M&K Junction Railroad

M&K Junction Railroad
Another train of eastbound coal crosses the Cheat River

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Well, not really; not as much as one would hope.

Like everything else there's a story connected with this.  Back on July 8 I hosted a model railroader at my layout.  I had had the brass Sunset Models B&O I-12 caboose on the left for some time, but had not put it out on the layout.  So I put on a pair of couplers (quite a task due to poor design) and put it out for the session.  With this caboose on the layout the converted 3-rail MTH caboose I had been using now looked very oversize. The MTH is a nicely executed caboose, but too large to be a B&O I-17.  So now that I was unhappy with the MTH I had to get better cabooses on the layout.  So I pulled out one of the Lionel B&O I-12 cabooses that I have and began the conversion from 3 rail to 2 rail.

The caboose on the right is the Lionel B&O I-12 converted to 2-rail.  Before I launch into the Lionel's shortcomings let me say this;  Lionel is to be applauded for mass-producing this caboose.  This is a prototype unique to the B&O and its successor the Chessie System.  Only 125 prototypes ever existed.  For Lionel to invest in such a limited application model is worthy of support.  I have bought 4 of these cabooses and, depending on how I resolve the shortcomings that I will talk about, I may well buy more.  What follows is more of a review with an eye towards helping produce better models than a condemnation of a flawed product.

Neither the Sunset nor the Lionel is a dead-on-accurate model.  The Sunset cost about twice what the Lionel costs, and that needs to be borne in mind.  Let's start with simple things like color.  Not even the B&O Yahoo group can agree on what paint represents an accurate red for B&O cabooses.  But all agree that it's a bright red.  On that basis, the Sunset is too dark.  I believe, looking at color photos of the prototype, that the Lionel may be a shade too bright; but the Lionel's color is the better of the two.  By the way, the white lettering on the Sunset, which is numbered for a first batch I-12 and Lionel's use of yellow for a second batch I-12 are both correct.

This brings me around to a minor beef that I have with all of Lionel's production.  Lionel marks all of it's models with the Lionel item number and "Built by Lionel"  as seen in the next photo.

Lionel does this all of the time.  It's unnecessary.  Lionel collector's will know that this was "Built by Lionel"  It's minor because I can Photoshop this out in pictures, but I should not have to.

There's one flaw on the Lionel that could be corrected, but to do so would require stripping the entire paint job and repainting.  Running through the center of the bay window on a real I-12 is a lap joint in the side sheet metal accompanied by a line of rivets.  The Sunset omits the lap joint entirely, as you can see below.

For some inexplicable reason, probably associated with language difficulties, overseas manufacturing or interpretation of drawings, the Lionel has a groove where the lap joint should be.

Maybe this was an honest attempt to represent the lap joint, but the groove is the worst aspect of Lionel's model.  It could be filled in with putty and sanded, but doing this so close to the line of rivets and having to repaint the model is more bother that I am willing to put up with.  I'll have to live with this one.

Speaking of rivets, Lionel's are sharp and stand proud of the sides of the model, Sunset's are pressed into the brass and somewhat indistinct.  Lionel's are easier to see with old eyes, and at a distance; you'll have to judge for yourself which is preferable. And, no, I don't know what the correct count of rivets should be; but on my next trip to the B&O Railroad Museum... :-).
Now for my observations about the Lionel trucks, which are horrid.  First, like many 3-rail models, the Lionel sits too high when on it's trucks.  Supposedly this is necessary to clear the 3-rail flanges and couplers.  However, the Sunset model was also available in a 3-rail version, yet it sits at a more prototypical height.  The height will also cause problems with coupler mounting.

The complex design of Lionel's truck (or MTH's or Atlas's similar trucks) means that there's nothing that can be done to lower the truck itself, the bolster is too high and the bolster is a complex design in folded sheet metal and I cannot see any way to alter it.

On it's high perch, the Lionel caboose looks larger than the Sunset; but it's an illusion, the dimensions of the two bodies are similar. 

The Lionel truck is a complex design that has a two-part core in addition to the side-frames - with separate bearings and two tiny springs buried in each one.  Removing the 3-rail wheel sets and couplers requires full disassembly of the truck after which the lower part of the truck frame, housing the coupler actuation mechanism, serves no purpose.

Lionel's wheel sets have 2.5 mm pointed axles, standard O scale pointed axle wheel sets will not fit; and no one makes a 2.5 mm pointed axle 2-rail wheel set.  I know that Lionel has no interest in 2-rail conversions, but it appears that they have gone out of their way to prevent 2-rail conversion. I was able to convert a Lionel truck using Precision Scale #203 blunt axle wheel sets which has stepped-down ends of 2 mm.  The converted truck rolled more freely than the original, in spite of the blunt end axles.

The worst feature of the Lionel truck are two tiny coil springs embedded in each side frame supporting the top part of the frame (I'm hesitant to call it a bolster, because it is more than just a bolster), these springs are not visible from the outside of the truck.  The Lionel truck has a blob of metal representing the caboose leaf springs - very poorly done - and these tiny springs are embedded behind it.  In spite of being sprung the truck does not equalize.  I believe that these springs are supposed to allow the bolster to move up and down; but they are so firm and have so little travel that I cannot see that they would allow the bolster/frame to move unless the impact was really large.  Maybe this is appropriate for the 3-rail market.

The issue with these springs is in disassembly and reassembly of the truck.  The springs fly out when you remove the side-frames and the you have to try to put them back in place during reassembly.  The space where they fit is small and they have to be captured at the top by the bolster while you are juggling wheelsets, side frames and separate bearings (hint - remove the plastic brake shoes to give yourself more space to work with.  They are simply press-fit in the side-frames and easy replaced) .  The first truck that I converted required 4 hours to get everything together; after working out a procedure, the second still took the better part of two hours.  And current pickups still have to be made for the converted trucks. 

At this point I whimped out and bought MTH 2-rail caboose trucks, which, it turns out, have their own problems in removing the three-rail coupler, also requiring complete disassembly, as well as cutting off the "horn" that's left behind by the 3-rail coupler.  But the MTHs do not have the accursed springs and have current pickups built-in.  MTH's also have double insulated wheels making the orientation the wheels during reassembly immaterial.

Coupler mountings will have to be devised for the Lionel, and these will hang down by at least 0.125 inch because of the high mounting of the body.  The end platforms of the Lionel are plastic which will lead to it's own set of problems, especially since I will use these cabooses in actual pusher service; gluing my not be strong enough.

Other "features" of the Lionel are just annoyances.  The markers are probably oversize, but are painted yellow, which I believe is correct.  The Lionel window frames seem to be too narrow, when compared to prototype photos; Sunset's are much better in this respect. 

The photo above show the Lionel's handrails to the roof walk. the bottom of the handrail shows a nicely formed attachment point with two simulated bolt heads; but the upper end is simply stuck into a hole drilled through the roof walk into the body.  Why do the job half way?

The Lionel has an oversize smoke jack to accommodate the built-in smoke unit.  However, they supply a more scale-sized unit that can be substituted; this despite their apparent ambivalence to the scale market.

The biggest surprise came in the truck center-to-center spacing.  It's axiomatic in the O scale community that 3-rail models need shorter truck center spacing to negotiate tighter curves.  This is all the more so if the prototype has the outboard wheel sets tucked behind stairs, as the I-12 does.  Yet the Lionel has the proper 19 ft. center-to-center spacing and the Sunset does not! The visual effect of this is not great but can be seen in the next two photos.

First the Sunset:

The outboard wheel on the Sunset looks like it could turn 90 degrees and still clear the steps.

On the Lionel (sporting the  MTH trucks) the wheel is more tucked behind the steps, as seen in the next photo.

The Lionel is more prototypically accurate.

Lionel also seems to excel in small details like the safety tread on the stairs and well as painting the grab irons and stair edges in yellow, which was B&O standard practice.  The Sunset has some grab irons painted body color.

So would I buy more Lionel I-12s?  That depends.  The excess height of the converted caboose rankles me more than I would have thought. It's not the absolute height, but the comparison of heights that will look like hell on a caboose track.  The time it takes to make the conversion, even by buying the easier-to-convert MTH trucks is also an issue.  I am going to try using the Yorder caboose trucks to solve both the height and conversion time issues, but they come at a cost of $40 per pair.

$40 for trucks plus the cost of another Lionel caboose, usually $85-95, is beginning to creep up into the range of used RTR brass, if you can find a good buy.

Then there is the issue of availability. Lionel has released about 10 variations of the I-12.  The ones that I have are from the first issue, painted for the 1945 build of I-12s and are accurate for the years 1945~1955.  These are beginning to command a premium from Lionel collectors; pushing the cost of acquiring and converting any more further into brass territory.

Some of the later paint schemes issued by Lionel, like B&O pool service blue, Chessie System and all of the 'fantasy' schemes like the Alaska Road and Polar Express would have to be repainted; a job that I do not relish.

So, if the Yorder trucks solve the conversion problems and I can find the proper variations of the Lionel product at a reasonable price then, yes, I will buy more. Also, if I need more I-12s and the brass supply dries up or gets more pricey (currently about $200 for new and $120-150 used) then I will consider more conversions, even if repainting is required.

Monday, July 23, 2012

2012 O Scale National

For various good reasons, work on the layout has been slow recently. However, I did attend the 2012 O Scale National Convention in Parsippany, NJ. The convention was fairly conventional (pun intended), so let me tell you about a particular piece of swag that I came home with.

For anyone who has been to more than a couple of train shows or conventions knows that being there when the doors to the dealer hall open is critical. All of the really good deals are snapped up in the first hour or less. So it was with this show. On about my third aisle, I spotted a Suydam O Scale building kit for a furniture factory. I knew that at one time Suydam made HO scale kits, but if I ever knew anything about what their HO kits were like I have long since forgotten.  I do not remember ever hearing of an O Scale Suydam kit. The obviously ancient kit box was sealed with tape and was satisfyingly heavy. I was not about to be crass enough to open it for inspection, especially since it was priced at only $15. I figured that for $15 I could afford to buy a "pig in a poke"; so I bought the kit.

About 10 minutes later, another attendee stopped me to ask how did I like soldering those Suydam kits?   Solder? Solder? I thought. Did I hear that right? Was this guy suggesting that I was going to have to solder a structure kit?   I figured that it was better to feign inexperience than ignorance and I responded, entirely truthfully, but evasively, "I don't know, this is the first one that I will be building." 

Eventually, I took the box out to my car rather than schlep it through all of the clinic rooms.  I opened the box and the photos show what I beheld.

The box was filled with neatly die-cut and formed pieces of flat and corrugated tin-plated steel.  A few turned wood detail parts (that actually appear to be HO size) and a few sheets of instructions - for the HO kit.  A single sheet appendix for the O scale kit acknowledges that the instructions are for the HO kit, but O scalers should be smart enough to figure out what the differences are for themselves (well, maybe).  And, yes, the instructions for the HO kit specify soldering for assembly.

I've done some quick research on these kits.  I can find little about the O scale kits; but HO builders recommend Walther's Goo for assembly.  I think that I will stick with solder.  I don't think that I will build this as a furniture or other woodworking facility, but I'll incorporate it into the Alpha Portland Cement complex as a warehouse.

Other swag that I came away with were wheelsets and trucks - items that the local hobby shop does not carry in "O".

Two things really made the convention for me.  I did interviews with some of the clinic presenters for the Model Rail Radio podcast; and a half-hour interview with Tony Koester.  I'm hoping that Tom Barbalet, the head honcho at Model Rail Radio, will collect all of the interviews into a show dedicated to the O Scale National and O scale.  I'm hoping that a dedicated show will get some O scale guys into listening to podcasts.  Right now, when I mention a podcast to a O scaler, I may as well be speaking Klingon.

The second thing was that I got to do a clinic at the convention,  albeit it was an impromptu thing.  As far back as January, I had offered to do a clinic on photo backdrops at the national, but they had a full clinic schedule.  However, their best laid plans went awry and several clinicians did not show up.  I volunteered again and this time I was accepted.

That gave me a couple of nights to pull together a presentation - and I had brought no materials with me.  I pulled my photo backdrop videos down from the web and cut some slides out of the videos.  I filled out that material with new slides and I was ready; although without the polished presentation that I would like to have made.

My time slot was 10 am on Sunday morning.  Now the convention was winding down on Saturday afternoon with several vendors pulling out.  I did not know how many attendees would be here Sunday morning, so I made up only 5 CDs with my presentation and videos on them as handouts.  As luck would have it, 15+ people showed up for the clinic.  I made a sign-up sheet and will mail discs to the people who did not receive them.  The presentation was well-received with some people remarking that it was the best of the week.

One of the "getaway" layouts on my way home was in Bethlehem, PA; and in design and execution it is the most unusual layout that I have ever seen.   Out behind his modest home this gentleman had built a 4500 sq. ft. basement and put a roof over it - but there was no house involved.  The basement walls were capped with roof trusses to provide a clear span and there was no house between.  

With 4500 square feet, even in O scale, one would expect a railroad representing a line from the Atlantic or the Pacific to the Mississippi.  Not for this modeler.  Most of the square footage of the layout was a single scene of Easton, Pennsylvania where the Lehigh and Delaware rivers converge and five rail lines, primarily Jersey Central and Lehigh Valley, but with appearances by the Pennsylvania, Lackawanna and the Lehigh and Hudson River, come together.

The following photo shows the area of the layout near the river junction.  This a panorama made up of 5 exposures.  Click on the photo for a bigger view to appreciate it.

I estimate that the river scene is compressed by only a factor of three or four and I'd be surprised if it were more than a factor of five or six.  In this layout, the trains are definitely are dwarfed by the scenery.  The bridge in the center of this picture is for the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad (yes, it really is curved).   In the right foreground is a small portion of the Jersey Central bridge over the Delaware, which seems to be close to 50 actual feet long.  The aisle runs along the bridge (you are walking in the river) and on the other side of the aisle is an equally long and impressive Lehigh Valley Bridge.  The Morris and Delaware canals are also represented including their inclined planes.

But the most unique thing about this layout is that, as far as I can tell, there is no facility for continuous running of the trains.  Each railroad follows it's route along or across the rivers and dead-ends at a wall.  The one exception might be the combined Jersey Central/Lackawanna which had a sizable yard and might have held a continuous running connection.  All in all, even my wife was impressed.