CNR 3737 :: that’s MUCH better…

Last week, I wrote about a wonky headlight on my CNR 2-8-2.

This week, I stole a bit of time from other commitments to hit the workbench. I unsoldered the assembly, repositioned it, and secured it back in place. I even managed to add the mount for the number plate, complete with grab iron. The face of CNR 3737 now looks like this:

CNR 3737 - Headlight fixed

I’m back on track. And it occurs to me that I will have to ask Andy Malette about number plates for our project.

DCC for an HO ALCo S2

My friend Stephen Gardiner asked if I could install a LokSound decoder into one of his locomotives while he took notes. I was happy to oblige, so he came over yesterday and following a quick brunch at Harbord House, we got down to it.

The locomotive in question is an Atlas HO scale ALCo S2 – one of the newer series that’s set up for DCC and sound, but was wired for straight DC operation (no decoder). I’m glad that I’d recently finished doing such an installation into an HO scale Walthers EMD SW-1 model (which I have posted about previously on this website), because that experience gave me the foundation I needed to tackle this project. Over three or four hours, I shoehorned a LokSound Select Micro, a PowerPack electronic flywheel, and two sugar cube speakers into Stephen’s model.

Stephen has written more about the day, on his website. You can visit his site and read his report by clicking on this photo of me at work…

I have no idea what I'm doing

Overall, the project went really smoothly – there was plenty of room under the hood and in the cab for everything. With the wiring done, we downloaded the appropriate file from ESU and discussed other things for the 20 minutes or so it took to write into the locomotive. I then did loaded CVs from the decoder I used in the SW1 and adjusted some values for the S2. The finished locomotive runs very smoothly and sounds great. It’s now up to Stephen to paint it.

It’s the first time I’ve had two people working together in my workshop, and I’m really pleased with how that worked out. A most enjoyable afternoon!

CNR 3737 :: That’s just SO wrong…

Yesterday being Friday, it was time for another work session on the CNR 2-8-2 project with Andy Malette. Andy had prepared a bunch of parts for me to install on the smokebox front, and he warned it would be a challenging day. Boy, was he right.

Mounting a pair of class lamps was straightforward enough – the stock model featured class lamps in the same position as the CNR lamps, so it was a simple process to enlarge the holes to accept the castings, line them up, and solder them in place. I also rebuilt the hinges, which had lost some of their material while turning off the dogs during our previous work session.

The headlight was another story – and all I can say is, it’s a good thing brass is so forgiving because I’ll be removing it all and trying again. Do not judge me for this picture, which I’m sharing to remind myself that this isn’t an easy thing I’m attempting, and there will be set-backs:

The Headlight: SO wrong
That headlight is just SO wrong…

The headlight is a complex assembly. There’s the headlight itself, plus the platform upon which it sits. There’s an angled brace between the bottom of the platform and the face of the smokebox. And there’s a vertical plate (not shown) at the end of the platform, to which the number board is attached. This vertical piece also has a grab iron.

At one point, I had most of these pieces in place – just the grab iron to adjust. And that’s when the smokebox face popped out of the vise and hit the floor. Back to square one, with some swearing and scrounging for parts under the workbench. The second attempt ended miserably, too. And the third attempt – almost four hours into the session – ended up wonky despite my best efforts. I’m going to have to pull the #&$%#& thing off the smokebox face, clean up everything, and try again. But not today.

I’ll get it, eventually – and the sense of accomplishment will be even greater for all the effort that went into it. Then I’ll tackle the number boards…

CNR 3737 :: Smokebox front

On Friday, Andy Malette hosted me for another work session on the CNR 2-8-2 project – and we tackled a major modification: the smokebox front.

New smokebox front

Our donor engines are USRA-designed light Mikados from Overland Models, which feature a smokebox front held in place with 20 dogs. Depending on the class of locomotive (and possibly the builder) Canadian National Railway steam engines featured either 10 or 12 dogs on the smokebox front.

We tend to notice these things, so it was obvious that the old dogs would have to come off and be replaced with new ones in the proper pattern. In this case, I would need 12 dogs – which means I couldn’t even cheat and simply grind away every other dog on the USRA smokebox front.

The Overland Models smokebox front is removable, but the dogs are cast as part of the face. So the easiest way to remove them was to turn them off on a lathe. I worked with very light passes, checking my progress frequently until I was happy with the results. After using the cutter, I finished up with progressively finer grits of sanding paper until all evidence of the dogs had disappeared. (This process also removed a portion of the hinges, but they will be relatively easy to replace with brass strip.)

Once the old dogs were gone, it was time to install new ones. Andy has some dogs cast by another friend of ours, but I would have to drill the smokebox face to accept them, then solder them in place. We moved the smokebox front from the lathe to the mill and added a 12-position indexer to evenly space the holes:

Index and centre drill

I started with a centre drill, then carefully drilled for the dogs, adding cutting oil for each hole. The last thing I wanted was a broken drill – Andy said he’s ruined a couple of smokebox fronts that way – and I’m pleased to report I drilled 12 perfect holes with no incidents.

Andy then locked the smokebox front in the vise and demonstrated how to solder these tiny dogs into place. He did the first one – I did the next 11. A minimal amount of flux, heating near – but not on – the dog, and a light touch with a thin length of solder on the side away from the heat was the key: Done right, the solder would melt onto the face of the smokebox than draw itself under the dog.

Here’s a composite photo showing the smokebox front, before and after the alterations:

Smokebox before and after

I think it was definitely worth the effort.

As part of this work session, I also added a drain pipe to the feed water heater, which I’d somehow missed during last week’s piping session. It’s the smaller pipe in this next photo, just ahead of the large exhaust pipe:

CNR 3737 Piping progress. Engineer's side front.

There are still a few details to address – including the various appliances that mount on the smokebox front. But I now feel confident that CNR 3737 is heading towards the paint shop this year. I’m really pleased with the progress made so far this month and look forward to the next session…

CNR 3737 :: The engineer’s side

After a hiatus for the holidays – and a month of avoiding the outside as much as possible due to heavy snow and bone-chilling cold in our part of the world – Andy Malette and I emerged like Wiarton Willie (a month late), saw our shadows, and decided it was time to continue working on the CNR 2-8-2 project.

At yesterday’s session, I turned my attention to the engineer’s side of the engine:

Piping - Engineer's Side

Here, I added some new piping, including the assembly in front of the cab and the angled pipe leading to the Hancock check valve on the top of the boiler, to the right (ahead) of the steam dome. I also reinstalled some piping under the cab and below the running board. And, I fabricated and installed the raised running board section that spans the power reverse unit.

For some reason – still a mystery to me – my soldering was much better today than it has been in the past. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this? I won’t inquire too closely – I’ll just roll with it, and keep doing what I’m doing. We’re having another session in a week, when I’ll tackle a project that will make major change to the appearance…

SP 1010 in HO

As mentioned previously on this blog, I’ve been keeping my hand in the hobby by doing some projects for other people’s layouts. Last November, I wrote about CNR 7456 – a venerable brass HO scale 0-6-0 that I updated and finished to I can take it to run on a layout being built by my friend Stephen Gardiner. Now, I’ve completed another such “boomer” engine:

Southern Pacific 1010

Southern Pacific 1010

Southern Pacific 1010 is an EMD SW1 that I’ve built to take along for operating sessions on the SP layout being built by my friend Pierre Oliver. He’s modelling the Clovis Branch – from Fresno to Friant, California – which definitely was not home turf for these pint-sized switchers. They patrolled parts of the SP’s Pacific Electric subsidiary (which explains the trolley poles: these were needed to activate grade crossing protection in PE territory).

But I can’t resist a locomotive with trolley poles – and I found a new-in-the-box, factory-painted Walthers SW1 for a reasonable price – so the die was cast.

The Walthers model is from the first run – circa 1993. DCC was relatively new then, so this locomotive was not set up to accommodate a decoder. It also featured a bizarre drive train, with an enormous motor driving the rear truck through a universal, but the front truck through a rubber tube coupling. I decided to replace the motor with a smaller, more modern offering from NWSL, in part to make room for a sound decoder. I also added new universals and drive shafts, and updated the wheels with semi-scale replacements.

Then I went mad with details, including photo etched upgrades, a number of scratch-built items, and – of course – trolley poles. I originally had functioning poles, but I didn’t like the huge springs and wanted to add the ropes, so I removed the springs and glued the poles in the stowed position.

I won’t say too much more about this locomotive because I plan to write a feature on it. But I will say it was a very tight, ship-in-a-bottle DCC installation – but a very satisfying project – and I can’t wait to put SP 1010 through its paces, spotting and lifting PFE reefers in the valley…

On Hiatus

I hate it when I follow a blog and the author stops writing posts for no apparent reason. But this year I’ve been infrequent in my posts, and realize I run the risk of others wondering what’s going on.

So, this is a note to say I’m putting this blog on hold for a bit – mostly, because I have nothing of consequence to share about my model railway.

When I have something more to say, I’ll start posting again. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the return of this blog, I have described a couple of ways to follow along which will notify you whenever I make a new post.

Happy modelling, everyone!

Scrapping St. Thomas

P Oliver - Dec 15 2018

Yesterday, some friends and I made the trip to St. Thomas to visit our buddy Pierre Oliver. It was not just a social visit, mind you – he had a job for us: destroy St. Thomas.

Okay – not the real community, but his 1:87 rendition of it – the last remnant of his previous model railway, based on the Wabash operation through southern Ontario. As I’ve noted on my Achievable Layouts blog, earlier this year Pierre decided to scrap the Wabash in order to model something that better fit his interests and lifestyle: the Southern Pacific’s Clovis Branch between Fresno and Friant, California.

But back to St. Thomas…

The yard where the Wabash exchanged cabooses and crews on its trip across southern Ontario was a focal point of the old layout. It occupied a long peninsula up the middle of the main room – an area destined to become the SP line between East Fresno and Tarpey. For that to happen, Pierre needed to scrape St. Thomas off, down to the basic benchwork, and then haul the detritus out to the garage for eventual disposal. He decided that many hands would make short work – and four of us agreed. Ryan Mendell, Doug Currie and Hunter Hughson joined me for the trip.

P Oliver - Dec 15, 2018
(Pierre works near the west end of St. Thomas, while Ryan, Hunter and Doug lift roadbed east of the yard – and on the opposite side of the peninsula)

P Oliver - Dec 15, 2018
(Take that, back drop! The SP layout plan requires the backdrop to be repositioned, so Pierre and Doug take out their anger issues on the old one. It must be working…)

P Oliver - Dec 15, 2018
(Just a few hours later, the peninsula is stripped to the benchwork and ready for a new life in sunny southern California. The gap in the foreground used to hold a large viaduct at the west end of St. Thomas yard: it will need to be filled in with more benchwork for East Fresno…)

It’s never easy to scrap a model railway – although it helps when one has plans for a new one. And in this case, it’s a terrific decision. The proof of that is in the tremendous progress Pierre has made, and how happy he is with the results. Here is a quick tour…

P Oliver - Staging yard
(The end of the staging area, which represents the edge of Fresno yard. Unlike the Wabash staging, this one deserved the scenic treatment.)

SP 1802
(A “valley malley” – SP 1802 – in the staging yard)

SP 1802 and caboose
(The caboose track and engine facility leads at Fresno – actually, staging)

SP converted boxcar caboose
(The SP converted some boxcars into cabooses. I can only imagine how awful those would’ve been to ride in. Pierre built this example from a Westerfield resin kit)

SP Port Costa roundhouse
(Since the staging yard is being scenicked, it’s a good spot to have a roundhouse for the locomotives. This is an in-progress Banta laser cut kit for the SP roundhouse at Port Costa, California)

NP and DH boxcars
(A couple of Pierre’s Yarmouth Model Works kits in the Fresno staging yard)

Clovis Ice Deck
(There was no ice deck in the real Clovis, but Pierre and I decided such a signature structure would be an asset to operating sessions. This is a Walthers ice hose with Tichy deck kits. The modelled deck is a respectable 4.5 feet long)

Clovis industry
(An in-progress industry in Clovis)

Clovis industry
(An in-progress industry in Clovis)

Clovis station
(A model of an SP standard station from American Model Builders – a good stand-in for the Clovis station)

Clovis industry
(An in-progress industry in Clovis)

Start of the line
(See you next time!)

As I look through the images, I realize I didn’t take any photos of Pierre’s progress at Friant – the opposite end of the line. Oh well: that’s a good excuse to go back, right?

We ended the day with a lovely meal prepared by Pierre’s wife (thanks, Kate!) before heading home. I look forward to seeing the new layout next time I visit!

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…

CNR 3737 :: Reworking those big pipes

Much better:

Feed water pipes fixed

I hate going back and re-doing things – but sometimes, it has to be done. A case in point is the big exhaust pipes hanging off the back of the feed water heater on my brass CNR 2-8-2 project.

Given the size of the brass rod involved, these pipes were a royal pain to bend. And they soak up heat like nobody’s business, which made them a pain to solder in place, too. The problem was, they should drop almost straight down after coming out of the appliance – but I’d made the top bend too far back and then compounded the error to bring them back forward, around the front of the cylinder saddle. It really changed the look of the whole front end of the model and I wasn’t happy.

When I mentioned this to my friend Andy Malette at the start of yesterday’s work session, he advised that it’s up to me to decide if I can life with the inaccuracies – but that if I was having doubts, I should probably correct it now, before the locomotive is painted, etc. Andy also pointed out that brass is forgiving, and relatively cheap. If I don’t like something, I can unsolder it, either re-bend or fabricate another one, and reattach it.

He’s right. So I did: I unsoldered the pipes from both sides, re-bent them, and put the new pipes in place.

Looking at an older photo from 2017 (below) and the lead photo, taken after yesterday’s work, I’m glad I spent the work session addressing the problem. It looks a lot better now.

Old piping
(This older photo shows my first, failed attempt at fabricating the exhaust pipe from the feed water heater)

Speaking of piping, there’s more to do – but probably not until sometime next year…