1:32 SCALE BRASS LOCOMOTIVE
Manufacturer: Samhongsa Company, Korea. Exclusive importer and distributor, Garden Railway Company, 2008 Madison Road, Cincinnati, OH 45208-3219. Price: Factory painted brass Union Pacific FEF-3 4-8-4 electrically powered steam locomotive model and hardwood case, $5,990.00. Price includes shipping.
A PERFECT MODEL is extremely rare, but Garden Railway Company's brass 1:32 scale Union Pacific FEF-3 4-8-4 locomotive is as close to perfect as models get. The sales brochure calls it "a museum quality piece" and that is no exaggeration. The Korean manufacturer, Samhongsa, has reproduced virtually every hatch, light bulb, rod, chain, and rivet of the original and those hatches and light bulbs all operate. Only 110 FEF-3s exist worldwide, fewer than 80 in the United States. Models of each version are still available.
The first sketches for the "FEF" series appeared in 1936. By 1944, the Union Pacific had purchased 45 locomotives in three separate classes: FEF-1, FEF-2, and FEF-3. The final class was naturally the culmination of design and experience. The locomotives were coal burners capable of moving passengers and freight as fast as 110 miles per hour. During the 1940s and '50s such locomotives pulled the railroad's most prestigious trains.
The FEF-3s arrived toward the end of World War Two. They showed two major design changes from the FEF-2: the massive pilot casting and the standard twin Union Pacific stack. Soon, though, the railroad added another alteration-smoke deflectors (the big "wings" on each side of the smokebox). Then, because of the threat of the big 1946 coal strike, the U.P. converted its FEF-3s to oil burners.
Garden Railway Company offers the locomotive in four versions: Number 837 as a closed-cab oil burner in the black with graphite smokebox paint scheme (the sample we received); the same model in the so-called "Greyhound" paint scheme of two-tone gray with yellow stripes; Number 843 as an open-cab coal burner in the black/graphite scheme; and the same model in the Greyhound scheme.
Each runs on 45mm Gauge One track and measures about 43 inches long, 4 inches wide, 5 3/4 inches tall, and weighs 37 (yes, 37!) pounds. In 1:32 scale those dimensions work out to about 114 feet 9 inches long by 10 feet 9 inches wide by 15 feet 4 inches tall. They match our plans exactly as does virtually every other dimension we were able to scale off the model.
We were so utterly impressed with Garden Railway Company's locomotive we built last issue's color feature around it. During the photo session we had an opportunity to run it. It was impossible to test the locomotive on our OR test track; it requires a 10 foot minimum radius. The drive consists of a pair of Cannon can motors with a geared "slip" transmission allowing the drivers to turn freely if you push the model. The drivers, incidentally, are stainless steel, equalized, with ball bearings. The thing runs almost unbelievably smoothly with uniform acceleration from a bare crawl to its highball speed at 12 volts. Operation is superb.
The entire model is brass except for the stainless steel in the mechanism (including the side and main rods, cylinder guides, valve gear, axles, and assorted other mechanical parts). It features countless excellent lost wax brass castings and they are everywhere. For instance, you will even find them under the frame on the brake rigging where they are all but invisible when the engine is standing right side up. Construction is flawless but a little fragile, not so much because the parts themselves are delicate but because the engine is so heavy and offers almost no "safe" places where you can pick it up.
You will even find details under the details. If you open the hatches on the boiler or the tender you are likely to find little castings inside. If you open the cab doors you will see perfect and complete detailing on the backhead, the cab walls, even the cab roof. It goes on and on. You would need hours to discover everything and pages to list it all.
Then there are the lights, dozens of them. Aside from the usual head and backup lights, marker lamps, and illuminated number boards the model has working running lights, an oscillating MARS light, flood lights, cab interior lights, and tender lights. A fuse box just beneath the smokebox opens to reveal eight tiny dip switches to control all the bulbs.
In 1985, I was in the cab of the actual 8444 when she was under steam. I will verify that even the color of the model's cab interior is accurate.
The review could go on endlessly, but we have included more than the usual number of photographs to document Garden Railway Company's extraordinary model. They alone should be worth a few thousand words.
The most distressing aspect of the model's production is its limited edition status. Samhongsa has destroyed the patterns for all the castings to insure nobody can ever again reproduce the model.
If you even suspect you might want one, act soon. The supply is dwindling. And Garden Railway Company offers a two year "protection" plan: If at any time within the two years following your purchase you want to return the model, they will buy it back at full price, provided it is in its original or in mint condition. Moreover if, for some reason, you fail to qualify for the buy-back plan, Garden Railway Company will broker the model for you. Finally, if for any reason you find the model unsatisfactory, they will replace it or refund the full payment upon its return.
No, we have no reason to try to advertise the FEF-3 here. The guarantee is just so unusual it is newsworthy.
Could we have a criticism of such a superlative offering? Yes. The paint finish seems slightly inferior to the rest of the model. No problem exists in its application; you will find no runs or thin spots or drips or less than perfect lettering. Instead, the finish is a little too delicate. It tends to chip off edges and corners as the result even of careful handling. And it seems a little too glossy. A satin finish would have been more appropriate. Still that is a matter of taste and you may disagree.
Regardless of whether many of us are able to afford it, the list price of $6,000 seems pretty reasonable when we consider the vast amount of work Samhongsa put into the locomotive's manufacture and the painstaking effort Garden Railway Company put into the research and plans. If you have doubts, try building such a model yourself.
On the bottom line, then, Garden Railway Company's brass FEF-3 locomotive is an utterly superb model, by far the finest product we have ever received for review. It is truly a museum quality model with performance to match its appearance. If you have the means and the desire, you need have no reservations.-RR