Saturday, February 26, 2011

The new Sunset Models North Shore cars

The new O scale North Shore Line cars from Sunset Models/3rd Rail have finally arrived. 3 car sets, in the Greenliner paint scheme and the later Silverliner paint scheme.
Each set contains two coaches and a diner.

First thing you see when you open the box,, a pair of white cotton gloves !

All brass construction, fully painted, detailed interiors, all coaches are powered, cars are wired with a switch under each coach to switch from two-rail to overhead trolley wire pick-up.

Cars are available in both O scale 2-rail, and O scale 3-rail versions, and therein lies the potential for problems, trying to serve two very diverse markets with the same product.

I'll preface all of the following with two statements :
1) Given the cost of these sets, any perceived flaws that I have found are hardly worth complaining about. These cars come to about $365 each, which if you've spent any time (or money) on O scale traction equipment, you know that's in the ballpark for most unpainted, unpowered cars. To have one painted, lettered, powered, detailed interior for that price, truly unheard of.
2) My "perceived flaws" are with the eye of a "serious" 2-rail traction modeler. The flaws are minor and mostly just in details that are relatively easily added, modified, etc. The other side of their market, the 3-rail O scaler, probably wouldn't notice or care that much.

Other than the paint schemes, the sets are basically the same, except that the Silverliner cars have the added skirts. First thing I noticed that was a disappointment was that in each set of coaches, both coaches have the same roadnumber. I've heard in the last day or so that there were a couple of number options, it appears that it may have been intended that each car would be numbered differently, but they were packed without that instruction at the manufacturer.

Assuming this all to be true, I can forsee some "swapping" amongst customers to get different car numbers. My intital thought (at least for the Greenliners, and this is based on the overall level of detailing and a desire to upgrade the same) was to simply strip the things and re-detail and paint (likely in the older orange/brown scheme), and eliminate the dual car number issue. Now that I know there is the probability of car number swapping out there, we'll just wait and see. God knows I have more than enough projects on the front burner that I don't need to jump into another. (Although, I do have a request to put together a North Shore Line display later this summer.....)

Paint wise, the cars aren't bad, they're not great either. Overall the finish was okay, it's when you get really in and close that some minor flaws are visible. Would my personal repainting be any better, probably not. The Silverliner cars have the unique fake fluting/striping. For those not familiar, the North Shore in an attempt to upgrade/modernize older cars (on a budget), took several standard cars and put them through the "Silverliner" upgrades. This involved a number of mechanical and interior changes and upgrades, and the most obvious thing was the new paint scheme which involved a red and silver paint job. At the time, lightweight streamlined cars, typically with fluted siding, were the "standard" of the steam/diesel roads. The North Shore simulated the look by painting the fluting on, basically a series of stripes in varying shades of grey that make the cars appear to be fluted sided. Many people even today will go up and touch the side of a preserved NS Silverliner car, the effect is that well done. This has been a difficult to nearly impossible effect to capture on models, the Sunset cars have what appears to be a mylar overlay which captures this effect pretty nicely. Another aspect of the Silverliner cars was a cast plate on the sides of the cars with the North Shore Line logo. These are nicely reproduced on the Sunset cars, but in gold and red, instead of the proper silver and red. One of the many "weird" detailing things that leave you scratching your head....

Other detailing oddities,,,
The cars have detailed interiors, including passengers, but no control equipment in the cabs of the cars, and no trainmen
(Motorman, conductor, dining car attendents)
The cars have standard Kadee couplers, which make for some long-distance coupling, likely a nod to the 3-rail market
The cars have detailed bathrooms, but with clear window glass,,, just weird..

The trolley poles are typical of brass imports, just an overall waste of wire rod and springs, first things to be replaced. Given that the overall history of brass imports seems to be mostly filled with useless trolley poles (from an operational perspective) does one start to wonder if the likes of Q-Car and Current Line have conspired to build an aftermarket ?
Just kidding , but it is strange !

Haven't really had the chance to run the cars to any extent. The minimal operation so far shows they are smooth, relatively quiet runners. One of the Silverliner coaches had a truck set to far forward, so the slighest turn to either side hits the steps. Looks to be easily adjusted/corrected.

The cars have sound, but I haven't checked that aspect, sound is not important to me and would likely simply be disconnected anyways. It's been reported (based so far on the videos on the Sunset website) that the sounds are horribly wrong. Each car also has a working headlight, and the cars are wired for directional lighting. I set these cars up alongside cars from Clouser as well as the MTH Electroliner, everything matches nicely size-wise so looks like they'll all be able to be posed in your yard nicely, how the Sunset power works with a Q-Car or Current Line truck, remains to be seen/tested.

All in all, my personal evaluation is these cars could have been better (again from the serious traction modeler perspective), but the value is hard to argue against. As I write this, I wonder if any of the serious traction modelers would have any real complaints if these cars were offered as unpainted, since much of the "angst" would be about correcting the numbering and details, which would be difficult to work with and not ruin the existing paint.

It is my fervent hope that these cars are not "bashed" in the model press, they are nice cars and an incredible value price-wise. For any perceived short-comings, when you make an honest evaluation based on what having something similar would cost, it's not even close.

These cars represent a much-needed shot in the arm to the O scale traction market, and only if they're reviewed with favor and the market embraces them (ie, buys the damn things !) will Sunset or anyone else be motivated to make the investments to produce more cars.

In other news/keeping myself busy, as a preview to the upcoming High Wheeler 2011 train show, I set up a scaled back version of the IoFV display last weekend at our local NMRA divisonal meet. This went along with a great introduction to trolley modeling clinic/presentation by Ed Halstead and Carl Lantz, who gave a great and detailed presentation.

So, this weekend and the next several days will be spent in feverish activity getting the latest version of the full IoFV display together. High Wheeler is next weekend, March 5/6, and I follow that up with a one day show at the All American Railroad Show in LaGrange, IL on Saturday March 19th.

Then we can rest a bit.............