First Look Review
HO scale
SD45, High Nose
SD45 Norfolk & Western 1738
  • move

by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

  • move

SD45 High Nose
Roadname and number: Norfolk & Western 1728
Series: Ready To Roll
Item: ATH98027

Athearn expands their Ready To Roll series with the mighty SD45. It features a wealth of detail, both factory applied, and separate parts. This model features the high nose favored by coal hauler Norfolk & Western.

    The EMD SD45 is a six-axle diesel locomotive built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division between December, 1965, and December, 1971. Power was provided by an EMD 645E3 twenty-cylinder engine which generated 3,600 HP. This locomotive shared the same common frame with the EMD SD38, EMD SD39, EMD SD40, and EMD SDP40.

    A total of 1,260 units were built for American railroads. Following this, the SD45-2 was released as its upgraded replacement. Additional models, like the SD45T-2, featuring the Tunnel Motor design, were released.

    SD45s had several teething problems. Reliability was not as high as anticipated, due to the twenty-cylinder prime mover's propensity to break its own crankshaft. Even though it created an extra 600 horsepower (450 kW) from the 16-645 in the SD40, some railroads felt it just wasn't worth it, even after EMD redesigned the block to reduce crankshaft flexing.

    Buyers included the Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, the Great Northern Railway and the Northern Pacific Railway. (Contrary to what many believe, the SD45 was not a "gas guzzler." It produced more power per unit of fuel than its 3,000 hp (2,240 kW) counterpart, the SD40.) Many SD45s can still be found, some rebuilt with sixteen-cylinder 645s, operating for lease companies. [1]

RTR SD45 High Nose
This model is packaged in the Athearn RTR yellow and blue top - tray opening box with a cellophane window. The model is securely held in an open-side, form-fitted wraparound cradle which provides a base, ends, and top; the cradle snaplocks via a tab to an end. Within the cradle the models are protected from scuffing by foam blocks and plastic sheets. The cradle is then ensconced inside a clear plastic sleeve, and a piece of styrofoam supports the base of the cradle. These models are superbly protected from shock and jostling. Documentation includes an exploded-view parts diagram and parts list, and an Athearn News advertisement. I did not find a formal manual or product registration card. Instructions do not explain how to remove the body shell; this lack of information has long frustrated modelers -- no company guidance for the procedure.

Your locomotive is fully assembled (except for the optional detail parts) and ready to operate. This SD45 continues the tried and true Athearn model engineering concept. You have an injection molded styrene body shell and walkway secured upon a die-cast under frame by tabs and screws. The underframe has weights for traction. Mounted on the underframe is the dynamically balanced five pole skew wound motor with dual flywheels. This transmits power to both axles of each powered truck via driveline axles and worm gears. Power is conducted to the motor by machined nickel plated, blackened wheels. All 12 wheels pick up power. None have traction tires.

Molding is first-rate. I found no noticeable flash, seams, ejector marks, nor sink holes. Detail is both recessed and relief, as appropriate. It is sharply molded. Key features are:

    • Fully assembled and ready for your layout
    • Separately applied wire grab irons
    • Separately applied air tanks
    • Factory installed Celcon handrails
    • Equipped with Quick Plug DCC technology - accepts 8 or 9-pin plug
    • McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers installed
    • Prototype specific details applied
To provide accurate molded for prototype modelers Athearn molds different body shells for the locomotive. This one features the high nose favored by Norfolk & Western. While the RTR series is analog, Athearn made the model DCC-ready.
Inspection Track
Athearn strives for accurate models of specific prototypes. The diagram and parts list notes 'Not all parts shown are applied to all models'. Only those parts applicable to the prototype are included with the finished model. All of the detail features are separately applied by the factory. This is a major improvement over Athearn’s original "blue box" days of molded-on grab irons and metal handrails that you had to mount! Dozens of detail options are available for this model. Among them are:

    • Air Filter w/ Rib
    • Air Filter w/o Rib
    • Radiator Grill-Chicken Wire
    • Radiator Grill-Farr
    • Cab (Standard Window)
    • Cab ("L" Window)
    • Cab Side Window Frame
    • Number Board Housing
    • Sideframe Set-High Mount
    • Sideframe Set - Low Mount
    • Sideframes
    • Brake cylinders
    • Light Bulb
    • Exhaust Stack
    • 3200 Gallon Fuel Tank
    • 3600 Gallon Fuel Tank
    • Fuel Tank components:

      • Left Side
      • Right Side
      • End Plate
      • Detail Parts

    • Dynamic Brake Housing With Doors
    • SP Rear Headlight Housing
    • Standard Rear Headlight Housing
    • Dynamic Brake Vent
    • Handrail Set

      • Stanchions
      • Long Handrails
      • End Railings
      • Short Railings

    • Battery Box Door-1 Louver
    • Battery Box Door-1 Louver w/ Rib
    • SP Battery Box Doors
    • Battery Box Door-3 Louver
    • Antenna Set, Including:

      • Large Sinclair
      • Small Sinclair
      • Dome-Octagon
      • Dome-Round Can
      • Firecracker Antenna

    • Brake wheel Housing
    • Brake wheel
    • Dust Bin
    • ATSF Beacon Stand
    • Radiator Grill-EMD
    • Radiator Grill-Farr

Though this is not Athearn’s Genesis series, I was happy to find rotating fan blades under the grilles on the roof. You can detail the fuel tank with sprues of parts that are provided. These include lots of pipes and vents. The instruction sheet shows where they attach although mounting holes are not molded.

This model appears to model the later N&W units, sporting a rear brake wheel and high truck brakes.

N&W's universal horn was the Leslie RS-5T-F. The model part looks accurate. See below for a link to a wave file of this horn.

Though I have not tried it for this review, the body comes off the chassis by detaching the flexible side handrails and the cab door hand rails. Once the hand rails are released the mounting clips can be unset with gentle finger pressure.

Carrying the chassis along the rails are detailed trucks of C-C arraignment (a pair of powdered three axle trucks) with highly detailed plastic sideframes representing EMD Flexicoil C2L trucks. Brake shoes are represented. Athearn details each with brake cylinders and hangers, and Athearn even includes the speedometer cable!

Athearn continues to equip their locomotives with plastic McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers. These are mounted to the frame with screws.
Paint and Livery
N&W could not make a clean break from their steam legacy. While N&W did paint these locos in blue and yellow, and maroon if I recall correctly, eventually black and with while lettering took over for easy of maintenance. Athearn released this model in the blue livery as well as in the special American Bicentennial scheme.

Paint is smooth and the printing sharp. However, I did find a couple of blemishes where it appears the paint stuck to the packaging and pulled away(One area you can see in the photo of the exhaust ports). Despite that, the paint is fine. Use gloves or wash your hands -- the black really shows fingerprints!

Athearn made 145 different SD45 locomotives (369 including dash-2s and tunnel motors). You can buy the SD45 in 30 roadnames:

    1. Buffalo & Pittsburgh
    2. Burlington Northern
    3. Chicago & NorthWestern
    4. Chicago Burlington & Quincy
    5. Conrail
    6. Delaware & Hudson
    7. Denver & Rio Grande Western
    8. Electro-Motive Division - General Motors
    9. Erie Lackawanna
    10. Ferromex
    11. Great Northern
    12. Milwaukee Road
    13. Montana Rail Link
    14. Nacionales de Mexico
    15. New York Susquehanna & Western
    16. Norfolk & Western

    17. Northern Pacific
    18. Penn Central
    19. Pennsylvania Railroad
    20. Reading
    21. Santa Fe
    22. Seaboard Coast Line
    23. Southern Pacific
    24. Southern Railway
    25. Springfield Terminal
    26. St. Louis Southwestern-Cotton Belt
    27. St. Louis-San Fransisco
    28. Undecorated
    29. Union Pacific
    30. Wisconsin Central

Notching the Throttle
This model runs smooth and remarkably quite. Gone are the days of the “coffee grinder” motors! The model jumps to motion at a fairly fast pace though. When I ran it with pulse engaged, it crept along at about 2 scale mph. The metal wheels raced over the frogs and points of code 80 and 83 turnouts without a hitch. A nice running loco!

Modelers of main line action during the 1960s through the 1990s can have this nicely running, impressively detailed locomotive for a reasonable cost. Athearn offers several variants of hoods and bodies in an attempt to create an accurate model for almost every railroad. N&W’s high hoods always appealed to me and I think the contours and proportions are accurate.

The vast amount of separately applied detail is incredible. The rotating fans under the screened vents used to be reserved for big-dollar models and aftermarket detailers; now it is part of a RTR model.

The model runs fast out of the yard but can be made to creep along with pulse. It tracks well. Athearn’s paint and printing is very good.

I wish Athearn has pre-drilled or dimpled the fuel tank to assist in attaching the piping detail. It would be nice if they would also include directions for removing the shell from the frame, either in the box or on-line.

Overall this is a very nice loco that should be a must-have for N&W modelers of the era. Highly recommend!

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here – on

Was this review helpful? Please help your reviewers and click YES or NO.

[1] Wikipedia. EMD SD45. 21 December 2011.

Click here for additional images for this review.

Highs: Impressive amount of separately applied detail; rotating fans under the screened vents. Fine paint and motion.
Lows: Minimum speed is fast. No instructions for maintaning or removing shell.
Verdict: Overall this is a very nice SD45 that should be a must-have for mainline modelers of the era.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: HO Scale
  Mfg. ID: ATH98027
  Suggested Retail: $119.98
  Related Link: SD45 Series
  PUBLISHED: Mar 01, 2012
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Athearn!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

View This Item  |  View Vendor Homepage  |  More Reviews  

About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


What's Your Opinion?

Click image to enlarge
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move