CN 3737 – Cab back and railings

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(Click on the image to filter this blog for all posts about this project)

Last Friday, Andy Malette and I held another joint work session on our CNR 2-8-2 projects. This time, work continued on the cab.

The first order of business was to finish the cab back. In a previous session, we’d squared off the rear of the roof – something the CNR did to make it easier to hang curtains to protect the crew in cold weather. This time, we added a back wall to the cab roof:

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The wall is simply a piece of brass sheet, cut to match the curve of the roof and with two windows added according to prototype photos. Some of these cabs had the back wall flush, while others – like CNR 3737 – had a lip. Two small lengths brass were added under the side roof extensions, next to the back wall, and then trimmed and filed to length to complete the major modifications. This work required one to get in and out quickly with the resistance soldering probe, so as to not unsolder the roof extensions. I was really pleased that I was able to do this with no rework required.

As the above photo shows, we also added stanchions and railings to the cab roof. This was a relatively simple operation: mark and drill the holes, tin the stanchions, string them on a wire to keep them all properly aligned, then add lots of flux and hit them with the heat.

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We left the wires long to the rear of the stanchions, then trimmed them after soldering. At the front, the handrail loops 180 degrees then bends parallel to the front cab wall, so we did that too:

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The cab still needs an armrest under each window, but we’ll add that after painting. I think it’s pretty much done, and can be set aside while we start on the next phase. I’m not sure what that is, but I’ll find out at our next work session. I’m looking forward to it!

If you ever get a chance to learn from someone who knows their way around a brass engine… do it! (Thanks for teaching me, Andy…)

LokSound Love for 1532

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(Replacing the decoder in the 10-wheelers looks challenging, but it’s really just a case of mapping the wires and doing things one wire at a time)

Over the past week, I’ve done a fair bit to advance my hobby goals.

I’ve resumed working on trees for Port Rowan, and I’m pleased with the progress: I applied my bark mixture to nine more armatures this morning.

I had another work session at Andy Malette‘s place, as he and I convert USRA Light Mikados into CNR S-3-a 2-8-2s. (More on that in this post.)

And I finished converting the core fleet of steam locomotives to LokSound Full Throttle Steam, with the installation of a LokSound Select into the boiler of CNR 1532 this morning. With that, I’ve finished the two moguls and two 10-wheelers that I use in regular operating sessions. I’m loving the new sounds and the motor control. This is what I was looking for.

I have a couple other steam locomotives to convert, but I can do them as time allows.

All in all, a fine week!

Through the Lynn Valley


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Another day, another video of one of my CNR moguls equipped with Full Throttle Steam – the new sound packages soon to be released by ESU for their Loksound Select and Loksound V4.0 decoders.

I’ve spent a little more time running the locomotive and I’m getting much more comfortable using the Heavy Load and Coast features to bring the sound to life.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, these are beta sound files. The production versions should be released soon. Watch the ESU/Loksound USA website for details.

Meantime, I’m getting ready to replace decoders in more locomotives. It’s a great time to be modelling steam!

CNR 86 – Full Throttle – 2nd Run

I’ve made some more adjustments to the Loksound decoder in CNR mogul 86 and CNR 10-wheeler 1560, which are loaded with Full Throttle Steam packages from ESU. And therefore, I’ve made a follow-up to yesterday’s video… this time focussing on 86 in action on my layout…

In this video, I’ve highlighted a number of sounds generated by the decoder. Some are automatic, some are user-controlled, some are both. The video features braking noises, the air compressor, bell, whistle, injectors and dynamo.

In the first scene, the locomotive drifts into St. Williams. In the next, it works hard to start the train out of St. Williams (with Full Throttle’s “Heavy Load” function engaged). Finally, the engineer drifts over a bridge in the Lynn Valley (with Full Throttle’s “Coast” function engaged), before opening the throttle to build speed for the run into Port Rowan.


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

I still have some minor tweaking to do – notably, to adjust volume levels – but I’d say I’m 98% of the way there. Colour me impressed!

Working hard, and drifting

I now have LokSound decoders installed in two of my steam locomotives – CNR mogul 86 and 10-wheeler 1560 – and I’ve loaded them with pre-release versions of the soon to be released Full Throttle Steam sounds and features, thanks to Matt Herman at ESU North America.

I’m still tweaking the sound and motor controls, but I’m 90% of the way there and wanted to share a quick video to illustrate one of the features I really like about this new line.

The Full Throttle Steam series will include a function similar to “Drive Hold”, which is a key feature in ESU’s Full Throttle Diesel sounds. Drive Hold is mapped to a function button and is turned on and off just like activating a bell sound. When it’s engaged, the feature locks the locomotive’s motor at its current speed. Turning the throttle knob will not adjust the speed of the train. But it still adjusts the sound of the locomotive.

Here are two ways it can be used:

If one is pulling away from a station, one can open the throttle to start the locomotive, then lock the motor once a desired (still slow) speed is reached… then continue to increase the throttle to make the locomotive sound as if it’s working harder to get the train underway. The exhaust will be sharp and strong, as if the hogger has put the Johnson Bar right into the corner.

Once one is at track speed, the motor can be locked and then the throttle can be turned down to represent pulling the Johnson Bar back closer to neutral. The exhaust note will be softer and quieter. At its extreme – turning the throttle knob all the way to speed step zero – the exhaust sound will disappear entirely, as if the hogger had shut the throttle. The locomotive will now drift indefinitely, simulating a prototype that’s being carried along by the train’s mass and momentum.

I’ve shot a very brief video that illustrates both of these features. First, I show CNR 86 starting from a station stop. At St. Williams. Next, I show CNR 1560 switching from throttle to drift as it passes the station.


(You may also watch this video directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

It does take a little bit of practice to do this smoothly – but 20 minutes of playing with this feature should fix that. It should be noted that one does not have to use this feature: One can control the locomotive in the conventional way and still get a sense of working hard and drifting by writing high momentum values into CV3 and CV4. But using the motor speed-lock feature is a much more powerful way to accurately replicate the sound of steam.

In fact, the best solution is a combination of these two approaches. I notice the first locomotive (CNR 86) speeds up abruptly as it’s leaving the scene. Increasing the value in CV3 (acceleration momentum) should take care of that, because it will smooth the transition between the locked motor speed and the throttle setting once I release the motor. I may also increase the value in CV4 (deceleration) to help smooth the transition when slowing down. For me, that’s part of the fun of experimenting with DCC.

A special thank-you to Matt at ESU, who prepared these pre-release files for me as part of our Full Throttle Steam recording session at TrainMasters TV last Friday. Matt tells me he will release of the first Full Throttle Steam decoder files very soon, and I’ll be sure to update the blog when he does.

It’s a great time to be modelling the steam era!

Preliminary peek at ESU’s “Full Throttle Steam” decoders

On Friday, I hosted ESU North America’s Matt Herman at the TrainMasters TV studios. TMTV brass hat Barry Silverthorn and second camera operator Christian Cantarutti shot a series of segments for DCC Decoded during which Matt and I explored the soon-to-be-released “Full Throttle Steam” sound and motor control files for LokSound decoders. Noted CP Rail modeller Bob Fallowfield – a fan of ESU’s “Full Throttle Diesel” line and a familiar face behind the ESU booth at train shows across southern Ontario – joined us for the day, and a grand time was had by all.

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(Matt – standing – demonstrates the “Full Throttle Steam”-equipped decoder in CNR 1532 as Bob either shoots video on his phone, or genuflects to the awesomeness of Canadian National. Or, perhaps, both…)

As part of this shoot, we equipped one of my CNR 10-Wheelers with a LokSound decoder loaded with “Full Throttle Steam”, including an air-powered bell ringer and CNR-style Nathan five-chime whistle. This is a beta-build of the sound file and there are still a few lines of code to tweak, but Matt is going to send me the updated files once he’s finished working on them.

Once I have those (and have had a chance to customize the various CVs to, for example, synchronize the chuff rate to the driver revolutions), I will shoot video of CNR 1532 on the layout and share it here. But for now, I can say that the early results are certainly impressive. I’m looking forward to converting the rest of the fleet.

(In fact, in preparation for this, yesterday I picked up a refurbished Lenovo laptop loaded with Windows 10 at one of my local computer stores. I use Macintosh computers for everything in real life, but ESU’s LokProgrammer programming and sound-loading tool only works with Windows. Since I wanted a dedicated computer for the workshop, it made sense to find something inexpensive rather than add a PC emulator to a Mac laptop. But I digress…)

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(I’m with Matt and Bob as we prepare to shoot a non-steam, HO scale segment at TrainMasters TV. It’s pretty obvious that we’re having a great time…)

I won’t have to wait long for the finished files- and neither will you: Matt anticipates releasing the first series of “Full Throttle Steam” sound files by the end of the month. It’s a great time to be modelling steam.

Stay tuned for updates!

CNR 3737 :: starting on the cab

On Friday, I spent another pleasant afternoon with Andy Malette in his workshop, as we worked on our CNR 2-8-2 projects. Our main task was to start work on the cab.

When the CNR acquired its USRA Mikados from its US subsidiaries (Grand Trunk in New England and Grand Trunk Western in Michigan), it retrofitted many (or all?) of them to accommodate cab curtains to help crews cope with Canadian winters. This required re-shaping the back of the cab roof, above the footplate, to square it off and allow the curtains to hang properly. It also required adding a back wall to the cab, over the tender.

There were several variations on how they did this. One such is shown in the photo of 3715, below – found in CN Lines Volume 6 Number 4. I had this issue on my CN Lines DVD – which I highly recommend.

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As the image suggests, CNR simply scabbed in some metal to square off the bottom edge of the cab roof. On 3737, the added piece drops down slightly after the walkway, but not every locomotive had that feature. Based on prototype photos, the 2-8-2 I’m modelling – CNR 3737 – did not: Its cab roof went straight across, or ever so slightly upwards, with a very small rounded corner at the rear. The rear cab wall was also inset slightly – not flush as shown in the photo of 3715. My prototype did, however, have the two small vents in the cab back and the smoke deflector on the roof.

As the photo above shows, I’ve soldered in angled pieces of brass – then cleaned up the excess solder and filed, sanded and polished them to shape. I’ve also cut a piece of 0.020″ brass for the back wall of the cab, and started laying out the location of the vents.

Other progress of note:

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I’ve stripped the boiler and smokebox front of many of the appliances that are either not needed, need to be relocated, need to be out of the way to work on things, or need to be replaced with CNR-appropriate versions. There are a few holes to fill. I also need to rework the walkways, which have a step-up to clear the air compressor and water pump on this side of the locomotive.

Finally, thanks to our friend Simon Parent, Andy and I have lovely CNR-style spoked wheels for the pilot truck:

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These are the same wheels that Simon used on his CNR 2-10-2s. He sent us some (along with castings for the Elesco feed water heater), and Andy mounted them on axles for us. They sure complete the CNR-ization of the pilot.

I’m pleased with the progress!

CNR 3737 :: Pilot details

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This morning, I put my new workshop chair to good use by adding more details to the pilot of CNR 3737. As the photo shows, the pilot beam now sports a coupler cut lever and flag holders. I also added four safety-tread steps – large ones in the lower corners, and small ones above the boiler tubes on either side of the coupler draft gear housing.

There are a few more details to add, such as piping from the air tank and a train line and signal line. But the pilot is otherwise complete and I can move on to the next part of this project. Andy Malette and I have another work session planned for later this week…

CNR 3737 :: More work on the pilot

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Last Friday, Andy Malette and I held another work session at his place to build CNR 2-8-2s. We continued our work on the pilots.

Like many CNR steam engines, the prototype Mikado I’m modelling had an air tank mounted crosswise on the pilot deck, between the front ladders. On this particular engine, the tank was welded – so with Andy’s guidance, I had my first experience with a metal lathe, and turned my tank out of a solid brass rod. While it’s not apparent in the photo above, the tank ends have a lip around the circumference, which I also modelled. And they’re drilled to accept the piping that will connect this tank to the rest of the air system.

The tank sits on two brackets – casting that Andy produced for his CNR 4-6-2 kit – and is held in place with retainers bent from 0.020″ dia. brass wire. Soldering the tank in place on the brackets required the massive heat of a torch – another first for me.

As we inspected the finished tank against the prototype photos, we realized that the model’s pilot deck was too long for my locomotive. Here’s a photo of the stock Overland model:

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Note the distance between the ladders and the pilot beam – and how far back the headlight is from the pilot. Comparing this to the prototype photo, it’s easy to see that the deck is too long:

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(Note also that the model has deck braces running from the smokebox sides to the deck – another feature absent from CNR 3737.)

At home over the weekend, I unsoldered the pilot beam from the deck, cut back the deck with a cut-off disk in my Flex-Shaft Tool, then re-soldered the beam to the deck. The shorter deck is apparent in the lead photo: The bases of the ladders are much closer to the beam. (I’m temporarily re-installed the smokebox front to better compare the face of the prototype, the as-built model, and the modifications. The smokebox will be significantly reworked at some point.)

In the process of re-attaching the pilot, I also bent up some L-shaped braces to solder underneath the deck and to the back of the pilot assembly: I was worried that over time, the solder joint along the edge of the deck would fail, given that this joint will be subject to shocks when coupling. The extra bracing can’t be seen and provides me with additional peace of mind. I’m enjoying working through these problems and devising solutions.

Once again, I have homework: I will go through various documents and photos, and remove details from the boiler that are either wrong, or in the wrong place. Meantime, Andy tells me that we now have suitable spoked pilot wheels, courtesy our friend Simon Parent, so the front end is going to look even more like a CNR engine after our next work session – scheduled for later this month. I’m already looking forward to it!

Happy New Year, everyone – best wishes for 2017!

A new pilot for CNR 3737

On Friday, I spent about four hours in the shop with Andy Malette – our first work session on the previously-announced CNR S-3-a project. Appropriately enough, we started at the front – removing the pilot that came with the model and replacing it with a CNR-specific pilot:

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(A new pilot, and my first effort at resistance soldering)

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(The factory-installed pilot can be seen in this photo of the “before” model)

We worked from instructions that Andy wrote for kits he created to model CNR 4-6-2s in S scale, and used some of the casting he had produced for those – including the beam, the draft gear (coupler box), and the boiler tube pilot. (You can find a photo of one of Andy’s 4-6-2s – CNR K3 #5575 – on the S Scale Workshop gallery.)

Once the old pilot was removed, I marked and drilled holes on the top of the new pilot beam for flag holders and the supports for the front coupler cut lever. Those will be added later.

Next, I used a resistance soldering rig to attach the boiler tube pilot and the draft gear (coupler box), then attach the completed pilot to the front deck.

We actually ended up with the drat gear mounted too high. In my enthusiasm, I did not refer to the prototype photos. Oops! Big lesson learned. Fortunately, I also learned other lessons – like, “It can be unsoldered and moved!” and “You can do this!” So last night – following consultation with prototype photos – I hauled out my own resistance soldering rig and moved it lower. I then cut and filed a piece of brass strip to go behind the box, to close the hole in the pilot beam. Sharp-eyed readers will see a U-shaped piece of brass behind the box in this photo:

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It may not seem like much – it’s just a pilot, and there’s a lot more locomotive behind it. But I’m really pleased with my progress so far. It was an excellent first class on bashing brass steam locomotives, and I’m looking forward to Lesson #2. That’ll happen in the new year sometime, when we continue to detail the pilot.

Thanks for a great work session, Andy!

I’m tackling this project for several reasons. As mentioned previously, I felt I needed a group project to motivate me – and I needed help figuring out how to proceed with the modifications I’d like to do to the stock model to make it into a CNR locomotive.

Andy is just the person to guide me in that regard. I’ve never worked on a project like this with him, and it very quickly became apparent why he was such a good teacher professionally. He would demonstrate on his 2-8-2, then let me do mine. And he’s incredibly patient. I’ve learned a lot in the first four hours, including that it’s going to take many, many hours to get the locomotives ready for the S Scale Workshop layout – but that’s wonderful, because I’m enjoying the process and the social side of the project.

The hobby isn’t a job. There are no hard deadlines – only self-imposed ones. Sometimes, in our eagerness to get to the point where a project is finished, we forget that the project itself is as enjoyable as the end result. Yes, I’m going to love giving CNR 3737 its debut on the Workshop at an exhibition sometime in the future. But I’m also loving learning about working with brass, and adding to my skill set. Which brings me to another point…

Something I hoped to learn from this project was techniques for using various tools that I’ve collected over the years. I’ve had a resistance soldering rig for several years now – I’d picked it up from the estate of a friend who passed away and I always thought that someday, I would have a use for it. But it’s been slumbering in a box for more than a decade now because I didn’t really know how to use it, and didn’t have a project upon which to learn. Other approaches to soldering always did the trick, so there was no need to put the rig to use.

Now, however, I’m learning how to use the tool – to the point where I was able to do some rework on my own after our session, as noted above. And I’m already thinking about how I can use resistance soldering for future projects.

And a technical update…

I’ve now added a new category filter: CNR 3737 will return all posts related to this project. I’ve updated previous posts with the category, and will use it on future posts – although with the holidays upon us, you may not see more on this until well into January…