N ScaleModeling & Ideas to Share

Kato F40PHI've accumulated a number of modeling tips and ideas from online over the years. I've listed a number of them below. You may also be interested in seeing what I'm doing in terms of N scale modeling (which isn't nearly as much as I'd like it to be!)

Have fun!
Send me your best modeling tips for inclusion here.

ArtinCA on the TrainBoard Forum posted a picture of an Amfleet car he painted. I've been intrigued by how to get the "shiny but not overly gleamy/fake look," and this is just what I've been looking for! I'll let Art tell it in his own words.
Amfleet car painted with Polly Scale Stainless Steel
I start with stripping off the Bachmann paint, then washing the shells with warm water and soap. After drying a couple of days, a spray of Polly Scale Stainless Steel is applied. This is followed by a light spray of Polly Scale Gloss. Decals are then placed on the model per Microscale's directions and photos, using Microscale's Set and Sol. When dry, I trim out the windows and paint the inside of the windows and frames black with a fine tipped brush. This is all followed by a spray of PS Satin to seal the decals and get it ready for glass. Diaphrams are made from round stryene and made to fit. They are painted black.

Charlie Vlk posted on the unfortunately-now-shut-down Atlas Forum about N Scale passenger trucks. This is quite a list!
The ConCor truck is the 41-CUDO-11. American Limited's first truck kit is the same prototype.
The Rivarossi truck is the 41-N-11; as was the MRC/Rowa truck. The MicroTrains truck is similar as is the full Kato truck.
American Limited's second truck is of this prototype and has individual brake cylinders.
MiniTrix / Model Power has a shortened version of the 41-N-11 that can be used as a stand-in for early MILW trucks.
The Kato truck used on the Business Car and skirted Budd Cars is a derivative of the 41-N-11 but set up for disc brakes and cut away to clear the truck swing from the full skirts.
The Budd prewar cars from Kato use a disc brake truck that has provision for truck shrouding. The current (as posted 09/17/2003) Mainline Modeler has a drawing of the Observation from the Sam Houston Zephyr that uses a modified version of the truck used under the majority of the Burlington prewar Budd cars.
DesPlaines Hobbies has a kit for an SP 43-R "Challenger" truck, also refered to as the "Napolean Hat" truck.
Eastwind has a kit for the PRR truck used under B60 baggage cars and the P70 coach (I don't recall the class designation at the moment).
Rivarossi and MicroTrains make standard Heavyweight Pullman six-wheel trucks.
Bachmann makes four wheel cast frame passenger trucks (on their "Spectrum" passenger cars).
Bachman makes a six wheel streamlined truck (used under the ATSF Full Domes).
DesPlaines Hobbies makes a six wheel streamlined truck (used on the SP articulated cars and some head end equipment).
Lima / Model Power had an early PRR fabricated six wheel truck on their PRR heavyweight cars both Italian and Chinese tooling.
Kato has the original Superliner truck as modified with coil springs.
Kato has the MHCII truck which is similar to the trucks used under the Superliner II cars.
MicroTrains has the BX trucks used under REA cars and other head end equipment; these are the trucks that should be under the ConCor MHC.
The MicroTrains Allied Full Cushion truck was used under many express box cars as well as the Troop Pullmans and Kitchen Cars.
Pecos River Brass imported metal top equalized Pullman six wheel trucks as well as the conventional versions.
Other styles of trucks have been available on brass cars for AT&SF, SP, MILW, CB&Q, PRR and other prototype passenger cars.

Bryan Vianco of the fairly new business Streamlined Backshop Services let me "borrow" his list of axle lengths. He makes some interesting looking N scale passenger car light boards, too.
The manufacturers have never settled on a standard axle length for their trucks. This can make one wheel set fall out of the frame and another so tight it won't roll if you don't get the right size. The following is a general list of known axle lengths:

Arnold Rapido - 0.573 in
Athearn - 0.540 in
Atlas - 0.553 in
Bachmann - 0.563 in
BMLA - 0.540 in
Con-Cor - 0.563 in
Deluxe Innovations - 0.553 in
Exactrail - 0.540 in
Fox Valley Models- 0.540 in
Intermountain - 0.553 in
Kato - 0.563 in
Lima - 0.549 in
Micro-Trains - 0.540 in
Rivarossi - 0.549 in
Walthers - 0.545 in

The sizes listed are not meant to be inclusive of every item ever manufactured by a particular OEM but should serve as a general guide for finding the correct replacement wheel sets.

Fox Valley
Manufacturer / length (in) ->0.5260.5400.5450.5490.5530.5630.573
Fox Valley Models
Semi Scale Fine Tread 28"
xxxx xxxx
Fox Valley Models
Semi Scale Fine Tread 33"
xxxx xxxxxxxx
Fox Valley Models
Semi Scale Fine Tread 36"
xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx
Fox Valley Models
Wide Tread Wheels 28"
Fox Valley Models
Wide Tread Wheels 33"
xxxx xxx
Fox Valley Models
Wide Tread Wheels 36"
xxxx xxxx xxxx

From British Dennis on the N Scale List:
Model train manufacturers are not always careful when it comes to supplying wheels for rolling stock; often it is more cost effective to simply re-use one standard on all models. Prototype trains have different size wheels according to the load capacity of the car:

45 ton cars = 28" wheels
70 ton cars = 33" wheels
100 ton cars = 36" wheels
125 ton cars = 38" wheels
locomotives = 40" wheels

Passenger cars generally have 36" wheels, more for riding characteristics than the load on the axles (I can't quote this but did read it somewhere once). While the difference in size between a 28" wheel and a 33" wheel (or especially a 33" and a 36" as this will be most common) is hard to notice, it does make a difference, and since there is no difference in price, you may as well be as accurate as possible."

It is not all inclusive but meant to serve as a guide, and yes I am aware that no-one makes 38" wheels...

Truck Selection. Paul Graf
Friction bearing trucks were generally used on older cars, into about the 50s although some roads used them longer. Our friction bearing truck is a 55 ton prototype. Roller bearing trucks came into widespread use in the 50s and 60s, the truck you call "standard" is a 70 ton truck, and uses 33" scale wheels. Our 100 ton roller bearing truck is for use on cars with 200,000 lb capacity (the small lettering on the car under the road number), and uses 36" scale wheels, per the prototype.

Here is a great summary of trucks and their history. There is a good summary of trucks, couplers, wheels that is N-focused at Nscale.net that's pretty useful, too. Mark Peterson (Spookshow) has expanded his excellent Diesel Encyclopedia to include N scale trucks. He's looking for some help.

Bring up the rear of the train, Jim Cullen (via the N Scale List and N Scale Varnish @yahoogroups.com)
The first thing you focus on when a train is approaching is the engines and the last is the caboose. Bowser makes a very nice caboose but something always looked a little out of scale. Then it dawned on me that the couplers stuck out too far and were too big. I got some Micro Trains Z scale 905 couplers and swapped them in place of the 2004s. What a nice difference in appearance! They stay coupled to the other cars which have the standard MT couplers. (Editor's note, this would look really good on the end of the Kato and ConCor observation cars, too.) Visit Jim's website.
Jim's caboose I was surprised at how much this topic grew. Tom Gailbraith wrote, "I have used them on several Life-Like FA's as nose couplers." Moments later Jim Semikoski added, "And what a difference it makes on the front of F and E units! A final comment from Nate Goodman on how they look, "Yes it sure does improve the looks of cabooses, locomotives and freight cars." Give it a try!

(I guess this is really an "avoiding modeling tip") I've always been intrigued by the TopGon cars used by Norfolk Southern. The first time I saw one was on a siding in Augusta, GA, where it was being unloaded with a shovel that seemed to sit on top of the car. I never got any pictures of that. A while back Richard Thomason of Columbus, GA, had an article on making these cars from heavily reworked Atlas cars. It looked like an interesting and do-able project for "some day." Now, following the time-honored rule of "if you scratchbuild it, then it will come out ready-to-run" BLMA has announced the TopGon in N (yeah!) and HO (ho hum). Craig is starting off with three paint schemes in 12 numbers each. I'm getting mine from Neal's N-Gauging Trains but I'm sure they will be available from all the major N scale outlets. BLMA and many other N scale manufacturers of many sizes are list on my N Scale Manufacturers Page. Joe Shaw has some really good TopGon Data on his website.

Paving between rails, Evan Leisey (via PassengerCarList@yahoogroups.com)
On a friend's layout, to simulate the asphalt paving in the passenger car service area, he use the AMI roadbed. Plastic strips were held against the inside of the rail while the strips of AMI were laid between them and forced down. The plastic strips were then removed and the edges of the AMI material gently rounded. After leveling it to the heigth of the rail, a piece of fine sandpaper on a masking tape roll was rolled along the tracks to give a rough asphalt texture. Next the areas where carts and vehicles would move amongst the passenger cars and across the tracks were rolled to simulate tire wear and finally the surface was airbrushed to weather it. The finished product greatly resembled the aerial photo he used to model it.

Jim Hinds has an option you might want to consider for the ditch lights. I recommend that you try putting the surface mount LEDs right into the ditch light housings, so you can completely avoid fiber optics.

The 603 size LED can be fit into the backs of porch mount ditch light castings like the ones made by Sunrise and BLMA Detail Parts. With a lot of care, they can be fit into Athearn ditch light housings. With the wires coming out the bottom and down through the anticlimber, you can avoid having a wire or fiber running across the porch.

For body mounted ditch lights like the P42 has, and for pilot mounted ditch lights, a surface mount LED will fit inside an 0.046" diameter hole. To have a smaller hole (say 0.025"), you can drill a 0.025" hole, countersink from the rear to 0.046", and put the ditch light LED in the countersunk portion. (In many cases, the LED will be contained entirely within the thickness of the body shell plastic.) This technique works well for mounting an LED in the back of a BLMA casting.

On some models (like those with resin shells), the shell plastic is translucent. To keep the entire area around the light fixture from glowing unrealistically, you can make the countersink 0.052", apply black paint inside the hole, and then put in the LED after the paint has dried.

For anyone installing LEDs in locomotive body shells, I STRONGLY recommend that you use Pacer's Formula 560 Canopy Glue rather than superglue to secure the LED. It never gets really hard, so that makes it easy to recover if a mistake in LED placement is made.

SHAMELESS PLUG: People who don't use DCC can obtain similar automatic alternating ditch lights like you mentioned from Richmond Controls Company. The modules also work with DCC, in case you have one of those decoders that can't drive LEDs. We also have wired surface mount LEDs.

Modeling Conrete, Lawton Maner, Williamsburg, VA
A hint which I found in Model Railroading Magazine many moons ago. As soon as you paint the base color of your concrete, lightly dust some baking soda onto the wet paint. This gives the surface some additional texture and the weathering will have more depth. For the record, I prefer to start with Floquil's Antique White with a drop or two of Box Car Red for the base followed by dry brushing rust streaks as needed from attached iron parts, earth colours at the ground level, grimy streaks following water down the wall, and a bit of white where calcium would leach from cracks. A good collection of photos of concrete walls, sidewalks, and streets should be part of every research collection; along with examples of brick, stone, and wooden structures.

Removing the Body Shell -- Kato GP50. Jim Hinds
First, DO NOT attempt to pry between the underside of the walkway and anything below the way you might do with newer locomotives. Instead, first free the handrails from the cab sides in four locations. There is no need to remove the fuel tank casting. Then pull the hood/cab assembly up away from the walkway/handrail assembly, starting in the rear. Grasp the far rear end of the long hood between your thumb and forefinger and pull up. There is a latch centered at the base of the rear end, but it generally yields readily. The walkway/handrail assembly will remain with the chassis. Once the body shell has been removed, you will see four screws that need to be removed if you want access to the motor or drive train. Note the following: Each screw secures a metal plate to the bottom of the unit. The metal plates retain the trucks and collect power from them. The opposite (outermost) end of each metal plate on the bottom fits under a plastic boss to hold that end in place. Each screw routes power from the metal plate to the circuit board on top. The lower motor lead is spring loaded against the aluminum motor cover. The aluminum motor cover fits down into grooves just inside the walkways. When reassembling the unit later, if the body shell does not want to go all the way down, check the positioning of that aluminum motor cover to make sure the edges are positioned within the grooves on the sides. Be careful once the screws have been removed -- all the pieces are then free to fall apart. The only really small parts to worry about watching carefully are the universal joint couplings on each end. Also note the orientation of the bearing blocks so they can be replaced in the same orientation later.

Using CA glue. Mike Budde, St. Louis, Mo.
I can't remember where I read this, and I'm sorry I can't give proper credit. But this is a great tip and, to me, is worth repeating. If you have a lot of parts to apply to a model, and you need to keep touching them to ACC before application, you can put a small amount of ACC on a plastic sandwich bag and it will stay wet for a long time. This is much easier than repeatedly picking up the tube of ACC and squeezing it out on to each part, over and over again. I had about 50 small pieces of .010" X .030" styrene about 3/32" long that I needed to apply one at a time to a bridge model. I squeezed a small ( 1/8") bead of ACC onto a plastic bag, and was able to get them all glued on using a tweezers to dip them in the glue and then stick them in place. This took about 30 minutes, and the glue was still wet enough to use. Hope this is not too far off-topic, but I thought it was worth passing along!

Noisy Atlas/Kato diesels. Ron, Australia
Some time back someone wrote about some noisy Atlas/Kato diesels. The remedy was to remove the bearings (nearest the flywheels) on the wormshafts and to file the drive nuts down a bit. I didn't like removing these bearings as it puts more load on the motor bearings and the nuts have enough free movement. Well, as I was fitting Leo77 decoders in my GP30 and GP35 diesels I stumbled upon the cause of the problem: The frames have a SLIGHT inward bend along the length of each frame. In other words where the motor sits is the tightest spot. The frame halve with the bearing retainer clips is the main culprit although the other halve can contribute to it also. Bend the ends the opposite way very LIGHTLY, assemble the loco (without the shell) and rotate the motor by hand. You should be able to move the worms back and forth freely BETWEEN the bearings and I don't mean rotate here. I turn the motor a bit at a time and see if there is no resistance in movement of the motor and slop between the wormshaft bearings. I use a small screwdriver here. You can actually see the bend in the frames if a straight-edge is used. The wheels will now move at 1.2- 1.5 volts with the loco connected to straight DC by jumper leads before I fit my decoders. Hope this helps, it sure fixed my noisy locos.

Repowering Atlas Locomotives. Jim Hinds
A while back, we were discussing the concept of replacing older Atlas motors with newer Atlas motors to slow down a locomotive. I decided that my SD50s needed to run slower, and I wouldn't mind if my B30-7s ran faster. So I just swapped the motors. The exchange went without a hitch. Now my D&RGW SD50s run much slower, the same speed as my Key tunnel motors and my HallMark brass SD45. I thought you folks would like to know. One thing wasn't obvious to me. I couldn't see any difference between the stock SD50 motor and the stock B30-7 motor, other than how fast they caused a locomotive to run. Is there a way to tell the difference visually?

Subtle Stock Car Weathering. Ed King, from the N&W List
When you're weathering stock cars, be sure to put a, uh, different color on the side sills below the floor level to represent the color of the, er, detritus that was washed down the side sills when the, uh, waste matter was hosed out between loads...

Life Like Erie Built. Jim Hinds
In case it matters to anyone, here's what I learned working on my new Erie-Builts:
First, spread the body shell away from the chassis in the center (at the fuel tank) and shake the locomotive downward one time. When it abruptly comes to a stop, the back end's momentum should move it part way out of the shell. It is not unusual for the front end to hang up on the front coupler, because the lamp assembly can stick out too far to clear the front coupler bracket.
If the front end hangs up, don't remove the front coupler. Instead, rotate the back end out of the shell first. When the rear end of the chassis is clear of the shell, slide the front end out.
If the shell hangs up, check the clear plastic inserts for the small side windows. If they are not securely glued in place, they can partially dislodge and get trapped between the shell and the chassis. This tends to lock the shell to the chassis. If you see one of the clear window inserts askew, use a toothpick to push it completely into the locomotive interior, and then the shell should come off fairly easily. Be careful -- those clear plastic inserts are small and hard to see, and can easily be lost.
It is useful to securely glue the small square side windows into place, even if they already seem to be securely fastened. The mounting tab needs to be toward the top of the shell. Surround the clear plastic with Tenax and clamp the insert in position tightly using a wooden clothes pin (which won't mar the paint). Wait an hour. With the side windows securely glued down, the shell generally comes off fairly easily, except for the headlight hanging up on the front coupler.
For close coupling the A and B units, a Unimate body mount coupler works nicely with the existing coupler clip. Cut off the outer hole from the Unimate body mount coupler shank. Insert the Unimate box over the pin on the Life-Like coupler clip, all the way down. Clear any resulting flash from around the pin. Ream out the one remaining hole in the Unimate coupler to allow it to easily pivot on the pin. Insert the coupler it over the pin, with the coupler offset toward the bottom. Insert the Unimate coupler box cover over the pin, and seat it properly on the box. Make sure the coupler pivots freely. Reinstall the clip with the coupler on the locomotive. Using this approach, the maximum spacing between the diaphragm faces will be about 1/16" (1.6 mm).
The coupler height will be a bit too low. However, if the couplers are only between A units and B units, this should not matter. The coupler can be raised by installing the box cover on the pin first, to serve as a shim.