By Tony Cook/photos by the author
From Penn Line’s Catalog No. 58, here’s two train set offerings with Athearn-made F7A shells riding on Penn Line drives. Originally, Penn Line sold Athearn-made F7 diesels in its product line. Those early Penn Line F7As came decorated for Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Southern Pacific; and other roads. The tooling was the early single-headlight F7A with separately applied number boards and solid headlight bezel. Penn Line did supply its own drive mechanism for these plastic Athearn-made F7 diesel shells.
There’s ample weight provided by Penn Line’s die-cast metal frame produced for its F7 diesel models. The truck sideframes on these early production F-units were also metal castings.
The chassis for Penn Line’s F-unit included a die-cast metal frame with motor mounted over the rear truck. The metal truck sideframes went on to become plastic sideframes by the mid-1960s, but retained the same tooling for both versions.
A spotting feature of Penn Line’s F7A was the inclusion of a red lens in the upper headlight. This red emergency light lens was an uncommon addition among the many F-units offered in the 1960s in HO scale. The shell is a one-piece plastic body with separately applied air horns on the cab roof.
You could easily collect nothing but Santa Fe F-units and still fill a number of shelves with HO models. This Penn Line HO-scale Santa Fe F7A dates from the early 1960s.
The easy spotting feature for this F7 tooling is the stubby stirrup steps. Notice the compressed design that kept these steps out of the way of the Blomberg truck sideframes and enable this model to take sharp train set curves without concern. In addition to the always present red-and-silver Santa Fe, Penn Line cataloged Baltimore & Ohio, The Milwaukee Road, New Haven, Pennsylvania Railroad, Rio Grande, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific. The powered F7A sold in the early 1960s for $9.95 with a dummy offered for $3.50. A matching F7B was available from Penn Line in the same road names, power options, and pricing.
The cover of Penn Line’s 1962 catalog showed off an F7A, steam locomotive, Midget Diesel Switcher, and GG-1 Electric. The manufacturer’s metal HO steam locomotives included an Atlantic, Decapod, Mikado, and Pacific.
Penn Line’s run was nearing its finish when this 1962 catalog came out. By the mid-1960s, you’d find Penn Line’s tooling split between Varney and Bowser. Varney sold the Penn Line-made F7A and F7B models until 1970. In spring 1970, Life-Like’s branding takes over Varney’s line and this F7 model continued to be offered. The F7A tooling survived into contemporary times with Walthers offering entry-level trains under the Life-Like name with this veteran diesel locomotive model.