Black Beetles and Stanton Drives

I’ve been occupied with other model railway projects lately, including speaking at the NMRA Lone Star Region annual convention in Texas, and setting up my home layout (Port Rowan) to be used as a location in a film. So work on anything related to the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway has taken a back seat.

But I have been busy acquiring things that I’ll need in order to model the line in 1:64.

Before I commit to building an NS&T layout, I have four criteria to satisfy. One of my criteria is to build the kits for various freight motors that I’ve acquired from William Flatt, and get them running to my satisfaction.

In order to achieve this goal, I have been creating a parts list for each freight motor (which I will share in future posts, once the lists are complete). At the top of each list is suitable power trucks: These are essential to getting them running, after all.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve placed orders with two suppliers, as recommended by William.

The first is Steam Era Models – an Australian company run by David Foulkes. Steam Era Models has been around for many years: In fact, back in the 1990s when I modelled the Boston and Maine Railroad in HO scale I acquired one of David’s plastic kits for a Victorian Railways Diesel Electric Rail Motor (DERM). At the time, Walthers had not yet introduced its model of an EMC gas-electric, and this was the most suitable starting point I could find to model the EMC doodlebugs that ran on the B&M:

Boston Maine Claremont Branch - Staging Yard
(The Steam Era Models doodlebug at right blends in nicely with my Boston & Maine equipment. You would never know its an Australian prototype. This was the staging yard on my HO layout.)

The model included a Black Beetle – a power truck of David’s own design. It was wonderful.

Fast forward about 20 years, and David has achieved international recognition for these power trucks, which he offers in several options. One picks the wheelbase, gauge, wheel type, wheel diameter and profile, and the gear ratio, and he builds them to order. William has used these under several of his models, and designed his white metal side frame castings to fit them.

I ordered two Black Beetles for Number 17 and a pair for Number 20, so I can now start work on those two motors:

Black Beetles
(Black Beetles for Number 20 (left) are built to 31mm wheelbase, while the trucks for Number 17 are 33.5mm wheelbase. Both locos ride on 14mm diameter disc wheels. I chose the Code 88 wheel profile (Proto:64) to match the NWSL finescale wheels I use on my freight cars, and the 27:1 gear ratio because that results in a slower, smoother drive. David installed the wires between the motor and pickups to test the trucks, but left them long so I can cut them and use them as leads for the DCC decoders. Normally they would be tight to the truck body.)

Interestingly, when I contacted David about these power trucks he asked if I had bought a Victorian Railways DERM from him many years ago. Great memory!

The NS&T also had three freight motors (8, 15, and 19) with trucks featuring an eight-foot wheelbase. For these, I decided to use Stanton Drives from Northwest Short Line. These run faster than the 27:1 Black Beetles, but I’m confident I can knock down their top speed through CV settings in my DCC decoders. I have acquired two Stanton Drives, which will do one of the freight motors. My order is in for four more to cover the other two. (UPDATE: These arrived July 30th)

Stanton Drives
(Stanton Drives from NWSL. As the packages note, they’re eight-foot wheelbase, with 36″ diameter code 87 wheel profiles, and DCC ready.)

While it doubles the expense, I decided to power both trucks on each freight motor. They will be pulling trains – admittedly short, but possibly up and down grades – so the extra horsepower will be welcome.

Will I build an NS&T layout?

That’s a really good question – and I just realized that while I have addressed this on my Port Rowan blog, I haven’t written about it here. It’s time to fix that.

The short answer is, I don’t know – yet. The longer answer is, I won’t make the decision until several milestones are achieved.

First – I intend to finish my Port Rowan layout.

I’m so close, it would be unfortunate to not do so. I enjoy my Port Rowan layout but I have no personal connection to the prototype: I chose to model this line for the very practical reason that it fit my layout space. But I think it would be novel to finish a layout in my lifetime.

Second – I need to design a layout that I would actually want to build.

I’m picky about layout designs and compromises.

On the plus side, as my Achievable Layouts blog should make clear I’d rather build a simple layout with a few scenes done well, than a lot of scenes overcrowded. My Achievable Layouts philosophy will guide my designs, and I will only undertake an NS&T layout that can be built without becoming an albatross.

On the minus side, when it comes to the NS&T I know the subject matter really, really well.

With previous layouts – including Port Rowan – I was working largely from photographs and maps, and I was able to introduce compromises without them bothering me too much. Over the years, I’ve built many layouts and each has become simpler than the one before it, as I reduce the compromises by picking smaller subjects to model. But even on Port Rowan – which has just eight turnouts in total, and a single train per operating session – compromises were required. Again, they were easy to make because I don’t have a history with the prototype. But the NS&T? Well, I grew up around it.

To provide an example of the challenge, I walked the line along Louisa Street every day to attend high school. The prototype ran for several blocks and crossed one major street (Lake Street) about halfway along. If I decide to model Louisa Street, how long should the street be? How many blocks should I represent? How much can I compress those blocks? At what point does it lose the feel of running along a street?

Here’s another example: I regularly watched CNR crews switch the General Motors plant on Ontario Street. Again, the track went up the middle of the street past the plant to get to the far side. On the prototype, the track runs in Ontario Street for approximately 2,300 feet. Obviously that’s too long to model uncompressed: In S scale, that’s almost 36 actual feet. But how much can I compress that by? I think 15 feet of street running would be fine. But how about 10? At what point would this huge General Motors plant no longer feel like the major industry that it is?

I feel that compressing scenes will be harder in the case of the NS&T than it was for any previous layout I’ve built, because of my familiarity with the prototype. Can I apply enough compression to actually make something fit in my space that will be satisfying to build, fun to operate – and remind me of the real thing? Those are questions I need to answer.

Third – I would have to actually build all of of the kits I’ve acquired for NS&T freight motors – and get them running to my satisfaction.

I can do this – I’m pretty sure I have the skills – but one doesn’t know for sure until they’re built. Until I have these freight motors ready to run there’s no point in considering a new layout. Get the equipment finished first, then address the layout. It worked for Port Rowan, after all.

Fourth – I would have to build some trolley wire and get it working to my satisfaction.

Despite being a traction guy at heart, I’ve never done this. Can I do it? I’d better figure that out before I commit to a layout.

If I can satisfy these four criteria, then I’ll retire Port Rowan and embark on this new adventure. Until then, Port Rowan is safe. If I cannot satisfy these four criteria, then I see a terrific NS&T diorama in my future…