The finished snow plow

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While lettering trucks yesterday, I also lettered my Ambroid snow plow, using S scale boxcar decals from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing.

This morning, I weathered the plow and officially put it into service on the layout. Since I want the plow to look like it was recently repainted, I concentrated the weathering along the bottom edge of the blade and the wings, which would get dusty pretty quickly given how low to the roadbed they ride.

And since I model summer, my weathering palate included some green on the front of the plow blade: Regardless of what a plow is doing in Port Rowan in August, it has obviously rolled over a lot of tall weeds and grasses growing in the RoW on my branch.

Here, a crew is preparing to turn the plow in Port Rowan:
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This was a really fun project and I enjoyed building this vintage Ambroid wood craftsman kit. While I have many other projects that take priority, I’m looking forward to doing more MoW equipment. For example, at some point I’d like to scratch-build a Jordan spreader.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy including this plow in a work extra.

Plow project :: Final details

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Last night I finished adding details to the snow plow I’m building from a vintage Ambroid kit. Here’s a look at what I added…

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The coupler cut lever is a piece of 0.015″ phosphor bronze wire bent to shape and mounted with a pair of Details Associates eyebolts. Also note that I’ve added some dark rust (Colour #302 from the Vallejo Panzer Aces paint line) to the couplers to tone down the primer colour I used to paint them.

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Following photographs, I’ve added access hatches to the side of the plow body to allow crews to oil/grease the front wheels. I cut some squares of 0.010″ styrene and glued them in place lined up with the journals on my arch bar truck. I added a strip of the same styrene next to the leading edge of the squares, so I could mount a pair of Tichy Train Group HO scale triangular hinges (part #3067). To represent a latch, I also added a NBW casting to the trailing edge of the squares. I don’t know the part number – they came from my miscellaneous NBW drawer.

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The stirrup steps have an interesting back-story: When I worked in On2, the Maine two-footer kits I built came with a number of O scale parts for three-foot gauge prototypes – simply because correct two-foot parts were not available back when these kits were manufactured. On3 stirrup steps were far too tall for two-foot equipment (which rode a lot closer to the ground) so I would scratch-build my own stirrups.

I didn’t throw away all of the On3 details, though – and managed to find a pair of them that would be suitable for my S scale standard gauge snow plow. I compared them to the kit drawings and they worked just fine. I suspect these came from Grandt Line but I don’t know the part number.

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The drawings in the kit showed some metal corner pieces with large bolts through them, so I fabricated these using styrene strip. Rather than bend the strip, I cut pieces over-length and glued them to the sides of the end sill, then butted more pieces up to them at the back. I then trimmed the side pieces to length and used a file to round the corner.

I cut and bent the various hand grabs and the cut lever from 0.015″ phosphor bronze wire, using a Mission Models Grab-Handler to get consistently-sized grabs.

I used some styrene strip to fabricate the support for the end of the roof walk.

That’s it for detailing! Next up, I will letter the plow using some CNR boxcar decals from Black Cat Publishing, then do a (fairly light) weathering application to represent a plow that’s been recently shopped and prepped for the coming winter.

A plow in August?

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In the comments to my previous post about the snow plow, reader Craig Townsend asked:

How are you going to justify having a plow on the layout in August?

That’s an excellent question, Craig – thanks for asking – and it deserves a better answer than, “See Rule 1″*.

In fact, there are two possible answers.

The first is, I can’t justify it. There’s no reason a plow would be in Port Rowan in August, unless there was a nearby plowing match and the railway was being a bit cheeky. (Unlikely.)

However, my primary reasons for building this plow are that it’s a cool, old-style craftsman kit… and that I like MoW equipment (which is why I’ve kit bashed a speeder and acquired a Burro crane). I’m enjoying building this just for the sake of building it – and I may run it in a work train on my layout (repositioning the plow) just to watch it sweep past:
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The plow may spend most of its time slumbering in my excess stock storage drawers during regular operating sessions with visitors.

The second possible answer is that while I’ve picked a season to represent on the layout, I may adjust the operating patterns to match the season in the real world.

In the spring, I’d run MoW trains to patch up the roadbed after a harsh winter. I would love to build a Jordan spreader for this – and already have a prototype in mind: A CNR model very similar to this one, which I like because it does not have a cab. (The late Ron Keith – also known as “The Plow Man” – built such a model from photographs of CNR 51069, which appears in an article on his work in CN Lines V16-3)

In the summer, an extra passenger car may be added to the mixed to handle vacationers headed to Long Point.

In the fall, I’d run an extra train collecting reefers full of produce.

And so on.

Under this scenario, running a work extra in late fall and early spring to position the plow in case of storms and retrieve it at the end of the season makes sense. It can rest at the end of the team track over the winter, ready to go into service should the need arise.

I haven’t decided whether I’ll run a seasonal schedule. I will have to determine whether it’s warranted and what changes I could make to the operating sessions to represent such seasonal activity. But it’s one way to add some variety to the operating sessions.
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(*Rule 1: “It’s my layout.” This is often invoked by people to justify things that are hard to justify. It’s a fine rule, but I feel it needs to be invoked with extreme caution.)

Plow train line

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To the best of my knowledge, this is not correct for a CNR snow plow. But as I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I really like the look of plows with a train line air hose running up and over the top of the plow and entering the cupola. It must be a hold-over from my days modelling the Boston and Maine Railroad.

This afternoon, I added this detail to my Ambroid plow kit:
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I fabricated a bracket from some flat brass bar and installed a BTS train line valve, to which I added the short air hose and glad hand. I bent the mounting pin by 90 degrees so it faced up, and trimmed it just after the bend. I also fabricated a pipe and pipe support for the roof over the plow.

I then found some small brass hex nuts in my collection of tiny fasteners. I glued one to the end of the BTS valve mounting pin, and glued the other to the end of the pipe on the roof.

Finally, I connected these two subassemblies with a piece of appropriately-sized wire – still in its insulation, and trimmed to length so that I could introduce a bit of sag into it at appropriate points.

Some black-grey on the rubber parts, and flat black on the pipes and other hardware, and I was done with the front. I’ll dry brush some Neo-Lube over the pipe, valve and glad-hand during the weathering process to give them an oily/greasy metallic look.

While this is not an accurate detail (as far as I know), I think it does a better job of telling the story of a plow in transit than a small train line air hose sticking out of the plow front itself. Given that I model August, an in-transit plow is the only kind one would see on my railway.

Meanwhile, I know this arrangement is accurate to plows from other roads. Maybe my shop forces stole the idea as a way to keep snow, ice and debris from bashing up the train line. In any case, I’m pleased with how this detail turned out – and it’s my railway, right?

While working on train lines, I also added the appropriate hardware to the back of the plow. This was a much easier operation: I simply drilled a hole, glued the BTS part in place, and added a bit of paint.

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Plow progress, couplers, and mods

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I’ve made a bit more progress on my Ambroid snow plow kit. As the photo above shows, I’ve added the headlight casting (fitted with an MV Lens – catalogue number “L 228″). And I’ve added the kit-supplied handbrake to the roof.

I’ve also installed Sergent couplers at both ends and should share some notes on this…

The front coupler required the most work. To position it correctly, I had to shorten the shank and then devise a way to pin it into the coupler pocket casting. I removed the back part of the coupler shank using a cut-off disc in my Dremel Tool. I then filled the slot where the spring goes by securing a piece of 0.060″ x 0.080” styrene strip into the slot with CA, then trimming it to size after the CA had cured.

Finally, I found a small brass screw in my collection to mount the coupler. There’s a pilot hole cast into the coupler pocket – I drilled this out and tapped it for my screw. I then drilled a clearance hole through the coupler shank – partly through the metal, and partly through the styrene. I then assembled the coupler as instructed by Sergent Engineering (and as described elsewhere on my blog).

Since this coupler no longer has an alignment spring, it tended to flop about a bit in the box. I solved this by adding layers of masking tape to the underside of the shank until it created a fit tight enough to stop the flopping but not so tight to prevent the coupler shank from moving when coupled in a train. Two layers worked for me in this case.

I then worked on the rear coupler…
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Here, I was able to use a standard Kadee coupler box, but I had to widen the recess in the body to accommodate it. I used a handy micro-chisel from Mission Models (whose website has now disappeared, it seems) to widen the recess. I also had to add some blocking to lower the coupler box to the correct height. This, I made by gluing up some scrap strip wood – I had several large sizes used for bracing models – and then sanding the block to finished size.

With couplers installed, I gave the plow a test-run on the layout – and almost immediately discovered a problem. The plow wings have large, triangular wedges to help lift and throw snow, and the bottom edge of these would connect with the ties that form the edge of the St. Williams station platform, causing the plow to lift and derail.

I thought about modifying the platform – and did a little bit of carving at one end to help solve the issue. But to do this properly would’ve required tearing out the styrene sheet that forms the base for the gravel platform – a sheet that also helps align part of the mechanism for the working train order board. So, I opted for a less aggravating solution, and filed back the bottom of the wedges to clear the platform. Once painted, the modification is barely noticeable. Compare the photo below with the lead photo on this post and judge for yourself:
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Since some prototype plows have a rolled-under body side – known as a “Tumblehome” on British railway carriages – I’m comfortable with my modification.

Next up: Some more testing on the layout, plus grab irons and other details. But the plow is getting closer to completion.

Finally, a bit of housekeeping: I’ve now added a separate category to collect all posts about this project, to make it easier for those of you who are interested in the plow to find every post in one place. It’s called “Ambroid Plow” and you’ll also find it in the “Categories” drop-down menu on the right side of the home page.

Bracing the plow

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I managed to do a little more work on my plow this morning. As the photo shows, I’ve added the bracing on the roof over the blade, including some rods with turnbuckles (Grandt Line 54). I followed my prototype photo for these details.

I’ve also painted and installed the roof walk over the plow body.

I think I’m down to grab irons at this point, plus little details like the headlight. And, of course, Sergent couplers.

Plow :: Down to details

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I’ve now built the cupola and the flanger, added the smoke jack for the coal stove and attached the wings. I think I’m down to the little details such as hand grabs, some bracing and a roof walk. Plus couplers and train line.

I like how the wings turned out.

The kit includes instructions for making the wings positionable – and I thought of doing that. But in the end, I added some bracing behind them and glued them in place. I plan to detail the plow as if it’s ready for transport, with a train line air hose attached to the front and running up over the top of the plow to the cupola. (Here’s an example from the Maine Central – although I thought the line was usually removed before plowing. It certainly will be on my railway!)

Since the wings would only be opened when the plow is plowing (and since it won’t be doing that in August on my layout), making the wings positionable would’ve added complexity and made the whole piece of equipment more delicate. So, glued in place they are, with a nice solid block behind them.

It still looks very businesslike…
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Plow Wings

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(New wings built from photos of CNR wooden plows. These are much more visually interesting than the stock kit wings.)

When I introduced the snow plow project, I noted that I had an article from CN Lines that includes several photos of the railway’s plows, beautifully rendered in HO scale by the late Ron Keith:
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(Click on the image to read my introduction to this project)

The article includes a couple of photographs of similar, wooden plows – and I really liked the looks of the wings on these examples. The Ambroid kit I’m building came with wings shaped from plain wood – presumably to represent steel. But the CNR plows had wings built up from wood with metal caps at the ends. The lower rear corners were also cut on the diagonal, instead of squared off as in the kit’s stock wings.

I realized I could use the kit’s parts as patterns to create new wings, so that’s what I did:
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The wing at right has been rebuilt, with the parts mounted on 0.010″ thick styrene sheet. The wing at left has just been started. I started with some 1/32″ thick sheet stock from Northeastern Scale Models with appropriately-spaced scribing. (I can’t remember why I had this piece, but it matched the board spacing on the plow body so it was perfect for the job.)

I taped a piece of sheet to the wing and then marked the back, cut it out, and re-taped it to the wing to sand to final shape, as shown at at left in the photo above. I then glued this to my styrene sheet, cut the triangular reinforcement from the wing and glued it against the scribed top section. I repeated the process to create the portion of the wing that fits between the two reinforcements – then added it and the bottom reinforcement to my sheet. With everything set up, I trimmed the styrene to shape.

Using the photos in CN Lines as a guide, I cut some 0.010″ thick styrene sheet to represent the metal cladding at the tip of the wings. This was really a process of cutting, fitting, fettling, and repeat. When I had two shapes that would work, I duplicated each piece for the other wing, taping them together and sanding to shape.

I then glued these in place on the wings with a very slight overhang at the rear, which I filed to match the profile of the wing once the glue had cured. Finally, I cut a long strip of the 0.010″ styrene sheet and wrapped it along the top and rear edge of the plow, trimming it to shape after the glue had cured. A bit of work with some Squadron White putty, and I had my new wings.

As the lead photo suggests, I painted the wings at this point – primarily to see how they looked when all the pieces were tied together with a common colour. Satisfied with the result, I then proceeded with the bracing on the back and other details.

I’ve had to do a bit of sanding on the plow body to ensure the back edges of the wings will clear the body when they’re closed. I’ll touch up the paint when I finish the wings. It’s starting to look like a plow!

Partially Painted Plow

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I’m making great progress on my Ambroid snow plow project.

As the photos show, I’ve formed the metal plow blade and applied it to the supporting structure. I was really worried about doing this step, although comforted that the instructions note that if you mess it up, Northeastern Scale Models will replace the pre-marked tin sheet free of charge. The company will even send the modeller a cut and folded plow, ready for installation, for the princely sum of 50 cents. Of course, the offer is several decades old now…

I was tempted to take Northeastern up on the offer – nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? But in the end I dove in and Just Did It. The trickiest part was rolling the edges where they meet the back of the plow body, but I found a large diameter tube in my collection of brass shapes and used that to support the edges as I rolled them, and that seemed to work just fine. I ended up with a few wavy bits – but plows would’ve taken a lot of abuse so they’re not out of character.

I realized I would have to paint the plow in steps. For example, I painted the plow body so that I could add the window glass and then install the roof. (Going forward, I will have to paint the cupola parts and wings before I install those items.)

I’ve equipped the plow with arch-bar trucks from Iron Road Models, fitted with NWSL fine scale wheel sets. I think they give it a real “not for interchange” look:
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I’m really enjoying this project – in part for the problem solving that I’ve been forced to do. The instructions provide all the information one needs, but assume a degree of knowledge or common sense about how to approach the work. It’s refreshing, and rewarding.

I am proud that I thought to paint the plow and install window glass before fixing the roof in place. But I’m feeling a bit sheepish that in my enthusiasm to get the roof on, I completely forgot about adding weight inside.

No matter – I simply attached some weights underneath:
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The weights will be well hidden by the time I get the wings installed.

Speaking of which, the wings are next. I’m going to deviate from the kit and build some wings that better represent those I see on some pictures of wooden CNR plows I have collected. Stay tuned…

Snow plow project started (finally!)

Well, it took a few months – but yesterday I finally got a start on the CNR snow plow project I introduced back in mid-December.
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The weather was perfect – I worked on the deck and was able to do two coats of Scalecoat Sanding Sealer on all wood pieces, with time to lightly sand after each coat using a fine emery board. I was also able to assemble most of the basic body before dinner. It’s starting to look less like a box of wood, and more like a plow:
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A couple of the thinner wood sheets – used to form the body at the narrow point behind the wings – had warped after spending 60-something years in the kit box. (Who wouldn’t?) I therefore strengthened these with some pieces of 0.040″ thick styrene sheet glued to their backs with CA.

Other than that one issue, the kit is going together really nicely, with few surprises. I’m impressed at the skill that went into fabricating the pre-shaped pieces such as the bulkheads inside the car body. And while the kit required me to shape the pointed edge onto the spine that supports the plow blade, in the end I loved carving and sanding this piece to shape.

Building a vintage kit like this requires a different set of skills than assembling today’s state of the art laser cut wood kits and it’s great to exercise those skills.

The real challenge comes next: Forming the plow blade from a sheet of tin supplied with the kit. The sheet is pre-marked with cut and fold lines, but it’ll still take some careful fettling to do a good job. I’ll save that for a day when I’m feeling really confident…

(As an aside, this marks my 800th post to the blog. Thanks, everyone, for coming along for the ride. I’m really enjoying this!)