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A review of Precision Craft Models Alco PA

Background:

The ALCO PA was a family of A1A-A1A diesel locomotives built to haul passenger trains built in Schenectady, New York in the United States by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) between September, 1946 and December, 1953. They were of a cab unit design, and both cab-equipped lead A unit PA and cabless booster B unit PB models were built.

Three different models were offered: the 2,000 hp (1,490 kW) PA-1/PB-1 (built between September, 1946 and June, 1950); the 2,250 hp (1,680 kW) PA-2/PB-2 (built between April, 1950 and May, 1952); and PA-3/PB-3 (built between April, 1952 and December, 1953). It should be noted that models popularly termed the PA/PB-3 were in fact only an upgrade of the PA/PB-2. The true PA/PB-3 model would have boasted 2,400 hp (1,790 kW), though none were ever built. Aside from the small power increase between the PA-1 and the PA-2, differences between the models were minor. Externally, PA-3s could be distinguished by the absence of the "eyebrow" trim piece on the grille behind the cab and the porthole window behind the radiator shutters. Internally, later PA-2 and PB-2 production featured a water-cooled turbocharger and other engine compartment changes, but these were frequently added to older models undergoing major repairs and/or overhauls.

Like its smaller cousin, the ALCO FA, the PA had distinctive styling, with a long, straight nose tipped by a headlight in a square, slitted grille, raked windshields, and trim pieces behind the cab windows that lengthened and sleekened the lines. The overall design owed a lot to the Fairbanks-Morse Erie-built design, which had been constructed by ALCO's sales partner General Electric at their Erie, Pennsylvania plant. GE's industrial designer Ray Patten styled the PA and PB, and many believe it likely that he took drawings of the Erie-built as a starting point, lengthening and squaring the nose and giving it a more aggressive look. The majority of PA components were compatible with the FA.

The ALCO 244 diesel prime mover proved to be the undoing of the PA, as the locomotives failed to capture a marketplace dominated by EMD. Some units were retrofitted with EMD 1,750 hp (1,305 kW) engines in an attempt to improve the PA's service record. The later 251-series engine, a vastly improved prime mover, was not available in time for ALCO to recover the loss of reputation caused by the unreliability of the 244. By the time the ALCO 251 engine was accepted into widespread use, General Electric had fielded their entries into the diesel-electric locomotive market. General Electric eventually supplanted ALCO as a manufacturer of locomotives, leading to ALCO's demise in 1969.

 

 

Locomotive:

Type - Diesel
Manufacturer – Precision Craft Models
Class –Alco PA
Road –Santa Fe
Number - 53LA and 59L A-Unit Length: 9.4 in
B-Unit Length: 9.0 in
LokSound decoder & sound.
Motor Type: 5-Pole Can with Skewed Armature & Dual Fly Wheels
Couplers: (2) Operating Kadee Compatible
Compatible Tracks: Code 70, 83, 100 Rail
Recommended Minimum Radius: 18 in
Operating Sprung Diaphragms
See-Through Mesh and Fan Grills
Constant Intensity Directional Lighting
Strobing Mars Light
Lighted Number Boards
Factory-Installed Painted Engineer Figures
Locomotive Composition: ABS with Die Cast Chassis

 

First Impressions

After waiting over one year to receive the Alco PA from Precision Craft Models they finally arrived and worth the wait.  In this review we will take a look at the 53LA and 59L unit all with sound.

The boxes are exactly like the Broadway Limited Boxes except they are sleek black.  In a nicely wrapped plastic I could see that the sides were plated but not as shiny as Athearn’s Santa Fe F7 engines, but nice.  On inspection of the lead engine the front has the air hoses, grab hands in the appropriate areas.  The roof has lift rings and the sides have nice see through grills. 

Interestingly the A unit attaches to the B unit using a draw bar.  Trying to attach the 8 pin connector to the A unit was very difficult and a lot of care need to be taken to attach the two units together.  The stand-alone unit (59L) unit came with a draw bar and not a coupler, which is very strange as the B unit has a coupler at other end. 

As with most Santa Fe modelers I would like the flexibility to run just two lead units.  Luckily 53LA unit does not need the booster to run on its own.  To remedy the draw bar situation a quick change to Kadee’s #23 or #43 does the trick.  It’s fairly easy to remove the draw bar and pin, but a different screw is needed for the new couplers. 

 

 

DCC System:


DCC Ready - Yes
Factory Lighting - Yes
Subjective DCC Assessment / Comments - Excellent, no shorts, lost address or other problems.
Sound Ready - Yes
Sound Decoder - PCM
Sound Features -
Reprogramming Ease (Very Easy, Easy, Moderate, Difficult, Very Difficult) - Easy/Moderate
Subjective Sound Assessment / Comments –

Placing the lead unit on the track they start right up with a very interesting sound.  Turning on the lights the side number boards light up and they also have classification light! Very cool!  I’ve only seen this done on Overland brass models, but the first time on plastic models.

A problem has occurred with the 53L unit’s lights.  The top headlight turns on in reverse and not going forward, this is not the case for the 59L unit as it works fine and the lights could not be turned off on 53L.  I have contacted PCM to see how this can be fixed other wise 59L will be leading the train down the track.

The sound on these units is very impressive.  The low rumble of the engine sound is much better than most QSI sound engines.  Notching up the speed the top light (Mars) starts to Mars light flash and a higher rumble sound comes on.  Having all three engines on the track makes for a very impressive sounding trio.  The horn volume is a bit low and needs to be turned up so that the engine rumble does not drown out the horn.  The bell sound is louder than the horn but sounds correct for an Alco PA.

 

 

 

Apperance:

Painting Quality: Excellent
Number / Quality of Details: Very Good
Prototype Authenticity: Excellent
Subjective Appearance Assessment / Comments:  For a plastic model the details are very good and with some detailing it could come close to brass.

 

 

 

Overall:

Price / Value:
Purchase Type – Fristhobby.com
Price - $339.99 for the 59LA, $147.95 for the 53L plus shipping.
Subjective Overall Price / Value Assessment: Beautifully done but disappointed with the sound and the ability of the engine to pull more cars.
Would You Buy Again / Buy Another (Hell No, Probably Not, Maybe, Probably Yes, Hell Yes) – Yes!

Miscellaneous Final Comments: Great loco, sound system, excellent details.

 

 

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