East German Workhorse – DBAG Class 143/DR Class 243 in N Scale
Hi there. I am back. This time with an overview of one of a current DBAG loco.
|Two 143 engines in current DBAG livery.|
Source: wikipedia commons
Starting in 1990, the now renamed Class 143 (the first digit 1 indicates electric locomotives, 2 is for diesels at DB) started appearing all over Western Germany as well. In particular, the locomotives soon proved to be extremely reliable and effective for regional and S-Bahn trains, outperforming the DB Class 111 in many areas. Although over 250 units have been scrapped already – the lightweight aluminum construction means that many otherwise minor collisions result in irreparable damage to the frame – due to the sheer numbers produced, the 143 still is very much an everyday sight, pulling regional trains across all parts of Germany. In addition, a handful are now in freight operations with a number of private operators, such as RBH and MEG.
DBAG Class 143 in N Scale
|An earlier Arnold 143 model issued prior to the Hornby takover |
in traffic red Era V livery but with wrong red pantographs
Not long after the 143s invaded and spread out over the West, in 1992 both Roco and Minitrix produced N Scale models of this locomotive, shortly followed the next year by Arnold. All three models have been continually updated and reissued over the years in all of the most frequent liveries: original dark red DR colors; orange/grey S-Bahn livery; orient red, as well as the current traffic red. MEG and RBH liveries were made by special order on the Arnold model.
When I shopped around for models of this locomotive, I was strongly advised by German forum users against the Minitrix model. It has somewhat inaccurate dimensions and axle spacing. It is also the only one not to have been updated with a newer motor with flywheel and accordingly has the worst driving characteristics. Since I never bought any of Minitrix’ models I cannot provide any further details on it.
|Innards of old (bottom) and new (top) Arnold models|
Under Hornby management, Arnold in 2011 reissued its 143 in current Era VI lettering and updated with operational red marker lights, a NEM651 decoder socket, as well as a new 5-pole motor with two huge flywheels. Two years later, Fleischmann reissued the former Roco model, likewise updated with marker lights, BEM651 socket, close coupling mechanism, but with Fleischmann’s trusty 3-pole motor and a small single flywheel. Shortly after, Fleischmann also produced a full DCC sound version with sound decoder by Zimo.
Comparing the Arnold/Hornby and Fleischmann/Roco models in their latest incarnation, the result is more or less an overall tie. Which model suits you better will depend on your individual preferences and willingness for compromise in certain areas. Visually, the two are very similar in overall accuracy, detailing, printing and looks. I would give a slight leg up to Arnold on the visuals due to the somewhat crisper details and due to Fleischmann’s continuing use of Roco’s huge and clunky pantographs.
|Fleischmann (left) with correct inner marker lights.|
Arnold (right) with wrong outer marker lights.
Note the much higher Roco pantographs on the Fleischmann
Fleischmann did, however, do one thing correctly that Arnold managed to screw up: on the Fleischmann model the correct (inner) lights light up as the marker lights, while on the Arnold model the red light comes out of same lights as the white headlights. This is an unfortunate blight on an otherwise really exquisite model, as the configuration of the taillights is rather characteristic on this locomotive since it is so frequently seen pushing regional trains. Due to lack of foresight as well as the limitations of the 6-pin NEM651 socket, neither model permits turning off the lights on one end without extensive soldering and rewiring, so you invariably end up illuminating the first coach.
|The current Fleischmann reissue of the Roco model.|
In terms of performance, the Arnold model easily outclasses the Fleischmann model. In analog use, the two sizeable flywheels of the Arnold, along with its fine five-pole motor, give it superb low speed handling characteristics and smooth acceleration and deceleration. Out of the box, my particular Fleischmann 143 had a misaligned flywheel that produced a noticeably uneven run and required return to the shop and realignment. Once fixed, it performed much better, but still nowhere near as smoothly as the Arnold. The differences are somewhat less pronounced in digital operation. I have a Doehler & Haas DH10 installed in the Fleischmann and an ESU LokPilot Micro 4.0 in the Arnold and the DH decoder manages to tame the Fleischmann very well so that realistic acceleration and deceleration is possible. Overall, I still prefer the handling of the Arnold.
The other area where Arnold gets an unfortunate and rather serious demerit is accessibility for maintenance. The Fleischmann/Roco construction is rather simple – though, as is typical for Roco, a bit quirky – to disassemble: you pull out the four bumpers and then you can easily pull off the shell. The circuit board is on top and the decoder socket is centrally located for easy access and leaving ample space for the decoder of your choice.
|The current Arnold/Hornby model. The new issue has |
correct grey pantographs.
Not so the Arnold. To open that model, you have to spread the sides of the shell and pull off the shell – so far, so normal – but then you have to pull out the headlight/marker light units, which are held in place inside the shell by the clear plastic light attachments and which are tied to the circuit board by soldered wires. Pull too hard and the soldering joints will come apart. Trying to reassemble this thing afterwards is a nightmare. Additionally, as is common with many early 90s Arnold designs (103, 152, ICE3 etc.) the circuit board is inexplicably located underneath the chassis, where it is prone to have contacts gunked up by lubricant from the nearby bogies. Decoder installation requires complete disassembly of the entire locomotive and space for the decoder is limited. The ESU LokPilot micro is just about the largest decoder you will want to try to fit there, as it fills out the space entirely.