Sunday, June 9, 2024

Sheepscot Pile Driver Conversion For The Walthers Crane

Some years ago I ordered a Sheepscot Scale Products pile driver conversion kit for the Walthers crane. Sheepscot for a time offered a number of kits from materials including cast metal, etched brass, wood sheet and strip, and cast plaster. I found a donor Walthers crane at a swap meet and assembled the kit, but I never got around to painting it.
I finally did paint it this past week:
I'm still not sure how I'll letter it. I've found a few similar prototype pile drivers on the web:

Sunday, June 2, 2024

The Kato Pocket Line Steeple Cab

The Kato Pocket Line N scale steeple cab electric loco is an intriguing model and probably about the least expensive powered unit in any scale. A web search shows a price range between $35-$45.
Unlike some other cheapo locos in that price range, this has a state of the art coreless motor, and it runs very well. However, Kato warns that running it on DCC without a decoder will damage the motor, so outise of a first test to see how it does on DCC, I've run mine on straight DC. It will run on DCC, but it gives out a loud screech, which doesn't sound good. Given the coreless motor, it runs very well on straight DC. There is a YouTube video on DCC conversion using Z scale decoders like the Digitrax D126.

I'm not satisfied with the pre-molded plastic colors. The easiest solution would be to paint it all black, and some of the closer prototypes in the US were this way:

Even painitng the pantograph black would be an improvement.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Refurbishing Structures And Scenery

I've been refurbishing some structures and scenery, cleaning things up and, where possible, adding Just Plug interior lighting.
The photo above is EGG tower at West Egg. This is a Walthers kit for a standard PRR design. I painted it in PRR colors when I built the kit, but here I've added Woodland Scenics diffusing window film and a Just Plug LED to the top floor.
The is a Downtown Deco Downtown Overlook Hotel. I cleaned up the street in front and added a length of Downtown Deco sidewalk.
This is the Downtown Overlook Hotel from the opposite angle. The Life Like station kit still isn't completely level, I have to fix this.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

New Walthers Mainline RS-2

Chicago Great Western fans have had several new models in recent months. I talked about the Broadway Limited F3s in this post. I recentlyh ordered one of the new Walthers RS-2s. The CGW had eight units numbered 50-57, built in May and September 1949. The Walthers models are numbered 53 and 57, both in the final CGW diesel scheme of bright red with black roofs. I ordered the 53:
I haven't been able to find any color photos of the prototype 53 in the late scheme, but here's a photo of the prototype 52 by Jim Sands:
The red on the Walthers model seems a little too maroon, but it definitely isn't the older maroon of the 1950s scheme, which is illustrated in this photo from Steven Rush.
But here's a photo of a cow-and-calf set in the 1960s brighter red from an unknown photographer:
This seems closer to the red of the model. I've never been a believer in exact colors on the prototype or model, since this can depend on the age of the paint, lighting, weathering, and in fact where the individual shop or railroad bought its paint. A model can be wildly off, which is one thing, but I don't think the Walthers model is wildly off, and I can live with this color.

Notably, the prototype of 53 has a lengthwise stack, while the model has a crosswise stack. This is a bit odd, because Walthers advertises that each road name version has the stack in the prototype position -- however, 57, the other number Walthers did in this run, had a crosswise stack. On the other hand, I haven't been able to find any photos of either 53 or 57 in the late bright red scheme.

This run of RS-2s has the new standard Mainline features of diagonally cut gears in a newly tooled chassis, and this is the first Walthers run of RS-2s with factory sound. I weighed this updated unit on a postal scale, and it came in at about 10.5 ounces. I weighed an earlier-run Walthers RS-2 on the same scale, and it was heavier, at 11.5 ounces. I assume the need to allow space for a speaker in the retooled frame accounts for the difference.

The sound is ESU LokSound Select, with limited features. This is well-suited to a loco of the 1950s and 60s, which didn't have features like flashing ditch lights. I liked the Alco sounds.

The headlight is satisfyingly bright. A good feature when I tested the loco for a first run was that it began rolling very, very slowly on speed step 1, without any need for running in or tuning CV 2 for starting voltage.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Kalmbach Sells Its Hobby Magazines

I've got to say I'm not among the mourners here. I stopped reading Trains in the early 1970s when I realized I was getting far more of the information I wanted from Extra 2200 South (a more technical railfan publication that began in the early 1970s), and then CTC Board. Both featured direct reader involvement in reporting news in a way that prefigured the internet. But I'd lost interest in Trains before then, it mosly carried superficial dazzle, lots of Steinheimer and not much else.

I stuck with Model Railroader a lot longer, but I wrote the editors a number of long critiques. I finally gave up in the early 2000s. My last hurrah was with MR Video Plus around 2012. The original promise was that new videos would be added weekly, and you had to be a subscriber to watch them. But quickly the definition of "new video" changed, there was less new material, and more irritating, they'd frequently make new videos free to try to encourage new subscribers, which meant that I was paying the same for less than they promised, while they were giving other stuff I was paying for away for free. Er, why not offer me an extension of my subscription to compensate?

I e-mailed David Popp about this, and his reply was they couldn't make everyone happy. So much for Kalmbach, as far as I was concerned.

The announcement from Kalmbach said in part,

Trains Magazine, the company’s other rail magazines, and Trains.com are among assets that have been sold by Kalmbach Media to Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Firecrown Media, the two companies have announced today (May 1).

Other Kalmbach titles involved in the transaction are Classic Trains, Model Railroader, Classic Toy Trains, FineScale Modeler, and Astronomy, as well as Kalmbach’s online stores.

. . . Kalmbach employees were informed of the sale this morning and told that most employees working on the brands will be offered positions with Firecrown after screening. Kalmbach CEO Dan Hickey called it “a difficult day in our storied history” in an email announcing the sale.

Frankly, this sounds like the usual corporate downsizing happy talk -- "most" employees will be "offered positions" "after screening". Presumably this will be one of those deals where they have to reapply for their old jobs, and good luck, except that a favored few will know where they stand right away -- like David Popp. He posted about this on Facebook Friday:

Since the release said "most" would be "offered positions" "after screening", that leads me to believe there will be worker bees who won't be grinning in a few days or weeks. For Popp to be gloating this way while many of his colleagues are in a state of uncertainty is unseemly at best, but I also get an uncomfortable feeling that this guy is tempting fate.

As far as I can tell, Kalmbach was held by members of the Kalmbach family, and in selling most of their magazines, they were disinvesting from the business. Comments on various forums indicate that they are also selling the former corporate headquarters in Waukesha, and although the former Kalmbach magazines would still be published in Wisconsin, it would be in a new facility. For the family, they're selling out, which says something about the value they saw in the business.

It sounds to me as if nobody at Kalmbach had a winning formula, including David Popp. I'm not sure how Firecrown Media thinks it can change things with the same team, but we'll have to see. Still, if I were David Popp, I wouldn't be planning for a long stint at Firecrown.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

New Piko HO SP Krauss-Maffei

I've been interested in the Piko HO Krauss-Maffei ML4000 diesel hydraulic since they announced it. I talked more about the prototypes in this post last October. I got mine a month or so ago, and I'm still working my way through it.
One first impression is that the lights are satsifyingly bright, unlike some other recent models, but I also discover that the decoder is proprietary Piko, and the function keys are wandering far afield from US suppliers. The headlight is 0, but the oscilating warning light, unlike other suppliers who put it at 5 or 6, is at shift F10. The lighted number boards are F9 (engine startup is F8 like ESU, but it's complicated after that). The markers are press F9 twice.

Apparently Piko, unlike ESU, won't allow you to remap functions to try to make things more consistent. I also discover that I can't change the loco address, which is 3 by default, to 9000 on the main with my NCE ProCab. Piko USA support replied quicky to my e-mail about this and said to use the programming track. This did work. There is no quick start guide for the unique and proprietary DCC-sound system, which US suppliers normally provide.

More recently I've started to test it in MU with a Walthers Proto SP black widow GP9, which the prototype often ran with in MU as single units.

I had no problem setting the two locos up in advanced consisting on my NEC Pro Cab and speed matching them. (I've often found that at the speeds I use to operate, it's sufficient just to adjust CV 2 to get each loco barely to start rolling on speed step 1.) So far, I'm not seeing a problem. Also, the Walthers Proto SP black widow GP9s have empty number boards, which is correct for a loco not in the lead before 1967, while the K-Ms were mostly out of service before that time, and both the K-Ms and GP9s were renumbered in the 1965 SP renumbering, so the paint on the black widow GP9 is exactly right for this role between 1961, when the K-Ms were delivered, and 1965.

However, the biggest problem with the Piko K-M I've seen so far is that the couplers are plastic, possibly McHenrys. Their uncoupling loops are a little low, and my experience with McHenrys is they're too brittle for any serious service. I still need to replace these with Kadees on my model.

So it's a good model with a few imperfections -- an A, but not an A-plus.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Broadway Limited Chicago Great Western F3s

I ordered a set of Broadway Limited Paragon 4 F3s painted for the Chicago Great Western. I got a full A-B-A set made up of a powered A-dummy B combo and a single powered A. They are numbered 101-A-B-C. This creates a problem if you want to number and control the two cab units separately in DCC. I simply gave 101-A the DCC address 101 and 101-C the DCC address 102. The various lighting features can be controlled individually if you set CV 128=1 to enable Pro Mode Lighting as outlined on page 19 of the BLI Operator's Manual. The oscillating warning light isn't lit in the shot of 101-A below, but the cab light, headlight, and class lights are:
In the photo of 101-C, the oscillating warning light is on, but the cab light and class lights are off:
Unfortunately, the BLI units don't have a ground light feature.

The Chicago Great Western was best known for running F units in A-B-B-B-B-A sets of six. Here's a photo I found on the web with six units in full as-delivered paint:

The F3s were delivered in October 1947 in A-B-A sets. A photo of such a set is below:
The CGW didn't order more B units to fill out the consists until 1949, so that an A-B-A set is definitely correct for the first two years of operation, but A-B-A sets were still used in some situations after six unit consists became the norm. By that time, the extra B units arrived in the later F unit body style with horizontal side vents similar to the F7, so that a consist of six matched F3 units would be unusual.

Unfortunately, Broadway Limited doesn't offer either separate B units or powered B units, but a later-year consist can be filled out with Stewart or Bowser F units in the all-maroon scheme.