Review by David Otte/Model photos by David Otte
Atlas O is often given credit by those in the O-scale community for not only reinvigorating hobbyists‘ interest in 1:48 modeling, but also showing the industry that O-gauge trains operators wanted more than just tinplate 3-rail trains; they yearned for the same scale realism that HO-scale modelers enjoyed. To that end, the company raised the bar with its “Big O” Rolling Stock and Master Motive Power lines. Perhaps the most popular addition to date in the latter category has been Atlas’ F-unit series. Based on P&D Hobbies’ original tooling, acquired back in 2006, Atlas has been slowly and meticulously re-engineering the O-scale streamlined diesel-electric to produce all the variants of the prototype along with some road-specific details. The F2 and F3 Phase I models were included in the initial release showcased in the May 2008 issue of Model Railroad News followed by the F3 Phase II delivered in 2011.
Now, without further ado, the F7 variant has begun rolling out of the Atlas O erection shops in a parade of colorful paint schemes. Included in this initial release are both cab and booster units decorated for Amtrak, Erie Lackawanna, The Milwaukee Road, Pennsylvania Railroad, Denver & Rio Grande Western, and Santa Fe — all of which may be purchased equipped for 3-rail operation with TrainMaster Command Control and RailSounds or for 2-rail with QS Industries’ Quantum Digital Command Control (DCC) and sound package. Unpowered models outfitted for both track orientations are also being cataloged. Furthermore, each paint scheme is available in multiple road numbers with both the cab and booster models offered as undecorated versions.
Here is the prototype for Atlas O’s Amtrak 102 as it appeared on a siding in Spokane, Wash., in September 1975 — only two months away from retirement. Originally built as Northern Pacific 6509A in September 1949, following the Burlington Northern merger in 1970, the unit was renumbered 9776 and served BN until being sold to Amtrak in 1972. As is evident in the photo, this F7 picked up some additional details the modeler may wish to add: three-chime air horn, firecracker-style antenna, rotary beacon, pilot plow, nose-mounted towing lugs, and winterization hatch. Note also the completely removed skirting. Peter Arnold photo, Kevin EuDaly collection
The Diesel that Did it
So the story goes… The birth of the F-unit came in November 1939 when a four-locomotive set numbered 1030/1031 exited the Electro-Motive Corporation’s La Grange, Illinois, plant and began a national tour. Two cab units with the now famous streamlined bulldog nose designated As and two units without cabs called Bs were coupled together to form one powerful locomotive. For 11 months, the FTs traveled through 35 states and more than 20 of the country’s largest railroads, demonstrating the versatility and reliability of the diesel-electric locomotive over the more labor-intensive and less-efficient steam-powered locomotive. The FT would eventually be labeled “the diesel that did it” account Electro-Motive’s new wonder was the beginning of the end of the steam locomotive in America.
Equipped with the relatively new 16-cylinder, 567-series prime mover, each FT unit could provide up to 1,350 hp and attain speeds of 75 miles per hour. Housing the power plant was a unique streamlined cowl type body. Whereas hooded locomotives such as GP7s or RS-3s relied on the strength of their underframes or decks to support them, the FT depended on its steel truss superstructure for strength. Furthermore, the covered body design of the FT allowed crewmembers to access the locomotive’s innards under protection while the train was in motion, as well as provided safer movement between units.
Electro-Motive’s F7 Demonstrator Set
With the FT came the introduction of the Blomberg truck. This two-axle truck was equipped with traction motors geared to each axle providing for all wheel drive. The Blomberg truck would become a standard for EMD-built four-axle locomotives for years to come. Also, the practice of coupling multiple units together to form one locomotive came into practice with the FT. For example, it was quite common for the FTs to be ordered in semi-permanently coupled sets of A-B units providing 2,700 hp. A-B sets coupled together in an A-B-B-A arrangement could provide a train with 5,400 horsepower, and, with cabs at either end, the locomotives never needed to be turned at the terminal. Generally, the FT was a freight locomotive, but the B-unit could be equipped with a steam generator to provide steam heat for passenger service too.
After the initial success of the FT and now a full division of parent company General Motors, EMD further refined its popular locomotive, introducing F2 and F3 editions beginning in 1945 and offering the F7 variant by early 1949. With approximately 2,370 cab units and 1,480 booster units sold, the F7 was the best selling model of the famous “Covered Wagon.” This version featured an up-rated V16-567B prime mover and electrical gear, which produced 1,500 hp and 57,500 pounds of tractive effort — all packed inside a slightly modified carbody that maintained the same handsome bulldog nose styling. Some 50 different U.S. and Canadian railroads purchased F7s, utilizing them in both freight and passenger service, the latter of which included a steam generator in the booster and/or the cab unit.
Concurrent with F7 production, in mid-1949, EMD rolled out the four-foot-longer FP7 model, which provided additional steam generator and water capacity for those roads that liked the sure-footedness of the four-axle F-unit over its six-axle E-unit passenger locomotive cousin. Production of the F7/FP7 lasted until December 1953, when EMD introduced the final versions of the F-series with an enhanced 567C engine, the 1,750-hp F9/FP9 and, beginning in October 1956, the unique dual-powered FL9 for New Haven.
Atlas O’s F7
This “Champion of Dieseldom” left an indelible mark on the railroad industry and, as a result, has always been a railfan favorite; it’s a locomotive that even the youngest of budding model railroaders seems to recognize. For baby-boomers, in particular, the memory of those early-1950s-issue Lionel tinplate Santa Fe Warbonnet-clad or New York Central lightning striped F-units running beneath the Christmas tree no doubt inspired a continued passion for the hobby all these years later. Atlas O has taken these streamlined beauties to new heights with its latest 1:48 release.
As had been noted with the previous releases, the 12.7-inch-long O-scale cab unit and 12.5-inch booster match their respective real-life counterparts perfectly in general dimensions with the profile of the famous bulldog nose on the former replicated very well. Construction continues to consist of a plastic shell, metal chassis, and die-cast trucks and fuel tank. Pertaining to the shell, molded-in details are mostly confined to hatch or panel lines outlined with delicate bolt heads, carbody battens with rivet details, the man doors with their latch plates and handles, the number boards on the cab unit, and the steam generator’s associated exhaust ports on the roof.
Atlas O’s Master Motive Power features plenty of add-on details too, and the F7 is no different. There is a coupler cut lever fashioned from wire on the cab unit’s pilot with air hoses displayed on the rear and either end of the booster. Note the grabs on the nose, “eyebrow” handholds above the windshield, and railings adjacent to the side crew doors — all of which are formed from durable metal wire. Separately applied windshield wipers enhance the clear cab window glazing, and there are hand-painted crew figures visible inside. A pair of single-note air horns, numerous metal lift rings, and twin exhaust stacks populate the roof with see-through cooling fan housings and a steam generator air intake vent added to the lot. Louvered vents (cab unit only) and sand filler hatches have been installed on the car sides. Beautiful photo-etched replicas of the Farr air intake grilles have been applied to the upper car sides too, and a working diaphragm graces the ends of the cab and booster units.
An F7 booster or “B-unit” is also being offered in O scale and reflects the same late Phase I characteristics as the cab model. Like the F7A, the boosters can be purchased either powered with factory-installed DCC/sound or as unpowered locomotives. Our silver and black painted review samples looked striking with Amtrak’s large “pointless arrow” logo adorning the sides. The scale 50-foot-long F7B, along with the F7A sample, represents units formerly owned by Northern Pacific.
Beneath the carbody, one will detect cast metal stirrup steps fastened to the appropriate positions around the chassis. A new and improved fuel and water tank casting, which more accurately displays the shape and height of the prototype tanks (a noted detraction on previous releases), is a welcome addition. Furthermore, the model comes with cast metal sideframes with add-on brake cylinders,
metal air lines, spring hangers, and a speed recorder appropriately mounted on the lead axle of both the cab and booster units’ front truck.
Ever mindful of even the smallest details when it comes to its Master Motive Power renderings, Atlas does not ignore production phases regarding its models and has chosen characteristics of a late Phase I body for this initial F7 offering. As such, these units basically feature four horizontal sets of louvers between two side porthole windows on the cab unit’s carbody (boosters maintained their three portholes and no louvered vents appearance). Additionally, the unit displays 36-inch diameter rooftop cooling fans without shrouds; the optional 36-inch diameter rooftop Dynamic brake fan; 24-inch wide Farr-type horizontal stainless steel grilles running along the top sides of the carbody; and round sand filler hatches. Additionally, there is a roof overhang on the rear of the A unit, as well as on both ends of the B unit.
Furthermore, late-production Phase I F7s, built beginning in March 1950, exhibited rounded corners on the crew doors, rather than the square doors of early production units. The once single continuous drip rail over the cab sides gave way to individual drip rails with curved ends over the cab side windows and crew doors. Square-shaped windows remained in the end doors, which lasted until about November 1950, when porthole windows became standard. F7 Phase II production units, beginning in February 1952, would continue to see some of these same late Phase I traits too, as well as a changeover to vertically oriented carbody louvers and Farr air intake grilles, larger 48-inch diameter dynamic brake cooling fans, and pull handle type sand hatches.
If these variations were not enough, Atlas incorporated certain road-specific details as well for its new release. Noteworthy examples include the Trainphone antenna running along the top of its Pennsy F7 offerings, passenger pilots tooled up specifically for The Milwaukee Road and Pennsy units, and a larger headlight casting in the nose door of the Santa Fe F7As. In addition, steam generator equipment is only incorporated on the cab and/or booster units, as appropriate for the prototype, and additional hand and ladder grabs may be added to the nose dependent on the practices of the railroad as well.
Case in point is this review’s samples outfitted for 2-rail operation: an F7A and F7B decorated for Amtrak. When the National Railroad Passenger Corporation took over most passenger rail operations in the U.S. on May 1, 1971, it inherited a ragtag fleet of equipment, including some eight F7 cab and 10 F7 booster units. All the F7As, numbered 100–107, were of Northern Pacific (NP) heritage, having been acquired by Amtrak through the recently formed Burlington Northern (BN), whereas the F7Bs were a mixed lot originally owned by the NP, Great Northern, and Southern Pacific. In particular, our sample Amtrak 102 and 153 were both delivered to NP in September 1949 as that road’s numbers 6509A and 6511B.
An interior view of the F7A yields what most modelers would expect to find in today’s high-tech trains: twin flywheel-equipped precision can motors, the DCC sound and motor decoder, LED lighting circuit boards, a speaker mounted in the fuel tank, and even some hand-painted crew figures seated in the cab. Note the lighting effects include a bright white headlight, blinking Mars light, colored marker lights, and glowing number boards.
These two units were actually early Phase I F7s, though, and did not display the rounded door corners exhibited by the O-scale renderings. While not as numerous as found on the prototype, the model does reflect the addition of ladder and hand grabs to the nose as added by NP during the latter 1950s to gain access to the windshield. A winterization hatch and nose lifting lugs were also added to the F7A at some point. Along the same lines, it would appear that by the time Amtrak bought the booster, its center porthole window had been removed in favor of a louvered vent, and a winterization hatch was applied over the rearmost radiator cooling fan housing. While not a perfect match in every aspect, the Atlas O renderings do leave some opportunity for the more serious Amtrak enthusiast to detail these models further.
As was the case under BN, Amtrak continued to employee both these locomotives on its northern mountainous transcontinental route, primarily west of Havre, Mont., on the Empire Builder. Amtrak 102 and 153 served the national rail carrier for only a few short years, however, and both were retired by October 1975 in favor of the new EMD SDP40Fs then arriving on the scene.
Representing early additions to the Amtrak roster, the O-scale models display the road’s initial paint scheme, with the herald notoriously referred to by railfans as the “pointless arrow.” The manufacturer has done its usual fine job of replicating the first standard Amtrak colors with an overall smooth coat of silver carbody paint and a bright red nose that sharply transitions into black as the color extends to the top of the nose and onto the roof of the cab unit. The booster also follows the road’s paint practice, and both models accurately display short reflective white stripes running along their lower car sides. Last but not least, the cab unit is anointed with readable EMD builder’s plates on its lower cab sides — nicely done!
The excellent level of detail on these new O-gauge offerings extends down below the frame too, as is evident by the nicely modeled Blomberg truck sideframes, which are cast in metal, with add-on brake cylinders, air lines, speed recorder and cable, and swing hanger. The Blomberg two-axle truck turned out to be an essential part of the success of the EMD F series.
As far as operation goes, MRN’S 2-rail F7A came outfitted with QSI’s Quantum DCC sound decoder. While the unpowered booster received is simply along for the ride, the cab unit features two vertically positioned, truck-mounted flywheel-equipped can motors; all-wheel drive via metal and plastic truck gearing; all-wheel electrical pickup; and directionally controlled LED lighting, including illuminated number boards, a cool working Mars light, and marker lights on the front of the cab unit that automatically change over to red when operating in reverse.
Because scale wheelsets are employed, traction tires are not used, but preliminary drawbar tests indicate they are not necessary either. This unit managed a drawbar pull equivalent to about eight scale length passenger cars around a layout incorporating the locomotive’s suggested minimum turn radius of 36 inches, so imagine what a lash-up of four powered F7s could handle on a large O-scale pike! Furthermore, all wheelsets met National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) gauge specifications, and the Kadee-compatible metal operating knuckle couplers were mounted at the correct height. I’m happy to report that there were no operational anomalies encountered during any of my test runs.
A close-up view of the 36-inch diameter cap-top cooling fans. Typical of the five cooling fans on a dynamic brake-equipped Phase 1 F7 model, the fan housing has the correct number of vanes (36), and a multi-bladed fan can be seen beneath. During Phase 2 production of the F7, a higher-capacity, 48-inch diameter dynamic brake was introduced.
Of course, enhancing the scale modeler’s experience — whether one is an analog Direct Current or a Digital Command Control operator — is the onboard Quantum dual-mode sound and control decoder as developed by QS Industries. There are a great many features within the QSI system for both DC and DCC enthusiasts to enjoy. First up is the Regulated Throttle Control (RTC), a direct benefit of which is its associated Back Electro-Motive Force (BEMF) technology. For MRN’s sample, this translated into excellent speed control ranging from an impressive, consistent minimum of just more than one scale mile per hour to a prototypical maximum velocity approaching 70 scale miles per hour.
The biggest benefits of the Quantum System for the O-scale modeler, though, are the digital sounds that it produces. Emanating from a speaker housed in the fuel tank, audio of a genuine 567 prime mover, horn and bell sounds, squealing brakes, air compressor, coupler crash, cooling fans, generator whine, and the like come in loud and clear to the bystander. In DCC mode, Quantum supports the NMRA 0–28 function key standard that allows the operator to access these authentic locomotive sounds directly. In particular, one of my favorite sound effects, considering this sample exhibits a dynamic brake, is the dynamic brake function F5. Engaging this feature while in motion will reduce the roar of the prime mover to an idle and turn on the powerful-sounding dynamic brake cooling fan.
Amtrak 101 sits on the tracks outside of the roundhouse at Livingston, Mont., coupled to a BN unit. This locomotive is another ex-NP unit, 6508C, which later became BN 9774 and served Amtrak until retirement in October 1975. John Arbuckle, Kevin EuDaly collection
Under analog conditions, the modeler has access to plenty of these sound features too, but their manipulation via a standard DC transformer’s throttle and direction controls, such as the horn and bell, can be challenging, to say the least. Instructions are included in the locomotive’s “Quick Start Guide” that explains their operation. Nevertheless, DCC is still the better way to operate, program, and enjoy these Atlas O 2-rail models.
O Scales’ Champion
As the F-unit series continues to evolve under the guiding hands of Atlas O, both 2-rail and 3-rail modelers can expect well-detailed and exceptional-operating 1:48 renderings of these famous diesels to be released in a plethora of prototypical road names for years to come. Matched up with the company’s recent California Zephyr Budd-built 85-foot streamlined equipment and Trainman Series 60-foot heavyweight passenger car releases, the O-gauge enthusiast can now also enjoy scale-length consists to run behind these gorgeous Covered Wagons to boot.
EMD F7A diesel locomotive
with DCC and Sound
Amtrak 102 (Phase I scheme)
#30124002, MSRP: $499.95
EMD F7B diesel locomotive
Amtrak 153 (Phase I scheme)
#30124040, MSRP: $219.95
378 Florence Avenue
Hillside, NJ 07205