DF5 Class Diesel-electric Co-Co
ChangMing Model Train Studio
The DF5 has an interesting history beginning in 1976 with Tangshan Locomotive works producing two units before the great Tangshan earthquake of the same year destroyed much of the factory and saw 1700 employees killed. In a temporary factory a further 34 units were built. Another single prototype was built in Dalian (1984) and five more in 1991, but the majority came out of Sifang locomotive works where a total of 1098 units were built over a 22 year span beginning in 1984. The final 132 units of the Sifang machines had a number of modifications with the most notable being a new style body shared with Sifang’s DF7G which saw them built with a cut down short hood for increased visibility. This improved version is the type ChangMing have based their model on. They have an 8 cylinder engine which puts out a maximum 1770hp. DF5's are found nearly everywhere around the country, but the majority of these improved DF5's appear to be located in the north east of the country.
ChangMing released their DF5 hot off the heels of their DF7G released only a couple of weeks earlier. This was an obvious choice, as they share an almost identical shape as the Sifang built DF7G's, with only minor retooling necessary for a second exhaust port and enlarged dynamic brake grille area. A total of fifteen versions were offered including one decorated version, with all sharing the same style livery with variations in the colors. They have a plastic shell with a heavy metal frame. For the first time ChangMing offered all versions with DCC, sound & smoke with only a handful of road numbers made available in DC.
ChangMing's DF5's come in their standard modernised packaging. The locomotive has two removable brackets behind the couplers which screws onto the base plate and a clear Perspex cover which clips onto this turning it into a display case. Note, these diecast brackets should be removed when not in storage. This is then suspended with polystyrene end supports in a high quality sleeved two-piece cardboard box. The model is given extra protection in the display case for shipping with a folded plastic clam shell with a soft plastic sheet to prevent paint damage.
The box includes a small Philips head screw driver, instruction sheet (Chinese language only) and some optional detail parts (specific road numbers only).
The main shell is an injection molded ABS plastic type and the overall appearance and level of detail is typical ChangMing quality - i.e. stunning. The main shell details are extremely fine and it is amazing to see how far technology has come to produce these results to be better than a lot of brass models. The details are made from brass, steel or plastic parts.
Most of the variations between road numbers is in the paint work, but not all. Asides from the obvious main liveries, there are also differing colours, on the running boards, pilot hazard stripes and builders plate styles. Some versions have ditch lights fitted (not shown).
The cab interior has a staggering amount of detail. Each locomotive comes with a driver facing short end leading and are wearing a China Rail uniform. The interior walls and floors are painted in appropriate colours and the control stand is heavily detailed with different colours on the gauges, screens and controls and the gauges even light up (DCC versions).
Some of the notable details include brass air horns, metal window visors and windbreakers, brass windshield wipers, metal uncoupling rods with painted handles, wire pneumatic lines, separate engine room access door handles (lots of them!), brass etched factory plates, separate fuel lines & filler cap, etched metal footsteps and brass roof ladders. The dynamic brake vents are shown in a permanent raised position. The front hand rails are plastic and side handrails are metal. They have a good amount of detail, right down to the stantion mounting bolts! Being metal however, they don't have the flex of plastic hand rails, so care should be taken when handling to ensure they are not bent.
The bogies are predominantly assembled with plastic parts and have an amazing amount of detail and include full traction motors, sanding equipment, brake cylinders, full brake rigging, wheel guards and traction booster arms with working linkages. Suspension springs are separate brass parts and look incredible. There are even small labels on the dampeners. For those who like to run trains at night, all this detail is shown off with bogie lighting - two LED's on each side of the front and a single on the rear. Wheels are chemically darkened metal with painted red face and white rims as per standard Chinese practice.
Paint work is stunning, typical of all ChangMing/Charming products with a nice matt finish. All versions have paint evenly applied and there are subtle variations between each road number. Edges between the colors are razor sharp. The lettering is just as good, crisp, sharp and clear - probably better than the prototypes! All the small labels and characters are perfectly legible, even the tiny characters on the builders plates. Cab door handles are painted silver, battery box handles red, fuel filler cap is silver and the list goes on. One downside regarding the decorated version however, it is possible to see the shades of the blue and white paint beneath the large red characters on the long hood.
As beautifully detailed as they are, there appears to be more quality control problems with these models. I found on my three examples a number of bent, missing or damaged parts. Some examples can be seen above with #1967 (photos taken straight out of the box) - note the missing horn cover on the front cab, bent front & rear handrails and damaged uncoupling rod on the long hood. All models had detached builders plates which I was luckily able to see them floating around in the display box before I opened it. In some good news, ChangMing have finally improved on their ability to provide spare parts.
The DF5's come with a huge range of features for DCC/Sound/Smoke users. I have not tested the DC version of these models. The sound comes from a 21pin ESU Loksound v5.0 DCC decoder. Sounds are all very high quality and very clear. The sound suite includes two air horns, dynamic brake noise, engine prime and start up, brake squeal, flange squeal, a range of voices, coupler noise, oil pump, compressor and cab door noise. The dynamic brake sound is linked to the (working) dynamic brake fan. The smoke units work well and there is a single exhaust port. The smoke is synchronised to the engine speed via a small turbine fan inside the smoke unit which pumps out more smoke up when powering up and on start up. The effect is very good and there is enough fluid to keep you going for a while. The earlier released DF7G smoke units were all recalled due to overheating and damaged body shells and a new design was sent out. While this issue didn't affect the DF5's, I still prefer to er on the side of caution. To apply the fluid, I hold the locomotive on the side and line up the needle applicator on the bottle into the exhaust ports before righting it and allowing a couple of drops to fall in. There is no need to squeeze the bottle, it should flow out on its own accord. Over filling may cause the turbine to come off the motor shaft leading to overheating and subsequent sad feelings.
The lighting effects are very nice. DCC users (maybe DC?) will enjoy the following:
Main headlights (directional)
White marker lights (directional) and red marker lights (manually set)
Ditch lights (on select versions)
Number board lights
Cab light and instrument gauge lights
There is one major problem I am experiencing with all my ChangMing DF5's (and DF7G's), that being the decoders. There are frequent lighting failures over nearly all light functions - number boards, cab lights, markers and main lights. These don't appear to be permanent and a factory reset of the decoder brings them back to life. This becomes an incredibly frustrating process as it happens every single time I operate them, which also requires programming the locomotive address as well. The decoders are from a very reputable brand (ESU LokSound) and I suspect there is a glitch somewhere in the programming.
My DF5's are all excellent runners and perform almost silently (when the sound is turned off of course!) and smoothly through the speed range. They have a good weight and should be enough for a train of well over 25 freight cars on level track.
If you ever feel the need to take one of these things apart, you can do so by removing the couplers and coupler boxes and four undercarriage screws. The general arrangement of the guts has the decoder just behind the cab, smoke unit under the exhausts, dynamic brake fans under the... dynamic brake fans and the speaker buried in the fuel tank.
The couplers are scale head Kadee's with no magnetic pins. As these are my coupler of choice I have no need to replace them, however if you require longer shank types, they are easily accessible via a single screw on the bottom of each coupler box.