Custom Projects and Kitbashes

Customized Life-Like F7A 4224 –


Rewind a few years (the early 2000s to be exact) and you might find me deeply involved in the search for a B&M F-Unit.  I will make no effort to hide the fact that I really love EMD F-Units, so it only made sense to add one to my roster.  Back then my budget was very limited so I didn’t have a lot of options available to me.  While it is full of detail flaws the Life-Like F7A was generally available for a decent price and I thought it would make a good basis for my first custom project.

I found an example on eBay for something in the realm of $15.00, it had a broken pilot but I didn’t really care about that.  I wasn’t overly familiar with Bev-Bel at that point in my life but the locomotive turned out to be a Bev-Bel Reading repaint, that didn’t really matter either because I wasn’t going to keep the factory paint.  Once the locomotive arrived I whipped up a quick list of modifications that needed to be made to make the Life-Like shell more like the B&M prototypes (bear in mind that I am not a super-detailer or a rivet counter by any stretch of the imagination).

Remove steam generator: B&M F7 A-units were not equipped with steam generators

Remove second headlight: B&M F7s only had a single headlight

Remove first set of louvers: Life-Like F7As have an extra set of louvers forward of the front portal, that feature is only found on later F9 locomotives and is not correct for the F7A

Fabricate new pilot: Obviously this needed to be fixed and I have since become quite adept at replacing broken F-unit pilots

Replace Rapido couplers with Micro-Trains: For compatibility during operations

Repaint and decal: No brainer… B&M Minute Man scheme


The steam generator was filed off and then the area was sanded to remove any remaining detail.  The bottom headlight was removed with an Exacto chisel blade, the area was then filled with green putty and sanded once fully hardened.  The forward louvers with removed with a chisel blade and then sanded smooth (I didn’t do a particularly great job although it isn’t obvious in the photos).  The new pilot was fabricated using sheet styrene; one end was glued with CA and once that was cured the pilot was curved to contour and the other side was glued down.  A word to the wise, you have to hold each end of the pilot until cured because the styrene does not seem to bond well with the plastic used to make the shell (this takes some time).  Once both sides were cured the pilot received its final shape and blending using jeweler’s files and sand paper.  The couplers are/were a standard Micro-Trains conversion set for Life-Like locomotives from that time period… 1135 if I recall correctly.  I find Micro Trains couplers to be quite fiddly to assemble because I have a bit of a tremor and little things are not easy to manipulate while they are shaking, regardless I finally got them put together and installed.  Last came the repaint and decals (Microscale 60-909), I must admit that I was more disappointed with how the paint and decals came out than any other part of this project.  The paint (which I mixed using whatever maroon I had on-hand) turned out to be way to washed out to even slightly resemble B&M maroon and my tremor, combined with this being my first experience using such small decals, resulted in sloppy and uneven decal work… whatever.  I should also note that I used the road number from a B&M F2A on this unit because I wanted to be able to run it with any future factory decorated F7s that I might be able to obtain, sadly I missed the boat on the InterMountain units so I never did get a factory B&M F7… at least not yet.

Overall, the finished product was okay but not great, a pretty good first project though.  The important thing is that I finally had a B&M F-unit to operate and I soon had it busy hauling freight on my various layouts.  Although I cannot seem to get the clumsy, out of scale, trucks on this unit to navigate the tight radii on my current layout I still have a soft spot for this F7 because it represents the first time I attempted several modeling skills that I kind of take for granted these days.

If you find yourself in need of a particular piece of equipment on your railroad I would highly recommend “rolling your own”.  For your first project it is always safe to start out with a lower end locomotive or piece of rolling stock to avoid kicking yourself later on (any of the plastic frame Life-Like locos from the late 1980s-mid 1990s will run great and be fairly inexpensive to acquire).  Do the research, start with something relatively easy, make sure you have your detail parts, decals, and paint in-hand before you begin and you should have an enjoyable experience.  Customizing not only opens up a new facet to the model railroading hobby, but it can provide hours of relaxation (sometimes frustration) as you pour through books, magazines, and websites for reference material.  Finally remember, when your project is complete, you are going to find a lot to criticize about your own work.  Roll with it and keep those lessons in mind for future projects.


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