O gauge Premier line GE 44-tonner by MTH
Price: $449.95 (no. 20-20466-1) Min Curve: O-27 Cmd Low: 3.04 smph Cnv Low: 3.25 smph High: 65.4 smph Drawbar pull: 1 lb., 7 oz.
Features: Two can-style motors, ProtoSound 3.0 command and sound system, coil couplers Current production road names: Baltimore & Ohio; Boston & Maine; Great Northern; Long Island RR; Milwaukee Road; New Haven; New York, Ontario & Western; Pennsylvania RR; Santa Fe; Southern Ry.; Western Maryland; Union Pacific
Small industrial switchers, often dubbed “Critters,” have a special place in the hearts of many railroad enthusiasts. While they lack the prestige of a New York Central Hudson the power of a Union Pacific DD40, or the bright technology of a Florida East Coast ES44AC the General Electric 44-tonners were far more approachable. They could be easily climbed over, and in the back of any train fan’s mind, these diminutive rail kings would be about as easy to drive as a small truck or a 1960s family station wagon. It was a friendly-sized locomotive.
General Electric produced a wide range of industrial switchers, but the 44-tonner was designed to avoid the federal requirement of a locomotive weighing more than 90,000 pounds (45 tons) needing both engineer and a fireman. A cornerstone of the model is that it could be safely operated by one crewman because of the excellent vision provided by the center-cab design.
Options for prime movers were available, and two diesel engines each in the 180- to 200-horsepower range were standard. The locomotives were ideal for moving individual cars or short trains around an industrial setting with tight clearances.
General Electric built nearly 400 of its 44-tonners from 1940 to 1956. Roughly 33 were preserved, with a few still being operational.
Opening the box
What struck me before I opened the box of the MTH O gauge model was the heft. It was a surprise that the 44-tonner had a die-cast metal shell. Then I remembered how MTH did that with its Jersey Central no. 1000 boxcab diesel I reviewed in the March 2008 issue of Classic Toy Trains. The extra weight certainly helped traction.
Once the locomotive was unwrapped, what stood out most were the yellow accented bits. This included the handrails and the end grab irons (the long grab irons crossing the nose vents are painted blue). The brakeman’s steps, steps to the cab, simulated uncoupler arm, and grab irons on the face of the pilot are all yellow as well. There is a single horn on the model, and it is mounted on the top of the hood, next to an exhaust stack just ahead of the cab.
The decks have a finely textured safety tread. There are two steps up to the cab door on the “brakeman’s” side of the cab. The engineer’s side has no steps, but does have what appear to be louvers at the bottom of the cab.
The body has eight cast-in access doors on the sides of the engine compartments. The doors are slightly raised above the surface, as are the hinges and door handles.
The tops of both engine compartments have a similarly styled access hatch with what appear to be latches to secure the access to the body. All are cast-in details.
The cab is illuminated and has two crew figures mounted inside. The windows have “glass” panes. Just below the windows are two access doors; below them are two more doors, presumably for access to the fuel tank. This mirrors the prototype Long Island RR diesel photo.
The die-cast metal trucks are nice and simple, like the trucks on a real 44-tonner.
The blue body and orange trim were very nice. The paint scheme on the switcher would look just as nice on a road engine pulling a commuter train. The white lettering for Long Island, no. 400, and LIRR was razor sharp.
On the test track
Startup sounded great, and the locomotive’s sound system replicated the sound of two small, well-maintained diesel engines. Motor operation was smooth, and the locomotive generated very little mechanical noise, creaks, or clicks that weren’t part of the sound package.
The bell and horn were attention getters both from a 1:48 scale motorist’s point of view and that of 1:1 CTT employees walking past the test bench.
The O gauge locomotive’s performance was good, with a slow-speed range hitting 3 scale miles per hour and a high-speed range of 65 miles per hour. Drawbar pull was a nice 1 pound, 7 ounces, and I imagine the unit could pull a string of freight cars in excess of what a real 44-tonner might.
The coil couplers worked fine. You should note this Lilliputian locomotion doesn’t have a smoke unit, so your lungs can rest easy!
This is a fine model practical for switching as well as hauling short freights or excursion trains. Critter fans will want to contemplate where this 44-tonner might fit in on their O gauge railroad.