Archive | March 2014

Custom Projects and Kitbashes

The Ballad of The N Scale General Electric 25 Tonner (Or: How I Learned to Build a Critter) –

This is a slightly convoluted story. A member of (and others) going by the handle “Randgust” has put a lot of time into perfecting N scale critters. He has built quite a few and runs a side-operation selling kits for various otherwise unavailable N scale locomotives ( At any rate, I found his various threads covering the trials and tribulations of building an N scale 25 Tonner pretty interesting from an engineering/problem solving standpoint (here is a Youtube video of his GE in action: Now, I’m not going to lie… I like critters a lot. Although I haven’t actually seen a 25 Tonner in person, I have been around plenty of other small switchers and I really like the contrast they present against a background of North American railroad equipment, which is always very large. I got to thinking that it was time for me to start looking into a critter project.

You may remember that I had built an Alco S4 from a Shapeways print sometime ago. I tend to poke around Shapeways on a regular basis looking for new N scale items. One day, I think in December or January of this year, I discovered a little Nn3 narrow gauge GE 25 Tonner meant as a static item or flatcar load ( I thought, “Heck, if this thing is hollow I can use it as a shell and just build a mechanism for it!” I contacted the designer and he confirmed that it was a hollow shell with fixed narrow gauge axles. That was all I needed to know, I placed an order for two of those little boogers (assuming I would damage one during the conversion process) and began my patient wait for UPS to arrive.


What arrived, about two weeks later, was a pair of pretty well detailed little critter shells. Even though they appeared to have already been cleaned, I dropped them in Bestine overnight just to be sure they were ready for primer.

As you can see, the only work I initially planned for was the removal of the narrow gauge axles, I figure I could drop what was left on a basic mechanism and move forward from there… boy was I wrong.

I slapped some paint on one shell and went to work measuring dimensions out, seemed this shell was a bit smaller than the Kato 11-105 Power Chassis components I was planning on utilizing. Some days of thought went past along with consulting with Randgust himself (via about details of his 25 Tonner build.
It turned out that I was going to need to re-dimension some things and make some changes to the Kato truck/gearbox which forms the heart of this 25 Tonner.


What I came up with was using the side frames from the 25 Tonner shell to hold the end-axle electrical pickups in place with the remainder of the chassis built up from .20 styrene sheet (the same material used by Randgust on his build).

After getting the axles and electrical pickup tweaked to a point where the locomotive would actually run, albeit rather poorly, I began ballasting the garbage out of the chassis and shell. Once ballasted it, the little critter ran a great deal better. Some Atlas/Accumate couplers, and a snazzier paint job later, I think I have something of a winner.



I need to add some details and handrails, but I basically have a decent little N scale critter at this point. It runs very well forward and acceptably backward (although I may be able to improve that with a transistor throttle). There are a few mechanical woes that plague the drive train, like a dislocated rear axle, but those only appear if the locomotive is run at high speed. It even operates through Atlas Snap switched with non-powered frogs, that isn’t bad for 4-wheel pickup/drive, so I am at least coming close to the standard set by Randgust and his 25 Tonner!

I even tried it in operations but the Cheap-O 1980’s Bachmann trainset powerpack I am currently using is just too limited for precise control. Hopefully things will improve once I retrieve my Tech II from storage or pick up a new throttle at the local hobby shop.
I hope this post serves to inspire some creativity in the same way I was inspired, there are a lot of great projects out there in the 3D printing world for N scalers with a little imagination. Take some time to browse Shapeways, or any other kit site, find something you could use on your layout and make it happen. Don’t ignore a potential project just because there is no commercial chassis available, part of what makes this a hobby is making what you can’t buy.


Random Rail Shot

Er… The Lost NS Heritage Unit –

Today I present to you Norfolk Southern B23-7 4017 lettered for, and originally owned by, Southern subsidiary Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway.  I am not overly familiar with this particular fallen-flag, but there is some amount of research material online if you are interested.  I photographed this locomotive in the very late 1990s-early 2000s in New Haven, Indiana.  A high nose GE was interesting enough but this locomotive was also very far away from original home rails.  At any rate, I felt it was interesting enough to share, if you have any interesting information about this locomotive or the CNO&TP please let me know with a comment.



Random Rail Shot

No it isn’t Sunday and I haven’t been keeping up with the Sunday Random Rail Shot posts anyway.  What I do offer, on this very nice Monday, is an image of NS 718 racing through south-eastern Fort Wayne, IN (near the airport).  I took this photo last fall, but only recently spent the time to get a closer look at it… partly because it isn’t in focus.  I didn’t even realize until last night that one of the blurry locomotives was a rebuilt “road slug”.


According to (, NS 718 is an RPE4C “road slug” rebuilt in 2010 from a GP38.  These slugs offer increased pulling power, on trains not requiring high speed, where they are paired up with a powered unit, normally a GP40.  The appeal is that only one prime mover is running in the set but you get a functioning cab on both ends so the combination is both versatile and economical.

This locomotive is interesting to me for two reasons.  One, I guess I can’t recall ever seeing a slug in operation anywhere in person.  Two, this train was running on a major NS mainline where six-axle GE’s and EMD’s are the norm and normally only through oil trains, pulled by foreign road power, break up the monotony (although to be fair, there are a few four-axle switching jobs from time to time).

Operations Department

A Day In The Life Of The Grafton Quarry Branch:  Simple But Fun Operations –

I discussed the reactivation of the Grafton Quarry Branch in my last post.  In this post I will cover a normal operating session and, hopefully, illustrate that interesting operations can be had on even a limited micro-layout.

I envision most of the stone product going to use in major construction projects in the more heavily populated southern part of New Hampshire, so the train represents a local based out of Concord.


On the Grafton Quarry Branch an operating session begins with a back up move, there aren’t any sidings so a run-around is out of the question.  With the train assembled the engineer begins his move, south bound, towards the quarry yard (as I mentioned in my earlier post the train for the next operating day is built on the layout it’s self since there is no staging).  The grade crossing seen above remains blocked between sessions which is no doubt a major cause of concern among the locals.

Today’s Inbound Train:  GP7 #1557 – 40ft boxcar, 90t open aggregate hopper, covered cement hopper, 40ft boxcar, caboose.

The shipper requested an open hopper be spotted on the aggregate loading track (right in the above photo) and the covered hopper spotted on the cement loading track (left in the above photo).  In kind the train must retrieve the two loaded covered hoppers and the loaded open hopper, placing them 1, 3, and 2 in the outbound manifest in front of the two 40ft boxcars so they can be switched off-layout.


The cement loading track only holds two cars, although it is possible to place three there if you don’t need to use the switch.  The storage track (center) also only holds 2 cars without interfering with the switch.  The aggregate loading track holds three cars, four if you are desperate and slight car to car collisions don’t upset your ulcer too much.  Four cars and a caboose will just clear the first switch when pulled onto the yard lead.  This gives you relatively limited space to do switching and can make an operating session fairly challenging if the too many cars are involved (the most I have ever had on layout at one time was seven freight cars, a caboose, and an S4 locomotive.  The layout was cramped and a many additional moves were required to assemble the outbound train).  I assign inbound spots in the yard by type, not by car number.

Example:                 D/O

                               1 Cement Hopper to Load

                               1 Cement Hopper to Storage

                               1 Aggregate to Load

(Here I have placed the three inbound empties on separate tracks because the shipper is receiving two cement hoppers but only has an order for one carload of cement.)

Or:                          D/O

                                1 Cement Hopper to Load

                                1 Cement Hopper from Storage to Load

                                1 Aggregate Hopper to Load

(Here the empty formerly left on the storage track is to be spotted on the load track to fulfill an increased order.)

I find disposing of the caboose and the rear most car, not intended for the quarry, on the storage track is the best first move.  Next, I generally try to get the aggregate cars switched and in correct order for the outbound train, followed by the cement hoppers, and then arranging any extra cars in the consist.

When I write the train order for the following operating day I assign each load a number representing its position in the outbound train.  Sometimes I split them up and sometimes I group like cars.  Boxcars and other cars in the train not loaded at the quarry take up the remaining positions and I typically don’t pay too much attention to what order they are in.

Example:                 P/U       

                               2 Cement Hoppers 1,4

                               1 Aggregate Hopper 2

(Here the cement hoppers are 1 and 4 in the consist and the aggregate hopper is 2.  That means the first two spots in the outbound manifest are occupied so spot 3 and 5 could go to boxcars or other cars unrelated to the quarry.)

Or:                          P/U

                               2 Cement Hoppers 1,2

                               1 Aggregate Hopper 5

(Here the cement hoppers occupy spots 1 and 3, then the unrelated cars would be placed in spots 3 and 4, with the aggregate hopper bringing up the rear along with the caboose.)

When the outbound train departs, and terminates at the northern edge of the layout, I disassemble the train and switch out my unrelated cars with cars of different types or lengths… to keep things visually interesting and operationally challenging.  The next day’s inbound empties for the quarry are placed back into the consist randomly, this ensures that switching the quarry is never just a matter of reversing the previous day’s operations.


Once the inbound train is assembled for the next day there is nothing to do but rearrange the vehicles at the crossing and admire your work.  If I have had a particular good (read: challenging) operating session, I will reminisce about it and decide, with absolute certainty, that I will never be able to top that performance.  Sometimes I get through a session with no wasted moves.  More often than not, I get ready to spot a car only to discover that it won’t fit through the switch, or that I have been moving a load which I thought was an empty… back it goes and the N scale boss gets to drink a little more pink-bismuth to sooth his stress-related stomach issues.

I hope you enjoyed this overview of operations on my little branch.  I would like to think that it will give people the kick in the pants they need to get started in the hobby but, frankly, I don’t operate very realistically so rivet counters might call for my head on a platter if people got into model railroading using my practices.

As an aside:  Yes there is a side-boom dozer in the yard and yes, there are that many derailments (it was easier to have the dozer on-hand than to teach safety to my train crews).  What can I say, three full-scale children can be distracting when you are making backup moves… sue me.

Getting Back Into The Game

First off, I apologize for being delinquent when it comes to posts.  Life has been busy and I haven’t had a layout available for operations due to placing my train equipment into storage while we attempt to sell our house.  That being said, I have found a temporary work around and I would like to discuss it with you today.

A New Stab At An Old Plan:  Reactivating the Grafton Quarry Branch (formerly Lyme Crushed Stone) –


So this simple, little, switching layout used to be the terminus of my patchwork B&M Lyme Branch.  In the lore I had created as a back story, the Lyme Branch had begun in the distant past as the Lebanon & Northern Railroad.  At some point, as traffic dropped after WWII, the Lebanon & Northern was bought out by B&M and the northern end of the line was severed south of the town of Lyme, leaving this aggregate and cement producing quarry on the northern-most extent of the former shortline.  In reality the most recent incarnation of the Lebanon & Northern was a group of three layouts (which connected in my imagination) and borrowed its name from my first N scale layout (I have already discussed that layout in some detail).  Those layouts had to be packed away into storage due to putting our house on the market and I was left without anywhere to operate and relax with my beloved B&M.  Well, the winter was harsh and interest in our house has been slow.  It was time to dig my smallest, and still incomplete, layout back out of the garage and put B&M track crews to work rehabbing the line.  I have always enjoyed this little piece of New Hampshire for two reasons, first this layout fit in an otherwise empty space in my bedroom (my wife never liked it there though), and second because on it lived a tiny N scale man who drove a red flatbed truck and always seemed to get stuck at the only grade crossing… waiting for the next working day for the train to clear the tracks (bear in mind that there is no staging on this layout, all building of the next day’s train takes place at the end opposite the quarry yard).

I put some thought into my original back story and found it somewhat wanting.  My future “dream” layout is the B&M Northern Line from Concord, NH to White River Jct., VT and I wanted to tie my operations into that somehow.  One of my older brothers lives in Grafton, NH and my father owns land there… fortunately there is a small abandoned quarry operation on his property.  I elected to put two and two together and make this little layout into a very short branch, off the Northern, to a quarry located in Grafton.  My conscience can remain clear since the meaning of Lebanon & Northern can simply be shifted to mean Lebanon and the Northern Line, as opposed to the cardinal direction “north”.  Win, win!


Where was I?  Oh, so anyway, I brought my quarry back inside and dusted it off.  Some animal, most likely a rodent, decided to eat some of the Styrofoam base… I assume he didn’t do very well digesting it.  That little insult needed (needs) to be repaired and the whole thing needed vacuumed and cleaned.  A little more than 10 minutes later and the B&M crews had GP-7 1557 inbound with the first rail business the quarry has seen in over a year, two covered hoppers for cement and an open 90t hopper for aggregate.


Since there hadn’t been any rail business here since January 2013 there were no loaded outbounds for the crew to pickup, so the engine and its caboose headed off into the sunset.   The next scheduled working day is tomorrow, the man with the red truck will be thrilled to see regular rail traffic return to his quiet little country road.  In a few days I will go into more detail about the operating scheme, I think you will find that even a micro-layout (less than 3-4 square feet) can offer interesting (if not overly challenging) operations if you use enough rolling stock.