Big Train James's US Outline Workbench - sw1500 Kitbash

Discussion in 'Area 51' started by Big Train James, 23 July 2015.

  1. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    If any of you have been keeping up with recent posts on Mickoo's US Dabblings thread, you have seen him focusing on modifying and finishing an Atlas mp15dc switcher to match a specific CSX prototype. Coincidentally, I have for some time been intending to modify the same base model into one of an EMD sw1500. Both are switchers in the same line-up, sharing many similarities, but also some several distinct differences. I will need to pursue many of the same detail modifications that Mick has discussed, as well as some more major changes like shortening the frame, changing the bogies for an appropriate style, shortening the hood, and rearranging several of the doors to accurately reflect different placement or orientation on the sw1500.

    Now for some pictures to start things off and establish a baseline. Either this...

    or this...
    06 10-15 11.jpg

    as a prototype. The UP unit started as a Southern Pacific unit like the one in the first picture. It was repainted into UP livery after the UP acquired the SP in the late 90's. I could have chosen from any number of prototypes, but the SP units are interesting and unique due to SP's penchant for extravagant headlight packages, and the high mounted number board cabinet on the front of the cab. The number boards would normally flank either side of the headlight on the nose of the loco, but SP filled that space with lights so they had to move. Like this...

    You can see how several of the extra lights have been removed from the loco in its later incarnation, with unused areas blanked off.

    Next up will be pictures identifying planned modifications. Stay tuned.
    Last edited: 24 July 2015
  2. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    I've just realized that this UP unit in particular is a bad example as it has had a paper air filter box retrofitted to the hood just in front of the cab. This would normally be a detail found on EMD's mp15dc's and mp15ac's. Here is a better example, albeit missing some finishing touches from the paint shop.
    Compton castle likes this.
  3. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    Ok here we go. Starting with the existing model. The biggest difference between the mp15dc that I'm starting with and the sw1500 I want to finish with is the length. The sw1500 is 2'-0" shorter than the mp15dc. That extra length will need to be removed from the frame and shell.

    Not much to do here on the rear of the cab except choose a timeframe and therefor a light package to fill that gaping hole above the cab door. Also, details like the firecracker antennae on the cab roof will need refinement. Window glazing will be removed and flush mounted. And cab interior will be refined as well, possibly not even including an engineer as many of these units are remote controlled now.
    mp15dc 018.JPG

    Engineer's side. Most of the changes here involve the area directly in front of the cab. The section with the grab irons doesn't exist on the sw1500. Instead, the third door from the cab is blank, and the grab irons are located there. The prototype photos above show the correct door, louver, and grab arrangement for both sides of the locomotive.

    Remove the section in red and relocate the portion with the grabiron bolts forward in place of the third door from the cab.

    Remove the third door and relocate it in place of the fourth door. Or at least relocate the "knucklebuster" door latches to the fourth door.

    The fourth will either be replaced by the third door, or have the latches from the third door grafted over to it. Either way, the fourth door needs latches. I do have some PSC latch parts, but frankly I'm not sure it would be any easier to implement those than to rearrange the existing details.

    Revise this grill etch for better fidelity to the prototype. The prototype doesn't have a border around it as done with the model. Otherwise the etch isn't bad. At the same time, the radiator core is plainly visible underneath the grill. Unfortunately, the rendition on the the Atlas model is truly poorly and inaccurately done. So a new core will be scratched together from styrene. mp15dc-edit-004.jpg
    june 9 2010 063 - Copy.JPG
    BNSF 3404 2-7-2009 number.jpg

    The mp15dc's have a longer frame, and feature the EMD Blomberg truck frame with a 9'-0" wheelbase. The sw1500's have the shorter frame, and utilize EMD's Flexicoil switcher sideframe with an 8'-0" wheelbase. Atlas happens to have said Flexicoil trucks available for another model, so I will be using those on this model. Fortunately, the mounting method is same for both truck styles, so it will be a drop in replacement with exception of drive shaft length. You can see the difference in the Flexicoil sideframe in the prototype photos above.

    Next up will be the nose and conductor's side of the loco.

    Last edited: 24 July 2015
  4. mickoo

    mickoo Western Thunderer

    Kewl :thumbs:

    One of the reasons I opted away from UP for my first switcher was that many as you note, require surgery on the light clusters, on the DC's quite a few have not been plated over and leave large holes where the fittings have been removed, though the eye brow number boards are appealing I have to say.

    I've never found a satisfactory explanation as to why SP always mounted a red (Mars light?) light on their locos, in Europe red is always placed at the rear of the train, many locos having red and white markers accordingly for travelling light loco, but the SP seems to have used them as headlights of some sort, as well as green and white markers used by some companies and in the good old days, small white flags for extra trains.

    It looks like the SP unit has had it's markers blanked off, they're usually set at an angle to the rest and point forwards and outwards, again, no idea why.

    Love the golden orb hood ornament on the BN unit :cool:

    The Flexicoil trucks look chunky and business like but I've never liked the older equalising beam AAR type trucks, just look so wrong on big switchers.
  5. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    Yup, love the high number boards. And with the lights, one should definitely work from proto photos for a particular unit as they been modified in numerous ways on different locos.

    The red lights are actually backing lights. Most railroads were content to let the headlight suffice for alerting others to locomotive movement, and still are. In the US where distributed power is quite common at the end of a train, the (white) headlight is left on a rear end marking device. A typical train without distributed power on the rear would use a traditional red flashing device. The marker lights were to denote sections of trains, or to denote non-timetable trains when white marker lights (or flags) were used. Back in the day for instance, a scheduled passenger train might appear on the timetable as one train, but actually consist of multiple separate trains forming sections. Marker lights or flags would denote the first and last sections of the train so that an extra didn't take the main erroneously and cause a collision. Or in the case of Conrail on Horseshoe curve, helpers ran with red marker lights to indicate their status.

    See above. Any given unit could have been modified in a myriad number of ways.

    Obviously a local shop endowment.

    Absolutely agree on the AAR trucks versus the Flexicoils. AAR = boring:shit:. Depending on railroad, some sw1500's had Flexicoils, and some had AAR trucks. I won't be bothering with any versions with the AAR trucks.

    Last edited: 24 July 2015
  6. mickoo

    mickoo Western Thunderer

    Cheers for the light details, I've seen plenty of DPU's running with headlights on the rear as well as a EOTD, I didn't know SP used the Mars light for the same purpose.

    I did notice that some SW units have different sand fillers at the cab platform end, some with a raised box section, others with a small sloped section for the filler spout with a raised 'fence' around them, but then there's as many with the stock fitting seen on the model, a whole mine field of detail differences.

    I'm going to guess the frame length reduction is in the fuel tank area, which means a simple cut right across the frames, but joining the frames back together will be interesting, I'm not sure what the material is but I'm guessing Mazak or some sort of cast alloy, I've got some cast steam engine bodies in Mazak I need to work on in due course and I've yet to find anything that bonds it to itself or anything to it with any confidence.

    The biggest problem I've got with the CSX 'DC are the Winnebago AC units on the roof, no one seems to do a casting for it and detailed close up photos for scratch building are thin on the ground, mind I've not done a deep trawl just yet, but a basic skim reveals very little. I also need them for the GP38 project as well, I suspect I'll have to 'roll my own' and 3D print something.
  7. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    On the front of the unit, the grill etch is totally wonky. It's relatively heavy, but also the openings have the wrong aspect ratio. They are quite close to square, but should be 4" x 2". As the overall screen is square, it can be oriented with the rows and columns going in either direction. Working from a prototype photo would be necessary to pick one or the other. Also just behind and inside the grill is a surround that should measure out to about 1/4" thickness on the prototype. On the model, it scales out to just over 2-1/2" thickness!:eek: The difference will be more apparent in pictures with the grill removed. The intention is to replace this grill with a correct etch, open the area behind the grill and replace with an etched representation of the shutters, and then model the fan behind it all.

    The area with the headlights will be adapted to suit a particular prototype and era. Also, the lip of the hood that protrudes above the lights suffers from the same over thick treatment as the radiator surround. I'm contemplating whether to tackle this modification and how to proceed if I do. I forgot to mention it previously but the same will hold true for the matching lip at the rear of the cab.
    Radiator and frame/truck mods are the same as noted for the other side.

    Lastly, the doors in front of the cab on the conductor's side will need to be modified. Again, the third door will be cut out and moved to replace the fourth door to get the latch locations correct. Also, the first and second doors need to be adapted to reflect correct latch and louver configurations and their position in relationship to the steps into the cab.

    I think that's it for the existing prototype and starting condition details. Next up I will start with some actual modifications. After a bit of delay as it's dinner time here and my girl is demanding some attention as well.:eek:

  8. Jordan

    Jordan Mid-Western Thunderer

    Awesome project Jim!! As far as detailing & modifying US locos goes, I am but a humble beginner compared to all this stuff :oops: I actually know precious little about them - I just like the way they look & sound!!
    Is the hood metal on the MP15? When I detailed my SW1200 I was most surprised to discover this, after trying to drill holes for grab irons with just a drill in a pin vice & getting nowhere fast!! It did explain how the loco could be so heavy!!
    The pilots look better on your loco too, although mine was 2-rail, it had "TMCC" inner gubbins & lobster claw couplers :shit: so still shows some 3-rail heritage :headbang: (massive holes in the pilot & molded air lines) but not many people this side of The Pond would notice offhand.
  9. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    I don't know, it sounds like a good enough reason to me.:thumbs: Just remember, to this point my modeling efforts essentially consist of planning and dreaming, with precious little doing taking place. I mean, I should get something like an achievement award for excellence in planning.:oops: But at least I'm prepared now.

    The hood on the mp15dc's are indeed styrene plastic. Of all the locomotives offered by Atlas, the only diecast units are the sw8/9/1200 switchers. I should correct that to state those with diecast shells. Most if not all of them have diecast frames. The version I've shown in the photos so far is actually a 2-rail, unpowered, model. However, I've got several that are 3-rail and will need additional work to bring them up to 2-rail standards. Removal of proprietary electronics, roller pick-ups, 3-rail wheels and 3-rail couplers. The hole in the pilot will need to get filled in as well. One good thing is that the Atlas switchers already have fixed pilots. Models like the sd40 have a swinging pilot. 2-rail, and dare I say possibly p48, wheelsets will need to be installed. Power pickups installed. Dcc installed. I'm not committed on sound yet. Even with O scale it's still tough to get the quality of bass that would make it worth my while. So there are steps that will need to be followed to get the models where I would like them to be. But the good news is I'm trending toward making them simpler rather than more complex. I had to laugh at the photos of the guts of Mick's mp15dc. He must have gotten an older one intended for traditional dc operation. Just a couple of wires from trucks to motor and that's it. One of the ones I disassembled had tmcc. What a rat's nest of wiring and garbage inside that thing.

    I'll do my best to keep you entertained and your senses aflutter with my ramblings on US outline. I'm not judging you, but frankly I doubt I'll have to try too terribly hard to accomplish that.:D:cool:

    Jordan likes this.
  10. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    The red light is not the Mars light. Mars lights would have been similar to the headlights, except that they had a function to rotate the fitting or lens in the shape of a figure eight so that the beam of light would move around, pulsate, and theoretically attract more attention. Seemingly obsolete these days. I haven't heard of one being used in ages.

    I have definitely seen units with the larger sand boxes at the nose, but I don't especially remember units with enlarged boxes at the cab end. It wouldn't surprise me in the least though if it was done. Yet another example of why proto modelers and detailers work from photos of specific units all time.

    I presume you mean Zamak as opposed to Mazak. And yes, Zamak (commonly referred to as diecast) is usually the metal of choice for frames. I'm not especially fond of it as if the alloy has impurities in it the material will essentially rot and crumble away over time. But it is hard to beat for its weight and the ability to essentially injection mold it for high quality parts. The mp15dc can have multiple fuel tank capacities. However, this fuel tank is already the correct size for the sw1500, so it will stay the same size and cuts will happen directly on either side of it. 1'-0" out of each end. I have a budding relationship with a small shop machinist that I met as a customer, that has taken an interest in some of the train projects I asked him about. I hope to have him cut and mill the frame pieces to the correct length. Then I'm hoping to use a brass or aluminum plate as a splice plate, drilled and tapped and screwed into the frame rails on either side of the fuel tank. I need to check clearances between the plate location and the drive shaft from the motor. I'm hoping there is room to accommodate my solution. I agree that other than drilling and tapping, there are few effective ways to attach diecast together or to any other material.

    A couple of things here. The roof top units are nothing special, offered in the real world by the likes of Carrier and Coleman and so on. So you might be able to source information from one of these companies. Secondly, there is a guy on the OGR forum named Tom York, possibly with an "e" on the end, that does some commission building and has produced these AC units in resin recently. I think he sponsors the OGR forum in some way, so his link can be found at the top in the area with all the vendor banners. It might be worth checking out. A third longshot option would be to contact BLMA models, who produce the units you need in N and HO scales, and solicit them for the info. You'll have to convince them you have no ill intentions which may be impossible, but then again it never hurts to ask.

    In the not too distant future I hope to have a business making O scale trains. One of my plans is to approach companies that have already done the legwork to produce in the smaller scales and offer them an opportunity to monetize their time and knowledge by effectively selling it to me. Or collaborate on future projects where Company A produces in N scale while Company B produces said model in HO, while sharing the up front costs of research and development. This is how Bowser (HO) and BLMA (N) put out intermodal well cars recently.

    All for now. Cheers,
    Last edited: 24 July 2015
  11. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    Tom Yorke AC unit

    Personally I'm not sold on them. Especially the older rectangular style. I think it's too tall.
  12. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    While I've used a nice pristine 2-rail version of the Atlas mp15dc for the photos above, I'm going to actually do the trial and error on a 3-rail version whose fate I am less concerned about. If things go well, I will take the knife to additional models in the future.

    I disassembled two models in preparation for stripping paint. One was a BNSF version with traditional hood. The second was a Reading model with the square air filter box on the hood ahead of the cab. It should be noted at this time that MP15dc's can have one of three hood types. No filter box, which is essentially the same as the sw1500. Square filter box, and angled filter box where the trailing edge of the square type box is chamfered off. The differences will become evident in the pictures to follow. I will be using the standard hood version without filter box for any sw1500 bash I undertake. The Reading unit was stripped more or less just for grins, but also to test the success of stripping Atlas paint with 91% isopropyl alcohol.

    Ironically, Mick was starting his build with the version I needed (BNSF no filter) while I had available the version he needed (Reading with square filter box). We discussed for a bit a swap of shells, but could not make sense of the postage costs to say nothing of the potential for customs repercussions even with it being a straight up zero sum trade. We will both make do with what we have. My Reading shell is now destined to become an mp15ac instead. Say Jordan, did the Soo by chance roster any such animal?:thumbs::eek: Where's that angel/devil emogie when I most need it.

    Here are some pictures of the Reading shell. I'm including them here for Mick to demonstrate the effectiveness of 91% alcohol on Atlas paint. And also at some points as comparison between how things started and where I have gone with them since. Here is the hood and cab stripped mostly bare. Some paint seems to remain in down in the latch recesses. I have soaked this twice, and gone after all remaining paint with multiple brushes. Either this paint isn't coming out, or it has actually stained the plastic. It's no kind of deal breaker, but it offends my compulsive side. I should note that anywhere glue has been applied, the paint seems determined to remain. I think heat may also produce this effect, as will be shown later. The cab is essentially as if it had never been painted other than where the glazing was glued in on the interior.
    021.JPG Any residual paint is minimal and shouldn't create any long term issues for repainting.

    Here is the shell I will be using with the BNSF paint stripped. There is some residual left on the top of the hood, but it doesn't have any appreciable thickness. There isn't any glue here, so my personal guess is that as this is a used loco, heat from the motor or more likely the humongous electronics board residing directly below heated up the shell and cured the paint to a certain extent. If I decide it will be a problem for refinishing, I will hit it with some wet fine grit sand paper before painting.

    I've started by removing the cast in closed shutters on the nose of the hood. I want to open this area up and show the radiator fan behind the grill and shutters. Before....
    Side by side....
    014.JPG With the grills removed, the overly thick surround for the opening to the shutters is readily apparent. In the second picture, I have filed the thickness of the surround down from the original 2.5"+ to about .5". I need to do some additional work here as close up photos show the inconsistencies in the thickness. I didn't think the plastic would be strong enough to file down to scale thickness, but it is already quite close yet doesn't show any particular weakness. If I do take too much off here and cock it up I will figure out some etch to replace it. I will fill the eight mounting holes for the grill as they are glaringly evident enough now and will be more so with an improved grill etch.

    I'd like to reduce the thickness of that lip overhanging the light package to the same extent, but it won't be nearly as easy to file. Still deciding on that area.

    Now I have to laugh as this is the very first place I started and when I put the existing grills on to see the effect, the new edge of the surround wasn't even visible. It made me wonder if it was worth doing. But I think the value is in what isn't being seen behind that grill. Here is a side by side comparison with grills on. Granted it's not quite apples to apples as the open area behind the grill changes the way it all reads.
    Remember that the grill will be replaced with a revised, more accurate etch that is hopefully of finer cross members and bigger openings. Also, the part of the grill that is right at the fold from front to side of the hood is incorrectly positioned. The last perpendicular should be .5 to 1" to the inside of the surround, with the bend just outside the surround. In this way both the wire and the thin edge of the surround should both be visible. Like this...

    Here is the beginning of the etch drawing. If anybody is willing to take a look at it and answer some questions about it, let me know. I've read the tutorials on both the PPD and Hollywood Foundry sites. Not surprisingly, questions still remain when one puts theory into practice the first time.

    I think I'll wrap up for tonight. Next up after I finish the first etch iteration will be to move on to the radiator core and grill.

    Last edited: 24 July 2015
  13. mickoo

    mickoo Western Thunderer

    Jim, looking good, really must get back to mine very very shortly. A new PC set up today, finish the W1 frames and then back to the MP15DC.

    Re AC units, thanks for the link, like you, I'm not rushing to purchase, too high and not streamlined enough for the CSX versions I've seen, they may suit older AC units seen elsewhere though.

    Wiring, trust me mine was full as well, just stripped it all off whilst doing my modifications to prevent damage etc :thumbs:

    Grill, what thickness material are you intending to use, for something that fine I'd avoid brass, which is what Atlas have used and several folded clips have broken off already, as a base I'd use Nickle Silver or for something that fine, perhaps stainless steel for strength and rigidity, the extra cost is worth it, I don't etch in brass any more, much prefer NS. What you have there would work quite well in 0.010" with NS and maybe 0.005" in stainless. I see you've gone for full thickness tabs, with something that fine I'd probably go with half etched to reduce any chance of damage to the part you want to retain.
    Other than that it looks pretty good to go and would be exactly what I had planned, if you want to share costs that'd be fine as I need one and in truth your order will probably be expanded (at no extra cost) to fill an area so you'll probably get four or six back anyway. When I did my 08 door overlays I only wanted 2 sets but to fill the minimum space they cloned it up to four sets. To save further money I'd suggest adding any other art work you want onto this sheet, they charge for each phototool they make up so rather than having to pay for two phototools for say a nose grill and a hood top grill it's best to put both onto one etch and only pay for one phototool.

    Grill surround, are you happy with what you have?, looks good to me and it's the little details that make the whole, even if they are barely visible, but they do form a large part of the concious (often sub) when viewing the final model.

    Overhang lip, hard one that, difficult to trim back and add a thin overlay if you want to retain the extra flag brackets. On the cab it's much easier, just trim the roof back to the cab front and rear walls, then overlay a thin plasticard sheet to the correct shape and glue. Personally I'd be wary of a 0.010" roof overlay as it'll be quite delicate, I'm thinking more of 0.010" brass sheet and glued to the top with Loctite 480, even then I'd still be looking for perhaps some other way of retaining it. Something like four 0.5mm holes in the sheet near each corner then solder thin rod into the holes and file flat on top to leave say a 10mm spigot underneath, drill corresponding holes in the cab roof, push spigots through and bend over to retain to roof piece, glued as well it should be good for the models life time. I've some Plasticard fillets on my brass A3 model and it's been cleaned several times with a toothbrush and to date only one of the 12 has fallen off, not sure how well the glue lasts over time, but it's a low handling area and once painted that will probably hold it in place indefinitely. I've already decided on a false cab roof to hold my cab interior lamps and cover the mouldings in there that Atlas have added for cable runs to the light bars, this would also cover my roof 'staples'.

    IPA has worked really well and like you I have areas that will not come completely clean, I kind of guessed it was something to do with me also giving them a quick (foolish) wash in Cellulose thinners, which is basically a plastic adhesive :eek: and surmised that the paint had fused with the plastic, either way I think it is paint staining the plastic, it bothered me for a while....until I found something else that bothered me more ;)

    Sand boxes, KCS has one with two large housings, UP have quite a few with different shaped housings, some have only one extra housing on the conductors side, others have them on both sides.

    UPY 1327a.jpg

    This is a good shot as it shows both types in one photos, originally a bevelled top but a welded extension to make it a square top, many simply have a correctly made square top and not the extra bit welded on. The bevelled lid type with fence is better illustrated thus.


    Soo MP15AC ?....YES :thumbs:

    SOO 1535.jpg
  14. Steph Dale

    Steph Dale Western Thunderer

    Just a quick note on the grille artwork:
    I'd avoid putting the grille fixing eyes on the fret as the folds will be difficult to get consistent and neat. I'd aim to feed the grille in to a few small holes and then use separate nbw for the fixings.
    I agree with Mickoo on the use of stainless steel, and for anything up to about 0.005" full-thickness tabs are obligatory.

  15. Pugsley

    Pugsley Western Thunderer


    Gray and Scarlet please :thumbs: :D (I have a bit of a thing for the SP and DRGW).

    One question - does anyone know what the brass ball on top of the BN switcher, in the first post, is?
  16. mickoo

    mickoo Western Thunderer

    Steph, I came to that conclusion this afternoon, for my front grill I'm going to strip it all off, even the front flange plate, work up a new etch flange plate and rim around the vanes, leave some small holes for the grill pegs to poke through and half etch the grill tabs on the front flange plate.
  17. mickoo

    mickoo Western Thunderer

    Maybe they couldn't find a spare teddy like the bin men do ;)

    I've no idea what it is but I suspect it's a local jolly jape of some kind :cool:

    Bloody nose looks good on the SSW B40-8's ;) they also look good in BNSF/ATSF and CSX YN2.
  18. Pugsley

    Pugsley Western Thunderer

    Ah, I presumed it was something with some kind of useful function, rather than purely decorative!
  19. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    I'm pretty sure it's just a bauble contributed as a lark by one of the local shop crew members. I think one could plausibly get away with it on a unit assigned to a local job only, always working to and from the same yard each day. Probably the same crew running it all the time as well.

    I would think as long as it didn't violate FRA regulations or encumber the operation of things like radio or lights, then it could be gotten away with.
  20. Big Train James

    Big Train James Western Thunderer

    I'm definitely a DRGW fan, SP too but not with much conviction. Mostly I just like their switchers with the goofy lights and the high number boards. But for both roads I am a fan of their tunnel motor versions of the sd40-2. A Rio Grande sd40t-2 is on my rather long list of sd40-2 variants to attempt sometime in the future.