Sunday, November 6, 2016

ATSF 1656. A Westside story of a labor of love.

Engineers side of 1656.

As far as brass engines go, 1656 is not the rarest piece I have, nor is it the most expensive, nor the first I ever bought. It does however hold a bit of sentimentality for me, I loved the turtleback tender and general looks of the engine. However it also is a love and hate piece because of the year plus of "fun" I had with this engine to get it running well. 

Purchased in the early summer of 2015 while I was still a courtesy clerk, this model is a Westside 3010 Class engine produced in the 70's. Came in the red-white-and-blue circus box with a belt buckle stamped 3010 class of all things. It wasn't my first ever brass engine, Balboa Atlantic #1432 takes that for the record, but this was the first brass engine I ever bought solely on my own income without any assistance from birthday money. 

"As Delivered" shot of 1656.
I opened the box with great excitement when the engine showed up. Yes, it had some flaws in it's brass finish, but outside of that I thought it looked great. 

Engineers side "as delivered"
The turtleback tender before I installed the end pilot.
Low Angle shot of 1656 as delivered.
So I had plans for 1656 when it was delivered. I knew I wasn't going to keep the 3010 class, being as that was only 10 engines. I found the Santa Fe Historical Society had some online info on the turtleback tenders including a listing of all the engines that had the turtlebacks at one point or another. There were 1800 class prairies in there, however there also were 1600 class 2-10-2's that got these tenders at some point. 

A little history, the Santa Fe only had 10 of these turtleback tenders, and they were for the 3000 class 2-10-10-2's built in the 1910's. The engines were used as helpers among other things and the sloped back tenders were to help with backing visibility. They even had pilots on the tenders for some of their lives. Towards the middle of the decade the Santa Fe decided the 2-10-10-2's were not worth the extra upkeep and they split them, becoming 2 2-10-2's each. One section became the 3010 class, the other became the 3020 class. These engines were virtually the same as the already on the road 1600 and 900 class 2-10-2's. 

Using that roster I mentioned above, I decided to go for #1656, which did carry around a turtleback at some point in it's career. 

The model itself came with a KTM open frame motor that actually ran pretty good on my test track at home and didn't draw all that many amps, running an average of a 1/4 amp or less. I planned on keeping this motor and just installing a decoder with it since the motor was isolated. Later that week it received a digitrax DZ125 from the spares pile and it went down to the club for testing. 

While at home on the test track, performance was good, I found at the club performance was less than stellar. This was a problem that would only get worse and wouldn't be solved for over a year.  It did run decent enough I figured I would try to run it during our July open house for the organ society. Boy, did it have other plans though. After running during the open house what was probably a collective 12 feet, the engine came to an abrupt haul, with some smoke rolling out of the cab. After putting it away for the remainder of the show, a later check revealed it was the decoder that let out the smoke, with a nice scorch mark on the red plastic, and a small hole through the PC board. The decoder surprisingly still worked, and resides in service, in my switcher FT #405L to this day. 

While the decoder was smoked, it didn't seem like anything caused the motor to stall out, not that it's really possible. Even under a stall load the motor was within the limits of the decoder. At that point I ordered a canon DN-22 motor off ebay to remotor the engine with. Little did I know how much fun it was going to be. 

#1656 with a canon DN22 test fitted.
The DN22 showed up not too long later. It wasn't my first run at the rodeo, I had remotored my Balboa 4-4-2 not too long before that, and a United-PFM 2-8-0 on my desk was also due to get a remotoring (also with a DN22). So I set about to install the motor the same way as normal, the installation itself went pretty well, no snags here, and since it had an open cab with no backhead like the atlantic and the consolidation, it took much less time. 

So back on the tracks it goes...... With less than stellar results, the DN-22's I had bought were extremely low RPM motors, 1656 could only make 30smph at full power. While not un-prototypical for the engine, I do operate on a mainline with other people, so to spare them the agony of following me, the motor had to go. It would be quite some time before a replacement would pop up though. 

New front coupler on 1656.
Per instructions from Jason Hill over at Owl Mountain Models who's blog you can find here, I installed a front coupler on 1656. It's a long center shank scale kadee whisker coupler thats had it's hoop on the end cut off and filed down. A small hole was drilled to allow the little wire that held the dummy coupler on the engine to also hold this coupler. It's worked great for me, and I got to keep the details on the front instead of hacking out for a kadee box. 

The first thing 1656 needed after this was paint. So out came the normal rattle can of rustoleum automotive black primer. I'd painted my 2-8-0 this way, and it dries a great flat color. 

in the garage after painting.
1656 rolled out of the paint shop after coat #1 looking quite spiffy. However I had to deal with the old school modeling moans of "you need to bake the paint to get it to set right on brass!" after I showed off coat one. So I bit the bullet and elected to try this. I removed everything* I though was plastic from the model, and hit it with a heat gun while applying the paint. This did absolutely nothing to the paint. So I elected to just live with how it turned out without the heat. I reassembled the model, put it on the desk and went to roll it back and forth, however the drivers were locked up tight. 

Remember the "everything* plastic" from before? Well, I had missed one thing, and it was a rather critical piece for the drive to function. 

one slightly melty gear
There was one thing I missed when hitting the model with heat, and that was the idler gear in the gearbox was plastic. It of course melted on some of the teeth on the bottom, rendering it useless as a gear. I ordered a new KTM gearbox from the local brass guy, installed it, and carried on my way like nothing had happened. 

Tender with a new pilot.
I installed a precision scale pilot on the rear not too long later, I think the tender looks much cooler with it installed. I made sure I could still get a slightly modified kadee #5 box in there after the pilot went on, I actually operate my engines, they don't sit on display shelves. 

Now we're going to get the long part without many photos, 1656 and I had a very rough year following. 

The tender pilot got installed in September of 2015 just in time for the local TECO show. I bought 1656 to the show, ready to show off the tender that everyone oogled over where ever it went. I had tested the engine at both the club and at home, it's performance could have been put as mediocre but it ran OK. During TECO 2015 I proceeded to be very embarrassed when 1656 hobbled down the track for a very short distance before shorting out on something. A quick touch up of clear nail polish to cover the spot where the engine touched the tender took care of the shorting issue. However after another lap it spun the driveshaft inside and was dead in the water again. It did not see track time during the show after this. 

I dabbled with 1656 trying to work out its problems for the next few months until December of 2015. That was a big month for model railroading in the area, we had several open houses at the pikemasters and the TCA show in Denver was also that month. I didn't run 1656 during the first pikemasters show, but I did take it to TCA expecting to atleast run it a little bit. However the engine was un-cooperative and spent the show on the sideline with a small bind in the drive. 

A few weeks later at the Pikemasters open house I tried to run 1656 again, without much luck. More binds in the drive interfering with operation. It seemed as I would chase the binds through the drive, more would show up on the other side (front to back) of the engine. This continued as a "trend" for the engine until the March 2016 TCA show when it once again, was un-serviceable due to a bind. Having gotten frustrated with the engine, it went on the shelf and sat there for several months.

During these few months we were meeting at a local member's house rather than the club due to the renovations they were doing at the city auditorium, I bought 1656 to his layout on a night in June. We tried to to run it, to much the same problems it always had, a bind that would make the shaft slip off the motor. Once again frustrated I was about to pack it up and was even contemplating on selling the engine. When I was about to pick it up, I noticed something odd about how the engine was sitting. the center driver didn't touch the rail, but in fact was being held in the air. Something I had never noticed before. 

Back at the shops, I examined the engine and realized the center driver was locked in an upright position, with the rods all sloping down to the end drivers. The bottom plate that retained the drivers was warped, and since the screws aren't at the ends, It forced the center driver hard up, and let the end drivers flop around to the point where their springs were all the way out. I pulled off the plate, and straightened it out on a flat table with a hammer. After reinstalling the plate, with the gearbox out, I pushed the engine, and it rolled down the table like glass. 

A year into the frustration of this engine, and the entire problem lay with a warped plate on the bottom of the engine. A few more tweaks to "undo" the modifications I had made to prevent the binds with the drooping drivers and it rolled even better. I re-installed the gearbox, threw the canon motor on it, and let it roll on the stand, it worked GREAT. 

I decided at that time to replace the burnt DZ125 and the canon DN22. Replacing those were a different canon motor out of a Stewart model and a ESU Lokpilot decoder. I also installed both an LED headlight and backup light. The firebox also got a yellow LED to provide a flickering effect from the bottom. I also received some actual graphite paint used in the restoration of C&S 60 and painted my smokebox with it. It dries with a textured look and looks great in person. 

Engineers side closeup.
During a later run at the Denver County Fair in August of 2016, 1656 ran at the show like a champ. After a year of bashing my head against the wall, it finally ran like I wanted it to. 

Now 1656 isn't perfect by any means, all the handling of the engine while trying to fix binds has resulted in a bunch of the paint flaking off in places, and the massive plug for the tender lights has got to go. During all this the handbrake wheel for the tender has come off, and my numbers on the numberboards have disappeared. However, I will take all these things for an engine that runs as good as it does now. 

Firemans side of 1656

Firemans side different angle, note giant TCS plug

Tender in a finished view. 

Engineers side. 
Engineers side of 1656. 

Tender decals and paint could use a touchup.  

So there we have it, a story about a year long of trial and error, and of many headaches and cursing. However in the end, I have a model I can really be proud of. Some detail work and some touch ups and it will look as good as it finally runs.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The $20 Switcher. Bachmann FTA overhaul (Part I)

The $20 FT
Prototype Photo of a Switcher FT.

So if you read that title, what you're probably expecting to see is nothing all that special. While I can say that the bachmann model is definitely not the ideal FT model to begin with. That shared wheelbase and chassis from the F7 series isn't exactly prototypical. I had one of these in high school in warbonnet, or at least the horrible rendition of warbonnet Bachmann had the gall to say looked "Ok". It ended up in the scrap pile a LONG time ago, replaced by much more prototypical models as my skills and efforts to be prototypical improved. 

Fast forward to the TCA show in Denver, March of 2016. I was in the middle of college at the time, not too much money going around, I told myself I wasn't going to buy anything while I was at the show. Primarily I was going to spend my time running trains on the Colorado Rail Link layout. Well, there's been a trend when I bring stuff to run at TCA, people become interested in the cars I've already done work to and make offers for stuff I bought. Long story short, I ended up selling some things I hadn't intended to sell. This left me with some cash to walk around the show with. Now this particular show right across from the layout was a vendor who had what I would call a junk stand. From a distance it looks like a hodgepodge of anything model related that could be considered a train. Many scales, mostly older, cheaper things. Normally I give this booth a walk through, because occasionally you can find good items mixed in, or kitbashing fodder. 

Remember the FT with the god awful paint job I mentioned above? Well, as I walked through the dealer's display, there was an FT that caught my eye. At first glance, the paint made it look like it should be a Stewart or an Intermountain piece, but on closer inspection, it's a bachmann model. Price tag stuck to it says $15. Now, I've wanted an FT for some time, and at that point in history before I started working as an engineer, Money was not something I had a lot of. So $15 for an FT? Why not, paint was good, bachmann certainly had stepped up the game here. I had bachmann F unit chassis before that were good drives, paired to shells with poor quality. It ran good on the little test track, so I bought it, took it back over to rail link, and ran it. At the time, I thought about getting a B unit to go with it, maybe another A..... but it would have to wait until I could afford to do so. 

Upon returning home, I looked through my library of research material I have for the Santa Fe. One image that came back up was for an FT that had been equipped with footboards on the front. Upon closer inspection it had a headlight on the rear as well. I was intrigued and set about to find out more about this, eventually finding photos of 405 in Texas switching with fore and aft pilot boards and a backup light. At this point, I knew what I was going to do with my FT. 

Switcher FT, Mark I

So I knocked together the first iteration of the FT in one night over Spring Break. it was a rather crude invention, at the time I didn't have decals to number it yet, so two square holes in the carbody led straight over to the frame on the inside, I planned to just decal the frame. In the back of the unit glued to the carbody on top was a piece of styrene tube with an SMD LED stuck in it for the backup light. In the front of the unit, two pieces of stripwood were glued to the pilot to make the front running boards, there were no brackets. In the rear, some styrene had been cobbled together to make the running boards for the back of the unit. A spare partially burnt DZ125 decoder was installed in the unit as well. It certainly wasn't the prettiest thing to ever grace the club layout, however it was a decent "stand in" given the current budget during College. I ran the unit quite a bit, the running boards had a tendency to just fall off and the backup light was wayyyy too small to be prototypical. One of the last things this version got was I found a spare Details West F unit door in the parts bin from an older project, so I hacked up the end of the bachmann unit and the Mark 1.5 veresion of the FT came into play, it looked much better than the stock end of the unit when switching.

Switcher FT, Mark II

Not too much later, it was May of 2016, college was letting out for the Summer, and I was looking for a job. I ended up getting hired as an engineer on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, and compared to my original minimum wage fast food and grocery store jobs of yore, I had money to put towards modeling. However during the tourist season, this meant no time to work on models. During the summer I purchased an ABBA of stewart FT's, getting the authentic lashup I wanted. However, so much as it tempted me to find a single Stewart or Intermountain A unit to replace the bachmann, my sentimentality made me end up keeping it.

I purchased Microscale decals to number the stewart FT's and also went ahead and cut out the hole in the bachmann shell to match the side numberboards on the stewarts. The bachmann FT got numbered as well, gaining the number 405. I also fabricated new running boards out of styrene and stripwood for the front, giving a more proto look, and also re-enforcing the running boards so they wouldn't fall off anymore. I also purchased a Cal-Scale backup light that was appropriate for the real ones the FT switchers had. It was installed in place of the styrene tube.  The rear running boards were re-designed, and again installed.  This worked out pretty well during the summer, but I wasn't 100% happy with it. 

Switcher FT, Mark III (current)

So here we are, its October of 2016. What else have I done to the unit? Well, the Mark III upgrade occurred in August of 2016, mostly as a tidy up of previous work. The rear running board came off for yet another re-design, it kept falling off. I created new styrene inserts for the numberboards on the sides and moved the numbers closer to the side of the carbody. The bachmann shell was so thick, that with the old method of the numbers being on the frame, you couldn't see the numbers unless you looked staight on from the side. Eventually this will also get a frame around it to match the stewarts. I also did some drivetrain improvements, the contacts in the trucks were replaced with new wire ones, and they were hardwired to the decoder, no longer does the unit use it's frame to conduct power. This about brings us to the current point of the project.

Fireman's Side long shot.
Looking down the firemans Side of the FT. You can see my running boards on the front and the numberboard on the nose that was fabricated from styrene. 

Rear of the FT 
Looking at the rear of the FT, showing off the details west door and cal scale headlight. Minus my running board thats out service. 

Engineers side, missing some decals I see...

The drive next to the shell. 

A shot of the shell sitting next to the frame, you can see the old frame attached decals on the frame, and the new styrene ones on the shell. This rats nest is going to be cleared out when the lokpilot goes in.

So there we have it, if you count actual money spent on the unit at this point, we're sitting at around $20. Most parts came out of the scrap bin or from older project. Still to do is to order some dynamic brake blower boxes from Stewart, install the rear running boards again, and a crew to add. 

Stay tuned for part 2 when the above gets finished and then we take it out for another test drive.


HCB Brass 4-6-2 Pacific 3160 Class (3400 Class)

Our first article for the blog here is going to be about a recent purchase I made to which I could find very limited information about. This article is to help potential buyers for other HCB products figure out some more about them.

From what I've been able to determine from google searches online, HCB was a Japanese company that produced models imported to the US by AHM. Some boxes I've seen pictures of say AHM along with HCB, however mine came without a box, so your mileage may vary here. 

This particular model is supposed to be of an ATSF "3160 class" according to the box. However 3160 was a class of 2-8-2 Mikado, not a pacific.  Looking through Worley's "Iron Horses of the Santa Fe Trail" I found a match in the 3400 class Pacifics, so from this point forward I'll refer to it as a 3400 Class Pacific. 

Worley's book indicates there were a total of 50 units in the 3400 class, 3400-3449 built between 1919 and 1924. There were a combination of coal fired and oil fired units in service and all seem to have lasted into the early 1950's. Some received the larger square tenders and boxpok drivers to improve distance and high speed operation. Photographs of the engines seem to indicate they were used rather system wide instead of being held in certain operational districts. There are photos of the engines being equipped with flip over stack extenders and the curved folding style stack extenders at different times. 

As for the model, it is a little bit different so far as brass goes. The model is quite heavy and has a decent amount of tractive effort, however this is all because of its metal underframe. There is no boiler weight, and although the model is "brass" it does seem to be a different brass than I've ever seen anywhere else. It's much lighter and has a different feel that everything else I have. Paint finish is immaculate on mine, and this appears to extend to the other HCB pacific's I've seen on ebay. 

Long shot of the firemans side.
So, there we have a view of the HCB 4-6-2 Pacific on the fireman's side. Finish looks good, this one has a slight bend in the cab roof, but that will get masked with paint and weathering.
I will note at this time that the model came with the coal load in the tender. Viewing other HCB auctions seems to indicate this the norm for these models to come with.

Head on shot of the Pacific, Elasco Feedwater heater tank is under the smokebox.

Engineer's side of the engine. 

Power Chassis
View of the power chassis and frame. HCB used a different kind of material to do the base frame (the black metal). This is where the bulk of the model's weight comes from, as there is no boiler weight. The drivetrain is slightly different from most engines out there, I've been told it's similar to MDC's system for driving the wheels. The motor doesn't pick up power from the drawbar like most brass either, there's a wire that goes to the tender, there is no spot above the drawbar connection for a wire to be soldered to on this model. 

View of the interesting drivetrain
A view dead on the drivetrain, a worm gear on the motor shaft powers an idler gear and the main gear on the axle. This setup is a little odd for a brass manufacturer. The drive noise exists but is tolerable, and it runs very smooth. I have yet to really be able to see how it does on a layout but on the test track it seems to have a decent amount of pull. The motor torque on this particular open frame isn't anything to write home about, that will be tested more thoroughly when I get it to the club. Like most open frames, you can achieve slot car like acceleration and top speeds. 

Tender shot.
The tender has some very pronounced rivets on it, and it weighs about as much as the engine. While the tender is painted brass, it appears looking at the bottom of the tender that the frame itself is a silver metallic type metal where the finish is scratched off. 

In all a decent brass model, and usually can be had cheaper than most equivalent brass. If you have any more information on HCB models, please send me a message.