by: Sean Hadfield [ ]
The Genesis line is Athearn’s top tier of products. This set represents an A and B unit of a “first generation” F-series diesel made by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD), painted “as delivered” to the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railroad in their earliest diesel color scheme.
These units represent an FP7 and an F7B. The “FP” indicates that it was set up for either freight use or, having a steam generator, for passenger trains as well. They were delivered to the Milwaukee Road, as it was to be called, between 1950 and 1951. EMD had been the only company allowed to continue making diesel locomotives during the World War II years, so they had an advantage on all others after the war and their diesel locomotives dominated the market. The popular EMD F-unit cowl locomotives have been called “bulldogs” due to the shape of their nose and “covered wagons” due to the wide shape of their engine hood. The Milwaukee Road ordered them in A-B-A arrangements. This particular order was numbered 94A, 94B, 94C, 95A, 95B, 95C, etc., but soon after, they broke up the sets, using more or fewer locomotives as each situation called for. In 1959 fifteen units, #90A through #94C, were relegated to exclusive freight use, renumbered #60A through #64C, and repainted in a simpler orange and black scheme.
Athearn’s model comes fully assembled and nicely packaged, so a modeler can run it right away on a DC (analog not DCC digital) layout. Inside the shell is a small removable circuit board with a 9-pin DCC connector that can easily be replaced by a digital decoder, with no modifications needed to the factory light bulbs.
The wheels appear to be nickel silver and all check well to standard NMRA gauge tolerances. There was a preponderance of oil in the packaging, which had leaked from the bottom of the trucks. Likewise, grease from the gear towers had leaked against the coupler boxes. That raises a concern for the wheels and track getting oily and collecting dust and dirt, which then affects train performance later on.
Couplers are supplied by McHenry (a sister company of Athearn, both owned by Horizon Hobby, Inc.) and while the glad hands have metal springs and trip-pins, the centering springs are plastic whiskers. They are brown in color, similar to rust on the prototype, and of a finer, more-to-scale height than the ubiquitous Kadee #5. The lead coupler of the A-unit is operating, but can also be modeled stowed behind a pilot door, nicely provided separately in the packaging.
Front and rear couplers of both units on my examples checked low on a Kadee coupler gauge (see photo) and again on an NMRA standards gauge, possibly due to slack and droop in the coupler box, but mostly because the box itself appeared somewhat low.
There are two bulbs in each headlight housing, per prototype, and directional lighting on the rear of the A-unit and both ends of the B-unit.
The shell and all plastic detail parts are entirely neat and clean, with no mold seams or flash visible.
The detail on these is fantastic. The windshield wipers are tiny wisps of metal. The grab handles are very fine, so no 1/87th scale crew member would have any trouble getting their hands around them! The side grills are very fine as well, and you can see through them.
The paint is crisp. All lettering is clear and all striping has sharp edges. There’s even an EMD builder’s logo on each side and running Hiawatha logo on the nose, nicely presented.
And what matters to me, the colors match well to my blue-box Milwaukee Road heavyweight passenger cars.
Out of the box, the locomotive responds well to a DC throttle. There’s only a very faint buzzing, and it makes me smile to remember how old “blue box” Athearn’s used to have that “coffee grinder” sound. I gave it an extended test (about 15 minutes each, then again together) around my kids’ Christmas Tree track loop, and they performed well, individually and together. The creeping speed is believable, and high speed is not ludicrously high. The manufacturer’s website states that these have a “Genesis driveline with dynamically balanced five pole skew wound motor and dual flywheels.” I didn’t weigh my examples, but they are hefty and showed no hesitation at all with the 6-car passenger train that I gave them to handle. (Any more cars, and it would be catching its tail!) My test layout’s 18” radius presented no pinching or binding problems between the units at all.
A recurring problem though, goes back to the coupler height. Even though my layout has no vertical curves, slight rises in the track were enough to uncouple the locomotives from their cars. Rechecking the cars showed them to perfectly match the coupler height on both gauges. It is a frustration that I will have to try to adjust from the factory coupler setting, possibly with offset coupler heads or by filing down the coupler box mount on the frame.
My only complaint is the coupler height issue. I’m a stickler for flawless operations, and this will need correction before I could put these locomotives into my fleet. I love the fine details and the extremely popular subject.
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