American OO Today

The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Scale-Craft 4-6-2 -- not an easy model to build (or rebuild)

For several years I’ve been working on this beauty, a Scale-Craft 4-6-2. A prewar model, it was sold in two versions (more here) in OO and O scales. I have, of course, the OO gauge version.

My model is made of from major parts obtained in three separate purchases: the boiler, the tender, and the frame/drivers. Yet other parts came in various parts purchases. Working little by little I got it to the point seen here. Shiny and black! But it was not easy….

The major parts of this model are all sand cast in bronze, it is quite a model really, and quite heavy. It is based on the SP P-13 design, but modified somewhat, most obviously visible with the oversized cab and small drivers. The model was originally developed by H. L. “Red” Adams (more on him here! A good read!) and subsequently added to the S-C line, with some of the drive parts utilizing elements of their 4-6-0 model (and look at the last photo in the Red Adams article just linked, it appears to me that the boiler was modified a bit by S-C, and in particular the cab extended a bit more than in his original castings, to accommodate their motor).

Starting at the back with the Vanderbilt tender, the body is a single bronze casting with a smaller bronze casting for the rear frame and coupler mount. The other parts are stamped brass and brass. The one I obtained was set up with all the holes drilled to pick up all power from the tender wheels and to have a rectifier in the tender, just like the setup for the 4-6-0 with the Universal motor. I first built it up for the DC motor (more on that in a bit), but then reworked my installation to make use of a rectifier and the big AC Universal motor. For better operation I used NWSL wheels in the S-C trucks, they roll great and pick up power great, but only from one side. For the other side I modified the S-C wiring scheme with the AC motor to pick up from the other rail on the engine side, and use an insulated drawbar. I tried my best to smooth out the castings (still visibly a little rough after quite a bit of sanding), and I had to tap some of the holes. Completely assembled the whole things weighs a whopping 1 pound 10 ounces.

The boiler is a big, heavy casting that by itself weighs 1 pound 11 ounces (for comparison, the Nason Hudson boiler weighs in at only 1 pound 3 ounces). The cab is oversized in length (and maybe width) to accommodate the big motors used by Scale-Craft. I’d rate it a very nice casting, and came to me having been on a built up model. To the boiler various parts are fit, among the most obvious the being the big pipes. Of course, it is all simplified compared to the prototype, but I did work my boiler over reflecting on the prototypical layout of the parts as seen in my copy of the 1944 Model Railroader Cyclopedia and a set of Scale-Craft O gauge 4-6-2 drawings (I have yet to find a set of the OO instructions). Due to the large casting I used a torch to add my parts. The boiler front is a separate casting, also in bronze.

Then we get to the frame and a tale of a whole series of complications in building up a working drive. Originally, I should mention I had only the frame, no wheels, but was able to buy a frame with wheels and valve gear, saving me a lot of effort, although I think the model would look better with bigger drivers. I first set up the drive with the big DC motor and its transmission. I had to modify the bottom of that transmission and the mounting holes, but I got it on and then the boiler would not fit. I puzzled about this for a while, then finally drilled a new hole in the cylinder block to mount the boiler further forward. It’s not prototypical, the cylinders should be centered below the smokestack, but there is no way to do that without grinding out a lot of material inside the cab/boiler. I’d rate this as a design issue/failing by S-C. Got it all running, even posted a short video in the Facebook group, then – the DC drive gave up the ghost. Gears chewed up, it had almost certainly been on the way out anyway, no practical way to fix it, the gearbox basically can’t be disassembled.

With all those holes there for the wiring for the Universal motor, I reworked everything, installed a rectifier, puzzled a lot, and got that big motor installed with its different gear box. Tried to run it, and the gears don’t mesh correctly between the drive and the frame. Need to be closer to each other. More puzzling.

The good piece of news is that the gearbox used with the Universal motor can be easily disabled and repaired, and I have a few extras. So finally, I decided the best option was to work on cutting down the bottom of the gearbox to fit lower into the frame so that the gears would mesh.

Which brings me to right now, the model runs, the gears mesh but not great. I’m going to give the project a rest for now, but will eventually cut it down more, it is close! It will take the curves on my layout, which is the big piece of good news.

Overall though, I’d rate this model as being a fairly difficult model to build. No wonder S-C took it off the market, and no wonder it is somewhat rare. As to my drive issues, perhaps S-C shipped out the model with a slightly modified gearbox? Maybe the seeing the actual instructions would clear up some questions I have. But respect for the builders that completed these models back in the day, and if you have one, this is a model to treasure.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The lure of the yellow 0014 boxcar

I have at this point a pretty solid quantity of vintage American OO models, but one model, a pretty iconic one, I did not own: the yellow boxcar. This was produced by Lionel in 1938 only. Any good example will sell for more than I’m willing to pay, and also I’ve focused on all the other OO lines much more.

But clearly, from this photo, I do own one now. People who follow eBay closely probably saw this one a couple months ago in a lot with some other cars that had little more than parts value. This yellow 0014 has, of course, been modified. If it were me, back in those prewar days, I would have likely of repainted the model totally. A yellow boxcar? Although, of course, there were yellow MKT boxcars (I built this nice pair of them in fact), and colorful reefers and such.

Whoever owned this example of the yellow 0014 had an idea how to make it better, and they painted the roof and ends boxcar red. Of course this has ruined the remaining collector value of this somewhat beat model. But to be honest the boxcar red areas added result in kind of a nice look for the car.

I’ve worked on it to the extent it is on good trucks, has couplers, and has been cleaned up a bit. I need to replace the door on the other side and I’m inclined to think about touching up all the boxcar red areas when I do that door. No rush, though, and I’m enjoying this rare if modified model.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Finishing up the Shapeways FA, and looking back briefly at The Orient

Among many projects of the summer was this American OO scale FA1, built using a body from Shapeways and riding on Schorr RS-2 trucks. The model is first seen in this post, then later just prior to painting here, and now it is done.

It took quite a while to decide how to letter it. Originally my plan was to letter it for the MKT, their red scheme was the inspiration for the scheme I developed for my Orient and I had some decals. Eventually, running it on the layout paired with the best of my Schorr F3 models brought me around to I should just use one of my two remaining sets of Orient decals on the model.

It is not powered and operates very well as a dummy locomotive. In terms of detail level, it ultimately came out similar to a sand-cast model like the Schorr F3. Sanding the 3D printed model was difficult and did little to improve the rough surface. I did what I could to improve it with the paint job, using a heavy coat of Mr. Surfacer as primer, followed by a heavy coat of the rattle can Testors red paint I’ve used since high school for my Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Diesels. It took a while to really cure hard and I ended up setting the model aside for several months. The decals in the number boards I think help the look a lot. Someday I may get motivated and add windows, but for now I’m enjoying this model.

Back a few years ago I posted an article “Why the Orient? Why in American OO Scale?” I came up with several freelance road ideas when I was in high school. In terms of working in OO, the concept of taking a road absorbed by the Santa Fe in 1928 and projecting it forward in time as an independent in a world that was a little more prosperous/profitable (so that the road could survive!) has worked well.

My initial interest was sparked by reading the 1968 book Destination Topolobampo by John Leeds Kerr and Frank Donavan, a book on the history of the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railway. They broke ground in my home town and operated in the USA from Wichita, Kansas, to the Mexican border (with additional lines in Mexico, aiming toward the Pacific port of Topolobampo).

These models seen with the FA all date from my high school days and early college. I’ve always liked the look of the Alco FA running paired with an F unit. The HO FA, under the paint I can see a faint remnant of a prior paint scheme, prior to settling on the Madison-Quincy-Southern as another of my roads I called that line the Verdigris Valley, and that FA was the only model receiving that lettering. Changing it to the Orient was a good move.

I knew there was another more recent book on the real Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Ry., and a tip (thank you out there!) reminded me that with just a little searching, I could find and buy a copy. I located one pretty quickly, and have been hugely enjoying reading The Orient by Robert Pounds and John McCall. Published in 2011, this book fills in a lot of details I had been curious about, with more photos and also rosters of equipment which I had only been guessing about. It confirmed that I made some good decisions in my proto-freelancing world, and likely will inspire me to scrathbuild a few models of actual Orient equipment, in particular their most common caboose type.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Casting coal loads for Lionel and S-C hoppers

Back a few months ago I made a mold of a good coal load (made in a more traditional manner, described here), and from that made a number of good copies of the load, which will fit in Scale-Craft or Lionel hoppers as they are very nearly the same size.

This was a good simple project, and actually the only time I have made an open top mold. I just set the part on top of my standard molding clay base with the metal fences around it and poured. The material went down in some holes in the load and broke off, as seen in the original.

I was making some other parts around that time, so what I did was cast a load with each batch of parts. Finally, recently I was painting gloss black and used the final remnants of the spray can to finish up the castings. I think they came out well.

I don’t have any extras now, but the next time I’m casting parts in resin I’ll make more, it is nice to have a casting that comes out well every time!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

On finishing the details

With the finish of the GP20 (here), there were details I added to that unit that were lacking on other engines.

It was not like I never noticed they were not there, but when I got them almost done it seemed good enough. But seeing them on the GP20 was eye opening, motivated also by some other reading that passed through my blog reader. I follow Modeling the SP, and this post, “There should be something there,” resonated with me and my overall level of detailing. I'm not actually looking for super detail, but there are details that you need to see, they should be there. Even if they are slightly wrong, the eye does not notice this as long as something is there.

The key detail I was noticing was the number boards and also the "F" lettering designating the front of the locomotive. On the Schorr RS2, there are number boards that were blank, but I had vintage Walthers decals that would do the job if cut up and applied right. I should have put those numbers on when I built the engine, and with them there now it is such a good look.

In progress today are these modern diesels, "finished" in 2016 (more here). The U23B had no rear number boards, but I used those same decals to make something that totally looks fine to the eye. The big SD's have number boards, but they are to my eye too short and wide. Again, I used the decals to solve the problem.

The cab ends of these models will get a different approach, I have (as I did on the GP20) painted the number boards carefully with black paint and will add the numbers in white.

Other models have had other minor details added and updated, painting issues that were never finished and the like. I've been also working on some big projects, almost done, but these little projects keep me going forward too and are a nice change of pace.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Shapeways GP20 for the MQS

Following up on my post of a month ago, the GP20, a 3D printed model from Shapeways, is done.

When I was originally thinking of this model I was hoping to go big and letter it for the Santa Fe, but looking at the model and my needs, I shifted it toward my 1980s era MQS (Madison-Quincy-Southern) shortline. It was a shortline concept I originally worked on in HO when I was in high school, and adding this engine to the roster gives me a very nice group for the MQS -- two end cab switchers (more here), a SD24 (more here), and a GP20. I had just enough paint (green in honor of the Verdigris River, alongside of which the MQS would run) and decals to complete it as part of the group of engines.

All of the engines got a bit of attention in the decal and paint department, and the SD24 got a bit of extra attention in this process too, as also seen in the photo -- I added the missing rear headlight (from a Tyco GP20 shell) and also rear number boards. They are actually just created with decals (including a black background decal) but the effect is pretty solid, and those same type of number boards are on the rear of the GP20. The front number board area I carefully painted black prior to adding the number decals.

In the prior post I had the GP20 on Kemtron trucks, but I opted to change them out and use Schorr trucks, saving the Kemtrons for another project someday. The Schorr trucks are heavy and large, but the weight was good with this being a dummy locomotive, and the heavy/low detail matches the Shapeways 3D printing.

Which gets at the negative of these models, all of them have a grainy finish and low detail. Painting this model and the FA with Mr. Surfacer as a primer helped somewhat, but not as much as hoped. I got closest to fixing the issue with the Alco FA model that is still in progress, I'll have more on that when it is done.

My original post introducing the Shapeways GP20 is here. I don't know if I'm the only person crazy enough to buy one of these in 1/76, but it did turn out nicely if you can accept the low detail.

Monday, June 24, 2019

An idea for making a better caboose cupola

One vintage American OO model you rarely see is the Graceline caboose. I have two that were built up really well (more here!) but they were not built up in the standard manner. But then an example with no cupola appeared on eBay and appealed to me, as I knew I had the comprestic (cardboard) parts to make a cupola for it. I could at least fix it, and if it turned out well maybe it would become a car for one of my roads.

The car arrives, and I finally get started a few days ago. One thing I learned was that if you cut out the parts exactly as laid out by Graceline the two ends of the cupola are slightly different, and they don't match the pitch of the roof! Maybe a part of why this car was not made for long....

Having dealt with those issues, I still needed a roof, and then also the cupola to be nice and square and solid.

Exhibit "A" is the one of my original examples on the left in the photo, that builder was good! Somehow he glued it all together really clean and solid with windows and handrails on the top.

What I wanted was some sort of inner frame to support the sides and roof,  and then an idea occurred. What if I took a Tyco HO cupola (the type on their big modern caboose that is essentially OO scale, more here) and cut out everything that would be visible behind the Graceline parts, and use the roof too?

The cut up cupola is seen in the first photo and this second photo shows the cupola with the Graceline parts sitting with the frame/roof.

Where this is a great thing as I could easily substitute scribed plastic siding material for the vintage sides and use this to form a cupola on other models.

I have other caboose projects stalled, in particular a Hawk caboose that someone started and abandoned. I've never seen one of those built up. My thinking was to upgrade the siding with plastic material, and with the cupola idea there to help with that critical part I might get to this model sometime soon.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Progress on the Shapeways GP20 and FA

Progress has been slow on projects for several months, but finally some progress is visible on my Shapeways Alco FA (more here) and GP20 (more here).

Progress, as in both are now ready for paint. The biggest single project was making the handrails. I opted finally to use soft 22 gauge wire for the railings and, on the GP20, to use Athearn HO handrail stanchions.

A tip being you have to use the tip of a scraper to begin the location of the hole (as you would with drilling in metal), and with my motor tool in the drill press I use the slowest speed. Another tip is pull the wire straight by putting one end in a bench vice and pulling with pliers.

Laying it all out took some time, and little compromises had to be made due to the way the bodies were made. Such as the GP20 was made with two Fireman's sides (!), each side is a mirror image so the area behind the cab in the side in the photo is incorrect. I did make a few modifications of details that stuck out that were practical to modify, most notably to the GP20. There was an extra bulge from the middle fan and an extra knob on the hood, I got rid of the ditch lights, and most notably I modified fuel tank area and the ends of the frame near the steps. The ends of the frame had extra material not seen in the prototype photos, and I opted to use fuel tanks modified from HO TYCO fuel tanks rather than what was on the body as produced. Oh, and I wish I could lower the bottom step! It would be quite a jump down for the crew.

Another compromise to mention on the FA is that the bottom end of the handrails should be attached lower, but there was no practical way to duplicate that. On both engines I used Athearn horns.

The bottom view shows a few more details of the build. One is that the FA fuel tank was hanging too low as produced, I cut it off and have mounted it to the body higher, with screws. Also note that both engines are dummies. I was going to power the GP20, but was missing some key parts and these models are so light these make great dummy locomotives. So for now the GP20 has my last spare pair of Kemtron GP trucks (it may get switched out to Schorr trucks, depending on needs), and the FA has a pair of Schorr RS-2 trucks.

And of course I made a frame for the GP20 out of thick aluminum stock. All that is lacking right now is paint and couplers. I have some ideas to test on painting, I'm hoping to better overcome the grainy finish, and I'll report on those in a future post. The FA came with unusable truck side frames that I'm going to use for painting experiments.

UPDATE: The finished GP20 is here

AND: The finished FA is here

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Rethinking Famoco 6-wheel trucks

Back in 2015 I had a closer look article on Famoco 6-wheel passenger trucks. They are of a different design than S-C trucks, and at that time I had two things using them on a specific car accomplished: it freed up a pair of S-C trucks to use on another car, and I thought the look was nice on an ATSF baggage car.

This past week I had that car out again and was wanting to run it, and noted that it was shorting out. With this closer look article, I'll add this: these are not a great truck design. Even with a fresh truck, with good wheels, as things flex as the car rolls around the layout the insulated wheels short out against the sideframes.

The photo provides an even closer look. As I noted before, the bolster is integral to the design and is held on with the pin and locking washer, as seen on the right.

Back in 2015 I also had more of a passenger truck shortage. Now, with the 3D printed bolsters available (more here! I love these) and having used many of them to get a lot of trucks in shape, I'll be converting that car back to S-C trucks and reliable operation.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Composite “war emergency” gondolas in American OO

A recent eBay find was this nice composite gondola lettered for the Yorkville & Western of Fred Schorr. I have two other models of this general type built by Pierre Bourassa, and they are worth a longer look than given in the prior article (here).

I had simply thought of these as being composite gondolas, but there is more of a story. The prototypes were 52’ cars built during WWII to conserve steel plate. I found a good write up here: 
By the late 1930s, the 52-foot, 6-inch gondola had become the preferred design for the railroads serving Northeastern industrial plants….
During WWII, military needs for steel took priority. Rolled steel sheet, which was used for all types of light armor and ship construction, was particularly in short supply. Thus, American railroads received steel only after military demand was met. New cars were limited to those authorized by the War Production Board. With railroads handling the majority of all military and commercial shipments, there was a burden on the supply of rolling stock. Out of necessity, the railroads searched for ways to substitute other materials for steel. By reviving earlier composite car building practices, the AAR design teams replaced sheet steel with wood with steel systems added for strength.
Due to the length of the car, a fishbelly structure was necessary and the ribs provided protection from outward strain from the inside loads. In 1943, the builders replaced steel where wood would suffice. For structural integrity, in place of the already steel side, the designers created a truss of diagonal and vertical ribs. A wood floor was a savings and dreadnaught drop ends were applied. The War Emergency gondola dates from October of 1942 with the building program beginning late 1943 and continued into the middle of 1944.
The model seen here is an attractive model of this interesting prototype, but it is rather under sized really at only 42 feet long.

What Schorr and Bourassa did to make their models was take cast HO sides such as these and build up the rest of the car neatly. So while a plausible model, it is not really an OO scale model at all, at least not if compared to the prototype cars.

Of course, who is to say that in our world there were examples of similar cars produced that were shorter and lower? I’ll probably build up these loose sides someday into OO models, it would make a nice project and not overly complicated.

UPDATE: And, as noted in the first comment (I should have put this in the article to begin with), the sides on the car and in the second photo are almost certainly Ulrich sides. The instructions for this classic HO model may be found here in the HO Seeker site.