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MTH RailKing O gauge Pennsy RR starter set

ONE OF THE BIG SURPRISES of the past holiday season was MTH's Pennsylvania RR starter set (no. 30-4023-1). You buy a starter set with certain entry-level expectations. The kick in the pants with this set is how those expectations have been exceeded.

Scoring big points on all counts, the Pennsy set packs plenty of attention to detail and prototypical decoration, and it offers a great running experience as well. The set features a steam engine and tender, two freights cars, a caboose, track, transformer, and a CD ROM.

MTH gets points for creativity by developing an atypical starter set engine. No 4-4-2 or 2-4-0 for this outfit, but a real freight hauler. The 2-8-0 Consolidation was a real workhorse for railroads large and small.

I've had an affection for the small-drivered freight haulers since seeing the movie Powderkeg, featuring plenty of action from two ex-Union Pacific 2-8-0s owned by the Magma Arizona RR. The Consolidation represented by this model is also a particularly gutsy engine.

According to Al Staufer's book Pennsy Power, the road rostered 3,335 Consolidations. This model bears the no. 9915 and is a good copy of the real no. 9915, a Pennsy H-8c-class 2-8-0. Alco made 192 of these engines between 1910 and 1913 for the Pennsy. The H-8c-class was retired over a lengthy period starting in 1938, with the last remaining in service all the way to 1957.

The H-class engines were nice, industrial engines. They didn't work high-speed limited or express trains, but the local freight train, milk run, or switching at the coal tipple. The RailKing model captures this Spartan, workaday look.

Basic in detail, the 2-8-0 nevertheless has many of the appointments you'd expect of a small steamer, such as cast-in pipes, bell, whistle, and a number plate on the smokebox. I liked the fact that the engine lacks the typical cow-catcher and, instead, sports business-like footboards, typical of a steamer that slowly works through the local industrial line with a brakeman or signalman riding up front.

Decoration is well done, and the Brunswick green paint is neatly applied on the engine, and for that matter, all other rolling stock in the set. I'm skeptical, however, whether or not the Pennsy placed Keystone heralds on the side of its steamer cabs.

The engine features a headlight and a typically robust MTH smoke unit, the controls for which are on the underside.

The ProtoSound system was a nice addition to the set, and it establishes a good baseline for sound expectations for a beginner. The freight yard and squealing brake sounds were a value-added feature of the product. The volume control is on the underside of the tender.

Engine performance was strong. Our low speed averaged out to 12.6 scale mph, while the high end was a surprisingly robust (for such small drivers) 86.7 scale mph. Drawbar pull was 1 pound, 4 ounces or roughly 80 modern, free-rolling pieces of rolling stock on straight and level track.

In short, this is a nicely proportioned little engine that goes beyond "bottom of the barrel" expectations of an entry-level product. This year the locomotive will be offered as a separate sale RailKing item.

The freight cars are as classy as the steamer. They aren't the wimpy, lightweight cars that you might expect in a starter set. Both the boxcar and the hopper are 111/2 inches long (46 O scale feet) and have a fair amount of cast-in decoration, notably rivets and ladders. The boxcar's doors open and the hopper's coal load is removable. Paint application is simple, but well done. Both freight cars and the caboose feature die-cast metal couplers and sprung metal trucks.

The biggest surprise in the set, however, is the caboose. The venerable N5c never looked better. The painting is smooth and all lettering is clear and crisp. The car has add-on grab irons on the car sides, both ends of the car's platforms, and on top of the cupola; an illuminated interior; and even a figure in the cupola watching over the train.

This is as well done a version of the Pennsylvania N5C as I've seen.

The set also includes a circle of RealTrax track (would it kill MTH to include two straight sections?), a Z-500 50-watt transformer, and a CD ROM.

A CD ROM you ask? Yep.

It contains trackplanning software, electronic versions of MTH's catalogs, instructional videos and exploded diagrams, video clips on MTH, a digital ProtoSound sound effects library, and searchable databases for MTH products and dealers.

You'll need a PC with a Pentium processor to use the CD ROM.
The bottom line?

This is a great starter set. The quality of the engine and the rolling stock is way above par, and the 2-8-0 had this New York Central enthusiast wondering how a light steamer from the evil Pennsy might be explained on my home layout!


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