Review: River Raisin S Scale Berkshires

Or: There’s more to life than Nickel Plate Berkshires…

Paying a visit to me this weekend were a pair of new River Raisin Berkshires: Santa Fe 4198 (ex B&M 4015) and Illinois Central 8012.  River Raisin also offers the Berkshires in multiple versions of Boston & Maine, Boston & Albany and Southern Pacific.  Combined production for all versions is reported to be 77 models.

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 A very brief overview of the Santa Fe and IC versions.

 Santa Fe 4198:

The 4198 was part of seven 2-8-4s purchased from the Boston and Main in 1945 to ease wartime power shortages.  These became Santa Fe’s 9143 class locomotives.  They were pressed into service with just painting AT&SF on the cab and their new numbers on the tender and numberboards.

RRM 01

 Only the 9147 was rebuilt and “Santa Fe-ized” in 1947, all others retained their B&M looks and spec’s.

RRM 02

 The six unrebuilt 9143 class locomotives were scrapped in 1949. The 9147 lasting a bit longer until 1954.

 Illinois Central 8012:

The 8012 was part of a 50 locomotive order from Lima in 1926.  Their original numbers were 7000-7049.  IC also bought Lima’s A-1 demonstrator and numbered it 7050.  Between 1939 and 1943, 50 of the locomotives were rebuilt minus their Elesco feedwater systems, increased boiler pressure, tractive weight, tractive force and renumbered 8000-8049. 

RRM 03

RRM 04

 As a side note: The 7038 was rebuilt by the IC in 1937 into a 4-6-4 for fast freight service.  It first carried the number 1 and was later changed to 2499.  The conversion was deemed unsuccessful and IC’s only Hudson was scrapped in 1939.

RRM 05

 All of the other IC Berkshires went to scrap during 1948-1956.

 The Models:

First, the obligatory OGR Forum “box” picture:

RRM 06

And, here they are, fresh out of said boxes.  Paint and lettering are superb.  I found the headlight of the Santa Fe version bent down slightly while the IC’s was bent up slightly.  I suspect this happened during packaging.  A little finger pressure corrected both situations. 

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RRM 08

However, after reviewing the photos for the 3rd or 4th time, I discovered the Santa Fe version is missing its bell.  An email to River Raisin has been made.  RRM stands behind their products so I have great confidence they will replace the bell.

The IC version has the unusual visored class lights they were so fond of, even up to the first generation GPs and SWs.  I also noticed the Santa Fe version’s cab has bad weather canvass and the IC does not.  Looking at the rear of the cabs, I’m not sure if this is an oversight or not.  Another question for RRM.

RRM 09

RRM 09a

Missing bell notwithstanding, River Raisin has done it again making the some of the finest models in S Scale.  These are not cookie-cutter locomotives with different roadnames applied.  Details match photos of their respective prototypes. 

Tenders as expected, are different for each road.  There is no coal load, so the user can add as much or little coal as desired.  The coal bunkers are detailed down to the stoker screw.  There are hinged deckplates on back of the cabs to span the engine-tender gap, I just didn’t position them for testing.

RRM 10

These are “caviar” models, no doubt about it. (I’m still eating Filet O’ Fish…)  My friend has burnt a rather sizable hole in his pocket acquiring them.

Both locomotives have the preorder only option ESU “Full Throttle” DCC sound decoders factory installed and set up by an ESU representative.  There’s an ESU cheat sheet for basic DCC and sound operation included, but instructs the user to go to ESU’s web site and download the quick start guide.  The user also needs the Windows (XP minimum) PC based ESU Lokprogrammer Version 4.5.1 or newer to manipulate some of the CV’s.  ESU’s “Full Throttle” decoders appear to be in a DCC class by itself, and I’m not qualified or equipped to go poking around trying to change features from the factory defaults.

I was however, able to change the locomotive addresses from the default of 3 to the models road number with my MRC system.  I also had control over speed steps.

Sounds are very good.  A strong chuffing when accelerating.  When running, cutting back on the throttle the chuffing softens to a drifting sound. 

Generator sound is present when the headlights are turned on.  The whistles sound the same to me on both locomotives, even though the cheat sheet indicates they are different.  Maybe it my ears…  The bell sound is a mechanical air clapper on both.  It strikes me the IC should have the sound of a rope pull bell.  These can apparently only be changed with the Lokprogrammer as they multi-task on CV48 with several other sound features.  The down side of these ultra-high tech “Full Throttle” decoders.

A 3-pin plug connect the tender for lights and sound.  Plus, if my ears aren’t deceiving me, there’s also a speaker in the boiler.

My railroad was designed for small to midsized locomotives, therefore testing these beasts was rather limited.  Unfortunately, all I can do is shuttle these locomotives back and forth on a portion of my railroad.  These models will derail heading into the diverging route of my Old Pullman #5 turnouts in my yard, but do run through my Shinohara #6’s in any direction or route with no problem.

The lead drivers of both models will also derail on the minus part of my plus-or-minus 33” radius mainline curves.  I fault my trackwork, not the models.  (I can’t run my RRM SP MT4 on these curves, either.)  While an RRM NKP 2-8-4 made 17 years ago will run on my railroad, RRM is apparently using tighter side-to-side driver tolerances these days. Therefore, while they would probably squeak by on perfectly laid 33” radius, I would recommend no less than 36” radius for these locomotives.

River Raisin includes a longer drawbar that might alleviate the issue on my curves, but I’ll leave it to the owner to change them out if desired.

Other than not liking my #5’s and 33” radius curves, they run like a Swiss watch, looking good and sounding good while they’re at it.

I’ll close with some general photos.

Oh, those tenders behind:

RRM 11

The faces of the brutes:

RRM 12

Viewed from the company Zeppelin:

RRM 12a

IC “on the road:”

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Santa Fe “on the road:”

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Finally, a quick video of the 8012 coming around my one slightly more generous curve:

Rusty

 

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IC 8012c
Original Post

As someone who buys nearly anything Illinois Central in S, I have been tempted by these since RRM announced them. Now you just made it worse!  But thanks for the review nevertheless.  I have the same issue as Tom above since my layout has curves less than 33 inches. So this would be a purchase to use on our club's layout which we operate about 4 times per year. Despite that I would only use it at events plus whenever I invite myself to Bob Werre's house, I am still tempted. What a piece of craftsmanship these are. I hope Dan has some on display at NASG next month.

banjoflyer posted:

Would the AT&SF bell been somewhere around here?



 

Mark

 

Yup.  That's where it goes. 

As I'm "trained" to look for the bell on top of the boiler or smokebox front (for the most part,) it's unusual location made it easy to miss when unpacking the locomotive.  I suspect it didn't fall off (it wasn't in the box, otherwise I would've reattached it,) but missed getting reattached after the locomotive was painted.

[UPDATE]  A replacement bell is on the way from River Raisin.

Rusty

Nice review, Rusty. 

>>These are “caviar” models, no doubt about it. (I’m still eating Filet O’ Fish…)  My friend has burnt a rather sizable hole in his pocket acquiring them.<<

It should be mentioned that these are $2400 to $2700 per copy, depending the version.

Bob

Bob Bubeck posted:

Nice review, Rusty. 

>>These are “caviar” models, no doubt about it. (I’m still eating Filet O’ Fish…)  My friend has burnt a rather sizable hole in his pocket acquiring them.<<

It should be mentioned that these are $2400 to $2700 per copy, depending the version.

Bob

And RRM only has "low price" conventional DC loco's in stock.  Still in the "caviar" range.

Rusty

UPDATE:

The "No Bell" prize has been revoked from the Santa Fe Berkshire.

Bell 1

A replacement bell arrived on Friday and I installed it today.   Because of the awkward location, I practiced with the bracket that came with the replacement.  I found the mounting stud to bee too thick to fit in the bracket and as I wouldn't be able to drill out the bracket on the locomotive, I turned down the stud using my motor tool and a file.  I was able to reduce the diameter by about half.

Bell 2

After that, it was a matter of laying the model on its back and very carefully super-gluing the bell in its bracket.  Turns out the bracket was drilled out by the builder, but better safe than sorry.

Bell 3

Complete at last:

RRB 062418 005

A word about those cab curtains mentioned in the original post... 

The IC versions were built without them, so nothing is missing there.  Actually, the curtains are the least satisfying part of the Santa Fe version.  IMO they look a little clunky, particularly when compared to the fine detail of the rest of the locomotive.  Maybe they just need to be "sooted up" a little.

RRB 062418 004

Well, that all folks.  I can now pack these up and send them off to their rightful owner.

Rusty

 

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