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Random Rail Shot

CCRRGP9In a rare “Double Whammy”, I present to you a random rail shot to follow up my vintage motive power post.  Above is Claremont Concord Railroad (CCRR) GP9 1907, and a handsome locomotive it is.  If I can be honest with you, I prefer their wicked old Alco S-units but with one down for the count, apparently, and the S-units being somewhat limited in the traction dept., I guess I can see why they sought out something with a little more get-up-and-go.  At any rate, I made a habit of visiting White River Jct. after my morning runs this past summer and I caught CCRR picking up this string of cars, I had to snap a couple shots on my cell phone (which I both rue and lament).  If you are near White River Jct. in the morning you should stop by and check it out.  If I recall correctly there are five railroads servicing White River these days, the mornings appear to be the busy times for all.

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Vintage N Scale Motive Power #1

Once and Future Motive Power –

I know what you might be thinking, “Hey, where on Earth is your mind wandering this time?” That’s a fair question and the answer is “Keep reading.”

I have a somewhat long-term goal of building a “Retro-Layout” on which I will operate my vintage N scale equipment, I’m thinking anything manufactured earlier than 1980. By now it should be clear that, while there was plenty of Northern New England rolling stock available prior to 1980, there simply were no locomotives available to New England railfans during that era. My research has consistently revealed that if someone wanted an MEC, BAR, or B&M locomotive before 1980 they were going to have to make it themselves. I do not intend this to be a very large layout but I do want some ability to switch industries and perhaps even a little passenger traffic as well. With that in mind I spent some time researching pre-1980 N scale locomotives and comparing those options with locomotives actually operated by B&M, the list ended up being quite short but I sorted out two ideas I think would both look right and potentially satisfy my requirements.

Atlas (Roco) GP9 Phase III –

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My current plans are to refurbish the mechanism and repaint the shell into the B&M Blue Bird scheme for operations on my future retro-layout. I have seen pictures of another example done up the same way and I think it looks pretty nice. My understanding is that these can be made to run respectably given their age, this will probably end up being my primary motive power when the time comes to put the layout together.

Atlas (Mehano) RS-2 –

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Yes, I know Mehano didn’t make an RS-2 and that this locomotive is actually an RSC-2 (the six-axle version). I am also aware that these are notoriously poor locomotives best relegated to the garbage can. The problem is that I really felt like I needed an Alco road switcher for passenger service, since B&M was an enthusiastic user of them and nothing else was available on the market until Atlas teamed up with Kato for their famous RS-3 project. If I want a pre-1980 RS I am simply going to have to make it myself. As can be seen I have already replaced the three-axle trucks with more correct AAR two-axle trucks, that part was relatively easy. My next step is to play around with motors which were available at the time to try and figure a motor/drive train combination which will allow decent enough running to pull a short passenger consist. I am not planning on polishing this turd into something resembling a modern N scale locomotive. My plan is simply to put together an RS-2 which would have been within the means and capability of the average pre-1980 N scaler. Eventually I plan on painting my RS-2 into the maroon B&M Minute Man scheme, I think it will look nice and might cover up some of the ugly details on the shell.

To be honest, these are actually back burner projects… there is some possibility that I might get some work done on them this winter but I currently have a lot on my plate so they aren’t a priority. When I get them done, or at least more progress is made, I will do a full write up on each with more detail about the models and the prototypes. I just thought you, the reader, might be interested in my retro-layout idea and where my thoughts have gone in terms of motive power. Let me know if any of you have been pondering the same thing, I’m always interested to hear any thoughts others might have on these subjects.

“Vintage” N Scale B&M Motive Power #5

Life-Like GP18 1750 –

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Life-Like appears to have released this little gem around 1996 which is admittedly a little late to fit within the definition of “Vintage” or even “Early” but, given the fact that the chassis is a direct descendent of the early Mehano N scale locomotives, I think it’s okay to talk about it here. To be honest, I had run out of early B&M N scale locomotives to talk about anyway, so you may have to hear about more modern B&M motive power in the future (1). Pricewise, I ended up paying in the mid-$30’s for my example… perhaps a tad high but I wasn’t interested in letting another auction get away.

I think many, perhaps most, N scale modelers are familiar with the plastic frame Life-Like GP-18. For a bit over a decade Life-Like held a firm grip on the “better than trainset”, mid-range, N scale locomotive market. Because of this a model railroader could acquire decent motive power, without breaking the bank, though perhaps at the expense of some finer details. Most of these offerings didn’t include a flywheel but they still tended to run smoothly and could easily be used for operations. My second powered locomotive was a plastic frame Life-Like GP38-2, function was good enough to keep me in N scale. Beyond that I won’t go into much detail about the mechanical nature of these pretty decent locomotives… if you are really interested in more detail you can consult Spookshow at http://www.spookshow.net/llgp18.html

So, I’m not overly familiar with what does and does not qualify a GP18 to be a Phase __ (fill in the blank), whatever. The shells on these locomotives certainly appear to resemble a GP18 to my untrained eye. What I can say is that B&M traded in their BL2 locomotives and a wrecked F7 (4267A) for parts towards their GP-18s, as such all but 1755 had four smaller roof fans similar to a GP9 (2). In that regard Life-Like got it wrong with their model of 1750, however they also released this locomotive as 1755 so the two large fans would be correct for that unit. While it is my goal to track down a copy of 1755, I will remain happy to have finally acquired my 1750. The paint is a little unusual, Life-Like bucked the trend and went with the Blue Bird scheme these locomotives were delivered in. Now, other than a limited edition Atlas GP9, this stands as the only locomotive that I am aware of which was factory decorated in the Blue Bird scheme. My other posts about early B&M N scale motive power show that Bev-Bel remained committed to the Blue Dip scheme for some time, until releasing their F7A in the 1990s. Atlas and Life-Like have otherwise busied themselves cranking out Blue Dip and Minute Man paint since getting into the game with their GP7 and BL2 locomotives respectively. That makes this GP18 an especially interesting piece of my collection; I like the Blue Bird look and am not particularly fond of any variation of the Blue Dip scheme. As mentioned early 1750 is a correct road number for a B&M GP18 (as is 1755 which was also available), but by the 1990s Life-Like was increasing the accuracy of their models so a correct road number is something I would expect.

I have no need to operate this locomotive, for anything other than entertainment, but I am certain it would perform just as well as any of the other Life-Like offerings from this time period. It doesn’t appear that Life-Like ever re-released the low nose version of the GP18 so, if you want a factory decorated B&M GP18, you are going to need to pick one of these up and track down a Micro-Trains pilot conversion… that is unless you operate with Rapidos, in which case you are all set.

Historical Information:

B&M rostered 6 EMD (Electro Motive Division) GP18 B-B locomotives numbered 1750-1755. The real B&M GP18 units were all equipped with dynamic brakes and low noses (short hoods), so the Life-Like shell is close. As mentioned above, as the model sits the shell is only correct for 1755 which was a new-build and didn’t contain reused 36” fans from trade-ins. Eventually B&M transferred their GP18s to Springfield Terminal (ST) to avoid labor union rules and cut costs, in ST service they were renumbered in the 40-series. I must admit that I really don’t know if any ex-B&M GP18s are still in operation, or even still exist. If you have any information on that please put it in the comments.

(1) I’m actively trying to track down a plastic frame B&M BL2 and, since I am using plastic frames as a loophole, I suppose the Life-Like E7 needs to be discussed as well.

(2) A few years ago I ended up modeling a four-fan B&M GP18 using an undec Life-Like model and the long hood from an Atlas GP9 (yes, I know there are some differences from the prototype… I really don’t care that much). I chose the Blue Bird scheme for my model and I think my results compare favorably with the Life-Like factory paint. In fact, Life-Like chose blue for the base color of their handrails (black paint is added on the front and rear railings) which looks a little out of place given that the real B&M units had black handrails with white where appropriate for safety.

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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 Trainboard.com (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 (http://www.randgust.com/). 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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KYPCfBCJcU). 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 (https://www.shapeways.com/model/1175892/nn3-ge-25-tonner.html?li=shop-results&materialId=61). 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.

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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.

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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 Trainboard.com) about details of his 25 Tonner build.
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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.
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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.
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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!

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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.

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Custom Projects and Kitbashes

South Boulder Modelworks Alco S4 1271 –

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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.

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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.

Custom Projects and Kitbashes

Customized Minitrix F7A 4267–

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First off let me apologize for being a little delinquent with my blogging, between an increased load at work, home repairs, and family commitments I am finding little time for non-essentials.  That said, I would like to talk about an Minitrix F9A (F7A) that I decorated up in a late B&M “blue-dip” scheme.

When I first got interested in vintage N scale I started looking into appropriate locomotives that could pull my growing collection of rolling stock.  Reviews of early N scale stuff are generally pretty harsh and my experience with much of that early equipment backs those less-than-favorable opinions completely.  One of the major exceptions is the Minitrix (Aurora) F9A dating to around 1966.  Oddly, being from 1966, this locomotive is a very early development and yet does indeed run very well, even by some 1990s standards.  This F unit is a little out scale, in most dimensions, and much of the detailing more closely resembles an F7… however for the time it was a very nice locomotive.

I have said it before so I am sure most of you know that I am not a rivet counter, I just like operating my railroad.  I wanted a locomotive to pull my vintage B&M equipment and I wanted something that would look at home doing so.  The Minitrix locomotive is already a great deal like the four EMD F7As purchased by B&M.  For instance, it has one headlight, and no steam generator, so I wouldn’t have to make the shell match those details as I did on the earlier Life-Like F7A “customization” I had attempted many years ago.  What I did have to do was settle on a paint scheme.

Most, if not all, early B&M N scale equipment is “blue-dipped” with white lettering.  I could have bucked the trend and given it a basic Minute Man scheme but that would have looked odd when matched up with a mostly blue consist.  Blue it was but only three of the four B&M F7As made it into the blue era, 4265, 4266, and 4268 ,4267 having been wrecked on the north shore of Mascoma Lake and eventually traded in when B&M acquired more modern equipment.  I am always on the look out for B&M locomotives and I couldn’t be sure if one of the major manufacturers would ever release the three survivors in their individualized “blue-dipped” schemes.  I knew however that 4267 would probably never be released as a factory model in blue paint (at least I would hope not), so in my world, on my railroad, B&M repaired 4267 and put it back into service in brand new blue paint.  The scheme I chose is sort of a combination of the blue schemes worn by the other three B&M F7As… it isn’t perfect but I think it looks appropriate.

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I haven’t decided whether I will make up some number board inserts, it still has the original Minitrix number “510”, but that can wait.  For now, I am happy with the results, it isn’t going to win any prizes for authenticity but it looks pretty good pulling a freight train around my layout. 

Again, I can’t emphasize enough just how enjoyable it is to repaint/redecorate a locomotive to be something closer to what you want.  If you have’t tried it yet I say dive in, paint is getting difficult to come by now that Testors has gutted the railroad model paint market but finding the right mix could certainly add more interest to your hobby.