O gauge Santa Fe F3 test sample by Menards
Here’s a bold idea: Have some 200 people take a chance on a new product, test it out on their three-rail setups, and then report what the manufacturer did right – and more importantly, wrong. This is something I have never heard of in model railroading.
But that’s what Midwestern-based home improvement chain Menards did by releasing an O-gauge Santa Fe F3 diesel. The market was certainly interested: the whole race, offered only on the website. ‘business, sold out in three hours.
I’ll rate this as the biggest toy train news of the year, beating both the redistribution of the MTH Electric Trains product line and MTH continuing to make trains. The buzz about this product has been huge despite its limited release. A disclaimer: This is not a criticism. We treat this model as a test with the assumption that Menards is seeking feedback to improve it for future production.
What is that?
This is a very good representation of an Electro Motive Division (EMD) cabin unit. Menards markets it under the name F3, a satisfactory designation for most hobbyists. After all, this is a toy train, offered at an affordable retail price of $ 146.06.
Rivet counters will however notice the fuel and water tanks under the midsection and the steam generator exhaust on the roof. These details can output the model as EMD FP7 or -9 for passenger transport. No matter what it is designated, it works for me!
The O-gauge model has sound and lights, and is controlled by a hand-held, battery-powered remote control. An operator should also have a standard variable AC transformer hooked to the track.
Turn on the transformer and the model wakes up to a hearty diesel rumble. Turn on the controller, it will synchronize with the locomotive and respond to your commands. Simple and functional!
Although incompatible with the Lionel or MTH controls, the Menards F3 can probably operate independently with another power supply equipped with controls on any line using 18 volts for the track power.
The locomotive has the familiar EMD Bulldog nose capped with a glowing headlight. The sides of the cabin have very nice molded details for the handrails, rivets, steps and a sand filler cap. I was especially pleased to see three carefully painted silver skid plates under the molded door and a pair of chrome horns adorning the roof.
The paint and decor are superb, and the Santa Fe livery is well executed. The lines between silver to black to yellow to red are as sharp as possible.
There is a hole in the paint of the warbonnet where the louvers are located, which some users have reported as non-prototype. Still, there are photos of Santa Fe locomotives showing scratches painted on the louvers and others with a gap. In any case, that will not prevent me from buying this model.
There are cast irons on the rear trucks and in the place for the hostler controls. Stirrups allow crew members to access both locations, on the chassis and on the rear truck. Both are made of sturdy metal.
Bottom, the trucks are good renderings of the Blomberg units that were standard on EMD’s F series. They are die-cast metal with separate access stirrups for the crew. Both sets have push pin type control couplers. These worked well and held up well and safely! The front-most and rear-most wheel sets are fitted with traction tires. Oh and know that the locomotive frame is metal.
The remote uses three AAA batteries and fits comfortably in the hands of an adult or child. The front has the Santa Fe oval, the locomotive number and a stylized “MRR” for Menards Railroad. The battery door has a photo of Jack the German Shepherd.
One possible issue: Some operators have reported needing to tweak the metal bands to get good contact with the batteries. This repair is easily done with a pair of needle nose pliers or a flat blade screwdriver before the batteries are inserted into place.
A rotary knob controls forward and reverse movement as well as speed. There are buttons to activate the locomotive bell and horn, as well as crew chat. The sound of the diesel engine is constantly on. Its level as well as the rest of the sounds can be controlled by a volume dial on the side, to nothing.
Operators must apply power to the track before anything happens, as is the case with control systems from other manufacturers. Since there are no instructions with the model, I first set it up to 18 volts and ran the locomotive. After testing several power settings, I found that the F3 needs at least 8 volts to function properly.
While the locomotive is running smoothly, starting and stopping are abrupt. This may be due to the lack of flywheels on the gearbox motors mounted on each truck.
Here is a tip to protect the motor from children or grandchildren: Set the speed of your transformer below 18 volts. It sets a “max” speed that young people cannot exceed with the portable unit.
Hats off to the creator
The competition is good and Menards has shown that he is a player in model railroading. The company gets high marks for basically saying, “Test them out and tell us what you think.” But remember that there is no guarantee that this project will go ahead. If so, the production models may be priced differently.
It is only after receiving user feedback and an analysis of what changes should be made that the ball will start to roll. At best, we can see something in 12 months. But in my practical experience, it will definitely be worth the wait!
O gauge Santa Fe F3 test sample by Menards
Price: NOT AVAILABLE AT THE MANUFACTURER, original price $ 146.06 (# 279-3945)
Characteristics: O-gauge operation, two cannon-style motors, front and rear couplers, directional lighting, locomotive and crew sounds, bell and horn, hand-held remote control
Low speed: 16.6 mph scale
Great speed: 46.4 smph
Drawbar pull: 1 pound, 7 ounces
Example of a test route name: Santa Fe