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WalthersMainline HO scale GE ES44 diesel

Read this review from the May 2018 Model Railroader
WalthersMainline HO scale GE ES44 diesel

General Electric Evolution Series (GEVO) diesel-electrics lead today’s freight trains throughout the North American rail network. Available in a variety of prototypical road names, an HO scale GE ES44 joins the value-priced WalthersMainline series. Along with an accurately dimensioned body shell and some roadname-specific details, the model features the same powerful mechanism found in top-of-the-line WalthersProto locomotives.

I reviewed a GEVO from the first-production run, which is equipped with a SoundTraxx dual-mode decoder that operates on Digital Command Control (DCC) or direct-current (DC) layouts. As of this writing a second run has been announced, the road names for which are noted on the next page. The second-run units will have 21-pin DCC plugs, and dual-mode versions of those GEVOs will have ESU Sound decoders.

The prototype. General Electric’s Evolution Series was designed to meet the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 2 emissions standards of 2005. With preproduction units delivered as early as 2003, the ES44AC (Evolution Series, 4400 hp, alternating current) locomotive is now on the roster of every Class 1 carrier in North America. Iowa Interstate, Ferromex, and lessors such as Citirail/CREX also use ES44ACs.

The ES44AC is available in a few variants to meet specific customers’ needs. These include versions with direct current traction motors (ES44DC), a “heavy version” designed for higher low-speed tractive effort (ES44AH), and a version with two traction motors per truck instead of three (ES44C4). BNSF Ry. is the original customer of this last variant and currently rosters more than 1,000 ES44C4 locomotives.

The November 2004 Model Railroader features prototype drawings of a preproduction ES44AC. Most of the dimensions of a preproduction and later production ES44AC are the same. The biggest differences are the extreme height and width. On a preproduction unit, the extreme width is 9'-11" and the extreme height is 15'-53⁄4". On a later production unit, these dimensions are 10'-3" and 16'-0", respectively.

Just like a prototype GEVO, there are three different truck sideframes available on the WaltherMainline models. The dynamic brake vent arrangement is also roadname specific.

The model. The Walthers model has the correct dimensions for a later production ES44. Our review sample’s prototype is BNSF Ry. ES44C4 no. 7972, built in 2015.

The vent and grill arrangement, the engine-access doors, and other molded-in details on the plastic body shell match prototype photos. These details also include the correct dynamic brake vent and electrical cabinet arrangement for BNSF no. 7972. For other road names, Walthers uses a different configuration to match those prototypes.

Like other locomotives in the WalthersMainline series, the ES44AC has a modest amount of separately applied detail parts, including a plastic air horn, brake wheel, and cab sunshades. The handrails and stanchions are made of flexible acetal plastic. For those who wish to further detail the model, drill starter points for grab irons are molded into the body shell and a detail kit is available for purchase.

The truck sideframes are roadname-specific. Our BNSF Ry. ES44C4 features A1A sideframes with the correct brake cylinder and linkage arrangement. (Note that although the prototype had center idler axles, all axles on the Walthers model are powered.) Depending on the road name, Walthers offers other GEVOs with either steerable or standard high-adhesion truck sideframes.

The paint is smoothly applied with sharp color separation and correctly placed lettering.

Mechanism. After removing the coupler draft-gear boxes, I removed four screws from the underframe: one in front of and another behind the fuel tank and two under the pilot. I could then easily lift off the body shell.

The mechanism is similar to other recently reviewed WalthersMainline diesels. The motor and flywheels are mounted in the center of a die-cast metal frame, and driveshafts transfer power to truck-mounted gearboxes. Helical gears provide quiet operation with no gear noise to distract from the sound system.

The SoundTraxx decoder is screwed to a weight above the mechanism. Attached to the decoder board with plastic clips, leads run to a downward-facing speaker above the rear truck and to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that illuminate the headlights and ditch lights.

DCC performance. I tested the GEVO on our workshop test track using an NCE DCC system as well as on our Milwaukee, Racine & Troy layout using an NCE/CVP Products system. As noted in the charts below, the model accelerated to a top speed of 65 scale mph, which is less than the prototype’s 75 mph top speed but more than fast enough for most model railroads.

Many of the programming tips provided in the free Tsunami user manual at are still applicable to this decoder.

Setting the decoder to 128 speed steps provides finer speed control. I also programmed our sample with some acceleration and deceleration momentum for more realistic stops and starts.

In addition to the 3.4 ounce drawbar pull noted in the charts below, which is equal to 48 free-rolling HO cars on straight-and-level track, the GEVO easily hauled a 16-car freight train up a winding 3 percent grade. All-wheel electrical pickup kept the sounds and lights on without any interruption.

I advance consisted three GEVOs and they performed flawlessly together without any additional speed matching required. The decoder supports CVs 21 and 22, which allowed me to set up function control under the consist address.

The default user-triggered functions are the bell, long and short horn blasts, headlights, ditch lights, and mute. Unlike a Tsunami, the decoder doesn’t include dynamic brake fans, working train brake, or coupler crash functions.

However, the decoder does support manual notching. After programming this feature, I could use function keys to control the engine RPM sound independently of the throttle setting. In addition to the overall sound volume, I could set the volume level for the bell, horn, and prime mover.

Out of the box, the headlights are set up for on/off directional control. I appreciated that I could easily set up the headlights for more realistic independent control. I also programmed function 7 to work as a dimmer.

DC sound. On DC layouts, the model’s sounds and directional headlights are automatic, unless an analog controller/programmer such as an MRC Tech 6 is used. With a regular DC power pack, I heard the sound of the engine ramp up and down as I advanced or decreased the throttle. At speeds under 25 scale mph, the bell sounded. A few other automatic DC effects can be added, but to do so requires a DCC system or an analog controller/programmer. With its long list of features, the WalthersMainline GE ES44 is a worthy option for modelers looking to build a modern-era fleet.

Price: $129.98 (DC no sound), $199.98 (DCC sound), $19.98 (optional detail kit)

Wm. K. Walthers Inc.
5601 W. Florist Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53218
Era: 2005 to present (2015 to present, as detailed for BNSF Ry.)
Road names (multiple road numbers)
First run: BNSF Ry., Canadian National, Canadian Pacific (as delivered), Citirail, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific
Second run: BNSF Ry., CP (ex-Vancouver Olympics patchout), Citirail, Iowa Interstate, KCS, and UP
• All-wheel drive and electrical pickup
• DCC version features dual-mode sound decoder (SoundTraxx in first run, ESU in second run)
• Five-pole skew-wound motor with dual brass flywheels• Light-emitting diode (LED) headlights and ditch lights
• Minimum radius: 18" (22" or wider recommended)
• Nine-pin DCC socket (21-pin socket in second run)
• Proto-Max metal knuckle couplers at correct height
• RP-25 contour metal wheels in gauge
• Weight: 1 pound, 7.9 ounce

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