Custom Painted P-2000 units

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Flex Track has Arrived !!!!!

This past Friday I received my long awaited shipment of Atlas code 100 flex track. This should be the final twenty pieces needed to complete the upper level and small lower level coach yard. A track nail has painted gold to honor the final spike. It's off to the basement to get this project back into gear. Stay tuned

Friday, July 6, 2012

Rescuing a P-1000 RS-2

About ten years ago I purchased two Lifelike Proto 1000 Alco RS-2 locomotives painted in the New York Central lightning stripe livery.For reasons still unknown both engines suffered from catastrophic engine failure. The original power chassis' were replaced by purchasing later release LL P-1000 RS2s. These locomotives sat in the box for a few years and their chances of trying to be re powered again became non existent. So I did the next best thing I removed their bad motors and gear tower gears to make them free rolling. Next I painted them up for my second favorite railroad the Penn Central. Here is the first to make it out of the paint shop and be ready to hit the rails.
Penn Central #9942

Engineer's side



A simple but good looking paint scheme that fits in well with my mostly late 60s theme. Right now this unit is in consist with a NYC Atlas RS1 and PRR Atlas RS1, both with their numbers also in the 9900 series. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Coupler Upgrade Made Easy

This past week I had occasion to upgrade the couplers on some of my rolling stock fleet. I had just purchased an Atlas Trainman100 ton hopper painted for my second favorite railroad, the Penn Central. The Atlas model is a good runner right out of the box but I am not a fan of the accu-mate couplers that are installed on the model. This type of coupler is a two piece design and has the tendency to fail when the slack action of the train causes the couplers to compress. This would happen when going downgrade or stopping. The result is that the coupler open and the split design will not allow the coupler to close causing a disconnect between cars. My preferred coupler is the Kadee type with a knuckle spring. Recently the Kadee patent expired and Walther's Proto 2000 line has released a virtual copy of the Kadee #5 coupler which is known to model railroaders everywhere as "old reliable". For today's application I will be using for the first time the Walther's Proto 2000 Knuckle Coupler.

The car we will be working on is an Atlas 100 ton hopper lettered for the Southern Railway. I picked up several of these cars on sale at a local hobby shop a few years ago.  Here is the car on my home made test track coupled to the Kadee Height Gauge. I also took the time to put the NMRA weight standards on the wood base for easy reference. At the bottom of the picture is the replacement knuckle coupler and centering spring on the left and a two piece accu-mate coupler on the right.

 Kadee Fiber Washers are indispensable if you are working on your HO Trains.

 The truck has been removed from the bolster by loosening the bolster screw which is still in the center of the truck. Next a small Phillips screwdriver will be needed to open the coupler box

 An open coupler box with coupler lid and screw next to the car

 Installing the copper centering spring first the the coupler.

 Using a Kadee #209 fiber washer inside the coupler box to reduce coupler vertical play. Reducing up and down movement of a coupler inside of a couple box is the key to running long trains especially over grades. I cannot stress this enough.  

  Testing the new coupler with the Kadee Height Gauge.At this time the coupler is a bit too high.

 Retesting the coupler with the height gauge after setting the #209 fiber washer. The washer is now placed in the coupler box first so it is on top, followed by the copper centering spring and then the coupler. The coupler is now an exact match to the gauge and will work reliably for many years to come.
A few other comments on knuckle couplers learned over the past 20 years

Knuckle couplers are only as good as their design and installation. Plastic couplers and couplers without a knuckle spring should be avoided. Knuckle couplers should be snug but be able to freely swing side to side within the coupler box. The knuckle and trip pins must line up with the height gauge for optimum performance. The Kadee fiber washers can be used on couplers, coupler boxes and bolsters to add or reduce height. If a car or locomotive rides too high to be corrected with one or two washers try an over set coupler. If the car or locomotive is too low try an under set coupler.

Helpful  Hints for your fleet
#1 Athearn Blue Box box cars work extremely well with an under set coupler like the Kadee #37
#2 Early release Proto 2000 box cars work extremely well with an under set coupler like the  Kadee #37.
#3 Athearn Blue Box covered hoppers work extremely well with an under set coupler like the #37 and 36" wheels. 
#4 Athearn Blue box Express reefers work extremely well with an under coupler like the Kadee #37 and 36" wheels.
#5 If you are using the Athearn Blue Box metal coupler cover bend the end of the metal upward slightly using needle nose pliers. The best way is to insert the metal lid sideways into the pliers and bend very slightly.  This will keep the coupler from drooping. With the same pliers squeeze the coupler lid to the sides of the coupler box to lock on the lid. A newer approach is to drill the center out of the coupler box and use a 2-56 screw to secure the lid. There is a tool on the market now to assist in this installation. I have not tried this approach yet as I have not experienced any coupler lid failures and my freight trains can be as many as 40 cars.
#6 Try to work assembly style. If you have several different types of cars like Accurail, Atlas, Athearn etc. to upgrade work on one particular brand and model at a time. This will speed things up as you complete the first car the next cars will usually require the same type of installation.(example; the first Accurail 40' box car required a gray fiber washer in the coupler box and a red fiber washer on the bolster to meet the Kadee height gauge. This would then be the starting point for the second car. That it will be the same every time is not written in stone but it is a good bet that it will be)

I could go on and on but the best thing to do for your own fleet is to decide on what couplers you want to use. Scale couples have been in the marketplace for several years now and are getting good reviews. If you are going with Kadee you can use their conversion chart at to see if your equipment is listed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hardwiring an old Athearn Locomotive for DC use

Greetings Blog Followers... While I am awaiting the arrival of my track I took the opportunity to run some of my older locomotives and discovered that an old favorite seemed to have lost some power. The locomotive in question is an Athearn SDP40 painted in the New Haven McGuinness livery. For the purists I know that the New Haven never had an SDP40. For the record the EMD SDP40 is similar to the EMD SD45 and the model sits on an SD45 frame. The easy to spot difference between the two is at the rear of the locomotive where the SDP40 has an extended long hood to accommodate a boiler. This particular Athearn model is at least 15 years old. It has the "newer" plastic side frames and gold colored motor with flywheels. Follow along as I inspect, locate and then repair the problem.

This is the unit with it's shell removed. Note the Kadee under set shank couplers (#47) with the plastic coupler box and screws. This is done to safe guard against any electrical shorts when connecting this locomotive back to back with another similar locomotive as the Athearn metal frame is grounded to the motor. Both couplers are exact fits with the Kadee coupler height gauge. If you are running consists of Athearn units with this type of electrical system this is the preferred coupler set up. 

This view shows that the "Power Strap" has significantly rusted. The sliding electrical connection at the rear truck and head light strap are compromised This is/was a common problem for Athearn Blue Box fleet and is an easy fix.    

A close up of the power strap and rear truck power contact. Not an ideal electrical connection. 

A Close up pf the power strap and headlight connection. 

Here is the motor with the power strap removed. The brass contact strip on type of the motor is clean and so are the truck contacts. This will make the job even easier. If you find on your locomotive(s) that the motor brass contact strip is extremely dirty and you need to remove it to clean it up use extreme caution as the motor brushes and springs are held in place by this power strip. If you have to wire brush or sandpaper the truck contacts uses extreme caution that you do not get any grit into the truck gears which are open at the top. 

A pretty clean truck power strip

A clean front truck power strip and headlight power strip.

The parts required for an easy repair. Flexible wire and a shortened and cleaned power strap.

  The power strap is cleaned and shortened. A copper flexible wire is cut to a approximate length and  we are ready to prepare for soldering. Note that I am using 60/40 rosin core solder and rosin core flux. In soldering remember that flux is your friend and the flux capacitor makes time travel possible. All kidding aside the flux cleans the work surface and allows the solder to melt and flow at a lower temperature. The first step is to add some flux to the shortened power strap and the truck contact strips.The second step is to solder the flexible wire to the shortened power strap while it is off the motor. Leave enough wire at both ends to make contact with the truck power strips.Step three is to solder the wire to the truck power strips. Step four (see below) is to solder the headlight power strip to a separate wire that is attached to the shortened power strap.

Here is the completed job. Note the small separate wire that is attached to the headlight power strip. This is an important addition as it allows the wire to the front truck to remain flexible so the truck will easily negotiate curves and uneven track surfaces. Since the copper wire is bare you must make certain that is does not contact the flywheels which will cause a short.

A top view of the finished job. Upon completion I cleaned the excess flux off with an alcohol pad. Since I had the alcohol pads out I used a another one to clean the motor armature.

A close up of the front truck and headlight wires. I used to just attach the headlight strap to the wire going to the front truck but learned the hard way that this causes the front truck to lose a lot of it's flexibility and leads to derailments. Going to this application has worked extremely well 

The unit has been tested and then retested with it's shell on. The unit is now running extremely well and the head light is bright with no flickering. Remember these are old school units. They simple in design and construction and they are pretty easy to troubleshoot and repair. After a light lube this locomotive is ready for another 15 years of service.