PRODUCT REVIEW: 1:29 SCALE ALCO F-1 DIESELS AND SOUND SYSTEM
Manufacturer: ARISTO-CRAFT TRAINS, 346 Bergen Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07304. Price: ART-22319 ready-to-run FA-1 and FB-1 diesel units $449.95 per pair suggested list; ART-29350 Alco diesel sound unit $109.95 each suggested list.
ARISTO-CRAFT'S SECOND generation Alco F-units exhibit some improvements over the earlier models. The horns no longer have chrome plating; now they have paint matching the rest of the locomotive. The builder's plates are now metal as on the U25-B. The springs on the sideframes are no longer brass; they are blackened and look much more realistic. The factory has fine tuned the manufacture of the power trucks; it now runs exactly the same as ARISTO-CRAFT's U25-B diesels. And, of course, the FA's now have an optional sound system.
As we reported in our December 1991/January 1992 review of ARISTO-CRAFT's FA, it is an Alco freight locomotive dating from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Its big brother, the PA-1, enjoys a prestige among many railroad aficionados as the most beautiful of all diesels, particularly when it is in Santa Fe colors. The FA exhibits the family's good looks. It is boxy, clean, and lean.
We have no plans of actual FA and FB locomotives but we do have some photos. It is evident, and ARISTO-CRAFT will admit, the engine still rides slightly high on the trucks (reportedly less than a quarter of an inch), to accommodate the drive train gearboxes. A separate motor powers each truck. Otherwise the locomotive seems identical to those in our photos.
Overall the model measures about 21 actual inches long over the pilots, four inches wide (ignoring the extra width resulting from the projection of the handrails), and 6 3/4 inches tall. In 1:29 scale, that works out to 50 feet 9 inches by 9 feet 8 inches by 16 feet 4 inches.
ARISTO-CRAFT now ships F-units with the horns in place. On the earlier units, you had to install them yourself and the mounting holes were slightly undersize due to the painting and plating. If your installation was a little too exuberant, the result could have been a broken horn casting. Obviously, that is no longer a problem.
Except for the metal parts in the mechanism, screws, wheels, and the brass handrails, the model is entirely plastic. The detail on our sample is very good, with crisp riveting, cab interior, the prime mover visible through the vent screening, even windshield wipers. The sideframes exhibit similarly good detail and plenty of relief (although the brake cylinders are still an integral part of the sideframe instead of being separate press-on castings) and the springs really do cushion the trucks to a degree. Some additional touches: The headlight automatically turns off when you run the engine in reverse, the illuminated number boards actually display the road number, the prime mover is a prototypical gray color, and the compartment it sits in has lighting as does the cab interior.
The paint and lettering are typical of the high quality ARISTO-CRAFT has been offering for the past couple of years. The pin striping is clean, the borders between colors display very few imperfections, the lettering is sharp, legible, and in the right places-even on the rear wall of the cab interior, a nice touch.
The couplers are ARISTO-CRAFT's knuckle type. Kadee« makes a drop-in replacement if you prefer it.
On the rear of the engine, inside the diaphragm casting, you will find three small on-off switches. One is for the smoke unit, one for the lights, and one for the motor. If your FA fails to respond when you advance the throttle, check whether the switches are in the "on" position.
Our models began to move at almost 2 volts using pure, filtered d.c. and should run at a maximum of 12 volts. With pure, filtered d.c., the locomotives tend to start smoothly but abruptly at about 5 scale miles per hour. The locomotives ran smoothly and quietly but, as all ARISTO-CRAFT diesels, they have a slight tendency to surge within the slower speed ranges. That becomes less apparent if you use ARISTO-CRAFT's 5450 PWC 3.5-amp power supply; it also decreases the starting speed a little. The engines seem to have an appropriate gear ratio and, once they reach "cruising" speed, they run very well. They do perform a little better at moderate and higher speeds than at slowest speeds.
A single engine pulled a maximum of seven freight cars outdoors up a 2 1/2 percent grade. Adding the B unit or another A unit should more than double that pulling ability. Adding extra weight also should help significantly.
The sound unit comes as a separate item. The circuitry and built-in speaker, come in a plastic casting ARISTO-CRAFT designed to resemble the F-unit's fuel tanks. Except for a three position on-off switch, a volume control, and the pre-drilled speaker holes, it is identical to the F-units' existing underbody detail. Installation is extremely simple: Unscrew the two small screws in the existing fuel tank casting and remove it, position the sound unit casting the same way making sure its electrical contacts touch a mating metal surface on the locomotive's underframe, and replace the two screws. If you want to install one or more external speakers, ARISTO-CRAFT provides hook-up wires. They also include a couple of additional mounting screws.
We had trouble anyway. The mounting screws stripped the plastic in their holes. We replaced them with larger screws.
When the on-off switch is in the center position, the unit emits no sound. When you slide the switch to the left (toward the cab), you hear diesel sounds, bell, and horn. When you slide it to the right (or rear), you hear the undulating rumble of an Alco diesel only. The very clear instructions explain how to add the external speakers. A 10 year old is capable of performing a perfect installation.
Over the past couple of years, ARISTO-CRAFT has earned a reputation for offering good quality at reasonable prices. One might say they have become the Athearn of large scale because, in addition, they also have become a leading manufacturer. If you want to find out why and you model standard gauge, mainline-type railroads in 1:29 scale, take a good look at the latest run of ARISTO-CRAFT Alco FA and FB units.-RR