These locomotives were made by Kairyu (Bachmann's parent company) on commission for Tenshodo of Japan. As such, the instructions are mainly in Japanese. A limited run of old style passenger cars was produced to be sold with these engines, which were simply repainted Bachmann 'old timer' US prototype cars in various color schemes (not reviewed, but in the main encyclopedia under "Bachmann Industries"). I put off buying the DB3 for a few years due to other modeling priorities, but finally bit the bullet after finding one on clearance via a UK e-tailer, choosing the blue/white livery as it had China Rail logos and had a fairly straight forward color scheme allowing it to fit in (barely!) with the rest of my steam fleet.
The paint work is very nicely done and the lettering and lining are very crisp with no fuzz around the edges. Despite the wheels being mostly covered, they look really nice with black, red and white applied as neccessary. Most of the detailing is very good - particularly the sanding pipes to the wheels, pilot truck guides and uncoupling rods. Unfortunately the main handrails on the boiler and bunker just don't look right, thanks to the multitude of very oversized stantions holding them in place. Although this was standard Bachmann practice with other locomotives, the style really doesn't suit this type of locomotive with so many of them so close together. Painting them the color of the body may greatly improve this.
When I received my DB3, it was the worst locomotive I had experienced with extremely intermittent running which I put down to a poor pick up system and such a short wheel base. After examination, I noticed one of the main contacts was not even making contact with the circuit board on one side and one of the pick up wires from the pony truck on the opposite side (which is held on to the circuit board with a small plastic clip), was very loose! After some quick soldering jobs, the locomotive is now one of my best performing steam locomotives! I was able to pull eight Bachmann YZ22 carriages (with a very small amount of wheel slip in the beginning) at high speed, with a 1% gradient enabling half that amount. The locomotive is quite heavy for its size, and when the above mentioned problems were fixed, it's smooth and responsive. The motor has no fly wheel.
The headlights, while possibly the wrong color, are quite nice. If anything, the LED on the main head light is too small in size so the housing headlight doesn't light up fully. These can be easily replaced by desoldering the headlight from the housing, which is attached to the body via a microscopic screw, and replacing with a standard 1.8mm or 3mm Sunny bright LED. There is an orange marker light on the rear of the engine which is permanently turned on. The twin side lights on the front are also always turned on, while the main headlight turns off if in reverse (there are no main lights on the rear as these locomotives were designed to run forward only. Power is moved around the headlights on a strange pressure/brush system for the main headlight which makes contact with the LED contacts when the body is screwed onto the frame and wires for the side lights. The rear marker light is a 2mm LED fixed to the main board. DCC installation is very easy with the standard 8 pin decoder plug, like Bachmann China locomotives. Strangely there is a hard wiring decoder diagram on the instruction sheet in English only!
I've not converted the couplers on this model yet, however it should accept a #5/58/158 Kadee coupler with no problems. There is no front coupler, and no provision for one.
For those brave enough to build a pre-communist China model railway, these locomotives should fit the bill very nicely.