CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Playing with my grandfather's Lionel train (1987)

Me at age 5 in 1987
While going through some old pictures from my grandparents, I found this one. It has a lot of great memories for me. For starters, the train is probably a Lionel #1543 set. It came with the Lehigh Valley #627 44-tonner engine (perhaps the start of my love for GE centercab switchers?), a flat car with pipes, a gondola with red canisters, and a caboose. The sets were released around 1956, though I don't know what year my grandparents purchased them. They bought two sets, gave one to my Uncle, and gave the other to the neighbor's son who couldn't afford one. They were low cost sets. I don't know how much my Uncle used it, but whenever I visited my grandfather pulled out the plywood board painted green with a simple loop of track and one remote control track and off I would go! 

My grandfather later purchased some additional cars, including a red M&SL boxcar and a US Air Force boxcar with missile firing mechanism. Oddly, there was also an unidentified HO engine which is shown on the flat car. I wish I knew more about that. EDIT: It is a "Sakai" engine. See here for more info.

The Guidancetown buildings took some investigation to identify but they were a lot of fun to put together and take apart every visit. Also pictured are some other notable accessories: giant orange, purple and yellow alien creatures (I think they belonged to my other uncle); a stuffed dog and Boo boo; and and American flag. Oh the adventures we all went on.

Sadly, almost everything on the train table is now gone. The train disappeared from the basement after my grandfather passed away, likely by a visitor who thought it was worth a lot. I have faint hopes that someday it will turn up. The buildings and aliens are long gone, as are the stuffed animals. But, this past Thanksgiving I went down and removed the track from the plywood board. It was rusty as sixty year old track can be but I managed to save most of it. I cleaned it up and used it on my under the Christmas tree train set up this year. So, part of it lives on.

Monday, February 25, 2019

D&H blue wheel car #15961

Last summer I was scrolling through the internet and came across a website showing a D&H blue flat car that was set up to carry wheels. I was really excited that it seemed to be in excellent condition (perhaps it had just been repainted?) and I loved the blue color. During the late 1970s, the D&H went through a period of austerity when President Selig Altschul simplified paint schemes for motive power to a solid "blue dip" scheme (discussed elsewhere). Maintenance of Way (MoW) equipment such as the work passenger cars, cranes, and gondolas were also painted blue. I assume that this car was painted during that period.

I reached out to the photographer, Mark Wright, who has a website devoted to collecting G.I Joe figures. We talked about his photograph and he said it was from Rouses Point, but he couldn't remember when he took it. He had another three-quarter shot of the car and sent me both images in a high resolution format. He graciously gave me permission to post them on my blog, which I really appreciate. Other than these pictures, I have seen no references to it at all.

I would like to build a model of this car and hoped that someone would have more information about it. A post on the Railroad.net's D&H forum didn't result in anything, so I then asked on their NYS Railfan forum. If you have any information on it, I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Scratchbuilding a Caboose - Part 4 (brake gear)

Lately I have been really enjoying the whole "modeling" experience. I can't explain it, but I love just sitting at my workbench with the radio or television on and working on any and all projects that cross my path. For this caboose, I estimate that I have about 25 hours invested in it so far. It doesn't make sense really. It is a tiny caboose, even in O scale. But, I have spent a lot of time just studying the drawings, making measurements, shopping for stock and parts online, cutting, gluing, sanding, etc. I am not complaining. They have been 25 enjoyable hours. (Had the caboose come out looking terrible like I thought it would, I probably would replace "enjoyable" with "wasted.") 

I am no stranger to projects taking a long time. I am building a 3.75" scale (roughly 1/3) working model of a Welsh narrow gauge steam locomotive to run on 7.25" gauge track. That has easily consumed 1,000 hours so far. And it isn't even running on air yet. If I am having fun I don't mind investing the time. And I don't rush myself, either. Sometimes, I will just sit at my workbench with my dog next to me and sort my styrene scraps into piles, or rearrange my tools, or do something else. Just the act of being at my workbench is therapeutic.

But, some projects need to keep moving on like my caboose. Like the brakes, which aren't shown with much detail on the prints I have. There were a pair of brake shoes which rubbed on the inside of each axle, but how they were connected to the single brake wheel at one end of the car wasn't shown. The prototype is enclosed in a glass box and there is snow on the ground, so I am not driving down to look. But, thankfully, I doubt the NMRA judges are either. So I am going to build a representation of the brakes based on what I could glean from the plans.

I started by looking at brake shoe castings online. Several companies sell them in O scale but they didn't really match what I was looking for. I needed small brake shoes and some of the castings were too large. There were some that looked pretty good but they were only available from the U.K. and I didn't want to place an international order. I found these for dirt cheap on EBay though the seller didn't know who made them. Do they look familiar to anyone? I only care about the shoe part itself I will cut away the rest and throw it out. Only one side is detailed, but that might not matter once it is all painted.

I cut away the brake beams from four of the triangle shoes. I then trimmed off the "bolt" that held the shoes onto the beams, and rounded over that corner to better match the prototype. They were too long so I also trimmed the top and bottom portions of the show arc. In the end, I am not sure how much time I saved by going this route. The portion of the shoes that attaches to the brake beams was cut to fit, and then two shoes were glued to each of the two beams. Thankfully, MEK worked on this black plastic as I really didn't want to use superglue or epoxy.

Then, I drilled holes in the bottoms of the underframe and then bent some steel wire to make a "U" shaped bracket that would fit into the holes. Then, I threaded a pair of shortened Athearn blue box handrail stanchions onto each wire. These stanchions were then glued to the brake beams which had the brake shoes previously attached, and then everything was glued to the underside of the caboose. I used superglue for all of the joints, which gave me a little bit of working time to align the shoes with the wheels but make sure they weren't touching or rubbing. It was fiddly, but surprisingly it all worked.

Next, I had to tie the two brake beams together and also to the brake wheel. The prototype was set up so that when the brake wheel was rotated it tightened a chain which pulled one brake beam into contact with the wheels. This was represented by using a length of steel wire and a couple of Grandt Line truss rod support brackets left over from a previous project. The wire was just left hanging for now at the area where the brake wheel will drop down, but the other end was bent into an L shape. This L fit into a vertical beam that I drilled two holes in (one on each end) and then glued to the brake beam closest to brake wheel.

The other end of the vertical beam was also fitted with another wire that ended in an "L" shape and fit into the hole. This second wire ran to the farther brake beam and was connected to it via another modified Athearn handrail stanchion. In all, it actually looks quite similar to how the plans laid it out. In all, I admit that I looked forward to building the brake gear and linkages because I thought it looked simple enough to pull off and I had never done it before. I am glad I attempted it. Sure, the leverage won't be there because my pivot points are secured with super glue but if this little caboose had its coupler link break I have confidence the crew could bring it to a stop!

The brake wheel casting is by Precision Scale Company and the shaft is some metal wire. I will install it later after the platforms are finished.

Oh, one of the other things I have been working on is having custom decals made for me by Modern Rails decals. Ricky Rupp, the owner, and I go back a long ways. He used to be in Western NY and when I lived there he made a bunch of decals for me for my Arcade and Attica Railroad projects. He also made me a custom set of decals for some D&H blue glass hoppers (which I might get around to working on someday). So, when I needed decals for this caboose I reached out to him. Thankfully, I had a scale drawing of the car and he send some proofs for me to double check on the actual model. They look perfect. The cost was quite affordable, and his turn around time is fast.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Scratchbuilding a Caboose - Part 3 (adding details)

Breaking the project into two components: the body and the frame/chassis, I decided to focus more on the top half first. This was a very simple caboose and there were only a few exterior details on it. There are vertical handrails on the sides by the steps (but none on the ends themselves attached to the body), as well as some nuts and bolts in the upper and lower corners. While at the hobby store, I came across a display of Tichy nut/bolt/washer castings and bought some. Where have they been all my life! While I hoped to be able to scratchbuild everything on the caboose, I realized that I couldn't replicate these as well as the castings.

For door knobs, I looked around for suitable pins or track nails but couldn't find anything I liked. But, a package of Peco track pins worked perfectly and now my O scale figures can turn something to try and get inside. Incidentally, I now have a lifetime supply of O scale door knobs! My local hobby store was out of suitable brass wire for the hand rails, so I bought some piano wire. Even with special hardened cutters, it was no fun to work with so in the end I dug in my parts box for some Athearn HO blue box engine handrail stanchions. They are flattened instead of round, but bent easily and I think they look fine. I couldn't use MEK to secure them so I relied on superglue.

I next worked on the windows, which had previously been framed on the exterior, needed their cross pieces installed on the inside. Using some really thin styrene strips, I built up a bunch of 90-degree crosses on a piece of graph paper to ensure squareness. Once cured, I trimmed them to size and secured them into the window openings on the inside. Because the two pieces overlap by 0.015" (the thickness of the styrene), they don't lay perfectly flat. I had to apply MEK and hold each end down until it cured. They look slightly rustic, but since the whole caboose does I am okay with it. If I mount glass on the inside, it might push the cross pieces even flatter which would be okay.

The smokestack was made from four pieces of styrene. The main shaft is a piece of solid 0.125" diameter rod. The flange on the bottom of it was made by first drilling 1/8" (0.125") holes in some 0.040" thick styrene and then punching out a circle around those holes with an ordinary hole punch. After selecting the best one, I inserted the rod into the hole in the flange and glued it. Once cured, I gently filed a taper on the top of the flange. The base of the smoke jack is a 3/16" diameter tube that I cut at an angle on my NWSL Chopper to match the roof curve. It was then glued to the bottom of the flange. After careful filing of the base to match the contour of the roof, the assembly was glued in place. MEK was flooded into the joints and it softened them and blended it all together nicely. The cap which keeps the rain out was bent from some 0.015" thick styrene.

While everything cured on the body, I turned my attention to the chassis. I had previously cut away portions of the long stringers to clear the backs of the wheels, resulting in large gaps. I don't know how much this affects the judging of models, but I thought I could do something to minimize the gaps. So, using some 0.015" thick styrene that I cut into strips I carefully positioned pieces on the bottom edge (or top when the chassis is flipped over) and sides to match the areas. I made sure that the pieces didn't interfere with the wheels' rotation. If you look where the knife blade is in the picture, you can see one such strip in place.

Once both pieces were in place for each wheel, it looked pretty convincing. The area is extremely delicate but I can't imagine how they would be damaged in any way. All four have been done in the picture, and the joints are barely visible. The one in the upper right corner has hairline air gaps between the pieces but they will get obliterated once the chassis is painted black. The other three don't even show at all. I think they look a lot better now, but it is the type of thing you probably don't point out to a judge in the first place. Either way, the overall lesson is that even when you build a model from plans you might need to make adjustments along the way.

Next, I flipped everything over and worked on the frame some more. I carved off the crude nuts and bolts that I had previously made with square styrene and installed nut/bolt/washer castings everywhere the prototype had them. I also build up journal boxes and covers with styrene (they are for looks only, as the axle end doesn't protrude from the styrene beneath them). I also added the horizontal cross brace between the bottoms of the axle boxes and the cross braces for the brake hangers. These are necessary for hanging the brake gear, and I think I found a pretty nifty way to make them. It is now somewhat "fragile," but my mentor said that award winning models are delicate.

Finally, I decided to do something for the couplers. I don't think carving a pair of link and pin couplers would be terribly difficult but I first thought I would see what castings are out there. I found a lovely set of Wiseman Model Services O scale link and pin couplers that looked great. However, upon arrival they were too big for my car. So, I then ordered their S scale set which fit perfectly. You can actually install them in a Kadee coupler box to give them some swing but I glued them into a coupler box I fabricated from styrene and n/b/w castings. I am not sure how strong the white metal is, but for a display model they are perfect.

I still need to tar paper the roof, build the roof seat for the brakeman, add the brakes, and then build the steps, end platforms, and railings. Quite a bit to go, but I am pleased with the progress.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day

Out of the blue, my lovely wife decided to get me a surprise D&H-themed gift this year for Valentine's Day. Not only have I been looking for these cars (but been too cheap to buy them), but I didn't see a single one at the Springfield train show this year. My wife called the local train store and upon finding they were in stock picked out two based on numbers that I liked. The fact that they have hearts on them will cause me to think of her whenever a train goes buy containing them (a shrewd move on her part)!

Yuppers, I love my wife!

Friday, February 1, 2019

BAGRS live steam locomotive (Gauge 1) - Part. 3

I was able to sneak an hour or two in at the workbench recently, which allowed me to press forward on this engine. Previously, I had secured a sprocket to one of the axles and now it was time to connect it up to the motor.

There are four sprockets that tie everything together: one is connected to the end of the motor, which is then chained to a second sprocket on a rotating idler shaft containing a third sprocket, which is then chained to the fourth sprocket on the axle. The sprockets are bored to accept different shaft sizes, and to make up the difference the plans called for K&S brass tubing in telescoping sizes that increase in diameter as necessary Then, the set screws on the sprockets are tightened and compress the tubing together which retains the sprocket. I didn't believe it would work but it did. However, if those joints eventually fail I may just turn a shaft to the proper diameters and skip the tubing bushings altogether.

The idler shaft support is utter simplicity, being a piece of 1/32" brass that was drilled and then bent. Because I wasn't paying attention entirely to what I was doing, I got to make it twice. Drilling slowly and carefully into the thin bronze with the drill press was required; otherwise, the bit would grab and spin the part around. That didn't happen, thankfully. Then, the holes were deburred and the two actual bearing holes were opened slightly with a file. The support bracket was then formed in the vice. I could have used pliers to bend it, but I was concerned that the bends wouldn't be 90-degree and thus the ends wouldn't line up. That is difficult to correct by re-bending without overworking the thin brass, and not wanting to make it a third time I pulled out the vice. A little hammer work and it was done.

Before the idler shaft could be installed in the bracket, I had to make the two chains that connect the sprockets on it to the other sprockets. I bought plenty of extra chain but I still had to be careful to count the links (24 for one, 33 for the other) and then form up the one that joined the new ends together. I tested the chains and found that one bound up at the joint I made so I carefully adjusted the bent-over ends until it ran friction free. (This engine produces so little power than any friction can seriously hamper it). Then, I aligned the sprockets on the bracket over the sprocket on the axle and screwed it down to the deck. I marked the hole locations and pre-drilled them first to prevent the boards from splitting.

The motor is an oscillating cylinder that came with the boiler kit. It has connections for the steam lines in and out, a flywheel on the back (or front, depending on perspective), and a spring to adjust the amount of pressure the cylinder has on the port block. It all came pre-assembled but the screw might need adjustment after testing. The last sprocket attaches to the end of the shaft that also has the flywheel and a chain connects it to a sprocket on the idler shaft. I made sure everything was in perfect alignment, marked the four mounting holes on the floor deck, and then drilled them out. The motor was then screwed down.

The engine utilizes a simple displacement lubricator which is available from Roundhouse Engineering, one of the oldest Gauge 1 live steam companies still in existence. Their locomotives are simple and despite having multiple models all share a family appearance, but they are also bulletproof. I started another scratchbuilt locomotive years ago based on their parts and may someday get back to it. Anyway, a displacement lubricator works by allowing steam into the body of it from one side, the steam converts to water and sinks to the bottom of the body, and oil gets displaced up and out the other side. Simple, but it works.

I am not sure how Roundhouse mounts them but here I needed to screw it to the deck of the engine. No provision was made for that, so I took some of the 1/32" brass that I had left over (from a first failed attempt at an idler shaft support bracket) and cut it to size. I then used my blowtorch to carefully solder it to the bottom of the displacement lubricator. Of course, I first unscrewed and removed the rubber o-rings can caps. I also was careful to not get it too hot as I didn't want it all to fall apart! Some flux was essential, and I used silver bearing solder because I had it on hand. Had I not honed my skills building the Gauge-1 switches, I probably would have soft soldered this.

Finally, once completely cooled I washed it with alcohol to remove all traces of the flux. Then, I laid it out on the deck and drilled holes for the mounting screws. Too close to the edge of the deck and it might break off, but too far inboard and it could interfere with the boiler. Now that I look at these pictures, I wonder if I should have used hex bolts and nuts instead of Philips head screws. They can always be changed later if I want. I still need to connect everything up with silicone tubing but I have that on hand and it shouldn't be too difficult. I am now contemplating whether I want to paint all this stuff or leave it unfinished brass. I am leaning towards not doing anything to it.