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Athearn Genesis HO scale FEF-3

Athearn Genesis HO scale FEF-3
Athearn Genesis HO scale FEF-3
Now is a good time to be a fan of HO scale Union Pacific steam power. Along with the many ready-to-run Big Boys and Challengers, UP steam fans can also add an FEF-class Northern to their roundhouses. The new Athearn Genesis FEF is a powerful puller and features sounds in both DC and Digital Command Control (DCC).
Steam survivor. In 1939, Alco delivered 15 class FEF-2 4-8-4 Northern-type steam locomotives to the Union Pacific. These engines were a different design from the railroad's first Northerns, the FEF-1 class. In 1944, UP received 10 more Northerns, class FEF-3. Delivered to deal with increased traffic demands during World War II, the FEF-3 locomotives were virtual duplicates of the FEF-2 class.

Both FEF-2 and FEF-3 engines were primarily passenger locomotives. As diesels began taking over passenger trains on the UP main line, the Northerns were assigned to freight service.

One of four surviving FEF class locomotives, FEF-3 no. 844, has accumulated almost 300,000 miles in excursion service since 1960. For more information on all the FEF classes, see the book The Mighty 800 by William W. Kratville.
Appearance. All the Athearn model's dimensions match drawings of an FEF-3 class locomotive in Kratville's book.

The Athearn FEF-3 has an extremely high level of detail with many separately applied parts, including all piping, handrails, and a bell made of turned brass. Although the model didn't include engineer and fireman figures, the interior of the all-weather cab includes a detailed backhead as well as seats, window glazing, and an opening roof vent and rear door.

Our sample depicts Union Pacific no. 844 as she appears today in excursion service. The locomotive was converted to burn oil in 1946, so there is no ash pan under the firebox. The Athearn model also has the Worthington SA feedwater heater that replaced its original Elesco exhaust steam injector. More modern modifications represented on the model include two turbogenerators on the fireman's side of the boiler, a "firecracker" radio antenna on the cab roof, and spill containment and other safety appliances on top of the tender's oil bunker.

The model comes with a package of optional user-applied parts, including a wood tender deck, open pilot, and an operating front knuckle coupler.

The Athearn model has a couple of minor discrepancies compared to prototype photos of no. 844. The Wilson sludge remover (a circular detail on the turret) is off center on the model, which is correct for earlier FEF classes. On the FEF-3 class, this part was placed on the boiler centerline.

The safety valves are also arranged opposite to those on no. 844. The model has two larger safety valves with a thinner one in front of it. On the prototype, the smaller safety valve is behind the two larger valves. This was also a later modification.

All the lettering on the engine and tender is crisp and straight. The trust plate on the tender is legible under magnification. Most of the model's decoration matches prototype photos, though the painting date on the rear of the tender is incorrect. It reads 8-28-39, but the FEF-3 class locomotives and tenders were built and first painted in 1944. And since no. 844 is still in service, the date should reflect a more recent repainting.
The included handheld controller lets you trigger sounds in DC.
Drive train. The die-cast metal frame and dual-brass-flywheel- equipped motor add to the locomotive's heft. The motor transfers power to a tall gearbox connected to the rear drivers and the rigid side rods transfer motion forward to the other drivers.

Both of the rear drivers have traction tires, giving the model exceptional pulling power. The Athearn FEF-3 can haul the equivalent of 137 HO scale freight cars on straight and level track.

The blackened metal cranks and rods are realistic. The eccentric cranks are also oriented in the proper direction so that they lean forward when the main rods are in the bottom center position.

The locomotive has a drawbar that connects to a post inside the tender for realistically close coupling. A six-wire plug connects the locomotive to the sound decoder in the tender.

The model picks up track power from six of the locomotive drivers and the forward eight wheels of the tender's rigid pedestal truck. The second, third, and fifth wheelset in the pedestal truck allow for .16" of lateral movement in each direction to help the tender negotiate curves and turnouts.
Performance. In DC operation, sounds and lights came on at 3 volts. The Athearn FEF-3 has a directional headlight and backup light, although a real locomotive with a train keeps its forward headlight on even when switching or backing up.

The model has an operating red signal light. This light shuts off when the locomotive starts moving. (In DCC, function 3 turns this light on or off.)

At 7 volts the locomotive started moving at 5 scale mph. At 12 volts, the model reached 94.5 mph, which is close to the prototype's top speed. To measure voltage and current during these performance tests I controlled the model's speed and direction with a power pack.

Because of the high starting voltage in DC, I found it easier to control the locomotive by setting the power pack to 12 volts and
then adjusting the speed with the included handheld wireless controller. This controller also allows you to change the model's direction and trigger some of its sound functions.

I tested the engine in DCC using a Model Rectifier Corp. (MRC) Prodigy Advance system that delivers 16.4 volts to the track. Set to 128 speed steps, the model had a starting speed of 5 scale mph. The HO scale Northern accelerated linearly to 90 scale mph.

I ran the engine through a 22" radius curve, but it looked much better rounding the 30" curve on our Wisconsin & Southern project layout. While running the locomotive on the layout I found that all the sand pipes hung too low. Although they look great, the thin plastic parts drag along the rail and get snagged while going through turnouts. The only easy solution is to trim the sand pipes with a sprue cutter. I spoke with a representative from Athearn who said that the firm is aware of the problem and it will be corrected in future production runs.

Dual-mode sound. The model's tender houses two speakers and a dual-mode 28-function MRC sound decoder that automatically allows for operation in either DC or DCC. A master volume control knob is located under the tender's second water hatch. The speakers are well enclosed and there were no rattles or buzzes when I turned the sound up to its maximum volume.

The overall sound quality is good and the model has controllable sound effects, such as the injector, brake squeal, and a conductor yelling "All aboard!" You can choose different whistle types, including a deep steamboat whistle reminiscent of the prototype.

Most of the model's sound effects are adjustable in DCC, and a configuration variable (CV) table is included in the instruction manual. In DC you can also program the whistle type and chuff starting point using the handheld controller. Our sample came from the factory with the correct four chuffs per driver revolution.

The model's high level of detail and dual-mode sounds make it a worthy addition to an HO scale steam roster.
Genesis HO scale 4-8-4
Price: $399.98

Athearn Trains
1550 Glenn Curtiss St.
Carson, CA 90746

Description: Plastic and metal ready-to-run locomotive

Paint schemes: Union Pacific FEF-3 no. 844 (black/oil-fired), UP FEF-3 no. 840 (gray/oil-fired), UP FEF-2 no. 821 (black/coal-fired), UP FEF-2 no. 826 (gray/oil-fired), painted but unlettered (available in gray or black, both include parts for modeling coal- or oil-fired engines)
Athearn FEF features
Automatic dual-mode Digital Command Control (DCC)
sound decoder
Can motor with two brass flywheels
Drawbar pull: 9.8 ounces
Electrical pickup on six drivers and eight tender wheels
Lighted train indicators
Minimum radius: 22"
Operating rear knuckle coupler (mounted at correct height)
Pulsing signal light
See-through running boards
Smoke unit ready
Weight: 1 pound 141/2 ounces

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