Bachmann Spectrum (China) B&O 2-8-8-4 EM-1 Yellowstone

Introduced: 2013 (Non-sound version) and 2019 (DCC-Sound version)

Bachmann's B&O EM-1 is an outstanding model is every respect. From the exquisite detailing to the sublime performance, you just aren't going to find a better steamer in N scale. As pictured above, these models are available in two different variants - the 1944 build (single headlight/large dome) and the 1945 build (dual headlight/small dome). The dome in question is the forward-most one (with the "large dome" version having shrouding detail on either side of said dome). The "dual headlight" is accomplished by some masking on the headlight lens (simulating the two bulbs of the prototype).

Large DomeDual Headlight

The locomotive shell and chassis are all metal. The chassis is comprised of a silver upper half screwed to a blackened lower half. It is not split-frame (IE, wires are used to move track current around rather than the chassis itself). The motor is a square / closed-sided can with dual flywheels (and presumably the same 3-poler used in Bachmann's other locomotives of similar vintage) -

Wires from the motor, the engines and the pilot-mounted / directional headlight run back to a PC board mounted on the back end of the chassis (eight wires in total). A six-wire harness plugs into pins on the tender PC board, with the wiring then running forward to the locomotive (where it is soldered to the back end of the PC board). Current from the engines flows out the PC board (via a pair of screws) into an electrically isolated extension screwed to the rear of the main chassis assembly. This piece is split-frame and conducts positive and negative current into the drawbar post (where it flows into stiff metal wires in the tender drawbar and ultimately into the tender PC board). Excluding the ones with traction tires, all of the drivers provide pickup (with current flowing from the drivers into the split-frame engine assemblies, and then to the PC board via the aforemention quartet of wires). The pilot and trailing trucks are electrically neutral. The pilot coupler is an EZ Mate (a pair of Rapido-style couplers are also included in the box for those who wish to go that route).

The center pair of driversets on each engine are geared (and with all the gearing being plastic). Each engine has one geared driverset that is equipped with traction tires. All of the driver axles are mounted inside bearing blocks that seat inside cutouts in the engine frames. Wheels and drivers are blackened and low-profile (no problems on code-55 rails). Owing to the articulated drivers, these models can handle curves as sharp as 9.75"-radius without derailing (although given the enormous size of these models, they will probably be happiest on 19" curves and broader).

Internally, the tender in the initial (non-sound) release is similar in design to Bachmann's 2-10-2 (et al) tender -

All six wheels provide low friction pickup (via needle-point axles inside dimpled wiper cups). Sticky-uppy contacts on the wipers transfer current to flexible contacts on the tender PC board. As noted above, a wiring harness from the locomotive plugs into pins on the PC board. A simple/generic DCC decoder is soldered to contacts on the board. Said board also has an LED for the directional back-up light. The tender coupler is a chassis-mounted EZ Mate. Speaker holes are provided in the chassis for those who might wish to de-solder the stock decoder and replace it with some sort of sound decoder.

These are seriously gorgeous models with more fine detailing than you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time). OK, yes, I've read all of the complaints (ad nauseum) about Bachmann's EZ Mate couplers (and their resemblance to boxing gloves). But honestly, they really don't bother me (particularly on a locomotive this large). Frankly, I'll take big and reliable over tiny and "uncoupling every few feet" any day. I guess my only real concern with these models is that much of the detailing is simply press-fit in place, so one does have to be extremely careful about handling them (lest tiny little pieces start raining off in droves).

As for performance, well, suffice it to say that these models are absolutely perfect in every way they can be perfect. Pickup is flawless, making for extremely smooth throttle response at all levels. They creep along "one tie at a time" at the low end of the throttle, whereas the top-end speed is quite realistic. Pulling power is basically off the charts (50+ cars). And, wow, are these things ever quiet! I mean, seriously, they basically emit no sound whatsoever. Overall just truly outstanding models, and certainly one of the all-time greats of N scale steam.

That said, one potential issue with these models relates to the pilot assembly. On at least some of these (mine included), the pilot tends to ride a little high (thus rendering the front coupler somewhat useless). I'm not sure if this is a QC issue or a design issue or what. But whatever the case, since the entire assembly is plastic (held to the metal engine assembly by screws), one can address the issue by carefully applying a bit of downward pressure on the pilot in order to bend it back where it needs to be. Apart from that one issue, I've also read various anecdotal reports of assorted other factory defects (as always seems to be the case with Bachmann steam - particularly on the first runs). So, "try before you buy" whenever possible. And failing that, just save your receipts so that you can send the bad ones back to Bachmann for replacement.

DCC-Sound Version -

As noted above, EM-1's with factory-installed SoundTraxx "Econami" sound decoders were released in 2019 -

The PC board in the tender is different than the one found in the non-sound version. This new version has plug/socket connectors for the decoder (as opposed to the soldered wires of the non-sound version) -

Recommended CV settings -

CV120 Whistle = 5 (B&O 3 chime)
CV123 Exhaust Chuffs = 2 (heavy steam)
CV112 Exhaust Configuration = 128 (articulated exhaust)
CV128 Master Volume = something lower than the way-too-loud stock setting, ymmv

Here's what Bachmann has to say about them -

An articulated engine that provided tremendous power at high speeds, the EM-1 was ideal for hauling passengers and heavy loads of coal up and down the Appalachian Mountains. Using the latest N scale technology, including a new advanced Bachmann/Lenz DCC decoder with back EMF, Bachmann has crafted a finely detailed EM-1 2-8-8-4 worthy of its prototype. With its twin brass flywheels, all-wheel pickup, and traction tires, it is ready to ascend to new heights of modeling on your N scale layout.

Features -

- DCC-equipped for speed, direction, and lighting
- Die-cast boiler
- Flywheel drive
- All-tender wheel pickup
- Soft white LED headlight and backup light
- Separately applied handrails and stanchions
- Detailed backhead
- Traction tire equipped
- Chemically blackened wheels
- E-Z Mate Mark II couplers

To remove the locomotive shell, unscrew the screw back by the drawbar post (underneath the trailing truck). The shell should lift off readily at that point. To remove the tender shell, unscrew the four screws on the chassis (one on each corner). The shell should lift off at that point (although you do have to make sure that you're lifting straight up, otherwise it tends to get hung up).

Grade: A

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