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South Jersey S Scale Modelers


The Norfolk Southern ES44AC 8103 is the Norfolk & Western Heritage unit. There are LOTS of internet photos of it, plus some of my own.

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From 2014 to 2019 a significant number of Norfolk Southern Heritage locos came in on unit crude oil trains going to a refinery 3 miles away from my house. I had an encounter with 8103 myself. These are in North Woodbury NJ on 1-19-18.


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This is the American Flyer by Lionel General Electric ES44AC first released in 2013, and my first project page on one. Besides changing to scale wheels and Kadee couplers my previously purchased ES44AC and SD70ACE locos they were left stock. Maybe I should have taken “before” right out of the box photos with the American Flyer compatible wheels and couplers but I was not expecting this to turn into a 2+ day project. Lionel designed the electronics to automatically recognize the power source as AC, DC or DCC. The DCC aspect has had very mixed results. Lionel could not be bothered to follow the NMRA universally accepted DCC standards and did their own thing. Of course they know better than everyone else.


I got this on 8-29-23. It was new in a sealed box. I did the basic DCC programming with my NCE PowerCab which seemed to program correctly. The horn, bell and headlight all responded to the loco number but it did not move, even after a few times of programming. This annoyed me to no end that a brand new loco did not run. Ever since day one I have completely hated the Lionel electronics for these locos. I had pretty much the same issues of programming and not running with my first ES44AC then that I have now. I had to send it back to Lionel to get it running. For me there are NO redeeming qualities to the Lionel crap electronics system. It is dated – no Keep Alive option, the horn and bell buttons do not function on the horn and bell handle buttons like other decoders, and the slow speed is not that good. The headlights shut off after about 15 seconds after it is stopped. It is the same prime mover sounds for the ES44AC and SD70ACE, there is no variety possible, and the biggest issue for me – it is difficult to program DCC. I should not be truly afraid to program MY loco for fear of sending it off into some DCC death zone. I knew what should be done. I gutted the electronics from my American Flyer Conrail U33C because that was not DCC compatible at all.


Gutting The Fish


I normally take more formal project photos than this very quick n dirty snapshot with my phone at my messy train desk. As mentioned I had no intention of turning this into a project. I sat and stared at this hot mess for a while before I dove in head first. THIS is why Lionel could not make a conventional drive of a motor in the center of the frame with driveshafts out to the trucks because they needed a huge space for the huge electronics system. I was able to remove it all almost intact with only cutting the 4 wires from the trucks hoping there is some value for someone else to buy.


At the lower right you can just see the 0-80 holes I drilled from the bottom up to lock the pilots from pivoting. It is really easy.

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These are 2 brackets I made for mounting the speaker in the roof right under where the smoke unit was. They are 2-56 standoffs soldered to flat bar and glued to the loco roof.

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I frequently make things in my projects just to challenge myself for fun. This angle to hold the rear headlight LEDs in place is 1 of those times. The small circuit board is for the ditch lights. The ditch lights and the number boards are not currently hooked up but I will get to them at some point. My attempt to recycle the front headlight LED board (not shown) did not go well which is why I used my 3MM LEDs on the front and back.

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There is LOTS of room for a decoder now. There is room for more weight here or in the fuel tank since I removed the original speaker. I did my typical everything in the roof with a Miniatronics 4 pin plug between the shell and drive. Yes I am using a TCS WOW4 with a Soundtraxx Current Keeper.

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Now that the apprehension of taking one apart for the first time is over I will go back to my other locos and convert them to a WOW as well. They will be able to run with each other and my locos that are not American Flyer much better.



Completed 9-4-23

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No one should have to go to this extent to get a brand new loco to run. I get that fine scale S is not the main market for Lionel, but they tried, and for not much more effort could have done a MUCH better job.


Updated 9-4-23

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