Full Version: Fox Valley Models Nscale ES44AC
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Hi Guys -

Just picked up two of these models in Kansas City Southern paint to run together lashed up and thought I'd offer my 2 cents as to their worth, look and operation. By way of a disclaimer: I'm not a real "rivet counter" kind of modeler. I'm happy with an engine that looks good and runs well, but doesn't have to be an exactly perfect rendition of the real engine.

The models I purchased were bought at Hobbyland (Graceland store) in Columbus, Ohio at a price just below $100 each. I also purchased the six pin Digitrax decoder for each and installed and tested them for basic operation right there in the store. (As an aside, Hobbyland Graceland is a great store for both HO and N scale needs, plus, they've always treated me really great although I can only visit their store once or twice a year. I'd highly suggest you visit them if you're in Columbus.)

Overall, the paint scheme is well done with only a very few mistakes compared to the prototype. The most noticeable difference is the ditch lights are painted yellow instead of black, and there's a very small area on each front hand rail on both models that isn't uniformly painted. I'd guess whomever or whatever painted the handrails had to grip the object there or the paint angle is such that another part is partially blocking the spray. In the end, it is such a small area that you really don't notice it unless you're looking for it. The top of the shell is sprayed with a bright silver color and has a uniform appearance. Both engines are identically painted, have the same decals (except for road numbers), and same shell parts attached. They also come with a small packet of tiny add-on parts like windshield wipers and grab irons that require adding to the model. These parts are small, really small, and will prove to be a challenge to install for the steadiest hand. (According to the FVM website, these parts are to be installed by drilling the correct size holes into the shell then installed. I'm not sure what size drill you'll need for that...but it's going to be a tiny one.) On one of the engines, the handrail near the cab was already unattached from the cab area and will require a tiny amount of glue to reattach and secure it in place. It didn't look like that handrail piece was ever glued in place to begin with, so maybe they just installed them when the paint was wet which allowed the handrails ends to adhere to the shell...I can't tell.

Fox Valley clearly went all out on the shell detailing. You can see the radiator fan blades beneath the grills, small detailing all over the shell, even the raised X-pattern on panels and body panels. It even appears they tried to model some diamond plate pattern to the horizontal pieces on the top of the engine and on the walkways. The scale of the detailing is done well, not too over-sized like what you might find on a Bachmann, and not too small like you see on some Kato models. These shells really do look good.

The front and rear lights are a yellow/orange light that is bright enough to see clearly, but not over powering. The ditch lights are slightly more dim than the head/rear lights with evidence of light escaping from the assembly that transfers the light beam into and around the lower shell area. The number boards are not lit, and one of them has a blemish over the last number. (You can see the blemish close up, but not from a foot away.)

It appears the couplers are MicroTrains knuckle couplers that are mounted to the lower shell below the walkways and in no way interfere with shell removal. Both engines required their rear coupler adjusted to align with the frame better to facilitate coupling. The couplers are held to the shell with a center screw, so adjustment is simple.

Removing the shell was easy, requiring little more than a firm hold and gentle rocking to remove it. The split frame design bears a strong resemblance to a Kato or Atlas large-frame engine. The addition of the 6-pin decoder receptacle made converting to dcc a five second process. Simply remove the 6-pin "plug" and install the Digitrax DZ15IN in its place. The decoder does not touch the frame or circuit board above it, and the rubber shroud that covers the rear light helps insure the two electrical components will never touch. Both decoders programmed easily with no issues. (I need to do some research to see if the KCS uses flashing or steady ditch lights when their engines are underway, then figure out how to program the decoder accordingly.)

Both engines run pretty well, but it seems they need some "break in" time running the rails. The are slightly noisier than a Kato engine, almost sounding like an Atlas 4-axle engine at times. I'm going to add some lubrication to the drive shaft area to see if that helps quiet them down a bit. The motors are well matched and during a few laps around the layout, there was little evidence of pushing or pulling between the two coupled engines. Much like the Kato's, I don't see the need to spend time speed-matching these loco's, they run well together right out of the box. The truck gearing is lubricated, but not overly so.

My only real complaint of the model is the detailing on the trucks. FVM seemed to take a great deal of effort designing the shell, but stopped trying on the trucks. They lack the crisp detailing and molding of a Kato-produced truck (I compared the Kato SD70ACe to the FVM ES44AC's and the differences are very apparent.) The hobby store also had two of these engines in UP's colors and the trucks on that model really looked bad. They are molded in a lighter shade of grey than the component pieces of the UP model and clearly show very little detailing effort. The KCS trucks are black, which helps hide the lack of sharp molding detail. I might try to scribe around some of the larger components of the truck's molded features to help give the appearance of various pieces assembled together - rather than the "one piece" molded assembly it looks like now. I think a light spray of gloss black over the trucks would have helped their appearance. Since the whole engine looks "factory new" and just painted, why not make the trucks look the same, which could help highlight the detailing just a bit.

So overall, I think they're a great looking offering from Fox Valley. At a price point below $100 they're a good value. They have by far the best dcc conversion process - it couldn't be easier or simpler. My only negative is the truck detailing...which if the trucks are black, you won't really see all the much.

I've got the Norfolk Southern version on order and due out next month, and it will run with these two KCS versions. In the mean time, I'll run these two KCS engines and revisit this unofficial review to see if there's need to add more information.
Hi Herc---good for you on your recent purchases.I did a Google search on the "Fox Valley ES44AC" and was able to find a lot of information on these locomotives,including some good photos of their entire roster selection---they also have a Canadian National version---very nice and you also got a great deal as Fox Valley has a suggested price of $120.Even though I model in a different scale and time era,I sure would be interested in these beauties if I was into N-scale.Thanks for the update and don't forget if you're ever up in the Great White North it would be great to meet you---all the best---Nutbar
A review update and correction: I mentioned the number boards are not illuminated and that is partially correct. The front boards are illuminated, while the rear ones are not (or they're so dim they don't appear to be illuminated). Sorry for the confusion. After running each engine separately and paired, the engine performance has improved slightly, or at least they're starting to sound better with less growl. The only thing is, when MU'd as a pair, every now and again they'll loose the dcc signal and stop on the tracks until the throttle is repositioned, then start back up again. I'm guessing the culprit is my track, not the 6-pin dcc decoder or the engines. Although, I haven't found the track cause, it makes the most sense that there's a track connection problem. I haven't noticed this sudden stoppage when the engines run separately on different throttles, only when MU'd together on one throttle.

Thanks Nutbar! I fly all over, and make a stop in Canada now and again and will certainly keep that in mind. Cheers

I have not seen the Canadian Pacific engine in person yet, but I'm guessing that would be a smart looking engine. I have the Kato AC4400 and Athearn's CN SD70 version from a few years back, both look pretty nice, but I think this Fox Valley version would look the best when compared to them.