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MTH Standard gauge no. 384 steam passenger set

TINPLATE REPRODUCTIONS may be the last tension-free zone in model railroading. Nobody is yelling about competing command-control systems. Nobody takes prewar-style tinplate to task for looking toy-like. Nobody gripes about the wrong road name being applied to a locomotive.

You can get your trains in the old-line colors or brand-new paint schemes. You can get them topped off with the latest control and sound technology or go with a retro motor and mechanical sounds. Not built to scale?
Shoot, other than track width, Standard gauge is whatever scale that struck the designer's fancy when he sat at the drafting table.

Many fans of prewar trains hope there will be a resurgence of interest in Standard gauge. Well, if MTH's all-in-a-set-box approach can't draw some attention to these trains from the primordial modeling era, nothing will.

The model

This set has pizzazz!

Motive power honors for this set go to a reproduction of the no. 384 2-4-0 steam locomotive and tender. The original 384 was a modest little locomotive cataloged by Lionel from 1930 to 1932. The consist of this set features two no. 300-series passenger cars. The original 300s were launched in the 1920s and cataloged for separate sale as late as 1939.

The locomotive is "darned heavy," weighing in at 9 pounds,4 ounces. The frame and cab roof are painted green. The glossy red boiler is sheet metal and sports a minimum of rivet and seam detail. It does have an abundance of brass trim and add-ons for handrails and domes. The smokebox hosts a large light bulb in the traditional, prewar style.

The locomotive uses what MTH calls a "contemporary" drivetrain. Beneath the sheet-metal shell is a modern can-style motor with an optical reader for cruise control and a puffing smoke generator. In the tender are command-control and sound-system electronics. While the locomotive looks old-fashioned on the outside, on the inside it can go toe-to-toe with the latest Digital Command System-equipped MTH locomotives.

The locomotive has a two power pickup rollers spaced 3 inches apart. A tether connects the motor to the tender's circuit boards.

The sheet-metal tender has some stamped-steel detail and a black sheet-metal coal load. The tender also has add-on handrails on the front and the top of the water tank, as well as an add-on water hatch. Flip over the tender and you'll see the ProtoSound 2.0 speaker, an on/off switch, and a volume control knob. Two power pickup rollers on the tender are spaced 5 inches apart.

Decoration is red with mistletoe bracketing a brass plate with the name "Christmas Express" emblazoned on it.

The set's two passenger cars (each 12 inches long) are impressive. The cars are painted a matching red with green roofs. The doors, steps, window frames, and number and nameplates are insert pieces painted creme.

Besides the locomotive and cars, the outfit includes eight 42-inch-diameter curved sections of Standard gauge track, a Z-1000 transformer and a control box with a rotary throttle and direction, whistle, and bell buttons. The set has a manual, a CD with instructions and track-planning software, and a lockon. To experience the full ProtoSound 2.0 experience, you'll need to buy MTH's DCS controller and base separately.

On the test track

This train is a lot of fun to operate. The locomotive's motor is smooth and responsive in all speed ranges, and the ProtoSound 2.0 system worked flawlessly. Even with the volume turned down, the mechanical clickety-clack of tinplate on tinplate was perfect for a holiday train.

Drawbar pull was 2 pounds 2 ounces, which was more than adequate.

The steam sound system was every bit as good as that on either a Premier line or RailKing line steamer. We did note some occasional distortion, but that could have been our hearing as much as the echo of the sheet-metal tender.

Our low-speed test average was 6.5 scale mph, while our high-speed average was 51 scale mph. The locomotive would have gone faster - we just ran out of straight track.

Once our workshop testing was completed, we set up the entire MTH outfit (with extra sections of straight track) at our booth at the annual Mad City Train Show in Madison, Wis., and ran it for two days straight.

The crowd at the show ate it up. Even though the show occurred eight weeks after Christmas, and our booth was hemmed in by some pretty attractive modular scale layouts, the crowd greeted the MTH Christmas train with more enthusiasm than for any other layout that we have shown to the public.

Just about everyone who saw our Standard gauge setup, at the very least, grinned. Kids got excited (and wanted to touch and derail it, and run the controls). Moms asked about the puffing smoke and the price (and didn't gasp when they were told). And Dads wondered where they could buy such a marvel (and asked about what other kinds cars might be available).

After the two-day event, the readout on our DCS controller showed that the Christmas train had racked up 16 hours of operation and covered 330 scale miles without a single problem!

MTH continues to lead the world of tinplate reproductions, as this Christmas steam set attests. It is a well-crafted product that comes with all the bits and pieces that a novice (or veteran) model railroader needs to get going. Its colors and construction hail back to a simpler time, yet it retains the advances of ProtoSound 2.0 that will attract all the techno fans!
STANDARD GAUGE NO. 384 STEAM PASSENGER SET BY MTH
Price: $599.95 (no. 10-1250-1)

Features: Die-cast metal and sheet-metal construction, two passenger cars, ProtoSound 2.0, smoke unit, track, and transformer

Pros: Runs great, made well, crowd-pleasing

Cons: None

Made in the People's Republic of China for MTH Electric Trains

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