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Japanese vs US Build Quality


VentureForth

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I've been playing with all my expensive stuff the last couple of weeks and noticed something that may not come as a surprise to anyone in here.

Let's see if I can list off my motorized roster:

 

More than 30 years old:
Tomix (I think) JNR DD13
Tomix 113-2000 (first run) Kansai
Kato C50

 

Somewhere between 10-30 years old:
Atlas something

Athearn F59PHI
Bachmann Spectrum Doodlebug
Bachmann Spectrum SD70MAC
Bachmann Prarie Flyer
KatoUSA SD40

Lifelike F40

Lifelike F1A/F1B
Minitrix 2-10-0

 

Less than 5 years old:
Kato 201-Series Chuo
Kato 0-Series Shinkansen

 

So - the three oldest motors in my collection are the Japanese ones: the DD13, the first run 113-2000 and the C50.  All are mechanically phenomenal.  Now the C50 I have has a broken coupler and I can't get the part I need to fix it.  But the motor runs fantastic.

 

None of my Japanese brands are suffering hardly at all.  If there was an exception to this rule of thumb, the KatoUSA SD40 has been struggling a bit.

 

Of the other brands, the Minitrix (made in "West" Germany) runs fantastic, and the Life-Like locos are doing pretty good.  Life-Like has been a paradox.  They have some really crappy stuff and some really good stuff.  Go figure.  The F40 looks like the whole thing was puked from an injection mold whereas the F1A/B look and run fantastic.

 

It's Bachmann where I'm having the biggest issues.  Their box store stuff (the Prairie Flyer) is flawless.  But the higher end Spectrum locos I have won't roll at all.  only the light comes on, but no movement.  Pretty crappy, if you ask me.  I'll send them in for $10 warranty work.

 

Then there is Athearn, who just jumped on the N scale loco bandwagon in the 90s with their F59PHI commuter series.  I can't keep this thing on the track!  It's a whole different drive mechanism, with a flywheel akin to the direct drive HO kits for the RDC locomotives.  It will negotiate curves OK if babied, but any imperfection on a join seems to knock the wheels off.  Really disappointed, but it's a very collectible series, so I want to improve it without "modifying" it.

 

What are y'alls experience with Japanese vs other manufactures?

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Japanese, especially Kato and Tomix, is always better. Micro Ace can be pretty good too. Greenmax tend to be fragile.

Edited by bill937ca
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14 minutes ago, VentureForth said:

That's good to know. Isn't Greenmax a "premium" brand? 

I think its small production runs rather than a premium brand. It has the same effect on prices in a market with strong demand.

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Japanese brands tend to be good quailty across the board and a lot less variability between and within brands than the rest of the world. Of course there are a few that are cranky for one reason or another and a few lemons here and there, but generally very consistent. Differences can vary a bit between them on different models and it’s usually down to the level of individual preferences which is better. Some have more details standard on a lot of models (like Kato) others like Tomix have various grades of detailing for different trains (ie tomytec build it up, regular and high grade). Some focus on the smaller and odder lines like greenmax and microace. Some have some interesting mechanical features like all wheel pickup (Tomix) that has power couplings in the car couplers which helps a lot with dirty track and lighting flickering.

 

prices vary a lot due to production costs. Tomix is the big boy (I think the last time bill researched it it was like 2-2.5x Kato in revenue) and has the parent company of to Tomy to give it production resources in China. Kato keeps a lot of control over its production with most of it in japan. Microace does a lot of its production in China but smaller runs and they have been hit hard by the fluxuation in Chinese factories and loss of some of the train production expertise in China, so their prices have climbed rather dramatically in the last few years. Greenmax is the smallest and a bit more boutique producer so that drives up production costs.

 

so the good news is they are all winners to hobbies and few turkeys to look out for!

 

jeff

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That's been my experience also. I had a terrible experience with American brands. KatoUSA sold the only stuff that was reliable. Searching ebay for Kato trains was what got me into Japanese trains in the first place. I found a E5 shinkansen and it blew my mind. Once I found out (from this site) how to access the Japanese market directly there was no turning back. 

 

There's a second reason why I prefer Japanese and European trains. It the design. American trains, with some notable exceptions, tend to be very ugly (yes, that's just my opinion), They're very angular, and chunky, and plain. It's no accident. It's also true of other aspects of American design - cars, trucks, houses. Conveying a hyper-masculine sense of strength and power seems to be a main principle of American design.  Likely, because American values and ideals lean in this direction. That's all fine, but it limits the design possibilities. Just my two cents.

Edited by gavino200
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I think part of the problem with US trains is that many of the lower cost trains are expected to be run only for a short time after Christmas and then forgotten and discarded. When manufacturers identify this type of situation the result is products that are only intended for the gift market.  Serious modelers are a much lower percentage of the model railway market. 

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8 minutes ago, bill937ca said:

I think part of the problem with US trains is that many of the lower cost trains are expected to be run only for a short time after Christmas and then forgotten and discarded. When manufacturers identify this type of situation the result is products that are only intended for the gift market.  Serious modelers are a much lower percentage of the model railway market. 

But my experience has been opposite.  The gift stuff seems to last but the "nice" stuff just requires much more attention.  I don't know without opening them up how far my two Bachmann Spectrum locos are from being functional.  May just need some lube.  Point being that you don't need much to keep the Japanese models running.

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Some older US locos had mechanisms from European and Japanese manufacturers. I have a Con-Cor F3 which looks somewhat peculiar (over width so the proportions are wonky) but has a Fleischmann chassis which runs superbly if kept clean.

 

If you can take the bodyshell off your dud locos then try flicking the motor over with a fine screwdriver. Sometimes they can stick but will free up with running. I've heard that the lifetime warranty can be complicated if they're out of stock of the version you have, for example apparently people returning DD40AXs with cracked gears were being sent Dash 8s as replacements.

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I just noticed that they've upped the warranty repair from $10 to $50 for Spectrum.  Grr...

 

Open it, I shall, then.

Edited by VentureForth
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The other thing to consider is that some older (mid 1980s-1990s) Atlas locomotives are actually Kato locomotives (flip it over and you'll see the Kato logo on the fuel tank). I have two GP-35s like this, one for CP Rail and one for B&O. If I added traction tires to them they'd easily be my strongest locomotives. Each will pull 30 boxcars or hoppers with no problem and are probably close to 30 years old. The locomotive I've the most issues with is my Conrail heritage unit ES44AC from Broadway Limited. It came sound and DCC equipped (with a price tag to match) but within 15 minutes of running it died and had to be sent back for repair. Also the cost was close to what the new Scaletrains ET44AC is and that model has superior detail and performance - the Broadway Limited model struggles to pull much more than a dozen hoppers due to lack of weight in the frame. Their F-units have the same problem - an A-B-A set struggles to pull less than 20 boxcars. 

 

In order of preference for US models:

Intermountain (excellent detail, affordable)

Scaletrains (limited experience with them but similar to Intermountain)

Kato

Bachmann (newer locomotives, I don't have any of their older stuff)

Atlas

Walthers/Life-Like (solely because of locomotives being marked 'DCC Ready' but not being so at all)

Broadway Limited (their steam stuff looks great but they have had a long list of issues and when you show the HO SD40-2 and misrepresent it as the N scale one it irritates me)

Athearn (non-working painted-on ditch lights on a locomotive? For shame.)

 

1 hour ago, Welshbloke said:

If you can take the bodyshell off your dud locos then try flicking the motor over with a fine screwdriver. Sometimes they can stick but will free up with running.

 

There's also the magic battery method: take a 9-volt battery and hook it up to the motor contacts and let it run for a bit. 

 

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17 hours ago, nah00 said:

The other thing to consider is that some older (mid 1980s-1990s) Atlas locomotives are actually Kato locomotives (flip it over and you'll see the Kato logo on the fuel tank).

Yeah I realized that as soon as I got home last night and looked again. Lol

 

Got both my Bachmann to run again. Doodlebug is running strong now. The Dash 8 runs, but slow. Here's a pic... The green on the rotor - is that corrosion or protection? Oil it or sand it?

IMG_20181203_181019c.jpg

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15 minutes ago, VentureForth said:

Oil it or sand it?

Imho neither. This looks like it'll need grease. (the synthetic variant used for power tools or rc cars) The rotor must have an air gap between the permanent magnets and the moving core, but if it's there, it's ok.

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That's just paint. It's actually an anti-corrosion/rust measure so I would leave it on there. 

Dash8.jpg.8b4a001d2111cf2273abf88465498702.jpg

Your worm gears definitely need cleaned up. You don't necessarily have to disassemble the loco do this, you can clean up most of this with a toothpick and an old toothbrush. From the factory a lot of these tend to come with globs of white lithium grease on them which quickly gums up the works. Once you remove as much of it as you can a drop or so of Labelle should be enough or alternatively you can go to AutoZone and get a little tube of white lithium grease, take a toothpick and put a small dab of it on it, and then work that small dab over the whole worm gear. Keep in mind this grease probably worked it's way into the trucks too so you want to remove them and disassemble them (if you are comfortable with that, if not an overnight soak in rubbing alcohol also works) to get as much out as possible. With lubrication in N scale less is always better. 

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I don't remember if I added the lithium grease or it was already there, but yeah, it's a sticky gooey mess.  I ran this thing for nearly an hour and the speed never improved.  I'll pick up some LaBelle today - should I get a motor contact lube, too?

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Like Never Stall? If you can find it it can work wonders but strictly for pickups. I don't use it on motors but rather the contact between the pickup spring and the truck, makes a huge difference. The only thing I lubricate on motors are the bearings and you can tell with those since it's an obnoxious screeching when they dry out. My guess is about 90% of your problems would be solved by cleaning up those worm gears, the motor is having to fight the stickiness in there and unless you run it full out it won't be able to overcome it. 

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Nah,

Good to hear you had good luck with the never stall, I picked up a tube last year and promptly misplaced it! Hope to find it and try it on a few stutterers that appear to be pickup issues.

 

ive wanted to try the rc car greases as they seem to be formulated for small gears but are not sposta get mucky even in dirty situations. I’ve used the thickest labells and it’s worked well for me on cleaned worm gears, but it does tend to get thrown off with time, hence thinking of trying the rc grease instead. Too much grease on the trucks can also get drawn down into the bogie gears and muck them up as well as they get exposed to schmutz some thru the bottom of most trucks and schmutz loves grease!

 

venture,

a cheap little ultrasonic bath ($25) is awesome to clean out muck from parts like worm gears, trucks and gears.

 

cheers

 

jeff

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11 minutes ago, cteno4 said:

Nah,

Good to hear you had good luck with the never stall, I picked up a tube last year and promptly misplaced it! Hope to find it and try it on a few stutterers that appear to be pickup issues.

 

My silver JRF EF-510 was constantly stuttering and stopping (on DCC and with a new motor to boot) and a drop on each of the contacts on the bogies and about a minute running it was completely smooth. At first I was skeptical about the stuff but it is the real deal. 

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Cool! I was the same but many said the same thing. I can see how the pickup interface could just be a bit rough and a tad jumpie then any little gapping could cause arcing and some residue then, all making things worse with time. In the past I spent a lot of time on a few problem children twisting, cleaning and realigning contacts carefully until all of a sudden they started behaving but really hard to know what exact tweak made it happy, so it was more just fiddling...

 

jeff

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Not to jump on an old post, but my experience has been as such:
US models don't tend to run as well as compared to Japanese trains for one main reason (In my opinion): Limited runs.
The US market is plagued by limited runs to keep even the most mundane of models from dropping in price. From what I can tell in the Japanese market, most "normal" trains have very long run times and are often re-released with newer parts but similar tooling. This allows a manufacturer to work out the issues much better than with a limited run. It's also the way JP sees models versus the US sees models. A lot of our "generic models" are very poor quality, although they try to look nice. Namely, looking at Bachmann. Most of their Silver Series cars are okay to look at, but they all have the same numbers and they run terribly. When buying a brand new car, I should not have to automatically assume I need to go through a set of tuning motions in order to make it run reliably. Not one of my Japanese cars (in HO or N) has ever failed me, and I've bought most of my stock new. Those "Christmas gift" Life-Like sets that look terrible but run forever? They've been building that pancake motour for ages. It looks terrible, it runs terrible, it's loud, and it can't pull much, but it's very reliable. All my old Bachmann Spectrum stuff? What does run has a very high power draw, is noisey, and makes old Lionel smells despite being a 21st century model.
Something else the US has a habit of is over-engineering one part and forgetting another. Broadway Limited was mentioned above. I have a pair of EMD E-units that I trust implicitly, however, they sounds exactly the same despite being two different generations and the model itself is...lacking. Bought a pair of Athearn Genesis F units for half the price of the two Es and the Athearns run almost as well and have a model quality that just blow away the Broadways.
I look at the HO stuff I have from Kato for the JP market versus my American stock and the price compared to the quality is staggering. To get even remotely close to the quality of a JP model, the US price doubles or even triples. And that's if you can find it because most of the stuff (even on "generic" runs such as Walthers Mainline) is sold out the instant they announce it.

There's my two cents...
Or two yen, maybe?

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Interesting observations. I can't help thinking that there's also just a huge general difference in attitude to work between the two cultures. In Japan absolutely everyone is taking their job seriously and trying there utmost to do everything as well as they can. US work culture has a pervasive half-assedness and apathy that would be unthinkable in Japan. 

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1 hour ago, GDorsett said:

Not to jump on an old post, but my experience has been as such:

Ha!  Compared to some other railfan forums, 9 days is hardly "old".  I just posted on a thread I started 14 years ago in another room...  😉

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1 minute ago, VentureForth said:

Ha!  Compared to some other railfan forums, 9 days is hardly "old".  I just posted on a thread I started 14 years ago in another room...  😉

 

I think that's never a problem. Better to have one thread updated continually than having multiple threads covering the same topic.

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