Custom Projects and Kitbashes
South Boulder Modelworks Alco S4 1271 –
So, most of us are well aware of the 3D printing (additive manufacturing) craze that has swept the world in the past few years. Everything from spoons to firearms can be made through the process which turns plastic or resin into three-dimensional objects by solidifying layer upon layer until the finished product is formed. One of the major features of the process is that very complex shapes can be formed in their final positions relative to the overall piece. This actually allows companies working with 3D printing to produce items which are, in many cases, more detailed than what is possible with traditional injection molding (and it costs many thousands of dollars less than injection molding tooling and machines). One of the most popular market places for 3D printed objects is Shapeways.com which, while it has its flaws, has become something of a “go-to” website for buying and selling.
You all know by now that I am a B&M modeler and prefer the 1950s to 1960s era, although I don’t discriminate when it comes to time frame. For years there was a distinct lack of decent switcher locomotives in N scale and none which was factory decorated for B&M. In the 1990s Life-Like was kind enough to produce their SW series in B&M Minute Man paint but still nothing existed in the form of an Alco. Arnold had produced an S2 in the 1990s but stuck with the old stand-by road names which have always been common to N scale. In 2012 a gentleman on Trainboard.com started a thread titled “Printing an ALCO” about his adventures in attempting to design and print an S4 in N scale, that got me interested in the possibilities.
As soon as the S4 became available in his Shapeways store (South Boulder Modelworks), I placed an order for one. At the time I was not overly familiar with 3D printed objects or the materials used to make them. The S4 was manufactured using material Shapeways calls Frosted Ultra Detail (FUD) which arrives coated in a drippy support wax which must be cleaned off prior to assembly. The most common chemical used to strip the wax is called Bestine but, not having any around, I used soap and water which seemed to work well. I won’t go into all of the details regarding cleaning, assembling, and finishing the model (better information on building 3D printed kits is available elsewhere) but I will say FUD takes well to CA glue and, once stripped, takes paint easily. This particular kit requires a Life-Like SW chassis and, luckily, I had one sitting around. The overall effect is very nice and I think the kit turned out well; after all it ended up being a poster child for the kit on Shapeways. Sadly, or perhaps happily depending on your worldview, Bachmann and Atlas both announced N scale Alco switchers shortly after South Boulder Modelworks got their product line up and running. The designer turned his talents to other projects including FM switchers, cabooses, and other rolling stock… the Alcos however are still available through his Shapeways store.
As for S4 1271, I used it in daily operations for a while until it took a tumble and broke on a concrete floor. It is currently in my shops having the rear end of an S2, by the same designer, scabbed on to replace the severely damaged original cab. I rarely throw anything away if I think it can be salvaged, it’s a hobby after all and I want to put her back into operation.
If you haven’t tried putting together a 3D printed kit yet I would highly recommend it. Your dollars keep these guys and gals designing new items and help to justify the time and care they put into their products. You can help grow a young segment of the economy and perhaps find something you need on your layout that the big manufacturers just can’t be bothered to make.