First Look Review
by: Frederick Boucher [ ]
Originally published on:
Two years ago the model railroad community fans of the FP7 were abuzz over Athearn’s announcement of FP7s for their acclaimed Genesis series. Since then some 64 models in 7 roadnames have been released (many quickly selling out) or have been announced. The models are available as A units, and as A and B paired unit sets. Both DC and DCC versions are available. The models are available for the Milwaukee Road, Pennsylvania Railroad, Reading, Southern Pacific, St. Louis Southwestern-Cotton Belt, Union Pacific, and Western Pacific.
Electro-Motive Division FP7
The EMD FP7 is a 1,500 horsepower (1,100 kW), B-B dual-service passenger and freight-hauling diesel locomotive powered by the 567B 16-cylinder diesel engine. The FP7 was essentially EMD's F7A locomotive extended by four feet to give greater water capacity for the steam generator for heating passenger trains. The addition is behind the first body-side porthole, and can be recognized by the greater distance between that porthole and the first small carbody filter grille.
EMD E unit passenger engines were very successful, but their A1A-A1A wheel arrangement degraded their hauling performance over mountains. The B-B wheel arrangement of an F-unit “dug in” to the rail better. Several railroads modified their F7s with steam generators and extra water tanks, and EMD eventually recognized the problem and added the stretched FP7 to its catalog.
Between June 1949 and December 1953 General Motors Electro-Motive Division and General Motors Diesel built 376 cab-equipped lead A units. They were delivered to some three dozen railroads in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. No FP7 B booster units were sold, instead 88 regular F7B units were ordered with FP7 A units. The B units had no cabs, and thus had more room for water and steam generators. The FP7 and its successor, the FP9, were offshoots of GM-EMD's highly successful F-unit series of cab unit freight diesels.
When the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (CMStP&P RR, reporting mark MILW, “The Milwaukee Road”) built to the Pacific ocean, it had to cross the Rockies and the Cascades. These mountains were difficult for steam locomotives, so the Milwaukee embarked on a massive program of electrification. Eventually the diesel-electrics trumped those electric locomotives, and the FP7 was very good at cresting the summits.
Important FP7 data:
Quantity Built: 376
Powerplants: 567B 16-cylinder diesel engine
Weight: 258,000 lbs
Tractive Effort: (starting) 64,000 lbs; continuous 40,000 lbs (at 9.3 mph)
Wheel Diameter: 40 inch
Total Length: 54 ft. 8 in.
Height: 15 ft
Several FP7s are preserved in running condition, a few on point of excursion trains around the United States and Canada.
Genesis line FP7 A/B set
Athearn pride shows in their packaging. Athearn Genesis models are packaged in a sturdy gloss blue two-piece box. This A and B set is in separate boxes which are contained in an open end sleeve. Each box is decorated with a gold embossed Genesis logo. The models are securely held in an openside, form-fitted wraparound cradle which provides a base, ends, and top; the cradle snaplocks via a tab to an end. Within the cradle the models are protected from scuffing by foam blocks and sheets. The cradle is then ensconced inside a clear plastic sleeve, and a piece of styrofoam supports the base of the cradle. The sleeve snugly sets inside a cutout in a thick foam tray in the box. Finally, a thin foam sheet protects all of the above from the inside of the box lid. These models are superbly protected from shock and jostling.
The locomotives are fully assembled and ready to operate. The FP7 continues the tried and true Athearn model engineering concept. You have an injection molded styrene body shell secured upon a die-cast underframe by tabs and screws. The underframe has sides that provide weight for traction, and structural integrity for the body shell. The frame is different for the A-unit, B-unit, and FP unit. Mounted on the underframe is the dynamically balanced five pole skew wound motor with dual flywheels. This transmits power to both axles of each powered truck via the Genesis driveline and worm gears. Power is conducted to the motor by machined nickel plated, blackened wheels. All eight wheels pick up power. None have traction tires.
The body shell is molded as a single piece. It is tightly secured to the frame with tabs and the coupler screws.
My inspection finds the model to be in conformance with NMRA Standards and Recommended Practices, with RP-25 wheels and couplers at the proper height. The models weigh 1 pound 3 ounces for the A unit, and 1 pound for the B unit. That should give you some pulling power!
Documentation includes an exploded-view parts diagram and parts list, a DCC quick-start guide, and Athearn advertisement. I did not find a formal manual or product registration card. The DCC quick-start guide lists web sites for referencing further information. It explains how to remove the body shell. This information remedies long time frustration for modelers--no company guidance for the procedure.
Athearn strives for accurate models of specific prototypes. The diagram and parts list notes Not all parts shown are applied to all models. Only those parts applicable to the prototype are included with the finished model.. All of the detail features are separately applied by the factory. This is a major improvement over Athearn's original "blue box" days of molded-on grab irons and metal handrails that you had to mount!
The body shells are manufactured by Highliners – widely regarded as the best model of an F unit ever made! Their quality is considered to have stimulated other manufacturers to get serious about good models. The molding is sharp and crisp. Fine rivet, screw and bolt details enhance plates and panels on the model. I have read several debates concerning model F unit windshield shapes, most considering Athearn the most accurate and authentic.
The difference between the FP and F design is that the FP is longer with an addition between the front porthole and the first small carbody filter grille. The longer frame created a gap between the front truck and the battery box. This void would remain empty or host a distinctive barrel-shaped water tank mounted transversely. This model has the barrel mounted between the battery boxes. The boxes have separate open grilles.
Depending on the specific railroad represented, you will find a plow on the pilot, and sunshades over the cab windows.
Carrying the chassis along the rails are detailed trucks of B-B arraignment (a pair of powdered two axle trucks) with highly detailed plastic sidesframes representing Blomberg B trucks. Brake shoes are represented. Athearn details each with separately applied brake cylinders and swing hangers, and Athearn even includes the speedometer cable. Here is one nitpicky gripe -- the brake cylinders have a noticeable seam line.
Some 50 individual detail parts adorn the model, the highlights being:
• Full-length photo-etch grille
• Separate door handles
• Metal radiator fans are seen through grilles atop the roof
• Individual window 'glass'. Further clear pieces are the front and rear number boards and headlights.
• Windshield wipers
• Detailed cab interior (no crew)
• Front and rear lift lugs
• Fine lift eyes
• Pilot steps have open steps step holes
• Fine wire grab irons adorn the shell: eyebrow grabs, ladder rest grabs, grabs for the rear step, cab entry and for entering the rear door.
• Battery box grille
• MU hose clusters and trainline airhose
• Large or small fuel tank
• Cut levers for the couplers
• Directional constant lighting
• Headlight, Mars light, and marker lights
Light unto my layout
This FP7 is equipped with a dual headlight and a rotating Mars light. It has classification lights above the number boards, and lamps on the ends of both units. They have golden-white LEDs for illumination. The cab and number boards do not illuminate. Guess you can’t have everything.
Athearn continues to equip their locomotives with plastic McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers. These are mounted to the frame and their mounting screws also secure the model body shell to the frame. They are mounted so that the coupled A and B units have a prototypical tight gap between them.
From coupler to coupler the A unit is 56 feet, the B unit is 50 feet, making the A/B set 106 scale feet long.
Livery and Markings
Athearn painting and marking of Milwaukee No.94 is incredible! A picture is worth a thousand words so I’ll let the photographs illustrate most of the detail. Notice the razor-sharp fidelity of the gorgeous maroon and orange Milwaukee livery. The model is listed as As Delivered due to the limited roadname markings when the locomotive entered service. The slightly satin paint is smooth and opaque yet does not obscure the wonderful detail. Stainless steel step kickplates and window frames appear to be hand painted. Athearn prints the stenciling found on the prototype, and some is so fine that my 20/15 corrected eyesight could not read it except in the enlarged photographs. Included are the EMD emblems and the GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION ELECTRO-MOTOR DIVISION OWNER plaque on the fuel tanks. Finally, the emblem of Hiawatha adorns the nose.
There are a couple of flaws. I am not a hard-nosed rivet counter nor “gotcha type,” so I will only note issues that I found examining the models, not those only revealed in greatly enlarged photographs. On the roof of the B unit is a chip in the paint. The B unit also suffers a chip on the rear door frame. Where a MU cluster is attached it appears someone got sloppy with the glue. A superb finish, otherwise.
Genesis models feature a factory installed SoundTraxx Tsunami dual-mode DC/DCC decoder with onboard sound. The system automatically senses whether you are powering it with a DC analog or DCC power source.
In DC analog, the model requires around 5 volts to “come to life” with sound, and 7.5 volts will start the unit in motion. The system is limited to 27 volts, damage will result above that; Tsunami is programed to protect itself at 21 volts by shutting down the motor and sound system. To further alert you of overload, the front and rear lights will flash.
The Configuration Variable (CV) is preset to automatically activate the bell and the grade crossing signal. You can adjust it to automatically sound the horn for forward/reverse travel, and for brake squeal when the units slow.
DCC functions are impressive:
* Compatible with all NMRA standard DCC systems
* True 16-bit digital processor
* Hyperdrive technology, including high-resolution speed steps, high-frequency Pulse Width Modulated drive
* Torque control
* Back-EMF speed control for slow speed operation
* Hyperlight lighting effects to simulate Mars lights, Rule 17 lighting, and directional lighting.
* Programable for either 2 digit or 4 digit address
* Programable start voltage
* Programable acceleration/deceleration rate
* Programmable top voltage
* Programmable speed steps
* Programmable individual unit sound volume
* 19 accessory sound functions
* Advanced consisting for multiple locomotives
Both units will run independently uncoupled.
I tested this model on Atlas code 83 and 100 track joined to a Peco code 100 slip switch. With the sound off the coupled units rolled smoothly and quietly over the track, quiet enough to hear the satisfying clickity-clack as the wheels passed over the frogs and points of the slip switch. This is quite pleasing as "blue box" Athearn were noisy, often referred to as "coffee grinders." At my lowest speed the loco did not slow on the switch. On tangent track the motor and drive are almost silent. The slowest speed I could achieve is 5 scale MPH. Adjusting the CV may help the model creep along even slower.
hear ye, hear ye!
The many prototype sounds simulated are crisp with the SoundTraxx system. I noticed no “tinniness” and very little distortion. During the prime mover start-up, the sound of the two units start in simultaneously. They then settle down into smooth rumbling idle. Sounds of locomotive appliances and generators increase the din. Automatic and manual sounds include:
• Throttle notching
• Brake release
• Air releases
• Radiator fans
• Engine shutdown
• Air horn
• dynamic brake
• brake/flange squeal
• coupler clash
When the throttle is increased, up revs the engine. Throttle back and there is a delay in the relaxing of the prime mover. If you have a DCC system with limited functions, you can enable an automatic signal feature, as described above in DC analog operation. You can also adjust to taste the volumes of sounds independently. SoundTraxx allows adjustable reverb, volume, auto-notching of the throttle, and manual notching
Finally, should you or your Brass Hat (a.k.a. significant other) decide silence is golden, the F8 key mutes the sound without inhibiting any of the running enjoyment.
The Genesis FP7 is an incredible model! The fidelity and amount of detailing, ease and smoothness of operation, molding, engineering, sound library and quality all make this an exceptional model. The number of railroads available means few modelers will not have the choice of a FP7 for their layout. I find the SoundTraxx Tsunami system to sound better than other sound-equipped models I have. As the saying goes, "If you have dozens of engines but only one sound-equipped locomotive, you only have one locomotive." And you can’t go wrong if that one locomotive is an Athearn Genesis. Highly recommend.
Athearn is a patriarch of the model railroad industry. Their old “blue box” RTR and kit trains are everywhere. Their Ready To Roll line is the basic product, superior to the blue box products, almost offering the same detailing and running quality as the Genesis series. Today the Athearn product line includes HO and N scale model railroad rolling stock and 1:50 (almost O scale, 1:48) die-cast vehicles. Athearn has also purchased Model Die Casting, upgrading those iconic models.
In 2004, Horizon Hobby, Inc. purchased Athearn and moved it into a state-of-the-art new facility in Carson, California. 
 Athearn website.
A Field Guide to Trains of North America, By Gerald L. Foster
The Second Diesel Spotter's Guide, by Jerry A. Pinkepank
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