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Review of the Kato 126-4014 ‘Big Boy’

So, I got my hands on a the N-scale Kato Big Boy recently, admittedly more of a display piece given my emphasis has been on Japanese rolling stock. That said, it is a fairly impressive piece of work.

Comes in a cardboard box as opposed to the styrene case my other Kato locos come in

My first impression (pre-unboxing) was a little bit of a surprise: Much of my single-unit Japanese rolling stock comes neatly in clear plastic containers (which I confess I find convenient for storage, helping keep the dust and other badness away) whereas this unit was enclosed in a cardboard box. I don’t know if this is a cost-cutting measure (the model is quite long, after all) or a nod to environmental concerns. Or maybe even they’re expecting the box to be discarded, the unit’s new home being permanently on your right-of-way. But whatever the reason, I’m sure I’ll get over it.

Note: this unit was bought with my own money. This is not sponsored by Kato or any other entity. Opinions stated here are exclusively my own.

As big as the 4-8-8-4This is the Whyte notation used in the US; overseas readers may be more familiar with the UIC notation, which I believe would describe the Big Boy as (2'D)D2' is at twelve-inch-to-the-foot, here at 160-to-1 it is much smallerNo duh! This should come as no surprise, really.
But given how long and slender it is, it just feels so tiny ... until you set it into a scale-appropriate context... something I try to do in the photos.
, but very handsomely detailed. It does take two hands to move around, and with a dozen axles on the locomotive alone (never mind the seven on the tender) it is a beast to settle on the rails, needing clever manipulation of the rerailers to get everything right.

The model reflects the prototype as it is restored for show in the 21st century, which means it’s an oil-burner. If you’re looking to model the war-era machine, you’ll need to convert it to coal again. What’s involved there is beyond the scope of this review, though. I’m fine with the way this miniature monster looks today.

4014 sitting in my staging yard, and a good look at the detail

Even depicted in N scale, the model is rich on detail. Rivet detail is clear and doesn’t seem to be overtly out-of-scale; the hand rails are adequately lacy, too. The running boards and front deck are clearly textured. Looking at the photographs it’s easy to forget you’re looking at so tiny a model. The running gear moves nicely, though the fresh out of the box sheen can use some toning down with weathering, especially if you’re looking to get that mid-century work-horse this originally was.

Operationally, the Kato model does not disappoint. Straight out of the box the unit runs smoothly, suffering only from a bit of gear-box growl. It’s not clear to me that this will go away or if it needs some breaking in, but I confess I’m used to the Japanese equipment having that silky silent operation from the get-go; the noisiest thing there is the clatter of wheels negotiating frogs, or the collective whoosh of all those wheelsets over the track.

Each set of 8 drivers articulates separately, and each is driven by its own coreless motor. Each is seemingly also powered separately: driving the locomotive into an unpowered block in my staging yard, I noticed that the forward set of drivers stopped as they left the powered block (I run DC) while the rear set continued to push the locomotive forward.

The literature boasts the ability to negotiate 11" turn radius, but when I put it to the test on a “standard” T-TRAK corner module, the thing unceremoniously derailed on the 282mm (11 inch) inner curve. I do want to retestsee below this, but it seems to be precariously close to the limits here anyway (it could just be fussy on less-than-ideal trackwork). On the other hand, it had no problems negotiating the 315mm (12⅜ inch) outer track, even if it looked really toy-like. Naturally, the thing looks really quite handsome leaning into the larger curve of my double-size T-TRAK curve.

To its credit, it had no problems negotiating the tight #4 switches in my staging yard (even as it looked odd doing so) and this includes some unfortunate S-curves that track plan has. I suppose this isn’t too much of a surprise, given that #4 switches have an effective 481mm (19") radius. Kato’s #6 switches would no doubt be more graceful, but I don’t have anything using them at the moment, so not tested.

Overall, this is a nice locomotive: Kato’s attention to quality really shows, though I’ll leave it to the rivet-counters to weigh in on the overall attention to detail this model received. I mean, I don’t pretend to be an expert here in terms of N-scale US rolling stock and the concessions one makes there. I’d have to pull out an HO-scale AC-12 to get a sense of what might have needed compromise here, but overall, this locomotive does not disappoint ... at least this casual modeler.

Sections: 2

The Big Boy IRL ... doing real-life work...
 — Thomas M. Tuerke

So rather than just being a show-piece, we see that the ol’ 4-8-8-4 was designed for some serious work. A stalled train ahead of the Big Boy 4014 (that’s right, the prototype the Kato model is based on) gets a helping shove over Blair Hill.

Video thanks to Otto the Railfan. For capturing this footage, as well as getting a great sense of what 4014 looks and sounds like in the real world, definitely go give Otto a sub. Not far behind, DustinOz76 adds his own footage of the locomotive as it crossed the country. Another small content creator, Dustin also merits likes and subscribes.

By the way, here’s the train that 4014 helped push over the 1-percent grade on Blair Hill, to give you an idea of how long it was. Of the two head-end units, the second locomotive (BNSF 4264) seemingly went offline, and so assistance was needed and offered by 4014. Note that it takes seven minutes for the train to pass.

Naturally Megaprojects showed up in my feed as a result. It helps with some additional info, if you’re interested. I’m sure that, as others post their videos, you’ll find more about 4014 in due course.

Also, Hyce explains why the Big Boy “needs” a diesel helper...

RETEST: coping with 11 inch radius turns
 — Thomas M. Tuerke

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my tests on this locomotive handling 11 inch radius curves, so I wanted to redo them. The verdict? Yeah, the Big Boy definitely can negotiate those tight inner curves of the standard T-TRAK corner module, but to be brutally honest, it is not at all happy to do so. The trackwork needs to be absolutely perfect, especially at the transitions from curve to straight, which can be a problem for most T-TRAK since this usually is at a module boundary.

I ran the tests on a different module than the one shown above. In one direction the Big Boy worked like a charm, both forward and reverse. Going the other direction, it definitely seemed to pick at the module joint coming out of the turn, causing either a pilot or the front driver derailing about a third of the time.

To be fair, this is a trackwork problem, not a Big Boy problem, and can be mitigated with some preventative maintenanceSince I’ve retired the conventional T-TRAK corner modules, it’s not a problem I’m in a hurry to fix. of the modules in question. But it should be said that the exceedingly long wheelbase does not exhibit this fussiness anywhere else on my track than the 11 inch curves, nor does any other equipment I use balk on it. This is just a heads’ up: the Big Boy can definitely negotiate this radius, but it may not bring you joy doing so. You really may not want to make it do so on T-TRAK inner curves, or any track of dubious construction.

Of course, if one of the nineteen axles isn’t squarely on the rails to begin with—putting this mini monster on the track is enough of a challenge to begin with: misaligning a wheelset is entirely too easy, and doesn’t improve with age—so these curves are likely going to cast a bright light on the wayward axle even if other parts of your right of way are more forgiving. Note that the third wheelset in both drivers have traction tires, so you’re not going to just want to slide it along a rerailing ramp...

So, to sum up: if you’re going to invest in the big boy, you really don’t want to run it on tight curves. Sure, it can, but neither you nor the loco will be happy doing it. Even if the trackwork is perfect, the amount of overhang just makes it look unrealistic, and the locomotive deserves better.