CNR 7456 in HO

I haven’t been doing much on Port Rowan this year for various reasons. Truth be told, I haven’t done too much in the hobby this year, period. But I have been trying to keep my hand in – primarily with some projects for others.

This locomotive is one of them:

CNR 7456 - Weathered
(CNR 7456 in HO scale)

A while back, my friend Stephen Gardiner and his wife Heather bought a townhouse – and in the summer, a bunch of us descended on his place to build benchwork for Stephen’s HO scale layout based on Toronto’s Liberty Village district. (You can read more about the benchwork party on my Achievable Layouts blog, and more about Stephen’s Liberty Village layout on his blog.)

Even before Stephen moved into his new place, I knew that I wanted to have a locomotive to take out to operating sessions. And when I happened to stumble across a “like-new” example of the brass CNR O-18-a imported many years ago by Van Hobbies, the die was cast. I picked up this model earlier this year, and started working on it back in May.

If I’m counting correctly, this is the fourth example of the VH O-18-a that I’ve owned, and I’ve regretted selling on every previous model, so I was excited to find this one. And it was indeed in great condition. Every one of these that I’ve owned has enjoyed a super smooth mechanism ideal for slow speed running, and this model continued in that tradition. However, the models are quite venerable now – they were imported a couple of decades before anybody had even heard of DCC – so they do need their motor upgraded. I also needed to drill the headlight and back up light and provide holes for wire runs.

(As an aside, after I acquired my O-18-a, another friend – Ryan Mendell – also picked up one, which he’ll use on his new Grand Trunk layout. And that led Stephen to find his own O-18-a – so we’ve started a club of sorts and have been sharing ideas for updating them.)

To make a long story short, I’ve done all that. I’ve added a LokSound Select, a TCS Keep-Alive (with a cut-out switch for programming, accessible from between the centre sills of the tender frame), LED lights, and a pair of ESU sugar cube speakers. It’s pretty crowded in the tender!

CNR 7456 Tender gubbins
(A view of the gubbins)

Up front, I’ve replaced the old open frame motor with a NSWL can motor, including a new bracket I fabricated from brass. This was a hurdle for me – but it turned out to be much easier than I thought it would be. The lesson learned is “Just go ahead and try, because it will probably work – and if it doesn’t, it’s just a bit of brass sheet”.

For this model, I decided to branch out from the typical model railway suppliers and experimented with Tamiya paints from my local plastic modelling hobby shop. I’m really impressed and will be using these a lot more on future projects.

But of course it wouldn’t be one of my projects without some sort of disaster. Yesterday, I reassembled the model and went to test it – and the decoder blew. I traced the fault to the bare contact on one of the sugar cube speakers, which came into contact with the bare brass of the tender interior. I thought I had secured the speaker enclosure to the underside of the top of the tender shell, but it worked its way loose. Lessons learned: Do a better job of securing the speaker enclosure and cover up those contacts.

Meantime, I’m in for another decoder – and a lot more fussy wiring. I’m kind of discouraged by that, so I’m not going to tackle it just yet. But I have plenty of time to get this model ready to run on Stephen’s new layout…

UPDATE: December 13, 2018

CNR 7456 - Fixed
(That’s more like it!)

On the weekend I was able to nip through an area hobby shop and pick up a replacement decoder – and yesterday, I installed it. This time, I made sure all speaker terminals were insulated (I applied Bondic to each one) and I also wrapped some of the interior of the brass tender shell with Kaptan tape.

The ESU approach to decoders once again proved its value: since any LokSound decoder may be loaded with the user’s choice of ESU sound file, and managed through LokProgrammer, I was able to buy the appropriate decoder – a LokSound Select Micro – with a diesel sound package preloaded on it. I then simply used the LokProgrammer to overwrite the package with my file for CNR 7456, which not only replaced all the sounds but also rewrote all the CVs to those I’d established before I blew the previous decoder.

The locomotive is now back together and running as it should. I still have a few details to address, such as a crew, window glazing and – perhaps – cab curtains. And I may want to adjust the brightness of those LED headlights. But the hard work is done!

As an aside, I picked the locomotive number – 7456 – back in the summer while visiting my friend Andy Malette. The choice was practical: Andy had a limited selection of etched brass CNR number plates and 7456 was one of the ones still available. Andy also supplied the lovely brass numerals for the cab sides. (Thanks for those, Andy!)

After deciding on 7456, I was pleased to discover a photo of the prototype when I visited the Andrew Merrilees Collection at Library and Archives Canada in September:

CNR 7456 - Merrilees

You’ll note there are a number of small differences between the prototype and my model of it. Notably, the coal bunker should be taller, the handrails are different on the tender and around the smokebox, and the headlight is lower on the smokebox front. The number board is also at the back of the headlight bracket, instead of at the front as it is on the model. However, I had already painted the locomotive when I found this photo, and a decided I could live with the discrepancies. Maybe on my next one…

25 thoughts on “CNR 7456 in HO

  1. That’s a beautiful looking model, Trevor. Well done.

    Sorry to hear about the decoder short. Since you have to replace the decoder, may I suggest you consider one of jt burke’s Scale Sound System speakers? Very impressive sound improvement. And, looking at your tender space, it appears there may be more room than you think for an enhanced enclosure.

    jt is about as nice as they come. I’ve sent him four of my engines for decoder / speaker installs and we discussed space issues. He may have a solution for you.

    • Hi Scott:
      Thanks for the kind words.
      Thanks also for the suggestion of the Scale Sound System speakers. I’m really happy with the paired ESU sugar cubes, however so I think I’ll stick with those for now…

    • Hi Chris:
      Yes – mostly for DCC. The open frame motor would run fine on a DC layout, I think. That said, the can motor is very smooth. In addition, the weak point in the drivetrain is a rubber tube coupling between the motor and gearbox. These can harden and crumble over time. I replaced this with a NWSL universal.

  2. Lovely! Details on the paint, please. How did you prep the brass for Tamiya? I need to paint a couple brass locos and like Tamiya very much…


    • Hi Steve:
      I didn’t do any prep beyond making sure the model was clean and free of grease. I then sprayed it with Tamiya Superfine surface primer (from a rattle can, no less!), which I find does a terrific job. I topped the Tamiya paint with Alclad II gloss coat – followed by AlClad II flat coat after applying the decals. I really like Alclad II – it appears to be as tough as nail polish when it dries.

  3. Glad to see your blog again. I was missing those posts. I can understand how interest can ebb and flow and there are always competing priorities. That is a super job on the switcher! I hope that you can get some time to get back to Port Rowan as I very much enjoyed seeing the progress that you were making.

  4. I recently bought one of these. It runs like the proverbial Swiss watch. Turns out that the late Rich Chrysler had tuned it up, and beautifully. I look forward to adding DCC and sound along with painting it up as Lindsay loco 7460 or 7461.

  5. I’m bummed to hear you blew the decoder on yours. I’m looking forward to the day where mine reaches the top of my workbench pile to remotor and DCC for the layout. Right now, its just sitting all shiny in brass in my display case waiting for the day there is enough track laid to warrant changing focus from that to working on more things to run on it!

    Someday we can overload my layout with O-18-a’s, it will make quite a sight!


    • I have to admit, it’s not the first time I’ve blown a decoder. Not by a long shot. I never learn, it seems.
      Actually, that’s not true: I blow them in different ways each time. And I also learn that it’s not the end of the world…

  6. The number struck me as familiar– 7456 is preserved at Sidney, Michigan, at the Montcalm Community College Heritage Village, alongside the former Pere Marquette depot from nearby McBrides.

    It looks a bit funny where they apprarently cut down the tops of the domes to get clearance while moving it. There is a brief history of the locomotive, with photos, at

    • Thanks for this, Fritz. I found that site while researching my numbers. It seems the 7456 is the lesser-known of the two O-18 models that ended up, post-CNR, at the Canada & Dominion Sugar plant in Chatham, Ontario.
      The other switcher that went to the C&D sugar plant was 7470, which eventually ended up at the Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire.

  7. Hi Trevor,
    Your discussion about the O-18a prompted me to follow in your footsteps and it actually arrived today. Yesterday I learned that NWSL is shutting down. AGHHHH. I wonder if I could make use of your experience and obtain the parts list you ordered from NWSL. Hopefully they will still be in stock. Thanks for any help.

    • Hi Philip:
      I was – and may still – write an article on this locomotive for RMC. But I also recognize that by the time such an article appears in print, NWSL may be closed.
      So… for those with an O-18 that needs upgrading, I used a 2032D-9 – 20mm x 32mm Flat Can Motor and one of NWSL’s universal shaft connector kits. I can’t remember which kit – but the NWSL invoice shows I ordered both the 482-6 and 483-6, so it’ll be one or the other.

  8. Trevor, I recently purchased an O18a myself and would like to install loksound in a similar fashion. Luckily the model has already had a can motor upgrade. I love your diagram, but do you have a more in depth write-up anywhere?

    • Hi Charlie:
      Congrats – it’s a great model.
      Unfortunately I don’t have any more details about this installation.
      Happy modelling!

  9. I actually grew up around this engine in Chatham, Ont. Lived a block away from C&D sugar company. Remember this engine crossing backhand forth across King St. and into the beet yard. Great memories.

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