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O gauge Alco RS-3 from MTH Electric Trains


Price: $319.95 (no. 30-20295-1) Min Curve: O-27 Cmd Low: 2.1 smph Cnv Low: 5.2 smph High: 63 smph Drawbar pull: 1 lb., 4 oz. Features: Can-style motor, ProtoSound 3.0 command and sound system, smoke, coil couplers Current-production road names: CP Rail, New Haven, New York Central, Providence & Worcester, Seaboard Air Line, Union Pacific
The Alco RS-3 road switcher was a serious competitor for the freight locomotive market that it, Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, Fairbanks-Morse, and General Electric were fighting over. Tens of thousands of steam locomotives were rapidly being replaced, and it was a free-for-all over market share.

The RS-2 and RS-3 locomotives (and variations) produced by Alco were about as close to being a universal locomotive as the Schenectady, N.Y., firm ever offered. More than 1,300 of the 1,600-horsepower RS-3 diesel switchers were built between 1950 and 1956, and the model proved itself capable of freight, passenger, or yard service. This was in spite of the fact that its Alco 244 engine was troublesome and required extensive modification and improvement.
Approximately 70 units have survived into the 21st century, a number of which still see service at museums, heritage railways, and other small railroad operations.

Opening the box
In the model world, my beloved Lionel no. 6250 Seaboard NW2 diesel switcher had me wondering why any railroad would be crazy enough to call itself an “air line.” Madness, I thought. My only real encounters with the Seaboard Air Line RR were long after Air Line was dropped, and Coast Line was added. So I do have a reservoir of goodwill toward this pike. Even after learning the Seaboard never used orange and blue for a paint scheme!

The Alco Seaboard Air Line RS-3 has a pleasing design, and this RailKing line model appears to reach all the key detail points for Alco fans.

Perhaps a leftover from operations in the age of steam, for most RS-3s “forward” was the long hood. As is fitting, this O gauge model starts in the long hood forward direction. I like the large cast-in air intake on the end of the long hood.

The corners of the body and cab are rounded rather than more of a sharp angle, the exhaust stack is square, and the add-on grab irons run up the left side of the front and rear ends. There are number boards on the top of each corner of the locomotive. Each end has the familiar Cyclops-eye headlight in the center.

You’ll find plenty of cast-in louver, seam, and hinge detailing on the hood sides. The roof is pretty Spartan, but it does reflect what was up top. There is cast-in detailing for topside screens, seams, and rivets.

The pilot has the standard cast-in air and multiple-unit lines, and the pilot’s steps and the brakeman’s steps of death are highlighted in yellow for safety. The decks have cast-in safety tread, and there are nice handrails on the model (as opposed to a stamped-steel set of railings).

The fore and aft cab windows are arched to mirror the angle of the roof. The side windows have three panes. Be aware there are no crewmen in the cab, probably because there isn’t enough room. If you own a thin figure, you may be able to lift off the shell and squeeze it in.

The fuel tank serves as the speaker housing, and it is die-cast metal. There are red accents for the fuel cap and fuel-level sight gauge.

The die-cast metal Alco trucks looked great, but there was one hiccup, so to speak, with our sample. When the product photos were set up, one of the trucks seemed to be sitting at an odd angle. It looked like the rear wheel was off the rail. On closer inspection, the wheel was where it was supposed to be, but the side frame was askew.

I tugged it a bit, and it seemed to be installed pretty firmly. A few laps around the track showed it had no effect on train operation. I can’t recall having seen an assembly error like this in the past. Seeing this would be a “go back to your dealer” moment for a repair or replacement.

The three-color paint scheme was well applied, especially notable since there is a lot of rough terrain to cover (raised detailing like louvers). The Seaboard icon on the cab sides is terrific.  

On the test track
I kid you not, when I started this locomotive, the prime mover sounds made me think of Lum & Abner starting up a Model A delivery truck. It has that “I’m gonna explode” sound until the crankshaft warms up a bit. Once things get going, the sounds are pretty steady and conventional sounding.

Smoke output was superb, and output was consistent in all speed ranges.

Our speed ranged from 2.1 scale miles per hour to 63 scale miles per hour. Drawbar pull was 1 pound, 4 ounces.

Overall, I’m pleased with the look and operation of the RS-3. The 14-inch-long (coupler-to-coupler) model looks good and can get through O-27 curves so it will be a good candidate for operators with tight spots on their layout. This is a nifty first-generation diesel that can still be found running today.


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10 layout mistakes

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