Athearn Challengers on our layouts - reactions?

bryan9 Mar 10, 2007

  1. bryan9

    bryan9 TrainBoard Member

    Just got mine, opened it up, and gave it a test run on the Utah Division's toughest grade -- the 2.5% climb from Castle Gate to Kyune, Utah, including ducking in and out of sidings in both forward and reverse. My experience:

    * Can haul 20-22 custom-weighted (heavy!) cars up a 2.5% grade
    * Outstanding tracking - no derailments, period, even over abominable trackwork that derailed some of the cars in the consist.
    * Wonderful slow-speed operation.

    My initial reaction is that this loco is on a par with my Katos in terms of smooth operation, tracking, and pulling power.

    After all the negative things I'd heard about N scale steam, I had actually reached an agreement with my vendor to substitute another order for this one, but I guess my vendor forgot, and shipped me a Challenger anyway. I was all set to box it up for return when I decided to give it a spin. My reaction is, basically, it's a keeper. Bravo, Athearn.

    Bryan Pfaffenberger
    Charlottesville, VA
  2. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

    Good choice Bryan!
    Thank your vendor for the mistake too. :)
  3. Paul Downs

    Paul Downs TrainBoard Supporter

    A guy in our club got one that we couldn't program for DCC, so he sent it back. The replacement is fine. If runs like a top, even over 4 not-really-clean doulble slips at slow speed without any hesitation. He's been pulling a long string of Kato varnish, and it looks and sounds sweet.
  4. William Cowie

    William Cowie TrainBoard Member

    Mine has been chuffing aorund the layout pretty much all day. I had 70 cars to see if it can do that, and it did, just fine. (No grades.) Now I have it hauling a UP manifest, 51 cars long, that used to be the limit of the Con-Cor 2-10-2, with nary a hiccup. Just beautiful!

    The wife can hear the chuffing from the basement and has been down a couple times to see it in action, and she can't stop raving over it!

    Great detail, great sound, looks good, the best pulling steam around, I think Athearn has shown N scale steam CAN be done right! (albeit at a price) The sound is great - now I'm eyeing a PCM diesel to run on the other track!
  5. oldrk

    oldrk TrainBoard Supporter

    My son came over to see the new Challenger. Pulled the Big Boy off the 100 cars and replaced with the Chalenger. Figured i would have to take 25 off....but no!Yup, it actually pulled 1oo cars.Sweet.
  6. AB&CRRone

    AB&CRRone TrainBoard Supporter

    Hauled 44 freight cars up a 2 percent grade with my undec on Thursday, the day after it arrived and it would have easily hauled more. This is about 20 more than I plan to haul ordinarily so I'm very pleased. I was curious after the pitiful showing on the same grade by Spectrum 2-6-6-2 and Life-Like 2-8-8-2 (about 6 freight cars each). The Challenger really outshone them. :giggle7yc:

    It is cold natured however. The last two mornings before it warms up it stops - dead still - momentarily, then restarts. After about 5 minutes warm up time it runs without stopping like this. Summer is coming so maybe it will get over this behavior.

    Some of the chuff sound choices remind me of a shay. I watched a tape today that had shots of UP #3985(?) hoping to hear the sounds but the narrator's voice and the blowing of the whistle was about all that was audible. So I picked a chuff rate, type and volume that is pleasing to me.

    The most satisfying runs for me so far have been pulling a long consist of Santa Fe Budds. Why not, its my railroad.

  7. Powersteamguy1790

    Powersteamguy1790 Permanently dispatched

    My Challenger hauls 28 cars easily up the 2% grades of the JJJ&E. The 28 car limit is the length of the shortest reverse loop on the JJJ&E. It could easily pull much more.

    Athearn has raised the standard for N scale steam with the Challenger.

    Stay cool and run steam.....:cool::cool:
  8. bkloss

    bkloss TrainBoard Supporter

    I ran mine for about an hour today and I am very pleased with the performance! Smooth running at all speeds and the dcc sound controls work great. The details on this steamer is truly amazing. Well worth the money unlike my previous con-cor steamer adventure.

    As I have stated before, Athearn goofed with the oversized flanges (not on the drivers) and I have addressed this directly with Athearn. They are geographically in my backyard which helps. One way or another my wheels will be low profile and I won't hear that clickety clack of the flanges hitting the spikeheads. I might even try to pickup another one but I would imagine that the demand for these will be ever increasing once others hear or actually see these babies running.

    I am not a steamhead but this one should make a lot of you guys very happy!

    Have fun with these.

  9. davidone

    davidone TrainBoard Member

    Although i don't have a layout yet, i did set up a nice loop of 13 3/4" radius track and it just ran like like a fine watch. The best N scale steam i have seen or run. It won't be my last if they come out with more of the paint schemes of the UP. Good job Athearn, now on to a Big Boy an even a UP 9000 class.

  10. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

    Everyone was very impressed with the sound of the Athearn Challenger and has been a pleasant addition to my roster of steamers. That was the way it was a few days ago.

    Unfortunately... NOW... something has gone wrong with the handheld device for DC operation.

    NO IT"S NOT THE BATTERY.... I got new A23 batteries. YES, I made sure that I correctly oriented it in the device. The locomotive does run on DC... but can't be easily controlled with out the device. NO bell & whistle sound either. Very disappointed with the failure of the device... par for the Island of Misfit Toy Trains though. :(

    I have another Challenger on the way so... we'll see if this was an anomaly or a manufacturing flaw in the device. If anyone else using the DC controlling device has had problems with it please post on here or another Challenger thread... need to know if it is a widespread issue or something that could only happen to ME.... arrrgggghhhh! :realmad1up:
  11. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    Mine easily hauls my max 20-car-train up the helix, and throughout the layout. May layout is basically one large 2% grade, easing in between South Draw, and west Crescent. I tried to take 20 Athearn hi-side gons up the helix, but no go. too heavy. Maybe if I subbed-in MT wheels, it would do better. It does like to pick certain turnouts. Perhaps the gauge is a tad tight? I'll have to look into that.
    I like the assortment of whistle tones, and the slow speed. Fantastic, Athearn!
  12. imr4

    imr4 New Member

    Help Were can I get one??? UP Challenger thankyou ???"SOLD OUT"???
  13. DocGeoff

    DocGeoff E-Mail Bounces

    Don't fret, there will be a second run shortly, and then a third... The Challenger Booklet that comes with the loco has a listing of several future variations complete with model numbers.
  14. Bob Morris

    Bob Morris TrainBoard Supporter

    Delighted to hear that these steamers are running so well. Hopefully there will be other steam options from Athearn (and other quick learners :) in the future.
  15. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

    DRGW Challenger

    UP Challenger

    Well the two Challengers got their photo op on the 'pink plateau' with some cars in tow. Having some problems with the DC controller on both engines. No problem with the engines themselves thankfully.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 17, 2007
  16. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

    Maybe it's not the number of cars?

    I'm getting more convinced each time I try different engines with the Athearn rolling stock... that they are more-so the cause of the low pulling characteristics than the engines themselves. I've put as many 20 cars with a GP7 or GP9 and run them on a level surface without problems... but... when I use the Athearn (nee MDC/Roundhouse) rolling stock the number goes down to about 17 or 18 with some slippage. Of course not all Athearn cars are equal... the heavier ones are a real problem... specially the 65' mill gons... which are all metal. I had the Challenger 'push' 6 of these 65' mill gons up the 2%+ [curved] grade with no problem... but I doubt it would push more than a dozen of them up that grade.
  17. gunner

    gunner TrainBoard Member

    I've run into this same issue with Athearn and MDC RoundHouse cars. The simple solution is to take the money you save on these cars and find a suitable MTL truck to replace them. This way you get the smooth operation (and slinkey effect) of MTL product on the very nice Athearn car body. I particularly like the 65.5' mill gons, they meet a definite need on my layout. The fact that they are heavy on weight and paint is not too big an issue with me. I have yet to get any of the milk cars so can not address them.

    I have noted that the constant traction of the Challenger reduces or negates the slinkey effect on my level layout. Maybe on this issue, the ability of the locomotive allows the MTL product to perform as intended? I am curious to hear about other peoples observations on this aspect of performance. I have also noted an absence of this phenominom with the B'mann Spectrum class J.

  18. MK

    MK TrainBoard Member

    It's Athern's trucks. Take two parallel tracks on an inclince and let an Athern truck, an Accumante truck, and a MTL truck roll and you'll see that Accumante and MTL outrolls the Athern truck by a long shot. For some reason, Athern's trucks don't roll as freely.

    I've heard that if you put Accumate or MTL wheels in Athern truck frames, you'll get the free rolling back. I haven't tried this myself so I can't confirm.
  19. Kevin Stevens

    Kevin Stevens TrainBoard Supporter

    Impressive, we now have a new locomotive that brings approval from the true head of the household!!! Model Railroading may never be the same, less hidden receipts and sneaking purchases in through the back doors while they are distracted.
  20. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member


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