Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Next Big Step

Having inventoried the vast majority of my HO lcomotive collection and made up a tentative to-do list for more DCC conversions, I'm beginning to realize I need to do the same for my N collection. I did most of my N modeling between about 1975 and 1985, when I was single, poor, and living in an apartment, and N suited my budget and available space, which was a walk-in closet. I collected almost no N between about 1985 and 2015, when I began experimenting with T-TRAK. Nevertheless, I do have some N equipment from the 70s and 80s stashed away.

Toward the end of that period, I was getting to be well enough off to get some N scale brass. This was before the day of quality N plastic locos, and even Kato's range at the time was limited and somewhat primitive. I've had the idea at the back of my mind for a while that I really ought to convert the better-quality N locos in my collection to DCC, including the brass ones. Below is a good first step:

ATSF 8702 is a U33/36C from (I think) Hallmark. It represents brass technology of the time, with an open frame 5-pole motor, no flywheels, and pickup from one rail on each truck. A quick test on DC shows it's a quiet runner. It came unpainted but with Santa Fe details of the 1970s and 1980s, air conditioner on the cab roof, radio ground plane behind the cab, a solid brass gumball flasher, and horn. The rear radiator screens were see-through, and the drive to the rear truck was lowered to provide a clear view through the screens. I did the painting with Floquil paint and Micro Scale decals. I am no longer able to do paint work like this as I age.
I never reassembled the body to the frame after I painted it -- I was unsatisfied with the paint job I'd done for whatever reason, and I pretty much gave up on the model. However, coming back to it now, I don't see what the problem was, and since I don't have to disassemble it now to install DCC, it looks like this will be my easiest start on doing this with one of my N brass locos.
The decoder is a Digitraz DZ126D, which is small enough that it should fit in the long hood shell to the rear of the motor. Wiring should be no problem, and at least for now, I won't bother with headlights, and trying to light the flasher is more than I want to do. How the one-rail-per-truck pickup will work out is something I'll have to deal with, but if it results in a loco that runs acceptably, I'll turn to the rest of my N brass locos. At least adjusting CVs for momentum and starting voltage on DCC should get the best out of what it can do.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Athearn Roundhouse 40-Foot High Cube

I was intrigued by Athearn's re-release of its outside-post 40-foot high cube under the Roundhouse brand, whose tooling I think is originally from the 1960s. I think they did a run of these cars in the blue Golden West Service scheme some years ago, but the new release includes a heavily patched version lettered for the Arizona Eastern Railway, which is the successor to short lines that have operated former Southern Pacific branches in Arizona and New Mexico since the late 1980s. The prototypes are still in service and carry refined copper products.

True to their 1960s heritage, the models are "close enough" representations. The sorta prototypes are three series of cars built for the Southern Pacific. Some were refurbished, painted blue for Golden West Service and leased to short lines, while the SP retained others. The Golden West cars came off lease and were patched SP after the SP-UP merger, but are still a faded Golden West blue. The SP cars, still red, have been heavily patched and relettered AZER.

The new Roundhouse weathered and patched paint versions are pretty attractive. Below is mine right from the box:

Below is the car's underframe out of the box. The new regime paints the underframe pieces, which never happened in the bluebox days.
Athearn has steadily been phasing out the old bluebox-style underframes, which date from the late 1950s. This car, with its vintage tooling, is one that retains this underframe, which I always rework. Its main problem is that the coupler boxes rely on a metal clip to hold the coupler in place, which is a loosey-goosey arrangement that can fall off. It also makes it nearly impossible to adjust the coupler's play. My solution is to remove the weight (this new version holds it in place with contact cement, but you can pry it loose with a flathead screwdriver).

Then I clip off the coupler boxes, and I toss both the boxes with their metal clips and the brittle plastic stock McHenry couplers. I replace these with Kadee 148s. I glue the 148 boxes to the underframe as shown and drill out mounting holes #50. I glue the weight to the top of the floor with silicone glue. In this case, I had to drill the truck mounting screw holes through, also #50, and replaced the truck mounting screws with 3/8" 2-56. I used the old truck mounting screws to mount the Kadee 148 boxes.

I painted the underframe, trucks, and wheels with Scalecoat Flat Grime #2 from a spray can. I cleaned the wheel treads with acetone using a cotton swab.
I srill need to add weight up to NMRA standards. The cheapest way to do it is with pennies stuck into a layer of silicon glue.
These cars see less tagging than usual, but they do need post-2010 FRA conspicuity stripes. I still have to add these as well.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Grand Trunk GP9 Update

I first posted on this model in June of last year. Since then, I've gotten around to ordering a winterization hatch and something I can use for CN barrel-type spark arresters. These are parts from Apogee Loco Works with the upper exhaust pipes cut down. I painted the winterization hatch with Testors Spray Enamel Bright Blue, which is a fairly close match to the GTW blue on the model.

I've looked at the 16 ex Trand Trunk Railway GP9s that went to the Grand Trunk Western in Michigan pretty closely. Photos indicate that in the late 1980s, many went back to operate on the Central Vermont. They variously lost their spark arresters, winterization hatches, and dynamic brakes, and some even were relettered with the CV wet noodle.

CV 4449 is from the same series as the Walthers prototype, but as of the late 1980s, it's lost both its winterization hatch and its spark arresters and is lettered CV. If I get another of the Walthers units, it'll be relettered for CV.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Coming To The End Of The JMRI Decoder Inventory

One of my last tasks has been to reset the jumpers on all my Atlas locos with the dual mode 4-function decoders to DCC mode, program them to the cab number address, and set CV 2 to a starting voltage where they'll start rolling slowly at speed step 1. The value here varies widely, but it usually has to be between 20 and 50. On a few locos, it was so high that I really had to increase the speed steps in testing to verify that the decoder was working at all.

A bonus was that I also shot photos of them for the roster entries. Here are a few:

Since the locos all had factory installed decoders that only needed to have the jumper moved to convert to DCC, this was a big result with little effort and no cost.
Atlas offered these in the mid 2000s but no longer includes them.