Are Bachmann Spectrum Locomotives Any Good? (HO Scale)
Short Answer: Yes.
Ever since Bachmann’s debut of the Spectrum Line, people have questioned the quality of their products. About once a week, somebody asks on one of the endless online forums if Bachmann is producing quality models. They didn’t always produce quality products, unfortunately, and we’ll see where they went wrong, and how they salvaged their reputation to become the quality modelbuilders we know them to be today.
Why were people so afraid to buy Bachmann products or at least heed to the old saying of “buyer beware”? It was products like those seen above. Sadly, they were somewhat accurate models, the problem is that they were VERY poorly manufactured and designed. The Detail was thick, as if somebody added it with a spatula. Of course this was the era of pre-CAD (computer aided design) model building, and virtually everything was done by hand. They had good intentions of making fun products, but they didn’t last long enough out of the box to even be considered “fun”. When you’d turn on your train layout, and place one of these locomotives on the track it would do one of three things:
-ZOOM across your layout at least two hundred scale miles an hour round a sharp curve, or run into a switch, splitting it right down the center line between the straight and diverging routes, taking out scenery in it’s path thanks to it’s unusual bulkiness from the pot metal cast frame.
– After seeming to be an relatively good runner, it takes that last run before having all of the plastic axle connections disintegrate simultaneously causing the the drivers to roll off the track in two different directions flopping as the valve gear becomes a twisted wreck.
The Root of the Problem
(Photo from Mr.Bob’sModelWorksEmporium one of my favorite blogs, linked in my blogroll.)
The root of most of these problems can be traced to their once-shoddy construction. Notice the scourage of all model railroaders resides inside this locomotive: The White Pancake Motor. This exceptionally cheap, three-pole radially wound (Think like a three-cylinder radial aircraft engine) piece of junk electric motor. If it worked, it had two speeds. Stop (or Stall, as the case may be) and Mach 1. Some of the later pancake motors had a speed halfway between 0-712mph that varied in velocity even if you didn’t adjust the throttle.
Notice the pot-metal split frame? Yeah, it was that bad electrically. Also note the idiotic split-fram SMOKE reservoir…who came up with this? You put smoke fliud down the stack, all the fluid ran out the bottom of the locomotive before being heated by the LIGHTBULB…or some unsafe wire coil device. It was all molded in the type of plastic that manufacturers use for MRR truck sideframs, delrin I think it’s called. It couldn’t hold paint or lettering very well, but if it needed paint, bachmann always put it on REALLY thick to give the illusion of opacity.
The Running gear was always a mess. They saved $0.03 by molding some essential pieces of the valve gear in brittle plastic, like the slide valve of the locomotive. (See the Bachmann 0-6-0 for an example) The driver centers are molded plastic, but they aren’t as well designed as they are now. To increase electrical pickup, they used the aforementioned “split-frame” concept, which also meant the metal wheel rims and axles had to be connected by a set of very brittle plastic axle connectors.
Don’t even get me started on their horrendously ugly depictions of diesel locomotives. Cast-on sanctions, lift rings, thick shells, nothing see-through, and all poorly painted and featuring a PANCAKE motor on ONE set of badly molded generic blomberg trucks. Even their early DD40AX had two Pancake motors, which couldn’t even move itself on straight and level track!!
It’s a real shame most of Bachmann’s pre 1996 offerings are almost entirely junk. They’re mostly interesting prototypes, somewhat well detailed, if you like molded on detail, that is.
HOWEVER, despite all this BACHMANN INDUSTRIES HAS CHANGED FOR THE BETTER.
The Dawn of the ERA
This was the turning point for Bachmann’s business, corporate vision and I believe their financial success. Their decision to release an initial line of about a half dozen models, like their N&W JClass an their Doodlebug really showed the modeling community that they were serious. They might have stumbled with their GE dash 8 series, but they have revised these models last year with appealing results.
The Release of their Bachmann Spectrum line starts in 1988 with the release of their GE 44 Tonner. Others followed, and are listed below:
-1988 GE 44 Ton Diesel
-1988 EMD GP-30
-1989 GE Dash 8-40C
-1992 EMD F40PH
-1993 GE B23-7
-1993 Reading 2-8-0 Steam Locomotive
-1994 FM H-16-44
-1994 PRR K-4 4-6-2
-1996 GE C40-8C Widecab
-1997 EMC Doodlebug
– 1997 EMD DD40AX Rebuild with dual can motor.
All of these models listed above had detail comparable to contemporary Athearn offerings, however, they did go above the competition by adding flashing beacons to the more modern diesels, and they all came with nickle-silver wheel sets and scale handrail sancions, which was a nice touch. They also experimented with see-through grilles, which on some models like the F40 worked nicely, meanwhile, the H-16-44 looked clunky with scale chicken wire grilles.
The real crowning achievement in history of Bachmann’s HO line is the release of Their SPECTRUM 2-8-0 in July 1998. It must have been a huge gamble to push such a fantastically detailed locomotive into the plastic locomotive market that can so readily match the detail once thought only to be availble in brass. It created shockwaves across the modeling community. If you’ve noticed, most of the major manufacturers, with the odd exception of Atlas have all released “Premier” (IHC) ,”Genesis” (Athearn) ,”Heritage” (Wathers/Lifelike) and “Paragon” (BLI) top-of-the-line plastic locomotives of relatively widely produced steam locomotive prototypes, like USRA designs.
Since that blockbuster release of the Bachmann Spectrum 2-8-0, thousands of those great little steamers have appeared on most steam-era layouts across the country and even the world, frequently gracing “Photo of the week” Threads on online forums, photo sections in magazines, and have been the center of half a dozen published kitbashing articles. They are suprisingly robust locomotives with astounding detail. They deserve most, if not all the praise they receive.
The Prototype for the Bachmann 2-8-0 is an Illinois Central 900 class consolidations which were built between 1909 and 1911. (Thank RPI RR Heritage for that tidbit) It retains Harriman owned railroad features, like the notched cab roof and the wagontop boiler. The model has 63″ drivers, like the prototype.
Since this groundbreaking release, a flood of excellent Spectrum Steam Locomotives have been released:
– 1999 4-8-2 Heavy Mountain (C&O Prototype option) Other correct roadname for Heavy 4-8-2 is the N&W.
– 1999 4-8-2 Light Mountain Correct roadnames include the “MP NC&StL, NH, Southern’s subsidiaries AGS and CNO&TP, and the Southern itself. There were a total of 47 light Mountains” (Information from RPI RR Heritage website)
– 2001 Three-Truck SHAY No prototype, takes features from a variety of Shays. It’s a very heavy shay though, weighing more than 50 tons.
– 2001 Russian Decapod 2-10-0 The Frisco & NYSW were the major recipients of these unusual locomotives.
It’s so nice that a major company spent the money to research the running gear of such an obscure locomotive to get it correct.
– 2002 0-6-0T built by Alco for the M.A. Hanna & Co. in 1910, only loco in the order. (RPI RR heritage)
– 2003 4-6-0 Baldwin prototype, purposely generalized to fit numerous prototypes.
– 2003 GE E33 Electric
– 2005 Class B climax locomotive
– 2005 USRA 2-6-6-2 “Only 30 of these were built and the C&O got 20 and the W&LE got 10.” (RPI RR heritage)
– 2006 USRA light 2-10-2 Apparently, the 94 prototypes were allocated as:
- Ann Arbour, four locos.
- B&A, 10 locos.
- C&WI, five locos.
- DM&N, 10 locos.
- SAL, 15 locos.
- Southern, 50 locos.
- Some were rebuilt to 2-8-2’s in the 1920’s.
( Information from RPI RR Heritage website)
-2007 Modern Richmond Locomotive Works 4-4-0 Based on Ma&Pa prototype
From left to right: 0-6-0T, Kit-bashed 4-6-0, 2-8-0, 2-10-0 and the DCC equipped 70 tonner.