This is an amazing little engine, and I don't think there's any question that it's Bachmann's finest diesel model to date (at least as of this 2009 writing). And the fact that it's reasonably priced and it comes with a pre-installed dual-mode decoder (IE, it will run equally well on DCC and DC layouts) is just icing on the cake.
The chassis is all metal and split-frame. The motor is rectangular, closed-sided and extremely small (and presumably 3-poles). This may be the smallest motor ever offered in an N scale locomotive. All wheels provide pickup (no traction tires), with current transferred from the trucks into the chassis by way of bronze wipers. All wheels are geared and all gearing is plastic. Directional lighting is provided on either end of the decoder (which is screwed to the top of the chassis). Two contacts on the bottom of the decoder collect current from the chassis. Wires from the decoder-board transfer current to the motor. Wheels are low-profile, so no problems on Code-55 rails. The shell is a one-piece molding. The window inserts are glued in place (which is kind of annoying). As pictured above, a piece of black plastic clips to the decoder board, completely blocking the view through the cab windows.
These models originally came with shell-mounted one-piece knuckle couplers (the same sort of couplers Bachmann introduced on their 2006 B23-7 and H16-44 diesels). Starting with the second run, Bachmann jettisoned the dummy knuckles in favor of automatic/magnetic couplers (similar to McHenrys, albeit a bit larger).
Performance is outstanding in every way - absolutely smooth and whisper quiet. Slow-speed creep is exceptional, and the top-end speed is very realistic. Pickup is sensational, as I can creep mine through non-powered turnouts with nary a hitch. Better still, these are surprisingly strong pullers. Mine has no problems hauling eight cars on level track (although any more than that and the wheels start slipping on curves). But that's certainly more than adequate power for an industrial switcher (exceeding even the prototype in that regard). How Bachmann managed to extract so much pull from such a small engine is beyond me.
Some folks have registered consternation over the fact that the hood is about one scale foot too wide (as compared to the prototype). However, when you're griping about a discrepency of .075", I think you may have strayed into nitpick country. Overall, this is a gorgeous model that runs exceedingly well. Finally, N scale has a good (no, make that great) industrial switcher.
This model comes with two different kinds of light shrouds (to be installed by the modeler). Short shrouds (as pictured above) and longer ones (as pictured below). They simply pop into place inside holes on either end of the shell.
One note - Given their extremely small size and light weight, these locos are pretty finicky when it comes to any sort of grunge on the wheels and/or the wipers that conduct current from the trucks to the chassis. Fortunately, these models are very easy to maintain. If yours has suddenly developed balky locomotive syndrome, simply pop the trucks off and clean the wheels and wipers. A bit of rubbing alcohol applied with a Q-tip should take care of the wipers. As for the wheels, I put a paper towel on top of a piece of flex track, soak it in track cleaning fluid (to the point that the underlying rails show through the paper), and then run the trucks back and forth over the rails. Then, simply stick the trucks back on and you're ready to roll.
To remove the shell, simply spread the sides apart to free it from the three "bumps" on each side of the chassis. It should pop off fairly readily at that point. When putting the shell back on, note the orientation of the big white arrows (one on the chassis and one inside the shell).
Reviewed 03/2010 Model Railroader ("This N scale model of a General Electric 44-ton switcher features a dual-mode Digital Command Control (DCC) decoder that runs well in both DC and DCC modes. The Bachmann 44-tonner is part of the firm's Spectrum series and is a highly detailed N scale model of its hard-working prototype.
"The Digital Command Control decoder is mounted on top of a split die-cast metal frame. The white arrow indicates the front of the frame.The model. The dimensions of the Bachmann 44-tonner match prototype drawings in the Model Railroader Cyclopedia. The Bachmann model is of what railfans refer to as the phase IV body style, which features radiator shutters on each end, round headlight cases, and small rectangular air intakes along the top of the hoods on each side. The body shell is plastic and the molded-in detail matches prototype photos of a phase IV 44-tonner. All the separately applied handrails and stanchions are made of flexible acetal plastic to help the thin, scale-profile parts resist breaking. The air horn is also separately applied and painted silver. The paint on the body shell is smooth and evenly applied without obscuring any of the molded detail. The color separation between the black and yellow along the roof line is sharply defined. The black safety stripes on the pilots and along the bottom sill are also well done.
"The truck sideframes and couplers are unpainted black plastic. The couplers have fixed knuckles, but they'll automatically couple with the operating knuckle couplers of N scale rolling stock. The mechanism takes up most of the space inside the body shell, so there isn't room for an interior or engineer figure. The model's can motor is encased inside a split die-cast metal frame. Two worms transfer power from the motor to two gearboxes. One gearbox is mounted above each truck, so all four axles are powered. The DCC decoder is attached to the top of the frame by two screws and measures 5/16" x 115/16". A white light-emitting diode (LED) is mounted on each end of the decoder to illuminate the headlights. Unlike the prototype, the model's headlights turn on or off automatically according to the locomotive's direction.
"The model has enough pulling power for a light-duty industrial switcher. The 44-tonner has a drawbar pull equivalent to 12 free-rolling N scale freight cars on straight and level track. The locomotive didn't stall and its headlight didn't flicker as I ran it through the turnouts and crossovers of our N scale layout. Tight-radius curves aren't a problem for this switcher. The model can easily handle 93/4" radius curves. I also ran the Bachmann 44-tonner through a 6" radius curve of flextrack. The 44-tonner has smooth slow speed performance in DCC mode, although on our DC test track the model moved jerkily at 3 volts but smoothed out at 4 volts. In both DC and DCC modes the model has a top speed of 94 scale mph, which is a lot faster than the 35 mph top speed of the prototype. With accurate details and impressive pulling power for a locomotive of its size, the Bachmann Spectrum GE 44-tonner is a great choice for a light-duty or industrial switcher on your N scale layout.")