Life-Like (China) Van Sweringen 2-8-4 Berkshire

Introduced: 2004

This is a very impressive locomotive, although it is not without its flaws. Looks are superb and overall performance is outstanding. Out of the box, mine ran smooth as silk and as quiet as a mouse. Pick-up is excellent and slow speed creep is top notch. And major kudos to Life-Like for going with factory-installed Micro-Trains couplers on both the tender and the pilot. On the downside, there are no traction tires, so it is not a strong puller. Any more than about 7 or 8 cars and mine starts slipping on curves and grades. Also, it's a bit light on the nose end. Consequently, the front end tends to ride up when pulling very heavy loads through curves (thus derailing the forward drivers). There are various homebrew solutions to this latter problem (packing the nose with weight and remounting the drawbar closer to the drivers to name two). Also, applying "Bullfrog Snot" to the rear driverset goes a long way towards improving pulling power.

The chassis is all-metal and split-frame. The motor is a skew-wound five-poler. A small flywheel is mounted to the cab-end of the motor. Only the rear two sets of drivers are geared (with the forward two being turned by the cranks). All gearing is plastic. All 8 drivers and all 12 tender wheels provide pickup (the pilot and trailing trucks are electrically neutral). Current is transferred from the tender to the locomotive chassis via stiff wires embedded inside the plastic drawbar. PC boards providing directional lighting are mounted inside the tender and on the front of the locomotive chassis. The wheel flanges are low-profile, so no problems on Code-55 track. There is no specific provision for DCC.

If you're wondering how to get the tender to stay connected to the locomotive (as I did), check the box - there's a little plastic pin in there that plugs into the locomotive and holds the tender drawbar in place. Also, be careful when handling these things. If you're used to manhandling locomotives from the "bad old days" (where all of the details were molded on), you're going to wind up knocking all sorts of little fiddly bits off your Berk and then spending a whole lot of time with a pair of tweezers trying to get them all back on (don't ask me how I know this).

A number of minor modifications were made to this model between the first and second runs. The pilot coupler was lowered slightly (see picture), the filament bulbs in the tender and locomotive were replaced by LEDs, and electrical pickup was added to the forward tender truck. Contrary to urban myth, traction tires were not added (too bad, that).

First-run models can be identified by their livery and road numbers (except for the "undecorated" versions - you're on your own there):

First run:

- Chesapeake & Ohio #'s 2724 and 2736
- Pere Marquette #'s 1202 and 1209
- Nickel Plate #'s 717 and 738

In 2018, Atlas purchased the tooling for the Life-Like/Walthers line of N scale models (including this 2-8-4). So, it's possible that there may yet be another production run.

Here's what Life-Like had to say about them:

- Over 50 Hand-Applied Detail Parts
- Outstanding Laser-Sharp Printing
- Authentic Painting & Lettering
- Electrical Pick-Up from Locomotive Drivers and Tender Wheels

- Slow Speed Less Than 5 Scale Miles Per Hour
- Weighted for Maximum Tractive Effort
- Blackened Nickel-Silver Wheels with RP25 Wheel Contours
- Current Draw at 12 Volts, No Load, Level Track Less Than 0.15 Amperes
- Will Operate on Code 50 Through Code 55 Track on 9.75" Radius Curves and #4 Turnouts
- 8-Wheel Drive & Electrical Pick-Up from Locomotive Drivers and Tender Wheels
- 5-Pole Skew-Wound Balanced Armature
- Precisely-Meshed Worm Gear and Spur Teeth
- Meets all NMRA Standards

Measurements - driver axle spacing: 0.450", driver diameter at flange: 0.404", driver diameter with flange: 0.445"

To remove the shell, first remove the screw underneath the pilot truck (to free up the cylinder assembly). Next, pry the cab sides apart and lift the back end of the shell up. Now the tricky part - push down on the (now freed up) cylinder assembly while simultaneously pushing the locomotive shell forward. It should eventually come off the chassis. No, this isn't much fun. And yes, the risks of damaging the shell detailing are high. So, y'know, be careful.

Grade: B

Reviewed 05/05 Model Railroader ("This great-looking N scale model of a Van Sweringen 2-8-4 Berkshire has been introduced by Life-Like. It's a smooth-running medium-size locomotive, but it's short on power as it pulls only about a dozen cars... This model closely matches prototype drawings... The model's driving wheelbase is right on thanks to slightly undersize drivers (66" instead of 68")... The lead and trailing trucks are properly spaced, but there's a lot of daylight showing under the firebox. The boiler is assembled from detailed plastic castings and more than 50 individual details including wire handrails and a brass bell. Internally, the Berkshire follow the split-frame design of most N scale locomotives. The two halves of the chassis enclose a gearbox and can motor with a flywheel inside the boiler shell. The motor is geared to both rear driver sets, which drive the others through the side rods. There are no traction tires. A directional headlight rides on a small PC board. There's no provision for DCC... All electrical pickup is through the 8 drivers and the six wheels of the rear tender truck. The tender rides on rigid-frame six-wheel Buckeye trucks and features a well-detailed plastic body with excellent rivet detail. It includes a reversible backup light. Accumate magnetic knuckle couplers are mounted at the proper height on the locomotive pilot and the rear of the tender. Our sample Berkshire started moving smoothly at a scale 3.5 mph on only 2.6 volts. It reached a realistic 60 scale mph at 7 volts, but its top speed was over 100. The model's drawbar pull was disappointing - equivalent to only 12 cars. So, when you assign this smooth runner to a train, make sure it's a short manifest freight. C&O, NPR, PM, Unlettered. $250")

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