Written by Richard Grigg
Bachmann Trains, based in Philadelphia, USA, launched their 'Thomas & Friends' range back in 2002. The models of the characters embody their television series appearance and most even feature a moving eye mechanism. At the time of writing this review Bachmann USA's 'Thomas' range has been going strong for 13 years and in that time has produced models not only in 'HO' scale but also in 'G' scale as of from 2009. However one question in recent times has popped up on the model railway forums asked by 'Thomas' fans and collectors alike and that is 'would Bachmann ever produce the narrow gauge engines of the Skarloey Railway?'. Some people said there was every chance, some said it was unlikely but not entirely impossible and others said there was no chance whatsoever as demand wasn't high enough. However with the popularity of '009' scale ever increasing and Bachmann Branchline announcing their '009' range in the UK all of this was taken into consideration by Bachmann USA when they were planning their 2015 line up. This has resulted in the launch of the Bachmann 'Thomas & Friends' narrow gauge range which comprises of 3 pieces of freight rolling stock and a locomotive. It is the loco that we shall be taking a closer look at in this review who is none other than the number 1 engine of the Skarloey Railway himself... Skarloey (item no:58601) with a RRP of $149
* Please be aware that due to licensing issues this model is unable to be sold in the UK + Republic of Ireland.*
Usually separate sale items in Bachmann USA's 'HO' scale 'Thomas' range have been packed in a 'blister' style plastic packing which although holds the models firm and secure it can be a nightmare to open. Thankfully that's not the case here as Skarloey is contained in a small easy to open cardboard box which displays him really well. The rear of the box features illustrations of all the items currently available in the 'Thomas' narrow gauge range which is of course Skarloey together with 3 items of freight rolling stock:
- Narrow gauge open wagon (item no:77201)
- Narrow gauge blue box van (item no:77202)
- Narrow gauge red box van (item no:77203)
Inside the box the model is held inside a 2 piece plastic tray where one half slides on top of the other preventing the loco from collecting dust even when kept out of the main box. Tucked at the back of the box we find an exploded diagram of the engine which details all the components that go together to make this fantastic little model, also enclosed are the 90 day warranty form together with a registration card to validate the warranty.
As this model comes from a range primarily aimed at the younger modeller. The older generations can be forgiven for thinking that this locomotive has nothing to offer in terms of detailing. That's not entirely the case, for this model was manufactured using the CGI rendering of the character from the TV series which in turn was created taking reference from Skarloey's twin brother and real life prototype - Tal-y-llyn Railway locomotive no:1, therefor a closer examination will reveal some small detail for serious modellers to admire and appreciate. Moulded rivet detail can be found running along the smokebox, saddle tank, coal bunkers and cab. Moulded detail also comprises of copper piping below the coal bunkers on both sides along with handrails either side of the saddle tank and on top of the smokebox. There's also separately fitted items present in the form of the whistle perched atop of the dome and a small tail lamp positioned on the rear of the cab. The only error I can find with this model is that the cylinders appear to be over scaled and as a result are wider than the front buffer beam.
In the Railway Series, written by the Rev.W.Awdry and his son Christopher, the steam engines of the Skarloey Railway all sported the same scarlet red livery (except for Duke who retained his Mid Sodor Railway brown livery). However in 1994 when the narrow gauge engines made their television debut the producers decided to give each engine their own unique livery so that younger viewers could visually identify one character from another. In spite of this change Skarloey still kept his original livery he wore in the books and Bachmann USA have reproduced it perfectly.
The glossy scarlet red is enhanced further by the slim silver lining which runs over the cylinders, saddle tank, coal bunkers and cab sides. The gold lettering of the nameplates are printed clear and crisp in the correct font and really stand out from the locomotive's livery thanks to a bright red backdrop with fine gold lining. The running numbers are also present in the top left hand corner of the coal bunkers and are picked out in gold and on the subject of numbers it seems that Skarloey has acquired a 3rd numberplate. Located on the rear of his cab just below the tail lamp, a brisk look through past seasons of the TV series has revealed no sign of this mysterious addition to the model although I had better luck flicking through the Railway Series. The illustration on page 9 of book no:19 "Mountain Engines" depicts Skarloey with a rear numberplate however further research online has shown that this is considered to be an error on the part of the book's illustrators (Gunvor and Peter Edwards). so for now, to the best of my knowledge, this mysterious rear numberplate is either an addition by Bachmann USA or an addition by the show's current animators (ARC Productions).
While this model offers nothing in the ways of special features such as DCC compatibility, digital sound or even a moving eye mechanism which adorns the standard gauge engines in this range there is something that I believe is worthy of mention in this section of the review and it concerns the cab. All the standard gauge tank engines in Bachmann USA's 'Thomas' range come with fully enclosed cabs, Skarloey on the other hand is constructed with a spacious open cab which allows for the addition of a footplate crew. The backhead and cab controls are completely omitted for the obvious reason that this model is aimed at youngsters but an experienced modeller can easily remedy the lack of cab fittings.
The motor assembly inside Skarloey may be small but it's more than adequate for the job. Traction to the wheels is aided by the die cast construction of the locomotive's main body from the smokebox to the firebox, this results in a running performance that is so smooth, even at slow speed, that you could be mistaken into thinking that the model was also fitted with a flywheel*. Although rated for 11* inch radius curves or greater Skarloey's short 0-4-2 wheelbase seems to allow him to negotiate 9 inch radius curves with no trouble at all.
* Update: We have since discovered that there is a tiny flywheel which is part of the machined brass worm gear.
The production of this model is evidence once again that model railway manufacturers listen to their customers and will endeavour to provide what is being asked from them. Introducing the narrow gauge characters to their ever increasing 'Thomas & Friends' range certainly places Bachmann Trains USA ahead of the other companies who produce their own 'Thomas' based products. The manufacturing of Skarloey and the 3 wagons is of course just the beginning as I'm confident that we'll see more being added to this exciting new line of products such as other engines like Rheneas, Peter Sam and Duncan just to name a few, as well as more items of rolling stock both passenger and freight. The vast community of 'Thomas' modellers have waited in anticipation for Skarloey and I'm pleased to say that he didn't disappoint in the slightest.
- Easy to open packaging
- Good moulded detail
- Excellent smooth performance even at slow speed
- Great value for money
- A perfect model to introduce younger modellers into '009' scale
- Ideal for experienced modellers to convert into Talyllyn
- Over scaled cylinders
- Pivoting hook & loop couplers can make coupling up hard at times
With this I give an overall score of 8/10.