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  • Topic: MTH Gauge One Big Boy Review

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    • January 2, 2010 11:38 AM EST

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      I have searched high and low for a real review of this locomotive, and the closest I can find is the MTH Challenger review that is on this board. So, I thought I'd write one up for my MTH Big Boy.



      First Impressions:

      The MTH Gauge One Big Boy, like other MTH Gauge One products comes in a surprisingly small green and yellow box (Think John Deere colors). The box contains a single large styrofoam insert that the engine and tender sit in side-by-side. I can't speak for the original packaging quality, mine was display model at my local shop, but the packaging materials included are quite impressive. The locomotive and tender are each wrapped in large, soft, foam wraps to prevent any damage to the various detail parts. Then, the foam is wrapped with clear plastic wraps that have the MTH Gauge One logo on them. Also in the box is a spare set of 8 traction tires, operator's manual, smoke fluid and a "stack cap." The stack cap is supposed to be used to prevent moisture from entering the smoke unit when running in inclement weather. Getting the loco out of the box and setting on the track, the first thing you notice is how the drive units are articulated. Unlike the Aristo-Craft Mallet, the back set of driving wheels is fixed to the chassis, while the front set is hinged to the back of the drive set, similar to the real Big Boy. A single plug connects the locomotive and tender together, as well as a metal drawbar with two holes in it. The longer setting is supposed to be used for tight turns, but I run the Big Boy on the minimum rated radius of R3 (Approx 8ft diameter) and I can use the shorter hole with room to spare.


      Exterior:
      While I would not consider the MTH Big Boy to be a museum quality display piece, it is definitely not toy-like, either. Most of the detail parts are molded on, and the exterior itself is made out of high impact plastic. It feels quite durable, but, obviously, you shouldn't go about running your Big Boy off a bridge or tabletop. The coal load in the tender is magnificent. It is the best I have seen on any locomotive to date. It has excellent texture on it, and has the appearance that each lump of coal is individually applied. Props to MTH for finally making a realistic looking coal load. Lighting-wise, the number boards are lit with white LEDs, the marker lights are lit with green LEDs, the headlight is a white LED, and there is what appears to be a standard bulb in the cab. There is a flickering red firebox LED that also shines through holes drilled in the sides of the firebox. On the tender, there is a backup light and two red marker lights. All lighting is subdued, and very nice looking, but not overly bright. The cab is not entirely prototypical, as the cab curtains and/or doors are absent. The prototype locomotive would have had either all-weather doors or curtains to enclose the cab. The MTH replica does not have either. This exclusion doesn't really bother me, but I know that some rivet-counters may be bothered by this.

      Running Characteristics:

      In a word: Amazing. This locomotive will creep slower than any locomotive I have ever seen. There is minimal, if any, binding in the mechanisms, and at 4smph, this locomotive is smooth as silk after break-in. The driveline is deathly silent, I can't even hear the locomotive running with the sound system off. There is a slight wobble at medium to high speed, but I attribute this to the articulation. The wobble is barely noticeable, even when flying along at 50-60mph, so I would not be overly concerned about this. Pulling power is simply unreal. With 8lbs of drawbar pull, this locomotive can move some serious rolling stock. It has no problem pulling a Bachmann K-27 (dead), 6 AMS 1:20.3 cars and a Accucraft brass caboose on a 2% grade. This locomotive will pull every piece of rolling stock I have (60 cars) without any trouble at all. One thing to note is that the rear drive set has no suspension or movement whatsoever. If negotiating a sudden grade change, the rear drive set can almost entirely lose contact with the rail, resulting in slippage. Not really a bother for me, but if your railroad has a lot of steep, sudden grade changes, it's something to think about. On LGB R3 turns, the locomotive has absolutely no tracking issues. It simply tracks beautifully. LGB R3 turnouts are another story altogether. On a trailing point switch, the locomotive has no trouble at all, no matter which direction the loco is traveling. However, when negotiating a facing point switch set to the curve position, the loco doesn't want to turn, it simply tries to go straight, usually resulting in a short. I have not experienced the same difficulty on any other type of switch, so I assume this issue is limited to the LGB R3 switches. Also, when moving in reverse, the loco has no trouble whatsoever. I have heard this issue can be solved by adding weight to the pilot truck, but, since I have not personally done this, I can't vouch for it's effectiveness. There is no front coupler, and the couple on the rear of the tender is a remote activated electronic uncoupling MTH "Proto-Coupler." It mates absolutely perfectly with Kadee, Accucraft, and Bachmann couplers. I have not tested the coupler with any other types.


      Smoke, Sound, and Control:

      This is the most amazing and unique part of this engine. The locomotive is equipped with MTH's Digital Command System, better known as DCS. While the locomotive runs fine with DC control, when you connect a DC transformer to the MTH TIU (Track Interface Unit), this locomotive really comes alive. The TIU is connected to a handheld, wireless remote that controls the locomotive. Both of these pieces are sold separately, and will set you back an additional $300 or so. Once the transformer is connected to the TIU, and the TIU connected to the track, setup is stupidly simple. You switch your transformer on, ensure that there are no other locomotive on the track, and press the "read" button on the remote. It will find all available DCS engines, you select the locomotive you want to set up, and away you go. It really is that simple! The locomotive's speed is set in SMPH (Scale Miles Per Hour) which is calculated based on the specific locomotive you are operating. Once the SMPH is set, the locomotive has "cruise control" which means that the DCS system automatically compensates for grades and reduced or additional load, so the locomotive does not speed up or slow down. I have confirmed that this feature does indeed perform admirably, and there is no visible slowdown at all when changing from level track to a 2% grade. Some may find this feature unrealistic, and it can be disabled if you choose. The feature set with the DCS is absolutely incredible, and it would take days to explain all the capabilities that this system has, so I won't go into all of them. The lights are all independently controllable, as well as the sounds. Chuff rate can be adjusted on the fly, sound volumes for bell and whistle and chuff can be adjusted independently. There is a feature that allows you to use an external audio source, such as an MP3 player or computer, to play sounds through the speaker in the tender, and there is also a microphone on the handheld remote. The microphone is a lot of fun for train shows, as you can really make parents and kids go crazy trying to figure out where that voice is coming from! The smoke is controllable, as well as smoke volume.


      Now onto the smoke unit itself. The smoke unit is a large, fan-driven apparatus, and works remarkably well. The smoke density is simply breathtaking (literally and figuratively!). At slow speed, the smoke unit is synchronized to the chuffing of the sound system. It holds a large amount of fluid, and filled to maximum, which is about 200 drops, it will last almost thirty minutes. The smoke unit is still wick-based, and if the wicks are allowed to dry out, they will need to be replaced, which, as I understand, can be a difficult task. If the locomotive is sitting for any length of time, I would recommend filling the smoke unit at least half-way.


      The sound system itself is wonderful. At maximum volume, it's plenty loud enough for the garden, and there is no noticeable distortion at any volume setting. The whistle is quite authentic sounding, though the bell is a little unimpressive. The various other sounds are quite good as well, and the variety of sounds available under DCS control is quite large. Some find the stock speaker to not have enough bass for their tastes, however, I find it more than satisfactory.


      Durability:

      I have only had the MTH Big Boy about 6 months, so I can't speak for it's long-term durability, but I can tell you about the experiences I have had so far:
      After only owning the locomotive three days, it started having power pickup issues that were so severe it nearly prevented the locomotive from operating at all. I researched the issue, and discovered I had shorted the locomotive, and burned out a small board inside that routes power to the motors from the power pickups. The locomotive was sent to an MTH Authorized Service Center, which was in town, and I received it back in two weeks, repaired. The locomotive lasted another week of running before the same issue occurred again. This time, the MTH ASC said they didn't want to deal with it again, and told me to send it to MTH directly. I posted about this problem on MLS, and a member by the name of Rayman4449 responded. He said that he knew how to fix the locomotive, and if I would bring it to Kansas City, he would be more than happy to fix it. My parents had an upcoming trip planned to Kansas City, so I told him I was on my way. He spent about four hours working on the locomotive, which included installing fuses to prevent the problem from happening again, and would not let as pay him anything for his time and trouble. He should be a blessing and inspiration to all garden railroaders. Since this issue has been resolved, I have had absolutely no issues whatsoever. This issue can easily be totally prevented by installing fuses between the front and rear drive sets. This is actually quite simple to perform, and instructions can be found on Rayman's website: rayman4449.dynip.com With the fuses in place, I have no reason to think that this loco is going to fail anytime soon. The driveline is made entirely of steel, and the connecting rods are metal as well. Some others, Rayman included, have had issues with the driver quartering, but I have not personally experienced these.



      Conclusion:
      Overall this is an absolutely incredible locomotive, that is perfect for someone who wants big steam on a budget. It is capable of being operated on very tight turns if needed, and looks excellent on wider turns. There were some small durability concerns in the beginning, but once these minor issues have been addressed, this locomotive is absolutely bulletproof. Unfortunately, MTH has temporarily discontinued this locomotive, and they have become rather hard to find now. If you do find one, I'd recommend snapping it up, as there are others who are out there looking for one. Also, for more info on the DCS system, as well as this MTH Gauge One loco, and others, check out Rayman's wonderful site at: rayman4449.dynip.com


      List Price $1299.99 with sound

      Pros:
      Excellent Running Characteristics
      Ingenious DCS control system
      Excellent Sound and Smoke
      Durable exterior
      Relatively affordable price
      High Tractive Effort
      Ability to negotiate R3 turns

      Cons:
      Slightly subpstandard level of detail
      Aforementioned power pickup difficulties before installing fuses
      Tracking issues on LGB R3 turnouts
      Possible Quartering issues (Not on my example)
      Traction issues on the rear driver set on steep grade changes
    • January 11, 2010 6:15 PM EST
      • UK/Ontario/Oregon
         
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      Nice review, John, well written and informative, too. Good links to the rayman are vital when buying any MTH Gauge 1 products, in my view. Tbaks. tac www.ovgrs.org

      This post was edited by tac Foley at July 4, 2013 10:48 AM EDT
    • May 14, 2013 9:04 AM EDT
      • Lewiston, NY
         
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       There's a new catalog due out soon and I hope they have this engine re-released in it. They make limited numbers to keep the value high, but now with the ability to run in DCC environment, a new release would be welcome for new customers.

    • May 16, 2013 12:11 AM EDT

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      Nice review, especially since you pointed out pros and cons, not just that everything is perfect.

       

      One thing on DCS is that if you put the loco on the track backwards it can take off at full speed, does the BB have a "polarity" switch on it?

       

      Greg

       

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    • May 16, 2013 9:27 PM EDT
      • Newton, KS
         
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      Good review, better than any I've written!  I like my two MTH engines. The Challenger does not have the polarity switch, but the Hudson does.

    • June 16, 2013 10:37 PM EDT
      • St. Louis, MO
         
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      Just saw this and since John hasn't updated in a while...

       

      Greg, the Big Boy does have a polarity switch behind the smokebox door.  However, it seems to not always work--perhaps the internal software is confused?  Typically I just reverse the wires connecting the TIU to the track.  Yeah, it's a pain. 

       

      In addition, the TIU does not have any internal protection against power from the track entering it; therefore, if you wish to operate both normal DC and DCS-based locomotives, you need to physically disconnect the TIU before powering up the DC transformer.  Aristo TEs don't seem to have this problem, as they can be left wired up while the TIU is on, as long as they're off.

       

      Minor problem:  The magnet holding the smokebox door shut came unglued.  Easily fixed, but as a wannabe mechanical engineer, the use of glue on a part that has significant force placed on it bothers me.

       

      Another problem: (Jerry, you might want to watch for this with the Challenger): the screws holding the steam exhaust pipes from the cylinders have a bad tendency to fall out.  Loctite might help, but you need to disconnect them to disconnect the front drive unit; most people wouldn't need this, but Raymond Manley did some modifications to our unit which include fuses between the front and rear engine sets, which now reside above the front drivers.  Up to you as to whether you want to do that or not.

       

      Overall, it's still a pretty impressive locomotive; we run a temporary display every year at a local train show and the Big Boy is intimidating enough to keep the 5-year-olds off the track.  And even if they don't, it's too heavy for them to hurt it.

    • June 18, 2013 1:31 PM EDT
      • Lewiston, NY
         
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       For the record, if you interrupt power to any MTH engine, and maybe others, and then re-apply it quickly, the engine comes up in conventional mode. It then sees full track voltage and runs at full speed. The electronics are doing as designed. They look for what power and signal is being used automatically. I've never had a problem with a polarity switch not working correctly, but hey, switches do break.

    • July 2, 2013 9:22 AM EDT

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      So a power glitch, possibly from dirty wheels, dirty track, could make the loco ignore the signal on the rails and go full tilt?

       

      The comment was not about the polarity switch not working correctly, but you put the loco on the rails backwards and it can also ignore the control signal and take off full tilt.

       

      Greg

      ____________________________________

      Be sure­ to visit ­my site, l­ots of tec­hnical tip­s and modi­fications,­ and you c­an search ­for topics­ and key w­ords.


      ­Click HERE for Greg­'s web sit­e
      PLEASE NOT­E: Please do NOT use private messaging, i­f you have­ a questio­n, feel fr­ee to emai­l me priva­tely, u­se regular­ email onl­y: greg@el­massian.co­m

    • July 2, 2013 5:02 PM EDT
      • Lewiston, NY
         
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       If someone were to place the loco on the rails with track power up full, maybe then it would. Otherwise it should just sit there. Power glitches from dirty wheels etc, are covered by the battery when it has been charged.

    • July 4, 2013 2:18 PM EDT
      • Rio Linda, Cal.
         
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      [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzKWervC55Y[/youtube]

      Great video Nick.  tk's..  

      This post was edited by Noel Wilson at July 4, 2013 2:29 PM EDT
      ____________________________________



      Little Rio feather says...One leave train running here and takes a coffee break, may find Koi fishes checking out how deep an Engine can swim when the Swing Bridge is left open. It happen to Big Feather Tweedledum.... Burnt finger Nbr. SA#49
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    • July 5, 2013 6:41 AM EDT
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      Now THAT is my idea of a big layout.  It has great realism, lacking gnomes, windmills, aerial tramways, waterfalls and carousels.  Just track and trains - lots of 'em - in the woods.

      Heaven.

      tac, ig, ken the GFT & The Tall Timbers Boys 

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