These models (deignated by BLI as "F3 Phase 2A" and "F7 Phase 1") are sold individually or in A/B sets (with the B units being non-powered dummies). The powered units all come with factory-installed "Paragon3" DCC-Sound decoders and support for BLI's "Rolling Thunder" external sound system. Like the rest of BLI's diesel lineup, these are very nice looking models (for the most part). However, performance is a bit problematic (to say the least).
Internally, these models share a (more or less) similar design to other BLI diesels of similar vintage -
The chassis base is a flat chunk of metal (to which everything else attaches/screws). A large metal bracket (under which is found the motor and drivetrain) screws to the top of the chassis base. The motor is an open-sided 5-poler with skew-winding (held in place by a plastic saddle that sandwiches between the two metal chassis pieces). Each motorshaft is equipped with a small brass flywheel. Plastic driveshafts connect the flywheels to the brass worms which are mounted inside of plastic brackets clipped to the top of the chassis base. Bearing blocks are slotted into said brackets (one on each side of the worm). "A" units have a plastic cab interior detail clipped to the forward worm bracket. A plastic fuel tank detail is clipped to the bottom of the chassis.
The decoder board is screwed to the top metal bracket. And oh boy, wires wires everywhere - wires from the pickup contact strips, wires to the motor, wires to the speaker, and wires to the headlight/mars light/numberboard LED board. The LED board is mounted on a plastic bracket that clips to the front of the chassis base (F0 controls the headlight and numberboard lights, whereas F7 controls the mars light). All wiring to/from the decoder board is connected to plugs that plug into sockets on either end of the decoder board. The large blue wire is the antenna for the "Rolling Thunder" sound system (held in place with a piece of tape and insulated from the decoder board by a piece of bubble wrap). The speaker is rectangular and mounted inside of a plastic shroud that loosely mounts to the back of the chassis base.
Pickup is provided by all eight wheels. The axle-ends insert into holes (as opposed to dimples) in the axle wipers. Extensions off the top of the axle wipers transfer current to wired contact strips mounted inside the chassis base. The trucks clip inside of the plastic worm brackets and pop on and off easily. The truck sideframes have a number of separate press-fit detail parts.
Powered "B" units are the same as "A" units in most respects. However, the chassis base is different (squared off at the front rather than rounded). And as one would expect, there is no LED board or cab interior -
The chassis for the non-powered "B" units consists of the two metal parts (base and top bracket) along with the plastic worm brackets (needed so that the trucks have something to clip to). The upper metal bracket can be safely removed (to reduce the model's weight and make it less of a boat anchor) -
The wheels are blackened and low-profile (no problems on Atlas Code-55 rails). There are no traction tires. All four axles are geared and all gearing (apart from the worms) is plastic. All of the gearing comes rather heavily lubricated (or at least it did on mine). Couplers are MTL 1015's. Except for the forward coupler on "A" units, all are truck-mounted (screwed to the plastic truck sideframe/bottomplate piece). The front couplers on "A" units are screwed to the chassis.
The shell is plastic with numerous separate detail parts (horns, handgrabs, diaphragms, windows, headlight lenses, numberboards, etc) -
The DCC sound on these models is quite impressive (hey, at these prices it'd better be), although the default CV settings for volume may be a bit louder than most people will want (setting CV 133 to something between 0 and 128 will adjust the master volume). All the various sounds are advertised as being "authentic" and, as far as I can tell, they are (not that I'm any kind of expert, mind you). The enclosed speaker makes for nicely beefy sound affects (or at least as beefy as you're ever likely to find in something this small). And being "dual mode", these locos should run (and sound) the same on both DC and DCC layouts. However, non-DCC users will need a special add-on widget (pictured below) to take advantage of the non-automatic sound features (ringing the bell, blowing the horn, etc).
I'm told that the F3 shells have a rather glaring error; namely, that the top grill is flipped and thus a mirror image of what it should be.
Out of the box, these are decent enough performers (be it in analog or DCC mode). Without any cars in tow, mine ran smoothly and quietly at all speeds (I didn't even have to resort to any preemptive wheel cleaning). Slow speed creep is excellent and the top-end speed isn't too crazy. Throttle response is good and I didn't have any problems with any of the wheels derailing (even on curves as sharp as 9.75" radius).
Unfortunately, actually trying to use one of these things to pull a train around is a major exercise in frustration. First off, there's just no getting around the fact that given all the empty space and plastic under the hood these are very light models (2.75 oz). As such, on a good day my powered A unit can only handle (on level track) about 25 assorted 50' freight cars (along with its accompanying dummy B unit). Frankly, that pales in comparison to an IMRC F7 (which weighs in at 4 oz and can pull twice as many cars).
So, what's a "bad day", you ask? Well, let's talk about the truck gearbox. Frankly, the tolerances are beyond loose in there and the various gears are all free to slide around wherever and whenever they like (often winding up barely touching each other). Vis -
BLI evidently doesn't think 25% gear mesh is a problem (and hey, maybe it isn't - I'm not an engineer). However, a more dire issue on at least some of these models (including both of the ones I tested) relates to the secondary (non-axle) gears. The problem here is that the metal shafts that hold these gears are very loosely seated in the sides of the gearbox and can actually slide out of their little holes (thus allowing the gear to spin eccentrically). The net result of all these gear shenanigans is reduced pulling power and a lot of noise when things inevitably get out of whack. I've even had the top gears (the ones turned by the worms) lose gear mesh, thus transforming entire trucks into useless lumps of plastic (this is reportedly caused by the plastic lids that clip to the tops of the worm gear boxes popping loose).
As for the pickup and/or decoder, well... After about 15 hours of running time I found it nearly impossible to run mine around in circles reliably. No, it wouldn't flat out stall. Rather, it would either exhibit the occasional hiccup (quick sound cutout accompanied by a lurch), or it would gradually slow down to a virtual stop and then throttle back up all on its own (with the diesel engine sound FX making it sound like I was actually making these throttle changes myself). And trust me, I tried cleaning everything repeatedly (track, wheels, wipers, contact strips, you name it). I even disabled BEMF on the off chance that that was causing problems. But nope, all ultimately futile.
My suspicion here is that the overall light weight of these models (coupled with the fact that they only have four wheels collecting current) makes them even finickier about dirt than BLI's line of six-axle diesels (a notoriously finicky bunch in their own right). And if you're spending 15 minutes out of every hour cleaning wheels and track just to keep the trains running, well... suffice it to say, that's not what I got into this hobby for.
And then of course there are QC issues. Most of the screws on my A unit were very loose (in the case of the coupler screws, this wound up causing nigh endless unplanned uncouplings because the coupler height was way off). More alarmingly, the decoder in my powered "B" completely failed after about an hour of running time. And my gosh do these things ever run hot (like almost "burn your fingers" hot after an hour or so on the rails).
So yeah, not good. I guess if you get one that has good truck gears (IE, the secondary gear shafts aren't sliding around every which way) and you're willing to go the extra mile keeping everything clean and shiny, then these might be adequate (albeit anemic) runners. But given the costs involved, I really can't recommend them (not in a world where there are so many other better EMD F options). Having to buy (and then return) several locomotives in order to find a "good apple" might've been tolerable back in the days when new locomotives cost $40, but now that MSRP's have moved north of $200? Not so much.
EMDs F3s began showing up on the rails just as World War II was ending. As the wartime restrictions were being lifted, a tremendous burden was placed on the railroads as economic prosperity began to take off across the U.S. The days of the glorious steamers were numbered as many railroads were in dire need of motive power replacements. Add the economic advantages the F3s offered to the railroads, and the rest is history. Progress is always served. The 1500 horsepower F3s were remarkably proficient at both heavy freight as well as fast-passenger service. With a body design that defines what many consider to be the most attractive diesel ever produced, the F3 offered a large canvas for the wonderfully imaginative and colorful paint schemes that many railroads proudly utilized to show off their passenger trains. EMD was to build 1107 A units and 694 B units before production was changed to the newer F7s in February of 1949.
The F7 was the fourth model in GM-EMDs successful line of F unit locomotives, and by far the best-selling cab unit of all time. In fact, more F7s were built than all other F units combined. It succeeded the F3 model in GM-EMDs F unit sequence, and was replaced in turn by the F9. Final assembly was at GM-EMDs La Grange, Illinois plant or GMDs London, Ontario facility. The F7 differed from the F3 primarily in internal equipment (mostly electrical) and some external features. Its continuous tractive effort rating was 20% higher (e.g. 40,000 lb (18,000 kg) for an F7 with 65 mph (105 km/h) gearing, compared to 32,500 lb (14,700 kg) for an F3 with the same gearing.) A total of 2,366 cab-equipped lead A units and 1,483 cabless-booster or B units were built. (Note: the B unit is often referred to as an F7B, whereas the A unit is simply an F7. For clarity, BLI refers to A units as F7A.) Many F7s remained in service for decades, as railroads found them economical to operate and maintain. However, the locomotive was not very popular with yard crews who operated them in switching service because they were difficult to mount and dismount, and it was also nearly impossible for the engineer to see hand signals from a ground crew without leaning way outside the window. As most of these engines were bought and operated before two-way radio became standard on most American railroads, this was a major point of contention. In later years, with the advent of the road switchers such as the EMD GP7, F units were primarily used in through freight and unit train service where there was very little or no switching to be done on that line of road.
Model Features -
• ABS Body with Heavy Die Cast chassis for maximum tractive effort
• Two Operating MicroTrains #1015 or Compatible Couplers
• Separately Applied Handrails, Ladders, Whistle, and Brass Bell
• Will Operate on Code 55, 70, and 80 Rail
• Recommended Minimum Radius: 9.75 inches
• NEW Paragon3 Sound & Operation System featuring Rolling Thunder with authentic sounds and prototypical operation in both DC and DCC environments
• Integral DCC Decoder with Back EMF for Industry Best Slow Speed Operation in DC and DCC
• Precision Drive Mechanism engineered for continuous heavy load towing and smooth slow speed operation
• Premium Caliber Painting with Authentic Paint Schemes
• Prototypical Light Operation with Golden White LED Headlight, Mars Light
DCC/Sound Features -
• Operates in DC & DCC (use DCMaster for DC sound)
• Record & Play Operation - Records and plays back sounds and movements once or repeatedly for automatic operation
• 16-bit Sample Rate for exceptional high frequency sound clarity
• Alternate Whistle / Horn where applicable for locomotive with air horn and steam whistle - both the main whistle and alternate can be easily played
• Adjustable bell ringing interval for faster or slower bell
• Numerous user-mappable functions with available keys
• Passenger Station Ambient Sounds - Controlled with Function Key
• Freight Yard related radio chatter - Controlled with Function Key
• Lumber Yard Ambient Sounds - Controlled with Function Key
• Farm related radio chatter - Controlled with Function Key
• Crew Radio Communications - Controlled with Function Key
• Maintenance Yard related radio chatter - Controlled with Function Key
• Demo Mode for display and demonstrations
• Simple Programming with Integral DCC Decoder
• Individually adjustable sound volumes for most effects
Trivia - BLI's F3B and F7B shells are reportedly a good fit for Kato F3/F7 chassis (a good way to power a dummy B unit).
Shell Removal -
Four little plastic "claws" molded into the inside of the shell clip into small indentations in the chassis. So, to remove the shell simply spread the sides apart a bit to free up the claws. The shell should come off readily at that point (on "A" units you will also need to finagle the front coupler through the hole in the pilot).
Grade: F (although I guess somewhere around a C if the truck gearing isn't messed up)