When a string of six brand-new Athearn ethanol tank cars won’t roll on their own down a 2-percent grade, was it worth the 18-month wait?
I pre-ordered two three-car runner packs online more than a year ago, and pretty much forgot about them. Recently I got an e-mail and phone call that they were ready to ship, but the credit card on file had expired. I debated spending the approximately $135, but ultimately decided I had wanted them at some point, I might as well take them.
Out of the box, I was excited to see metal wheelsets. I’ve become a fan of them ever since I started using code 55 track – metal wheelsets track perfectly through the finicky turnouts that routinely trip up plastic wheels. Metal wheels also offer much less rolling resistance, carrying cars along the rails with the slightest push.
The Athearn units, however, seemed to have the brakes set hard. But rolling resistance isn’t the only problem.
The distance between the sideframes is so inconsistent that some wheelsets barely turn, while others are ready to fall out.
The trucks are mounted on a post and held in place with a screw. Loosen the screw all you want, it hardly adjusts the play – the trucks yaw, but they barely pitch and roll. That makes the cars prone to derailment, and derail they do.
I’d like to say these are anomalies, but two or three years ago I purchased a set of three Athearn Bombardier bi-level commuter cars. They were an un-runnable mess. So poorly were the trucks mounted, one set of wheels hovered 1/32″ above the railhead.
Coupler height does not a quality model make, but it is the most compelling visual to demonstrate the shortcomings of the Athearn models, compared to other makes:
The shame of it is, the models aren’t bad. The paint and lettering are decent, the grab irons and other details are nicely done, the carbodies are well made.
I could go through the hassle of sending them back, but more likely I’ll try to fix them. I’ll probably replace the wheelsets, and if they fit I may replace the trucks with some from Micro-Trains. I should be able to get them running how I want if I tinker with them enough.
But I shouldn’t have to.
With N-Scale equipment available in such high quality today, it’s disappointing Athearn hasn’t caught up.