American OO Today

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A great NYC streamlined Pullman

I was at a train show a couple weekends ago and noted on a big HO modular layout they were running a long ATSF streamliner, which included one NYC Pullman that would have been a car running through from New York on a train such as the Chief.

That splash of color reminded me to get back to featuring the wonderful OO models built by James Trout (more on him here). This car he clearly built to go with his ATSF streamline cars in the same manner as I saw at the show.

The car itself is mostly wood and card. The exterior is not that exceptional by itself – The paint is a bit faded and I suspect it was a quick build for him – but the entire car as a whole is impressive. The sides are a thick cardboard material and it is all hand painted and neatly lettered with his artists’ hand. It is rolling on Schorr trucks and there are hardly any visible commercial parts. I believe that some underbody details are now missing, I will give those a closer look soon, but what is not missing are the interior details. It is all there, nothing rattling around. The only major thing missing is there is no car name. Either he could not decide what name to use or he opted to leave it blank, you can use your imagination which car it depicts.

Click on either of these last two shots for a closer look. The level of interior detail is really quite nice, but actually simply done. All it really has are walls and chairs made from the old Suydam wood stock, with arms added as appropriate and painted nicely. Makes me want to go back to some of my own “completed” models and bring those details up a few levels, I do have the parts to do it and it would not be hard to duplicate his level of detail.

One final thing to note, unlike the heavyweight cars featured earlier in this series (such as this combine), this one has plenty of truck swing and could be sat right on my layout and operated through the curves. A bigger layout would be handy, though.

Part of my mix of projects now is to look closer at his ATSF streamline cars (including one left unfinished), more on those in the coming months.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A short tale of driver springs

Among projects underway I am trying to get two S-C 4-8-4s running again. One came to me complete but not operable, and the other I refer to as the “Pierre” engine, Pierre Bourassa had converted it to a 4-8-2 with a Canadian cab but not real successfully. That one came to me in parts and the drive (original type frame) was in short a mess with non-standard drivers, etc.

Luckily for the Pierre engine I was able to locate (unexpectedly) an essentially complete “section 1” of the model, post-war version, which is the drive and frame, with wheels, almost assembled and missing some parts (but parts I had). Looking both projects over from that point I realized that both engines only had two of their four driver springs. The original drive produced for this model used a sand-cast bronze frame, but the post war version had a built up frame with sprung drivers.

My ace in the hole here though is I have a third “kit” for a 4-8-4 that is about 90% complete, and some additional parts beyond that, the product of years of sorting parts that came from various sources. So the good news was I had six additional springs; now both of these models have (or will have) four truck springs.

Another good news item is I thought the metal holding the drive gears of the complete model had warped, but actually I was able to get it to loosen up and work. Even more good news being the motor works too. So the next project for this engine is to convert it to a modern rectifier and I am optimistic it will run without too much further effort beyond the changes needed to the tender. Then on to the Pierre engine and other projects.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A look at the Nason 2-8-0 boiler

I don’t think that I am alone in saying that there is a vintage charm to sand cast models. I have no desire to do any actual sand casting now, but I do respect the process (described further in this article) and the effort needed to build a great model from the parts produced.

Which brings us to these boilers for the Nason 2-8-0, a model introduced in 1937. I had over the years obtained most of the parts for one model (with tender) and some extra parts, but recently saw the second boiler on eBay (the shiny one) and it spoke to me too, as in my parts I had an extra cab roof and several extra boiler fronts, both of which it was missing.

The boiler, alone, weighs in at 13 ounces. Nason chose the prototype undoubtedly due to the wide firebox allowing room for a good sized motor. The shiny one was worked on more by a prior owner, even if it was not as assembled. Quite a bit of effort went into smoothing the surface and also it is notable that they drilled out the smokestack.

As to my plans for these boilers, I have one original frame with matching side rods, almost enough parts to put together a model, and additionally I have enough extra Johann/Mantua drivers to get it going well (but I have to turn two into blind drivers first…). For the other boiler I am inclined to look for a HO mechanism for 4-8-4 (find a junker at a show…) and work it over, using as many other original parts as I can from my parts supply. Ideally the donor drive will also take these same Johann/Mantua drivers, of which I have extras that could be used on this model (the diameter being the same as the original Nason drivers, I just don't have a usable set of them).

And back to the general topic of bronze OO locomotives, my present main project is working on a group of locos, non-running, many with bronze boilers. Besides visualizing the parts I have and what needs done the big issue is drivers, which will probably be a topic for another article soon, and the good news is I think I have enough drivers (and parts for drivers) to also get a Nason Hudson and 4-4-2 running, along with also a S-C 0-6-0, a 4-6-2, and a 4-8-4. It is a puzzle but really it has been enjoyable to sort out parts and visualize where the projects need to go.

With a final note being, if you are working on similar puzzles and need a few parts, do feel free to check with me, maybe I can help. It is time to get some of the few remaining of these classic American OO models running again.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A closer look at the Famoco 0-4-0T

This OO model is first seen in print in 1938 (more here) and Famoco had it in production by 1939 (more here). 

First, some background. The prototype 0-4-0T was a somewhat famous engine, in that it worked the Bronx terminal for the CNJ, an intense little operation. Due to clean air laws, this engine was replaced by the well-known early Diesel, CNJ 1000. This article has two prototype photos toward the end, and notes that
The CNJ Bronx Terminal was a very unique terminal located along the Harlem River in The Bronx, New York.  Built in 1906 on a single city block, the CNJ Bronx Terminal was completely isolated from any other railroad, that is, the only way to move freight in and out of the terminal was along the Harlem River on car floats….
CNJ 1000 replaced the 0-4-0T that was in use since 1906.  CNJ 840 was still used as a backup locomotive from time to time, but the main power from 1926 on was CNJ 1000.
Mention is made in the September, 1938 Model Craftsman photo caption that the original OO scale model, by Ted Menten (founder/owner of Famoco), was based on 1935 drawings in MC, published in the October issue. Looking at the model first as produced, one first impression is the cab might be over scale. Standard width of prototype equipment would be 9’ 4” to 9’ 6” but this cab is almost 11 feet wide. But actually the width matches that given in the scale drawings he was working with.

This prototype photo is reproduced from the Model Craftsman article and provides a good comparison. There are a few compromises, the most obvious two being that the side tanks should be longer (less space in front of cab), and the windows and doors are undersized. Looking closer, the model would also benefit from larger domes, larger cylinders, and also that angle at the lower rear edge of the coal bunker would have been a nice touch to emulate. Maybe the cab a bit oversized?

Back in 1938 though the big issue was fitting a motor in a model this small! Menten did it the same way that the 1935 article proposed (for an O gauge model), placing a squat, tall motor in the cab (a big cab does help), gearing it directly to the rear driver. This final photo shows the arrangement pretty well. The frame itself is kind of ingenious, it is a brass stamping, and the drivers would have been mounted and quartered on that frame at the factory. Every part is either a brass turning or sheet brass. In fact the side tanks are solid pieces of brass! They act as weights.

My model lacks a rear coupler at present but it does run. I have noted elsewhere, Famoco wheelsets often are not up to NMRA standards for width, and this model is of that type. The treads are too narrow and it derails on my turnouts. If I were wanting to operate this model I would need to replace the drivers. I believe buyers back in the day might have felt a little disappointed with this model for that reason too, after the effort to build it. It is cute and nicely designed but does not operate well in reality. But still a collectible model and one to enjoy if you have an example.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A modern boxcar, finished

Back a few months ago I posted on a boxcar that was nearly done, which is finally done.

Recapping what I did, I had many years ago (in high school, probably) purchased an Athearn 80’ boxcar body thinking I could do something with the sides to make a nice OO model. Subsequently, I did nothing for years … but then the frame you see also came to me in the OO Inventory. The body was missing from a model Bill Johan built. What to do?

After a lot of pondering I finally put the body to use, built it to match the frame, and ultimately opted to letter it for my Orient, matching the recent Diesel projects.

The frame shows when Johann worked on the model, he marked his models well. I will mark the body inside, although pretty obviously I built it. Originally the car body must have been orange (ATSF reefer?) and I left the orange paint on the extended draft gears.

A final note on the topic -- I think I have got the modern thing worked out of my system for a while! I like getting these models out and running them, they look more like the trains I grew up with and run well. But I have no further modern projects planned as of now. What I have out now are a group of steam locomotive basket cases, I have a NWSL quartering jig coming, too many locomotive projects stuck for lack of drivers, but also really all the parts I need to get them going. Will be an exciting and worthy project to get moving forward on them this coming year.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Replacement Scale-Craft bolsters?

One thing that affects Scale-Craft trucks pretty widely are bad bolsters. They shrink, they fracture. There is a point where the solution would be to make new ones.

In my case, I have quite a few more parts for every part of S-C OO trucks other than bolsters … and a box of broken bolsters that can’t be used. If it were cost effective and I knew how to design them, 3D printing replacement bolsters would I think be ideal. Until then, here are some examples of how others have solved the problem and the solution I am working on.

My idea is to use plastic tubing, a round tube inside a square tube, and original S-C brass pins salvaged from broken bolsters. They are harder to get out than you would think, I think they may have put the pins in place before injecting the Bakelite plastic in the mold.

What my method simplifies though is the accurate drilling of the end holes. The complete bolsters seen came from different sources. The common element is they drilled all the holes into solid pieces of modern plastic and used modified screws as end pins. If you had a drill press and made a jig I suppose it would not be terribly hard to drill the end holes, keeping them really square.

In any case, I don’t need more bolsters urgently right now and have to work out a better way to press the end pins on. But perhaps a reader will be helped by this idea for replacement bolsters.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Building Modern Diesels in American OO, Part III: Results

 It took a while but it is great to finally see finished results of big projects.

And here we are, the three “modern” (1970s-80s) era Diesel locomotives are done, two approximations of the original SD-40 prototypes and also an approximation of a GE U23B. Both types are a bit (gasp) freelanced due to the parts sources and not wanting to go extremely heroic in the kitbash job, but even with the compromises they are I think pretty effective models.

Size wise they are correct in all major dimensions and the Shapeways 3D printed cabs were key items to make them work visually next to for example a Kemtron GP7 (not to mention looking correct next to freight cars!). About those cabs, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, they are to scale and are better than any cab I would have scratchbuilt or kitbashed. On the other hand, the surfaces are not all smooth. The roof area of the SD cab is very smooth, for example, but the sides have “lines” of horizontal texture. I could have attempted to sand it off but at the same time felt that might be risky and likely to cause new problems. So I left the cabs as they were.

The cabs drove the paint scheme as well. In my general article on 3D printed parts I note that the FUD material requires special cleaning and acrylic paint. I figured I was best to paint the plastic parts with the standard red I have used for years on Orient Diesels and to paint the cab a contrasting yellow for a modern scheme. That decision worked out pretty well I think.

In part II I was getting to final details. Mostly the handrails are the original ones associated with the donor models. On the SD40s I split the end handrails and added chains, a fun detail to add. Another big final thing was getting them running. Both of the SDs are powered, one drive being not in as good a shape as the other it turned out. I had to replace four of the six main gears on the axles associated with the wheels, they had split. I have had to do this before, it is a design flaw of these old Athearn drives. I don’t think it is noticeable really that the trucks are HO scale, they disappear visually under the model.

The U23B is unpowered. I had a couple options on trucks but decided to use what were originally unpowered trucks off the early type of Mantua/TYCO GP20, with new wheels. I like the look, and they are OO scale wheelbase with correct size wheels so no compromises there. I did go in and add a light wash of black paint in the screens and grids and may add more weathering. One other thing I may change are the fuel tanks. They are constructed from GP20 tanks and are not really the correct shape (as they are EMD tanks). I expect to be tweaking this and the other two models for some time.

A final detail worth mentioning, I used the coupler mounts original to the SD drives, so even with underset shank couplers they are low. The rear coupler on the U23B is also mounted low to match, which is why it is the trailing unit in the photos, the front coupler is the correct height.

I am enjoying running all three together. They will pull anything I put behind them (some of the Johann built modern cars I have are quite heavy) and it has been fun to get out his TOFC models again as well. Finally I have correct engines to pull those cars!

It has been a great project and it will be interesting to see what additional worlds 3D printing opens up in American OO. But as for me I think with these Diesels done I will change directions a bit and focus on some older school restoration projects.

UPDATE: This photo is a bonus photo, showing the completed OO U23B with a comparable Athearn HO U30C body. The OO model is a pretty effective conversion.

Return to Part I of series

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Graceline Swift reefer completed

Updating a post from a few months ago (here), I finally have the completion (and light restoration) of a prewar Graceline reefer, the type with hand painted sides

This as noted previously was a model that came to me almost complete. All I did really was glue the sides on, supply and paint ladders (Eastern), and supply couplers (Scale-Craft). Still, this project took ages, it took a lot more pondering than it should have. The original builder was doing a very neat job building the car, he just stopped for unknown reasons. I wanted to be sure to do my work at that same level.

The result is a very nice vintage piece. One thing not visible in the photo is the model has cast "wood" ends. I have several more of these cars in worse shape, and knowing now those ends are correct I have a bit more insight how to restore those cars.


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!

Continue to Part III of series