Life-Like (China) EMD BL2

Introduced: 1992, revised 2001

There are two different versions of this model. And apart from the shells (which are virtually identical), they share very little else in common.

The first version was the fourth in a series of nice looking, decent running and (most importantly) affordably priced Life-Like locomotive models (all manufactured in China). Throughout the 1990s, the same basic chassis design employed in this model would eventually be recycled (more or less) in numerous other "wallet friendly" Life-Like models - GP38-2, F7, F40PH, FA-2/FB-2, and GP18. It was a good niche for Life-Like at the time - filling the void between Bachmann's line of cheapie trainset junk and the nice-but-expensive offerings from Atlas and Kato.

The chassis is all plastic and quite light. Ala-carte weights plunked atop each of the truck towers provide most of the model's weight. The motor is an open-sided, skew-wound, 5-poler. All eight wheels are geared and provide pickup (no traction tires). Current is transferred from the trucks to the motor via miles of wiring (two wires per truck). Apart from the brass worms, all the gearing is plastic. The driveshafts are plastic with springs in the middle. Couplers are truck-mounted Rapidos (open pilots). The wheels are blackened. They're also low-profile, so no problems on Code-55 track.

One noteworthy difference in this mechanism (at least as compared to the previous three in the line) is that the plastic "lids" have been left off the worm gear towers. I'm not really sure why, but speculation is that it was simply a cost/time-saving measure on Life-Like's part. Apparently they felt that said lids weren't really necessary.

The lighting in this model is kind of interesting. A single bulb is mounted behind the motor, with the light being transferred fore and aft via light-conducting plastic inside the shell. Boy, just when you think you've seen it all!

Now, I'm not going to blow smoke up your skirt and try to tell you that these models are even in the same ballpark as an Atlas or a Kato (either in looks or performance). But for what they are (affordable), they're quite respectable. They're not noisy, throttle response is smooth, pulling power is good, pickup is great (no stalls), and slow-speed creep is nice (although the top-end speed is off the charts). Shell detailing and paint aren't terribly fine, but for what they cost (about a third the cost of an Atlas or Kato model of that era), they were a good value (especially as compared to the godawful offerings from Bachmann and the like).

Ironically, these models employ virtually the same chassis/mechanism design used by Model Power/Mehano in some of their late 1980s diesel models (C-420, et al). Not surprisingly, performance is quite similar.

A redesigned version of this locomotive was released in 2001. The shell remained pretty much unchanged from the first version, but with a few noteworthy new features - namely, printed number boards, full pilots, and shell-mounted couplers (Rapidos on the first run, Accumates on later runs) -

The mechanism was completely redesigned to include most of the "modern" goodies - IE, split-frame metal chassis, low-friction drive, bi-directional LED lighting, etc. On the downside, this model is not even remotely DCC-Ready (Life-Like always seems to be behind the curve in that regard) -

Gripes about DCC-Hostility aside, this second version is an absolutely fantastic performer - super smooth, super quiet, excellent throttle response, great slow-speed creep, pulling power to spare, etc.

Removing the shells on these models is pretty simple - just stick a couple of small screwdrivers (or toothpicks or whatever) between the shell and chassis and the shell should lift right off.

Grades: B (first version) and A (second version)

First version reviewed: 5/92 Model Railroader ("Life-Like's N scale model of this unusual engine follows on the heels of the firm's popular HO scale BL2. Both of these models were made in China. The body is a finely detailed injection-molded styrene casting that checks out dead-on compared to (prototype drawings)... The body shell is easily removed by spreading the fuel tank sides, and pulling the frame out by the rear truck. Two big weights more or less fall out. The frame is plastic, but cleverly reinforced by the metal fuel tank casting. The open-frame motor has a five-pole, skewed armature that turns quite smoothly. The drive shafts are springs, which, in theory at least, should smooth out the flow of power. The drive system is what we usually see in N scale; gear towers built into the trucks and turned by a worm. All the wheels pick up electricity. They're chemically darkened and check out perfectly for gauge... The flanges are about .010" too deep, a slight cosmetic problem only. All eight wheels pull, but there are no traction tires... The engine has a 1.5-ounce drawbar pull, equivalent to about 34 free-rolling cars on a straight and level track... Life-Like's N scale BL2 is an accurate, good-running locomotive that continues this firm's commendable trend toward better quality. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder, and the BL2 is an interesting and distinctive prototype that sort of grows on you. WM, B&A, Monon, FEC, C&O, MP, CRI&P, B&M, WM (Speed), Undec. $35")

Revised version reviewed: 12/01 Model Railroader- "Life-Like introduced an N scale BL2 back in 1982, and a pretty good one at that, but this new model is entirely new and improved under the hood. The older model featured a plastic frame, large lead weights over each gear tower, and pickup wires connecting the trucks to the motor. (Such wires were always prone to breaking.) The new version offers an all-metal split frame for better parts alignment, equating to better performance. Electrical pickup is via metal strips contacting metal plates that retain the drivers... Life-Like's new model is made in China and the body shell, which was crisply detailed and accurate to begin with, remains virtually the same. It checks out dead-on against drawings... Illuminated number boards have been added... and new pilots accomodate body-mounted couplers... Removing the body shell is a simple matter of spreading the sides and lifting it off. The vertically split frame holds the motor and drive shafts in precise alignment and is easy to disassemble. Just pull off the fuel tank, remove the two screws, and pry the halves apart with a small screwdriver. (Note that plastic bushings isolate the halves electrically.)

"The lights are pale yellow LEDs mounted to PC boards that bridge the frame halves. The motor is a five-pole, skewed-armature, open-frame type that is held in position by a plastic cage. This is a particularly good feature (also found on Atlas and Kato N scale engines) for those wishing to convert to DCC as it means the motor is already isolated electrically... There is no provision for installing a DCC decoder... Each end of the motor sports a brass flywheel that the driveshafts plug into. In typical fashion for N scal locomotives, brass worms drive a set of gears in each truck frame. Relief on the truck sideframes is rather shallow and the brass axle retainers peek through... A simple but nice improvement over previous engines I've looked at is that the contact strips are secured and don't fall out at the slightest provocation when you're reassembling the locomotive. All the drivers were in gauge... The flanges are deep, about twice the standard, and the wheels are not blackened. Performance is excellent, very smooth and quiet with a broad control range. It proved interesting to go back to my May 1992 review of the earlier engine. The weight is about the same, but the top speed is down from a sizzling 177 mph to a much more reasonable 94. At six volts the old engine ran 93 mph, the new one makes 36. With its 1.1 ounces of drawbar pull, the BL2 should haul about 26 cars on straight, level track. This is Life-Like's fourth straight N scale metal frame locomotive (following the SW7, FA-1, GP20 and C-Liner), so it looks like the company's trend toward higher quality N scale locomotives is here to stay. This is a superb model. B&A, B&M, C&O, CRI&P, WM. $65"

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