Dedicated to the S Gauge American Flyer Trains of A. C. Gilbert! header image 2

The Big Boys Examined

January 25th, 2010 · No Comments

We dreamed of having the K-line O gauge version of the Big Boy remade into S, then early in 2008 Lionel announced that they were doing just that, complete with TMCC. It was presumed (and correctly so) that much of original K-line engine tooling would be used on the new S gauge version. (The K-line engine was not strictly scale reportedly 1/60th scale, give or take).

Lionel Big Boy vs Sunset Models Big Boy – Photo courtesy Bob Conner

I put my Big Boy on order early, and prepared to wait, just as I had for my Mikado a couple years before. At the April 2008 York meet, I eagerly went to the Lionel booth and looked for the engine, but it was not there, and it wasn’t at the October meet either. Then in 2009 there were rumors of May delivery, which moved to summer and then to fall. At October 2009 York there she finally was, running at the Lionel booth. Finally in December, the Big Boys started to be delivered, but after nearly a two year wait, not all owners are completely happy with the product.

I love my Lionel Big Boy, I can’t say it any clearer. But having said that, my Big Boy had a few problems as delivered. The tender derailed on S-Helper S-trax switches, there are a couple stiff and visible wires hanging down on the trailing truck, and the knuckle coupler sticks when trying to close it. Also the tender has tipped over onto its side a couple of times, and appears to be top heavy. In fact, Carl Tuveson now has a web page that seeks to catalog all of the engine’s defects, and provide solutions.

For me, satisfactory performance of the engine has been a matter of altering my layout, while having to debug the engine as well. I was able to easily fix my tender derailing problem by moving the flanged wheels on the tender, a solution mentioned at Carl’s site. Keeping the tender upright will require you to make sure all of your track work is up to snuff. I had to make a number of changes and repairs to my layout before the beast would run around with ease. I had expected to have to work on my tunnels and curves, to provide the necessary clearance for the engine to swing out over the track, but I was real surprised when the engine failed to clear my railroad bridge in my over under layout, so that meant raising the bridge a bit.

Lionel sought to deliver an engine that would run on most of our layouts, which means negotiating 20 inch Flyer radius curves and the articulated drivers navigate these curves with ease. The engine has sound that is impressive! We have not had in S before, an engine that really had enough room in it to have a decent sized speaker. Compared to the sound in the Mikados which was certainly adequate, the Big Boy’s sound is richer and fuller. I love the whistle, and let me tell you, this beast can really put out some smoke! I have never had a toy engine that felt so real on the layout. Yup, it’s a toy. It is not a highly detailed scale model, but for us ham handed big kids, we can pick it up without having parts break off!

There are already those who are kit bashing the engine, modifying the tender to trucks for better scale, and I even heard of someone who is planning to build a complete replacement tender for their toy, ah model. There are many different opinions as to what modifications can make the engine better, but it is certainly nice that we have this wonderful engine available for us to modify.

Some have pointed out that an engine that retails for $799 should really not have the problems that have been seen with this product, and I couldn’t agree more. It certainly is not plug and play at this point. If you want to just take an engine out of the box, put it onto your tracks and have it run perfectly the first time, this engine is not for you. But if you have always wanted a Big Boy, and don’t mind adjusting the engine and your layout some, this engine can be nothing short of spectacular!

Tags: Main Line · New Products

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