Walthers’ New SW-1200 Is Able, But Shows Its Age

Published: 2018-04-16 - By: RoadRailer
Last updated on: 2021-01-01
visibility: Public
The 1200 horsepower SW-1200 prototype is a switch engine produced between 1954 and 1966 and its successful design brought a long-term win to EMD and the railroads that bought them. More than 1,020 units were sold to U.S. and Canadian roads and nearly three dozen more found their way to export buyers. Many SW-1200s continue to operate in various railroading and industrial roles. Externally, EMD's SW-9 was similar to the SW-1200 in many respects, with a minor difference in battery box louvers often being the distinguishing feature.

Product features
Walthers’ newest production run of the N Scale SW-1200 has all-wheel drive and electrical pickup, a 5-Pole skew-wound motor, a die-cast frame, blackened RP-25 wheels for operation of Code 55 or larger rail, one headlight on the long hood end (but none on the cab end), factory installed Micro-Trains® couplers and is said to be DCC-friendly.

Road names and Road numbers
Road names from this run are AT&SF, BNSF, D&RGW, EJ&E, MILW, RDG and SP. All but the MILW are sold with two road numbers. Road numbers from this production will not be repeated. The paint on my Reading model was very good, even showing Reading's small stencils around the car body.

Model history
The mechanism beneath the body shell of the Walthers' SW-1200 harkens back to its late 1990s roots at Life Like when the model was first released. The model marked a significant upgrade in quality at Life Like and was a well-regarded design with good operating characteristics. Incremental drive improvements were made over the decades, along with the introduction of a DCC-friendly chassis that accepts the Digitrax DN126M2 Decoder or the Train Control Systems MT1500 Decoder.

Model construction creates challenges
However, the construction of this model makes it a challenge to disassemble for servicing or DCC decoder installation. The body shell press fits tightly to the chassis and the body shell mounted wipers are poorly attached and have a tendency to fall away during the process. The wipers defy being easily set back in place and if they are bent from excessive handling, the body shell may not rest evenly. This is a known liability and Walthers should have explored ways to improve the troublesome wiper mounting with this release. My model arrived with one of the body shell mounted wipers incorrectly placed below the tab on the truck. Using a small screwdriver and patience, I was able to properly position it without any surprises. The wipers within the trucks can be seen through the side frame of the trucks, but only if seen at eye level.

Perhaps I'm being too picky, but the body shell on my unit rests 0.5mm higher in the front than in the rear and my attempts to adjust it were futile. It's a slight difference (equating to only 3 Inches on a prototype locomotive), but it is noticeable from certain angles. My model also arrived with its end handrails bent in, but fingertip persuasion restored them to normalcy.

Decent pulling power
I didn't convert my SW-1200 to DCC. Operation is somewhat noisy by modern standards, but it isn't objectionable. Slow speed operation is quite good, as is the range of its speed. The Walthers model performs better than my old Life Like model in this regard. The Walthers locomotive weighs 1.7 oz, exactly matching the weight of elder Life Like model. Pulling power should meet the needs of most modelers who understand the limits of a small locomotive such as this. My locomotive began to move with 1.4 VDC applied to the rails, which is similar to a random selection of other locomotives in my collection.

The locomotive slows a small bit when running on the 11" radius curves on my test oval and returns to normal speed on straight track. The front truck on my model has more freedom of movement than the rear and perhaps this is the reason. I'm uncertain of its minimum operating radius, but the trucks will turn tighter than 11". My model never sputtered, stalled or climbed a rail.

With the caveat that DCC decoder installation will take time and that the bones of this locomotive are 20 years old, the latest models of Walthers' SW-1200 look good, run fairly well and should please most N Scalers.

About the Author

Roadrailer has been attracted to railroading since he was old enough to point and enjoyed many a Lionel train before receiving an Arnold Rapido N Scale set as a birthday gift. He’s since been in N Scale for over 50 years. His railroading interest extends to the prototype, with historical research and rail photography often competing with N Scale. He’s been married to Mrs. Roadrailer for many years and she remains an ardent supporter of the hobby.

Roadrailer has resided in the midwest, northeast and southeastern U.S., so has a close interest in a number of railroads. He’s retired after a long career in the pulp and paper industry.