Burro!

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…

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