Greetings Z-scalers! I guess I am one of you now, almost by accident. ;-) More on that in a second. You see, I'm an n-scaler at heart, and always will be...that part won't change. In fact I just started a new N layout! My thought has always been that I want to stay focused on N because it is ideal in my opinion and I want to stay somewhat in check with regards to my hobby budget. So any appeal Z has had was never enough to bring me around to the point of effectively spending part of my N budget on Z. Anyway, long story short, American Z Lines has their F59PHI Sets on an extreme sale and I bought two of them. I don't have any major plans for them at this point, but here is my purchasing plan: 1. Buy a handful of Rokuhan track to get trains rolling. 2. Later, buy one GP locomotive of some type for some freight service. 3. Buy a handful of freight cars. I'm initially going to limit myself to no more than ten cars. 4. Eventually buy 2 or 3 RDC-1's. (the line I want to model still runs them) 5. Then stop. I like to think that I learned my lesson in N to avoid buying way too much stuff. The above is sufficient to run my joint commuter/freight line in its basic form. My goal is to really place focus on those items. So for the locomotives that means a good decoder and setting up all of the lighting packages with SMD's and doing some minor superdetailing. Same with the cab control cars...adding pickups and a decoder and then SMD's for lighting. Then perhaps a sound decoder in two of the coaches to sit behind the locos. Minor superdetailing of freight cars and some weathering of everything. So I get it....especially in Z this is all very intricate work and takes time and that is why I want to keep my collection pared down until I can get all of that accomplished. And yes, I know my way around little bitty drill bits. :-D At some point along the journey I intend to build a little bit more permanent layout which will likely be a smallish (2x4.5 or so) roundy roundy or some type of FreeMo-ish or T-Trak-ish modules with loops on each end. I have no major grand plans for the grandiose scenery or mega-long unit trains that is the strength of Z...the appeal to me is the compact layout with *reasonable* curves and a little run space between commuter stations. Let's call it "Z-Scale with an HO-state-of-mind." So, a couple of random yet somewhat related questions... 1. Of the following freight locomotives, which would you recommend if you were only buying ONE: MTL GP35 MTL GP9 AZL GP7 AZL GP9 AZL GP30 AZL GP38-2 From a proto perspective, the GP38-2 is the best choice, but looking at photos online the MTL GP35 just looked better to me. (but not really available, either) Both looked ok though, and I'm sure there may have been photo issues too so I'm not dismissing anything. I really need one of the 30-series locos to start...the GP7/9 would be loco #4. (see below) The first loco would likely be a modern scheme UP loco. (versus, say, the old UP scheme AZL's GP30) I could change the era a bit and do a short line scheme on probably any of the locos....might consider that. I know it's not a feast of paint scheme riches in Z... well aware. 2. Do Micro-Trains and/or AZL offer undec shells? I did notice MTL offers decorated "skins" (shells) although of course none available in my roads of interest. I don't have some super strong desire to custom paint a bunch of Z-scale locos, but I do have a couple of scenarios I'm looking at. And, especially would be interested in a couple of AZL RDC-1 shells, since they have to be a custom job anyway...I want to try an Alclad treatment on them. 3. Is it possible to (relatively easily) do a low-nose conversion on the respective GP7/9's? The commuter line uses an ex-Santa Fe GP7u as their yard switcher so, if I did expand past 3 locos that would likely be the first if it was feasible. Not sure what's crammed in under the high short hood area. 4. Decoder recommendations? Was thinking TCS or Digitrax but I'm not married to any brand...just whatever is the best solution overall is my goal. (being mindful of the lighting) Thanks for listening. Any other suggestions for a newbie Z-scaler are welcome.