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Archive for February 28th, 2012

I had a set of three Bachman side-dump ore cars that I wanted to run as a connected consist, so I removed the couplers between the first and second, and the second and third cars, and connected the cars with what is known as a draw-bar.  I used a small piece of flat plastic with holes drilled in both ends, and reconnected the cars with the coupler pocket screws through the plastic draw-bar’s holes.
My ore load in these cars is paver sand, sifted through a spaghetti strainer.
Notice how careful dry-brushing can bring out the cast-on detail of these cars.
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In between shows, “Harriet’s Halloween Candy” (set and light design at the Phipps), and “Joseph and the…you know the rest”…lighting design only), at the River Falls Community Theatre, I have managed to eke out a few hours to complete this latest project. You will remember from one of my last postings that I had purchased, by mistake, a set of HO scale Donkey engines, which I then painted and weathered and re-sold on eBay (at a very nice profit). This project started with the purchase of the correct size model, and a stock Bachmann D&RGW flat car.
I treated this car to the same techniques I have used on other flat cars…wood decking added, painting and weathering. This car had an interesting “sway-back” look to it that I made permanent with beams along each side designed to hold the lift rings. If you got my post about a year ago on the lumber cars, you will remember that I fashioned these lift rings with small brass eye pins and tiny black beads from Michael’s.
The donkey engine came with the top of the boiler stack and one of the side spools detached, so I decided to leave them off and create an open-topped crate for them. I actually think donkey engines were usually shipped without the smoke stack attached. I also saw a photo of a donkey engine stack with a flared top, so I added a small rubber o-ring from my scrap box to approximate this. Donkey engines in the woods traveled on heavy wooden skids. They could actually be rigged to pull themselves along sometimes. Bachmann’s model comes with a plastic skid that is the right size and shape, but looks like…..well, plastic….so, I removed it, and fashioned a real wooden skid for my model. I hadn’t done this on the HO scale models I worked on because the skid was glued on, but on this O scale model, you can remove the plastic skid by taking out a couple of screws, which is very handy.
The boiler itself is nicely modeled in black, but the metal frame and gears are in brown plastic, so they all had to be repainted. I wanted them to look new, so I went with a sort of shiny look.  Another reason for not playing around with the boiler color was the nice detailing job that Bachmann has done on the valves and gauges.
I created a small platform on the back of the skid for a water tank. Sometimes these were wooden, but they could also be steel tanks, and that’s the choice I made here. This was made with styrene sides and pounce wheel rivets glued over the same small wooden blocks that I’m using to create shipping crates.   I had to furnish a hose to connect the tank to the boiler, but because I was going to ship this rig in an unassembled fashion, I made the hose from a little piece of insulated wire that I painted black, and left  it coiled between the tank and the boiler in this photo.  With everything finished that belonged on the skid, I glued the skid to the flat car deck.
I took a couple of finished shipping crates that I had built for another article, and glued one on just ahead of the skid, and placed the other in the open-topped crate that contained the smoke stack and side spool. This top view shows the various crates supposedly containing small parts for the donkey engine. Next I used beige thread to simulate rope, and tied everything in place.
And now I can include a nicely detailed shipment for the Cascade Canyon Lumber Company when we do operating sessions.

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Why am I doing things in scales other than my On30? Well, this was an error on my part. I wanted to buy Bachmann’s new Donkey Engine on eBay one night….in O scale, and after I bought it, I found out that I had bid on an HO scale item. I toyed with the idea of using it in the background to create some forced perspective (an idea I may yet pursue), but the Cascade Lumber Camp is going to be on a particularly narrow section of the layout, and I thought maybe I could do something more creative with these (there were two in the package). So I painted and weathered them, and scratch-built a wooden water tank on the back, complete with feed pipe, and sold them back on eBay. The result was a profit of twice what I paid for them in the first place, and easily enough to purchase the O scale donkey engine.
A steam donkey, or donkey engine is the common nickname for a steam-powered winch, or logging engine widely used in past logging operations, though not limited to logging. They were also found in the mining, maritime, and nearly any other industry that needed a powered winch. A logging engine comprised at least one powered winch around which was wound hemp rope or (later) steel cable. They were usually fitted with a boiler, and usually equipped with skids, or sleds made from logs, to aid them during transit from one location to the next. A donkey engine could actually pull itself over the ground if the cables were attached to a nice solid tree. Usually a water tank, and sometimes a fuel oil tank was mounted on the back of the sled.  John Dolbeer, a founding partner of the Dolbeer and Carson Lumber Company in Eureka, California, invented the logging engine in that city in August 1881, but not all Donkey Engines were Dolbeer Donkey Engines; there were other manufacturers.
The recently released Donkey Engine from Bachmann has remarkable detail. This little HO scale model is only 2.0 inches tall by 2.25 inches long. I was going to try to replace the plastic sled with a wooden one, but I was afraid of damaging the minute details, so I just weathered the sled to look like old wood. The platform under the water tank is actually a mixture of plastic and real wood, and I think it blends nicely with the plastic sled.
The barrel hoops of the water tank are made from flat dental floss, painted black. I used weathering powders as well as dry-brushing techniques to achieve the look I wanted.

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Cupola for the Combine

The Pagosa Junction style cupola on a combine.  Narrow gauge lines tried to save money wherever they could, and if they could make one car serve the purposes of two or three, then that’s what they did.  The Combine is already, as its name implies, a car that serves a combination of functions, baggage car and passenger car.  By adding a cupola to the top, the railroad also enabled this car to serve as a caboose.  The purpose of the cupola on a caboose was to enable the brakeman or conductor to keep an eye on the train ahead of it for hot boxes or other problems.
Here is the Bachmann model of the D&RGW combine. The current Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge line also uses these same colors on much of its passenger stock. The cupola in this article was run on the line to Pagosa Junction.
Banta Model Works makes a nice laser cut wood kit for a cupola for this car. Here are a couple of pictures from the instructions that come with the kit.

Laser cut wood kits are a relatively new phenomenon, and they are a joy to work with because the wood parts come 99% already cut, and the cuts have the precision of…..well, lasers. You only have to separate them from the rest of the sheet by cutting in a few small places.
And here are the assembled sub-walls for the cupola. I used my trusty Gorilla CAA glue to bond the pieces together. (Update: See article Durango Depot Part 1, for why I no longer use this glue very extensively.)
The cupola has a second layer of what might be called car-siding. This material has a peel-and-stick backing that makes it easy to apply. When it is time to fashion the corner grab irons, there is a nifty little wooden jig to do this with, so that you get the length of each side, and the corner angle exactly right on every one.
The support wire for the corner of each of the “grabs” is glued into the roof, and to the corner of the grab-iron, and then the wire will be cut off after the glue has had a day to set.
It’s time to check the fit on the roof of the combine, and begin to get an idea of what the finished project will look like.
This photo shows several things. The cupola has been painted. Testors Silver made a pretty good match for Bachmann’s silver roof, but it took quite a bit of playing around to mix a yellow that matched the combine’s sides. The kit comes with two small wooden pieces to cover the combine’s clerestory windows that will be blocked off by the cupola. I painted those black. Then there are the ten supports for the roof walk, which I also painted black and glued in place.
And here is the painted cupola in position on top of the combine.
This photo from the instruction sheet shows the roof walk, end ladders, and the roof handrail in place.
And here is my completed car with the same pieces attached.
Close up of the roof walk hand-rail. These joints were actually soldered, not glued.
I also added wire grab-irons next to the baggage doors, where they would have been on the prototype.
Part of the plastic end rail had to be removed to place the cast metal end ladders leading to the roof walk.

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I use a Kadee Ho Coupler Height Gauge to make sure that all my rolling stock couplers will match up for smooth operation. If you’ve looked closely at some of my other pages on this site, you may have noticed some arch bar trucks with the side frames upside down!  I confess….I was so preoccupied with getting the couplers to the right height that I chose the wrong direction to mount the trucks. Here’s a better solution.   (Update:   One thing I know about the internet is that you can’t always trust the information that’s out there…..even when you put it out there yourself!  After writing this article last night, I did some more poking around this morning, and discovered some things about arch bar trucks that I didn’t know….or had forgotten.  See below.)
I was assuming that the flat bar on an arch bar truck needed to go at the bottom, like this illustration.
As I poked around, I was running into the term, “inverted arch bar truck”, and that made me curious. Here is an illustration of an arch bar truck with the flat bar at the top.  Coincidentally, this is a photo from Bachmann of the exact truck I was writing about.
I started finding images of arch bar trucks with flat bars top and bottom…..
……and images with no flat bar at all! The one consistent factor in determining right side up or upside down seemed to be the direction of the diagonal bars leading down to the center springs. On all of these trucks, the diagonal bars sloped down towards the center springs.  But even more important for the truck to function properly is that the bolster has to exert downward pressure on the springs…springs beneath bolster ends should line them up correctly for you every time.  Therefore, what follows is a treatise on how to mount your trucks UPSIDE-DOWN.  C’est la vie!
In this article, I’m using Bachmann’s 29906 underframes, that are designed to give a car a lower more prototypical narrow gauge look. Then I am using Bachmann’s 29904 Arch Bar trucks, but if the trucks are applied right out of the package, they result in a coupler that is about 4 mm too low. I’m sure there are other ways of doing this, and as a matter of fact, I’ve messed around with filing or shimming the coupler housing, but this method is quite a bit faster than anything else I’ve tried.  First, I remove the arch bar trucks from their packaging, and put aside the two little washers and screws that come with them. I never throw anything away, so these little bits of hardware go in my coupler “tool box”. I purchased longer machine screws at Ace Hardware.  I think these are a number 2 or 3 shaft, and they are one-half inch long.
This is the Bachmann Arch Bar truck as it comes out of the package.  (And, upside-down, as it turned out.  If I had just thought about it a little more, the springs couldn’t function in this orientation!)
I like to hold truck side frames on the end of a paint brush to paint them. They fit tightly, don’t move around as you brush them, and you don’t wind up with paint all over your fingers.  I do eventually plan on investing in an air brush, but that’s a step I haven’t taken, yet. Here I’m painting the side frames with Polly Scale “Grimy Black”.
After the Polly Scale dries, I lightly dry brush with some Testor’s “Rust”.
I also do the wheels themselves with “Rust”. I paint both sides, but try to keep the paint off the treads. I have seen rigs you can buy to mask the treads for air brushing, so maybe I’ll invest in one of those when I get an air brush.  If a little paint gets on the treads, just wipe it off right away with a small piece of paper towel.  Holding the wheels with a good tweezers keeps the paint off your fingers.
After the paint is dry on both the wheels and the side frames, I dust them with some of Joel Bragdon’s marvelous weathering powders. Here I’ve used “Dust Bowl Brown”. Notice how the dry brushing and the powders have visually unified the whole truck, which started out as two distinctly different colors.
Now it’s time to look at some little plastic spacers I also bought at Ace Hardware. They are about a quarter of an inch tall, and have an interior opening that just fits over the little spacer that Bachmann provides with the car under-frames. It is important they they fit over this narrow end of Bachmann’s spacer because the hub on the under-frame bolster is the same size, and the white spacer needs to fit over it.
As it happens, half of one of these little white spacers is just about the exact height that I need to raise my couplers. I put the spacer in my hobby vice, and using my track saw that has a very fine blade, I cut the spacer as nearly in half as I can.
Here is what half of the spacer now looks like.
And here is the white spacer on top of the bolster hub.
Sorry about the focus on this picture; my camera’s auto-focus beam missed the small drill bit and spacer, but you can understand what I’m doing here….drilling the hole on the Bachmann spacer just a hair larger.
I found that by using a 5/64 drill bit, I could enlarge the hole just enough that the 1/2 inch screw would thread its own way in.
The screw is only partially inserted in this picture. I wanted to show the orientation of the black spacer, screw and side-frame.
Now the screw is tightened down on both the black and the white spacer, and I’m ready to snap the wheels back in place.  Then I’ll put the car on my coupler height gauge test track and see how I’m doing.
It worked!

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Another commission I had was to build a Conestoga wagon in N-scale for a client. This little model is about an inch and a half long.
The driver and the horses are commercial pieces.
The wagon body is built from basswood, and the canopy is one ply of Kleenex tissue, stiffened with paint.  I used the ends of paper clips to support the canopy.
The reins are dental floss. It’s a little over-size. I think I’d use black thread if I did this again. The wagon wheels are some old N-scale brake wheels I had on hand.

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Cheap Flat Cars

One of the most ubiquitous, and useful cars on a railroad has always been the flatcar. Just about anything, as long as it isn’t granular or liquid can be transported on a flat car. Early tank cars were actually just a cylindrical tank mounted on a flat car. Beyond this, the basic flat car can be used as the foundation for any number of special use cars. See my article on the idler flats used with pipe gondolas in the San Juan oil fields in southwest Colorado. My operating system proposes to use both loaded and empty cars where the loads will show. I will need twice as many flat cars to manage this, so an inexpensive method of building a large number of flat cars is called for.
Bachmann sells separate parts for some of its equipment, and one of the items you can buy separately is a standard freight car under-frame, pictured above (they come three to a package).
You can also buy the trucks for freight cars separately. They come one pair to a package, and I would suggest you check the prices at “The Favorite Spot” on eBay. With these two elements as starting points, I can create a generic flat car for about half the cost of buying one already built.
The first step, as with any new car on your railroad, is to make sure that the couplers match up with your coupler height gauge. This is one of the most critical factors in good railroad operation, so I always take care of it first thing. I use the Kadee coupler height gauge for HO scale Kadee #5 couplers.
Adjusting the coupler height to match the gauge can sometimes involve a little filing or shimming at either the coupler pocket, or the bolster, but it must be done or your trains will be coming apart unexpectedly when you run them.
After that, I measured the under-frame to see what length pieces of basswood would be needed to create the side and end sills. I also measured and cut wood for the decking, and then I threw all the precut pieces into a mixture of isopropyl alcohol with a few drops of leather dye. For this project, I used two colors of dye…black and mahogany. If you cut your wood pieces to length before staining them, the cut ends get stained as well. Because it is alcohol based, the wood dries fairly quickly after being removed from this stain, and you can proceed to glue things together without a long wait. Here is the car with the end and side sills in place. You can also see the NBW castings on the end sill, and some more of those scratch-built plastic corner braces I have been creating.  I also have to point out an embarrassing mistake which I will need to correct on a number of cars…..the arch bar truck side frames are on upside down.  They got this way because I was paying more attention to the simplest way to fit the bolsters on to get the couplers to the right height…..so now I’m in for more fiddling, but I can’t leave the trucks upside-down!
Once the side and end sills were done, I started gluing on the decking. I’ve found that a product called “Aleene’s Tacky Glue” works really well for connecting wood to plastic. I’ve used it before on all my wood replacement decks on flat cars. It is non-toxic, water-based, faster drying than Elmer’s, and can glue just about anything to anything.
The flat car with deck completed, but still needs side stake pockets and brake detail.

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