This was the first American prototype steam locomotive produced in N-scale (sorry, Lone Star's rubber-banded wonder don't count). Design-wise, this model has much in common with Rivarossi's 2-8-2 Mikado and 4-6-2 Pacific models (not to mention a similar evolution and history). Atlas was the original importer for all of these models and continued to offer them up until 1977 when they severed their relationship with Rivarossi. After that, Con-Cor took over as the importer and offered the trio (with minor modifications) for many years. Due to the bankruptcy and subsequent liquidation of the Rivarossi Company in February of 2006, this model has been discontinued.
All of the Atlas versions (identified by their clear plastic boxes with blue plastic inserts) have somewhat iffy frames (constructed out of something called "Zamac"), which has a reputation for being quite brittle (especially where the motor screws to the chassis), as well as being prone to heat-related warping and out and out crumbling. No, they don't all have these problems, but enough of them do to merit the reputation (I've certainly run into plenty of crumbling/cracked frames on these myself over the years).
The Atlas versions also have a very poor quality can motor which was prone to melting down (depending on the year it was made, the motor housing might be black or silver, but regardless of the color the quality is suspect). Right-rail current comes from the right-side tender wheels (via axle wipers), and left-rail current comes from the left-side drivers on the locomotive. All of the rest of the wheels are electrically neutral. Unfortunately, tender current is routed to the locomotive by way of a notoriously unreliable stiff metal wire on the tender drawbar -
All four driver axles are geared and all of the gearing is metal. Two of the right-side drivers are equipped with traction tires. A non-directional headlight is mounted to the front of the chassis. The pilot coupler is a dummy (fixed/non-opertational) knuckle. The tender coupler is a truck-mounted Rapido. The wheel flanges are oversized, so these models will not operate on Code-55 rails.
Following the 1977 switch to Con-Cor, these models continued to be available in the same boxes that Atlas used (although the paper insert was changed to denote Con-Cor as the new importer). The models remained unchanged for at least several years after the switch.
Starting in the 1980's, Con-Cor began packaging these models in large cardboard boxes with foam inserts. Some of said packaging (circa 1989) proclaimed a "new motor" to be found within. The one I have does indeed have a different looking motor (black instead of silver), but it's still a "can" job, so one wonders just how different it really is. I will say that my 1980s Goat is smoother, quieter and has better slow speed performance than my 70s job, but that might just be a factor of age. That's one of the problems with trying to rate old locomotives - a particularly bad/good example can skew one's perception of the whole lot.
Along with the motors, the composition of the chassis metal was also upgraded/improved around this time. The old brittle/crumbly/warpy stuff was replaced with a more reliable mixture - appearing a bit shinier than the old brew (note- despite whatever changes might have been made to the composition of the chassis, the actual configuration of the mechanism has never changed).
Circa the mid-1990's, Rivarossi started installing "open frame" 3-pole Mashima motors in their 2-8-2 and 4-6-2 models (additionally, the wheels were "blackened"). Unfortunately, these modifications were never applied to the 0-8-0.
I've read various reports that the later Con-Cor versions of the 0-8-0 had more add-on details than the earlier versions. However, I've never come across any actual examples of an 0-8-0 so-equipped, and at this point I remain unconvinced that any such modifications ever existed.
At the end of the day, these are pretty decent looking models (for their era). And setting aside the crumbly-chassis and melty-motor problems for a moment, I'd say that overall this model is capable of being a decent performer. The starting speed is higher than we'd like to see nowadays, but other than that, some of them do seem to run OK. At this point in history it basically comes down to the luck of the draw - if you can find one that was put together correctly and hasn't aged too badly, you might just get a decent runner. However, based on my experiences purchasing and testing these, I definitely rate the later (1990s onward) Con-Cor imports higher than any of the earlier versions. And if you're looking at purchasing an Atlas 0-8-0 off of eBay (or wherever), your chances of actually getting a "good 'un" are fairly slim at this point.
Back in the 1970s, a Detroit-area company called "Flint Models" produced brass shells for the Atlas/Riv C-Liner, 0-4-0, 0-8-0 and 4-6-2 models, along with Arnold's 0-6-0. The original concept was to improve traction/operation, what with the added weight allowing the engine to pull more and maintain better electrical contact. Rumor has it that these Flint shells were actually "lost plastic" castings, IE a plastic shell was destroyed for each brass mold produced. From what I've been told, the shells were actually made in Canada, and at some point the boys over at Flint actually got caught smuggling the brass across the border and went out of business rather suddenly.
More Trivia -
Sometime in the mid-to-late 80's, a large cache of these locomotives (along with Rivarossi Mikados and Pacifics) was discovered in the Atlas warehouse in New Jersey. Presumed to be non-running, they were all sold with a disclaimer sticker (pictured below) attached to the boxes -
From what I'm told, most (if not all) of them were purchased by Bob's Train Repair in PA. I guess the idea there was to tune them up and sell them and get rich. However, most of them wound up simply getting dumped on eBay during the early 2000's (with lots of ten or more locomotives going for practically nothing).
Grade: C (for the Atlas and early Con-Cor imports) and B (for the later Con-Cor imports).
Reviewed: 6/68 Model Railroader ("This model is the first American-prototype steam engine made available in N scale. It closely follows the proportions of the prototype and for the most part the scale dimensions as well. (The tender is nearly 3 feet shorter than the prototype.) The wheels scale 51" in diameter as compared to 58" on the prototype, but this is done to accommodate the model flanges. Tender wheels scale 30" against the 33" prototype dimensions. The ready-to-run model comes painted and lettered for IHB, no. 2112, or ATSF, no. 2111. The Santa Fe acutally did not have such engines. The engine and tender superstructures are highly detailed plastic moldings with all details cast on. The engine frame is metal... The drive is smooth and quiet; our samples tended to lurch when starting... Wheel flanges are .040" deep on our samples. This is slightly over... standards.... Two of the drivers have friction tires... Switchers need working couplers on both ends to be fully effective, but because of little space available, the front coupler of this engine is a dummy... Our test sample exhibited good control once the engine was in motion. Starting tended to be of the jackrabbit variety. The model will handle around 30 cars... We are glad to see this good-looking, neatly designed locomotive on the market. Price: $16.98")