Tag Archives: locomotives

CH&FR 7401 Maiden Run

[flickr video=8137620926 show_info=true secret=ca481d1f2e w=500 h=281]
CH&FR 7401 Maiden Run a video by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

After installing a new airhorn, the crew brought CH&FR #7401 out for a quick test run with her sister engine B&O #7413. Both engines will be assigned together to haul coal from the local mines to interchange at Williamson, WV and Russell, KY.

Both models are EMD SD35s, made by Atlas, as part of their Trainman line.  The Chessie unit is “out of box”, and the CH&FR unit has had a number of custom details added, including see-through vent fans, MU hoses, sun shades, grab irons and the new horn.  Both units have a Digitrax DN163A0 DCC decoder, though they have not yet been speed matched.

NSNX2012 Visits the CH&FR

Bachmann vs. Atlas GP7 by BGTwinDad
Bachmann vs. Atlas GP7, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

This week, another member of the nScale.net Traveling Fleet visited the CH&FR at Glover’s Bend… this time it’s a locomotive.  NSNX 2012 is an EMD GP7 (Atlas Master Line model), customized and weathered by nScale.net member “jpwisc”.  Shown here beside the CH&FR’s own GP7 #6411, the NSNX unit will spend another week or so performing helper service on the Glover’s Bend Subdivision before moving on to the next stop on its tour.

While here, I added MU hoses and trainline hoses to the front and rear pilots.  I hope my work does this fine locomotive justice.

Locomotive Roster “Complete”

IMG_2625 by BGTwinDad
IMG_2625, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

When I designed my Glover’s Bend layout, I put together a plan of the trains that would run regularly on it, including the motive power required to run those trains – or, more specifically, what would be used if it were the real prototype, of course.  I also planned for the type and roadname of the locomotive to be a visual cue to which train – and to/from which locations – each was.  This mean that I had a specific list of locomotives that I need to make the layout complete, just like I had a specific list of track pieces or structures or scenic details or electronics that I need.

As of my most recent purchase – a Norfolk Southern B23-7 by Atlas, lightly used, from a friend, that need list is now complete.  Not that I won’t be buying plenty more locomotives in the future – they are somewhat addictive – but they will be wants not needs, so to speak.

Front row (L-R):

  • Bachmann 2-8-0 Consolidation WM761 : excursion service
  • Bachmann 2-6-6-2 Mallet C&O 1397 : Coal and excursion service

Second row (L-R):

  • Atlas EMD SD35 B&O (Chessie) 7413 : Coal service (paired with CH&FR7401)
  • Atlas EMD SD35 CH&FR 7401 : Coal service (paired with B&O7413)
  • Atlas GE B23-7 NS 3982 : Northbound mixed freight from Norfolk Southern (Williamson, WV)

Third row (L-R):

  • Atlas EMD GP40-2 CSX 6218 : Southbound mixed freight from CSX (Russell, KY)
  • Bachmann EMD GP7 CHFR (Chessie, ex-B&O)6411 : Town branch freight
  • Kato EMD NW2 C&O (Chessie) 5278 : Yard switching

Fourth row (L-R):

  • Bachmann EMD GP40 ATSF 3500 : Out of service (soon to be repainted in Conrail)
  • Intermountain EMD F3A EL6611 : Excursion and general freight service


New addition(s) to the roster

Untitled by BGTwinDad
Untitled, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Following extensive testing of a B&O unit borrowed from the GPF&F Railroad, the CH&FR has acquired two EMD SD35 locomotives for use in mine service in the Glover’s Bend area.  The first, B&O#7413, is painted in the Chessie System paint scheme, and is already in operational service.  The second has just been delivered, and is due for a heavy service and painting operation at the Frost River Locomotive Works.  This unit will be painted in a classic CH&FR paint scheme, and will be numbered CHFR #7401.

The SD35 is a six-axle Diesel unit produced by the General Motors Electro-Motive Division (“EMD”) from 1964-1966.  Its 16-cylinder 567D3A engine produces 2,500 HP, and its overall length is 60 feet.  This combination of good horsepower, short wheelbase and high traction makes the SD35 a good choice for pulling heavy coal trains on the sharply curved trackage in the Glover’s Bend area.

Both locomotives are slated for a full detailing, including detailed fans, grab irons, sun shades, windshield wipers, MU and airline hoses.  Stay tuned for more information on the detailing process.


CH&FR Tests Six-Axle Diesels

  by BGTwinDad
, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Residents in Glover’s Bend were awakened by a new Diesel rumble from the nearby Nolan Yard. The CH&FR, in its search for improved efficiencies in its crucial coal hauling operation, has leased two six-axle units from the GPF&F Railroad for testing and evaluation on the Glover’s Bend Division’s steep grades and tough curves.

Arriving yesterday evening were EMD SD35 B&O#7414 and EMD SD50 C&O#8625. With their weight distributed across more contact points on the rail, thanks to the three-axle trucks, these engines can start a heavy train easier and drag it up the tough grades in the Glover’s Bend area more effectively than the four-axle Diesels currently on the roster. With shipments on the rise, this will be a critical change to operations.

The two units will be tested extensively over the next few days operating trains in a variety of situations, and will be studied and evaluated by the maintenance crews as well. If the tests are successful, the CH&FR plans to either purchase or long-term-lease two or three units for regular use on the mine runs. Initial reactions were mixed.

“That SD35 is a sweet machine… good power, good traction, and a comfortable ride. But that SD50? It’s just too darn big. I don’t know how we’d get it into the maintenance shops. It’d be a bear to run it all the way to Frost River every time we need to fix something!” , one engineer was quoted as saying.

The next several days should certainly be interesting for railfans in this area, as these two big engines ply the local rails.

New Couplers for GM&O 1108

GM&O 1108 by BGTwinDad
GM&O 1108, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

My Atlas Alco RS-1 (GM&O 1108) came with Rapido-style couplers, so replacing them with knuckle couplers was a high priority. Fortunately, MicroTrains makes a body-mount upgrade kit for this exact locomotive that makes the conversion very easy.  I picked up the MT #1158 coupler conversion kit from Fifer Hobby Supply along with my latest order and set to work.

The pre-1998 Kato-built Atlas RS-1 models such as this one have truck-mounted Rapido couplers and consequently have rather large, unprototypical holes in the pilots.  The #1158 kit includes two filler panels that are an exact fit for these openings and give a nice looking pilot, though the color of the plastic is slightly different.  Nothing a little weathering won’t cure.  The kit also includes two pre-assembled couplers, three mounting screws (in case you lose one) and a small strip of metal.

The first step in the process is to cut the old coupler housings off the trucks.  To do this, you place some tape over the gear holes in the truck, remove the old coupler and spring, slide the metal strip between the truck and the locomotive frame under the coupler, and saw away.  I used an Atlas Super Track Saw for this, but any good, sharp, small razor saw will do. The truck sideframes extend slightly beyond the ideal spot for sawing, so be careful not to cut them.

Alas, my camera wasn’t working, so I have no more in-progress shots.  We’ll make do, though.

Here you can see the installed coupler.  The next step in the process is to mark and drill the holes.  The kit instructions say to lightly glue the pilot insert in place, and then drill and tap the frame through the hole in the insert.  I didn’t get it glued quite right, but it slips right into place, so it’s hard to get this part wrong.  Once you’ve drilled and tapped the screw hole, just slip the coupler through the hole in the pilot, drop the screw through the coupler, and screw the assembly into the locomotive frame.

One catch.  The included screw is too long.  You will need to cut it down short enough that it doesn’t stick up through the deck on the locomotive frame.  In my case, I cut it off after screwing it in place because I had accidentally drilled all the way through.

Here’s a parting shot of the new pilot with the knuckle coupler…

Virtual Sound Decoder for JMRI

Here’s a little software project I’ve been working on, alongside of my more “hard” modeling work.  I made a video demo, as it can be hard to express how this is all supposed to work in words.


This is the result of a confluence of several factors.

I have long wanted to have sound on my layout, but I was balking at the expense and the lack of sound quality from N scale sound decoders (this has more to do with physics and tiny speakers than the quality of the available products).  SoundTraxx had been pre-announcing their SurroundTraxx product for a while, and a couple of online friends of mine have been toying with under-the-table sound systems being driven by hardware sound decoders and larger speakers.  And I had been playing with the JMRI Java Model Railroad Interface project.

It occurred to me that I could write a software program that would emulate (or simulate, if you prefer) the function of a hardware sound decoder, listening to the layout interface for throttle commands and responding to them  just as a hardware decoder installed in a locomotive would.  And most PCs these days come with surround sound audio systems!  JMRI already provided much of the foundation for this, including the layout interface, a nice abstraction of the throttle, and integration with the OpenAL 3D audio system, so it seemed a good match.

I’ve been working on this for a few months.  The basic idea follows very roughly the scheme of an add-on sound decoder.  For each engine you want to have sound, you launch a “Virtual Sound Decoder” (or “VSDecoder”) on the PC, select a “sound profile” from a “VSD File” and assign it a DCC address.  The virtual decoder then sits in the background and generates sounds in response to the throttle inputs.  Thanks to the way JMRI handles throttles, it will respond to any throttle on the system, whether a hardware or software throttle, or a wireless-attached throttle on a PDA or smart phone.  Buttons on the VSDecoder allow the user to directly trigger sounds, bypassing the throttle if desired.

The “VSD File is somewhat like a Digitrax SPJ file, though the two are completely incompatible.  The VSD file is a Zip archive containing all of the source audio files, plus a configuration file (written in XML) that tells the Virtual Sound Decoder when and how to use the sound files.  Each VSD File can contain one or more “Profiles”, each of which describes a specific configuration of a locomotive.  This could be multiple variants of a particular type of locomotive, or several completely different types of locomotives. For example, a VSD FIle might contain profiles for several different EMD engines based on the 567 Diesel prime mover, or an eclectic collection of engines belonging to the Pennsylvania Railroad.  VSD Files can be easily constructed by and shared among folks who are interested in doing so.

Work progresses steadily, and I hope to have a version of this included in the 2.13 development release of JMRI at some point.  In the meantime, if you are interested in developing or providing sound files, let me know!


C&O Mallet Joins CH&FR Roster

  by BGTwinDad
, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Dateline: Glover’s Bend, WV

The CH&FR Railroad and the Chestnut Hill Historical Preservation Society today unveiled the latest addition to their shared “living museum” collection: a Chesapeake & Ohio Class H-4 2-6-6-2 articulated “Mallet” steam locomotive.

Engine #1397 was built for the C&O in 1915 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, one of 24 such units delivered that year. Boasting over 70,000 lb of tractive effort, and featuring two independently articulted 6-wheel drivers, the Mallet was ideally suited for hauling heavy coal trains on the steep winding tracks of Appalachia. A single H-4 could more than replace two 2-8-0 Consolidations, reducing crew and maintenance costs and increasing efficiency.  Class H-4 Mallets like #1397 remained in service with the C&O until 1955.

CH&FR 1397 steams into Glovers Bend

According to CH&FR Spokesperson Rachel Frost, #1397 was restored and donated to the CH&FR by the LaVere family, in honor of Capt. James LaVere, great-grandson of company founder John Calvin LaVere and all of the Allied casualties in the 1944 Normandy Invasion.  Capt. LaVere was an engineer on #1397 prior to World War II, and was killed during the initial assault on Omaha Beach.  Frost River Locomotive Works employees volunteered hundreds of hours of extra work to have the locomotive ready for its introduction on the anniversary of D-Day.  Capt. LaVere would have been 100 years old this year.
“The employees of the CH&FR and LaVere Mining have lived and worked together for over a century.  We’re like family, and many of us actually are.  Due to the critical wartime need for coal and rail transport, many of our people were precluded from serving directly on the front lines, so we were especially proud of Capt. LaVere’s service – and by extension the service of all the brave men who fought and died on those beaches.”

The Mallet type articulated locomotive is actually two engines sharing a single boiler.  High pressure steam from the boiler is injected into the pistons driving the rear set of 3 axles.  Exhaust from the rear pistons, at a lower but still usable pressure is then injected into the front driver pistons.  This dual use of the boiler steam has certain thermodynamic benefits, and makes it easier to articulate the front set of drivers.  Simple-expansion engines such as the 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” use boiler steam directly to both sets of cylinders.

Engine #1397 will be on display at the CHHPS museum in Frost River, and will be used frequently for passenger excursions, special events, and periodic revenue service hauling coal.

Bachmann F7A/B Decoder Install

Untitled by BGTwinDad
Untitled, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

I just completed this install of a pair of TCS M1 DCC decoders into a Bachmann Spectrum F7A/B set. This was a challenge because it required some milling of the frame to make room for the decoder and to isolate the motor. Still, it wasn’t all that hard, so if you’re looking to expand your skills into installs that require frame mods, this might be a good place to start.

I was so excited to get this one back to its owner that I forgot to take some “pretty shots” of the pair, so you’ll have to make do with the test-track photo above.  This pair was in Southern Pacific livery, and was a fairly nicely detailed, smooth running pair.  The Spectrum line from Bachmann is a big step up from their train set models, and is generally a good value buy for the cost conscious.  While the design is not “DCC Ready” in the sense that a fair amount of work is required to hook it up, at least it has a split frame and the mods required are minor and straightforward.

The A and B units share the same chassis, which makes the B unit a bit easier since the decoder will easily fit into the chassis cut-out for the A-unit cab.  Plus, there’s no headlight.  Tim “diezmon” Diez provided an excellent tutorial on the TCS website for the B unit, and for the most part I simply followed his instructions.  I highly recommend you review that page, as I will mostly be detailing the variations I made from that plan.

My B-unit install...

The B unit install went exactly as Tim outlined it, and aside from the juggling act required to reassemble the frame went very easily.  To attach the red and black wires, I drilled a small hole in the top of each frame half and miraculously managed to solder the wires into the holes.  I don’t recommend this method.  Much better to drill, tap and screw the wires to the frame.  Fortunately, the MicroTrains #1059 coupler drill and tap set – and the screws included with the 1015 couplers – work very well for this application.  You do have to cut the screws short, though.  I think the screws are available separately if you want them.  Another method that a local modeler tipped me off to is to wrap the wires around the frame mount screw bosses.  I haven’t tried this but maybe it would work.

The frame I had was slightly different than Tim’s in that the bottom motor brush contact was a spring compressed between the motor brush and the side of the frame.  I’m not sure that milling out the bottom of the conductor-side frame is necessary on those models, but it is easy and probably good insurance.  You will definitely have to mill the tab Tim marks off the top of the Engineer’s side frame.

The A unit requires a little bit more work.  First, there really isn’t room beneath the cab for the decoder, so I milled out the opening above the rear truck gears to slip the decoder in.  This also allowed me to replace the headlamp with a 3mm LED.  I’ll contradict myself here by saying that if you retain the incandescent lamp, or if you use an SMD LED, you *might* be able  to squeeze a small decoder into the cab area.

The milled out space for the decoder...

Aside from milling space for the decoder and installing the LED, the install goes exactly like the B unit.

Installing the LED is simple.  You’ll need a warm white LED, available from a hobby supplier like Richmond Controls (the one I used), or from an electronics supplier like DigiKey or Mouser Electronics.  You’re looking for something in the 3000K color temperature range.  Higher temperatures will have a more bluish tint that will not replicate the old headlamps very well.  You’ll also need a resistor.  The value is not terribly critical, as long as it is above about 600Ω. I used a 1KΩ resistor and found it plenty bright.  You simply connect the blue wire to the resistor, the resistor to the anode (positive terminal) of the LED, and the cathode (negative terminal) of the LED to the white wire.  You can also put the resistor in the white wire instead, which is what I did.

Wiring the LED and resistor...

It is critically important that you get the polarity of the LED correct.  The cathode is the shorter pin on a radial-lead LED, and will also be nearest the “flat spot” in the LED case.  On a surface mount LED the cathode will be marked with a dot or other marker.  The cathode must be connected to the white wire, not the blue.

You will also have to clip the leads short on a radial-lead LED to make them fit.  This is where knowing about the flat spot is useful.  The LED does not go in the hole where the original lamp went, but simply lays horizontally over the front truck in the cab area.  You may want to use some opaque material to block the LED light from entering the cab.  My friend liked the glow of the lit cab, so we omitted this step.

Once you have everything wired up, all you have to do is tape it down and slip the shell back over the frame.  Both units have strips of black tape along the sides that provide a black background to the side windows.  I forgot to remove these before milling, so I got the sticky side all covered with metal fragments.  Instead of replacing the tape with more black, I used Kapton tape, which I think gives a better “see-through” appearance to the windows.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, so feel free to use black, or to carefully remove and re-use the factory tape.

As should be expected, this procedure will work not just with the TCS M1 decoder, but with any similarly sized NMRA-compliant wired decoder.  The Digitrax DZ125 would be a good alternate if you prefer that brand, as would the NCE N12-SR.

Additional photos and a few more details are available on my Flicker Set.

Model Power 4-6-2 Decoder Install

Untitled by BGTwinDad
Untitled, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Over the last two weeks or so, I have been working to install a Digitrax DZ125 decoder into the tender of a Model Power N-scale 4-6-2 “Pacific” locomotive.  This was a “commissioned” job for a friend, who had the locomotive and decoder shipped directly to me from the store, and I will be forwarding it on to him shortly.

Even though I was using a Digitrax decoder, the installation instructions from the TCS website submitted by Jeffry Maurer of Sacramento CA — thanks, Jeff! — are perfectly suitable.  Jeff used a TCS MC2, I used the Digitrax DZ125.  I’m quite sure a TCS M1 or any other small hard-wire decoder would work just fine and install in the same way.  The tender is a bit cramped if you leave the weights in place, so you’ll want to use a small one.

(Note that Jeff claims that this install will also work for the Model Power 2-8-2 “Mikado”.  I can’t prove this but I have no reason to believe it won’t work.)

The basic decoder install is very straightforward, but the lighting update was a bit tricky.  Model Power has set this locomotive up to be “DCC Friendly”, and it is.  Power from the drivers is passed back to the tender via a red/black wire pair across the drawbar, combined with power from the tender wheels, and then returned to the motor in the boiler via  a separate grey/orange wire pair.  This little bit of extra wiring work on their part makes the decoder install very simple.

Inside the tender "Before" ...

To add the decoder, all you have to do is remove the tender shell, clip the grey and orange wires free from the black/red wires, and solder the color-matched wires (grey to grey, orange to orange, red to red, black to black) of the decoder to the tender wiring, tape everything down, and replace the tender shell.  Anyone with even a little bit of soldering skill should be able to do this much.

Inside the tender "After" ...

At this point, though, the (incandescent) headlight is still directly powered from the rails via contact strips on the driver axles.  It cannot be turned off, and will be fairly bright.  If you want DCC control of the headlight, we’ll have to do some minor surgery.  On this particular model, I decided to replace the incandescent bulb with a 1206 size SMD (surface mount) LED.  Unfortunately, I failed to take very many photos, so you’ll mostly ave to take my “word” for it.  The good news is that the instructions provided by Jeff above are exactly what I did with only a few very minor modifications.

The basic process is as follows:

  1. Separate the boiler and cab from the locomotive drive train
  2. Clip off the contact strips from the headlight assembly
  3. Solder two wires to the headlight and run them back to the tender
  4. Attach the wires to the blue and white decoder wires
  5. Reassemble the loco.

I found only one minor variation to Jeff’s procedure, and that is that apparently on the version of the model I have, the cab is not a separate piece, but comes off with the rest of the boiler.  Other than that, the process is the same.  Instead of painting the decoder wires black with a Sharpie, I cut the blue and white leads short and replaced them with lengths of black wire.

I also only had to make a few minor changes to swap in an LED as well.  First, back in the tender, I added a 1KΩ resistor on the blue wire.  This limits current to the LED and protects it.  Second, you replace the lamp with the LED, making sure to keep the polarity correct.  The cathode (“negative”) terminal of the LED is usually marked with a dot or other mark, and this should go to the white wire, while the anode (“positive”) terminal goes to the blue wire.  Keeping this straight is especially important if you have replaced the decoder wires with black wire.  To be sure of this – and to make handling the LED a bit easier, I soldered short lengths of blue and white wire to the actual LED pads, and then connected these blue/white lengths to the long black wires back to the tender.

SMD Led with blue and white leads attached...

One other change.  The headlamp (mounted on the drive frame) sticks up through a hole in the bottom of the boiler.  To get the 1206 size LED and its wires to fit, I had to square up the hole just a bit with a needle file.  I did so just enough so that the LED now press-fits into the hole in the boiler instead of mounting to the frame.

LED installed in the Pacific boiler

The basic decoder installation is very easy, assuming you know how to solder wires together.  A reasonable level of care and attention to detail will do fine here.  Connecting the headlamp up requires considerably more work, but even so, most of the trouble is mechanical – routing the wires unobtrusively beneath the running boards, removing the incandescent lamp, and reassembling the engine.  Having completed this one I concur with Jeff’s assessment, if an easy drop-in is a “1”, then the basic install is a “3” and the headlight work is a “6”.