Athearn re-introduced the MDC/Roundhouse line in 2006. It has an upgraded drive but the 4-4-0 has been off the market for a while. The 2-6-0 is available and can be converted. This is my 2007 review.
This is the 4-4-0 based on the old Roundhouse tooling. It has sound in both DCC and DC. The DC sound is controlled by a handheld radio controller.
Click image above to enlarge
The locomotive has reasonably good detailing. The whistle and generator are so-so but can be easily replaced. It is "black" black and difficult to photograph.
This is the B&O version with the lettering removed. I used Polly Scale Easy Lift Off. There is still a residual image left in the black paint but I will use #2000 grit to smooth the surface on the cab and tender. I really like the air brake detail.
The side rods and wheels are nicely blackened. and there is glazing in the windows which is a bit heavy. It has McHenry #41 couplers.
Rubber traction tires are found on the front pair of drives and electrical pickup on the rear pair.
The tender picks up electricity on all the wheels with a really good system through the wheel journals.
The locomotive performs well over rough dirty track. Here it goes over an uncleaned 20 year old Atlas Snapswitch and uneven track mockup on the layout without faltering. The transition is from 1/4 thick cork roadbed to plywood in six inches of travel.
The locomotive will traverse an occasional 15" radius. I had to realign a piece of 18 radius Snaptrack that had a kink at the joint. That is the only difficulty I observed in traversing the old Pacific Coast Air Line's dirty and electrically challenged trackwork. It will roll with no problems over Atlas crossings, a bugaboo for small locomotives.
The locomotive will pull 24 oldtime cars easily, mostly new and old heavy Roundhouse old timers with a Labelle 60' furniture car, and few IHC flats and gondolas.
How are they overall?
The 4-4-0 is a retool of the old MDC/Roundhouse kit components offered as a ready to run model. The new boiler is hollow metal and has a working headlight. The domes are now separate castings.
It has the good 5 pole skewed armature offered in the later kits. The gears are new and "crisper" than the old kit gears. The electrical pickup is now really great picking up on all tender wheels and two of the drivers. The addition of the traction tires makes it a strong puller something lacking in most 4-4-0's. There is no traction tire wobble.
The model has 66" drivers and a nine foot driver wheelbase. The overall length is 58 scale feet.
How does it sound?
The MRC sound decoder is crap, typical MRC. The MRC decoder will eventually fail and you will need to install a mini-Tsunami with a better 1.1 inch (28mm) speaker. Yes even the speaker is crap. Too bad you have to pay $50 bucks for the crappy MRC decoder and an inferior speaker. The locomotive is not available decoderless.
How does it perform?
Both of the 4-4-0's I purchased were smooth performers out of the box on both DC and DCC. I use DCC. Adjusting the DCC values for starting voltage and acceleration were really easy and made their good performance even better.
I really like these locomotives and look forward to more of the Roundhouse steamers. It is good to see a small 4-4-0 from the close of the nineteenth century available. Too bad it is only available with the crap MRC sound decoder. The undecorated models only come with the cylindrical headlights and a coal load.
The volume of sound can be decreased to a normal level by covering the speaker holes with tape.
What can be done with the 4-4-0?
The Athearn 4-4-0 can be co-mingled with the IHC/AHM/Pola 4-4-0 to make an 1885-1890 4-4-0. Here it is shown as an 1870's OO/HO 4-4-0.
Put a Soundtraxx Tsunami in a Roundhouse loco?