Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 3 – Chassis Prep

This week’s post will be a continuation of my step by step build of an N Scale A-B-A Ready-To-Run set of Alco C-855 locomotives.  And this post will be concentrating on the chassis and preparation required to get them ready to be assembled.  You can find part one of the build here.

The chassis for the C-855 and C-855B is a Con Cor U50/Turbine chassis and I have three ready for the job.

The first check I always make is to see how they run.  These are all in their original state and setup for DC operation.  Each ran well in both directions, although they make the higher than normal amount of noise these chassis tend to make.  The good news is later on I will be swapping the motors to solve this.

The chassis have lots of parts and striping down each chassis completely will be required as the base metal sections are going to be cut.  Removing all the parts will prevent any metal filings getting into the gears and stop any heat which may be generated warping the plastic.  If you’re going to be doing this with more than one chassis at a time I would recommend keeping all the parts for each chassis in separate bags or boxes.  I use old foil trays left over from baking vegetables, washed up of course.

I would also recommend numbering each chassis.  All the parts should be the same in each chassis but over the years Con Cor did make a few changes.  Plus the amount of miles each model has done can also affect how the parts fit and run together. A worn part and a new part may not run well together.

The main sections are the top and bottom metal parts and as you can see below with 3D printed extension parts.  Note each extension part has an arrow pointing to the front of the locomotive, and the orientation does make a difference.

You should always start with the top section as this will correctly set out the spacing of the two ends once cut.

I have marked the area to be cut out with a Sharpie pen.

The important surface is the step in the frame marked by the red line.  The 3D printed extension needs to butt up to this in order to make the chassis the correct length.  The area to be removed needs to be 2mm (1/16″) or less from this step.  If it is longer the remaining metal will push the extender away and over lengthen the chassis.

As well as the center section there also needs to be some cutting done at the nose.  Note: the A units need to be cut differently to the B.

Because both the Con Cor U50 and the Turbine have wide areas under the cabs which extend right to the front of the locomotives the chassis is wider here.  But the C-855 does not so the ‘wings’ at either side need to be cut off. Also two notches need to be cut out as show by the marked area below.  The nose needs to be 8mm (5/16″) wide, or less, and cut back by 7mm (1/4″).  I tend to use the hole in the front left side as a guide, this makes the notches a bit bigger but that’s fine. (Too small and the shell won’t fit).

To cut the chassis I use a bandsaw but this can be done with a cutting disc in a Dremel style tool.

As you can see the 3D printed extension is much larger than the cut out part.

The nose section, for the A units, looks like this.

For the B unit the ‘wings’ need to be cut off only, not notching. You will see this later.

Test fitting the extension you can see the two areas which butt up and there is a small gap where the cut was made which is exactly what is needed.

The three sections can now be fixed together.  I use an industrial superglue and a spray actuator as it’s fast and strong but you can use any good strong adhesive as long as it’s not designed to be flexible.

Because there is a gap between the cut face and the metal extender this allows it to be filled with glue.

And that’s it for the top section.

You can see in the picture below chassis number 2 has been cut for the B unit as it doesn’t have the narrow nose.

The second part is the lower section of the chassis.  The 3D printed section holds the motor in place and because of the geometry of the part it makes it hard to get it in the right place.  But because the top section is already set at the right length we can use this as a guide.

When I marked up the chassis for the photos, as shown below, I actually made a mistake and marked the section too far.

The red lines, shown below, are where the cuts should be made.  Basically in line with the lower section.  So no dimensions, just follow the existing line.

Once cut the two remaining bottom sections can be bolted to the upper using the original bolts.  Don’t worry about fitting the plastic spaces as they will be coming apart again.  I would also recommend installing at least two bolts in each end to avoid any rotation.

The lower section will be a tight fit and will take a bit of forcing in but once in the friction grip of the original parts to the new section will hold it in place.  I then use a pair of pliers to align the bottom of all parts.  Once I’m happy with the position I also fixed it with superglue.

With the glue all set the two newly extended chassis halves can be separated.

The lower section of the B unit also needs an additional few cuts.  Most of the way around the lower section is a shelf which the shell sits on.  But at the front the shelf is not there as this is where the loco cab is.  As the B unit has no cab this shelf will need to be cut out.  I place the B unit top section in place and draw round it as shown below.

And just to make sure I fill in the bit which needs to be removed.

Because this is a step and not a through cut I can’t use the band saw for this so it’s back to the cutting disc in a Dremel style tool.  The first cut is made vertically down to the level of the step.

The second is horizontal.  The two cuts should just about meet and the part will break out.

Repeating this across the front will leave the desired shape.

I also cleaned the area up with a small grinding bit in the Dremel style tool.

And that’s it.  All six chassis parts area ready to be reassembled.

In next week’s post I will show you how to extend the drive shafts and fit new motors into the chassis.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 2 – Grab Irons

This week I’ll be continuing my step-by-step build of an N Scale A-B-A Ready-To-Run set of Alco C-855 locomotives.  And this post will be about the first details to be applied to the shells; the grab irons.  You can find part one of the build here.

The grab irons or hand rails are small parts but form an important detail.  For these models I’ve made them from etched brass rather than a part of the 3D printed shell.  I could make them a part of the shell but they would be extremely fragile and probably couldn’t withstand being handled without breaking.  The other option’s to make them a solid piece of the shell but I find that makes them look too bulky.

The grab irons are located in the etched brass frets as shown below.  There are two sets for the A units and one for the B unit.

Each 3D printed shell already has the holes to locate all of the grab irons, and other parts.  Below you can see the cab of the A unit with the various holes.

And the rear also has holes for the four grab irons which create the ladder to the top of the locomotive.  Both ends of the B unit are the same as the rear of the A.

There are two types of grab iron.  Straight and folded down and in the A unit fret there are eight of each, although you only need 7 of the straight ones.

The straight ones have half etched sections where they are connected to the main fret to allow them to be easily cut out with a sharp knife.

One thing I strongly recommend is to test fit each grab iron.  If the hole is clogged or the grab iron is slightly bent the wrong way and you attempt to glue it right in, one leg will stick and the other will bend and you’ll be left with a wonky grab iron.  Each grab iron fits into a pair of holes which are either all the way through the shell or just the right length. So if you’ve cut them out too close to the fret and they are too long they may stick out too far.  This is another good reason to do a test fit.

The folded down version also has half etched sections on the rear just after the corner.   This allows the grab iron to easily be folded down in the right place.

I find by using a pair of wide tweezers I can hold both the legs and simply bend the fold down section into place with my finger.  When I tried it the other way round it was hard to get both legs in the right place.

I tend to get all the grab irons ready together, but I keep the two types separated.

To secure them in place I use superglue.  This is a great choice, not only because it sets very quickly but it is a type of acrylic and so are the 3D printed shells so there’s no danger of a chemical reaction damaging the shell.  I wouldn’t recommend trying to apply superglue directly to the shell; that normally ends in a sticky mess.  The best way is to pour some onto an old box lid or something similar, then gently dip the tips of the grab iron into the superglue just before you place it into the holes.  After you have test fitted it of course.

The straight grab irons fit in the A unit cab in six locations; I know there are only five shown below, I forgot one but it will appear shortly.  There are two in the roof above the number boards, two in the face of the cab above the outer windows, one in the side of the nose, above the step area, and finally, although not shown yet, one on the top of the nose.

The seventh fits in the top of the shell at the rear. The last one is simply a spare.

Three of the drop down grab irons fit into the side of the nose under the straight one.  These are the only three which don’t fit into two holes; the rear leg of each grab iron does but the front simply glues onto the front of the nose.  There is small sections of the 3D printed shell which stick out to locate the grab irons which sit on top of them. There is a fourth fold down grab iron under one of the windows.

When complete the fronts look like this. The B unit front is the same as the rear.

And the rears look like this.

The B unit fret has eight fold down grab irons and two straight ones.

So why have I only fixed the grab irons and not the rest of the etched brass parts?  Well these are the most delicate to do and also these need to blend in when the locomotives are painted. All the rest will be fixed after painting as they either fixed to several different parts or will make painting the shell harder to do if fitted first.

These shells will now go in for painting and while that’s happening I’ll turn my attention to the chassis which I’ll share with you next week.

The Great Central Railway Model Event 2018

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you will know I try to post every week.  However last Monday I was rather ill so I ended up missing my post.  But never fear because I’m back and ready to post.  And this week, as promises two weeks ago, will be about the Great Central Railway Model Event which I attend as an exhibitor with our club layout, Solent Summit.

Now, although I said I attended the event it was a very busy weekend and given the size of the layout we took and the number of staff we had it was very difficult to get away and see the other things.  Plus as the Great Central Railway had exhibits at different stations along the line, not having the time for a train trip, I was unable to see any of those.  But the real trains where running right out side our marquee and I was able to dive out and get some pictures and video to share with you.

We were based at Quorn & Woodhouse Station which has an island platform between the tracks.  Throughout out each day three steam haled services, a diesel top and tailed service and a DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) ran up and down the line.  And given that it’s a double main line this made for an intensive service.

On the Friday Class 20 D8098 worked on the South end of the diesel service with Class 37 37714 on the North end.

The Class 20 was built by English Electric/Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns Ltd in Darlington in 1961.  The Class 37 was also built in 1961 by English Electric.

The Woodhouse road crossed the North end of the station and from here I was able to capture the iconic sound of the class 37, which gave them the name ‘Growlers’, as it departed heading North.

Out of the three steam engines Standard 5 No. 73156 was the smallest, although don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not a powerful locomotive. It has a BR (British Rail) power rating of 5MT (Mixed Traffic) and considering the scale only goes up to 9, that’s not bad.

This 4-6-0, built at Doncaster in 1956, had a fantastic exhaust note and I managed to run out and catch it as it pulled out of the station heading south.

As well as the big trains the DMU was also running up and down.  The train consisted of a three car set and I believe an additional fourth power car.  Sadly I didn’t see it again to get any more shots.

The second steam engine was 70013, Oliver Cromwell.

This 4-6-2 pacific class 7P (Passenger) express engine was a fantastic looking locomotive and, given that it has a main line ticket and is regally ruining main line steam specials at top speed, ran like a sewing machine.

From the other side if the line I was able to capture it coasting into the station heading North.

And again from the road bridge departing North.

The GCR does have turntables but as the line is only about 10 miles long and the locomotive are not running at speed they do the return journey in reverse.

Her is Oliver Cromwell departing the station heading South, tender first.

One the Friday night the GCR put on a special train for the exhibitors so I did get a ride and it was behind none other than Oliver Cromwell.

At the southern end of the line, Leicester North, I captured Oliver Cromwell running round its train.

On the Saturday the Class 20 was still on the diesel service but the 37 had been replaced with Class 45 D123.

This locomotive was in wonderful condition and despite the distinctive diesel growls I don’t think it needed to work very hard at all to pull its train.

The Class 45 or ‘Peak’ has been named ‘Leicestershire and Derbyshire Yeomanry’.  D123 was built at Crewe in 1961.

The last steam engine, and the one I most wanted to see was also was the most elusive however I did manage to catch it.  The huge (by British Standards) Class 9F 92214 ‘Leicester City’.  It was built at Swindon in October, 1959.

This 2-10-0 simply radiated power, not surprising as it was one of the most powerful steam locomotive types ever constructed in Britain, and I don’t think it even knew it had a train behind it.  Here it is departing the station heading South.

On its return it was adorned by a Bachmann name plate although I don’t think any on-board DCC sound decoder could sound that good!

On Sunday we had our last locomotive change for the diesel service.  The class 20 was replaced by Class 25 D5185 Named ‘Castell Dinas Bran’.  It was built at Darlington in 1963.

Here is the Class 25 and 45 departing the station heading South.

At the south end of Quorn and Woodhouse station is a turntable and parked on it out of the way for the weekend was part of the ‘Wind cutter’ mineral set.

The GCR has 36 of these wagons, 18 in service, and they are used to recreate fast main line freight trains. You can read more about the ‘Windcutter project’ here.

This also would have been a great spot to watch trains go by, if I had the time, but I did catch ‘Peak’ D123.

And of course what would a steam railway station be without a traction engine to hand.

But what about the model exhibition?  In the pictures below of Quorn and Woodhouse station you can see the huge marquees behind which housed the layouts.

The picture below was taken from one end of one of our marquee just after we packed up to give you some idea of the size of the event.

As I said before it was a busy weekend and although I did get to have a quick look around I sadly didn’t take any pictures of the other layouts, all 70 of them!

But, thanks to Paul Begg we do have lots of photos of our layout which can be found here.

He also made a great video which captured a lot of our trains including the 22′ RoadRailer train!

There are lots of great videos on YouTube covering the other layouts, one set which seems to cover most of them is listed below. (Solent Summit is in part 5).

The Great Central Railway Model Event 2018 – Part 1

The Great Central Railway Model Event 2018 – Part 2

The Great Central Railway Model Event 2018 – Part 3

The Great Central Railway Model Event 2018 – Part 4

The Great Central Railway Model Event 2018 – Part 5

The Great Central Railway Model Event 2018 – Part 6

This event was a lot of fun and it’s certainly one I would recommend going to next year.  I would like to say thanks to the Paul Begg for his photos and video, the Soar Valley Model Railway Club for organizing the exhibition and the Great Central Railway for hosting it all.  I will leave you with two more videos of Standard 5 No. 73156 and Oliver Cromwell powering out of Quorn and Woodhouse station.

Getting Ready for The Big Show

This week’s post will be nice and short.  Although I’ve been progressing with several of my current projects, as mentioned last week, this coming weekend I’ll be at the Great Central Railway’s model railway exhibition from the 15th to the 17th June 2018.

My fellow club members and I will have a large portion of our modular layout ‘Solent Summit’ on show at the Quorn station along with 70 other layouts in the exhibition.

What makes this exhibition different is it’s actually at the railway station and your entry ticket includes unlimited rides on the real trains running from Loughborough to Leicester North.

And for this weekend we are lucky to have three steam engines working the line:

BR Standard Class 7 – 70013 Oliver Cromwell (Photo by D Rawlings)

BR Standard Class 9F – 92214 Leicester City (Photo by

BR Standard 5 – 73156 which has just been returned to service. (Picture from GCR website)

73156

Plus diesel locomotives:

BR Class 20 – D8098 (on the Friday) (Picture from GCR website)

BR Class 37 – 37714 (on the Friday) (Picture from GCR website)

BR Class 45 – Peak D123 (On the Saturday and Sunday) (Photo by Paul Biggs)

There is also one more to be announced.

This three-day exhibition is shaping up to be a great event for model trains and real ones.  For those of you who can’t make it I’ll try to do a blog post about it when I get back.  For those who are interested in coming you can find more about it here.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 1 – All the Parts

As promised in an earlier post I’m going to share with you the process of building an N Scale A-B-A Ready-To-Run set of Alco C-855 locomotives.  And this post is the first one covering all the parts.

I released the C-855 kit back in the beginning of 2016 and have made a few since then but as a fellow modeller has asked me to make a complete set for him, two A units and a B, I decided to document the whole thing to help others, as this build is a bit more tricky than normal.

So where to start?

I guess the best place is to show you all the parts you will need.  This will include 3D printed parts, donor parts, new parts and etched parts.

The 3D printed parts, as shown below, are all supplied by Shapeways in their Fine Detail Plastic material; originally called Frosted Detail Plastic.  This material is available in two quality levels; smooth and smoothest. The difference is the layer thickness, Smooth being 29 microns and Smoothest being 16 microns.  The Smoothest option takes longer to print and is therefore more expensive.  Since releasing these models Shapeways have also introduced their option to set the orientation of prints so the best detail can be achieved in the areas where you want it.  However, this also comes at a higher cost and as these engines are so big it did make a considerable difference to the price.  So I offer them in orientated and unorientated versions.  To find out more please see the C-855 page here and the C-855B page here.

The parts 3D printed in Fine Detail Plastic, starting from the top, are:

  • C-855 Locomotive Shell
  • C-855B Locomotive Shell
  • C-855 Locomotive Shell
  • 3 Fuel Tanks & 6 Drive Shaft Extenders
  • 18 Sand Boxes
  • 4 Special Sand Boxes, 4 Crew, 3 Sets Of Horns, 4 More Sand Boxes & 3 Fuel Tank Mounts

Since arriving from Shapeways all the parts above have simply been rinsed under warm water, soaked for twenty-four hours in Goo Gone, rinsed again in warm water, left to dry for forty-eight hours and finally run over lightly with a brush in a Dremel style tool as shown below.

I use this tool as any residue left over from the print process turns to powder after contact with the Goo Gone; once dry the brush simply knocks it off.

The next set of parts is the chassis.  For these locomotives, if you want them to be powered, you will need to get a donor chassis from a Con Cor U50 or turbine.  This is the only thing currently available which is even close to the C-855 chassis.  However it is too short and needs to be lengthened.  I will cover that later.

The parts for the chassis, starting from the top, are:

  • 3 Con Cor U50/Turbine Donor Chassis
  • 3 Sets of 3D Printed Stainless Steel Chassis Extenders
  • 3 New Kato Motors

The chassis extenders are also 3D printed by Shapeways and can also be found on the C-855 page here and the C-855B page here.

The new motors are not necessary for the build but the old Con Cor motor, although reliable and strong, is rather noisy by modern standards and this particular Kato motor works well as a replacement.  You can read a post about swapping them here with and an update here.

The last set of parts, well almost, is the etched brass parts as shown below. These are etched in 12 thou brass to give strength to the long parts.

Each etched set of C-855 Additions, as shown below contains:

  • 7 Handrails
  • 16 Grab Irons
  • 4 Ladders
  • 3 Walkway Platforms
  • 2 Sun Visors
  • 4 Windscreen Wipers
  • 4 MU (Multiple Unit) Hoses
  • 2 Miscellaneous Pipe Sections

The etched set of C-855B Additions, as shown below contains:

  • 8 Handrails
  • 10 Grab Irons
  • 4 Ladders
  • 3 Walkway Platforms
  • 4 MU (Multiple Unit) Hoses
  • 2 Miscellaneous pipe sections

The only other thing I’ll need for this build is three DCC decoders, LEDs for headlights and relevant wire but I’ll come to that in a later post.  I’ll also start working on the preparation of the parts leading up to the assembling of the locomotives.

This week I’ll finish off by saying I, along with my club members and club layout ‘Solent Summit’, will be at the Great Central Railways model railway exhibition from the 15th to the 17th June 2018.  You can find our more here.  And if you time it right you’ll see an A-B-A set of C-855s running on the layout.

3D Print Orientation and What To Do When It’s Wrong

As promised in last week’s post this week I’m going to share with you how to identify if your 3D printed model has been printed correctly.

So what do I mean by correctly printed? Back in October of 2017, in a post which you can find here, I shared with you the new feature from Shapeways which allows the orientation of the print to be set.  This means parts such as a locomotive shell can be printed with the roof on top ensuring the smoothest detail, rather than upside down like a bath tub.

However sometimes, even though the print orientation has been set, some models slip through the printer’s checks and get printed in a cost-saving way; this normally means upside-down.  But how can you tell?  Well, there are a few tell-tale signs which are caused by the print process which give away the orientation of the print.  These signs can be seen when the model is first delivered but given the transparent nature of the material it is fairly hard to spot and nearly impossible to photograph.

So the first thing I always do with any model is soak them in Goo Gone for 24 hours, which makes them opaque, rinse them under warm water and leave to dry for another 24 hours.  Below you can see a set of Alco C-855 shells which have been through this process.  These shells were ordered with the print orientation set so they printed the right way up and at first glance they look good.

But a closer inspection reveals they have been printed upside-down.

The first clue is the direction of the print shadow. The print shadow is the area under a section which sticks out.  In order to print this section support material is required to literally support it. However, where this support material comes into contact with the actual model it leaves a slighty rougher finish which is called the print shadow.  For example, in the image below you can see the print shadow running up from the bolt detail around the base, which means the model was printed upside-down. As the bolt detail protrudes out from the base a bit of support material was required under it. Also looking at the doors and vents on the side of the body you can see these were also covered in support material in order to print the base which also projects out further.

This effect is repeated on the rear as shown below.

The second clue is the inside of the model.  In the picture below you can see all the detail is crisp and smooth.  This is because it hasn’t come into any contact with support material.  This is the best finish on the model and sadly it’s the one location where it’s not needed.

The third clue is the actual top of the model.  It should be smooth, like the inside, but as you can see it’s rougher and ‘furry’ with support material residue which has turned into powder because of the Goo Gone.  The whole of the top of the model has been submerged in support material, because the model was printed upside-down instead of the right way up as requested in the orientation setting.

Now, these shells are not bad and the powder residue can easily be removed with a soft brush in a Dremel style tool, or by hand with a brush, leaving you with a good model.  But the surfaces which should have been on top will never be as good as the finish on the inside and areas such as the doors and vents will also be a bit rougher.

So what should it look like? Below is another set of Alco C-855 shells. You can see that after the cleaning process the finish on the outside is not all the same colour. This is because a lot of the surface hasn’t come into contact with support material, as we wanted.

There is still a print shadow effect but this time it’s running down the model and not up.

The doors and vents still have some print shadow but only in a few areas such as the recess for door hinges etc.

The inside of the shell is rougher and covered in print shadow, as we would expect as it was full of support material.

The top is smooth and very well detailed which will show up when the shells are painted.  In the pictures they look rough or lined but this is simply where the Goo Gone has not affected any support material residue and the surface is still a bit transparent.

Hopefully this will help you identify if a model has been printed in the correct orientation or not.  But what should you do if yours arrives and you think it was printed the wrong way up?

Firstly check to make sure the model was designed to have the orientation set. I can’t speak for other designs but my models will state this in the description if it has been set and I can always confirm if you want to contact me and check.  As for the Alco C-855 shells you need to purchase the Deluxe version as it’s not set on the standard.

Secondly, take some pictures of the incorrect model showing things like the print shadow running the wrong way.  Then send an email to Shapeways at service@shapeways.com.  Include your order number, photos and let them know the model you received has not been printed in the correct orientation. Please note: this must be done within ten days of receiving the model.  Their customer service team are quick to respond and will organize a re-print of the model if indeed it was printed wrongly. But again, you only have ten days from the time you receive your print.

As I said before any excess powder will need to be cleaned off and you will find the detail is good underneath it.  You also need to clean this off otherwise any paint applied will flake off as the powder is loose.

You may also be wondering what I’m doing with so many Alco C-855 shells?  These are for a fellow modeller and I’m making a fully powered ready to run A-B-A set for them.  And I intend to share the whole build process with you in a set of posts which should be starting very soon.