Volume 2 No. 3, Lionel USRA 2-8-8-2 Reviewed

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 2 No. 3, March 25, 2013

Lionel USRA 2-8-8-2 “Y-3” Review

by Dick Karnes
Photos by Gary Schrader except as noted

An S scale Locomotive From Lionel? Yes!!

The USRA 2-8-8-2 locomotives, built by Alco and Baldwin, were
delivered to the Virginian, Norfolk & Western, Baltimore & Ohio, and
Clinchfield railroads in 1918 and 1919. Later, the Santa Fe, Pennsylvania,
and Union Pacific bought some second-hand from the N&W. The B&O
subsequently converted theirs to a 2-8-8-0 configuration. These
locomotives were compound articulateds, utilizing exhaust steam from
the trailing engine unit to drive the pistons in the larger cylinders on the
lead unit. These locomotives, with their 57” drivers, were well suited for
long coal drags at 30 mph.

This new S scale USRA 2-8-8-2, as conceived by Lionel, marketed under
the “American Flyer” name, and converted by SSL&S, is a real treat! Its
dimensions are accurate and detailing is thorough. Piping and fittings
are individually applied. It even has drive wheel brake shoes. The only
obvious compromise is that the steam exhaust pipes leading forward
from the rear cylinders are integral with the boiler casting, and therefore
do not actually connect to the cylinder chests. The reason for this is that
both the front and rear engine chassis are separately pivoted on the loco,
thus minimizing outward swing of the smokebox on curved trackage, as
well as allowing the loco to negotiate sharper curves. On the prototype,
the rear engine does not pivot.

The loco comes from Lionel painted and lettered for VGN, N&W, PRR,
ATSF, and UP. The N&W, with by far the largest fleet of these locos,
designated them Class Y-3; thus the Lionel nomenclature. The
locomotive comes with sound, smoke, and compatibility with AC, DC,
and TMCC Legacy, and American Flyer-compatible wheel profile. The
locomotive’s electronics suite senses the nature of the power supply and
automatically initializes itself accordingly. Lionel and S Scale
Locomotive & Supply Co. (SSL&S) have entered into a mutual
arrangement whereby SSL&S will replace the AF-compatible wheels and
driver tires with scale-profile wheels and stainless-steel driver tires per
the NASG/NMRA wheel profile and gauge standards. This conversion
service also includes a Kadee S scale tender coupler. (The front coupler,
a scale dummy, is standard on the Lionel product.) On request, SSL&S
will also program the built-in decoder for DCC compatibility.

The locomotive and tender coupling is a simple hook-and-slot
arrangement. There are no wires between the two units. The tender
drawbar’s clever design provides extremely close coupling while
preventing the loco and tender bodies from interfering with each other
on sharp curves. The sound system, entirely contained within the
tender, is synchronized with locomotive performance via an infrared
signal transmitted from beneath the cab floor and received via a receptor
beneath the fireman’s platform on the tender. Sound volume can be
altered via a thumbwheel beneath the tender’s water hatch.

In addition to the usual steam locomotive sounds, the superb sound
system’s effects include brake squeal, amplified chuffing upon
acceleration, intermittent steam emission and crew chatter when idling.
The sound system electronics are very sensitive to electrical input
fluctuations, so Lionel has provided space and connections for an
optional nine-volt battery inside the tender. I highly recommend
installing this battery, which provides continuous current to the sound
system regardless of track-to-wheel current interruptions. Another
advantage of the battery is that it allows the sound system to bank the
fire after the DCC system is turned off. Yes, after turn-off!

I tested the locomotive using DCC. Electrical pick-up is through the
wheels on both sides of the unit. The loco weighs 3 pounds 7 ounces; the
tender weighs another 2 pounds 3 ounces. Loco pulling power, without
the tender, is 11.3 ounces at full slip while drawing .50 amperes. The
loco’s efficiency (pulling force divided by loco weight) is 20.5 percent –
an incredibly high number. The stainless-steel driver tires’ excellent
adhesion properties allow the loco to pull practically everything you can
throw at it. The loco begins to crawl at 3.4 scale mph at step 1 on the
DCC 28-step speed control table. Its speed at full throttle (speed step 28)
is 76 scale mph; the prototype could be wound up to 50 mph. Using
DCC’s configuration variables, the speed profile can be reprogrammed
to approximate the prototype if one wishes.

I had a problem with drive wheel set No. 1 lifting off the rails at the
beginning of downgrades. After much theorizing and tinkering, I found
that the pilot truck spring is much too stiff. I removed the spring and
did not replace it. To compensate, I added a quarter-ounce rectangular
weight to the top of the plastic lead truck frame to keep its wheels on the
track. MicroMark makes half-inch-wide peel-and-stick quarter-ounce
lead weights, perfect for this application. These simple alterations
eliminated the driver lift-off problem. And, although I did not retest,
elimination of the spring increases pulling power by transferring more
weight to the lead chassis.

The smoke unit can be turned on or off via a hidden switch beneath the
cab roof hatch. Lighting effects include a reversible headlight and tender
rear light, illuminated classification lights, red firebox glow, firedoor
flicker, and cab interior.

Note: Scale conversion by SSL&S voids the Lionel warranty. However,
SSL&S separately warrants its conversion work.
List price: $995. SSL&S scale conversion price: $550. DCC
implementation: $75. Shipping is not included in these prices.

Volume 2 No. 2, Lionel’s USRA 2-8-8-2 – First Look

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 2 No. 2, March 4, 2013

Lionel’s USRA 2-8-8-2
First Look

by Dick Karnes

Lionel’s new USRA 2-8-8-2 in VGN livery powers a freight through the North Cornwall industrial district on Dick Karnes’ S scale NYW&B railway. Beautiful, isn’t she? Are those scale wheel flanges? … and a scale front coupler? Yes on both counts. But is it running on DC? Well, yes and no. It’s actually running on DCC! Is there sound? You betcha! Are those individually applied pipes and fittings? Well, … yes! The loco comes from Lionel ready for hirail, compatible with AC, DC, and TMCC. S Scale Loco & Supply (www.sscaleloco.com), owned and operated by Fred Rouse, has an agreement with Lionel to convert these locos to stainless steel scale driver tires, scale wheels elsewhere, and Kadee rear coupler; and add DCC compatibility.

Besides Virginian, the new Lionel S scale 2-8-8-2 is available decorated for Norfolk & Western (Class Y-3), Pennsylvania, Union Pacific, and Santa Fe. And how does she run? Stay tuned…!!

Volume 2 No. 1, Lionel’s SD-70ACe S Scale Diesel – First Look

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 2 No. 1, February 22, 2013

Lionel’s SD-70ACe S Scale Diesel
First Look

reviewed by Ed Loizeaux
photos by Gary Schrader

Last year, Lionel released its first brand-new American Flyer diesel – the GE U33C (sscale.org/579/volume-1-no-6-lionel-u33c). This year, Lionel’s American Flyer (AF) line has produced another modern diesel — the SD-70ACe. As with the U33C, Lionel’s SD-70 is convertible to S scale operation without too much difficulty. It’s definitely worth a look-see to evaluate its possibilities. The prototype sample model loco shown in the accompanying photos and video has AF wheels and was run on my S scale trackage, but not through any turnouts. A video clip of that operation is embedded above.

The SD-70 offers some significant improvements over last year’s U33C. Two major new features are the addition of DCC compatibility and an ingenious semi-swinging pilot. DCC compatibility is clearly an effort to appeal to the scale modeling market segment and is much appreciated.

The new semi-swinging pilot will satisfy serious modelers who disliked the traditional AF diesel design of having couplers and pilots rigidly affixed to trucks. With that older approach, the pilot, coupler and truck moved as one solid assembly and appeared unrealistic on curves. The new semi-swinging pilot is not rigidly attached to the trucks or couplers. Instead, it can independently move sideways only as needed. Thus, trucks can swivel on curves while the front pilot and front coupler do not need to move at all. This is a big improvement in prototypical appearance. Figs. 1 and 2 show the difference between the two locomotives.

The rear pilot and rear coupler, being coupled to a long freight train, will experience some sideways movement depending on the sharpness of the curve. For a gradual curve, as used by most scale modelers, only the coupler needs to swing sideways while the pilot remains in the straight position. On sharp curves, both the coupler AND the pilot can swing sideways to accommodate the radius of typical AF trackage. This magical feat is accomplished with loose springing of the coupler and stiffer springing of the semi-swinging pilot. It works!

For the fastidious among us, there are two pre-drilled holes in both the pilot and the frame to enable screwing the pilot to the frame to absolutely prevent any movement of the pilot at all. Fig. 1 shows a comparison of pilot swing between last year’s U33 and this year’s SD-70. The improvement is obvious. Again, this design concept is aimed at the scale side of S and is much appreciated.

Other features, now becoming typical for Lionel, are the inclusion of brackets for Kadee S couplers and, for some paint schemes, scale wheels. Some cataloged SD-70 engines have an alternate product number for the scale-wheeled version, whereas other paint schemes will not. As of this writing, it appears that the UP Heritage Series SD-70s all have alternate product numbers for scale wheels. The NS Heritage Series does NOT have alternate product numbers for scale wheels. Thus, the availability of scale wheels for the NS Heritage Series paint schemes is unknown. However, Lionel’s Customer Service tells us that, in the near future, scale replacement wheels will be available for all SD-70 locomotives.

Let me add that the photos speak for themselves (Figs. 3, 4, and 5). The body casting is beautiful. The SD-70 comes with smoke and sound, headlights, ditch lights, cab light, and backup light. Two motors are inside – one on each truck. The die-cast metal sideframes (Fig. 6) are very three-dimensional. The SD-70 runs very well at slow speeds when DCC momentum is added. I did not operate this engine on Legacy, AC or DC, and so cannot comment about operation in those power modes. The loco weighs in at two pounds five ounces, so should pull well. The AF version comes with rubber traction tires and remote-controlled couplers when using Legacy. Individual metal fan blades can easily be seen. All in all, this loco should meet with satisfaction from most S scale modelers. Purists, as usual, can add more details to personalize their locos as desired.

I would suggest careful review of Lionel catalogs and the Charles Ro product listings to determine all the various paint schemes that will be available. It is my understanding that most all of the NS Heritage Series paint schemes will be produced. Scenery Unlimited has some nice color photos on their web site. Locos with alternate product numbers for scale wheels should arrive with factory-installed scale wheels. Locos without alternate product numbers will have scale wheels available for separate purchase in the near future, according to authoritative sources at Lionel.

Volume 1 No. 6 Addendum, Altering the Lionel U33C

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 6 Addendum, March 20, 2012

One Modeler’s Observations on
Altering the Lionel U33c

by Don Thompson

I am attempting to fix the pilot to the body per the prototype. Actually, that’s the easy part! The hard part is getting the truck to move at all. The reason is that the front of the truck is trapped between the steps. Lionel did a great job putting the trucks in the correct longitudinal location, and now I can see that taking the pilot swing approach may have been the wise way out for model radius curves. The prototype photo clearly shows the truck nestled between the steps, which creates a problem for us modelers who cannot accommodate prototype curves in our train rooms.

I removed the pilot mounting fixture from the truck, hoping that would help, but more surgery will be needed. There is room to move the sideframes in toward each other because the scale wheels are a lot narrower than the tinplate wheels for which the sideframe spacing is designed. I’ll try this to see if the result will be enough swing for 45″ radius curves and No. 6 turnouts. Grinding off the backs of the steps may also help somewhat.

I’ll keep the SIG informed as I progress.

Volume 1 No. 6, Lionel U33C

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 6, March 3, 2012

Quick Look:
Lionel’s U33C S Scale Diesel

by Ed Loizeaux
photos by Dick Karnes

The General Electric U33C is the first totally new diesel locomotive made by Lionel for American Flyer and S scale enthusiasts. “Lionel is not the company it used to be!” was my first thought as I opened the box: a new diesel featuring scale wheels. Yes, you read that correctly. It ran for six non-stop hours on my home layout, which features code .100 rail throughout, laid to NMRA specifications. There was nary a trackability or performance problem with through dozens and dozens of turnouts – quite a change from the goode olde daze of A. C. Gilbert.

This product represents Lionel’s toe-in-the-water venture into the S scale market. Compared to older American Flyer products, it’s quite an improvement in the realism department. The very nice body molding, while not perfect, is realistic enough for most S scale modelers. The engine comes with large AF couplers on both ends that can easily be removed (one screw) and replaced with a scale coupler bracket (two screws). A Kadee #802 coupler screws to the bracket with two more screws. Lionel even includes the needed screws in a small parts bag. The purchaser can easily make a flat plastic filler piece to fill the large hole in the pilot resulting from the removal of the AF coupler. Someone at Lionel was thinking ahead on this feature.

All twelve metal wheels are powered and all wheels pick up electrical power from the track. Rubber traction treads are in the box, but not intended for use with the scale wheels. Headlights and back-up lights are LEDs that automatically reverse with direction changes. Sound and smoke are also included, as well as a motorized fan to blow the exhaust smoke upwards continuously. The horn sounds were particularly appealing to my visitors who watched the U33C circle the layout.

Lionel’s Legacy proprietary command control system (similar to DCC, but not the same and not mutually compatible) comes installed in the locomotive. For this product to operate with all features functioning, a Lionel Legacy command control system and Legacy throttle/cab must be used. Otherwise, the loco will operate on conventional AC, but some of the special features cannot be activated. As it comes from the factory, the loco will not operate on DC or DCC.

If desired, the internal Legacy electronics can be removed. Once removed, the conventional DC motor that resides in the fuel tank may be powered with ordinary DC or a DCC decoder if desired. Some scale modelers have already sold off Legacy electronics to their AF buddies, which helps pay for a new DCC decoder. My prediction is that Legacy electronics will soon appear on eBay. As my evaluation was done with Legacy, I cannot predict how the loco will perform with conventional DC or DCC.

This is only a “quick look,” not a review. I did not compare every detail to the prototype, instead concentrating on the features easily noticed without a magnifier. In no particular order, my observations are listed below:

  • Metal grab irons are separately applied details.
  • Handrail stanchions and handrails are a flexible one-piece molded Delrin part that’s quite resistant to breaking from excessive bending.
  • Lettering is precise and apparently complete, including features such as the GE builder’s plate and stencils such as “Air Filter,” “Danger High Voltage,” and “Diesel Fuel Fill.”
  • The body is injection-molded plastic with lots of detail.
  • Frame/floor/chassis is a heavy hunk of metal which is very rigid and firm, great for tractive power.
  • Trucks are metal, rigid, with cast springs and nice detailing. The fuel tank is cast metal and heavy.
  • There are twelve air hoses on the pilots.
  • The MU walk-through platform can be positioned “up” or “down”; there’s a detent to hold it in place.
  • Headlights (white), backup lights (red), number boards (white), and cab lights (white) are all illuminated. However, the infamous bluish tinge is present in the white LEDs.
  • The body molding has molded-in machined brass threaded inserts which are used when attaching the frame to the body. Thus, there is no chance of stripping out the screw threads.
  • The flared radiator on the top of the body can be removed to expose two small electrical switches. One turns the smoke generator and fan on and off. The other is to set the loco up for programming or for running. The radiator is held in place by four tiny super magnets. Cool!
  • Both pilots swivel with the trucks around curves. This design looks rather toy-like, but it appears they could be firmly attached to the frame without too much difficulty. My first thought is to use a piece of 1/16” thick black plastic and cut it to the proper shape and then epoxy it to the underside of the frame. Then attach the pilot parts to the plastic piece with epoxy or JB Weld (if sufficiently strong) or with small screws (drilling and tapping required). Eventually someone will actually do this and we’ll have a better idea of the difficulties involved, but it doesn’t look particularly difficult for an experienced modeler.
  • Due to the swiveling pilot, the end handrails do not extend downward far enough to match the prototype. The handrails could be extended, if desired, once the pilot is firmly attached to the frame.

In closing, it appears that Lionel is seriously testing the S scale market segment with this product. While not perfect, it’s a remarkable step forward toward greater realism, worthy of a serious look. Is it possible that Lionel/AF is the sleeping giant of S scale? What a thought…