American OO Today

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

Two 3D printed SW7s, and a SC/Lionel American OO caboose

Described in two earlier articles (here and here) the pair of SW7s are now complete and painted/lettered.

It took a while to decide on a scheme. Back in high school my first freelance HO layout was the Madison-Quincy-Southern, and I had some decals for it kicking around for years. In thinking of what to decorate these models for I needed a freelance line and what color? The old MQS had a Pullman green engine (seen here!), and that gave me inspiration for this new MQS model.

To the paint specifically, I had a new and unused bottle of Polyscale Pullman green and used that. I was nervous to brush paint the engines but actually it was not a problem at all. The first coat literally soaked into the “Strong & Flexible White nylon plastic” 3D printing material as did the second. The one area I painted more was the cab sides as they needed to be smoother to support the decals well. That area received about 5 coats of paint. Also I painted the handrails white. They are a bit clunky looking and if you look too closely the entire model has a rough finish. But decorated as they are they do work well on the layout at viewing distances.

One thing I did do intentionally was number them sequentially. The MQS is a short line and it points out that it is probably a small roster of locomotives. The HO model mentioned earlier was number 12, so these are further up the roster.

And any train needs a caboose. This one is a curiosity, purchased with some other models.

What a prior owner had done was modify a Scale-Craft caboose body to fit a Lionel caboose frame. Why!?! In any case, I was thinking to decorate it to sell on eBay but even then, who is going to buy this mutt? Being a nice car I decided to decorate it for the MQS. And being a special model it needs special trucks, and it received my last pair of North Yard caboose trucks.

This final photo is a view of the bottom showing the Lionel frame and the trucks which are ultra-free rolling. As with all the photos, click on the photo for a closer view.

Next up for the MQS is a SD24. I did not have the 3D model made for me, but rather obtained the body from another OO gauger that had it made but decided to go in other directions. I have a drive that will work well for it and just need time over the summer to get it running. Until then though these two engines and caboose are likely to rule the rails on my little layout.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Five cars from the OO Yorkville & Western

These five cars are all decorated for the layout of Fred Schorr, his Yorkville & Western, and are an interesting group, as three of them came to me relatively recently.

First up are these two gondolas. These I purchased at different times from different sources. I like a lot how they are numbered sequentially. The models are of course from his line of Japanese brass imports, with Kadee couplers and nicely painted. The coal load is a simple one made from black sandpaper, the rear gon with lettering related to being for coal service and the front one for crushed rock, sand, or gravel.

Then there is this gondola. It is also a Schorr import, with that same owl logo but decorated differently. Notice anything missing? It has no car number or reporting marks of any type. It was UPDATE actually the work of his son Ed, a nice variation on the Y&W theme.

Finally we have two hopper cars, one by Schorr and the other by Scale-Craft, built up nicely. The S-C car has a very nice, removable coal load while the Schorr car has another of the black sandpaper loads. Which look pretty good at a distance, it is a very heavy grit and I think he painted over it with gloss black which helps the effect.

All in all a nice group of cars from the layout of a major figure in postwar American OO.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Five “Nason” boxcars

I try to work on things in groups and I was working on a group of three boxcars that expanded to five as the project went on.

First up is this car which turned out really well. The body is I think not commercial, actually, and the car itself was a basket case. I stripped it down, added Famoco ends and doors (the latter being reproductions by Temple Nieter that are a bit under sized), Eastern ladders, a Nason frame and trucks, and Nason Erie sides.

Part of what got me going on the entire project was that I found that Floquil ATSF Mineral Brown was a pretty close match for the sides. That one thing, matching paint, is what makes these cars. I brush painted them for control, in several coats.

Moving on, there are two more pair of cars. The first pair are SP cars, the vintage one in front being a actual Nason car that had been beautifully built up, it has a lot of extra details such as brake lines under the car, but it had fallen on hard times. After gluing the roof back on (!) I touched it up quite a bit and replaced a missing coupler. The car I made was the completion of one of a group of boxcars started long ago (the "boxcar project") and I have slowly been working them over. Not visible in the photos, I used Nason frames and trucks on all the cars seen that I built up, along with vintage Kadee No. 4 couplers.

The last pair of cars also have NP sides. The vintage model in the rear is actually a Page car (the cheaper, under-brand Nason briefly promoted) with a solid block body. The car I completed is another of the same bodies used for my SP car. That builder had put Selley ends on the cars and had done roof ribs but let them go there, never completed them. I had to rework the roofs but with the added details and closely matching paint they came out well.

Note also I did not duplicate any car numbers. I still have a couple more of the “boxcar project” bodies, maybe this summer they too will emerge with Nason sides, before I run out of the Floquil paint….

Friday, April 15, 2016

A nice Hawk OO boxcar

Hawk, in the years right before WWII, briefly produced a line of OO scale freight car kits (more here). Of those, the boxcar is I think the nicest model.

This example certainly is a nice one. It came to me either nearly completely built or nearly completely rebuilt, so I can't claim to have done much more than put on trucks and add couplers and decals.

I like a lot how it came out with the Microscale HO decals, it looks great on the layout with such an accurate scheme. The trucks are Schorr and to mix things up a little I used a set of vintage Kadee No. 4 couplers -- I have a supply of them and use them often on cars with a wood floor such as this one. A really nice "new" vintage car.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Progress report: a pair of American OO 3D printed SW7’s

Back in January we featured a report on the 3D printed 1:76 models available at Shapeways. I now own two of the SW7 models and have them running! All that needs to be added are paint and decals.

As designed there were several parts left off the bodies, specifically the headlights, bell, and horn. I salvaged those parts from the shells of the AHM SW1 models that donated their frame, drive, and weights to the project. The Shapeways bodies only needed slight modification to accommodate coupler boxes mounted on the frame, done on the cab end of each model only and not normally visible at all in operation.

Turning to the drives seen in the second photo, the AHM models have trucks that are the correct wheelbase for OO with nice side frames. I extended the frames of both and enlarged the fuel tanks with spare parts saved from other conversions. I then added weight to the extent that I could (the wheels still slip, they are not overweight in relation to the motor), and will paint the weights that are visible in the cab black.

Speaking of paint, be sure to check the earlier article for a discussion of this topic. As to a paint scheme, my plan now is to revive a freelance short line that I modeled in HO way back in high school. More on that in a future update, but it will make for some good operation and also is suited to the SD24 body model which I will be working on soon.

The AHM drives seen in the photos actually run surprisingly well. I knew that if I ran these drives as a pair of engines they would work better, as each model individually has only four wheel pickup and four drive wheels, both of them going smooths out operation. The pair will pull about six free rolling cars and low speed operation really is OK. These will be run.

Also very notable is that with the original AHM frame cut down as seen it nests right up inside the 3D body and the engine is exactly the right height! It took me a while to get used to the look as they are visually a good bit bigger than most of the HO conversion Diesel switchers I have been using for years.

The downside on these two models is that they make clear that almost my entire Diesel switcher fleet (!) really is not up to snuff. Almost all look noticeably under scale except for one: the Fleischmann Baldwin switcher (seen here). On it, the cab looks short but the model itself is otherwise convincing next to the full scale Shapeways bodies. So likely this summer I will rebuild another of these using parts scrapped from my SW1 conversion, and looking ahead I think the AHM S-1 models could be used to make a convincing RS-1, maybe in a few years….

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Two Gondola cars built on Picard bodies

These cars are an interesting pair, built relatively recently with a mixture of new and vintage parts.

Both are built I believe on vintage wood Picard gondola car bodies. These are not often seen built up, as really they were a product that on one hand was needed but on the other their model lacked any details on the sides or ends, how do you build it up? It was really just a jumpstart toward scratch building a model, and the sides and ends are unrealistically thick. (More on Picard here).

What builder Pierre Bourassa did sometime in the 1980s (more here) was an interesting solution. What he did was glue sheet styrene on the sides and ends and build up the details on that surface. His work was a little rough but for sure the styrene surface is a much better one to simulate a steel car.

The ends and sides of the Picard model are thick and now thicker! His solution was in two parts to “fool the eye.” The cap piece on the sides/ends is approximately scale size, then there is a load and the eye does not really “see” the thick sides as the wood parts blend in with the loads, made from wood shavings and painted to resemble scrap steel.

The FEC car did not require much work to get in shape but I did replace the trucks with Schorr trucks and work over the couplers. The paint scheme is believable but so far as I know not prototypical.

The ATSF car, it did not come to me decorated as ATSF. It was CN in a minimal and not very believable version of a modern CN paint scheme. Wanting to back date the car a bit to actually use it on the layout (!), I repainted it (with a brush, for a change, matching his paint as closely as I could) and reworked the trucks/couplers. It is now on a nice pair of rebuilt Nason trucks, nearly as free rolling now as the Schorr trucks on the other car.

It feels good to get these cars through the shops and out on the layout. Has been a busy few months, working on projects such as these is exactly why hobbies are such a benefit to quality of life. And more projects are moving forward, be watching for more.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Scale-Craft 4-6-4T, outside third rail version

This model is uncommon, the Scale-Craft 4-6-4T (more here), but an additional unique thing about this model is it is set up for outside third rail.

Outside third rail operation was in the earliest years of American OO the norm. Early Nason catalogs, before Scale-Craft shook things up in 1937 with 2-rail DC, assume that all operation will be with outside third rail setup and AC motors.

Probably the last big American OO layout with outside third rail was the Saint Anne of Ed Costello, featured in RMC in 1979 (more here). In the cover photo of the issue the third rail is just barely visible in the lower right corner. As is noted in that article, early insulated wheelsets had a tendency to fall apart (ever see any Famoco trucks?) and three rail eliminated that issue, the wheels were all on solidly.

This S-C 4-6-4T for sure does not run presently. The wires connected to both of the third rail collectors are broken off, everything needs new wiring. The setup though was that the third rail collectors are mounted on insulated pads. The collectors themselves are interesting items too, as they are set up so that the wires are sprung, creating a bit of down force to keep them in contact with the third rail.

I recall maybe ten years ago a collector contacted me, they had a large outside third rail OO layout in storage. Maybe someone will get one set up and running again, but I am feeling pretty doubtful to be honest. Wheels falling apart are not an issue now, and installing a third rail is yet one more complication toward working in an already difficult modeling gauge. Although who knows, if I build another layout I might lay a test track with outside third rail.

But to this engine, it actually could be rebuilt as a 2-rail model. All the wheels are insulated, it is just a matter of wiring. Also, up on top of the tank, you can see it was set up with a manual reverser back in the day. A big project to rebuild, but maybe worth it due to the rarity of the model.

For now though, I will just enjoy looking at it as it is, the only outside 3rd rail model to ever land on my workbench.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Building SD40 Prototypes in American OO, Part. I: Getting Started

Way back in 1993 an “Extra Issue” was published of The OO Road where Bill Johann focused on diesel conversions from HO. What got him started was

… I decided to research Athearn’s products with a view toward chopping, cutting, piecing and scratchbuilding Irv’s hood locos, which had perfect OO hood width (6’), so as to make close to scale OO locos --- the “good enough” philosophy. The trucks would have to be widened to match the OO track gauge.

The most straightforward model to rebuild from this article with a “good enough” focus is the 1965 EMD SD40 prototypes (also referred to by railfans as the SD40X) number 434A through F (a prototype photo may be found here; these nine engines were all were sold and did see revenue service for many years --- noting however that the SD40X designation also can refer to a very different locomotive that was the test bed for the SD50). The basis of the conversion would be a vintage Athearn SD45 hood, as the first four of these SD40 prototypes had flared radiators as seen on a SD45 with fans in the same configuration and size as seen on the vintage HO shell.

Johann in the article noted that Dave Sacks had taken a simple approach to this general conversion by modifying the trucks and running them in OO more or less as is. Two of those models actually made it to me but in pretty sad shape (seen here), drives completely shot. He had fun running them I am sure but they visually were pretty unsuccessful I feel.

The main wrong detail as those models came to me was the too small (HO) cab. Of course, regular readers know I just had two of these very cabs 3D printed for OO. I had been working on converting these two engines off and on for some years now actually, but was totally stalled by the cab. But not now!

Which brings us to these three photos seen here. What you see is the basics of the conversion, with each photo also showing the comparison of this model to a stock, modern Athearn HO SD40. Big picture, this model will certainly have the heft and look of being a full scale 1/76 model when done, just don’t look at the fine details too close. A recent production Athearn loco is the donor for the drive, which has already been modified for 19mm gauge operation (and much more easily than the old style drives Johann was working with). The frame portion of the original body was widened to match the width of the cab, and the long hood is from one of the Sacks models but raised to match again the height of the cab. From the top and front you can see it clearly is a 1/76 model, the HO roots are not obvious.

The conversion should go pretty quickly from here, reusing the original hand rails and adding other HO details. I will be making a pair of these (#2 will be built on a shorter frame, closer matching the prototypes) and also a GE locomotive for which I also now have a 3D printed cab and an overwide Athearn GE body to mate it with. It will be more or less a GE U23B when done, planned as of now as a dummy rather than powered model, and likely on EMD trucks, as some of these were built with them. None of the three modern diesels will be really accurate models, of course, but I will make them as close as practical to correct and believe they will meet the standard of “good enough.”

Going back to the original Johann article on the conversion, he suggests doing the SD40 prototype or the U23 conversions first (they would be the easiest to complete), and the H16-66 conversion later. Actually I already did that one (see here) which helps me with confidence for the process as well. Johann states he has converted a total of 14 HO diesels to use in American OO, including building SD28 and SD35 models that required extensive body work. Another model he does not note in the article that would be a good candidate is the EMD SDL39, which would be the best conversion of all really as it uses six wheel trucks that are actually of a shorter wheelbase than the standard EMD truck --- HO trucks being about right! Maybe someday I will come back and try that, but for now we have these underway, should be some real progress on them by summer.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

News! Now available, 3D printed American OO 1:76 models at Shapeways

The topic of 3D printing is one that has generated a lot of buzz. For anyone active in American OO it is huge news actually, as conceivably any model railroad related item found on Shapeways can be produced in 1:76. If a Shapeways designer is willing to do it, all they have to do is change the scale of an existing product and list it for you and others to enjoy.

These are the two models I have obtained so far, a SW7 in the Strong & Flexible material and a SD45 cab in the FUD material. Of the two the cab is the better part, but due mostly to material choice on my end.

OO enthusiast Jack Bartman got things rolling with Shapeways, working with a designer who had previously worked up a SW7 and a SD9 in N scale. He produced for Jack OO versions of both, and I purchased one of the SW7 models. The listing may be found here.

This one I purchased is in what they describe as the “White Strong & Flexible White nylon plastic with a matte finish and slight grainy feel.” I would say that wording, now that I have the model, is marketing at its best and worst. The material has more the feel of a dense Styrofoam than plastic, and it is actually porous! It a type of Nylon, it is flexible but holds the shape well, and has a very grainy, powdery feel -- especially when it first arrived, and I had not blown the excess powder off. The price was right, it is cheaper for a big model such as this, but I will never get this material again, the FUD material is the one to use for model railroad applications.

The SW7 model itself is somewhat low detail, but it is scaled up from an N scale design. Size wise, wow! Wow! I had never seen a full size 1:76 EMD SW model in OO on my layout and it is clearly larger than the AHM SW1 models I have used as stand-ins in OO for years. The AHM SW1 is oversized for HO (more here) but really only about 1/80 scale, and the difference shows. The AHM S-2 works a bit better as an OO model, as does the Fleischmann Baldwin, but the new SW7 model has left me rethinking my switcher fleet to be sure. Probably some more extensive kit bashes are in my future….

I did work up a quick drive for this model from AHM SW-1 parts, as seen in this photo (the fuel tank being made from two fuel tanks). The trucks on this model are the correct wheelbase for OO (the side frames being correct) and lucky for us the (extended) original frame, stripped of railings and trimmed on the ends, will nest right inside the Shapeways body. The weights are off in the photo for clarity, but I am reusing the AHM weights and adding more bulk to them.

I am also planning at this point to paint this model black and be very minimal on the decals. It is a trick we can use to our advantage, the model has low detail and the details are a little rough due to the material choice, black will help hide this fact. Also, with this material you pretty much have to use acrylic paint and I will likely brush paint it, something I have not done on a model of this size in years. Shapeways has a guide to painting this material on their website.

Then we have the sharp SD45 cab. This is from a model that had been originally designed for TT scale use, and the cab appealed to me a lot as I have two SD-something model conversions underway – stalled, really, as I was dreading building the cabs up from scratch. And it is such a key detail, my experience says this is the one detail that will make these models work visually, with the rest of the model is converted from large and mostly over scale HO parts. The cab listing is here.

This one I purchased is in what they describe as the “Frosted Ultra Detail Matte translucent plastic that showcases fine and intricate details.” While my heart sank a little when I saw the SW7 material, this FUD material really excited me. It has the feel in your hands of being a resin casting, a solid feeling (it is actually an acrylic polymer material), and certainly will build up into an outstanding model. Whew!

For a visual comparison, Pierre Bourassa built up this big GE engine from scratch. The Shapeways cab is to scale, matches the size of the GE cab, and really will make the models I have underway look sharp.

Painting the FUD material also has some special challenges. There are a quite a few discussions of this topic online. The central problem is there is a waxy film on the FUD material that has to be removed, and even then you are still looking at using Acrylic paints (because apparently enamel paints won’t dry properly on this material). A solvent marketed as Bestine (use in a well ventilated area!) seems to be commonly recommended to clean FUD parts, and I gather that a 5-10 minute soaking will remove the wax residue and leave the part with a white, opaque finish ready for painting. If you have the equipment an ultrasonic cleaner does a great job too.

For those curious, I am told that a Shapeways designer only makes $3-4 per sale on a part the size of that cab. They are basically individuals designing models to fit their hobby interests and clearly are not getting rich on this, so if contacted they may not be very willing to do a complicated design specifically for you. But again, if it is an existing model that is already listed, they may be willing to help as they can probably bang out the OO version in literally a matter of minutes.

A final note is that end Shapeways price relates to the material you choose for the model and the size of the model. Large models will be quite expensive in the FUD material, but parts such as a cab more reasonable. For more Shapeways OO models search 1:76 or OO in their website, with 1:76 providing more relevant results.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A closer look at Famoco 6-wheel passenger trucks

Back in 2008 a brief article was posted, briefly showing the four types of 6 wheel passenger trucks marketed commercially in American OO scale. Worthy of a closer look are the Famoco trucks.

I recently set up three pair of these for operation, and operationally they are free rolling and look nice too.

As noted in the earlier article, these trucks have a very specific and unique feature in that the bolster is in effect integral to the truck. But that only tells part of the story. So the trucks themselves have a pin that comes up out of the truck bolster. This fits into a hole on the car side of the bolster that has a recess for a round metal key. The screws that would be used to hold the truck to the body are to be used in the holes provided on this car bolster. It is a very different setup than any other truck offered in American OO. Also worth noting, the actual truck bolster is “riveted” to the side frames, making them difficult/impossible to dissemble.

Besides that there are two major negatives on these trucks. About 1/4 of the wheelsets I examined are problematic, the tread width is too narrow. The bigger negative though is that a percentage of the parts have absolutely disintegrated. I describe this “rot” (more formally known as zinc pest) a bit more in this article, but this hits Famoco and Graceline parts the hardest and ultimately relates to the quality of the metal used for the die casting, with high humidity thought to contribute as well.

In any case, this J-C Model ATSF baggage car is running on a good pair of these trucks now. When originally rebuilt I put it on S-C trucks, but those were needed for another car and this one reverted to 4 wheel trucks – which never really looked right on the car. I converted it to Famoco trucks and upgraded a few other small details, including adding a bit of weight, this car is a head end car and it was rather light.

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John Ericson has been active in American OO for over 30 years, is a university music professor by profession, and firmly believes everyone needs a hobby.