Sunday, March 13, 2011

BNSF ES44AC Loco in the house!

In my previous blog post, I wrote about my bad experience with a Lionel Norfolk Southern Genset and was an unhappy Vision Line owner for all of a few hours. I returned the Genset and swapped it for the Burlington Northern Sante Fe ES44AC Diesel. This Lionel Legacy locomotive is essentially the same as the Vision Line GE Evo Hybrid, but seemingly a slightly newer production generation which hopefully irons out some of the problems with the Evo. This loco is not officially a Vision Line product, but the only thing it doesn't have are the chaser charging lights and it has plastic grills on the back of the shell instead of metal on the Vision Line. So I consider it my Vision Line loco.

I had the LHS open it on site to check for any obvious damage or rust. This thing is almost all die-cast and weighs in at about 15 lbs! The detail is incredible. As I watched the guy at the hobby shop unpack this loco, a thought occurred to me that may be part of the problem with these Vision Line products from Lionel. They may be "too detailed" and too fragile to be operating models. As he struggled slightly to grasp the loco while removing the overwrap plastic and packaging, I mentioned how I always grabbed locos by the trucks to avoid touching the shells and getting body oils on the paint. I asked him where you grab these new models because the trucks are so detailed and fragile that one would most certainly break something by lifting a 15 lb loco this way.

He showed me how he grabbed it in the general area of the front of the trucks near the steps. Let's pause here for this important note and repeat. He grabs them by the front of the trucks near the "steps".  Fair enough I thought.  We packed it up and I brought it home.

At home, I unpacked it very carefully and set it on the track.  Before even powering it up, I did something I've never really done with a new loco before.  I just stared at it for about 3 minutes, in awe of the detail and realism all the while looking for flaws and issues. As I inspected the couplers and played with the new concept semi-fixed pilot, I realized two things.  The first was that when I pushed the pilot to the one side, the white handle on the coupler cut bar hit the yellow deck above. Further inspection of the yellow handrails on both the front and back of the loco revealed they were both bent during production or packaging. I carefully bent them into place without issue, and did the best I could to bend the coupler cut bar into a better position. I decided to invert the loco into my foam cradle to do an initial lube and inspection. This is where I found that 2 of the bottom steps on the pilot were broken off but still hanging, and another one was actually glued back on at the factory! So Lionel clearly knows these things are fragile as they appear to break them during their own production and packaging.

In the end, I had a choice to make.  Since this particular unit ran flawlessly and the sounds, lights, couplers and smoke unit worked as expected, I decided to just glue the steps back on the best I could and live with it. You can't see anything when the loco is right side up, but until I learn a better way I will be lifting these locos from the fuel tank area. There are very limited places to grasp a very fragile 20" long 15 lb highly detailed model without damaging it. You can't grab the handrails, trucks, or pilots.  The cab roof and rear roof come off, and as mentioned avoiding grabbing the shell in the middle is preferred.

If it continues to run as well as it does now, I am satisfied and have learned an important lesson about handling and packaging these things. I also stand behind my statement that Lionel needs to beef up quality control and build quality to keep these things from being damaged and/or defective out of the box.