Wednesday, July 4, 2018

New Haven Alco S-1 Switcher With Low Profile Cab

The Alco S-1 switcher was introduced in 1940, the first Alco switcher of low profile hood design to compete with the EMD and Baldwin switchers of a similar design. This low hood design offering a better front vision for the engine crew than the earlier Alco high hood design switchers. Powered by the Alco designation 539 diesel prime mover that produced 660 HP. These switchers rode on Blunt B-B trucks.

The first S-1 switchers were delivered to the New Haven Railroad in 1941, deliveries continued until 1949 for a total of 65 units. These diesel switchers replacing 0-6-0 steam switchers on the roster.

Reference and Photos

There is a comprehensive article about New Haven Alco S-1 switchers including many photos authored by Marc J. Frattasio and William S. Chapin in the New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association magazine Shoreliner volume 35 issue 1. This excellent issue, the cover pictured below, is still available as a back issue from This magazine is a good read and must for modeling the New Haven S-1.

Another great reference is the book New Haven Power  by J. W. Swanberg, in addition he also authored an article in the above Shoreliner about working on the S-1 and S-2 locomotives.

Modeling the New Haven S-1

One of the interesting challenges of modeling most New Haven Railroad diesel locomotives is that the railroad's diesels had features that differ from the standard design of the locomotive builder, the S-1 is no exception. These switchers also had many different paint schemes during their tenure on the New Haven and some equipment variations depending on the road number, again the Shoreliner article is the best reference when modeling a specific unit and era.

The New Haven ordered their S-1's with low profile cab roofs that were about 6" lower than the standard design for a greater clearance from the high voltage overhead catenary in the electrified zones and other areas that would be inaccessible with the standard cab height. This was achieved by lessening the curvature radius of the cab roof in the center opposed to the standard design roof that had a continuous radius arch from side to side. This compound curvature of the roof resulted in the NH cabs being very distinctive in appearance from the standard design.

The starting point for my model is a Life Like Proto 2000 S-1. Like many models of its era of manufacture this model is of the prototype locomotive builders standard design that is correct for most railroads, but this model has an incorrect cab for the NH. The model was purchased about 15 years or more ago when they were first released because it came factory painted for NH road #0972, the prototype seen below was photographed in Danbury in 1957 switching express cars therefore is appropriate for use on the layout.

          Courtesy of Bob's Photo

Correcting the factory installed cab on the Proto 2000 model has long been on my things to do list but pushed to the back burner by many other other projects. William (Bill) Chapin co-author of the Shoreliner article did a great job of modifying the cab on his switcher, this being the only one that I knew of with a corrected roof profile cab in HO scale.

A replacement Cab

Having a prototypically correct replacement cab has been talked about for years by NH modelers but none has ever been produced ether in resin or by injection molding most likely because of the insufficient numbers that would purchased to turn a profit by the maker.

Good quality and reasonably priced 3D printing has now made a correct NH cab possible. Mike Redden, a skilled NH modeler has designed an accurate low profile replacement cab kit for 3D printing to fit the Proto 2000 S-1, this cab is available for purchase from Shapeways .

I ordered one as soon as they were released for sale. The kit arrived from Shapeways quickly and well packaged with the pieces individually enclosed in separate plastic bags.

This is my first experience with 3D printed parts. The kit pieces received are high quality free from flash or warping. The detail is clear and excellent down to the smallest rivet.

The 5 pieces of the kit are pictured below.

The Proto 2000 body shell with factory cab removed.

The difference in the roof profile is evedent when placing the rear of the replacement cab against the factory cab.

Cab Assembly

With the cab kit needing to be painted and have the glazing installed from the inside of the cab, the following is the cab assembly sequence that I chose.

1. Drill holes

Holes were drilled for the hand rails on the cabs rear panel. The step to door handrails and one upper grab from the original cab will be reused. New shorter handrails on the cab door sides will need to be fabricated, these were made from .015 phosphor bronze wire with holes in the cab drilled to match.

2. Paint the 5 kit pieces and repaint hood.

Modeling #0972 as in the 1957 prototype photo above called for NH #401 green being applied to the cab front, sides and roof and NH warm orange to the cab rear panel. Also the green applied to the hood of the out of the box model needed to be changed to #401 green and was repainted at the same time as the kit pieces. Tru-color #38 401 green and Tru-color # 36 warm orange were used. The headlight bezel was painted black.

3. Apply decals

The orange New haven script lettering and numbers for the cab sides came from an old Accu-cals set that I have had for many years. I used these because the orange matches the warm orange paint well, I do not know of this sets availability today.

The small black NH script on the cab door is from Micro Scale set #87-1001 and the small black numbers next to the headlight come from Micro Scale set # 87-884

Below are the painted and decaled kit pieces.

4. Weathering and dulcote.

The lines across the kit pieces that can be seen in the photo above I assume are from the printing process and show with a gloss paint applied. These are far less noticeable once the painted surface is dulled with an initial weathering coat before assembly.

First a coat of acrylic grimly black thinned 10:1 with 70% alcohol was sprayed over the parts followed by 2 coats of dulcote, results below.

5. Install glazing

Mike Redden also offers a glazing set for this cab, it is reasonably priced and the individual windows fit very well. You can order the glazing set directly from Mike by clicking on the NE Model Works link on the Shapeways page that features the cab kit.

I thought that it would be much easier to install the cab windows before assembling the cab while the pieces could be worked on the flat from behind as seen below. Formula '560' canopy glue was used.

The handrails on the rear panel of the cab were installed during this step after the windows were in place.

6. Cab assembly

To assure that the cab would sit flat once on the Proto 2000 model platform after assembly the kit was glued together on a glass work surface. A square corner jig was temporarily formed by taping 2 straight edges together on the glass surface as below.

I decided to start by gluing the cab sides to the cab front first. Glue was applied to the pieces and quickly pushed up against the temporary square jig and checked with a small combination square head as below.  Maxi-Cure ACC was used to bond all pieces.

The opposite side was affixed the same way then the roof was glued on next making sure all the pieces were square to each other.

The rear of the cab was glued in place last finishing the assembly of the low profile replacement cab.

The design work of this kit is superb, with care during assembly all the kit pieces will fit together quite precisely as one would experience with an injection molded kit. The finished cab fits on the Proto 2000 S-1 platform as well as the original cab.

One thing I would do differently is to paint the insides of the cab pieces black or gray before installing the windows and assembling the cab.

The whistle

One more way the New Haven S-1's differed from other railroads is that they were equipped with a whistle instead of an air horn.

A Custom Finishing Models #103 whistle was used for this detail. A mounting bracket was made from styrene strip using a photo in the Shoreliner S-1 article as a guide, the piping and elbow came from brake piping that was in my scrap box.

These whistles were mounted in differing locations on these locomotives, referring to the article once more the whistle on # 0972 was located approximately 1 foot beyond the cab roof overhang. Below is the whistle, bracket and piping assembly before painting.

Making the model run.

When this model was new a basic DCC decoder was installed, it ran well but installing a new sound decoder while apart for the cab change will bring it up to today's layout standard.

An ESU Loksound #73800 select micro decoder and #50321 speaker were installed. They are both are good fit for this models chassis, see photo below for mounting locations.

The speaker enclosure included in the #50321 speaker kit was assembled to its lowest profile to fit under the body shell.

Alco 6 cyl 539 prime mover sounds article #73489 were downloaded from the ESU website and programed into the decoder with the ESU programer. The whistle sound was chosen from the selections of playable horn sounds. The sounds are very prototypical for a Alco 539 non turbo prime mover and whistle.

After programming CV 54 to 0 using the recommended procedure, this model now runs exceptionally and prototypically well at switching speeds that it is intended for.

I chose not to install lighting on this switcher using MV #136 lenses instead.

The finished model

The mounted whistle can be seen in front of the cab in this photo. Holes in the front of the cab for the side handrails were drilled after the cab/hood were mounted on the base platform.

The fireman's side.

These upgrades have transformed this model from a seldom used shelf queen to a permanent switcher in the Danbury yard on the layout. It looks right, runs and sounds great!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mystery Baggage Car Identification Solved!

Help Kindly Sent!

The mystery baggage car pictured in the HELP NEEDED blog post has been identified as one of the two Boston & Maine RR baggage/messenger service cars  #3280 or 3281.

                                            J. W. Swanberg photo, Author's collection

These two cars were originally built in 1930 as 36 seat passenger / baggage / 15' mail apartment combines by the St Louis Car Co for the Chesapeake & Ohio RR, road numbers 403 and 404. These 75' cars were later sold to the the Boston & Maine RR and converted for baggage - messenger service cars in 1950, this configuration seen at Danbury in the 1958 photo above.

My understanding is that when on the B&M these cars were regularly used on the international train the "Gull", a 24 hour train between Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Custom agents boarding the cars for border crossing inspection may have favored these cars for the vestibule on one end for ease of entry/exit.

Why is this car on the New Haven at Danbury CT?

Express cars on the B&M with a destination for the Harlem River REA terminal in the Bronx NY could be routed over the New Haven from the B&M at Springfield MA. Speculation is that while this car was at the Harlem River Terminal it was loaded with express for Danbury.

Photos hard to come by

With photographic proof that this car appeared in Danbury during the era of the layout and despite of the fact this may have been only a one time occurance, a model is desired to offer operational interest on the layout.

Reference photos for modeling these cars are apparently very hard to come by!

Knowing that these cars were originally C&O then on the B&M roster in the 1950's narrows down the search for additional photos of these cars and would be a very useful for building a creditable model.

If anyone knows of photos of these cars ether on the C&O or B&M please leave a comment. A B&M mechanical drawing would also be very desirable.


A special thanks to John Horvath for identifying these cars providing much of the information about them! Also thanks for the contributions of Tom E. Thompson and Ed Shoben.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


Unusual Baggage/Express Car

In the large format photo below there is an unusual baggage/express car behind an EP-3 electric, the oddity being that this car has a vestibule on one end.

There is no readable lettering to determine what railroad this car is from. The perspective caused by the photo's angle makes it hard to determine the length of the car, it maybe about 70' or less? The car may have 6 wheel trucks? Converted combine?

Foreign road baggage/express cars frequented Danbury in the era of the layout, this diversity adds a visual interest to model operations, therefore I would like to scratchbuild/kitbash a model of this car if enough information/photos can be obtained.

Help Needed

Can anyone identify this car and/or the railroad it came from?

Additional photos of the car? Official railroad drawings? Colors?

Any help or lead appreciated!!

J. W. Swanberg photo, Danbury, CT 1958. Author's collection

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Modeling Danbury - Signature Structures - Sand Bin & Dryer House

The sand storage bin and dryer house at Danbury no longer exist and few pictures could be found of these two structures.

The photo that reveals the most usable information for modeling purpose is the below photo taken by Peter McLachlan circa late 1950's. This photo supplies the best information on the construction and sizing the heigth of the sand bin and the east end of the dryer house. Without this photo building a creditable model of these two structures would have been unlikely.

Peter C. McLachlan Photo

The length and width of the sand bin and dryer house was best determined by a vintage aerial photo sizing the structures comparing them with boxcars and passenger cars of the era that were present in the yard when the photo was taken. The model length would be prototypical but the scale distance between the tracks on either side of the sand bin is somewhat narrower on the layout than on the prototype seen above, the model width would have to be adjusted to fit between the tracks on the layout.

Sand Bin Model

The sand bin model is made from styrene strips and sheets. The sides are made from sheet V Groove siding and the vertical support posts are dimensional strips.

Below are the 4 sides and baseplate on the flat before assembly.

The assembled bin below.

I believe during the era of the layout the New Haven was getting its locomotive sand from quarries along the railroad on the lower cape near Provincetown MA. Below is the painted model filled with a light almost white sand as per prototype photo.

The Dryer House

The sand dryer house was still standing in the photo below that I took late 1970's, but the sand storage bin has been removed. Combining this photo and the Peter McLachlan photo there was enough to build a creditable model of the dryer house.

The model is again a simple styrene building. The sides are sheet styrene clapboard with Tichy windows and a scratch built sliding door. Below are the pieces on the flat.

The assembled and painted dryer house. I could not quite figure out the taller of the two smoke jacks, in the prototype photo it looks like an enterprising yard employee used a 55 gallon drum to support the pipe so the same was done to the model until someone proves that is incorrect!

Below are the two structures together, they will take their places along with the wood sanding tower on the layout soon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

New England Foam Forestry

This Modelers New England Dilemma

Modeling New England means modeling many trees, specially on a branchline like New Haven's Berkshire Line in western Connecticut and Massachusetts. My dilemma is fabricating trees, what could eventually amount to a thousand trees or more.  Although building rolling stock, structures and vehicles is something that I totally enjoy, fabricating trees is not!

Scenic Express SuperTrees make nice small foreground trees and I will continue to use them where I think they will make the best presentation, but with the amount of them that would be required for the background foliage on this layout they are not financially nor timewise practicable.

Foam Forest

Initially when planning this layout I thought making "puff ball" trees would be the easiest way to blanket the background with the amount of trees required to represent the part of New England being modeled. I tried making a few puff balls but it quickly became clear that this method was not something I was willing to do on the entire layout and a new plan was needed.

The following method is the way I decided to fabricate the blanket tree canopy for this layout. Although this method takes a few days to complete because of drying time between steps, the actually fabrication time spent is minimal. Great Stuff, an expandable foam dispensed from a 16 oz spray can, will form the tree canopy shapes. These foam shapes will then be covered with black poly fiberfill and finished with various colors and textures of scenic flocking materials.

I decided to make the foam tree canopies as separate sections that would be formed on the layout then finished with the scenic materials on the workbench before installing the sections on the layout. The section that is the subject of this post is about 7' in length, about the maximum length that will fit my workbenches. I find that the finished sections are easily blended together after installation on the layout.

Wax paper covers the layout area below where the foam will be sprayed. When cured the foam will retain the shape of the terrain that it was sprayed over making the section easy to install when finished. The foam will not stick to the wax paper.

An initial coat of foam has be sprayed over the wax paper below, after a few minutes packing peanuts were attached to the still very tacky foam. The peanuts are just a filler and were used because they were on hand, this filler most likely could been anything from news paper to leftover pieces of extruded foam board. If the foam is too thick it will take a long time to fully cure and is a waste of material.

A second coat was then sprayed over the peanuts. Dispensing short spray bursts of foam from the can leaving behind irregular and random shapes, nooks and crannies are best. 

As a side note, the reason that a peanut filler was required when making the section above is that the landform terrain was already glued in place on the layout because puff ball trees had been planned on being installed. Going forward with the remainder of the layout extruded foam board as below will be shaped to the near the full height of the tree line so only a thin coat of spray foam will be needed.

After curing overnight this is the fully cured foam section being checked for fit. Parts of the section that look undesirable will be broken off at this point.

When I was satisfied with the shaping of the section it was taken outside and painted with black enamel from a spray can.

After the paint was dried a mixture of 1 part Matte medium and two parts water was sprayed over the foam section, then layers of stretched out black poly fiberfill were placed over the foam and worked into the contours. An overspray coat of the matte medium mixture was then sprayed onto the poly fiberfill and let to dry overnight.

This is how the section looks after the poly fiberfill has been affixed to the foam. One last test fit on the layout.

The poly fiberfill is very stiff after the matte medium mixture has cured, the fiberfill is pushed down into the contours then another coat of matte medium is sprayed over the section in preparation for the scenic materials.

Several varied colors of scenic materials have been dispensed over the wet matte medium below.

When the scenic materials have achieved a look that I like the entire section was oversprayed one more time with the matte medium mixture and let dry overnight on the bench.

This is the finished tree section on the layout. A few dabs of adhesive caulk hold the section in place, double sided tape could also be used.

This is a fast and inexpensive method for me to make the background foliage for the layout. This section took about 3 hours of actual working time, the can of foam was $4.25 and the spray paint was $1 both from Home Depot. I prefer to do the spray painting outside and the application of the scenic materials over a tarp on a workbench inside or out, but could be built in place on the layout if the painting step used a non solvent type paint.

The tree section can easily be removed to have additional scenic materials added or tweaked in place if desired. The section is light weight but rugged and not subject to damage. I may add some random or groupings of conifer tree tops where appropriate on future sections.

Works for me!