About three years ago I was looking around to see what was available for N Scale maintenance of way (MOW) equipment. I found very little of the more modern track, roadbed, ballast, and tie equipment, but stumbled across an announcement for the Lemke Plasser and Plasser & Theurer 07-32 series Ballast Tamper. The units was due out in late 2006 and was being made for Lemke/HobbyTrain. A little research said that Plasser & Theurer equipment was used in japan quite a bit, so maybe this could be a believable addition for my future japanese themed layout. The price was a bit high ($120 with a pre order and expected price of $140-150 once in stock), but it was just about the only thing out there, so i put in a pre-order. Having heard Lemke was usually behind on releases and getting worse i was not holding my breath. every 4-6 months i would check in with WigWag to see if there was any progress on the order and it was always; it's been delayed again! Finally i got notice in early 2009 that they were finally being shipped from europe and should be shipped by March!
Even with the release delays and a high price it was worth the wait as its a very unique and interesting model. I have always been a sucker for the odder equipment. That was what drew me into modeling Japanese railways in the first place as there is such a grand variety of equipment and a lot of really odd/interesting looking items! Then to boot it appears that Kato may be releasing the unit, apparently under the Kato brand, to the japanese market, but the list price is being put at 25,000 yen! The current pictures for this release look to be the same as the european Lemke release. It is unclear if Kato has manufactured this unit for Lemke/HobbyTrain (Kato does a lot of manufacturing for them) or not. Wig-Wag states that Lemke did not claim to have Kato make the unit for them, and Kato's name does not appear on anything in the box, instructions or unit like other Kato produced HobbyTrain equipment. So its unclear who made the unit for Lemke/HobbyTrain.
The unit is self powered with both 2 axle trucks powered from a drive shaft with the motor mounted near the one end of the car. The unit also has 8 wheel pickup. The tamper runs smoothly, but at a reduced speed to be prototypical (I think the prototypes have something like a 50kph speed limit). The unit runs smoothly with a bit of a gravely sound, but that maybe prototypical for this kind of equipment! The tamper unit uses the spring style worm drive where the worm gear is actually a wound spiral of wire that attaches to the drive shaft. I have seen this kind of mechanism have trouble with some tomix units in the past so I hope that does not occur with this unit! Peter Wisniewski also has some comments on the quality of the truck and gear assemblies in his review on the Atlas Forum: http://forum.atlasrr.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=52865&whichpage=2.
DCC installation is an option and instructions are provided (in German) for installing a DCC decoder. Unfortunately it is not a drop in affair, but has some delicate modifications that need to be made to the wiring in order to patch in the decoder. Blaine Bachman has done a PDF of an english translation of the provided instructions along with his own simplified installation procedure that is well documented. You can download his translation and instructions here: http://blainestrains.org/pdfs/PlasserInstructions.pdf.
The detailing of the unit is nice. All wheels are blackened nicely. Lemke/Kato provided a few extra details to install, two horns, a ladder and two side hoses. All of these items except for the smallest horn were actually provided in duplicate, a really nice thing do to due to the tiny size of the parts and how easy it is to zing one across the room with a tweezer pop! All went on easily enough with a small drop of CA glue. I am a big bummed at these prices that there are no lights in the unit -- neither head or tail lights or cabin lights. Something that could be added in as there is wiring in the chassis that could be tapped into for power and a bit of room in the cabins for any resistors and such that may be needed.
The unit comes with body mounted Rapido couplers that are side to side slide mounting (ie no spring) and appear to have a plate mounting that would be replaceable with a Tomix TN or MicroAce micro coupler for a more realistic appearance.
The paint scheme is pretty much all yellow except for gray roofs, silver mufflers, and small black hosing, ladders, and grab on details. The main body plastic appears to be yellow plastic, not painted yellow. Very simple Plasser & Theurer name plates are on the sides and ends and serial numbers and a DB logo (Deutsche Bahn) on the sides of the main cab. So if you look really close this unit belongs in Germany, but from much of any distance its almost impossible to see the DB logo and it could easily be internationalized. I found one picture of some Plasser & Theurer MOW equipment at Yahaba (Iwate prefecture) that had a very lovely blue, chartreuse, yellow, and white paint scheme (http://www.flickr.com/photos/brucewood/256284409/), so some interesting paint options could be an option later!
All in all I am happy i picked up this unit. Unfortunately there does not seem to be much else coming along other than 3 flats go to with this unit. There is weird and wonderful selection of the MOW equipment that Plasser & Theurer that i would love to see done, but its probably way too esoteric to do. With the collector market in japan liking the odd stuff its too bad that Tomytec or Maruka does not pick up some of these to do as non powered, all plastic models that you could then be upgraded with better wheels. Plasser & Theurer have a great set of photo galleries of all the different kinds of MOW equipment they make here: http://showroom.creative.co.at/en/production_range/index.htm. These machines actually would be fun ones to scratch build as their shapes are simple and the details could be done with simple stock materials and lots of little bits and pieces! Something for retirement!
Interestingly N Sprays, a specialty rail modeling company in England, created a similar etched brass and metal cast version of this tamper unit (i don't believe its for sale any longer). It uses a Kato mini-chassis power mechanism for its propulsion. At $150 for the kit or $450 for a ready to run version it is not cheap, but looks to have very interested detailing.
Lemke just released (March 2010) a three car support train to go with the tamper. These are short single axle flat cars, two with ballast on them and one with a stack of rail sections. They are painted the same bright yellow. At $90 for the set, i plan on using a few Kawai flat cars and gravel cars to make a custom MOW support train for the tamper. I am thinking of kitbashing a small crane onto one of the cars or small MOW loco as well for the set.
If you have any more information about the use of Plasser & Theurer MOW equipment in Japan or more information on this model i would love to add it to this review!
Here are a few links to pictures of the prototype machine:
video of this kind of machine in action: