by Justin Sobeck/model photos by author
It’s very shiny – was my first impression upon opening the case. And hefty too. Both are visible attributes of the 1:1 Norfolk & Western (N&W) 611, and Bachmann has done a good job in channeling them into its N-scale model. I remember as a child seeing the 1980s N scale Bachmann J Class in the display case at K-B Toys at University Mall in Carbondale, Ill. Copies of O. Winston Link’s Steam, Steel & Stars (1987, Abrams) and The Last Steam Railroad in America (1995, Abrams) books were received as holiday gifts, unfortunately after the end of Norfolk Southern’s Steam Program in 1994, so there wasn’t anything to equate the masterful photos and stories to then operating in the real world. In their line of Lionel-theme ornaments, Hallmark released an N&W J Class locomotive with tender in the late 1990s. Norfolk Southern and the Virginia Museum of Transportation (owner of the 611) in 2014 restored and again operated the famous J Class over a variety of routes, and the trip last fall to the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania opened up new doors, also providing a reunion with N&W M Class 4-8-0 steam locomotive 475. The J’s appeal is apparent, and this Bachmann offering is a good stand-in if you can’t experience the real thing first hand, and breathes life into many of Link’s classic scenes.
Above: With the tender shell removed, you see the electronics providing this N-scale Bachmann J Class steam locomotive with DCC and sound abilities.
Looks great and sounds awesome – and pulls too! Even for coal burners, the Js were kept clean on the N&W and 611 was meticulously polished during its service in Norfolk Southern steam excursion service, so the glossy sheen of the model captures this clean look and is prototypical. The application of black paint, Tuscan Red stripe and gold lettering and trim is well executed and opaque throughout, with clean separation lines and no fuzziness. The boiler shell is die-cast metal for extra weight on the drivers, with separately applied stainless wire handrails, and while a bit exaggerated, they are robust enough to hold up to repeated handling. Bachmann’s locomotive and tender tip the scales at 6.2 ounces.
The locomotive and tender are wired together due to the nature of the factory-installed Digital Command Control (DCC) and sound electronics arrangement, though the drawbar connecting the two models must be separated while the model resides in its storage case. Bachmann’s instructions state that its N-scale J Class model performs best on curves 11.25-inch radius or wider, and there are two holes on the drawbar that help achieve this, but the engine looks best closely pinned to the tender. All wheels are chemically darkened, which greatly enhances the model’s overall appearance. Traction tires are applied to both sides of the third driving wheel on the locomotive, and the model has bronze bearing boxes on each drive axle that provide some equalization on track variances. The roller bearing rods are stainless steel, and second and third drivers are gear-driven for maximum adhesion, with the rods driving the first and fourth. This sample pulled a mixture of 30 freight cars over and around my small test layout, and traversed Code 55 trackage without issue or derailment. The wheels passed inspection with a National Model Railroad Association Mark IVb gauge with no issue, and this release appears to meet all other applicable standards.
About the Author – Justin Sobeck is a regular Model Railroad News contributor. You’ll also find his work in the pages of NMRA Magazine. Justin and his family reside in the St. Louis area and Justin serves as Passenger Rail Safety Specialist at Missouri Department of Transportation.
You’ll read the rest of this review in a coming edition of Model Railroad News!