Introduced: 2003 (Korean-made version) and 2007 (Chinese-made version)
For reasons unknown, Atlas originally opted to farm this locomotive out to Ajin (Korea) rather than use their normal Chinese manufacturing sources. Ajin is best known for the brass locomotives they've made for Overland in the past, not to mention all of the good-not-great models they've done for Model Power (most notably MP's line of N scale steam). Unfortunately, this Ajin mechanism isn't quite up to Atlas's normally high standards. Yes, it's a respectable runner in most regards - good pickup, smooth throttle response, nice slow speed creep, decent pulling power, etc. However, it's a bit noisier than a typical Atlas diesel (and with some of them being noisier than others). I'm not sure if the problem lies in the design or the manufacture, but something in there just ain't meshing together quite right and the end result is a definite coffee-grinder buzz as it rolls along. The problem is particularly noticeable at the high end of the throttle (although in all fairness, one probably wouldn't ever need to run a yard switcher that fast).
More annoying to me is the fact that Ajin didn't go ahead and and actually finish putting the damned thing together at the factory. Nope, they instead decided to take the day off and stick three sets of handrails in the box, ala carte, for us poor modelers to install ourselves (I guess to remind all of us lazy "service industry" Americans just what it's like to work in an Asian manufacturing plant). Seriously, not since the Kato Mike have I come across such a nightmarishly diabolical set of locomotive add-on parts. "Plug this molecule-sized handrail pin into this atom-sized hole" doesn't even begin to cover it.
So, in 2006 (after three runs) Atlas apparently decided they'd had enough of Ajin and relocated production to China. The mechanism was completely redesigned and a new version was released in 2007. And suffice it to say, this new model is every bit a typical Atlas diesel - IE, smooth, quiet, gorgeous and perfect. Better still, all of the handrails come preinstalled.
Korea on the left (with factory decoder), China on the right -
Despite the different performance characteristics, both versions sport all the features one normally associates with "modern" Atlas diesels - IE, split-frame / DCC-Ready / all-metal chassis, 5-pole / skew-wound "scale speed" motor with dual flywheels, low-friction drive, bi-directional "white" LED lighting, all-wheel drive and pickup (no traction tires), blackened / low-profile wheels, shell-mounted Accumate couplers, all-plastic gearing, etc.
Identifying different versions is pretty simple - just look at the box and see what it says vis'a'vis the country of origin. No box? Well, pull the shell. Ajin frames are cast from a very strange shiny black metal, whereas the Chinese-made ones are cast using the more familiar flat gray/silver metal.
Shells are not interchangable between the two versions without modification (Atlas has a .pdf document on their website that will walk you through the steps necessary to make said swap). Oddly enough, neither version supports conversion to "Rapido" style couplers (my apologies to the three guys out there disappointed by that).
Prototype information -
Built by Baldwin in the 1940's, the VO-1000 diesel locomotives could be found in both yard and mainline service across the country. Atlas' version, recreated for the first time ever in N scale (in plastic), is a true replica of the handsome engine.
Grade: A (for both, although maybe an A- for the original Ajin version)
Ajin version reviewed: 07/03 Model Railroader ("An excellent prewar Baldwin VO1000 diesel switcher with railroad-specific detailing has been released by Atlas. Each of these models has the appropriate details and exhaust stack configration that matches its paint scheme... The Atlas models closely follow prototype drawings... Our sample VO1000 followed the familiar design Atlas has used in its recent N scale locomotives... The switchers come assembled except for the addition of the end and corner railings... The mechanism follows the popular N scale split-chassis design... Our samples started and ran smoothly at speeds under 9 volts... The drawbar pull is equivalent to about a dozen cars... Accumate magnetic couplers are factory-installed at the proper height... All of the wheelsets on our samples matched NMRA standards... Our sample VO1000s were smoothly painted with sharp stripes and lettering. These early diesel switchers fit perfectly on model railroads set in the 1940s and later. Operation-oriented modelers will really enjoy running the VO1000s as they have the best slow speed performance I've ever seen in an N scale switcher. ATSF, ACL, LV, SP, CBQ, GN, MR, NYC, Undec. $104.95 ($139.95 with decoder)")