Life-Like (China) Alco PA-1 & PB-1

Introduced: 1998 (plastic chassis version) and 2005 (metal chassis version)

During the 90's, Life-Like carved out a nice little niche for themselves by releasing a series of nice looking, good running, and (most importably) affordably-priced diesel models. This tradition continued with their 1998 PA/PB release. These models share the same basic chassis / mechanism design as Life-Like's earlier E7 and E8 models (albeit a bit shorter) -

As in Life-Like's previous 1990's diesels, these models have a relatively flimsy plastic chassis (with most of the actual heft provided by huge weights clipped over the tops of the worm gear boxes, as well as an all-metal fuel tank clipped to the bottom of the chassis). The motor is a powerful skew-wound 5-poler with dual driveshafts. All wheels provide pickup, although only ten of the twelve wheels are geared (the center axles on each truck being idlers). All gearing is plastic. A non-directional headlight is mounted atop the forward weight. The wheels are blackened and low-profile (no problems on Code-55 rails). The pilot coupler is a dummy (non-operational) knuckle mounted to the shell. The rear coupler on A units is a truck-mounted Rapido (as are both couplers on the B units).

Although a bit of a frankenstein's monster in the looks department, these mechanisms are fairly sophisticated. The pick-up scheme is of the "low friction" ilk, with current transferred to long brass contacts mounted atop the chassis. Wiring is minimal - apart from the wires for the headlight, the only other wire is a short one running from the right-side chassis contact strip up to the top motor contact. Another nice feature are the dual flywheels.

These models look and run great. Shell detailing and paint are quite fine (especially given the prices these went for). Performance-wise, they're smooth, quiet and responsive at all throttle levels. Pickup is flawless and pulling power is impressive. The giant flywheels and slow-speed gearing make these locos a joy to operate. My only real complaint with these is the couplers. At least for me, successfully converting them to Micro-Trains couplers is damned near impossible. The portion of the trucks where the couplers seat is too small for a simple drop-in conversion, and the tiny modifications necessary to make room for the MT's require some fairly sophisticated modeling skills (skills that apparently I don't posess).

PB units were also introduced in 1998 - all of which were dummies -

Making a powered PB is a simple matter - just plop the shell from a dummy B onto a powered A chassis. And if you're not going to power your "B", I'd at least recommend adding some weight to it. They're very light and tend to bounce and rattle along otherwise.

These models were reissued with an all-new mechanism in 2005 (including powered "B" units). The shells are basically the same as on the original 1998 release, with the noteable exception of shell-mounted Accumate couplers -

Other new features -

- Powerful 5-pole skew-wound motor with dual flywheels
- Heavy split frame / low friction drive mechanism
- 8-wheel drive / 12-wheel electrical pickup
- Directional LED lighting

Performance of this new mechanism is outstanding in every way, and I give Life-Like major credit for doing away with the truck-mounted (and impossible to convert) Rapido couplers. However, the lack of any kind of support for DCC is bit disappointing for a 2005 model.

Trivia - these shells are reportedly a good fit for the Kato PA chassis (a quick and easy way to make your Life-Like PA DCC-Ready).

Shell removal is pretty simple - just spread the sides apart and lift.

Grade: B (for the 1998 version) and A (for the 2005 version)

First version reviewed: 8/98 Model Railroader ("Life-Like has added to its stable of N scale locomotives with an Alco PA, both A and B units. It's a crisply molded, nicely painted engine that accurately captures the prototype's long, rakish lines. And, even better, it runs well. Life-Like's model, made in China, checks out closely against prototype drawings... The body shell is beautifully done. Particularly impressive is the subtle suggestion of the angled side bracing as seen through the grillwork. I was about to fault the model for lack of detail on the headlight housing, but looked through a magnifier first. It was there after all! The engine is very easy to take apart for maintenance. The frame is plastic, and molded-in clips toward the middle hold the motor, which is easily lifted up and out. The 5-pole open-frame motor has a skewed armature which turns freely. Plastic tubing connects the motor to drive worms at each end... the gears are plastic. Heavy metal weights over each of these towers are held in place with plastic clips that are easily removed. Four drivers per truck are powered. The wheels are chemically darkened and conformed perfectly to the NMRA standards gauge. All 12 wheels pick up electricity by means of metal plates riding atop the axles and making sliding contact to strips atop each side of the frame. This is a very positive and reliable system. With its 1.9 ounces of drawbar pull, the PA should haul about 24 passenger cars... The PB is a dummy locomotive, and Life-Like has no plans to offer a powered version. If you want a powered B unit, cut the bow off the powered PA frame and the shell will snap right on... Because Con-Cor's PA has been available for several years, a comparison seems inevitable. Certainly Con-Cor's all-metal frame - which completely fills the body shell - and excellent mechanism make it the more robust and powerful engine, but its price tag is also heftier. On detail the nod goes to Life-Like. (Meanwhile we're expecting to see Kato's new PA-1 roaring up to the arrival platform soon.) Life-Like's PA and PB broaden our choices and give us a moderately priced, good-quality model of an American classic... AT&SF, Erie, NYNH&H, NYC&SL, PRR, SP, Undec. Price: $65 (powered A), $25 (dummy B)")

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