McCloud River Railroad reviews:

Athearn's McCloud Railway SD38's

A number of years ago a small company known as Rail Power Products started producing plastic shells of various diesel locomotives, many of which were not commercially available in plastic from any other source. The SD38 was one of the shells they produced. Towards the end of their existence Rail Power Products started releasing painted shells, but to our knowledge they did not apply any paint to the SD38 shell.

A couple years ago now Athearn, a long-time and very well established producer of model railroad equipment, purchased Rail Power Products. Since that time they have been re-working some of the RPP shells, mounting them on frames complete with motors and trucks, and then releasing them as ready-to-run models. In July 2005 Athearn announced that they would be releasing the SD38, and that McCloud was to be one of the roadnames they would paint these models into.

These models started arriving on dealer shelves in early January 2006. McCloud Rails staff ordered one example each of these locomotives, and they arrived via UPS. I have spent part of the last 24 hours looking these new models over, and I have several observations.

The model of the #38 on my workbench.

First, the good points. These are beautiful models. It is clear that Athearn took their time with these, and made a lot of improvements to the original RPP shell. The cooling fans on the top of the roof are see-through, and there are fan blades visible through the top of the grills. The model has very good looking, if fragile-looking handrails. Athearn has installed many after-market details, such as windowshades, snowplows, and individual grab irons. The only detail parts included for the modeler to install are breather pipes for the fuel tank and the various multiple unit connections on each pilot. The painting and lettering are crisp. They run very smoothly, at least on the very small amount of test trackage available to us at the moment. There are a lot of things about these models that impress us.

That being said, there are a couple of shortcomings in the paint and lettering department. Many McCloud fans and employees have grumbled about Athearn's choice of paint scheme- the brown and orange does not stack up very well against the orange and white it replaced or the silver and red that replaced it, but two of these units did spend more years painted in this scheme than the original, and the third continues to wear this scheme to this day. The first real complaint we have with this model is the shade of brown applied- it is close, but is too pink and too light to be "true". This is the first and most obvious problem with these models.

When the McCloud River painted these units in 1982 they added a white stripe around the top of the carbody, separating the brown paint from the black paint on the upper carbody and roof. On the real locomotives this white band carries across the various air intake screens along the upper part of the hood, but on the model they do not.

The last of the shortcomings that we have noticed involve the lettering of the locomotives. The large numbers on the side of the locomotive near the rear of the long hood are mounted too low- the tops of the numbers should be just underneath the door handles, but Athearn has them mounted about six scale inches too low. When the McCloud Railway started up in July 1992 they purchased only one of the SD38's, the #38. The railroad changed the lettering on the locomotive by removing the top of the logo underneath the cab side windows and then lettering the name of the new owner underneath. On the original paint scheme the railroad's name had been spelled out in orange paint, but when the McCloud Railway lettered the locomotive they replaced the orange "McCloud River" with a white "McCloud Railway". Athearn has "McCloud Railway" written in orange on this model, which is incorrect. The #38 continues to wear that white lettering to this day.

The McCloud Railway finally picked up the #36 and #37 in the fall of 1993. However, neither of these two units got the same re-lettering treatment before they both got the new silver and red paint in 1996/1997. Athearn missed this, as their model of the #37 has the lettering and logo modifications applied only to the #38 in the real world. The #36 is both unique and quite special, as the railroad decided to name it after Sidney E. Muma, a long time employee of the company. The railroad applied his name in cursive underneath the logo on the side of the cab in place of the "McCloud River" applied to the other two. Athearn duplicated this on their model of the #36, which is a nice touch. However, they applied the same treatment to the logo on the model as they did on the other two. In real life the #36 ran with the full McCloud River Railroad Company logo intact until repainting.

The last complaint with these models involves one missing detail part. Despite all of the other add-on details applied to this model, Athearn missed coupler lift bars on both pilots. These have become almost standard on the highly detailed ready to run models that have come to dominate the market in the last several years.

In summary, all three of these locomotive models contain inaccuracies that make them all slightly off as true models of their prototypes. However, they do capture the look and feel of the McCloud's three unit fleet of SD38's and would be a good addition to any McCloud fan's locomotive fleet, if to support Athearn for bringing out a model of a McCloud paint scheme...even if they did choose the "wrong" paint scheme.

A closeup of #36's cab area.