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

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Modern Grain Hopper for American OO

For the last installment of a series on modern cars here is another HO conversion done by the late Bill Johann. It was featured in the May, 1994 issue of The OO Road.

The key to this conversion was that the original three bay covered hoppers in the 1960s were under 4.500 cubic ft capacity and the newest ones today are over 5,000 cubic feet. This means that a very large HO covered hopper is a pretty good stand in for a small covered hopper in OO. This one I believe is by InterMountain, although the text of his article is not totally clear on this point.

Behind it in the photo is a Schorr two bay cement hopper. This is right on the money for OO and you can see that it looks just a bit larger in scale, but still the large HO car is a good stand in for an OO car.

For a very recent article on the topic of the evolution of covered hopper design see the May, 2009 issue of Model Railroader, especially the photos on page 62.

This and the previous two posts were saved as drafts before hitting the road to a conference. Due to some quirk of the blogging software they are all showing up as posts from the day I did the drafts, but this is the last of the short series of modern cars and was edited out on 5/30. The modern cars are outside my normal era of operations but sure run well and are great cars to put on the layout to show the average visitor the layout in action.

After the conference I will be driving back through Colorado! I plan to stop at the Colorado Railroad Museum and check out the prototypes for those Sn3 trucks a few posts ago, will be a nice treat on my long drive home.

A bulkhead flat with a twist

This car was scratch built in styrene by Pierre Bourassa. In my recent car maintenance blitz I converted it to my homemade trucks, making a car very similar to the one in this prototype photo.

I operate it as a simple bulkhead flat but this car has a secret; it was actually built as a track cleaning car and was featured as such in the February, 1994 issue of The OO Road. The middle part of the load is hollow and was to hold a tank of cleaning fluid. When it came to me the track pad was still with the car (it is in the foreground in the photo) but the tank for fluid was gone. I don't run it as a track cleaner (it could be used as such still, if I manually put fluid on the pad) but I do enjoy running it with other modern cars, it runs well. [Posted on May 29]

Modern Boxcars for American OO

My roster of modern cars expanded somewhat recently with the arrival of these two boxcars.

They were made by the late Bill Johann, converted from Con-Cor HO 60’ boxcars to approximate OO 50’ boxcars, a conversion featured in August 1993 issue of The OO Road. He introduced the conversion as follows:
Tired of looking at 40’ Boxcars from the 1930s in your closet, collection, or on your RR? Have I got a Project for you! It’s done using the CON-COR KITS which are plastic. PLASTIC? (please don’t faint) Plastic is neat to work with. It also saws well; can be snapped apart, after scoring, & drills & taps great.
These two specifically are what he calls in the article the -3 and -4 versions of these conversions. The car with the more peaked roof (-3) was made from one Con-Cor car and the other (-4) was made from two cars. The conversion is described in detail in the article but in short the -3 car has a new roof and ends and the -4 car uses the original roof and ends. They are on the Johann converted roller bearing trucks described in this article. I think both look good but the -3 car looks slightly better. This basic conversion can be applied to many other makes of large modern cars, something to consider for expanding the OO roster.

This is the first of three posts (this one posted on 5/28) on modern cars for OO that I prepared as drafts the Monday before hitting the road from Arizona to Illionis for a conference and to visit relatives. Seeing very similar cars in trains on the way yesterday has me itching to make more modern OO cars.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An “Easy-to-Build” stock car

Working on the boxcars in the previous post one of the books I referred to as a resource was an old Kalmbach publication, Easy-to-Build Model Railroad Freight Cars.

I purchased the book in high school and at the time constructed this car from the directions in this classic collection of “dollar models,” a stock car based on the project in chapter 12. I like how it looks still. It is lettered for a freelanced short line project far in my past, the Fall River Railway, and it is also one of the few cars I have ever attempted to weather. It is built from strip wood mostly, with some scribed Northeastern siding on the ends. It rides still on Scale-Craft trucks that were given me by Temple Nieter, although I will probably upgrade it soon.

The connection to the boxcar project in the post below is that end material on this stock car is the same material I used to make the doors from for the two cars with wood doors. Never throw anything away!

UPDATE: The car is now on PBL conversion Sn3 trucks, as seen in this article.

Some unpainted wood boxcars

A central project for me these past few weeks was bringing these four car bodies to completion. They were started by another and came to me in an estate purchase some years back.

These first two bodies were closer to done. The original builder had a “boxcar project” in progress and for some reason abandoned it. They are all on Picard bodies. The wood car was approaching completeness but had a truss rod frame on it that would not work, at least not with trucks mounted on the car. When it came to me the car body was broken apart. The steel car was also approaching completeness, one of a half-dozen similar cars, but was never painted or quite finished, I suspect mostly because after all the effort to build it to this point it did not look as good as he wished. I had to fix the roof with several new ribs and other details were added. The doors and ends are Selley, added by the builder. I went for more of an “old school” look with the Scale-Craft ladders. The steel car has a S-C reefer frame on it now with modern AB brakes; the wood car has a Nason frame and a S-C K-type brake cylinder.

The second two bodies are essentially identical and were not completed to quite the same point by the original builder. Several years ago I started this by rebuilding the roofs, sanding off all that had been done before and resealing them. The ends are Selley and off other incomplete steel cars similar to the one above, as I wanted to do a composite, transitional/rebuilt boxcar. The doors are scratch built and the ladders are Selley. The frames are from the parts box inherited in this same purchase and are Hawk, working well for a car of this design and the brake cylinders are reproduction Eastern K-type castings I made some years back.

I will paint and letter these soon, but it is interesting to see them in this near complete phase.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sneak peek: Andrews trucks for OO

This is one of the first two PBL Sn3 trucks I have converted for use in OO.

I will have more on this conversion later in the summer as I work out the details/bugs better but the short version is it is not that complicated and these trucks roll like crazy! And, as documented further in this previous post [toward the bottom], they scale out well in OO. For these first trucks I used the original wheelsets but I will be looking at other options ASAP as they are a bit undersized and they derail easily, I believe because the tread width is narrower than NMRA standards for OO. Overall, however, very pleased and encouraged by this as a tactic to create OO trucks. Click on the photo for a closer view.

The car in the photo is Picard, the scribed body style, which I built up in the 1980s. I have three more cars of this same general type nearing completion now that will look great riding on these new Andrews trucks.

UPDATE: I now have wheelsets based on Athearn 36" HO wheelsets on the trucks. This car runs and looks great on these trucks. More information here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

About time for a new power pack

I recently had time to take apart the drive of a Johann 2-8-2, featured in this post, as it just never really ran well. It could barely pull itself down the track in fact. Short version, it seemed like everything was free and it was set up so it should run. But it would not.

A thought came to the back of my mind. Maybe I need a different power supply? I was using the DC feed off a transformer I purchased in high school that was only 1.5 amps. So I got into the MRC website and found the 5.5 amp Control Master 20 looked like it had potential and I then found it on sale at Walthers. It arrived today. Oh my! That 2-8-2 suddenly would run and pulled with ease ten cars. Then also I tested my E-7 that I have been running most of the time, oh my again! It had much more power and ran at a faster top speed. Similar story with other engines.

The moral of this story being, if you run OO, you need to buy a power supply with enough amps! They draw a lot. If in doubt at all, don’t wait years to upgrade, do it now.

UPDATE: This model is discontinued but there are options out there for power supplies that deliver more than roughly 4 amps, a level we need in OO. According to the MRC website this is the soon to be released replacement model:

UPDATE II: The "large scale" setting works well for running the early Scale-Craft 24 volt DC motor.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The truck problem, and one arch bar solution

A couple of posts ago I highlighted a most interesting quote from the late Bill Johann on his roller bearing trucks and his reasons for producing them. He wrote in The OO Road,
Your Editor got tired of mooching, buying, or trading for freight trucks for the Watchung Valley. Not only that, I’m sort of fussy—Scale Craft (reworked extensively as shown above), Lionel, or Nason with the square bolsters only, if you please.
Notice the brands mentioned: Scale-Craft, Lionel, and Nason (with “square bolsters only,” one of three styles of bolsters they produced. The other two Nason types are a cast bolster [three rail] or a similar U shaped bolster of fiber). Any lines not mentioned? A number of makers produced trucks but the most obvious one missing is Schorr. Many people feel that these were the best trucks ever produced in OO; I have mentioned them a few times in this site, a photo is in this post for example. Available in Bettendorf and Arch Bar designs, they are sprung and roll and look great! They were made in Japan and sold with his cars and as separate sale items. But there is a downside to these trucks. I can on my layout run very reliably any car with modern RP-25 flange wheelsets. Scale-Craft trucks are essentially as reliable with their original wheelsets and tuned up well. Lionel trucks run great with replacement wheelsets and even with the originals work fine on the layout. But Schorr trucked cars seem more prone to derail. I am not sure what causes it but I suspect it is due to a combination of my track, the wheelset profile (which is not RP-25), and the light weight of the cars. I check them all with my NMRA standards gauge (see this post), so gauge is not the issue.

[UPDATE: So it was my track. I spent a good while tweaking my turnouts, the Schorr trucks work great through them now. One of the best American OO products ever!]

As I do actually run my OO layout, cars that derail are a concern! I have made quite a few pair of trucks converted from Mantua/Tyco/Model Power HO trucks, as featured in this post. They roll well and track great around the layout but really only work visually on cars that are not “classic” OO; I have most of them consigned to HO conversions and cars that were scratchbuilt or kitbashed to fit into a more modern era from the 60s-80s. I also have four older time cars on arch bar trucks by Kemtron and Schorr. Then we have the rest of the roster, cars that are of a 40s-50s era. The majority of these cars that I run the most on the layout have Scale-Craft trucks, a number with Ultimate wheelsets.

Of course, I do have other trucks on the layout running. One pair I am very happy with in operation is late Graceline for example but they have been upgraded to modern RP-25 flange wheelsets. If I have visitors the cars on the layout all have RP-25 trucks as a precaution. Nason trucks I find a bit iffy with the original wheelsets, Famoco/Eastern are not as reliable, Graceline wheelsets are not that great, etc. I could go on and on.

The best pair of new trucks I have are these. They are by North Yard, a Sn3 manufacturer in New Zealand. I purchased this pair from someone getting out of OO a few years back that went to some trouble to have them made. They are lost wax brass with female journal bearings and needle point axles. The wheelbase is just a hair under 5’ 6” feet in OO (4’ 7 1/2” in S scale) which is perfect for OO.

North Yard does not have a website [they do now, see UPDATE II for link] but if you write the owner he will send you the current catalog as a PDF. I did find a 2006 version of the catalog online as a PDF; the contact information there is accurate.

The trucks I have are a version of the 3181 Sn3 arch bar truck. These can still be purchased with wheelsets gauged for American OO, which is great news. And these trucks are great! It is really interesting how by a quirk of scales and gauges these side frames scale out well for standard gauge in OO. They are not cheap, however; in US dollars they cost over $21 a pair! I will save this pair for a special car. Arch bar trucks were banned from interchange service in 1940 (see this time line), so I will likely use it on either an older time car or a car that is not interchanged (a work car perhaps).

The 2006 North Yard catalog also shows a truck design that is similar to a Bettendorf truck; this seems to have been replaced in the current catalog however by a truck of a different design but the same catalog number. Of their other trucks one of the passenger trucks may also be usable in American OO.

In terms of my own operations I need more freight trucks that would fit into a 40’s-50’s era layout that look better than S-C trucks. My current thinking is to look into Sn3 trucks of domestic manufacture; in particular I am very interested to see a couple of the different 4’ 8” wheelbase trucks that are on the market, especially Andrews trucks, as they would be perfect for several cars on the roster (the type was still in interchange service on some older cars before 1957) and the wheelbase is right on the money for OO. I have some on order now; I will report on them more in a future post.

UPDATE: The Andrews trucks have arrived, and look very promising.

UPDATE II: See also this article, I have built up more of these trucks and also have and updated link for North Yard.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ties and American OO

One of the options for the American OO operator today is to hand lay your track. To do this you need ties. On the OO Yahoo group there were recently several posts as to options for ties today, and I thought a photo for comparison with classic OO ties would be of interest.

This photo is from left to right a section of Tru-Scale self gauging roadbed, Mantua OO flex track with fiber ties, and Midlin track. Over the top is a strip of 1/8” square stock for comparison. All of the classic brands had ties that were over scale.

In an article in the Discover Live Steam website they state "Although there are other sizes, a typical railroad tie is 8-1/2 feet long, 9 inches wide, and 7 inches thick." 1/8 inch square stock scales out to 9.5 inches square in OO. Ties are of course not square, but actually this stock can be made into very workable ties in practice as you have ballast to hide that side of things and it is easy to purchase at say a craft store.

On my layout I started out originally using 1/8 inch square stock but then built a good bit of it with Tomalco Sn3 ties (no longer in production) which are slightly narrower but due to a quirk of scales and gauges scale out pretty close for OO standard gauge use.

In the rebuilding I did a few years ago as a result I used two different types of ties. One area was built with 1/8 square to match track it was next to, and then there is a transitional section built with HO 10x10 and 10x6 stock cut into ties, this was closer to the Tomalco ties in width.

I made a jig for cutting the ties and you can turn out quite a few watching TV, you get a good rhythm going.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Roller Bearing Trucks for OO by Johann

Trucks can be a problem for the modern OO operator. I have four cars equipped with a type of roller bearing truck that is one of the very best ever offered in OO, sold by William Johann in the mid-1990s.

This is a close up view of a pair, with the truck on the left upside down, click on the photo for a larger version. These trucks run GREAT! What they are exactly is a bit of a story. As near as I can tell Bill never divulged at least in print the secret of the maker of the side frames and bolster, probably because he was modifying them for use in another scale. He introduced the new trucks in the May, 1994 issue of The OO Road as follows. At the time he was editor of The OO Road and the article on the new trucks was right after an article on tweaking S-C trucks to run better.
Your Editor got tired of mooching, buying, or trading for freight trucks for the Watchung Valley. Not only that, I’m sort of fussy—Scale Craft (reworked extensively as shown above), Lionel, or Nason with the square bolsters only, if you please. By keeping my eyeballs peeled for an HO truck side with enough heft to pass for OO, I finally found one. With the trucks’ castings, NWSL wheels, a couple of shims and pins and then assembly, we have ourselves FREIGHT TRUCKS—the first manufactured ones in OO since the 1930’s. ‘EAR!, ‘EAR!, but before you cheer too loudly, I must remind you that they are ROLLER BEARING….

I am only interested in helping to eliminate this grave OO shortage, update my rolling stock and maybe make a couple bucks. We retired have to be careful, tho, a couple of bucks too many and we’re back to paying income taxes again!!!....

1. Trucks will be assembled
2. Wheels will be NWSL, insulated 1 side, RP25 flange, NWSL type 110; pointed axle ends and compatible in dia. with SC wheels at .414.
3. Trucksides and bolsters are of a tough black plastic and are in stock. They have pointed axle holes.
4. Mounting: #2 screw preferred--#1 will work.
5. Truck assembly is the same size as SC and is a direct replacement except for added spacer washers.
They actually became available in November of 1994, selling for $5.00 a pair with a minimum order of five pair. That must have been very close to actual cost for him. Exactly how he worked out the bolsters is not obvious looking at them but it involved the mounting of the original bolster to the sideframes with plastic shims between the bolster and side frames and pins to hold the assembly together. GREAT TRUCKS! Keep an eye out for these. To see how they look on a car, they are on the car in the post below.

A modern 43' Ortner three-bay hopper in American OO

When people think American OO they usually don’t think modern cars. I do have a few examples, however, and with a project to get several bad-order cars running this one is now on the road!

I purchased this model about ten years ago now from Pierre Bourassa, who scratch built it from plastic. It really came out quite well, compare it for example to this N gauge version by Micro-Trains. When it came to me however it was on I am not sure what trucks but probably Scale-Craft. I had some old Central Valley HO roller bearing trucks however that I wanted to convert, as they were large for HO. To do so I would have to cut the metal bolster and work out something to bridge the bolster so that it would be wide enough for OO. Result: a good looking truck that I put on the car but it did not hold up in service, the bolster was too flexible and had a tendency to break apart.

I made three pair of these not very serviceable roller bearing trucks back around that time. As I had parts in need of wheelsets and springs to build up two pair of Graceline trucks I decided to scrap the trucks on this car. Looking around, I realized another car that did not need to be on roller bearing trucks had a pair of the trucks that Bill Johann made and I believe sold on a limited basis. I will have a further article on these sometime [UPDATE: the article is here], but in short he took a large plastic HO roller bearing truck and worked out a better bolster solution than I had on the CV trucks with new wheelsets. These roll and look great, perfect trucks for this great car.

UPDATE: Looking for something else I stumbled on a full page article on making this model in The OO Road! In the November, 1995 issue Pierre noted,
Being a regular train watcher, I spotted some of the above cars on the FEC line while vacationing in sunny Florida with my wife, Jeannine. We try to spend a month there every year....

I decided to build one in polystyrene and wound up building 6 to date....

I am happy to propose Johann RB trucks, but he feels a HEAVY DUTY type, such as Lionel or Nason would be best for supporting the over 100 ton load.
UPDATE II: Also this photo is of the group of cars in service on his layout. I believe my car is one of the cars in the string, but before it was lettered.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Summer is a great time to work on model trains

Many consider model railroading a seasonal hobby, with the focus in the winter months. One benefit of living in the desert and teaching at a university is that my seasons for working on model trains are essentially reversed; this time of year is not a great time to get out and do outdoor activities and now, with finals nearly over, I am ready to take on some new projects.

For myself I have an early summer conference to prepare for but otherwise plan to split my time between some writing projects and trains. As normal I will try to have at least a post a week on models and projects in American OO. If you have any specific topics of interest let me know and I will try to cover them over the summer.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New On3 turnouts from San Juan Car Company

Looking in the April, 2009 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman I noted a review of a new On3 turnout from San Juan Car Company. This photo is a copy of one in their website.

RMC reviewer Bill Schaumburg wrote,

San Juan Car Company now offers ready-to-run switches in On3. They are a valuable and welcome addition to the hobby and should do a lot for On3.

These turnouts are a completely modern product, with code 100 nickel silver rails and plastic ties (they are low-profile and measure 8” across the face, matching available track), and they meet what we expect today in the hobby. They come in no. 6 right and left-hand, feature small “spikeheads” holding the rail in place, and follow North American track geometry.
Reading the rest of the review I must say these turnouts sound great. Other than the oversize ties these new turnouts would work great in American OO as On3 and American OO track standards are identical. The tie issue can be corrected to an extent by shortening the ties somewhat, which would be time consuming but probably worth it to have very reliable turnouts built to the standards of modern model railroad products. They sell for $24.95 and are certainly an item to look into if you are thinking to run your two-rail American OO trains.

Billboard Refrigerators, and a Gracline OO Classic

Many manufacturers of American OO sold models of billboard refrigerators. The car below is a nice example by Graceline, with the factory, hand painted sides.

These cars don’t really fit into the primary era of my layout, which centers on the early 1950s, but certainly they are interesting and collectible.

Billboard refrigerators seem to have been something many modelers were interested in back in 1930s especially, which makes sense reading the review of a new book, Billboard Refrigerator Cars, reviewed in the spring, 2009 issue of Classic Trains. There the reviewer wrote,

From World War I through the late 1930’s, the “billboard” refrigerator car was a colorful element in freight trains across the country. This book traces the history of such cars through more than 400 photos of examples from various leasing and ownership groups. Billboard cars were painted in the schemes and logos of packing companies, food processors, breweries, creameries, and other businesses …. the ICC stopped the practice in 1938.

It sounds like a very interesting book. Amazon has it here. Note the Baby Ruth car on the cover. The Graceline version seen here is a bit loose on the details, but for the time was a good example. What OO gauge enthusiast of the late 1930s would not want one? With a growing number of 1930s era and also more modern models I will have to consider the idea of swapping my roster around to run the layout in different eras.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A sharp American OO express reefer

From the collection of Ed Havens we have yet another beautiful car in need of an ID.

So far as I know, only the following express reefer models were produced in American OO:

Express reefer, 44 1/2', plain--Picard
Express reefer, 45', wood--Champion
Express reefer, 50', plain--Picard
Express reefer, 50', wood--Graceline
Express reefer, 55’--Unique Miniatures

The Picard models have plain sides, the Champion cars have printed card sides, and the Graceline cars have sides of a pressed card material. Details on the Unique Miniatures models are sketchy, but they were advertised as available in the period around 1941-42 and had printed sides with rivet detail and detail castings, decorated for ATSF and perhaps others.

The model in the photo seems to have replacement sides of wood, and my best guess is it is a Picard body as they are fairly common but actually it could be almost any brand on the list as it was obviously modified, built by a master craftsman. It certainly has some Scale-Craft parts, the doors are the later version Scale-Craft reefer door for example.

The trucks also caught my attention. They are not the common Scale-Craft passenger truck. I started looking in catalogs and got a little excited as I discovered that Scale-Craft made an express reefer truck in OO but it was only listed in the last post-war SC catalog. I believe this truck to be somewhat rare because it was introduced so late in OO history. But digging around in my cars I found that I have a few pair on express reefers of my own, and these are not those. Actually the trucks on the car are Famoco, not as rare but still nice trucks on a very nice car. Thank you again Ed for sharing.