Sunday, January 26, 2020

Atlas Long Island C420

I picked up one of the most recent run of Atlas Long Island C420s to go with the older-run example I have in the bicentennial "wave" scheme:
The whole story of the Long Island C420s is pretty complex. A first class of C420s, eventually called L-1s, was delivered in small batches between 1963 and 1964. These had individual detail differences, rode on AAR standard trucks, and carried the gray and orange World's Fair paint scheme. They were leased from Alco.

A second class of C420s was ordered by the MTA, which had taken over the Long Island, in 1968. These were purchased from Alco and had hi-ad trucks and other detail differences and were classed L-2. The recent Atlas runs are of L-2 locos. The L-2s were delivered in light blue with yellow cabs, but by the mid 1970s were repainted in the "wave" scheme. A later repaint in blue and yellow used a darker blue. The L-2s had a higher gear ratio than the L-1s, because the MTA intended to get out of the freight business and use the L-2s for passenger service, which never completely happened.

The L-1s came off lease about 1976 and left the railroad, replaced with GP38-2s, MP15ACs, and SW1001s. The L-2s, which were owned, lasted much longer until about 1989. Both the L-1s and L-2s operated in all types of service on the Long Island.

The Atlas model of the Long Island units carries out the smoke deflectors, hi-ad trucks, and plows that made the L-2s distinctive. However, the rebates in the fuel tanks on the Long Island L-2s aren't reproduced. For moderately priced, moderately detailed locos, this is acceptable.

The bodies are fiendishly hard to remove from the chassis for decoder installation. Although online instructions for shell removal say to rock the shell back and forth to get it off the body (first removing the couplers), this didn't work for me. I was able to pry the body from the chassis by gradually inserting small screwdrivers and leveraging the body upward against the chassis, starting around the long-hood steps and gradually moving toward the cab.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Kato N C&NW Bi-Level 400

I was eager to get one of these new sets, because I rode the remnant of the Peninsula 400 in late 1970, just before Amtrak. In fact, it was probably the last pre-Amtrak train I rode. I've been interested in these trains since I saw a blurb in a Trains magazine with mention that the C&NW had had Pullman rebuild a single-level diner with a false roof to conform to the bi-level profile of the Flambeau 400 and Peninsula 400 trains. The bi-level 400s wound up as pretty much the last C&NW intercity service, although I believe that by the end, they ran only as far as Green Bay, WI.

I also had a chance to ride C&NW bi-level suburban trains in the 1960s, and I remember being in a meeting in a Chicago office about 1967 and seeing from the window one of the bi-level 400s departing Northwestern Station complete with re-profiled diner. The 400 bi-levels were in a completely different pool from the suburban bi-levels and had different interiors. Kato has released C&NW E8s in C&NW paint in two numbers as well as cars numbered for the 400 trains in a set. They also appear to be releasing C&NW cars numbered as suburban gallery cars, as well as C&NW style cars repainted in contemporary METRA paint. While the C&NW cab cars have been retired from METRA, ex C&NW coaches remain in service.

I really like the Kato C&NW E8. These are heavy locos and smooth runners. I ordered the set with pre-installed DCC. The E8 is lettered in the late 1950s C&NW scheme without the horizontal black stripe in the middle of the body and with the nose numberboards blanked out and painted yellow.

By the time the bi-level 400s were introduced, the E8s had been rebuilt for head end power with diesel generators mounted in the rear of the body, with a porthole removed and vents added. This isn't reproduced on the Kato model. For N scale at normal distance, this isn't critical. The nose is painted with the older style C&NW silver winged bezel. Later, this was eliminated, and only a simple large C&NW monogram was placed under the headlights. Photos indicate that both styles appeared together during the 1960s. The overall effect is of the C&NW E8s I remember from the 1960s.
The set includes a cab car, but the bi-level 400s did not operate with cab cars. However, the cab car in the set gives a modeler a start on a suburban train of gallery bi-levels. The set that I got with pre-installed DCC includes an FL12 directional decoder for the cab car lights.
I especially like the red tail lights in the prototypical side mounts.
A note of caution: the horn on the cab car fell out in normal handling, an irritating feature of many preassembled models. Given its size, it's effectively gone forever. It would be smart to add a small drop of plastic solvent to hold it in place when you first take it out of the box.

Kato provides a model of car 903, which had 48 coach seats and 32 tavern seats (converted to snack coach in 1970).

The set provides two of the intercity coach cars, 700 and 705. Although there are interiors, there's no difference among the various configurations, and in fact I believe they represent the suburban gallery coach interior. Again, for N, this isn't important.
I had a couple of extra Kato lighting kits and installed them in the intercity coaches. They're easy to do.
The other car is parlor 6400. This is visually the same as the coaches. The prototype parlor was rebuilt to a suburban gallery coach in 1967, so the only unique feature on the model is the number.
The bi-level 400 trains appear on many videos. A full set of one running in reverse from Northwestern Station to the California Avenue coach yard is shown in the Green Frog Emery Gulash Chicago Odyssey Volume 2 Part 1, including both a re-profiled diner and the tavern coach about 1962.

Other videos show single-level RPOs running with bi-level cars on these trains. I found an old Atlas Rivarossi C&NW RPO on eBay that can work as a stand in:

Considering this model is about 45 years old, it's not bad at all. I'l.l probably just swap out a pair of Micro Trains trucks.

The consist and length of these trains varied widely over the years, from season to season, and probably by day of the week. Late videos show just two coaches, which I think was the consist of the train I rode in December 1970. That's what's currently on my layout:

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Working With Some Alcos

I've found myself working on some Alco projects over the past week. One has been trying to get a pair of Broadway Limited Missabe Road DL600Bs to operate reliably on my layout. People have begun to recognize that sound-equipped locos are much more sensitive to dirty track or current variations than ordinary DCC. I tend to prefer DC-only for this version, but also because a sound-equipped loco is about $100 more expensive than a DCC-ready loco, and in addition, more than one or two sound equipped locos on a layout, even at idle, start to drive me up the wall.

The problem with a lot of Broadway locos is that they come only with sound, and that includes these DL600Bs. When I got mine on the layout, they tended to stall and hiccup quite a lot, and I wasn't sure how useful they'd be, especially in low speed service, which is where I tend to operate much of my equipment.

But these are fascinating locomotives, especially because the Missabe was almost completely EMD, but these are big, beefy engines that look good in the Missabe paint. But these were on the Missabe for only about five years, and they were sent to the sister US Steel railroad Bessemer & Lake Erie in 1963. Also, for much of their time on the Missabe, they were upstaged by the last of steam, and photos are pretty scarce. Here's one that was recently posted on Facebook:

I've kept plugging at getting them to run reliably on my layout. I've worked on keeping the rails cleaner with an abrasive pad, as well as running the locos back and forth with a track cleaning slider under a boxcar, putting Wahl clipper oil on the rails, and finding that with more running, the wheel bearings seem to get more polished, which improves contact and current conductivity.

So this is encouraging. I'm going to try running one of them on a local switch job in the coming week.

I've also begun installing decoders in some Atlas RS-1s. I'm not sure if the most recent runs have DCC sockets in the PC boards or LED lighting. I don't believe any in my collection, and I have a fair number of Classic Silver Series RS-1s, has any DCC friendly PC boards. I just installed a Digitrax DH165A0 in this Long Island unit:

I have two more RS-1s to go. Replacing the incandescent bulbs with LEDs from a DCC decoder gives a very satisfying bright headlight.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

DCC Lighting For An Atlas Yellowbox C425

As time passes, Atlas/Kato Yellowbox HO locos are moving steadily into the "vintage" category, but prices for them are slowly climbing on eBay, to the point that there's less and less advantage to them as opposed to Bachmann or Roundhouse locos. For that matter, it might even be a better idea to get current top-of-the-line locos from Rapdio or ScaleTrains rather than load up a collection with "good enough" 40-year-old models.

Still, I found a Yellowbox C&NW C425 at a pretty good price on an eBay auction on which there were no other bidders, so I bit. I converted it to DCC with a Digitrax DH165A0 decoder. One issue with Yellowbox locos is they were equipped with a single incandescent bulb that fed two light bars going to front and rear headlights. In some cases, I've simply replaced the incandescent bulb with a single LED mounted in the same location, but the headlight brightness, never good with the incandescent bulb in the first place, isn't really satisfactory.

I decided to try a solution I found on the web, trimming about 3/8" from the rear of both light bars and milling a recess in the end with a Dremel into which I could CA an LED. This could allow a brighter headlight as well as directional headlight control. Here's the result:

The downside is that with the LEDs attached to the light bars, which are in turn attached to the body, the leads from the decoder to the LED need to be pretty long to allow assembly of the body to the chassis and subsequent removal for maintenance. This in turn makes it fussy to stuff the leads into the hood during assembly and keep them from, for instance, rubbing on the flywheels. It took me several tries to get this right.

In fact, while I don't believe the leads are interfering with the drive now, the loco, while it runs smoothly like an Atlas Yellowbox, has become a little noisier. The leads may now be transmitting sound frmo the motor/decoder to the hood, the acoustics may be otherwise affected, or the loco may just need lube -- it was in mint condition, but 35 years old. Anyhow, here is the result:

It's a lot of work for a loco that's now in the "vintage but good enough: category, so I'm not sure if I'll repeat this.