The holidays are past, the tree is down, and the radio station is done with Christmas music for another 11 months. Yet you haven’t quite stored the train set you bought for (a) the kids, (b) the grandkids, or (c) yourself. Maybe it will be a good idea to set up a little railroad. Maybe with two tracks, maybe running two trains.
But all you have is the locomotive that came in the set. What to do?
Hey, I know. Buy another locomotive! It will need to be small and not too expensive, lest the old spousal unit’s alarm bells start ringing and reminding you of your unfortunate hobby diversion into jet skis or your regrettable hot-air balloon phase.
Well, let me assure you the RailKing O gauge SW1 switcher by MTH may be the easiest model ever to slide into the house unnoticed.
The SW1 is based upon an EMC (Electro-Motive Corp. was the early name of the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors) switcher built between 1939 and 1953. It was a fairly compact (about 45 feet in length) 600-horsepower diesel locomotive. More than 600 SW1s were constructed, and it is arguable that small switchers such as the SW1 helped show steam railroads the inherent efficiencies of internal combustion switching power, especially in freight yards and over short freight hops.
A check of an online locomotive resource website www.thedieselshop.us indicates that more than 20 SW1s still exist, and some are operational. Our test model is the Soo Line no. 320, the only SW1 that railroad owned. This locomotive is now owned by Independent Locomotive Services (ILSX) and has operated in occasional freight service on the Minnesota Northern; it is currently working at a grain mill in Minot, N.Dak. The ILSX unit is painted black, but carries the Soo Line name and the original number 320.
I once recall reading comments in Trains magazine by a photographer who thought SD40-2s reminded him of a kid wearing sneakers a few sizes too large. That was my impression of this O gauge model when taking it out of the box. The car body for the prime mover is significantly shorter than the one used on later EMD switchers, such as the NW2, so the decks appear longer than if they were filled with another few feet of shroud!
I don’t think this SW1 looks odd (with a frowny face); instead, I think it is unique when compared to the typical diesel switcher on most layouts. The single smokestack and the bell, mounted above and behind the headlight, help foster the suggestion of this being a coupe compared to your dad’s sedan!
This RailKing model has a good level of cast-in details. The decks have cast-in safety tread and add-on wire safety rails. I found it interesting that, due to the age of this body design, the handrails do not have the gap, chain, or drawbridge associated with later switcher designs. There are also steps on the pilots for brakemen, which were outlawed over safety concerns in later years.
The end of the long hood has cast-in radiator screen detail. There is also what I surmise is a tool or equipment box that will be great for posing a sitting crew figure! There are two white add-on handles or grab irons for lifting the lid and perhaps helping to balance a hostler trying to reach the headlight for a swipe!
There are some interesting graphic elements going on here, with the white handrails and the red nose accented by white grab irons, a white bell, and the name SOO LINE and the number 320. The color clash helps them stand out.
The body is stark white with a white handrail running the length of the engine compartment. Grab irons running up the side climb up and over on top of the roof. The hinge and seam detail is nice, and the hinges are raised high enough that if you look closely, you can see that they cast a shadow from our photo studio lights.
The cab has two crew figures that face down the long hood (yes, there is an “F” for front at the end of the frame). The cab looks pretty full, since it includes a can-style motor.
There are white grab irons running up both sides of the cab door, a white step below the cab door, and a red step at the level of the bottom rear window. A grab iron by the door and another by the cab roof will help propel a crewman topside.
Graphics on the Soo Line model are as clean and the lettering and lines between colors are as sharp as a new dollar from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing!
On the test track
For a diminutive locomotive, this RailKing model packs quite a bit of technology under the hood: two can-style motors, directional lighting, coil couplers, and the MTH ProtoSound 3.0 command and sound system.
There is no smoke unit, probably because of limited space under the shell.
Of special note is the sound of a genuine EMC 567 diesel engine and the usual array of gabby chatter and other sound features contained in PS3.
You have four operational modes for this model: conventional AC or DCS (also AC) or conventional DC or DCC-mode. There is a DCS/DCC selection switch beneath a truck. The manual provides 18 pages of guidance on how to operate the SW1 in a DCC environment. Why bother? I recommend sticking with conventional or DCS modes.
The startup sounds are great – and I still get surprised at the delay between powering up and the sounds actually triggering on PS3 locomotives. As I’ve written before, just at the point when you begin to think something is wrong, it starts!
The model has four power pickup rollers, two mounted on each truck.
The only oddity about our sample is the yellow wire nut rolling around the cab! Thus far, the wires are behaving properly.
Motor operation was responsive. The SW1 ran smoothly in all conventional and command-mode speed ranges.
Our conventional low-speed average was 3.0 scale miles per hour, and our command mode low-speed average was 0.6 scale miles per hour (truly watch-the-paint-dry speed). Our high-speed average was 60.6 scale miles per hour.
Drawbar pull was 15 ounces.
Various commands triggered by the DCS controller (uncouplers and sounds) functioned as advertised.
Operation of the MTH O gauge SW1 was nice, and the sounds were great. This diesel switcher is compact, has solid speed and nice pulling power, and impresses me as just what the train doctor ordered for starter set add-on locomotion. So, don’t put that set back in the box – it is time to build that layout and get more than one train a’rollin.’
Price: $299.95 (30-20098-1)
Features: O-27 operation, two can-style motors, coil couplers, ProtoSound 3.0