva's, own quite a few of them. So when the word came out about the upgraded Red Box versions, I thought heck yeah! Lets get a dozen or so. After the second Berkshire it was obvious!

Pretty much thats the top 3 I avoid. Great lookers, but just plain worthless otherwise.

 

PMR

 

PS: You could add anything by PemCo. But I knew from the beginning they were all crap. I mean the whole company! None of those even turned my head.

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Posted by Tin Can II on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 10:35 AM

NHTX

     n012944,  Athearn's ANYTHING with a rubber band drive!  Anyone ever try to switch with a Hustler?

 

 
I had a pair of Athearn rubber band drive F7s as a teenager.  Very smooth runners; were stolen when I left them at our local club.  Who steals trains from a high schooler?  
 
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Posted by rrebell on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 10:58 AM

Depends on the time period and type and scale. Recently the worst has been a BLI NW2 and for one Bachmann that was a lemon That I should have just fixed myself.

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Posted by MetrolinkFan on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 11:52 AM

Bachmann F40PH,C44-9W I have two of these engines the shell detail are good.But for the frame it is in two pieces. and the copper prongs to make it powered,Are not good to me.It is hard to get the drive shafts back into place.

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 2:15 PM

MetrolinkFan

Bachmann F40PH,C44-9W I have two of these engines the shell detail are good.But for the frame it is in two pieces. and the copper prongs to make it powered,Are not good to me.It is hard to get the drive shafts back into place.

 

If you're referring to the tower drives Bachmann uses I find the plastic driveshafts can be made to sort of stick into the motor driving cups with Labelle 106 grease. It doesn't hold well but well enough to allow you to maneuver the other driver end into the cup on the worm gear in the gear tower. Also, there's just the one angle where the top of the tower slips under the frame just as you carefully and accurately align the driveshaft with one of your spare fingers. Lol 

Alyth Yard

Canada

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Posted by drgwcs on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 3:33 PM

Well the Athearn Lil Hustler ran just a little too well.....I took one up to the club to use the Kadee wheel cleaner and did that. At the time the club was using CTC16 which applied a constant 14-16V to the track. I set it down to see if it was clean and did not have a good grip... The thing took off like a scalded cat being chased by a pack of angry rabid rotweilers down the about 10' straightway hit warp 9.9 and then the slight curve... at that point it went airborne- over scenery skidding across a lake. Made it several feet before it stopped. At that point every eye focused on me (at the time I was maybe 16) and then everyone laughed. Tough little engine but not real good.

On the other hand was the TYCO Alco Century- life expectancy went away about as fast as the Lil Hustler ran. Died reitively quickly and had to send it in on waranty and the next one died too. It is a wonder any kid that got a train set from them during that era stayed in the hobby. Not an actual train but the Tyco transformer was pretty bad too. Mine heated up and started actually smoking- the house smelled like burning tires for two days. My mother was not amused.

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