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Blackstone Models HOn3 K-27

Miniature Mudhens

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K-27 front

K-27's 463 and 464 are each faithful to their respective prototype.

©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.
The Denver and Rio Grande's "Mudhens" have been an icon of western railroading since their debut more than a century ago. Capturing all of the character and charm of these machines has been a challenge for modelers for generations. For anyone with an interest in Colorado narrow gauge railroads, Blackstone Models' HOn3 K-27 is an affordable masterpiece sure to please.

Product Overview

Manufacturer: Blackstone Models


Scale: HOn3 (HO scale, 3 foot narrow gauge) Roadnames: Denver and Rio Grande Western, painted / unlettered (previous release also included Rio Grande Southern)
MSRP: $429.99

The models purchased for this review are from a second, limited release produced in 2010. Although available only in one roadname, six numbers are available with appropriate details per engine. Features common to all models include:

  • Die-cast metal and plastic construction
  • Seperately applied wire detail parts
  • Detailed cab interior and backhead
  • Can motor with flywheel
  • Golden white LED headlight and back-up light (as appropriate)
  • SoundTraxx Tsunami sound decoder for DCC or DC operation
  • 18 inch minimum operating radius

I purchased the pair of models reviewed here at my own expense for use on the Rio Grande Narrow Gauge project railroad. The remarks contained herein are from my own independent assesment. For those looking for a quick review, let me just say this: I intended to only acquire one locomotive for the layout. When No. 463 arrived, I decided I needed another. Each of the six models has its own unique character, just like the prototype. This is a limited release, so don't wait to get one (or two) of your own.

Prototype History

DRGW 464

The last Mudhen rest at the Durango roundhouse in 1950.

Thomas T. Taber III collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC used with permission

In 1903, the Denver and Rio Grande received fifteen 2-8-2’s from the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The 63-ton compound engines were not only the largest but the most powerful locomotives on the roster.

To increase the size of the locomotive, the three-foot gauge driving wheels were placed inside the locomotive's frame. Large weights counterbalanced the driving rods on the outside of the frame. With a low-slung boiler, outside frame and these reciprocating counterweights, the locomotives appeared to waddle down the track. Officially designated as class 125, later K-27, most crews knew them by the knickname earned through their waddling appearance; “Mudhens.”

Over the coming decades the locomotives would receive many modifications. All were converted from compound to simple steam, beginning in 1906. Most were upgraded with Walshaert-type valve gear and superheaters.

Larger locomotives arrived in the 1920s and the Mudhens began taking on lesser assignments. The Great Depression brought the first retirements. The neighboring Rio Grande Southern leased many of the class, and eventually acquired some outright through trade. The early 1950s brought an end to most of the fleet.

The last two K-27’s built survive today. Gene Autry purchased No. 463 for use at his studio in 1955. It has now been returned to home rails on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. No. 464 went to Knott’s Berry Farm in California in 1973 and has since been sold to the Huckleberry Railroad in Flint, Michigan where you can still ride behind her today.

-From “Mighty Mudhens” by Jeff Johnson – included with the model

The Model Mudhen

Blackstone Models, headquartered in the home of the Mudhens - Durango, Colorado, has labored to make the K-27 as accurate as possible. Not just accurate to the class, but down to the individual locomotive. In addition to the major rebuildings mentioned above, the K-27s received numerous small modifications over their careers. Blackstone is to be commended for trying to capture as many of these changes as possible. Tenders, cabs, piston valves, pilots, roof conduits, and many other details are specific to each road number.

Narrow gauge and short line modelers, generally speaking, tend to be more particular about these small changes than other segments of the hobby. Perhaps it is due to having a smaller prototype to study and such a wealth of preserved historic data available. It is after all, much easier to document the life of 15 K-27's than say, 425 K4s Pacifics on the Pennsylvania. Previously, only expensive brass imports offered the attention to detail that we find on the Blackstone models, and even they had their limitations.

Two Mudhens were reviewed for this article, Nos. 463 and 464. Both models are absolutely amazing in their overall detail. The most obvious difference between the two models is the pilot. No. 464 comes equipped with a large snow plow. The Rio Grande applied these plows to many of its locomotives through the winter months. Blackstone does offer this detail separately if you want to modify any of the other engines. The working coupler on the front of the plow is a very nice touch, although its height needed a slight adjustment out of the box.

Sound and Performance

K-27 tenders

The tenders of 463 and 464 each feature slightly different back-up light and ladder arrangements.

©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

If you just put your K-27 in a display case, you'll have a nice model. But you'll only be realizing half of its quality. Blackstone Models is a division of SoundTraxx®. As such, it should come as no surprise that this entire second-release is available with DCC and Tsunami® sound standard. The Mudhen sounds as good as it looks. The following steam sounds are all included, and the volume of each can be set independently to your taste:

  • Sychronized exhaust chuff
  • Whistle
  • Short Whistle
  • Bell
  • Compressor (Airpump)
  • Water Stop
  • Brake Release
  • Brake Squeal
  • Snifter Valve
  • Johnson Bar / Power Reverse
  • Cylinder Blowdown
  • Fireman's toolbox
  • Dynamo (generator)
  • Side Rod Clank
  • Cylinder Cocks
  • Blower
  • Boiler Pop Valve
  • Coupler Clank

The model includes a printed quick-start guide and a complete setup and program guide on CD. A printed operations manual gives detailed instructions on handling and maintaining the model and is among the best of these I've seen yet from any manufacturer.

Slow speed performance is a must on a narrow gauge railroad and this locomotive does just fine. The K-27 will run, or waddle, around your track at sustained slow speeds giving you time to appreciate all the drama of those counterweights and rods.

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