Written by Richard Grigg, Photos by Gwion Rhys Davies & Richard Grigg.
To say that the 'Thomas & Friends' Narrow Gauge range from Bachmann Trains has proved a success is putting it mildly. I believe I'm correct in saying that since his release in December 2015 Skarloey has sold out more times in 2 years than any of the standard gauge characters in the range.
We then fast-forward to February 2016, the month when Bachmann Trains announces new items for the forth coming year in the USA and every Thomas collector/modeller is asking: "Who's the next narrow gauge engine to be announced?" Many people, myself included, pointed out that if you launch the range with the 'old faithful' (Skarloey) then logically he must be followed by the 'gallant old engine'.
Indeed, that is what transpired and so in this review we shall be taking a closer, much anticipated look, at the Skarloey Railway's no: 2 engine Rheneas (Item no: 58602) with a RRP of $149.
* Please note that due to licensing issues this model is unable to be sold in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. *
Rheneas's packing matches that of Skarloey's, the same internal 2—piece plastic carton inside an easy to open cardboard box. The only major change is in the box artwork, which for 2017,has undergone a re—design and can be seen across all 3 scales in Bachmann Train's 'Thomas' range.
The model also comes with the usual exploded diagram, 90—day warranty and the warranty registration card.
Rheneas is based on the Tal-y-llyn Railway's no: 2 engine 'Dolgoch' and just as with Tal-y-llyn and Skarloey in the Railway Series the two engines are portrayed as twin brothers.
This model really captures the spirit of the prototype, thus, for the most part, it's a perfect model to convert into Dolgoch. There's one grumble I have however with one particular aspect of the model, but I'll come back to it later in this section of the review.
Moulded detail includes:
• Rivets on the smokebox, cylinder heads, wheel splashers, coal bunkers, buffer beams, cab steps, cab sides and rear
• Boiler bands
• Copper painted pipework on the smokebox and boiler
• fine grade coal in both bunkers either side of the firebox
Separately fitted detail includes:
• A whistle valve perched on top of the dome (this is different from Dolgoch, who's whistle is situated beside the dome on the driver's side)
• A handrail on top of the boiler
• A tail lamp and water filler cap on the rear of the cab
• Cosmetic coupling hooks on the buffer beams
A rather unfortunate return are the pivoting hook & loop couplers. Thankfully, as with Skarloey, they are plugged into NEM sockets, so it's very quick and easy to change them if you so wish.
As I mentioned earlier, one aspect of the model which I must address is the chimney. It appears rather thinner than it should be, especially when you place Rheneas next to Skarloey. Examining images of Tal—y—llyn and Dolgoch standing side by side reveals that their chimneys are the exact same thickness and design. This does make sense considering that they are both products of the same engineering firm (Fletcher, Jennings & Co.).
I even went back through the T.V series, both the model and CGI eras, and once again I cannot see any major difference in the dimensions of the chimneys. Therefore, I can't understand why Bachmann Trains didn't amend the design of Rheneas's chimney to the same standard as that of Skarloey's.
Some may rightfully ask why is this such a problem as the model is aimed at the younger modeller? To which I will say this... If the manufacturer can get it right with the first model in the range then why couldn't they continue that level of quality with the second model?
For those who have read the Bachmann Skarloey review you may recall that I commented on the cylinders which, along with the valve gear, were over scaled and so appeared too big. I'm pleased to say that this is not the case with Rheneas. His cylinders and valve gear are correctly scaled and as a result don't stick out like sore thumbs either side of the front buffer beam.
In addition, the cab is open and is also vastly improved over Skarloey's in that there's a blank backhead, which for experienced modellers is a great starting point for fitting cab detail, as well as a footplate crew.
With the exception of Skarloey and Duke, the other narrow gauge engines were given new liveries for the T.V series and Rheneas was blazoned with a striking bright orange/red colour that Bachmann Trains has reproduced flawlessly.
The paint scheme (finished in gloss) compliments the gold bands on the boiler as well as the fine black lining on the cylinders, wheel splashers, coal bunkers and the cab sides and rear. The inner cab walls are painted in cream and black to simulate the inside of most steam engine cab interiors and although it's hard to make out a close up look reveals that the frames of the cab windows are painted gold.
I'm also happy to report, the name and number plates are sharp and clear in gold lettering on a black background with gold boarder.
Rheneas's motor assembly consists of a centrally mounted motor with the worm gear on one end and a flywheel on the other. I'm sure this time that a flywheel is present as it's clearly indicated on the exploded diagram. I've not been caught out this time like I had before with Skarloey.
The motor assembly combined with the die-cast metal body (the cab being the exception as it's made of plastic) results in a smooth running model, even at slow speed. The overall weight of the body also provides adequate traction to the wheels.
Rheneas's turning radius is set at 11" by the manufacturer however his long 0-4-0 wheelbase will permit him to negotiate 9" radius PECO set-track with no trouble. He also handles the tight 7" radius circle of track on my narrow gauge layout 'Rheneas Tunnel'.
Skarloey set the bar when released back in 2015 and now in 2017 Rheneas has set it even higher. Despite his thinner than normal chimney, his correctly scaled cylinders and valve gear combined with his improved open cab makes him, in my opinion, the best model in the range so far, with Skarloey coming a very close second.
While we've had to wait longer for Rheneas, he was certainly worth the wait. We already know that the next engine in the 'Thomas & Friends' Narrow Gauge range is Rusty the narrow gauge diesel and no doubt he'll join Skarloey and Rheneas in becoming another feather in Bachmann Trains's cap.
At the time of Writing this review 2018 is fast approaching and with it the new announcements, so already 'Thomas' collectors/modellers are waiting with bated breath.
Who's next to come? Peter Sam? Sir Handel? Perhaps Duncan? Let's wait and see.
Pros & Cons
• Great moulded and separately fitted detail
• Smooth performance
• Great value for money
• Correctly scaled cylinders and valve gear
• Vastly improved cab over that of Skarloey
• A perfect model to introduce young modellers into 009 scale
• Ideal for experienced modellers to convert into Dolgoch
• Pivoting hook & loop couplers can make coupling up hard at times
• The chimney appears too thin especially when compared to Skarloey's
• Performance is a bit poor at low speeds with some DC controllers
With this I give an overall score of 8.5/10.