American OO Today

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A nice Scale-Craft 2-6-0 conversion

I have seen photos of S-C 4-6-0 models cut down to 2-6-0s, but this conversion takes the idea to a new level, using a S-C 0-6-0 boiler on a cut down 4-6-0 frame to make a modern 2-6-0.

The photos of this neat model were shared by a reader. The 0-6-0 boiler combined with the scratch built tender combine to make a model that is a pretty fair approximation of a Southern Pacific 2-6-0 with a roomy cab. The cab is very roomy if you compare it to scale drawings, large so that it will accommodate the big S-C Universal motor, clearly seen on this model. Also, the lead truck is from a Nason 2-8-0, it is easy to see the “N” logo (and other details) if you click on the photos for a better view.

This model really appeals to me. I have long liked the 2-6-0, being most heavily influenced by an early gift of a copy of the classic book Mixed Train Daily by Lucius Beebe and also by reading practically every railroad book in our public library growing up. One book in particular that I studied first there (and later purchased) was on the MKT northwestern district that ran into the Oklahoma panhandle. In days of steam, it was ruled by you guessed it, 2-6-0s similar to this one.

I have parts of a started (long ago) 0-6-0 kit. The boiler was soldered together but not much more than that -- and the drive parts associated with it are a mess, it would take huge effort to fix.

With that all said as background, I do now plan to do one of these conversions with that boiler. I will save the drive parts to perhaps fix another 0-6-0. My layout is small and not likely to get bigger, this should operate very well, and I have the 4-6-0 parts to work out the drive. Also, one thing I have noted over years is models that I can’t actually run on the layout don’t get me as interested to work on them compared to others that I can run. So for example I have had a S-C 4-8-4 apart for a while on my workbench that I should get done, it won’t take that long really, but it likely won’t take my curves so … back burner. This 2-6-0, though, that I can run, a perfect short line or branch line engine. Now just to get some other projects done….

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Building SD40s and also a U23B in American OO, Part II: Progress report

Back some nine months ago I had an article (more here) on starting a project that used a pair of 3D printed EMD cabs as part of kitbashing an approximation of the EMD SD40 prototypes. With further background being that there are a few 3D printed parts for American OO 1:76 scale on Shapeways (more here). 

In addition, I also purchased through Shapeways a GE cab to use to make an approximation of a U23B. As I have not described that model at all yet (other than teasing it in part I), a few details are in order. It was a conversion proposed years ago in The OO Road by Bill Johann as a relatively simple “good enough” conversion. The hood and visible portion of frame are taken from a vintage Athearn (“blue box”) GE U33C body. Some details are off, of course, but are similar to the correct details for the U23B. The hood itself is OO width, so the key issues were to shorten it slightly in length and to additionally raise the height to match the cab.

The original frame (lower part of body casting, actually, not the metal Athearn frame) was saved and widened, and a drive was no concern as I planned from the start to build it as a dummy.

The trucks are ones I had on hand, modified originally to use on a Schorr F-3, but then I obtained a pair of Schorr trucks for it, so they were available for this model. These are actually the unpowered rear trucks from TYCO GP20 models (!), widened to OO and with new wheelsets. They are the correct length for OO, and I worked out a way to use the original mounting. I also used the fuel tanks from a couple of these models, spliced together for length, they are a little small but believable. For those wondering, some prototype U23B models were built with EMD trucks, trade in trucks from F-3’s and the like, it is a nice look.

The SD40s on the other hand are built on the visible parts of the frames and the drives from two Athearn SD45T-2 models. The length worked out nicely to give convincing porches in relation to the hood used in the kitbash and the 3D printed cabs, without modifying the frame. The frames/hoods on these models come off and on using the same lugs as the original models. Couplers are underset shank Kadee couplers and are a bit low….

The solution on that will be to mount the rear U23B coupler low to match the SD40s and mount the front coupler at the correct height, it will run as the trailing unit. As to mounting the hood on the U23B model I will work out a way that the hood is held on the frame with screws rather than gluing it on as I did with the SD40 models.

While they look pretty good, big picture there are some significant compromises on all three models. One special bummer is that the 3D cabs have some rough surfaces. I was hoping after the bath in Bestine (needed to prep for painting) that they would be smoother, but really they are about the same. I will try to be optimistic that the paint will help level out the rougher side surfaces but realize it will only help so much. I think this may simply be a consequence of the cabs all being scaled up from models developed for smaller scales, although perhaps they were not printed well either.

In any case I have the drives setup now for the SD40s and one body mounted on the frame as of this writing. Compared to the scale drawing the major dimensions are pretty much there, but a lot of specific details are off.

The three Diesels are a big project but good ones for this fall which has been busy for me. I do a few small things on them one day and then puzzle over them and then a few more small things another day. There are still details to sort out, but I think I pretty much have the issues planned out. They will all have for example a modified, “modern” paint scheme for my Orient that is driven by needing to paint the cab with a different type of paint than my standard paint I use on plastic.

The next big thing to do is add handrails, I need them on before painting.

As already noted, there are a lot of compromises on these models. Back to the handrails, for example, with all the other things that are a bit off I don’t see a big reason to not just use the original HO handrails. So I will, modifying the end handrails to have the chained off opening in the middle compared to the original Athearn design. It is visually more important that they just match on all three models rather than being exactly correct.

I hope these models come out well but as of this moment I am not real sure of the result, the compromises have me a little worried but hoping still for “good enough.” They should match the modern cars I have from Johann pretty well at least, so that part is good. I will get them done and do my best, I have been pleasantly surprised before. But the next projects after these will be restoration projects, which may be more the direction I head for the thrust of future work. Knowing though that I might get the bug to keep upping my game as a craftsman and do more with 3D parts. Who knows?

In any case, the trio of modern Diesels are getting close and should be finished sometime during the blocks of time for working on models during the holidays. I do look forward to running these, more then!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A look at the Schorr OO RDC, the Hobbytown HO RDC, and the probable actual maker of both

A recent “oops” purchase was the HO RDC seen below with my Schorr OO RDC.

It was listed as OO, the seller had other obvious OO models for sale (Nason!), and looking at it the model certainly looked just like the Schorr model, but with a drive applied to it very neatly. My example being unpowered that was a nice feature, and the price was right.

The model arrives. It took me several days to get down my OO model and then note that the new one was actually an HO model, one that looked like you took the Schorr model and scaled it down from OO to HO and put a drive on it. There was hardly any difference other than the size overall. I thought about returning it, but seeing the two together sold me on keeping it for a while, they are a neat pair. But other than being an early Japanese brass import what was the HO model? I got to digging on that and also looking at some recently received materials on Schorr imports.

To begin, the name of Fred Schorr will be familiar to regular readers, but for those not familiar he was a very enthusiastic OO gauger and imported a line of great American OO scale brass models from Japan after WWII. This article has an overview of his line. The RDC was first advertised in September of 1955, and the original ad may be seen in this article. 

The underlying brass model manufacturer Schorr worked with in Japan was Kyodo. The only part I know of that is actually marked as such in his models are the freight trucks, where Kyodo is stamped into the bolster, using the same logo as in this image I found on the Internet.

I have been in communication with Ed Schorr over the years (son of Fred Schorr), and recently he was cleaning and sent me this surprising photo. Of it he simply said it was “a photo of the guy in Japan that did the work on the brass OO equipment.”

You can actually glean quite a bit from the photo, it is worth clicking on for a closer view. Clearly the gentleman is working on a run of streamlined passenger cars of some sort. Note the big soldering iron and the generally Spartan setup of the shop. I am inclined to say they are HO models.

That brings us back to the HO RDC. With a little digging I found some basic info on the Hobbytown of Boston RDC in the HOSeeker site, and clearly this is an example of that model. According to them the model was available from 1956-58. From the Magazine Index at Tranis.com it would appear that this model was unfortunately not reviewed in the hobby press at the time.

What Hobbytown sold was a kit, but model came with a complete, painted brass body to which you added the drive, which they supplied parts for. This image is a portion of their ad that ran in the January, 1957 issue of  Model Railroader, showing the model and price. It is a little hard to tell if the ad is a photo of a model or a prototype photo, but other photos were found online to confirm, the model I bought is clearly a built up version of the Hobbytown RDC.

Taking a closer look, the OO and HO models are twins, there are basically no significant detail differences other than the bottom of the model, were the HO version was set up to accommodate the Hobbytown drive. The Schorr models were not powered.

I should mention as well, typically Schorr models were built to designs that had recently appeared as scale drawings in the hobby press. In this case, the underlying drawings appear in the January, 1952 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Both the Schorr and Hobbytown models follow these drawings closely, with the Hobbytown model having a slight edge on some detail placement. Yet, even then, that article has only side elevations and it looks like the builder imagined a few things relating to the ends and frame.

But even then the models are basically identical; the model maker handled the same construction details the same way (look at the steps, for example, and the roof), and the factory paint is also identical. It certainly is a plausible theory that Schorr approached Kyodo to make the OO model, and subsequently Hobbytown approached Kyodo to make the same model in HO to use with their drive parts, testing the waters so to speak toward putting their drives in imported brass bodies. Comparing the two models and production dates it is hard to come to any other conclusion really.

Certainly people don’t think of Hobbytown being an early HO brass importer, but with this model they did briefly experiment with Japanese brass, in the process producing a model that was clearly superior to the subsequently introduced Athearn HO model, having a better drive and being a full length model rather than a shorty model.

And with this article, too, it is an interesting to note and see a view of the actual makers of these brass models. It is a time long passed now, but the models live on and still are nice representations of their prototypes.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Time was not kind to these cars

Several recent posts have featured models by James Trout. These two are also Trout models and I believe when new were outstanding models.

Then here we are today. To the caboose first, it is beautifully scratch built and has a complete interior! It is missing the glass from one window but the really sad thing is the cupola is completely gone. I suppose the crew has a great view but it is a bit breezy! It is lettered, by hand for his personal road, the West Coast Southern.

The reefer is also a bit sad to see now too. While complete, obviously the material used for the sides (some sort of tinplate) of this completely scratch built model did not hold the paint well. The lettering is all by hand, and from prior posts you may recall that Trout was a Disney illustrator, it is beautifully done. Note in particular the Santa Fe heralds, the second photo being the one on the opposite side of that seen in the first photo. It is not a decal, and it is just amazing to me that painting this by hand is even possible. He had the skill to do it.

As to these two cars and my plans for them, the reefer I will probably always leave like it is. The hand lettering is still intense to see in person, if only the paint had stuck better to that metal! The caboose though, I have another Trout caboose built from wood in better shape, and it has a cupola of a design that I can likely duplicate. I will certainly give that a try at least to match the paint well and get it back to closer to the way he intended it to look.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Schorr wedge plow

The name of Fred Schorr should be a familiar one to regular readers. Up today for a look is a rarity, a wedge plow he built.

It is decorated for his road, the Yorkville and Western and is scratch built from wood, sort of the classic scratch building job of a model never offered in American OO.

The wings on the side are fixed in place, this type of car is always one that would be rarely run (unless you model winter!) and probably was spotted on some siding normally.

The bottom view shows a few more details of the model. The blade must have taken some time to form, in particular. And of course the car rides on Schorr trucks.

I am glad to have a group of cars from his layout, at some point I should shoot a short video showing some of these models in action.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Simple rebuild: Lionel PRR boxcars

One thing I try to do is always have different types of projects going on of different levels of difficulty.

In this case, readers should easily recognize the models, they are Lionel boxcars decorated for the PRR. They had been probably built from the kit version of these models and came to me in not very good shape at that, with heavy paint and decals flaking off.

So in the summer I stripped the models (soaking in 90% isopropyl alcohol for days and scrubbing, repeated several times) and repainted them in a batch of boxcars using Scalecoat paint.

I did want them to be nice enough for the layout and used HO Microscale decals and Kadee couplers. Simple projects -- they took a few months, but a nice break from more involved rebuildings and kitbashing.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

ATSF heavyweight baggage cars and RPO by James Trout

Following up on the combine (rider car) for the Fast Mail seen last week, we have these three ATSF heavyweight passenger cars (potentially for the same train) by James Trout, two baggage cars and an RPO.

To the baggage cars first, they are lettered as cars 1826 and 1599. The latter model has the distinctive fishbelly sides seen on some ATSF baggage cars. Both cars are built with the same sides which are copper and appear to be photoengraved. The rivets are very small but very distinct, the effect is wonderful compared to say pre-war J-C models sides. Comparing the sides to a set of Exacta Pullman sides, the details match very closely in style, so my conclusion is that he almost certainly used Exacta #501 baggage car sides on these two models (my overview article of the excellent sides offered briefly in the post-war period by Exacta may be found here).

Another neat feature are the trucks. What he laboriously did was remove material from standard Scale-Craft truck sideframes to upgrade and change their appearance. One set he mainly just opened up the filled in areas between the journal boxes, this I have seen done before. But the other pair was more of a project, he modified the sideframes extensively to match or at least closely approximate a design used on ATSF baggage cars. They end up looking a bit like Famoco passenger trucks from the side but heavier duty. As always, click on any photo for a better view.

The RPO model is lettered as ATSF 77. This model is scratchbuilt. The sides are a thin tinplate material and have rivets pressed in in the same manner as the combine. As with the baggage cars there are a lot of little details here, quite a bit of soldering and fabrication was required. There are no interior details, but the metal bars in the windows are a nice touch. Also note, on this and the other cars, the shape of the fillet at the top of the roof is nicely continued down to the end of the cars.

To the final photo, the trucks on the RPO are Kemtron, a post-war product described further in this article. They are built up from lost wax castings and look great on this nicely detailed model.

All three cars have Devore couplers and of course the sides of all these cars are hand lettered. Also you will note little dings here and there. I am not going heroic on restoration on these but one of the baggage cars did require some rebuilding of the frame, possibly damaged in shipping. Many of the cars I have from Trout have this type of light damage, and as I work them over I will feature them here.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An ATSF heavyweight combine

With this beautiful car we have the first of a group of passenger cars that were built by James Trout. As noted in a prior article he was an artist with Disney for more than 40 years and put his considerable skills into action in his American OO models.

I will begin by saying what this car is, it is an ATSF combine and it caught my eye as a perfect car to have for a Santa Fe branch line mixed train, such as would have run on the line I traveled along so many times with my parents growing up in Kansas. Although I have to note that this specific car is from a group (2602-2608) which were actually not used in mixed train service, instead they were rider cars for The Fast Mail. For more information on these cars in general see this page in the Santa Fe Railway Historical Society website. 

Still though, this car really caught my attention not only for being at least very similar to a mixed train combine but also as I had recently completed a similar model someone else started years ago, they converted a pair of Scale-Craft bodies into a combine (seen here). That car, when I completed it, seemed like a nice car for my layout to run on an approximation of an ATSF mixed train, and I planned to upgrade it with an interior. Now, with this new Trout model here, I am not so sure….

The arrival of this car and others with it may mark a slight turning point for me. Let me explain. The first issue, if it is an issue, is that this model is so well made. When I look at the average vintage model in American OO, I definitely have better modeling skills than a lot of people back in the day. But this combine, it is built at a level of old-school craftsmanship I have aspired to but never quite achieved, one that is rarely seen today in any scale.

This model must have taken many hours to build. It is obviously scratchbuilt and there are hardly any commercial parts to be seen, the most visible being the Nason trucks. The sides are sheet metal -- some sort of a dull tinplate material -- and he used some sort of rivet making die or machine to punch in all the rivets. It is an accurate and beautifully built scale model of the prototype, with real glass in the windows and an interior. As always, click on the photos for a closer view.

The couplers are an interesting choice, they are HO Devore couplers. It was an oversize (for HO!) working knuckle coupler produced in the 1950s that scales out very close to correct in OO. Trout at one point had a large layout, but with the limited swing they offer I am thinking that Trout either only displayed this particular car as a shelf model or he had very wide radius curves.

Of course the lettering was all done by hand as well. It does not look like it was at any normal viewing distance though and clearly Trout had the steady hand of a real artist.

Basically, this and other cars that recently arrived have suddenly pushed the bar much higher for me in American OO. I have over the years had fun building and rebuilding quite a few nice, neat models. I own other models built to a similar level as I have achieved, but built by others (thinking especially of Pierre Bourassa, William Johann, William Gilbert, and Fred Schorr). But these models have really challenged me, they are absolutely the best scratchbuilt models ever to be in my train room and certainly leave the average model built on a pre-war design now looking less good than it did before, no matter how neatly built. Also, while I would love to run this model, I actually can’t as my curve radius is not big enough – and even if I swap out the couplers out it will look better on 36” or more radius. That issue I will have to ponder as years go forward.

There are quite a few more of these cars by James Trout to describe one by one, about half and half ATSF and his personal road which I will introduce in a later article. Some are very complete and in beautiful shape and others have significant issues from storage that I will need to address. In any case, it is good that I have at least the skills to lightly touch up these models as needed, the group is giving me a good challenge and I will aim to describe a couple every week or so, be watching for more of these stunning models.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Two modern 60’ boxcars

Today we have a pair of modern cars in American OO, one completely scratch built by Bill Johann in 1985 and the other started by him in the 1990s and finished by me.

The Cotton Belt car is the older model. The body is wood and it is built with traditional methods, rolling on Lionel trucks which he must have felt had enough heft to look right on the car. The car in front has perhaps more of a story. The frame was in the OO Inventory, and the model had no body. It clearly had one before, maybe a couple different bodies even based on the dates on the frame (seen in the third photo), and was also on Lionel trucks. In any case it originally must have had a plastic body generally similar to the one I built up.

So the body I made has its own story. Way back in high school or close to it I bought an Athearn HO 86’ boxcar body thinking it could be converted to OO. And then it sat and sat, moved from place to place. But looking at that orphan frame it was clear that the Athearn body would make a good basis for a somewhat freelanced 60’ boxcar in OO. It exactly fits the frame, and the big plug doors I think make the model, as do the couplers on the long cushion draft gears.

How I worked the Athearn body over is fairly clear in the photos. I did split the roof and cut both ends off, making a new roof and new ends. The brass part of the ends are extra parts that I had that were produced for the Scale-Craft 50’ boxcar, and the other commercial looking parts are HO. The roof was a special challenge and actually the roof you see is the second roof that has been on the car. I opted to do a simplification that Johann did on other models I have, it is probably not totally prototypical but then again the car has a few compromises. But it is a good match for the frame and will certainly be a believable model when decorated, most likely for the ATSF.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Introducing American OOn3

Although a new topic in this website, over the years I have seen a few references here and there to OOn3 models being built. Attempts at activity in this gauge date from after WWII, as the 12mm gauge track required for OOn3 is the same as TT standard gauge track, so you could make use of TT gauge locomotive mechanisms and, if you did not mind the small wheels and ties, commercial TT gauge track and trucks.

Recently obtained were these two cabooses. The one in the front is standard gauge and was scratch built by Fred Schorr, and is lettered for his personal road. (It is a near twin to the caboose in this article, and has full interior and lights!). The one in the rear is OOn3 and was built by his son Ed. It is neatly scratch built and rides on modified HOn3 trucks.

Note, in comparing the photos, that from the side they are similar in size but the narrow gauge model is not as wide. As always, click on the photos for a closer view.

According to Ed he made one other model in OOn3, a D&RGW C-16! If anyone has that model out there reading this, I would love to hear from you. I do hope the owner knows what it is and how unique the model is!

The idea of OOn3 has intrigued me for years, I like Colorado narrow gauge, but it just seems like too much work compared to for example switching scales and then building a layout in Sn3. I laid that OOn3 track seen in the photos back when I was in high school (!), but as an experiment I think originally to lay some TT gauge track. But the ties I used were way too big for TT and it ends up being about right visually for OOn3 or maybe more correctly for HOm (HO, meter gauge) due to tie size.

Speaking of track, you can buy what would be very workable OOn3 track commercially now, as there are several lines of HOm track, also 12mm gauge. It is more of a European specialty product so tracking down suppliers in the US is more of a challenge, but it should in closing also be noted that there are entire lines of products that are built in HOm and various types of OO narrow gauge models as well, but not specifically US prototype of course. Maybe if a situation came where I really had to seriously downsize I might think about freelancing some mining or logging line OOn3, who knows the future?