The Marklin Z Scale NYC Commodore Vanderbilt 4-6-4. This is one of my favorite Marklin Z scale pieces. Modeled after the classic road number 5344 New York Central Locomotive. This was J3-1 type 4-6-4 Hudson locomotives that was streamlined and became known for pulling the 20th Century Limited until 1937. While the claim was made that the streamlining allowed the locomotive to pull up to 12 percent more weight, in my opinion it was as much that as a marketing move. This was one beautiful machine! The Marklin Z scale 4-6-4 Commodore holds the same allure as it’s full size counter part. Having seen pictures of the Marklin 88075 Commodore and seeing it in person, I can tell you, pictures don’t do it justice.
The Marklin Commodore Vanderbilt is a metal body locomotive with a five pole motor for smooth operation. Also features a working headlight and all six wheels are driven. If you have run any of the 5 pole Marklin Z scale locomotives you know they are just a joy to run, velvet smooth. You may have a challenge finding the right consist of passenger cars to pull behind the Commodore Vanderbilt, you may have to bend the prototype a little but well worth it. I have always thought a spur could be added on your layout for a Railroad Museum where you could feature some of these classics no matter what the era you are modeling.
Like many of the classic US steam locomotives that Marklin produced over the years, the 88075 Z Scale NYC Commodore Vanderbilt 4-6-4 has been out of production for some time but you can usually find them here and there in the aftermarket and they tend to age well. Below you will find a few examples of the Marklin Mini Club 88075 Z Scale NYC Commodore Vanderbilt 4-6-4 currently available one ebay.
I remember being young and my father coming home with an Atlas N scale starter set. I can still picture the box with the Santa Fe diesel locomotive and the 0-8-0 steam locomotive. Inside you received a small oval of track, a locomotive a few cars and caboose and a controller. It was a great way to get started, you could open the box and run your trains. You can have the same experience with z scale. There really are just a couple choices for z scale starter sets. Marklin has offered starter sets for years, since the start of z scale in 1972. Micro Trains offers a starter set both with and without track, neither with a controller. Zgauge.com offers the MTL sets with controller and track ready to go and also offer custom AZL/Rokuhan packages as well in an effort to give you the same out of the box experience that is common in other scales. As we have stated in other posts in this series have stated, you end goal will likely influence what you start with. If you want to open a box and start in the hobby today, check out our ready to go z scale starter sets on line. Start your model trains memories today with a ready to go z scale starter set. But fair warning, it is an addictive hobby!
Z Scale Track
Choosing your z scale track is much easier than choosing your locomotive or rolling stock. Choosing your layout…. that may be a little harder. Let’s take a quick look at track. For z scale layouts, you have a few basic choices. The originator of z scale Marklin, Rokuhan, Micro Trains or hand laid track. As with so many aspects of this hobby, your end goal will determine your track choice. If you want the ultimate in realism you will likely hand lay your track. Even your switches can be hand laid. Check out Fast Tracks for supplies and jigs for laying your own track. If you are going to add ballast to your track, you will want to either use Marklin or hand lay your track. Marklin turnouts are very reliable and can even help avoid derailments if you go the wrong way over a switch. They offer a variety of turnouts, straights, curves and even adjustable track to help you make your layout.
Rokuhan and Micro Trains line offer track with a pre installed roadbed. While you cannot achieve the level of realism that adding your own ballast offers, you can achieve a very clean and operational layout using this type of track. The Micro Trains Line of track is somewhat limited so my recommendation is the Rokuhan as they have a large selection of turnouts, crossings, flexible track along with the standard curves and straights. I am biased towards Rokuhan. I like their selection and and the way their controllers connect to the track and work with their power turnouts.
Atlas is now offering z scale turnouts and will likely continue to increase it’s offering in z as well.
Choosing A Z Scale Controller
Z Scale Controllers
I know, the controller is really a boring thing. Z scale locomotives are incredible little pieces of equipment. While the detail on these little gems is absolutely incredible, especially when compared to the first z scale locomotives Marklin introduced in 1972, one thing has stayed the same over the years, they use tiny little motors that can be fried by controllers made for larger scales. Buying an oval of z scale track, a locomotive and a few cars and then hooking it up to your controller used in N scale or HO scale, can make for an very disappointing z scale experience. Not to worry, there are several good good choices for you, all fairly inexpensive. Let’s start with the original, the Marklin Mini Club controllers.
Marklin Mini Club Controllers
When Marklin introduced z scale,they were smart enough to offer a complete set that came with the correct controller. The familiar 6272A is available used on ebay, usually for around $40-$60 and is a real work horse. The model 67271 usually sells for $125 or so new and used on ebay for around $75. These are both excellent choices, I lean towards the 67271 as it is the more modern version and has easy to use hook ups.
The Rokuhan Company continues to add value and versatility to the z scale line. Currently they offer the RC02 and the RC03 controllers which both offer the constant lighting feature. They also both are expandable in that you can snap on turnout controllers and other controllers on the end of the controller. The RC03 comes with two turnout control switches already installed. Both can be operated on AA batteries or you can purchase a AC adapter. Cost ranges for about $40 for the RC02 and $75 for the RC03.
While MRC does not offer a z scale controller per say, the MRC1300 is available modified for safe use for z scale. Usually they are easily identified by the yellow sticker on the front of the controller. Usually selling for around $50-$60.
Choose Your First Z Scale Locomotive
Nothing is more important to any train than the locomotive. No locomotive, no train! Aside from being the key part of your z scale railroad, the locomotive is one of the more interesting aspects of the hobby. Car after car may go by but your focus is on the locomotive. Finally, the type of locomotive you prefer will have an impact on your layout, especially on radius of the turns. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the locomotives available. If you missed part one on controllers, please check it out here. Below you will find a few considerations on the z scale locomotive.
One of the most iconic locomotives has to be the Marklin 0-6-0 that was introduced in so many starter sets in 1972. These little locomotives are still around and you can find them on ebay used for around $50. These little guys are still a great choice for small radius layouts, like 120mm or even less they did just fine. So if you are modeling a small European railroad with tight curves these little locomotives do well. But for the purposes of this series, we are focusing on US prototypes. which brings up one of the problems in my opinion with z scale, their simply isn’t enough small z scale switcher locomotives available.
Marklin offers several US locomotives including steam locomotives. They have made available 2-8-2, 4-6-2 and 4-6-0 steam locomotives which seem to do ok on a 145mm radius. Their F-7 diesel locomotives also do well on a smaller radius turns. Marklin has recently released E-8/9 units, not sure what the recommended radius is on them, but on larger locomotives, a larger radius makes for smoother operation and looks better. Another very cool Marklin unit is their GG-1 locomotive.
American Z Line, or AZL has really opened up the door to z scale railroading with very nice selection of locomotives. Steam offerings include the Mikado, a real workhorse for many prototype and model railroads alike. But their is also some real high end steam units available, including several versions of a Big Boy and a SP Cab forward, both in brass. Sold out and very hard to come by are the AZL GS-4 units and Challengers. While AZL recommends a 220mm radius on the Mikado, some report running them on 170mm. 195mm seems to be a realistic minimum. As for the bigger locomotives really need 245mm plus.
AZL also offers a wide variety of diesel locomotives as well. Smaller GP38-2 locomotives can be had for under $100 and are billed as entry level locomotive. They really are a great value and can be upgraded to DCC and Micron Art offers a super detail kit if you want to dress them up a little. They do well on a 195mm radius and are available in variety of roads. Other smaller diesel locomotives include GP-7’s and 9’s, and GP30’s. A very nice series of SD70 and SD75 locomotives is also available with more modern diesel power promised this year. The E8/9 units have been an awesome addition to the z scale line up as well. Micro Trains Line has been offering diesel locomotives for some time. While they have made some very nice SD40-2, GP35, GP9 and F7 units, currently their F7 A&B units are by far the most readily available with a nice variety of road names. Marklin, AZL and Micro Trains all use different couplers. While AZL & Micro Trains couplers are compatible, Marklin is stands alone so you would have to convert them or use a conversion car to use them with cars and locomotives other than Marklin. We will address couplers a little bit later.
Z Scale Rolling Stock
Z scale rolling stock selection continues to grow and grow. You have the standards, you know box cars gondolas, tankers and more. But what continues to amaze me in this tiny scale is the selection of road names and road specific details. You will find all the big road very well represented along with some small obscure short lines. Manufactures include American Z Lines, Full Throttle, MTL, FR, Marklin and others. While much of the rolling stock tends to be modern, there is plenty of older stock to choose from. Full Throttle is always producing steam to diesel era rolling stock that is perfect for smaller layouts. Passenger car selection is really being represented well by AZL and MTL.
A Quick Bit On Couplers
The question always comes up on couplers. If you are coming to Z from N or HO, you are likely familiar with MTL couplers. MTL couplers are standard on the MTL line. AZL & Full Throttle offer their own couplers. They are all compatible however the MTL is the only one that operates magnetically. Marklin z scale couplers are not compatible with these type of couplers. The obvious solution is a conversion car with Marklin couplers on one end and MTL, Full Throttle or the AZL on the other.
If you are doubting if z scale is a progressives scale or if there is a future with it, consider the California Zephyr announced by American Z Lines. We will have it by end of year 2019 and it is a testament not only what can be done in z scale but to the drive that AZL has to produce iconic z scale pieces.
The AZL California Zephyr in z scale will be available in several configurations. There are four 11 car sets and how about this little addition, the single PRR car that ran weekly as a through service to and from New York City! Yes z scale is alive and well indeed. You will need some pulling power so AZL is offering F3 A/B units in D&RGW, Burlington Route and Western Pacific.
Here is the blurb from AZL them selves: AZL is proud to offer the legendary California Zephyr operated jointly by the CB&Q, D&RGW and WP between Chicago and Oakland. Scaling both the Rockies and the Sierras, it was the most scenic train route in North America. The CZ traveled 2,438 miles starting in 1949 until 1971 when Amtrak took over. All passenger cars were made by Budd. Originally a 10 car consist in 1951, but increased to 11 in 1952.
AZL also offers the single PRR car that ran weekly as a through service to and from New York City. The CZ railroads ordered 6 complete sets and AZL have made 4! All three railroads used EMD F3s as pulling power which AZL also offers separately. The correct F3 assignments were: CB&Q A-B-A, D&RGW A-B-B-A and WP A-B-B.
Would you like to see the AZL California Zephyr in action? While I am sure you would like to see it in action on your layout, for now, check out the videos below. You could easily design and operate a complete layout just around this one set. And with z scale, you can do it full justice and have a long running train in just a tiny little space with loads of scenery and sweeping curves. Yeah, z scale is cool!
Growing up in MN, seeing a freight Burlington Northern train rolling by was a common site. I was always excited when I would see a Billy Goat mixed in for Great Northern. If you are a fan of Great Northern and a new comer to z scale, you may wonder how well GN is represented in z scale. Well good news, as time goes we are seeing more and more choices.
Great Northern Z Scale Locomotives
While a train usually has one or two locomotives and a bunch of cars, locomotives still they are our favorite. Your z scale Great Northern locomotive selection isn’t huge but again as z scale grows, so does the variety. For steam locomotives, you can find a Glacier Green 2-8-2 Mikado from AZL. Your best bet may be the after market but you may still find a new one on a dealers shelf. They are tender drive and a real work of art. Marklin made a Great Northern Mikado as well. Not as detailed but still a fine representation by the manufacture who started it all. For diesel power, MTL offered a GN Sky Blue F-7 A/B and a GP9. AZL has an SD45 and a F-3 A&B. You will also find a few custom painted options around as well.
Great Northern Z Scale Rolling Stock
For Great Northern freight, most of the current manufactures in z scale feature Great Northern. One of my favorite z scale manufactures is Full Throttle. This small company continues to churn out unique offerings and have z scale GN hoppers, wood chip cars, covered hoppers and small reefers. AZL has a nice choice of Great Northern freight including my favorite some small 2 Bay Hoppers. MTL continues to sprinkle in some z scale freight including a 10 car GN Circus Care Set. So named for their variety of color. More choices pop up every few months.
Even passenger cars have become readily available in z scale. MTL released as Sky Blue Set that you will have to shop the aftermarket for as well as a few Empire Builders. AZL has released a stunning collection of the Great Northern Empire Builder in z scale. They really are impressive! I fear they will sell out fast!
Over the years Marklin has produced a variety of z scale cabooses from American railroads that have become quite collectible. Some were available as individuals and others in sets. You can find Marklin z scale cabooses in CB&Q, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Santa Fe (some of which are the most collectible) Chessie, Burlington Northern, Santa Fe, New York Central, Texas & New Orleans, Northern Pacific, Milwaukee Road, Pennsylvania, Southern, Baltimore & Ohio and Central New Jersey. I think that is the majority of them! So where can you get these great little Marklin cabooses? Your best bet is to check out ebay and be patient, they come and go. I have been able to find some great buys on them. They tend to hover around $35 to $60 range for the most part while the blue AT&SF can trend higher. Some of these cabooses came in sets so you may have to buy a kit and break it up if you really want that one.
You will also find some used Marklin cabooses that have LED lighting added which is a really nice feature. I have seen both interior and end lighting on the caboose. Most of them are done with a flicker free system. What a nice little detail to add to your z scale layout. I have a few favorites like the Burlington Northern and the Northern Pacific that I like to keep on display in my office. Whether you collect, hoard or run z scale, the Marklin z scale caboose is a great addition.