The Christmas season is always a popular time in model railroading. Whether you had the classic oval of track and steam locomotive under the tree, or if that image is just a nostalgic look back on what you wished you had… model trains and Christmas really do go together.
Around this time of year, I’ll get emails from new users asking about steam locomotives in Z scale. Currently we don’t have a huge selection of steam in Z scale but we do have more options that just a year or two ago. In addition, we also have new steamers on the way.
I recently received this email from Mike Hyland, a Ztrains.com reader, and thought I’d do a very brief State of Steam article in response. First, here’s Mike’s email:
Good evening from Prince George B.C. Canada
I have been looking for a supplier of Z scale trains here to no avail. A local hobby shop says STAY AWAY! Not proven or popular. This makes me want these even more.
I am interested in steam locomotives. I build and fly electric park flyer airplanes but these small trains have me excited. Any information, or where I may find these? I want to build a Z scale system on a coffee table and be able to pass it down to my grandchildren someday. In addition, are parts available?
Sadly, we do hear of this sort of misinformation from hobby shops too often, that Z scale isn’t proven or popular. As far as being proven, Z scale has been around since 1972 so if time is any indicator, Z of course is a proven and viable scale to work in. On the popularity of Z scale, it may be true that Z scale has the smallest user base of the popular model train scales but this audience is growing and as important, more new manufacturers are regularly joining Z scale.
Now on to the question of steam in Z scale. For years, we had Marklin steam locomotives… actually for years we had Marklin locomotives period. There have been other manufacturers such as Railex, FR, Z-Modellbau and AZL in brass producing some amazing Z locomotives. These locomotives while very impressive are often a bit out of the price range of many. I’d like to look at what we have today, right now in Z scale steam locomotives, at what we in Z scale consider to be a good value.
We’ll begin with the original, Marklin. Since the beginning of Z scale back in 1972, Marklin has produced a wide variety of steamers in Z. Most of these models are of European design with a Mikado and Pacific added to appeal to the North American market. Several years back Marklin had some financial difficulties that had the effect of less Z scale models being produced, among other things. Here for example is a popular Z scale dealer and their current steam offerings: Marklin New Steam Locomotives. Another way to build a steam locomotive collection is to buy used from eBay or an independent store such as Ztrack Resale.
A couple of observations on Marklin steam locomotives. On many of the used models, you can run into a condition known as HOS or hardened oil syndrome. Early on, Marklin used lubricating oil that had the tendency to congeal and harden up over time. You can often find good deals on HOS locos but realize that they’ll need a bit of care to return to good running condition. Not a monumental task, but a task nonetheless.
Marklin locomotives come with 3 pole motors in their earlier models and 5 pole motors in the later models. These motors can run smoothly but are prone to stuttering or cogging at slower speeds. Most folks who run these motors are familiar with tapping their layout, just a bit, to get a locomotive running from a dead stop. Not terrible but not ideal either. I don’t want to put anyone off buying Marklin steam locomotives, I have several that I run often and reliably. For maximum performance, a little tweaking here and there may be required. Nothing wrong with going under the hood from time to time :)
The newer generation of steam locos in Z scale use sealed can motors located in the tender. Can motors in Z scale generally run smoother than a standard 3 or 5 pole motor and this results in improved slow speed performance. Also on the newer steam locomotives you have track power being picked up from the locomotive as well as from the tender. With a rigid frame steam locomotive, the more power pick up the better!
The downside to these newer steam locomotives is selection. Currently there is one company producing affordable steam in Z scale, this is Tenshodo. Though they do produce two different wheel configurations, a 4-8-4 Mikado-style and a 4-6-4 Hudson-style, these locos are based on Japanese locomotive prototypes. Given how well these locos perform and their reasonable price, many in Z scale are willing to accept the Japanese inspired shell and pull US freight and passenger cars with these Tenshodos.
On the horizon is the AZL (American Z Line) Mikado. This will be a true North American steamer and is expected to be released early in 2012.
As far as spare or replacement parts go, this is still a bit iffy in Z scale but like most things in the free market, consumer demand can produce results. Marklin spare parts have become a bit more difficult to get in the past few years since their financial reworking. Hopefully we’ll begin to see parts from Marklin and Tenshodo on their existing lines and AZL with their upcoming Mikado.
To sum up, while we don’t have the steam locomotive selection available in the other scales, we are seeing growth. In Z scale patience is a virtue and it looks like our steam patience is being rewarded with these new locomotives!
Category: Introduction To Z Scale