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MTH O gauge BL2 diesel engine


Price: $499.95 (no. 20-20697-1) Min Curve: O-31 Cmd Low: 2.8 smph Cnv Low: 3.0 smph High: 66.1 smph Drawbar pull: 1 lb., 7 oz. Features: Two can-style motors, ProtoSound 3.0 command and sound system, smoke unit, coil couplers Current-production road names: Boston & Maine, Chesapeake & Ohio, Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Florida East Coast, Rock Island, Western Maryland
There have been many oddball locomotives built in the diesel era, some small and some very large. But few are viewed as such a whimsical product as the BL2 from the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors. Over the years I have heard the words “ugly” and “homely” applied to this eccentric-looking engine, but I’d argue it is one stylish, sweet ride.

Today, we all have an idea what of a road switcher should look like. Back in the day, though, the concept was far from set in stone. Coming from the time of the Aerotrain, the Train of Tomorrow, and the GM Superliner bus, the BL2 evoked the flair of an era of chrome, fins, and streamlining.

The concept of the locomotive was for branch-line operation (hence the BL in the name). I suppose the concept began with improving the F3 for that task: blunt rear, round front, fairly standard internal components, high forward crew position, and enclosed equipment compartment. The key change was to significantly improve the rear visibility through a rear cab window looking out along a downward sloping side frame.

The forward view offered the same protection as the F3’s nose, but the view was improved with a shorter, downward slope on the sides that enhanced what could be seen at track level. There were also platforms and doors on both ends.

Of course, keeping with a design of interesting angles, the nose was slightly slanted back and the rear slanted a bit forward. This design reminded Trains Magazine Editor David P. Morgan of a certain milk car, as he explained in “Borden tank car + P5a = BL2”  (October 1975 Trains).

Electro-Motive sold 58 units plus the BL1 prototype to nine American railroads: the Bangor & Aroostook; Boston & Maine; Chesapeake & Ohio; Chicago & Eastern Illinois; Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville (Monon); Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; Florida East Coast; Missouri Pacific; and Western Maryland. When all was said and done, EMD quickly moved on to the more Spartan-looking GP7, which was an astonishing success story that helped set up EMD as the dominant locomotive builder well into the 1990s.

While the BL2 is little more than a footnote, the Bangor & Aroostook kept its in operation into the 1980s. What’s more, at least five still exist, and several still see operation in excursion service.

Opening the box

Yes, I opened the box and had a smile even before the lid was off. I expected this model to be cute (and it is), but also because it was the Florida East Coast BL2.  Better still, it came decorated in the line’s Champion paint scheme – a livery more likely to be seen on high-speed express engines than a humble branch-line switcher.

The red-and-yellow design pops. I can’t help wondering if I’d have the same excited reaction to a more sedate livery.

The first design element that grabbed my eye was the overall curvature. Not just the sloping sides but also the corners of the shell, the arc of the nose, and the curvature of the roofline. The body design is art rather than a functional, soulless brick.

The pilot is unique, having a step and grab iron situated in what appears to be a solid block of the pilot. The front and rear pilots also mount uncoupler arms and the usual brake line and multiple-unit hoses. The decks look a bit narrower than on a GP7, but I believe this is because the gently rounded front of the nose protrudes into this territory. The deck also has add-on handrails and a chain by the front drawbar.

The nose has a cast-in front hatch, add-on grab irons on the engineer’s side, classification lights, and number boards. The headlight has a really nice housing, right down to the cast-in screws and a hinge suggesting it opened to the right! Behind the headlight is a five-chime air horn.

The cab is the neatest diesel cab you’ll find. The forward windows have the sad-eyes effect, and both have wiper arms. There are five (yes, five) windows on each side, as well as single windows in the back of the cab. Add-on handrails bracket the cab doors. Just below are add-on steps, with metal steps mounted on the truck. There are silver kick plates at the cab-mounted steps.

The sides of the carbody are gently slanted. There are 10 louvers and two see-through screens at mid-body. Up top, there are four radiators, two exhaust stacks, and 10 add-on lift rings.

The rear of the body mirrors the front, with a headlight, markers, number boards, and a rear doorway.

The tooling was great. You get used to the generally blocky nature of modern locomotives, and this is a breath of fresh air (okay, 60-plus-year-old fresh air!). The only other products I’ve seen with this many curves incorporated to their design are some of the Pennsylvania RR electric locomotives. Accordingly, this model suggests a delivery truck more than a locomotive. But this is fine with me.

Paint and decoration are outstanding, and the Florida East Coast’s livery is eye-popping. I only saw the FEC’s BL2s out of service, rusting away in faded blue. Very sad, indeed. It is too bad more railroads didn’t buy this model – I’d loved to have seen what their crews would have done with their paint schemes on this unique carbody.

On the test track

The O gauge model comes packed with all the standard MTH features: two can-style motors, ProtoSound 3.0 command and sound package, and coil couplers.
Checking functions like smoke unit, coupler operation, and triggering sound options – all functioned on command. Due to our confined space, we ran the diesel with the smoke unit on the lowest setting.

The sounds were fine; they are the typical sounds of a 1950s or ’60s EMD Geep (it had the same prime mover as the BL2). Coupler and smoke unit functions were fine as well. The sound of the bell really penetrated the test area and would have been a terrific 1:48 warning sound.

Our low-speed conventional average was 3.0 scale miles per hours, while the command-mode average was 2.8 scale MPH. Our high-speed average was 66.1 scale MPH. Drawbar pull was 1 pound, 7 ounces.

Performance was typically satisfactory for an MTH diesel, and the appearance of the model with its bright Florida East Cost colors made this a dandy sight to see rolling around our test track.

Yes, the BL2 is an oddity in American railroad history. Just think of it as a beatnik locomotive. A true non-conformist that delivered good performance in the world of real railroading as well as O gauge operation.


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