Brass Steam projects staring me in the face

I have previously written about my two brass steam locomotives for Liberty Village, a Canadian National O-18a and Canadian Pacific U-3e. Both are small 0-6-0’s that worked industrial areas and yards in Toronto in the 1950’s. While not projects that need to happen soon, both need a lot of work to be re-motored, re-wired for DCC operation, and painted/repainted before they are ready to work on the Layout. I don’t need them anytime soon, but they sit in the display cabinet above my layout/desk where I now work from home and taunt me daily. I honestly don’t know that I have the skill or desire to do the work myself, fortunately, I have friends who do have the skills to make these great runners. I suspect, sometime sooner than later I will be asking one or more of them to take on these projects, as even if I don’t run them much on the layout, I want the option eventually to do so when the layout reaches a stage where inviting friends over for an operating session happens.

Decalling an S-2 to give it an identity

A couple of weeks ago I posted an omnibus update that had some pictures of my second Atlas Alco S-2 for the Canadian Pacific Railway fleet on my layout. CPR S-2’s were pretty much ubiquitous in Toronto from their introduction in the 1940’s through the decline in local freight service in the 1980’s. As such, having two made sense for my layout, but I wanted them in two different paint schemes, the short lived early 1950’s “smiley face” maroon that I have with 7020, and the 1955 on “Block” lettering scheme in the more familiar CPR Maroon/Tuscan and Grey (I do not get as pedantic as some on what CPR’s red colour was actually called!).
A pair of CPR S-2’s in Toronto in 1955. These are the two schemes mine will reflect. I am modelling 7043 in the block, and my “smiley face” is 7020 (though mine doesn’t have eyes. Even in the 1950’s people anthropomorphize trains! Picture from Mountain Railway CPR Roster, originally via Bill Sanderson Collection

After I started decalling my 7043, I noticed I had made a painting error. I continued the grey band around the back of the cab. This was wrong, the back of the cabs were all maroon. So I had to carefully mask and re-spray the back of the cab so it was the proper colour all the way around. With this done, applying the decals was pretty much standard stuff.

In the booth and after correcting the back wall of the cab

This paint scheme has another challenge for me that I wouldn’t be sure I had gotten right until I started Decalling. There is a yellow stripe separating the maroon and grey. When I masked to paint, I had the decals to use as guides, but until the masking was off, and the decals were going on, I wasn’t 100% sure I had gotten the curves and angles right. It turns out, I was pretty much close enough that its not noticeable where there are issues. Most of the issues are on the radiator grills at the bottom, and can be hidden by weathering. You can just see it in the pictures, and its less noticeable in person.

Putting on the stripes separating the primary colours.

For those keeping track, this project has been a little bit electrically cursed, and it has been daunting me in terms of actually getting to making a second attempt at installing the DCC. Fortunately, thanks to a friend who runs a business producing resin kits and building models for others, I am going to send out the locomotive for the DCC installation to someone more competent than I. I want to continue building my skills, but at the moment, the right option is to send it out to someone who can get the job done more reliably than I can. Before I send it down, I am going to finish the body work in terms of getting the decals on, clear coating them, adding some light weathering and then getting the clear glass and such back in, so that when I send it down and the DCC is done, the body can go on and it hopefully doesn’t have to come apart again for a while.

7043 decalled and ready for clear coat and weathering.

I am quite pleased with how it looks. I just haven’t had the motivation to get the paint booth out and put on flat coat and start some weathering. I will hopefully find that motivation this week, but as it seems spring and nice weather is finally sprung here, sitting outside enjoying the warmth and going for bike rides after work has become more appealing than staying inside working on trains!

An April Sunday Night Omnibus Update

I realized I haven’t written about anything I’ve done or been working on for over two weeks, and while that’s not really all that long, its been a weird, though productive couple of weeks, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like that to me. So with that in mind, here is a kind of “month end” omnibus edition post on most everything I’ve been working on (there is one thing with a post upcoming I’ve spent a lot of time on that is not for this post), as I’m not feeling motivated to write a lot of words on one thing, but some pictures and a few words on a bunch of things feels good and again drives home that sometimes, you are making progress even when you don’t always see it! A lot of my writing is not just to share the joy model making gives me, or to share techniques, but to keep me motivated by looking at what I am doing and seeing concrete progress by putting it in words and pictures.

First up, a project that came so close to being “finished” in March, but dragged into April for decals and dull-coating. A pair of Canadian Pacific 10′-6″ interior height NSC AAR box cars. Similar to the two CNR ones I finished other than weathering in January, these are Intermountain undecorated kits built with National Scale Car mini-kits to get the correct doors and ends for Canadian built cars. These are all done other than weathering and any adjustments to make them good runners on the layout. Of course, no sooner do I finish two kits than two more from Yarmouth Model Works arrive to go in the queue. I see a pattern here!!

A pair of CPR Box Cars in final decaling and then dullcoated and on the layout.

Next up, another quick project that has happened on a whim in April! Way back in 2004, I took my first vacation from work, I’d been working for about a year and half after finishing university, and took two weeks to go to England and just do railway stuff. On that trip, I bought a 1/4 scale replica nameplate at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway of LNER/BR B17 61648 Arsenal. This class of locomotive was known as “Footballers” because they were named after English football teams. Early in April, I saw a crazy sale on a Hornby B17, but with the wrong name/number. That is a situation easily fixed. On a Sunday I ordered a locomotive and then replacement etched nameplates and number decals from Fox Transfers, and a couple of weeks later they both arrived across the ocean. A couple of hours of work with isopropyl alcohol and a toothpick to remove the wrong numbers, prying off the factory nameplates, and some carefully gluing, and a quick project I’ve wanted for years, a model of Arsenal to go with my nameplate was done. Didn’t advance the layout one iota (though as you can see, the layout doesn’t do too badly for photographing British Models!)

Voila, from 61665 “Leicester City” to 61648 “Arsenal” in a couple of hours. The replica nameplate can be seen in the background.

Another non-layout project is what started as a”Blank Canvas“, aka an Ikea shelf! I have been busy on this too, working on other scenery skills I don’t necessarily need for the layout, but which are good and where I felt I needed something different to work on to break up working on the layout scenery which is very much samey across the layout. Since I last posted, I have been working on learning to use a Hot Wire Foam Cutter to cut and trim the foam base for the terrain on either side of the tracks, along with laying and painting the track, and building the signals. I have gotten it to the point where the track and roadbed is down, the foam is carved to shape and glued in, and the signals are built and almost finished being painted and assembled. The Hot Wire Cutter probably deserves a post of its own, and I may take some pictures of me cutting a mock-up pieces to do that. Its definitely one of those things I’ve seen people write about over the years, and while I haven’t built much scenery, the difference between my rough carving the block of foam and the mess that made vs. using the Hot Wire is immense. Now I get it!

Going from a 3″ thick chunk of foam to formed terrain for along the tracks and to support the wooden bridge (currently in fancy cardboard mockup form). The GO Bi-Levels are the closest I have to AAR Plate C modern freight cars in size, so not quite tall enough, but they are a great help for making sure I have clearance. As always, any available heavy items including a “Heritage” Don Valley Brickworks brick are used to weight down track when its glued!

My layout has no signalling, but the diorama kind of needs them to make the scene I am building an homage to. Now, having built two signals that don’t even change aspect (I’ve built them with single colour aspects showing for photography), re-affirms that I don’t have the patience or wiring skills to do more than that! I ordered the kits from a company called Showcase Miniatures, and they are awesome, even if I’m no good at wiring. If you are looking for signals, I can highly recommend their kits based on my experiences thus far. What they have also illuminated, is how lucky we were pre-pandemic to just pop out to the hobby shop. I am constantly finding things I don’t have, that will then take weeks to get potentially, like the discovery that I don’t in fact have a sheet of black lettering for the signal ID boards, so I’m kinda ground to a halt, though luckily one of my local suppliers TMR Distributing had them and some other bits and pieces I need for various projects, so I may have what I need this week if the post office cooperates at all (not that I have much faith in Canada Post).

Images of signal building. Multiple aspects of this probably deserve their own post, and who knows, maybe I will get motivated to do that! Simple things, like tiny balls of blue sticky tack in the light openings while painting to protect the LED’s. Sometimes the simpliest things get the best results.

Back in December, I was briefly super excited by my progress in wiring a decoder and programming it into a second Alco S-2 for the CPR side of my loco fleet, then, I blew up the decoder with a wiring short. I managed to not throw the loco, and this weekend made some progress on painting and decalling. This locomotive is going to be in CP’s early maroon and grey “Block” lettering scheme. I have been offered by a friend to do the 2nd go round of the DCC install for me, and I am going to send the locomotive to them in a few weeks once the shell is finished, so that they can do the installation, and when it comes back to me, hopefully I won’t have to take the shell off anytime soon, and won’t risk shorting it out again!

Masking and painting the maroon parts of a CPR Also S-2 switcher. Needs a quick shot of clear coat for the decals, then I can apply lettering.

Just to prove that not everything I’ve been doing is not advancing the layout scenery itself, the last few things have been small, but important painting and learning on the buildings.

Continuing work on painting buildings. Masked and painted windows on Brunswick Balke, working on some “Natural” red sandstone details on 60 Atlantic, and testing Roberts Brick Mortar on the Brunswick power house. The super salmon pink colour on 60 Atlantic will be, toned down! The brick mortar looks better in pictures than I think it does in person. I haven’t quite got the application technique down yet for it to be subtle. Hopefully when I apply some pan pastel weathering it tones it down to the sweet spot in person and in pictures!

So, as its been said before, probably even by me, a little bit of time every day turns into big progress. I have lots of things on the go, things I am working on, things I could be working on, things I think about working on, things I should be working on instead of coming up with new distractions, but all put together, some of that scatterbrained projects all over the place is a part of my hobby as much as making progress is. I don’t know about others, but for me, hitting a point of “oh hey, that worked and looks really good” just seems to sneak up on me from periods of not feeling like I am actually doing anything.

Blowing up a decoder doesn’t stop a project moving forward

Back in December I wrote about the start, and abrupt end of a project as I detonated a DCC Decoder part way (well, at the final stretch) of an installation here. This could have been the end of the project, but, It’s not, as I’m not letting myself making a mistake defeat me. There are still lots of other things on this locomotive I can do, like strip off the Canadian Pacific “script” paint scheme so I can backdate it to “block” lettering, and correct a major error I didn’t notice when I bought my project locomotive. The Alco S-2 came with two types of radiator shutters, vertical and horizontal. The CPR bought almost all vertical shutters, and all the ones assigned to Toronto were vertical. The model I bought, CPR 7013 has horizontal shutters in the body. Sigh, I had a choice of two road numbers, and I chose the wrong one, that to Atlas’ credit, they got the shutters right!

Alco S-2 Radiator shutters, my CPR 7020 with vertical, the 7013 shell with horizontal, and a donor shell with vertical ones.

So, what to do. what to do indeed? There is of course, only one answer. Replace the shutters!!! To do this, I went online and found an undecorated Atlas S-2 body shell surprisingly cheap on Ebay, and bought it. Using the replacement shell, I cut out one of the shutters, and used it as a master to cast a replacement from. I could have tried to use the S-2 I have and made a press mould or something from it, but that felt way to much like trying to mess up a second locomotive that was just fine thank you very much!

Making replacement S-2 radiator shutters. I kept the frame, though the plan is to sand these down and cut openings so I can use the frame on the keeper locomotive to help hide the join between the casting and the plastic body.

The casting of the new shutters was pretty straightforward once I had the donor body to cut them out from. I’ve cast a few, just so I have some spares for the filing and fitting phases, resin is relatively cheap after all.

The next phase of work I can do, is I can strip the paint and paint the body shell so it is ready as a Toronto numbered locomotive when I eventually get around to replacing the fried electronics and making it work again. I also need to get the old paint off so I can see what I am doing cutting the openings for the shutters and for fitting.gluing in the replacements.

Atlas paint strips “easily” in a 99% Isopropyl Alcohol bath. Shown after the first bath, then after the 2nd.

My paint stripping technique, at least on Atlas locomotives is relatively simple, a 99% Isopropyl Alcohol bath. The shell doesn’t even need to be fully submerged, I find getting alcohol on it in a closed tub for half an hour softens the paint, and it will come off when rubbed gently with a toothbrush. I find the first pass gets off most of the paint, and a second go around with fresh alcohol (it eventually collects the paint and stops working) finishes the job. This is a messy job though, the toothbrush can flick chunks of paint everywhere, trust me, I’ve made that mistake! Move the brush in one direction into your tub, make sure you lift so it doesn’t pull and flick back towards you, and cover where you are working with a shield, even just a piece of paper towel will do. At my old apartment, I coated large parts of my workbench in painty crud once, it took ages to clean up, don’t do that to yourself! Areas that have pad printing on top of paint, like stripes and numbers take more passes to get the paint off. With the paint stripped, I can move on to cutting out the wrong shutters, and installing the right ones!

To install the new shutters, first up was to carefully drill holes in the four corners of the existing ones, and cut away between the holes. The holes are drilled inside the frames, so when I was finished cutting away, the frames would be there, and the finish work could be done by sanding. Similarly, once the holes are cut in the body, the cast resin shutters will be sanded and filed to fit before being glued into place. Once they are in and glued, its onto primer and paint. In all likelihood, the body will be ready long before I have sorted out the wiring, but that is hardly the end of the world.

One S-2 Body shell missing its radiator shutters, ready for the replacement resin castings to go in with some more filing and tidying up of the openings.

Thing’s that go “POP” on the Workbench…

Sigh, so today was one of those days. I went from feeling ecstatic that something I was doing that I haven’t done before was working, to thinking “Trains are Stupid” and wanting to see how far an HO Scale locomotive can fly in the time it takes you to hear “POP!!”. I decided that I wanted a second Alco S-2 for my Canadian Pacific Railway operating fleet. These were the main Toronto diesel switchers in the 1950’s, so having two different ones along with eventually a steam locomotive would be appropriate. I bought a second Atlas S-2 and decoder supplies in the Credit Valley Boxing Day sale, and curbside picked up the order while out to go to the dentist yesterday morning. I then spent all afternoon into the evening last night starting the decoder installation process. I came back to it this morning to finish wiring the speakers, and after some messing around with software updates, I had a locomotive that responded properly on the test track, moved back and forth, and as you can hear in the video, had sounds.

30 Seconds of glory on the test track for my decoder installation.

Then, with me satisfied everything was working, I reassembled the body onto the locomotive, this, is where it all went sadly wrong. Something, somewhere in the wiring was shifted in this process, or came into contact. I still haven’t figured out where, largely because after I turned on power to test after putting the body on and heard the loud “POP”, most of what I had to say isn’t printable on a civilized internet, and I spent the next chunk of my day trying to calm down and not throw things around or smash things.

It is, at the end of the day, not fatal to the locomotive by any means, the decoder itself is likely shot. I will talk with ESU’s rep in the states and see what they suggest if it is even worth sending to them to look at, I expect, it will really come down to when someone local has the right decoder in stock again or placing an order for another new one, which frankly, having just blown up some cash, spending more is not in the cards for a bit, so back to other layout projects. For tonight, I have cleaned my workbench, worked on blog posts, and ran a train on the layout to remind myself that my hobby is fun, and I do enjoy it, just some days more than others!

Another Brass Locomotive arrives in Liberty Village

Almost two years ago, I bought my first Brass Locomotive, a 1976 vintage CNR O-18a 0-6-0, a small switching locomotive that would have been seen in Liberty Village before diesels took over. Brass locomotives are made in small runs in Korea and Japan, and for many years were the only way to get really accurate models of a lot of different types of equipment. They are however, notoriously bad runners, and require work to be useful on a modern Digital Command Control operated layout, but this is fine, that work is both a learning opportunity for me, and a chance to offer friends who are more skilled than me a chance to make some money to do the work for me! That is a bridge for another day.

Apparently the CBSA didn’t buy he declaration from and felt the need to open my package and confirm it was in fact a model train.

So what have I bought for my layout? I hadn’t planned on buying any more brass, but I came across a locomotive that was too perfect and too needed to pass up, a Canadian Pacific Railway U3e 0-6-0 steam switcher, imported by Van Hobbies and made by Samhongsa in Korea in 1975 for an outstanding price, and it is painted. That may or may not come to matter whenever it gets taken apart for a new motor/wiring and DCC&sound installs, but for now, it at least looks good in photographs!

Opening up my “new” CPR U-3e Switcher

After patiently waiting over three weeks from when the order shipped until it arrived at the post office for me to pay duty and collect it. Once I got it, as you can see, apparently the Canadian Border Services Agency didn’t believe that a large light box could contain a model train, they opened it up to take a closer look. Based on the taping at least though, they don’t appear to have gone into the locomotive, I guess once they got it opened the x-ray was clearer without the packing inside the big box to convince them the only thing I was getting was a toy train and not contraband!

Already looking at home in Liberty Village, even though I can’t run it on the layout as it doesn’t have DCC.

This is now my second U3e, Thanks to the generosity of a friend I have a Walthers Proto2000 USRA Standard 0-6-0 locomotive, and I found the right brass CPR tender at a flea market to kitbash it into a passable U3e. The first will need some work, and I see some dimensional differences more clearly now, but the Walthers conversion will still be a fun project some day to do the work of modifying it, but now it will mean that hopefully, I will end up with a pair of U3e’s that can run on the layout.

Comparing the Brass U3e with the Proto2000 USRA 0-6-0, and the CPR u3e with the CNR O-18-a.

With the comparisons and looking at it done, it was time to see if it actually runs at all. As I noted, brass locomotives are notoriously bad runners, and this one is no exception, it does run, but its power pickups appear to be terrible, as you can see from the video below, it needs some convincing to stay on the rails and draw power. There is nothing there that can’t be resolved, but clearly this will be a complete new motor/driveline/gearbox job as part of the conversion to allow DCC and sound. Not a big deal, just more work!

Brass CPR U3e testing on the stationary rollers.