DFH5 Class Diesel-hydraulic Bo-Bo
The DFH5, abbreviated for DongFangHong (or "The East is Red"), is a diesel hydraulic locomotive with a weight of 86 tonnes. They were developed from the earlier DFH2 and Ziyang Locomotive Diesel Works started mass production from 1976. By the time production ceased, 710 units had been built. The locomotives are powered by a 4 stroke V12 diesel engine and engines 0001 - 0094 put out 1250hp, however later road numbers saw the engine de-rated to 1075hp. They have a maximum speed of 80kph.
The DFH5's were an extremely wide spread class of locomotive and were typically used in heavy industry such as factories, steel mills, mines and construction trains. A number of secondary branch lines also used DFH5's and many examples still survive to this day.
The DFH5 was an important gap to be filled for HO scale Chinese railways. Prior to their release, Bachmann's DF7G were really the only suitable locomotive for such work, but were of course significantly larger and much more modern. They were the second models in the DongFangHong family to be released after Bachmann's DFH3, although these were of course designed as mainline express passenger locomotives (although a number of these ended up in industrial service towards the end of their lives). Naturally, I was very excited to get my hands on some so bought a pair to try out, after all N27 to date had been a very reputable brand of quality and good running models.
The two numbers I purchased were 0001 in the common green and gold livery and 0303 in orange, both units of which I saw in China with the former now a permanent exhibit in Beijing Railway Museum and 0303 in coal service in Liaoyuan, Jilin province. N27 have given us two distinctive body variations with the difference being three extra porthole windows in the long hood positioned underneath the exhaust. N27 released a total of 18 different road numbers in no less than seven liveries, including two in special Locomotive factory designs. The body shell is plastic and they sit on top of a heavy alloy frame with all the add-on parts being either brass or plastic.
N27 have packaged their models in a very nice sleeved plastic clam shell and wrapped the them in a soft plastic sheet to protect against paint damage. This clamshell sits in a high quality foam lined two piece cardboard box. Included is an instruction sheet and information booklet. My two samples came with optional add on numbers to stick over the painted ones on the cab sides to give a 3D look like the real thing.
N27 have done a superb job in making their DFH5's look just right. The only physical variations I can find between road numbers are the aforementioned porthole windows on the long hood. The shells are plastic injection molded type and the detail included, particularly the staggering amount of louvers and access doors all along the body, are very well done. If I had to find one criticism, it would be the coupler boxes that stick out of the pilots. The real locomotives couplers does stick out a bit to provide clearance for the pilot, however there is a lot more detail going on there and the simple black coupler boxes don't really cut it for me. I will probably attempt some replacement 3d printed parts in the near future to correct these.
Some of the finer details include brass air horns, very fine brass windshield wipers, extremely fine lift rings, brass wire uncoupling rods, plastic air hoses, radio antenna, see through brass footsteps and side number lights (non-functional). The cab has a fully equipped cab interior and looks very realistic, although fairly hard to see. No crew is provided. Although there is constant debate whether plastic or metal handrails are the way to go, N27 have used metal type. Personally I prefer these, as I always find they look better and hold their shape over time, unless seriously mishandled. The handrails on N27's models are painted.
The bogies are mainly made from plastic parts and have a good amount of detail. I love that the cables are separately applied parts, unlike most other manufacturers that simply make them part of the main casting. Suspension springs are brass and the hollowed out sections where the brake rigging poke through looks sensational. Traction motor detail is present, albeit basic, but at least there's something. Note the tiny bracing rods between the bogies have a tendency to break in half or simply fall out, so be very careful when handling that you don't put any pressure underneath the bogies.
N27 have provided enough flavours for everyone to enjoy. The common green/white and green yellows are the most plentiful versions, followed by the orange ones. They are beautifully painted models, with nice vibrant and rich colors and a matt finish. Paint work is very fine and evenly applied and all lettering and lining is extremely sharp, and from I can tell, correct. I particularly like that N27 have made the effort to not only paint the Dong Fang Hong characters on the long hood, but also made them raised on the shell, just as they have done with the builders plates. They have even put the tiny Dong Fang Hong characters on the wheel bearing covers and cab door handles are painted silver, so top marks there. My orange version has the headlight visors painted silver and many others have a stripe on the exhaust cowling.
Now, while I give a big tick to the way the locomotives are detailed, it is unfortunate to note that these models shed more parts than a Labrador in summer. I have not had a model lose more of itself since Haidar made their highly detailed but stupidly fragile DF3 over a decade before these were released. To date I have lost (but thankfully found to repair) half a dozen footsteps, an air horn, three air hoses, all of the fuel tank pipes, bogies bracing straps, an entire fuel tank (that was quite impressive watching the carnage that ensued), one marker light lens and a windshield wiper. This automatic parts removal program that N27 have installed is not limited to one of my samples, but fairly evenly spread out over both. In fact, just getting these girls out of the box to photograph for this review saw two footsteps come away. I suspect the glue used is cyanoacrylate (super glue), given the tell tale white stains left behind, which I rarely use for modeling as it is extremely brittle stuff once cured.
The locomotives have quite a nice weight for their size. They take power from all wheels via copper wipers and all axles are powered. Unfortunately it's all downhill from here. The wheel base is fairly small, but these things are amongst the worst runners I have in my entire fleet of trains. It is a constant story of sudden stop start. They motor shaft does have a pair of brass fly wheels on either side of the motor which are designed to keep it moving in the event of a speck of dirt on the track, however they don't seem to make any difference at all, unless driving at ridiculous high speeds, somewhat defeating the purpose for a shunt locomotive! Locomotives have been tested on both DC and DCC and until I can get around to investing a few hours and a decent amount of cash to install a large capacitor inside to prevent them from having an epileptic seizure down my tracks, they will unfortunately remain stored away in the box.
The electronics are a bit of a dog's breakfast as well, but let's go over the nicer things first. The DFH5's come with bogie lights, cab light, and directional markers and main headlight. The color is good and intensity is excellent. So that's the good part. The bad thing is some of the lights work either intermittently or simply not at all (again tested in DC and DCC). There is a circuit board on the upper section of the frame and a speaker is included in the fuel tank. Power is delivered to the lights and motor to the tiniest wires I've ever seen, with a thickness akin to horse hair. Many of these said wires are connected to the circuit board about a millimeter or less apart from the next one and as they have a tendency to come off the board on their own accord, making repairs is an absolute delight.
'OK-Tech' Sound Decoder (sub-review)
Chinese company "OK-Tech" make sound decoders with DFH5 sounds pre-installed for N27's DFH5 model. I hastily bought a pair for my locos, and almost immediately added them to my ever growing list of life regrets. Installation isn't too difficult, done by unscrewing the main circuit board off the frame and then navigating the decoder through the nest of idiotic wires before pressing it on to the pins. They were promptly removed again after popping one of the main headlights a few minutes after installation on one locomotive, followed by the entire front headlights and marker light assembly of the other. The sounds were not too bad when activated alone, however sound blending is very poor and given the nature of the locomotive performance with its constant narcoleptic attacks, listening to the engine prime before firing up again every five seconds was becoming very annoying. Overall a very disappointing product mated to another disappointing product = two disappointing products.
The DFH5's are very easy to take apart, and this is done by removing four small screws on both sides of the couplers. There is no need to remove the couplers or pilot to achieve this. Be very careful when lifting the shell off and even more careful putting them back on. As you can see in the photo below, one of those wires at the front came off just by lifting the shell. By the way, those two switches that sit under the dynamic brake fan are used to isolate the motor to allow lights to remain on. The idea is that panel can be removed for easy access to said switches, but the two clips are very tight against the body and will most likely break if you try to access them this way.
My couplers have been replaced with Kadee scale head #158 'whisker' type in place of the supplied plastic knuckle couplers (as seen in all the photos on this review). As is my usual practice, I also remove the magnetic pins as I don't use the Kadee auto-coupler system. It is a very easy process; simply remove the center most screw which holds the coupler box in place and it will slide out from the front.
It is such a shame when a new model comes along bursting with potential, only to perform worse than Joe Biden attempting presidency. It is clear N27 put in a lot of effort into designing them, but they simply doesn't work well enough to give a higher rating than 5 out of 10. It is such as a shame as they got so close to nailing this one. I have spent hours cleaning the contacts and fussing over them and am now tempted to completely rewire one of them to see if this will improve matters, but I suspect by the time I get around to doing this, another manufacturer will come along with a similar and hopefully better performing model. N27 were quite dismissive of my complaints and now that the company has ceased operations (taken over by new owner and rebranded Kukepig in 2022), I'm definitely on my own with them.