This review examines the HO Athearn Ready-To-Roll BNSF Rotary Snowplow and Power Car.
A Brief History of the Rotary Snowplow
The first rotary plow was designed in 1869 by Toronto dentist J.W. Elliot. His design, similar to but more primitive than the later Leslie type, was never built. Several other early plow ideas also died a similar death. Some were constructed in prototype form and scrapped, while others never were constructed at all.. These included the Hawley plow, the Marshall plow, the Blake Machine Plow and the Kryger steam snow shovel.Data: BNSF 972559
The first successful rotary plow was designed by Canadian Orange Jull. He had the plow built by the Leslie Brothers, owners of a machine shop, and tested it in the winter of 1883-84. The Leslies' soon purchased the manufacturing rights to the plow and went into business building 'Leslie type' rotaries. This is the type of plow most people think of when you say 'rotary.' It has one large circular plow blade rotating on a shaft parallel to the tracks.
Between 1885 and 1903 the Leslies had 62 plows (plus 2 for export) built by several locomotive works. They then sold the rights to the plows to ALCo. However, the Leslies' company exists to this day. From 1905 to 1937 ALCo built 67 plows (plus 4 for export). Two homebuilt, 42 inch gauge Leslie plows were built by Reid Newfoundland. Lima-Hamilton built the last four commercially produced steam rotaries (and the last commercial Leslie types) in 1949-50, under license from ALCo.
Five homebuilt Leslie types (4 diesel, 1 electric) were built between 1950 and 1971. The one plow constructed in 1971, by Union Pacific, was the last Leslie type built. Over the years Leslies were built in US Standard Gauge, 3 foot gauge, and 42 inch gauge, and possibly other gauges for export. Of the 146 known Leslie type plows, there are 41 known survivors, and 5 probable/unconfirmed survivors.
Post-Steam Era Evolution
The winter of 1949 was particularly harsh, and the northern and western railroads were buried in snow. The then-standard steam rotaries proved incapable of dealing with the huge amounts of snow. The railroads looked at several possible solutions to the problem of insufficient plowing ability:
* Union Pacific had two large steam rotaries of conventional design built. These were successful plows, but were infrequently used. Both survive today as museum pieces.
* CB&Q converted an old steam plow to electric power, using a trailing locomotive as a power source. This proved to be the best solution, and large numbers of conversions followed.
* CB&Q, NP and UP sponsored construction of the Bros Sno Flyr, a snowblower-type plow. This plow was superior to the Leslie types in light snow, but could not deal with the heavy, deep snow the Leslies could handle. Because of this limitation, the Bros plows were not produced in great numbers.
In the years following 1949, many steam plows were converted to electric power. Nearly all rotaries now in service are former steam plows that have been converted. Initially most would have been powered by "standard" diesel locomotives that had undergone minimal modifications for the plow-power role. Today, most of these plows get their power from an old locomotives that have been stripped of traction motors and semi-permanently coupled to the plow.
The Burlington Northern (now BNSF) plows are powered by former F9As and F9Bs converted to Rotary Snowplow Power Units (RSPUs). The 10 GP28Ps acquired during the 1990's are equipped to power the rotaries as well, so the RSPU fleet has been gradually declining
Builder, Date, Number: ALCo (Cooke), 9/1915, #54787
Power: Electric, power from RSPU #972572
History: ex NP 47, ex NP 46, nee CR&NW X-4
Modifications: Converted from steam power, 1966 †
ready-to-roll BNSF No.972559 and Power car No.972572
Athearn keeps today’s prototypes on today’s model railroads. This interesting model set is packed in a form fitted cradle held in a blue and yellow Athearn Ready To Roll box. This set is a powered rotary unit and an unpowered B-unit.
This model boasts these key features:
Fully assembled and ready for your layout
Includes Athearn snowplow and dummy B unit
Operating rotary blades
Clear window glazing
Machined RP25 profile metal wheels
McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers installed
COUPLER STYLE: McHenry Scale Knuckle
ERA: 1950 - Present
While this model is for DC, it can be converted for DCC.
Athearn securely packages this model in a plastic cradle formed to the model’s shape. It is easy to remove the model from the cradle. Further protection is a fitted clear plastic top that holds the model in the cradle. The cradle snugly slips inside a tray/lid cardboard box with a celluloid window on the front. Included is a parts diagram. (Thank you, Athearn!)
Bear in mind that Ready-To-Roll is Athearn's entry-level series. As such it lacks the fantastic detail of Athearn Genesis models. It is an improvement over the old Athearn “Blue Box” models of old although I cannot tell if the plastic body shells are new or reworked Blue Box
molds. The molding is good with no flash, sink holes or visible ejector marks, and minor seam lines.
Almost all details - grab irons, stirrups, handles, diaphragms, dynamic brake fans, lift rings - are molded on. MU attachment points are molded as round raised knobs. Other brackets for air and steam lines are molded near the couplers. The model lacks open grilles along the sides (perhaps a dark wash on them will give the illusion of being open). It does feature separately applied roofwalks over the rotary body, and a flanger under the body. There are no lights to illuminate and no detail in the cab.
Carrying the rotary chassis along the rails are different trucks with fair detail: a caboose type forward and a three-axel tender truck trailing. There are no brake shoes are represented. These trucks mount machined RP25 profile metal wheels.
Carrying the B-unit power car along the rails are detailed trucks of B-B arraignment (a pair of powered two-axle trucks) with very detailed plastic sideframes representing Blomberg B trucks. Brake shoes are represented. Athearn details each with separately applied brake cylinders and swing hangers. These trucks mount machined RP25 profile metal wheels. They roll happily over code 83 track.
Good looking McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers are installed. They can be replaced by removing a screw.
By “the 3-foot rule” these are acceptable looking models; what detracts from the illusion is the expansive space between the rotary and B units. One could consider removing the couplers and joining the two units with a short drawbar, although that may hamper the snowplow's ability to negotiable the advertised 18-in. radius curve.
What’s underneath the hood is very important. The analog (DC) motor and drive have been updated. No longer do Athearn models growl like an old coffee grinder. They run smooth and quiet.
Paint and Markings
This is where this model shines. The paint finish of the BNSF livery is excellent. Markings are crisp although this model lacks the fine stenciling of other Athearn offerings.
Athearn released four roadnames:
2. Burlington Northern
3. Santa Fe
4. Southern Pacific
I powered the track and the rotary blade spun freely. Noise was not distracting. Please watch the video for this demonstration.
There are not many RTR HO rotary plows available. This model is Athearn’s entry-level offering. It has reasonable molded detail and a couple of individual parts. It rolls well and the blade spins nicely. Knuckle couples are installed. The paint is excellent.
It lacks open grilles and wire hand holds and grabs. Many components are over scale.
I did not check its profile with any schematics yet it looks like a rotary and B-unit to me. If you want to compare this model accuracy to the prototype BNSF 972559 972572, click on Click here for additional images for this review
, at the bottom of this review.
This looks like a rotary plow and F7B to me. I think it is a good entry-level model that will gain a lot of attention. Recommended.
Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on RailRoadModeling.net.
† Toppan, Andrew. "Motive Power Review: Rotary Snowplow Survivors." Motive Power Review: Rotary Snowplow Survivors.
Hazegray.org, 6 May 2001. Web. 04 June 2014.
Music: Kai Engel – Embracing The Sunrise