Bachmann On30 28-ton Class B Climax
Reviewed by Chris Lane/photos by the author
Like many On30/On3 modelers I waited in great anticipation for the new Bachmann Class B Climax. Early indications were that it would be a boot-boilered prototype in the 15- to 20-ton range, which would make it a contemporary and a good companion to the tee-boiler Shay they produced in 2003. When I saw engineering drawings at the 2003 National Narrow Gauge Convention in Denver, they had decided to move to a slightly larger and more modern prototype, the straight-boilered 20- to 30-ton Class B. Now that the models are here, I am pleased to report that Bachmann has nailed the look of the prototype. The curve of the domes, the flare on the water tank and the distinctive Climax factory lettering and striping are all dead on. If you’ve never seen a prototype or model Climax operate you are in for a treat, as the side rods flail and thrash and the little flywheels spin at a dizzying rate, while the locomotive moves slowly and smoothly. This is geared-engine nirvana.
The geared locomotive type is generally credited to a Michigan lumberman named Ephraim Shay for the 1880 invention of the Shay locomotive. Frustrated with the difficulties of moving his cut timber to his mills, he patented his design in 1881 and partnered with Lima Machinery Co. (later Lima Locomotive Co.) in Lima, Ohio. At the same time, a Pennsylvania logger named Charles Scott was experiencing the same difficulties as Shay. Likewise, he developed a locomotive design and brought the design to the Climax Manufacturing Company of nearby Corry, Pennsylvania. Climax manufactured farming machinery and stationary steam engines, so they were well suited to move into the locomotive building business. They sold the first Climax locomotive in the late 1880s and went on to build some 1,100.
The original Climax was called the Class A and had a vertical boiler that fed steam to a marine-style engine. The crankshaft was along the centerline of the locomotive and drove skew bevel gears on each axle of the two sets of four-wheel trucks. This model was continuously produced and improved until the end of the company. Early models had a round water tank and a tee boiler. Later models had a square tank and wagon-top boilers. Final Class As featured an extended wagon-top boiler, steel under-frames and weighed 22 tons. The later model Class B Climaxes had two slide valve cylinders mounted along the boiler pointing down at about a 23° angle. They were connected to a small flywheel on each side of the boiler that drove a crossbox under the locomotive. The trucks continued to use the skew bevel gears, and it is believed that the Climax was the largest commercial application of such gears. Class B Climaxes had five models ranging from 20 to 40 tons when equipped with Stephenson valve gear and four models with the Walschaerts valve gear from 45 to 60 tons. The final Climax models were three-truck, 100-ton Class C locomotives with superheaters and piston valves.
Climax closed in 1928, and many writers attributed this to the company’s lack of success competing with Lima’s Shay. The reality is that Climax was always owned by a group of astute businessmen who, in seeing the gathering storm clouds of the Great Depression and the lagging locomotive sales in the 1920s, simply decided to close the doors and liquidate the assets. Lima may have built their last Shay in 1945, but they hadn’t built one for almost ten years, and had only sold eight Shays since 1929. Interestingly, the last two Climaxes sold were small Class A types, which were the same basic model they had sold since the early 1890s.
While we are in the myth-busting mode, let’s examine the perception that the Climax was inferior to the Shay. This thinking is based on overall sales, reports that engine crews disliked the Climax and that it had an unpleasant vibration and that the Shay could out-pull the Climax. Being first on the market definitely helped Shay, and of course, it had the advantage of Lima Locomotive’s large sales staff. Yet Climax competed vigorously for market share and maintained a Seattle, WA, sales office as large as Shay’s. Many companies, who owned both locomotives were said to prefer the Climax and for many years, demand for the locomotive exceeded Climax’s ability to manufacture them, so some business was lost to the completion. Old enginemen are notorious complainers, and if they cut their teeth running Shays, they usually found things they didn’t like about the “foreign” Climax. If Climaxes where on the road first, it was often the opposite story. Some people who have ridden on the few operating Climaxes still in existence report they didn’t notice any excessive vibration, while others did think they rode roughly compared with Shays and Heislers.
As to pulling ability, Shays are generally bigger and heavier than similar-sized Climaxes, and therefore can pull more. In the few recorded instances where evenly matched Shays and Climaxes worked the same road, the Climax could usually start a heavier train and keep it moving on a grade. Certainly, a Climax was able to run on tighter curves due to its symmetrical design and was less “top heavy” than Shays or Heislers. The one factor that hurt the Climax reputation was its steaming ability. Shays had a well-deserved reputation of being “free-steamers” and economical in steam use, while the Climax boiler, firebox, front-end nozzles and draft could not produce steam in the same quantities. The combination of an inexperienced fireman or a hogger who liked to run in the “corner” (full steam admitted to the cylinders on each stroke) and a bad batch of coal could make for a very long and frustrating day.
There are only 17 of these unique machines preserved worldwide, and only two are currently operational with another four having been recently operational or being readied for service in the next few years.
The model comes in the familiar dark green box and is cradled in a hard plastic insert surrounded by brass import quality foam. The model is finished in smooth black semi-gloss I find very realistic. The smoke-box and firebox are painted a dark gray graphite color. Climax employed exactly two men in its history to paint, stripe and letter their locomotives, and they had three distinctive schemes. The paint is dead-on perfect, exactly matching photos of Climaxes of this size. My sample is opaquely lettered Green-brier & Big Run Lumber Company. Each paint scheme features a distinct number on the front numberboard and rear of the tank. Mine is #6 and has a red background on the front numberboard. The bell and single-chime peanut whistle are brass colored, as is the completely legible builder’s plate and the signature Climax plate mounted on the slide valves. None of the models have numbers on the cab; that is left up to the modeler.
The model comes with three different cab styles; a single vertical-paneled wood cab like on this model, a two-panel wood cab, or a replacement steel cab. The cabs also feature a tar-papered texture correct for the prototype, and Bachmann went to the trouble to make the paint on the roof flat black. The stack is a tapered straight stack that can be topped with the included fine-mesh spark arrestor. The mesh is gorgeous, best I’ve seen on a model to date. Every model comes with your choice of fuel loads: a cast-resin wood load with metal sideboards, a metal coal load painted a glossy black with metal coal doors and boards, or a drop-in oil bunker. All the loads look great and drop right in the bunker. They also allow easy access to the electronics board hidden in the bunker. The board is DCC-plug equipped, so decoders plug right in. SoundTraxx is working on a plug-andplay sound decoder for this specific locomotive, but for those who can’t wait, the Shay decoder is reputed to fit. I haven’t tried it yet as that’s Larry Puckett’s job.
The model is made primarily of die-cast metal with cast-metal and engineering-plastic detail parts. These include two box headlights with directional amber LEDs, two tool boxes, two siphon hoses, a bag of coal cinders, two of the distinctive Climax-design pipe and plate cab steps, detailed backhead including two injectors, throttle, steam gauge with decorated face, and firebox door. All the parts are well detailed and proportioned. The rivets, pipes, wood grain on end beams and cab decking all have excellent detail.
A couple of the parts warrant special mention. The cab steps will be well received by Climax nuts. Molded in engineering plastic, the detail on them is awesome. They are also fragile, so use caution when picking up the loco. Ask me how I know! If Bachmann included a few extra steps in a goodie bag on future runs like they did on the driveline parts, folks would appreciate it. The gray siphon hose is rubber-covered wire, so you can drape it around the loco to your heart’s content, and on its end is a replica of the Climax siphon head. The cylinders have all the bolts, cocks, snifter valves and piping of the prototype. In fact, The Climax Locomotive book by Thompson, Dunn & Hauff is filled with photos of identical, or nearly identical locomotives and the briefest of research shows that Bachmann did their homework on the details; they are virtually perfect.
The only omissions I can find on this engine are the rear sandboxes, but in fairness to Bachmann, they were optional equipment on Climaxes. There are a number of photos in the book that show engines without them, but since these locomotives spent as much time running in reverse as they did forward, many operators had them installed. The sandboxes on this class of Climax were oblong with rounded corners, and would have looked really spiffy. I was ready to criticize the location of the stack in relation to the smokebox saddle since it is offset to the rear. As everyone knows, the stack on steam locomotives is centered over the saddle so the exhaust gases can go straight up the stack for improved draft. Climax, however, had a very casual attitude regarding stack placement. After studying scores of photos of Class B locomotives, I discovered that while many of their engines had the stack centered over the saddle, just as many had it offset toward the boiler as seen on the model. The former might be aesthetically more pleasing, but right is right, and Bachmann got it right.
The driveline is a refinement of the drive used on the Shay. The motor is completely hidden in the boiler and drives the crossbox in the center of the underframe. This transmits the motion to the flywheels and the universals under the engine. These are connected to bevel gears on each axles just like the prototype Climaxes. The trucks are beautiful renditions of the Climax truck including the spring plank, rail brake beam hangers and spoked wheels. All the parts of the Stephenson valve gear are included and move when the locomotive runs.
1600 E. Erie Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19124
Roadnames offered are Greenbrier & Big Run Lumber Co. #6 (#25757), Pocahontas Lumber Co. #7 (#25760), Midwest Quarry & Mining Co. #5 (#25761), Colorado Mining Co. #8 (#25762), Little River Logging Co. #6 (#25763), and painted unlettered — black (#25799)
The model with the die-cast coal load installed weighs 23.3 oz. and exerted 3.75 oz. of pull. For fun, we loaded 18.6 oz of weight into an On30 car and the Climax happily toted it up a 4% grade. The locomotive also moved up and down an 8% grade smoothly though we didn’t attach any cars for fear of a runaway. Electrical pickup is on all eight wheels, and the Climax moved slowly and smoothly. Noise was at or below what would be expected in a locomotive of its size. The locomotive is faster than the Shay (as was the prototype) so don’t expect to double-head them without adjusting the speed curves when using DCC. After reviewing the excellent On30 Shay, I wondered how Bachmann was going to top it. Let me say that while the Shay was and is an outstanding locomotive, the new 28-ton Class B Climax from Bachmann is superior in every respect. This locomotive is an exceptional value and sets a new standard for performance and detail.
This review originally appeared in November 2004 Model Railroading.