Skip to content

Are Bachmann Spectrum Locomotives Any Good? (HO Scale)

June 26, 2008

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.

The Stigma

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.
Bachmann Daylight Cracked Running Gear Problem

– 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.


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.
Siderods on the Decapod are Beautiful
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.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Kearney permalink
    September 4, 2008 6:52 am

    Do you have any idea when the Spectrum Pennsy K-4 Pacific 4-6-2 came out.
    I have one and would like to replace the running gear but looks like I cant get on to spares for this.

  2. Eric Peterson permalink
    September 23, 2008 9:05 pm

    I have a Bachmann Plus HO GS4 AFT engine/tender. Can you tell me what type of motor that might have in it? Also, I have a 1975 Lionel HO AFT engine/tender. Same query. Unfortunately, I have a mid-80’s Bachmann HO GS4 Daylight that I think has the dreaded pancake motor. I’m looking to switch the Lionel AFT (if it has a better motor) and Daylight shells to give the Daylight better run capability. Doable or not? Thanks,


  3. September 24, 2008 4:58 am

    Bob, You can replace the running gear by buying a replacement set from BOWSER.

    The Lionel GS4 is hopeless. Take the gears out of it and have a kitbashed Athearn ALCo PA drive mounted in the tender. It’s a fairly involved kitbash that’ll yield an acceptable result.

    The Bachmann puls locomotive probably has a nice-running can motor if it comes in the White Box with the blue stripes.It’s not DCC ready though.

    If it’s in the Gray box, sell that locomotive and purchase the NEW bachmann DCC-equipped version, it has a STUNNING, ACCURATE new paintjob, and it’s worth every penny. I almost bought one today while I was at the hobby shop. They’re about $99.00.

  4. Alex van Breda permalink
    November 29, 2008 9:44 am

    I have a HO Bachmann Spectrum 2-6-6-2. One of the idler gears in the gear tower of the back drivetrain lost a tooth, rendering the loco useless, as it got stuck. It does not seem that Bachmann has spare parts though. The idler gear has 18 teeth. Can one make a resin copy of another gear that is fine?

  5. Richard permalink
    December 28, 2008 4:58 pm

    I have a HO Spectrum 4-4-0 and 4-6-0. Very nice details and very good runners. A USRA medium tender I bought to connect to the 4-6-0 has different wiring and had to be modified. There are quite a few issues with the Spectrum wiring for DCC. Go look at the Bachmann forums for details.

  6. Paul Pietrak permalink
    October 4, 2009 11:29 pm

    I have Bachmann 2-10-0, 4-4-0, two 4-6-0s, two Climax and the Shay. All great models BUT The Shay truck had to be replaced due to a broken gear. The two Climax have gear problems and the 4-6-0s both don’t run over a insulated frog for some reason. (not all the time)in reverse is okey sometimes.I did contact North West Short Line ( they have a gear replacement for the Shay and MAY work on one for the Climax. As for the 4-6-0s what to, do what to do.any ideas?

  7. Geoff Armstrong permalink
    November 26, 2009 1:02 pm

    Good day,

    I have a bachmann 2-10-2 Spectrum Southern Locomotive which has lost it’s bell. I have tried Bachmann in the US direct, but they don’t reply to my e mails, the part no is -00M03 from the group#83301.Could you please advise me where I can buy one of these. As I am in South Africa to make the order worthwhile I am prepared to Purchase 12 of these or the complete group#83301.


    Geoff Armstrong.

  8. April 2, 2010 4:10 pm

    not sure if they have managed to solve all their problems though. I recently bought a DCC equipped bachmann GP 35 (my first Bachmann actually) which only made a few test runs so far. Ran it in DC only mode and all is good, until after a few switching moves, only the lights change directions and the motor hums. I dismantelled the loco, turned the worm wheels manually a few turns, and tried again (shell still removed) and it works again for 20 minutes, then stalls again with a humming motor sound. Something in the design of the drive train is having way too much play and causes the whole thing to lock up… so I’m careful again before buying anything bachmann….

  9. Joe Longmire permalink
    May 14, 2010 11:55 am

    I am looking for a 1890-1900 era 4-6-0 and 4-4-0 for my layout, both with wood cabs. In the micro-mark catalog all they carry is the On3 which I don’t like. I need the straight HO but haven’t been able to find it anywhere. Also, does DDC equipped also mean it is sound equipped? If not, how do I add this. Thanks, JOE

  10. Ben Hughes permalink
    May 15, 2010 5:53 am

    More a question than a comment. Your lead-in notes that the Climax has drive line problems. I have two 2-truck Climaxes and they have drive line problems. The universal joints and drive lines seem to be too weak or sloppy to power the loco. Do you have any suggestions or solutions to these problems??

    • May 17, 2010 1:29 am

      I wish that Bachmann would have chose to continue producing them long enough so that North West Short Line (NWSL) would have bothered to produce a repowering kit. I’m not intimately familiar with the HO scale climax, but I’d suggest you pose this question to the members of Railroad-Line Forums and see where it gets you.

  11. Maury Goble permalink
    June 7, 2010 7:18 am

    looking for any info if any replacement parts are avaliable for an older bachmann Royal Scot loco, im searching for a pancake motor and drive gear or replacement chassis. also looking for any leads on a tender for a roco 63201 loco. any info will be greatly appeciated! thanks

  12. Ricardo X permalink
    March 5, 2011 4:07 am

    I’ve owned the DC version of the Spectrum 0-6-0T since 2007; it is my best-running locomotive. It works quite well on my switching layout. I switched the couplers to Kadee’s, and in doing so discovered the tiny #4 brass machine screws available at many hobby shops are a superior replacement for the stock coupler screws. Go slow when installing them the first time, and they will be fine. I am about to convert to the Sergent Engineering “manual” scale couplers. THANK YOU for the prototype origin for this 0-6-0T! It is a really smooth slow runner, and one can realistically “joggle” slack using a straight vanilla MRC220 ‘pack. This is a great little switching locomotive.

  13. Jim permalink
    August 14, 2011 1:40 am

    Thank you for an informative and detailed discussion of the quality of the Bachmann line. I am new to the hobby but have been planning on buying the HO scale 3-truck Shay as a present for my wife. Your details about the Spectrum line has given me the necessary info to be an informed buyer.

  14. Shirley Ford-Grigsby permalink
    October 5, 2011 2:41 am

    Hi. I am recently widowed, my husband is Eric. “Truck” is what they called him. He drove, lived, and breathed trucks & trains. I have a Spectrum GP-30 Diesel CSX #4209 in the box all bells and whistles. I would like to sell it. I am very much considering it. Please pass this along. Thank you kindly. Truck’s wife

  15. SwarnaPrasad permalink
    January 2, 2012 9:33 pm


    I recently bought a 2-10-0 Spectrum Decopod from Ebay paying 120 dollars.
    The model Runs great out of the BOX with sound!!

    A few doubts:
    1.When I try to run very slow( forward & rev ) it stops and runs and stops repeatedly.But if the power is increased on my DCC control, it begins to run smoothly forard and reverse.
    Why does this happen? Any issues with the driving rods?

    2. The Headlight is very dim.It does not increase brightness with function button1 activated.
    Is it defective?
    Does this model have a working bacup light as the light on the tender does not glow in reverse direction like my other dcc engines.Even the circuit diagrams donot show any wires
    going to the lamp on the tender.


    • January 3, 2012 6:24 am


      1. The wipers are quite sensitive on the locomotive, increase pressure on the tender bronze wipers by taking the wheelsets and GENTLY bending the tabs toward the axles. Also, keep your wheels clean with 91% Isopropyl Alcohol or “Goo Gone” splashed onto a blue paper towel with the wheels run over them while spinning to clean them effectively.
      Alternatively, you could increase the CV for the starting voltage to max, to ensure the decoder has full power management at all times.

      2. Yeah, Bachmann headlights are notoriously dim because they have a tiny LED hidden inside the boiler, with a fiber-optic cable running out to the headlight. Not a good design, and the lights can be quite dim, not fixable unless you’re skilled enough to put an LED inside the headlight housing and wire it up yourself.

      No tender light, but you can put them in there if you want, just be mindful that Bachmann steamers have NON-NMRA compliant wiring, so it’s kind of dangerous.

      • SwarnaPrasad permalink
        January 4, 2012 9:31 pm

        Thank you for the recommendations!!

        How do I increase the CV ? I have a Bachmann EZ command controller.
        Is it possible to programme CV’s with this controller ?Please guide me.

        The day I wrote to you, I tested the Decapod with a non DCC controller
        and Horray! the tender Lights came on! I was very happy to see it 🙂
        And believe me it was very bright orange ! Wish the head lights on the loco were as bright as the tender light. Now I am wondering why the tender light is not working with my Dcc controller?Some CV issues I guess.

        I will clean the wheels and adjust wipers as suggested by you and will test again.I hope for the best!

        Along with the Decapod I also bought Bachmann Niagara DCC Locomotive.
        4 8 4 with the long centipede tender.

        This loco is not spectrum but still has got excellent detail and crawls very good without stopping.Its got the usual dim head lights, better than the Decapod and an excellent tender light !
        I run the Niagara on an 18 inch radius track.It some how manages I feel.
        But should I go for a 22 inch radius? Please recommend.

        I some times wonder why Spectrum engines have these issues.Any way
        I wil test them again and get back to you with the results.


  16. SwarnaPrasad permalink
    January 4, 2012 9:37 pm

    Hey I forgot to ask you one more thing!

    What parts of the Russian Decapod are made of metal?
    I was very curious to know.The boiler loks like like metal.I wasnot sure.


  17. SwarnaPrasad permalink
    January 6, 2012 11:04 am

    The tender lights on my Spectrum Decapod are finally working!! with DCC control.
    As You suggested, cleaned the wipers and bent them towards the axle and it worked.
    Thanks a TON for your suggestions!!

  18. January 10, 2012 2:42 pm

    What a ton of great material, nice article. Stumbled a bit over the word stanchion, 2 diff. spellings.

    Definition of STANCHION
    1: an upright bar, post, or support (as for a roof or a ship’s deck)
    (think of it as a prop, to hold things up)

  19. Cliff Carter permalink
    October 7, 2012 2:06 pm

    I was asked to repair a Bachmann 2-8-0 that had malfunctioned. Fumbling around a bit, i figured out how to get into it. I noticed the rear driver was canted and out of “time”. Re-timed it and it ran for a bit and really spun the rear driver! Nearest I can figure out is the spines holding the gear in place are toast as is the coupling for the axle shaft! It’s one of those “pancake” motors. There’s nothing i can fix with my dinky ‘back shop”!

  20. Arnie Alksne permalink
    December 29, 2012 6:33 am

    Arnold Alksne, (53 years of modeling railroads) I bought a two truck Spectrum HO guage climax, I have about 5 hours running time on it and the drive train is shot. I feel that’s pretty poor for a $200.00 dollar engine. I must say I am dissapointed with the product

  21. November 27, 2013 9:51 pm

    Bought 7 Spectrum Ho ,this year,the Doodlebug is a noisy mixer,and the 2-6-6-2,they run only on factory 3 track,can give them no other number,but they run,,i have 2 runners ,and ihave 3 non runners new out the box,an alco diesel sound/dcc,one three truck;
    All these locs are DCC(controled by EZ command wireless DCC)
    No more Bachmann,Thanks


  1. Building a Good Locomotive Roster. « Interacting with Miniature Railroading

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: