Craftsman Product Review
Walthers is offering a new run of their R-17 subway cars in dark green livery for the New York City Transit Authority "A" division former Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) lines. The cars are offered as a four car train with one powered unit and three trailers with four different numbers.
Beginning in 1947, new cars were ordered for the former Interborough lines to replace aging pre-WWI cars. The new cars had several improvements including new design trucks, more powerful motors and a new Straight Air Motor Car Electric-Pneumatic Emergency or "SMEE" braking system. The "SMEE" fleet consisted of all cars built between 1948 and 1964, and eventually included 2,860 compatible cars.
A set of R-17's awaits departure from Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Station on November 15, 1969. Photo by Joe Testagrose
The 400 R-17 class cars were built in 1955-56 by the St. Louis Car Company. These cars were smaller versions of the R16 cars ordered at the same time for the "B" division (ex BMT and IND) lines. They were single unit cars that could operate independently or as part of a longer train. The electrical components came from General Electric for cars 6500-6699 and Westinghouse for cars 6700-6899. The R-17s came with low running lights at the ends that were soon replaced with sealed beam headlights. These cars also came with comfortable foam rubber longitudinal seats that were later replaced with hard fiberglass benches that were less susceptible to damage. The General Electric cars came with a large box under car that housed the motor control electrical equipment that led them to be called "flat bottoms." Subsequent R21 and R22 class cars were almost identical to the R-17s, the major external difference being rectangular instead of circular windows in the end doors. The last R-17 was removed from service on February 29, 1988.
The Walthers models are accurate models of the R-17 prototypes. They conform to the 51’ length and 8’ 10" width, but sit about 2’ higher on their trucks than the 11’ 10" hight of the prototype.
The powered car has a body mounted 5-pole skew-wound motor equipped with dual flywheels. Both of the Kato style trucks are powered, and electrical pickup is from all 8 wheels. The drive train design is just like that on most current diesel locomotive models. Operating on DC, our sample train started to crawl at less than 0.1 SMPH at 4 V and 0.04 A. The train had a speed of 66 smph at 12 V and 0.2A, and a top speed of 115 smph at 15 V and 0.25 A. The powered unit weighs a hefty 11.1 oz. which helped the unit deliver a drawbar pull of 1.9 oz. before slipping. The trailers weigh 4.8 oz. each. We successfully operated the train on a 10 ½" radius test loop. At this radius the rigid pantograph gates at the corners of the cars were almost touching, and the trucks were against their stops. A minimum radius of about 12" would provide better assurance of smooth operation. The cars come equipped with Proto MAX metal knuckle couplers that result in an unprototypic ½" gap between the coupled cars. Some modelers have replaced the couplers with short drawbars to give a more realistic look to their trains, but this would have the side effect of increasing the minimum radius.
Both the powered and trailer cars have constant intensity LED interior lights and directional headlights. The forward end headlights are illuminated on all of the cars in the train. Initially the trailer cars had a short circuit when placed on to DCC powered track. This was corrected by opening each trailer and removing the DC jumper plugs from the DCC sockets, but this also disabled the trailer car lights. Adding function decoders to the trailer cars would resolve this issue while keeping the car lights functioning, and allow the trailing unit to be programmed so only the last trailer’s rear end headlights would come on when the train operates in reverse.
The cars come with a standard 8-pin DCC socket mounted on the lighting printed circuit board that runs the length of the car above the motor and just under the roof. As a test we installed a Digitrax DH123 decoder. There was insufficient clearance under the roof to mount the decoder above the circuit board, but we were able to tape the decoder under the end of the circuit board in the space above the drive shaft and top of the truck’s gear tower. Without adjustment to any CVs, a smooth slow crawl was achieved at speed step 10 and a top speed of 119 smph at step 99.