Bessie the Engineer

Bessie the Engineer

Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

For Christmas this year, my daughter asked for an N scale stock car (a.k.a. “Cattle Car”) for her stuffed cow Bessie to ride in. We picked up a nice Athearn 36 foot car at a good price, and then I got to thinking… what if it were purple (my daughter’s current favorite color) … and what if it said “Bessie” on the side?

As you can see, the results greatly pleased both the girl and the cow.

This was a real adventure in customizing rolling stock. I had to really stretch my rather beginner-level modeling skills, but I learned a lot very quickly and found that … well, it’s not so hard, really. The time pressure of getting it done before Christmas helped me to get over my trepidation about hacking up a car.

The first step was disassembling the car and stripping the old (brown) paint off. I had trouble removing the body from the floor, so I opted to paint the whole thing.

Based on some advice, I used DOT3 brake fluid. Somewhat dangerous stuff (though it’s mostly a very fine grade motor oil), I had to be careful… turns out it wasn’t such a good choice. The brake fluid did a fine job of stripping the paint, but it also ate through the softer plastic used for the undercarriage truss rods and the brake wheel. So I have some repair work to do later. Next time, I’ll try 91% isopropyl alcohol, which I hear does just as well with less risk to the plastic.

Once the paint was stripped, I had to learn to use my airbrush. A little practice with that, and I was able to successfully lay down a primer coat and paint the base purple color. I then had to let that dry overnight before taping off the sides of the car to paint the top and bottom black. The purple took two coats, but the black took on a nice faded look with only one solid coat.

The hardest part was keeping the airbrush clean between coats, and changing colors. I can see why regular painters keep multiple airbrushes set up.

Next came the decals. I hate decals. I used to do model airplanes as a kid. I hated decals then, and I still do. I’m a little better at them now, but still. The worst part is cutting the individual pieces off the sheet, then trying to grip them with tweezers and get them positioned correctly. Somehow I managed, even while distracting the girl so she wouldn’t know what I was doing (I re-decal-ed a coal hopper as a “cover” operation). I gave the car reporting mark CHFR#1234 so that I didn’t have to do the numbers as individual cut-outs.

Mostly complete!

As mentioned above, TwinGirl was thrilled with the result!

There is still some work to be done. I need to add the car information labels (capacity, weight, etc.), cover the whole thing with a clear matte finish (to seal in the labels and take off the “new paint shine”), and replace the brown trucks with black ones.

New Yard Power!


Dateline: 13 December, Glover’s Bend, WV

Today, the CH&FR announced the newest addition to its locomotive roster: a beautifully restored EMD NW2 switcher locomotive freshly restored to its “Chessie System” paint scheme. This 1,000 HP machine will see regular service at the Glover’s Bend yard.

C&O #5278 was originally built for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in 1940, at the height of World War II, and served its owner (and its country) shuffling tank cars and other supplies at the many crucial chemical plant facilities in the Kanawha Valley. An excellent runner, the C&O kept it busy, and it was one of the first locomotives repainted in the Chessie System colors when the new company was formed in 1973.

After nearly forty years of service, it was showing its age, and was retired in 1975, placed in storage at the company’s Huntington, WV locomotive service facility.

In need of a “new” yard switcher, and always on the lookout for interesting historic equipment, the CH&FR offered to purchase 5278 from CSX for its scrap value in order to restore it. CSX, recognizing the historic value of the engine and the skill of the Frost River Locomotive Works at restoring old equipment, sold 5278 for $1.00, on condition that it carry the Chessie paint scheme and C&O markings.

After three years of intensive rehabilitation including a complete gound-up rebuild of the EMD 567 engine and replacement with new high-efficiency traction motors, 5278 is ready for another 40 years of service.

Michael Frost, Chief Engineer for the CH&FR said, “the NW2 is a classic engine. Compact, powerful, and flexible. it is especially suited to small yards like the one at Glover’s Bend because of its ability to navigate tight curves. We’ve kept it as true to the original design, while adding a few subtle enhancements to improve tractive effort and operator comfort and safety. The result is a great blend of the past and the future.”

Officials at CSX were unavailable, but provided a statement: “We are proud of our railroad’s heritage and the service our employees – and equipment – have provided to our country over the years, and the CH&FR have become experts in preserving historical equipment and returning it to service as a ‘living museum’. We are pleased to partner with them in the restoration of C&O 5276.”

Yard Improvements


I made a rather significant change to the design of the yard over the past few days.  The above video shows an example of operations before and after.

In the old version, the Engine Service track was an extension of Yard Track 3 along the front edge of the layout.  To access the track, a locomotive on the A/D (Arrival/Departure) track had to execute a “Z” shaped move, pulling up onto the yard lead, down the ladder to Track 3, and then forward onto the service track.  To hook up to a new train, engines have to do the same move in reverse.  In addition, there had to be sufficient open space on Track 3 for the engine to clear the switch.  All this takes time and ties up valuable car storage space in the yard.  The alternative is for the engine to pull up and block the main line while the switcher does its yard work.

In the new version (second half of the video), I moved the Service track so that it extends off the Yard Lead beyond the Ladder.  Now, engines on the A/D track can simply pull straight forward and take the switch to the Service Track.  One simple move, and the Engine is clear of the yard and the main.  One reverse move and the train is ready to go.  In addition, the entire Track 3 is available for yard work.

On a larger yard, extending Engine Service off the “top” of the yard instead of the yard lead can make sense.  With space this tight, it did not.  I think this was a good move, operationally, and I think the video proves it.  What do you think?