Time to Model: Thoroughbred Rivet Counter DASH-9s
An Editorial by Drayton Blackgrove
NS modelers understand how much of a blessing it is to finally have a ready to run, dimensionally correct “Thoroughbred” DASH-9.
For many, modeling is all about replicating experienced reality in your own unique way. Whether it’s reliving your childhood memories of transition-era steam through a nice brass model, or for us younger guys – recreating the first freight train we remembered chasing with our grandparents in the early 2000s, model railroading gives us opportunities to use our talents and imaginations in special and rewarding ways. However, no matter how fun kit-bashing is, sometimes it’s nice to just take a model right out of the box and run it without modification.
Ever since the DASH-9s first came to market in the mid-1990s, modelers have always wanted a high-quality HO and N Scale version that didn’t cost an excess of $400. Twenty-five years ago, that was a lot to ask for. For Norfolk Southern modelers especially, that was really “pushing it.” Indeed, Norfolk Southern DASH-9s have been so sought-after for their uniqueness. However, at the same time, this uniqueness is exactly why a plastic model wasn’t feasible so long ago. As a result, NS modelers had to settle for DASH-9 offerings that were just “good enough.”
One of the things, really, the main thing that makes NS DASH-9s unique among other railroads is the high-mounted headlight over the cab. Norfolk Southern was the only Major Class I Railroad that ordered wide cab DASH-9s with a high-mounted headlight. Their reasoning behind this measure was for better visibility for train crews who might be switching in the yard or at an industry. If the conductor was riding on the front platform, it was argued that it would be better on his eyes to have the headlight higher up instead of right on the nose. That way, if he looked back up at the cab to make eye contact with the engineer, he wouldn’t be totally blinded by the light.
In addition, Norfolk Southern was the only Class I Railroad to have ordered DASH-9s with both front AND rear ditch lights. Another aspect that made this unique was that unlike other roads, NS had flashing ditch lights. The reasoning behind the flash is that in some states that NS operates through, it is a requirement to have flashing auxiliary lighting. This is why CSX also has flashing ditch lights on all locomotives except, ironically, their office car train power (as of 2020). Unless you were willing to kit-bash your own NS DASH-9 with ditch lights on both ends, you were out of luck.
I remember back to when I was first getting into the hobby in 2009. As someone who grew up watching NS trains in south-central Michigan, I had always wanted to model an NS line with DASH-9s, Geeps, and plenty of High Hoods. Back then, YouTube was really starting to become a popular form of online entertainment. For 13-year-old me, this opened up a world of model railroading that I had never seen before. Through video, I finally had access to thousands of highly-detailed layouts where I could learn all about model railroading.
One of the videos that really piqued my interest at that time was one produced by BLMA Models from 2009. Our friend, Craig Martyn, visited Tim Dickinson’s incredible Burlington Northern 70s-themed layout to operate a Norfolk Southern coal train with BLMA’s Top Gon coal cars. Paul Federiconi, a friend of both Craig and Tim, decorated two completely custom Norfolk Southern DASH-9s complete with the road-specific high-mounted headlights and ditch lights on both ends. As an NS modeler, I remember being in awe seeing such finely detailed models pulling a prototypically correct coal train.
Inspired by what I saw, I remember doing several Google searches to find an HO Scale NS DASH-9 that closely resembled the ones I saw in the video. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find that if I wanted a close-to-correct NS DASH-9, I was going to either have to build one or buy a brass one. Neither was really an option for me – as I have zero modeling skills. Video and marketing are more of my things. Alas, I would have to wait a full decade until 2019, when ScaleTrains.com finally released the definitive HO Scale DASH-9 at the Railroad Hobby Show in West Springfield, MA.
Thanks to ScaleTrains.com, NS modelers like myself rejoiced because in the first run, they would offer Norfolk Southern’s modern “Horsehead” version with the correct headlights and front/rear ditch lights. This was truly, in my mind, one of the most exciting releases to happen in the last five years of model railroading. Shortly after the unveiling, the models were operated on NSModeler24’s layout (Josh Clark) with a realistic coal train of none other than BLMA Top Gons in tow. Those same cars featured in Craig Martyn’s video were now being pulled behind ScaleTrains.com DASH-9s that literally anyone could purchase with a click of a button.
Later that year, ScaleTrains.com followed up the wide cab version of the HO DASH-9 with a standard cab version, making it the first readily available plastic NS standard cab on the market. The models would represent their “as-delivered” appearance from the mid-1990s and, like the prototype, would be equipped with the unique cab-mounted air conditioning unit that earned the C40-9s the nickname of “Top Hats.” Earlier this month (11/20), it was announced that the Top Hats are coming to N Scale and will be available in early summer 2021.
In ScaleTrains.com’s most recent HO Scale DASH-9 announcement, the “Thoroughbred” scheme is being offered for the first time. The Thoroughbred scheme is also known as the “white stripe” scheme which was applied to NS locomotives from 1982 to 2002. The majority of Norfolk Southern’s DASH-9s, totaling over 1,000 locomotives, were delivered in this scheme. Per Ben Martin, “Series 9745 through 9978 were delivered in “Horsehead” paint, as that group was built 1/2003-12/2004.” Many of the company’s remaining DASH-9s (about 350 left in service in late 2020 that have not been rebuilt) still wear the Thoroughbred scheme.
Recently, in my railfan adventures, I visited North Carolina to document the last “thru-trains” over Norfolk Southern’s Old Fort Loops. Announced on May 1st, Norfolk Southern would idle the hump yard at Linwood, North Carolina nearly a week later, causing the S-Line’s last remaining through trains to terminate elsewhere. As a result, thru-trains 123 and 135 would no longer stop to work Asheville Yard, which rendered the Asheville to Bridgewater local, train P87, as the only regularly scheduled train over The Loops.
Ascending the Blue Ridge Mountains 1,100 feet from Old Fort to Ridgecrest, North Carolina, the former Southern Railway mainline requires twelve rail miles to travel a distance of only three miles by air. Eight tunnels, huge earthen fills, along with numerous bridges over Mill Creek, and 2,776 degrees of curvature allow the railroad enough distance to maintain the tolerable – yet challenging – gradients that range between 1.3 and 2.94% over the ridge.
Over the last year, Norfolk Southern has been using a pair of DASH-9 locomotives to pull local P87 over the mountain. I know – DASH-9s on a local freight? Super weird. But with 4,400HP each, the two brutish locomotives have ample power to get the train up the steep gradients of the Old Fort Loops. One of the DASH-9 locomotives assigned to the train was no. 9613, which just so happens to be one of the road numbers ScaleTrains.com is offering in the latest run of Rivet Counter HO Scale DASH-9s. It also happens to be in the “Thoroughbred” scheme.
I can’t wait to receive my model of the 9613 in the coming weeks – as they are expected to arrive later this November. This will be my second ScaleTrains.com DASH-9 and it will pair up nicely with my “Horsehead” version from the first run. All I’ll need to do is weather it so that it will look even more-so like the modern-day prototype which is still running the rails to this day.
About the Author
Drayton Blackgrove is ScaleTrains.com’s Social Media Marketer and has been with the company since July of 2019. He has had a lifelong fascination with trains and manages the popular “Delay In Block Productions” YouTube Channel. In addition, Blackgrove models a fantasy Genesee & Wyoming shortline called the “Drayton & Southern.”