Bachmann's HO 45 Tonner with DCC

Miniature Marvel

45 ton
Bachmann's little 45 Tonner is big on detail. ©2014 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Manufacturer's Site

GE's 45 ton switcher was one of the most common industrial "critters" to be found in North American and around the globe. For their small size and lack of "big name" railroad operators, industrial engines have long been ignored by model makers. Bachmann has been a big exception with models of GE's 44 and 70 ton models preceding this one.

Bachmann's 45 Tonner has been available for a few years and is now available with onboard DCC.

The model is available decorated in four generic paint schemes; green, red, yellow and black / yellow. MSRP is $165.00.

Prototype Background

When General Electric's industrial locomotives are brought up, the 44 Tonner is usually the first railroad modelers think of. Because the locomotive weighed less than 45 tons, unions agreed that it could be operated by a one man crew and didn't need a fireman. this prompted many well-known railroads to purchase the model and the 44 Tonner has been reproduced in many scales (including by Bachmann.)

EMD also produced their Model 40 for the same market, though sales were far lower.

Coming in just over the weight limit, you'd expect the 45 ton model to be a poor seller but in fact it outsold its smaller counterparts and found a home in hundreds of mills, ports, foundries, even a couple of universities!

Because most of the locomotives were owned by operations that were not common carrier railroads, they were not subject to the same union rules.

Consequently the second seat in the cab, when occupied at all, was usually used by the brakeman between coupling and switch throwing duties. Some common carrier lines and steel mill roads did own the locomotives and adhered to the crew laws however so putting two figures in the cab of your Bachmann model is not incorrect.

Similar in form to the 44 Tonner, with a tall center cab and two low hoods on the ends covering Cummins engines, the 45 Tonner afforded the crew with good visibility in both directions when switching. Although you wouldn't expect it, the 45 Tonner is actually smaller in overall size than the 44 ton model.

The most distinctive feature of the locomotives were found on the earlier production units. The 45 Tonners have only one traction motor per truck. The other axle is powered by a set of side rods. (Later production units used a chain inside the sideframes.) The steam locomotive-like revolutions of the side rods adds a lot of character to these little critters.

For more information on the history of these locomotives and their operators, see the complete locomotive profile.

Details and Paint

With the prototype in widespread use, there are plenty of good reasons to add one to your layout. For smaller or "micro" layouts a locomotive like this would make an outstanding option.

The model is very nicely detailed as shipped from Bachmann.

There shouldn't be much room for detailing on an locomotive like this, but there is.

Although these small engines were simple, each one was customized by its owner giving them each unique qualities. There is potential here for both prototype and freelancers who'd like to customize their models.

A few of the details could be a little more crisp. There are plenty of options out there for those who like to work with these things. If your goal is a good looking industrial workhorse however, you'll likely find this locomotive more than meets your needs.

Paint on the model is good, with a mildly glossy finish. Normally I'd prefer I more matte finish, however the smooth gloss is an advantage here. The locomotive is unnumbered, and decals always lay better over gloss. After decaling and another coat of gloss, it will be easy to dull the paint and weather to your taste.

You will want to add at least a road number to make adding a DCC address easier. Although it is unlettered and unnumbered, you will find some small lettering on the hood doors. This is very crisp and legible even without magnification.

Performance

Pound for pound, the prototype 45 Tonner was an ample switch locomotive, capable of pulling about 20 cars on level track. Regular duties usually involved far fewer cars at a time however. The locomotives also had a top speed of about 20 mph.

Few modelers will likely try to run a 20 car train behind this locomotive, but it should easily handle any train you're likely to put behind it. Weighing in at 4.5 oz. the model is surprisingly heavy for its size.

Some of that weight comes from a small weight placed in the fuel tank. This same space can be used for a speaker if you'd decide to add sound. As-is, the locomotive is equipped with one of Bachmann's dual-mode (DCC or DC) decoders. This decoder is part of the main circuit board. Replacing the decoder with one that offers sound may be possible, but it is going to be a very tight fit. Likely some of the extra space in the cab would have to be used. While few will undertake this challenge, it is nice that Bachmann has done what they can to enable it. And who knows where will be with sound decoders in the coming years?

Most modelers are going to use this locomotive as a switcher on small layouts or in compact industrial areas. So slow speed performance is a top priority.

Starting speed is respectable and once moving, the locomotive creeps along at an even pace without much stutter. Ultimately, the performance of this locomotive on your layout is going to come down to one thing - clean track.

As with any small locomotive, electrical pickup can be tricky. You absolutely will find yourself giving the locomotive a little tap on dirty spots or unpowered switch frogs - or anywhere the wheels lose electrical contact with the rails. That's not a flaw in Bachmann's design or manufacturing, those are just the limits inherent in a model this size. Honestly, the locomotive's performance on my test track was excellent, and better than I would expect.

Overall, applying what I felt were reasonable expectations based on my years in the hobby, I find that this little critter actually performs far better than I would have speculated. Clearly keeping its wheels and the rails on which it runs clean will be a must, but then what locomotive doesn't benefit from that? The only real option to improve pickup on a locomotive like this is to permanently couple a car to it, add additional pick up shoes to that car and then connect them to the locomotive with flexible wires. The way the wiring is done to make the model DCC ready, this would not be all that difficult.

Motor noise is reasonable. It's not the most quiet locomotive I've owned, but it certainly isn't distracting.

Overall Impressions

Thanks to Bachmann's dealer pricing structure, these locomotives carry a street price in the $75-$100 range. This little locomotive costs about as much as other conventional locomotives much larger. But does a smaller locomotive mean you're getting less?

Feature for feature, the 45 Tonner stacks up well against its larger competition - directional headlights, all wheel pick up and power, DCC, a smooth motor, nice detailing. And while it won't out pull a similarly priced six-axle locomotive, chances are you don't need or even want it to. On the other hand, for small layouts and tight clearances, the small size of the 45 Tonner is a tremendous advantage.

For modelers who enjoy the challenges of micro-layouts, without a doubt this locomotive is the key to a lot of fun. And I'm impressed with the way it performs for its size.

Whether you enjoy it as is or customize it to your own liking, this locomotive is sure to be a conversation starter. It's worth "making room" for one on your layout!

Manufacturer's Site