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Product Reviews - December 2004

Published: November 24, 2004
Model Railroading: Bachmann's E-Z Command
DCC: so easy, even I could do it
Reviewed by Hal Miller

While Digital Command Control systems have enjoyed wide acceptance among model railroaders for well over a decade, it's only within the past few years that manufacturers have started to offer true "entry-level" systems. Bachmann's E-Z Command fits into this category. It will appeal to those just getting started in DCC, as well as to the seasoned model railroader who has a smaller layout, but wants the control DCC offers at an affordable price.

Bachmann offers several ways to dive into DCC: The E-Z Command controller (No. 44902, $95 MSRP) is available for separate purchase or with a decoder-equipped locomotive. The set we tested included a solidly built Norfolk Southern GP50 (No. 44906, $140); other sets are available with a Santa Fe (No. 44904) or Chessie GP40 (No. 44905).
I found it easier to install the E-Z Command Control Center on a layout than it is to hook up a traditional transformer. A DVD is included, showing step-by-step installation instructions and more. Connect the proper wires to the track (E-Z Track and universal wires are included), plug them into the Command Center, plug the supplied 1-amp power pack into the wall, connect it to the Control Center and the unit powers up, ready for action.

To test the engine, I put the locomotive on the track, pressed button 3 (most decoder-equipped locomotives are assigned to button or "address" 3 at the factory, but check the instructions to make sure), and turned the throttle knob. The locomotive rolled down the track. I stopped it, tapped the opposite direction button, turned the throttle, and it came back. In 10 minutes, I had installed a DCC system and was running a train! It doesn't get much easier than this.

Each locomotive is assigned to one of 10 addresses; two or more locomotives can be consisted by assigning them to the same address. Buttons 1-9 are for decoder-equipped locomotives, and button 10 controls an analog engine. Button 10 can be used to control a decoder-equipped locomotive if needed; just plug in an optional Bachmann DC controller like the power pack (No. 44212, $35.00) and it will run an analog engine. The Control Center has a piece of paper under clear plastic where you can note the locomotive assigned to a particular button. Extra note cards are provided in case your locomotive fleet should change.

A few button-pushes later, my locomotive was zipping around the track with a train in tow. The speed control, which Bachmann calls "Electric Momentum," is a nice way to simulate the inertia of a real train. By slowly dialing the throttle up, I made a train creep down the track. I was also able to stop it gradually.

Once your locomotive is running, you'll want to turn its lights on and make use of other available decoder functions like sound, if your locomotive is so equipped. When in "function mode," the buttons used to choose what locomotive you're controlling are used to turn decoder functions on and off. Button 10 turns the lights on and off, and buttons 1-8 control F (function) 1-F8.

With the 1-amp power supply, you should be able to run four or five HO scale locomotives at once. I ran the NS GP50 and an analog locomotive at the same time, and both had plenty of juice. Just for fun, I also ran a decoder-equipped O scale switcher with the Command Center, and it also performed well under a light load. If your customers like to be able to walk around with their throttle, you might suggest they purchase a 10-foot extension terminal wire (44498, $5.20).

Bachmann's E-Z Command is compatible with decoders from all manufacturers, and conforms to all applicable National Model Railroad Association standards. The jack on the front of the Command Center hints that additional components are coming.

If your customers are looking to get into DCC, this is a good place for them to start. Though it doesn't have every DCC bell and whistle, it does have many of the features more advanced sets have. Plus, having a decoder-equipped locomotive in the set gives customers practically instant satisfaction, as there's no need to take the locomotive apart to plug- or wire-in a decoder.
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Radio Control: Hitec Aggressor SRX
Hitec Gets Aggressive with Aggressor SRX
Reviewed by Brian Lab, with Gregg Voss

The Aggressor SRX three-channel programmable pistol-grip surface radio has sleek lines and comes in four configurations, including our review version (No. 129751, $109.99 street price) which features a 75 MHz transmitter, HFS-03MM three-channel FM receiver, one HS-311 servo, switch harness and battery box. Also available (and including the HFS-03MM receiver and switch harness) is a monster truck version (No. -752, $143.99 street) with a 75 MHz transmitter, one HS-645MG hi-torque servo and battery box; 27 MHz version (No. -927, $109.l99 street), with one HS-311 servo and battery box; and another 75 MHz version (No. -753, $99.99 street) featuring just the transmitter, receiver and switch harness. All have LCD display, sub-trims, dual rate steering, anti-lock braking, 10-model memory with four-character model naming and radio frequency indicator LED.

Lab had never used a computer radio prior to testing this product, so it was a good sign that it only took him a half-hour to place the components in a 1:10 Tamiya CLK-DTM AMG-Mercedes. The CLK-DTM has a protective case for the electronics, so he had to disassemble that before placing the receiver in the rear of the case, the battery box next to it and the steering servo up front.

Lab drove the CLK-DTM six times with the Aggressor, burning through nine tanks of fuel and easily establishing a 200-foot range. He was justifiably concerned about pushing the envelope (though he says he could have), because he was testing on city streets and didn't want the car to get hit by a full-size one.

Like fine wine, the radio seemed to get better with each passing moment as he discovered its capabilities. However, as a seller, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with it, preferably in a car on a track, so you can go over its basic features when a newcomer like Lab purchases one.

"You can reach everything with your thumb or your other hand when you're steering," Lab says, which includes throttle and steering trim buttons located to the left and the top of the padded wheel, respectively. The third channel linear adjust button, to move the AUX servo into any position, is located to the right side of the wheel.

Percentages are shown big and bold on the LCD display screen. You increase the percentages by clicking downward, and decrease by clicking upward.

Also nearby is the Actual Travel Length (ATL) switch, on the inside pistol grip, which adjusts the brake servo or ESC travel end point, up to a 125% maximum or down to a 0% minimum. The steering dual-rate dial is just above it for added convenience, and below the third-channel shift button used to shift gears in monster trucks like the Traxxas T-Maxx. Lab was particularly happy with the timer found on the keypad to the right of the steering wheel, which came in handy when gauging his fuel consumption. A removable blue grip pad and removable HP-MIC module on the back of the transmitter are extra accessories that can seal the deal.
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Die-cast: Norscott Claas agricultural models
Norscot broadens its horizons with 1:32 Claas models
Reviewed by Gregg Voss

Norscot has made its name over the years marketing Caterpillar construction models with that firm's distinct yellow and black colors. Chances are, it's going to do the same thing with the lime green of Claas, its first non-Caterpillar line, which it picked up earlier this year, though it has made promotional models in the past for Harsewinkel, a Germany-based firm.

I finally got my hands on the first two releases in October, both 1:32 - a Lexion 580 Combine (No. 56012, $49.95) and a Jaguar 880 Forage Harvester (No. 56013, $39.95) - and I was duly impressed.

I've admired the detail of Norscot's Caterpillar product for years, and there was no drop-off here. The Lexion 580 Combine is big, measuring almost 13 inches long (including the orange-red rotating grain head, part of a detachable assembly) and about 5 inches tall. There is also a grain chute that swivels out on the driver's side.

But that was just the start - there are so many little things that will please the most persnickety collector. How about a swiveling stepladder that leads to the two-seat cab, and a red fire extinguisher nearby?

There are two movable grain dispensers in the lower rear, and a diesel exhaust pipe on top of the vehicle, abutting the swiveling grain chute.

The tires are huge, with man-sized treads and orange wheels, which complements the lime-green façade on the vehicle and the removable grain-head assembly. There is even a ladder in the rear, orange plastic warning lights on the top front and rear, rear-view mirrors and taillights that extended from the rear.

The Jaguar 880 Forage Harvester is smaller than the Lexion, but no less exciting. Like its big brother, the lime-green color is bright, and the orange-red Claas logo/model name is found in no less than four places.
The Jaguar has a plastic dispensing chute behind the cab that swivels 180 degrees and even lifts several inches for extra realism. As with the Lexion, the pick-up head front assembly is removable (revealing the die-cast pickup heads inside the vehicle itself, which don't turn but explain how the grain is forced in). The front assembly also has turning wheels and a turning internal auger that's covered by a flip-down mesh piece to keep the grain inside.

The cab is nicely done, with a command chair, stick shift, operation lever and even a table offset left.

Something else worth noting is the packaging. As it has done with Caterpillar, Norscot lets the Claas name and color sell the product. Large photos of the full-size versions hard at work complement the clear-plastic fronts that show off the models grandly.

If you've got Norscot collectors, you're going to want to turn them on to these two items, along with 1:87 models that are also slated for fall release - a Lexion 580 Combine (No. 56016) and a Jaguar 900 Forager (No. 56017). Each will retail for $19.95 and would look terrific on an HO layout.
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