Big Sound for a BURRO

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

I upgraded my River Raisin Models S scale BURRO Crane with a LokSound decoder and two speakers. I wrote a feature on this, which is the cover story in the September, 2017 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine. Check out that issue for details:

RMC September 2017

In the above video, you can hear the sound. (I’ve cranked the volume on the decoder for the purposes of recording this video. In practice, I run the crane at a lower volume – more suitable to the layout environment.)

The sound is not correct for a BURRO – it’s the EMD 567A six-cylinder diesel that’s found in an SW-1. But it’ll do just fine for now – and when ESU offers a correct BURRO sound file, I can simply reload the decoder (and post a new video, of course). That’s pretty cool…

For more details on the BURRO Crane, follow my BURRO category link.

(If you’ve just found my blog through the Craftsman article, then welcome aboard! Have a look around – perhaps starting with the First Time Here? page – and enjoy your visit!)

Don’t get stuck behind the Burro

Reader Ian Maynard asked for a video of the River Raisin Models Model 40 Burro crane in action, now that I’ve added a TCS M1-KA decoder plus KA2 Keep Alive module.

I realized I haven’t posted any videos of the Burro to date – probably because it didn’t run as well as I wanted it to. Since I’ve now improved the performance, it’s time:

(This video may also be watched directly on YouTube, where you may be able to view it in larger formats)

Enjoy if you watch – but be advised: the video runs 2:49, but it’s not what I’d call “action packed”. But then again, neither is conducting maintenance along an almost-gone branch line.

Just be glad you’re not stuck behind the Burro…

More backup for the Burro

While taking photos for yesterday’s post on the CNR GS gondola project, I had the opportunity to run my Burro crane through the Lynn Valley:

 photo Burro-Gon-LynnValley_zpsnxweaeud.jpg

And frankly, I was underwhelmed by its performance. The problem is the Burro’s short, stiff wheelbase, which makes it unreliable when picking up power.

I thought I had adequately addressed the issue when I worked on the crane back in September, 2012. Originally, I installed a Lenz Gold decoder with Power-1 module. But it has proven less than satisfactory, because it just doesn’t hold enough power in reserve to deal with things like grass-covered track or the long (but powered) frogs in my turnouts.

Since doing the initial Burro project, DCC manufacturers have introduced better power storage devices. My favourite these days is the KA-2 – a storage module from Train Control Systems that will hold up to 15 seconds of reserve power.

Would it fit?

Turns out, the answer is “you bet”:

 photo Burro-TCS-KA2_zpsqtdww9sy.jpg
(The wires are tucked through the window to keep them out of the way for this photograph)

I disassembled the Burro and replaced the Lenz decoder and power storage module with a TCS decoder and KA-2. The KA-2 is held in place with a strip of double-sided tape. The new decoder (not shown) is the M1-KA. It’s tiny, and I ended up taping it to the inside of the back wall of the cab with some more double-sided tape.

The retrofit took less than an hour – from collecting the tools and materials… to disassembly, replacement and reassembly… to reprogramming. And the performance is a lot better. There’s no more stalling – even through the four-turnout yard throat in Port Rowan.

As a bonus, the decoder is better concealed within the cab, so it’s not visible through that rear window.

I’m really glad I did the upgrade.

Burro Rigging

 photo Burro-Rigging_zps0aee03b8.jpg
(It looks complex, but it’s fairly straightforward – click on the image for a larger view)

Reader Thomas Lassak asked how I rigged my S scale Burro crane from River Raisin Models. Here’s a labelled image that explains how I did it:

 photo Burro-Rigging-Labelled_zps9deff1a7.jpg
(The threading sequence, listed. Click on the image for a larger view)

Some additional notes:

Each Pulley is actually a pair of pulleys, stacked. I refer to these as “Top” and “Bottom” in the above threading sequence.

The “Anchor” is a hole drilled in the cross bar.

Note as you follow the threading sequence, that the the thread always proceeds counter-clockwise around the pulleys (if starting from the drum).

It helps to put a weight on the end of the boom when doing this, to keep the slack out of the thread.

I hope this helps!

Now we’ll get some track work done…

… because the Burro Crane has entered service!
Burro from the back photo Burro-04.jpg

As previously mentioned, I painted the entire crane with CN Warm Black. This is a great colour, but of course an all-black piece of equipment really benefits from weathering to bring out the details.

I used a combination of airbrushing, dry brushing, thinned washes, and weathering powders to finish the Burro.

I sprayed some thinned Rail Brown and Concrete around the base and along the bottom of the cab to represent dirt and dust from the road. Thinned washes of Gunmetal mixed with Leather were added to the machinery (winding drums and such) to give it a bit of a shine like old grease. Some rust-toned weathering powder on the roof suggests that the paint has blistered off near the engine exhaust.

Silver was dry brushed on handrails, the base of stirrup steps and door handles – any place where paint has been worn off through use. Silver was also brushed inside the clamshell and dry brushed on the outside, to suggest metal polished from scooping gravel. I finished the clamshell with brown and green weathering powders to suggest that the operator has been digging vegetation out of ditches:
Burro from the front photo Burro-05.jpg

More Rail Brown was dry brushed on the floor of the cab, where the Burro crane’s operator (a figure from S Helper Service) has dragged in mud on his boots:
Burro cab photo Burro-06.jpg

This was a fun project and with the crane in service, perhaps I can encourage the operator to spread some ballast on the main line through the Lynn Valley…
Digging in the Lynn Valley photo Burro-07.jpg

DCC and a paint scheme for the Burro

Brass Burro photo Burro-01.jpg

I had to disassemble my recently-acquired River Raisin Models Burro crane to prepare it for painting, so I’ve taken a couple of photos that will help others looking to install DCC in their models.

The motor for the crane is mounted vertically in the ring that allows the crane to rotate around its base. A wire comes up through the ring to connect one motor terminal to the pickup wiper on the insulated side of the model, while the other wire is simply soldered to the brass ring. I’ve unsoldered these two wires from the motor terminals and added the connector that came with my Lenz Gold JST DCC decoder:
Burro with DCC plug photo Burro-02.jpg

I slipped a piece of heat shrink insulation around the four wires to help protect them as they pass through a slot I cut in the base of the cab. This slot allows me to install the decoder and its associated Power-1 module inside the cab – but outside the brass enclosure that surrounds the motor:
Burro wire run photo Burro-03.jpg

In addition to the slot in the base, it’s also necessary to extend the slot up the adjacent wall of the motor enclosure. The slot in the base allows one to slide the wires into position: When the crane is assembled, the wires pass through the hole in the enclosure itself.

I made several passes with a cut-off disc in a Dremel Tool to create this slot and hole. I then cleaned up the hole with another Dremel bit (a metal ball cutter) and filed the slot to make sure there were no burrs. The heat shrink helps protect the wires here too.

My friend Pierre Oliver suggested that for my mid-1950s era, an all-black paint scheme is the way to go, so I’ve sprayed the Burro with CN Warm Black – a custom colour offered by the Canadian National Railways Historical Association. It now looks like Darth Vader’s crane: it will need lots of weathering to bring out the detail.

No photos yet: Stay tuned…


I’m modelling the Port Rowan branch in its twilight years, when maintenance wasn’t high on the list – if it made the list at all. Despite this, I wanted some Maintenance-of-Way equipment. It’s always eye-catching and a work train can inject additional operating opportunities into a session.

Fortunately, in September 1992 River Raisin Models imported 150 S scale models of the Model 40 Burro Crane. I asked online, and within 24 hours had three offers to sell me one (which suggests that the cranes are not getting a lot of use on layouts).

One offer was for an unpainted model, which is the one I took. It arrived today and is shown here, posed on the turntable lead in Port Rowan:
Brass Burro photo Burro-01.jpg

I had to do a quick, minor repair – resoldering one of the upper boom holding arms. I also fitted the model with Kadee couplers instead of the non-operating brass couplers supplied by River Raisin. This was fairly straightforward.

The best part is this: I’ve already added DCC – a requirement for running on my layout (and not just because I use DCC – see below). It was surprisingly easy, although it required some care and took about an hour.

I removed three screws on the underside of the crane body, which allowed me to lift it off the base. The motor fits into a cavity in the body and stays with the frame/wheels when disassembling the crane, which is a good thing. (The base for the body rotates around the motor on a ring.) A wire is soldered from the frame to one motor terminal, while another wire runs from the second motor terminal to a pair of wipers to pick up on the insulated side. I unsoldered these two wires from the motor.

I did a test-fit and determined that I could install a decoder in the space between the body shell and the motor cavity. (Look closely at the above photo of the crane and you’ll see a wire through the window on the back of the Burro – I’ll paint the wires black and they’ll disappear into the interior…)

I used a cutoff disc in a Dremel Tool to cut a slot in the wall of the box around the motor, so I could pass four decoder wires into the body shell. I enlarged this hole with other Dremel bits and made sure there were no burrs to wear at the wires. For added protection, I threaded my four wires through a piece of heat shrink tubing – left un-shrunk – where they pass through the hole.

This means I can no longer freely spin the crane on its base – but since the boom is heavy enough to topple the crane when it’s perpendicular to the track, it’s unlikely I’d do that anyway. I can freely swing the crane through 270 degrees of rotation without any problems, but continuous rotation in one direction would spool the decoder wires around the motor.

For my decoder, I opted for a Lenz Gold JST with a Power-1 storage module. This is a potent combination: The Power-1 module supplies power to the decoder when the electrical path from the rails is broken (for example, because of dirty track, or too many static grass fibres between the rails). As it’s a Model 40 Burro, I assigned it the address “40”.

For a small model like this Burro, which has four-wheel power pickup and no suspension (which means it often has three-wheel power pickup), this is a real help – and it’s essential on my grass-covered track, which is why I wrote earlier that DCC is a requirement for this crane to run on the layout. (My steam engines have no problems with the grass since they pick up power on all eight tender wheels and all six locomotive drivers.)

I’m pleased to report the crane runs reliably on most of my track. Switch frogs give it a bit of trouble – even though they’re powered, the crane sometimes drains the Power-1 module before making it across the frogs. I’ll look into that. But it wouldn’t have stood a chance without the Power-1 module.

The mechanism isn’t great in these cranes – the manufacturer notes that it’s noisy because it’s geared for torque, not for speed, and it runs better in one direction than the other. That said, this particular example has never been run and I’m sure the performance will improve with proper lubrication and some track time.

Now to figure out how to paint it. I’m leaning towards a MoW Yellow body with a black boom and frame but need to do some research. I’m also curious as to when the Model 40 first entered service. Searches online haven’t yet turned up that information, but perhaps a reader knows. (If you do, please share via the “comments” section for this post. Thanks!)

With a Burro on hand, I can even model the mid-1960s, when the Canadian National pulled the rails from Port Rowan. Or, maybe not…