Review by David Otte
One of my favorite aspects of model railroading is the history lesson that accompanies the prototype piece of equipment I am interested in adding to my collection or layout. While I don’t claim to know everything, I have been in the hobby long enough now that most of the background stories on locomotives or rolling stock I come across are not really unexpected and usually fit in with the general development of the railroad industry as a whole. Yet, on occasion, I will come across a prototype that is a complete surprise to me and whose history transcends the obvious, becoming relevant to world events. A case in point is Bachmann’s latest On30-scale locomotive that recently crossed my review desk — a Baldwin 2-6-2T, which the manufacturer referred to as World War I era “Class 10 Trench Locomotive” and lettered for the U.S. Army (USA).
Now, I was familiar with the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) and its efforts during World War I to aid the nation’s railroads in meeting the demands of such a conflict here at home. And I remember vaguely reading something about the European light railway (or trench railway) systems abroad that had supplied the front lines of the various battlefields, but I had never heard of U.S. servicemen and railway equipment being a part of such overseas operations. Totally intrigued and with the Bachmann sample in hand, I set off on a journey of discovery to unravel the mystery of this new offering.
ABOVE: The prototype for this particular sample of Bachmann’s Trench engine was just one of 190 Baldwin erected side tank Prairies to see service in France during World War I. USA 5091 was built in October 1917 under shop number 46759. There is no record of what became of her after the war, but chances are she helped the French rebuild their country following the devastation of four years of warfare. The model manufacturer has done an ex-cellent job of detailing and decorating the super-structure of its O-scale rendering. Although not completely accurate for the prototype, the reused HO-gauge chassis and drive mechanism provide the 2-6-2T with solid performance.
Narrow Gauge at War
By the time war in Europe broke out in late July 1914, the French and Germans, in particular, had already developed light railway systems to supply existing defensive positions built along their respective borders during the years leading up to the conflict. The French referred to these narrow-gauge railways as Voies de Soixante and the Germans, Feldbahnen. Both were based on 60-centimeter (1 foot 11 5/8 inches) gauge track, not unlike the two-foot gauge railways built in Maine starting in the late 1890s. However, these railways were designed to be portable, to advance or retreat with the front lines as needed.
Early on, both the French and Germans had learned that the most successful mode of transportation would be the light railways as the poor roads in the mostly rural regions under contention made it almost impossible for trucks or even mules to haul the massive amount of arms, supplies, and men to the front lines. After the British entered the war, they too soon found out this fact and, although not familiar with 60-centimeter gauge operations, began building locomotives and rolling stock to support the French and eventually their own troop movements.
With production of a whole host of military equipment underway during the early war years, though, England’s manufacturing capacity was tasked to its limits and His Majesty’s government would come to rely on U.S. locomotive and rolling stock companies to supply much of the needed railway equipment.
Thus Baldwin and Alco, in particular, would gain their first experience at constructing 60-centimeter gauge locomotives for the war effort and supplied Great Britain with 4-6-0T and 2-6-2T side-tank locomotives before the U.S. joined the cause a few years later.
One of the shortcomings of the Baldwin 2-6-2T design was that its cab was too small, which is somewhat evident in this rear end view. Nevertheless, take a peek at the wonderful backhead details in-cluded on the Bachmann rendering as well as the rear fuel bunker, operating backup lamp, and the siphon hose hanging on the back end. The latter was provided so crews could draw water from an external supply tank or, if necessary, a creek or rainwater filled shell crater. Unlike the prototype’s use of European style link-and-pin couplers, the On30 model is outfitted with Bachmann’s E-Z Mate plastic operating knuckle couplers front and rear.
By spring 1917, the war had reached a stalemate with heavy casualties on both sides and the men bogged down in what became known as trench warfare. In April, the Americans declared war on Germany and offered the hope of ending the conflict post haste. Although the U.S. Army lacked the immediate manpower to send troops to the front, it did put into motion the recruitment of experienced railroad men who would be required to aid in the operation of the light railways at the front. To this end, four engineering regiments were created: the 12th, 14th, 21st, and 22nd. With less than a few months of military training, these regiments were sent to France in late summer 1917 to make way for the eventual arrival of U.S. combat troops. In all, some 13,650 men are estimated to have been assigned to the light railway operations by the end of the war.
Initially, the regiments assisted the British light railway efforts near St. Quentin and the Somme Valley region of France, but later worked the front assigned to the U.S. armies between Verdun and Toul in France. It would be here that the engineering regiments constructed the longest U.S. light railway branch, the 18-mile-long A-S Line between the Abainville and Sorcy railhead and the storage yards at Abainville. Sectional track with 25-pound rail and stamped metal ties manufactured in the U.S. was utilized, but, more often than not, the experienced railway men preferred to lay their own rail with wooden ties. Upon arrival, the engineers operated trains powered with British locomotives, such as the Hunslet 4-6-0Ts and the aforementioned Baldwin and Alco built engines, but new locomotives and rolling stock commissioned by the U.S. Army were soon on their way to France.
And that brings us to the focus of this article, the army’s narrow gauge 2-6-2Ts. Soon after America joined the fight, the U.S. Army awarded Baldwin with a contract for 195 coal-burning side-tank steam locomotives with a 2-6-2 wheel arrangement (commonly referred to as a “Prairie” type, due to the wheel arrangement’s use by standard gauge railroads over branch lines found throughout the plains and prairie regions of the U.S.) for operation on 60-centimeter gauge rail that, we can only assume, were based in part on the previously built British designs. With both two-wheel lead and trailing trucks, the Prairie tracked well going forward or in reverse, conditions under which a small tank engine, such as the army’s light railway locomotives, would be operating on a continual basis. Already under great strain to supply the needed standard gauge locomotives to the USRA, Baldwin refused additional orders by the U.S. Army, so subsequent contracts for 376 more 2-6-2Ts, following the Baldwin examples, were divided up between Davenport Locomotive Works and Vulcan Iron Works.
Above: As modeled by Bachmann, the On30-scale USA 5001 is a bit of an oddball in the white lettering scheme (check out those white-wall tires too) as it was only painted this way for the Baldwin builder’s photo and quickly relettered in black be-fore shipping out to France. Delivered to the army in September 1917, USA 5001 was the class leader of 195 Baldwin 2-6-2Ts, numbers 5001–5195, constructed for the war effort. The U.S. Army would also contract Davenport and Vulcan Iron Works to build an additional 376 almost identical 2-6-2Ts, but the war ended before the contracts could be completely filled. In the end, Davenport erected 80 and Vulcan 30; none of these units ever made it to France.
Baldwin began delivery of its 2-6-2Ts in September 1917 and completed the first order by December of that year. Numbered by the army as USA 5001–5195, the narrow-gauge Prairie types saw action before the new year (along with a sizable fleet of gas mechanical locomotives also erected by Baldwin for the army). The relatively tiny Baldwin units exhibited 9 x 12-inch cylinders, 23 ½-inch diameter drivers of equal spacing, Walschaerts valve gear, and a length of 20 feet 4 inches over pilot end plates. In working order, a 2-6-2T tipped the scales at 33,700 pounds and had a weight on drivers of 23,500 pounds. A working boiler pressure of 180 pounds was utilized, with the side-mounted water tanks having a capacity of 476 gallons, and the fuel bunker located at the rear of the cab holding 1,700 pounds of coal.
Unfortunately, shortcomings in the initial design were not uncovered during production — most notably the locomotives had trouble negotiating sharp curves, had a high center of gravity, and the cabs were simply too small. Lessons learned were applied somewhat to the later Davenport and Vulcan produced 2-6-2Ts, but the improvements didn’t solve all the issues. Nevertheless, the engineers of the light railways persevered!
Of the 195 narrow gauge steam locomotives Baldwin produced for the army, only 190 actually made it to France with the last unit, USA 5195, sent to the Davenport’s shop to replicate and the balance kept stateside to serve at various military bases. In turn, Davenport would turn out 80 of the Prairies by June 1919, numbers 5196-5275, and Vulcan only 30 by May 1919, numbers 5401-5430, after which the U.S. Army canceled the latter builder’s contract for narrow gauge locomotives once army operations in Europe had finished, following the end of hostilities in November 1918.
Despite any shortcomings and their relative brief wartime experience, the Baldwin 2-6-2Ts served their purpose well and the army engineers kept them busy well into the spring of 1919, moving troops and salvage out of former battle areas. When it was time to leave, all the locomotives, rolling stock, track, structures, and other supporting equipment of the U.S. light railways were simply left where they stood. Much of the equipment would see reuse by the local French farmers and businesses in the decades ahead as they rebuilt their war-torn country, with many still in service when the next world war came. Today, only one of these combat veteran locomotives is known to have survived, which has been restored as “USA 5104” by the Tacot des Lacs Railway in Grez-sur-Loing, France (after having seen postwar quarry service in Australia).
For those Baldwin built examples that remained in the States, not much is known of their fi nal dispositions, but all are believed to have been scrapped by the late 1930s. Of those built by Davenport and Vulcan, however, several examples had much longer careers serving on narrow gauge railways at various military forts around the country. In particular, following the construction in the early 1920s of an eventual 27-mile-long 60-centimeter gauge railway at Fort Benning, near Columbus, Ga., for basic transportation around the base, the camp would see as many as 20 of these little narrow gauge steam locomotives in use at one time. Railway operations would be maintained at Fort Benning through World War II and finally shut down by the end of 1946.
Of the 10 steam locomotives Fort Benning still rostered at that time, only one was kept for posterity. Currently lettered for the Quarter Master Corps, “QMC 5,” the unit’s heritage and original U.S. Army number are not quite clear (the builder’s plates were removed at some point), but the locomotive is believed to be a Dav-enport build. The unit, now painted in standard army Olive Drab Green, can be viewed at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center just outside of Fort Benning.
The On30 Trench Locomotive
Since samples of On30-scale equip-ment are less common than other scales featured in Model Railroad News, a little background information is probably in order for those unfamiliar with this sector of the hobby. For starters, “On30” stands for O-scale (1:48) equip-ment operating on narrow gauge track with 30 scale inches between the rails.
While several narrow gauge prototypes utilizing 30-inch gauge track did exist in the real world, the choice of such a gauge for modeling is more for convenience than anything else, as 30 inches in O-scale is the equivalent between the rails in the miniature world to common HO-scale track.
Now, the first use of On30, or as it was referred to in the early days as On2-1/2, is said to date back to the early 1930s, when a hobbyist utilized an HO-gauge mechanism and scratchbuilt an O-scale locomotive on top. The notion of utilizing HO track for O-scale modeling saw a bit of a resurgence later in the 1960s through the 1980s with articles being published in our sister publication, Railroad Model Craftsman, by such noted modelers as David Gast (November 1962) and Bill Livingston (June 1971), among others. But it was Bachmann’s entry into the On30 ready-to-run market by the 1990s that gave this sector of model railroading the boost needed to see widespread popularity in the marketplace.
There are plenty of details on the new On30 Trench engine to take in from this view: pilot deck with smokebox supports and lead truck mount; smoke box face with accurate round number plate, includ-ing “Baldwin Locomotive Works” and “Philadelphia U.S.A” properly spelled out around its circumfer-ence; side water tanks with add-on hand grabs, fill hatches, and brackets; an LED equipped headlight; forward sand dome control lever with linkage lead-ing back to the cab; and builder’s plates on the tank sides with road number specific construction date and serial number. Excellent!
Since then, On30 has allowed hobbyists an easy means to model popular Colorado and logging three-foot gauge prototypes, as well as the famous Maine two-footers, which normally would require the use of hand-laid track and equipment produced only in the form of expensive limited edition brass renderings. Thanks to Bachmann then, the interest in narrow gauge railroading has increased exponentially among model railroaders and opened the door to even more enjoyment in the hobby.
Based on my first impressions out of the box, I was feeling quite positive about this new model. The 5 1/8-inch-long (over end plates) O-scale locomotive appeared initially to capture all the nuances of the prototype; its silhouette especially exhibiting the familiar Baldwin-style steam dome centered on the tiny boiler, with sand domes straddling either side and a shotgun style exhaust stack up front. Behind, there is the locomotive’s simple open round-roofed cab with signature porthole windows in the front wall — indicative of a European influenced design.
Inside, the backhead is full of wonderful detail with add-on screw-type hand brake, Johnson bar, throttle, steam and water lines, and pressure gauge; the fuel bunker at the rear displays a separate plastic coal pile insert, in a glossy finish to replicate the sheen of real coal. On the back side of the fuel bunker, a loose water siphon hose casting can even be found draped over a hanger. Finally, the rectangular water tanks hung on the sides of the boiler offer an otherwise diminutive steamer a more powerful appearance and are complete with add-on brackets, fill hatches, and even the drain valves on the cab end of the tanks.
Additional details have been applied to the superstructure as well in the form of plumbing connecting the water tanks to the boiler, various steam supply lines, and the sanding pipes leading out of the twin domes and down toward the front and rear drivers. The steam dome is also anointed with pop valves and whistle with pull cord leading to the cab. As these narrow-gauge locomotives were not equipped with air brakes or electric lights, no pump or steam dynamo is present; just two oil burning lamps, one situated on the smokebox front and the other atop the rear of the fuel bunker. Neither is the traditional brass bell present, as the prototypes served without the otherwise standard warning device while in France.
Above: Here is a better view of the HO-gauge chassis on which the On30 superstructure rides. Originally used under the company’s HO-scale Spectrum series 0-6-0T Saddle Tank locomotive, the non-prototyp-ical drive mechanism provided our O-scale 2-6-2T with an excellent ride. Unfortunately, the Baldwin Trench engine’s characteristic Walschaerts valve gear and equal driver spacing is sorely missing from this other-wise accurately detailed rendering. Note that the motor, which is hidden in the boiler above, is geared to the rear axle while the other two driver sets are powered via the side rods. Furthermore, a sprung wiper making contact with the back of each driver ensures the locomotive has good electrical conductivity over a variety of track conditions.
Happy with how the superstructure appeared, which, by the way, is constructed of an injection-molded boiler/water tank assembly and separate cab, my eyes were drawn down to the chassis. A quick check with my dialer calipers found the see-through spoked drivers a pretty good match for the real deal at a scale 24 inches in diameter.
The scale 15-inch diameter lead and trailing truck wheels were fine too, but something about the driver spacing was throwing me off. According to drawings and photos of these Army engines, the wheels should have been evenly spaced, but the O-scale rendering had unequal spacing. And something else seemed to be awry as there were add-on brake cylinders, where none should be present, and the axle leaf springs molded-in to the die-cast fabricated chassis/gearbox seemed to be off in shape and location too.
Then, it suddenly dawned on me that the engine frame was missing perhaps the most important detail of all — the prototype’s prominent Walschaerts valve gear and hanger. Yikes! How could Bachmann have missed this detail? The appropriate metal-formed main and connecting side rods were there; cylinders, although not quite the correct shape, were accounted for; and the piston valve and crosshead guides modeled too; but no valve gear at all.
After some deep contemplation and referencing some older Bachmann product catalogs on a hunch, I discovered that the manufacturer had taken the premise of On30 to heart and literally reused a chassis, drive mechanism and all, from its HO-scale product line — in this case the design shared by its now discontinued Spectrum Alco 0-6-0 Saddle-Tank steam locomotive and currently cataloged Porter 0-6-0 Side-Tank release. These particular prototypes featured inside valve gear, 44-inch drivers (which coincidentally scale out to be 24 inches in O-scale), uneven axle spacing, and air powered brake cylinders.
I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed in my discovery. With this release being a Spectrum-level model, I assumed it would be more accurate as far as the chassis is concerned. Nevertheless, I do understand the expense of tooling up such an uncommon prototype with somewhat limited appeal. And reusing an existing chassis with the correctly sized drivers and overall length no doubt was a big cost savings for the manufacturer, which, in the end, made the entire project more feasible.
Moving on, I was somewhat consoled by the fact that the superstructure had been modeled well and the level of its decoration further reinforced this feeling. We received two samples for review, USA 5001 and USA 5091. Both wore a smooth coat of satin gray paint following U.S. Army practice with the class leader, USA 5001, exhibiting white-painted lettering and wheel rims, as was the practice of steam locomotive builders when photographing early production units, and USA 5091 had lettering done up in black, as all 2-6-2Ts serving in France displayed. Besides the sharp lettering and number graphics, Bachmann also replicated the Baldwin builder’s plates adorning the sides of the smokebox — completely readable and with correct construction serial numbers and dates per road number on each — as well as the round number plates on the front of the smokebox. Well done!
As far as the dispositions of their prototypes go, there is no conclusive evidence other than the fact that USA 5001 and USA 5091 both served in France and remained in Europe after the war. By the time USA 5001 would have arrived for duty overseas, however, its white trim and side tank lettering would have been removed and replaced with black-painted road numbers. How long this particular locomotive would have appeared in photographer’s colors while still in the States and when it exactly shipped to France isn’t known either, but its prototypical operation painted in such a scheme would certainly be limited to just a few months at best guess — just something to consider if you’re a rivet counter.
The model continued to redeem itself as I entered the operation category of my testing session. While the chassis may be an HO-scale model’s hand-me-down, the drive mechanism is Spectrum quality, after all, with flywheel-equipped can motor, geared rear axle/rod driven all-wheels powered, and all drivers have electrical pickup. This setup combined with the Digital Command Control (DCC) On Board/WOWSound decoder provided excellent scale speed control with a low end registering less than one scale mile per hour and the top end speed hitting under 25 scale miles per hour – a pretty good representation of the prototype’s abilities. Although no traction tires are utilized, the 7.3-ounce locomotive could surprisingly handle about a dozen pieces of Bachmann’s On30 ready-to-run rolling stock on my level test track and through 22-inch radius curves. Finally, the front and rear head lamps are LED equipped, offering a nice yellow glow, but both are either on or off simultaneously; there is no directional control.
Saving perhaps the best feature of this narrow-gauge Prairie for last, the included Train Control Systems developed WOWSound really completes these models. While this sound system was initially introduced in Bachmann’s HO-scale Amtrak ACS-64 electric locomotive (see the January 2019 issue) and Streamlined K4 Pacific (August 2019 issue), it’s definitely worth reiterating the high-lights, both audio quality and function control, as they pertain to this steam powered rendering.
To begin with, the system’s voice-guided Audio Assist programming is a big help, especially for the DCC novice, for easy set-up of the decoder’s functions.
Sound functions include long- and short-toot whistle, blow down, cylinder cocks, water fill, coupler close/release, injector; and a host of automatic incidental sound bytes typical of a steam locomotive. There are several additional sounds worth highlighting, however, that the operator will surely enjoy activating. Perhaps the most interesting are the ash pan cleaning and water fill scenarios; the whistle sequence signaling the approach of a grade crossing or the change of direction and stop; and even the ambiance of a depot setting. Of course, what’s a steam locomotive without engine chuff, and this effect is included as well within Train Control Systems’ “Chuffinity” software enhancement, whereby the character and intensity of the chuff changes either randomly or with track conditions, which makes for a much more realistic and interesting operating experience for the ears especially.
My favorite effect included in the Trench locomotive’s WOWSound repertoire, however, is the “Battle Background Sound.” With this function engaged, layout visitors will enjoy audio of aircraft flying overhead, artillery, the officer’s whistle directing troops in the trenches to attack, and various explosions. The sound sequences change in volume intensity and cycle through several scenarios. Maybe the theatrics here are just a little bit cheesy for a serious model railroader, but still a very cool idea!
Not to be forgotten, the lighting functions also include the Rule 17 dimming feature, but, in contrast to the function key listing accompanying the 2-6-2T, our sample did not display the firebox flicker feature. Regardless of all these attributes, the most intriguing characteristic of the WOWSound decoder, though, is the factory setup Page Mapping feature, which allows one to operate all of these great features with just the F0 – F8 DCC function keys.
If you are like most of us who started with a simple DCC command station, such as the Digitrax Zephyr or Bachmann’s E-Z Command System, only ten function buttons, F0 – F9, are usually included with the device, so accessing all the sound and lighting functions included in today’s decoder equipped locomotives, many of which boast 28 or more, is a challenge with many of us missing out on some otherwise cool features. While at first glance the three different tables of F0 – F8 function key assignments listed within the accompanying Quick Start Guide may appear confusing, reading the text further will make one realize Train Control Systems has actually provided its factory installed decoders with something rather novel called Page Mapping.
Depending on the number of times one presses the F8 key, which is usually reserved for muting sounds only, the operator can literally maneuver between a sound and light mode (found within the Page 1 table) as well as through a total of three pages worth of functions using only the basic key setup. During each page change the Audio Assist voice states the present page number as well.
In this regard then, depressing F8 twice rapidly initially rotates the function keys between the sound and light mode, so F1, for example, which normally sounds the bell, would then become the on/off switch for the firebox flicker (is so equipped). Every double press of the F8 key thereafter would take the operator to the next page of sound activation. So, for our F1 key in Page 2 then, it would activate the coupler knuckle close sound while on Page 3, F1 engages the forward whistle quill sequence. Admittedly, this page mapping arrangement takes a little getting used to, but once one becomes familiar with the sequencing, it’s a very creative way to enjoy all the features the WOWSound decoder offers without needing an elaborate DCC command station.
A Give-and-Take Model
The Bachmann On30 Trench locomotive is what I would call a “give-and-take” model — a relatively rare prototype is being offered with great superstructure detail, commendable operation, and an excellent electronics package, but to make it cost effective for the manufacturer, a visually inaccurate HO-scale chassis had to be utilized in its production. I don’t wish to downplay the latter comprise in the eyes of the serious O-scaler, but if one can look past it (hey, the prototype was closer to two foot gauge rather than 30-inch gauge anyway), the On30 modeler will really enjoy this offering in a variety of settings, whether it be on a World War I front lines themed switching pike or as a war surplus 2-6-2T serving on a post 1919 narrow gauge industrial layout.
Bachmann Spectrum On30-scale DCC and sound
Baldwin 2-6-2T Class 10 Trench Engine
29501, MSRP: $459.00
29502, MSRP: $459.00
18-foot Flatcar (2-car Set)
Gray Data Only
26513, MSRP: $92.00
1400 East Erie Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19124