Review by Tony Cook/photos by the author
If you’re not familiar with Michigan-based American Models, you likely also are not a 1/64 or S-scale modeler. The company started in the mid-1990s and now occupies an 8,500-square-foot headquarters — more than twice the size of their previous home — and produces S-scale model railroad equipment. American Models states, “(w)e believe ‘S’ is the perfect size and will make no other.” My primary hobby interest, like many others, is HO-scale (1/87). However, the larger hobby scales attract my attention at train shows and when I visit hobby shops. I collect some O-scale and have some G-scale, but until recently, I possessed no S scale. My friend Mike Ostertag from Wisconsin models in S scale and is always promoting how great it is and how “You gotta try it!”
Earlier this year, I bought an American Models S-scale train set featuring the company’s Electro-Motive Division (EMD) GP9 decorated for Texas & Pacific’s blue-and-gray scheme. The set included a selection of American Models rolling stock and was a great way to get some hands-on experience with S scale.
One of the first decisions to make, if contemplating S scale, is what type of operation you want to pursue. For S scale, you can go with an American Flyer-standard with AC-power and “hi-rail” wheels. For DC-power track, you can select hi-rail wheels or go with a more scale-appearing flanged wheel. The American Flyer-standard also sports bigger knuckle couplers for compatibility with hi-rail trains that generally skew more toward the “toy train” market.
For my tastes, I wanted a scale look and bought the DC-power scale wheels option for my Texas & Pacific train set. I was pleased with the appearance and quality of American Models releases. I decided to add another locomotive to my collection and purchased a Frisco U25B diesel. American Models recently introduced a new diesel offering, and this review will continue with a look at the company’s latest release.
This notch-nose look arrived with the mid-1950s Alco diesels, as did a new 251 prime mover. Alco had solid success with its predecessor RS-3 and related road switchers. The RS-11 and its siblings didn’t enjoy the same level of penetration in the North American market.
American Models current catalog of S-scale locomotives includes a 4-8-4 Northern steam locomotive and more than a dozen diesels. From my experience with the company’s GP9, U25B, and now RS-11, these S-scale models are well made and provide very good reproductions of their prototypes.
The diesel models come in cardboard boxes with the model secured inside a two-piece Styrofoam inner section. In the RS-11 box was a sheet with general information and tips on care and use of this model. American Models offers single RS-11s in the three operational set-ups, and you’ll also see dual offerings that provide a pair of RS-11s with savings for purchasing two together.
The first production S-scale RS-11s are available decorated for Chicago & North Western, Delaware & Hudson (“Lightning Stripe” blue-and-gray), Missouri Pacific (as-delivered blue-and-gray), New Haven (McGinnis black with orange cab and handrails), New York Central (“Lightning Stripe”), Pennsylvania Railroad, and Southern Pacific (“Black Widow”). The company also produces undecorated models, ready for your custom paint and lettering work.
The one road name not mentioned on my list was the eye-catching green-and-silver with yellow trim Alco demonstrator RS-11. I’m a sucker for demo schemes and have a pretty decent collection of them in HO. I had Atlas’ HO-scale Alco demo RS-11 and knew that was the one I’d like to see in this new American Models S-scale release. As a lifelong HO guy, there’s always a “wow factor” when you first remove a larger scale model from its box and take a good look at it. This RS-11 didn’t disappoint. It is certainly an impressive offering.
Surrounded by Southern Pacific motive power, the three Alco RS-11 demonstrators would trade in this attractive livery for SP colors and served the road for many years. This demonstrator was set up for long-hood-forward operations, as noted by the “F” on the end of the long-hood frame. Dale Sanders collection
The model comes with foam sections between the long hood and handrails. The plastic shell is largely a single piece with the pilots, walkways, and hoods all included as one section. The cab is another plastic section that snaps into the body. Flush-fitting clear plastic inserts provide windows for the cab area. The air horn, mounted over the engineer, on the cab roof and the brake wheel on the nose are separate details. The grab irons, coupler cut lever, and handrails are separately applied. The handrails are both sturdy and robust, but also appear to scale and include good detail to the stanchions and front and rear pilot railings. Horizontal grab irons run up both ends in two columns, and the model includes two vertical grab irons on each side of the headlights (front and rear). On the short hood’s fireman’s side, you’ll find a column of grab irons with one situated on the roof, as per most prototypes. On the corners of the long hood roofline, you’ll spot two more separately applied grab irons at angles over the number boards.
The tooling appears to reproduce Alco’s early production RS-11 and includes dynamic brake details. Details all appear to reproduce this mid-1950s Alco prototype accurately. The only detail I spotted that I have an issue with is the inclusion of an additional square air intake opening on the long hood. From my research, I found the early production RS-11 included a trio of square screens between the cab and the radiator section on the long hood. If the unit possessed dynamic brakes, you saw two more screens along this upper section of the hood necessary for cooling. So, I say non-dynamic brake RS-11s should have three screens and diesels with the enhanced braking feature should have five screens. American Models includes six, which I can’t confirm is prototypical reviewing prototype images. Air tanks appear over the fuel tanks and are included as part of the main plastic body shell. The fuel tank presents a large, rectangular plastic section secured by a screw to the die-cast metal body. There were multiple fuel tank options for RS-11s. Some were large and came out to the sides and around the air tanks with angled lower sides, and some were small and appeared inside and under the unit. American Models seems to offer a mid-size tank option. The model rides on accurate AAR Type B truck sideframes. I measured and found the wheelbase presents an accurate 31-foot separation between the centers of each truck. The model’s overall length comes out to the desired length of almost 56 feet.
The shell snaps off the chassis by prying the sides of the shell apart. A small pin protrudes along the metal frame, and that secures the shell to the body. The model includes a die-cast metal frame with a motor residing over its center. A brass flywheel is included on the front of the drive motor, and all wheels are powered and collect power from the track on this RS-11 release. Lighting is directional, and you’ll see small green circuit boards tucked inside the corners of the shell, as well as wires connected and running back to the motor. Be careful when removing the shell that you don’t detach or damage the lighting system’s wiring.
American Models produces its S-scale (1/64) Alco RS-11 replica in eight road names with the buyer’s choice of hi-rail wheels American Flyer-compatible AC, hi-rail wheels DC powered, or DC powered scale wheels.
There are no couplers provided with the model. Kadee No. 802 S-scale couplers are the recommended ones for scale operations. You’ll see tabs on each end of the metal frame. These tabs are the locations to mount your couplers. On the underside view of the metal coupler location, you’ll see a pre-drilled hole near the back or inside area of the tab that goes all the way through, and another hole appears near the outer edge of the tab that doesn’t go completely through the metal section. The completed hole is for mounting hi-rail version couplers. For this model, I’m wanting scale appearance and will install Kadee couplers. The started hole near the outside of the metal coupler area provides your spot for installing Kadee’s plastic coupler box. The hole, once drilled out, lines up with the center hole on the coupler box, and you’ll discover molded into the underside of the RS-11 body shell a socket that is ready to accept the screw Kadee provides with its No. 802 knuckle couplers. The other avenue to securing the plastic coupler pocket to the frame are the side screw mounts on Kadee’s coupler box. If you look at the RS-11’s metal coupler tab from its top side, you’ll see two started holes for possible use. You can carefully drill out those holes and then install the plastic coupler pocket from the underside with the provided screws in the Kadee package.
I tested this RS-11 using American Models section track. The basic oval consisted of 27-inch radius (S-54) curve sections with a three-foot section of flex track separating each half-circle. I used a power supply unit that provided DC power, and the maximum voltage applied to the rails was 12 volts. After a few break-in laps, I found the low-end response improved from an original starting voltage of a bit more than 3 volts and a measured 4 scale mph down to a start at close to 2 volts and approximately a 3 scale mph crawl without stalling. At the maximum 12 volts, the RS-11 model approached a scale 70 mph. The flywheel provided smooth starts and stops, and the S-scale Alco operated very well during my evaluation. Motor noise is apparent but not loud.
This is a very well done model and should please the S-scale operator or collector. After spending time with this and some other American Models S-scale releases, it is easy to see the allure of model railroading in 1/64. If you’ve ever considered S scale, I can warn you a model such as this Alco demonstrator RS-11 may make you clear a shelf for more S models and have you debating how and where you’ll set up a basic operation to run and enjoy them.
American Models S-scale
Alco RS-11 diesel locomotive
DC scale wheel version
#RS1103, MSRP: $234.95
11770 Green Oak Industrial Dr.
Whitmore Lake, MI 48189