You can search Ebay for a K4s right now and the most common result will be the Bachmann versions produced in the past decade or so. Bachmann products are ok, (I have a couple Bachmann locomotives) and I will admit their quality has improved in recent years, but I still can't shake the feeling that Bachmann's lower price also equals lower quality and detail. One Bachmann version that stands out is PRR K4s #1361, which is the road number of one of two surviving K4s and for many years the real one sat on static display on a pad at Horseshoe Curve but now it sits in pieces at Steamtown in Altoona, awaiting restoration. For some reason Bachmann likes to produce model versions of surviving steam locomotives, and I assume from a marketing perspective there is some validity to doing that. Looking closely at photos of the Bachmann version of 1361 and comparing that to offerings from MTH and Broadway Limited, you can easily see the Bachmann version is lacking in detail. I could probably work around that and custom detail one, but I still believe that you get what you pay for not only on the outside but the inside as well. Maybe somebody can enlighten me and convince me that picking up two Bachmann K4s's for the price of one MTH or Broadway Limited version would be worth it.
So moving on to Broadway Limited and their K4 offering. They have produced many runs of the K4s over the years, and right now they are making the streamlined versions of the K4s. While the streamlined K4s is a great looking locomotive, PRR only did that to a few individual locomotives and by the mid 1940's most if not all of them were returned to their original non-streamlined configuration. Back in the early 2000's, Broadway Limited produced a lot of locomotives (not just the K4s) equipped with QSI Quantum DCC sound decoders. These were the first sound equipped models from Broadway Limited as far as I can tell and were the predecessors to the Paragon equipped versions that they produce today. Indeed, my T1 is a QSI Quantum equipped locomotive. QSI Quantum products have been received over the years with mixed reviews, and there has not been much effort by QSI to update/upgrade their product over the past decade, so many folks are replacing the QSI decoder with more modern decoders. That being said, QSI equipped Broadway Limited K4s locomotives still fetch a good price on Ebay. I can only assume that the popularity and demand of the K4s drives the cost higher for used or old-new stock.
On to the pictures. I picked this one up for $299 (Buy It Now) on Ebay. It is a circa-2005 Broadway Limited K4s and has the QSI Quantum sound decoder in it. Most of these are going for well over $300 so I was happy to find one for that price. I am also happy with the quality and level of detail on this model. It represents the pre-WWII version with the slatted pilot and the headlight mounted to the boiler front. After WWII, PRR started replacing the slatted pilots with a cast pilot with a hinged front coupler that could be dropped down inside the pilot, and they also moved the headlight to the top of the boiler just in front of the stack. This modification wasn't done overnight though, and many K4s went to the scrapyard in the late 1950's still wearing the pre-WWII slatted pilot.
This particular model, road number 623, was in real life assigned to the Atlantic Division of PRR and most likely was never seen in Columbus Ohio. I can always renumber it. This is my first K4s and unfortunately (or fortunately?) I need to pick up quite a few more of these to populate the Spruce St roundhouse since it was the workhorse of the PRR passenger fleet. All of the sudden the Bachmann version becomes a little more appealing...
Moving on to my next acquisition. The B6 class 0-6-0 switcher was the most popular switcher locomotive on PRR (called "shifters" by PRR...). The C1 class 0-8-0 existed but they were not as popular with switcher crews on the PRR, and if they needed a heavier locomotive than the 0-6-0 they usually went with the H8, H9, or H10 class 2-8-0 Consolidation classes. There were 372 B6 class 0-6-0 switchers produced as opposed to only 90 C1 class 0-8-0's. Of the B6 class, 238 of them were B6sb versions with the Belpaire firebox and other modifications and this is the version represented by the model. I have photographic evidence that the B6sb was used at Spruce St to switch the Columbus Union Station, so I was delighted to discover that somebody actually makes them in HO scale albeit only in brass.
Unfortunately, the only HO scale B6sb models offered have been in brass only and most of those are from the 1980's or even earlier. Fortunately, they are of good quality and can still be found occasionally for decent prices. I got this particular one below for $200. It is a circa 1989 Sunset Models (made in South Korea by Samhongsa) version and appears to have had little if any run time. It is a well detailed model and I am quite happy to have found it for a decent price.
The downside is that it is DC only, and in fact it runs terrible. I haven't dissected it yet but I assume it has a 1980's style open frame motor with open worm gearing, which was a notorious combination for poor running performance. I suspect that I will have to do a full re-powering and re-gearing of this model before installing DCC or dead rail and before I even consider painting it.
Curiously though, for a 1989 version, it has holes drilled on the bottom of the tender presumably for mounting a downward-firing speaker. I have no idea though how long this model was produced, so it could actually be quite newer than 1989.
The beauty of knowing exactly when and what I want to model is that it narrows down my purchases to models that fit the location and time period based on research, so I don't go off buying SD70M's because they look cool when in fact I'm modeling 1947 PRR in Columbus Ohio.