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O gauge Chessie Steam Special 4-8-4 from MTH

O gauge Chessie Steam Special 4-8-4 from MTH

Price: $1,199.95 (no. 20-3546-1) Min Curve: O-42 Cmd Low: 1.8 smph Cnv Low: 2.1 smph High: 48 smph Drawbar pull: 2 lb., 7 oz. Features: Die-cast metal construction, ProtoSound 3.0 command and sound system, coil coupler. Current production road names: Chessie System
In its natural form – unadorned with streamlining or bullet noses – I believe that North American 4-8-4s may be the finest looking locomotives to grace this hemisphere’s rails. Looking powerful and majestic, some of my favorites are the New York Central’s 6000 class; the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac’s 500 and 600 classes; and, of course, the Union Pacific’s FEFclass. In my book, though, the 4-8-4 that looks the roughest and toughest – in 1:1 or 1:48 scales – is the Reading’s T1 class.

The T1 class arose from a need by the Reading Co. for more modern and efficient power – at the lowest cost possible. The means to achieving that was for the railroad’s own shops to do most of the work, with older locomotives donating key components.

Once operational, they were assigned to the highest-priority freight traffic and were cleared for 65 miles-per-hour running. The freight giants could even be counted upon to stay ahead of following passenger traffic. They were also champions of less glamorous coal trains over steep mountain ranges.

As dieselization advanced, the Reading relegated the T1s to service as pushers and even yard hump engines until they were put in storage, awaiting use during periods of peak traffic. By 1960 all but five of them had been retired. Of these, two would be used to power the Reading’s Iron Horse Rambles series of excursion trains. The remaining locomotives would be parts donors.

T1s powered the Rambles from 1959 to 1964, and fame became a little more intermittent with service on the American Freedom Train and the Chessie Steam Special, and running on the Greenbriar Scenic RR and the Blue Mountain & Reading RR.

The nos. 2100 and 2102 are awaiting restoration; the no. 2101 is displayed at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Md.; and the no. 2124 is displayed at the Steamtown Historic site in Scranton, Pa.

Opening the box

This O gauge model from MTH Electric Trains certainly qualifies as big steam – you need two hands to get it out of the shipping cradle, and three if you want to carry it somewhere with the tender attached! Measuring approximately 281⁄2 inches long, it is a thing of beauty to set on the track and then align the rig’s 28 wheels!

The paint scheme is the first thing that jumps out at you. Not at all a demure paint job for a classic steam locomotive – but spot on for the legions of diesels from the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Western Maryland that did their daily work in the blue, yellow, and vermillion of the Chessie System.

The placard on the nose proudly proclaims this to be the Chessie Steam Special, and the number is decorated in vermillion on blue below the headlight and blue-on-blue on the number boards. The smokebox is painted a lighter shade of blue.

The sides of the running boards are yellow and vermillion. They shoot back to the end, where the vermillion goes straight and the yellow angles down, to shade the rest of the tender. The running boards have cast-in safety tread. The Chessie System name (with, of course, the stylized cat in the “C”) loudly identifies the railroad running the train! The body of the tender and the locomotive above the running board is blue, while below the deck is painted black.

The model is packed with detailing from the pilot to the tender’s coupler.

The “cow catcher” has individual slats and cast-in rivet detail. There is an uncoupler arm attached to a chain and, in turn, connected to a dummy scale coupler.  There are white safety appliances for a brakeman riding the white trimmed steps on point.

The face of the smokebox has rivet and hinge detailing. There is a distraction of four small Phillips-head screws up behind the classification lights and below the number boards. They are painted dark blue, when light blue might have disguised them better. Atop the face is a gold-colored bell affixed to a dark blue bell housing.

The MTH no. 20-3130-1 Reading T1 reviewed in the October 2005 issue of Classic Toy Trains  did not have classification lights, number boards, or the eagle on the headlight. In the original Reading configuration, the railroad used classification flags and not lights.

The boiler on the new T1 is smooth, interrupted only for add-on stanchions, cast-in boiler bands, and other cast-in detail points, such as hatches in the sand dome.

The wire for the add-on handrail is also painted blue. Up top, you’ll find a gold tone whistle and pop off valves and a blue-painted turbine.

The cab has crew figures and a decorated backhead, and the side windows have clear plastic in the frames (that slide open). Up topside, you’ll see a hatch that will slide open. In a nice touch, the rear of the cab has simulated rain curtains on both sides.

The tender is a massive beast with six-wheel trucks. The car has nice cast-in rivet detail on the side. In the forward nook behind the cab, you’ll find hinge detail, grab irons, and steps.

The rear of the tender mounts a coil coupler. There are add-on uncoupler arms and white-painted grab-iron/stanchions similar to those on the front pilot. The back of the tender tank has a ladder and a backup light. On the top deck, you’ll find a water hatch concealing the smoke and sound level controls.

Paint application was outstanding, and we saw no overspray. All the lettering was clear and crisp.

On the test track

This O gauge locomotive looks majestic standing still, but it gets even better when it has been powered up and the sound kicks in. Against the background of steam and mechanical sounds, when it begins to move the synchronized chuff lets you know something big is happening. It is both realistic and has a deep resonation.

Low-speed operation was smooth as silk, and higher speed running was purely steady-as-she-goes. The model was typically very responsive in any modes, and the coil coupler on the tender ker-thunked open every time I hit the button!

Smoke output was prodigious, and one new company employee who was drawn into the workshop by the sounds was concerned the smoke might trigger the fire alarm. It doesn’t take long to generate a haze that hovers at around six or seven feet!

About that minimum curve requirement: The MTH website states the minimum curve for this model is O-42, while the box label says O-54. We successfully ran the T1 on O-48 FasTrack. Subscribers can see the locomotive running on O-48 in both our product review video as well as on Bob’s Train Box 61 and judge how well this might run or look on their layout.

Our command-mode low-speed average was 1.8 scale miles per hour, while the conventional average was 2.1 scale miles per hour. The high-speed average was 48 scale miles per hour, but it was severely limited by the size of our test track! Our drawbar pull was 2 pounds, 7 ounces.

I have a crazy notion this rig will look sharp running full out, pulling an intermodel train. This locomotive looks good, and it is worth noting MTH added changes to the model that reflected its post-Reading Co. operation. Couple this point with its being in a genuine diesel-era paint scheme, and this may find itself on many layouts modeling current times.


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