Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 9 – Decals

This week I’m covering the next part of my step-by-step build of a set of N Scale A-B-A ready-to-run Alco C-855 locomotives.  You can find part one of the build here.  This step is decals and how to apply them.

There are lots of different ways to apply decals and I’m sure some are easier than others but I’ve found a system that works for me.  I originally used to print my own decals; this has the advantage that you can get whatever you want, with the exception of white.  You need an Alps printer, or something similar for white.  But it also comes with a few disadvantages. I found that with homemade decals the color looks great on the sheet, with the backing paper behind it, but as soon as it’s applied to the model the color of the model affects the color of the decal.  This is because the layer of color on the decal is not that thick.  For example red letters or lining on Union Pacific Harbor Mist Gray went very dark, but on the Armor Yellow stays bright.  If the decal crossed the two colors it looked rather odd.  So now I tend to use specifically made decals from Microscale or Circus City.  Their color layer is thick and the decal can be placed onto anything without color change.  Also they do seem to stick well.

So how do I do it?

The tools I use are a craft knife, always with a new blade, a modeling paint brush, a pair of tweezers, a metal rule, a foil tray with some water, a sheet of paper towel, Micro Set solution and Matt Cote.

I always use a new blade because I’ll be making some small precise cuts and I want the decal paper to cut not tear.  A blunt blade may cause the decal to move slighty on the backing paper rather than slicing through it or it may cause the backing paper to wrinkle, destroying the decal.

The foil container of water is because these are wet slide decals so we need the water to separate the decal from the backing.

And the paper towel is to absorb the excess water; if there’s excess water on the decal it won’t stick. I also have a scrap of paper towel, about the size of my thumb, which has been folded a few times to give a crisp edge and is also dampened.  I’ll explain what this is for later.

Micro Set and Micro Sol are both products from Microscale for setting and fixing the decals to the model. Micro Set is a setting solution to help the decal adhere to the model.  Micro Sol is a decal softener which allows decals to be pushed onto tricky shaped areas.

Matt Cote is made by Humbrol and is a varnish that goes on clear and dries clear. It dries to a smooth, low-sheen, matt finish.

The decals are printed onto a clear film which is stuck onto a backing sheet and they need to be cut out.

Large decals can simply be cut out using the knife or even a pair of scissors but small items such as loco numbers will certainly require the knife. Strips such as the lining need to be cut out in a certain way.  If you simply run the knife around the decal there’s a chance you will cut the decal itself and if you cut the ends first it will curl up as you cut it out.  So, being right-handed, I place the rule so the edge is just to the right of the decal and run the knife down the side, starting above and finishing below the decal.

I then place the rule just to the left of the decal and cut the other side.  Because the ends had not been cut the decal doesn’t curl up.  If there is some of the clear film between the cut and the decal that is okay; if you are too close you could cut the part you want.

The ends of the decal can now be cut and the strip can be removed ready for use.

I always test fit the decals to be sure. The vents or grills on the C-855 will be blackened so I’m not going to run the decal over them. Also running the decal over the vents will hide the great detail.  Any areas such as this which do want the red strip I will touch in with paint later.

Once I’m happy with the piece I want to apply I dip it in the water for a few seconds and place it on the paper towel. I then use the brush to lightly wet the areas where the decal will be going with Micro Set.  At this stage the choice of priming the models before applying the paint pays off because of the material used to 3D print the shells can be porous and the Micro Set would sink in too fast.  But with a primer and gloss finish the decal has a smooth surface to adhere to.  Matt finish paint is coarser than gloss which also gives problems when getting decals to stick.

Once about four minutes have passed I pick up the decal carefully and push the decal on top of the backing paper and it starts to slide off.  Then, using the tweezers to grip the backing paper, making sure I don’t grab the decal, I position one end, hold it in place with the brush and pull the decal off the paper.  In an ideal world the decal lands exactly where I want it, but normally it doesn’t, so using the brush, I position it correctly.  The Micro Set evaporates fairly quickly and as it does the decal fixes to the model.  The glue which held it to the paper was loosened by the water and then reactivated by the Micro Set.  If I’m happy with the position I use the small thumb sized, slighty damp, piece of paper towel to press the decal down.  This gets rid of any air trapped behind the decal and ensures a good, flat fixing.  It’s damp to make it maleable and soft.  If I’m not happy with the position I can use the brush to put some more Micro Set onto the decal and it will start to slide again.

As well as the lining, the words and numbers on the model are important.  Under the cab will be the words ‘Dependable Transportation’.  These are on Microscale sheet 11-92.

This is a small decal and hard to see up close but I’ve simply cut out the rectangle leaving a bit of space from the edge of the lettering.

I do a quick test fit.

Then dunk the decal in the water and wet the area under the window with Micro Set.

Then, when it’s ready, I slide the decal in place.

Once pressed down the clear film around the letters disappears.  I then do the other decals such as the big Union Pacific, loco numbers and bottom red stripe.  This stripe also runs around the sand boxes but it’s easier to do the main body before they are fitted.

One of the main features of this iconic locomotive is its nose and being a UP loco, UP like to let you know it’s one of theirs.

There are areas which still need a few decals, such as above the cab windows, but these will be touched in later once the windows and details have been added.

Lastly, the decals need to be sealed otherwise they could be rubbed off by handling the locomotive. You can use an airbrush or spray can and coat the locomotive in a laquer.  I’ll be spraying the locomotive with Testors Dullcote when finished, but for now I’ll be covering the decals with a layer of Matt Cote applied by brush.  The Matt Cote is fairly thick and it’s also a solvent which softens decals so I always cover the them in one pass.  I need to be sure before putting this on because once a decal is coated in this it won’t come off without being cut off.

With all the primary decals applied I can now add the windows and most of the fine details, such as the windscreen wipers, which I’ll cover in next week’s post.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 3.5 – Chassis Prep Extra

This week I have an extra post to slip into my step-by-step build of an N Scale A-B-A Ready-To-Run set of Alco C-855 locomotives.  Back in July I posted part 3 which covered the chassis preparation procedure, you can find it here.  However I missed something so in this post I’ll cover what it was and how to do it.  My apologies to anybody who has been following this build along with me.  I will update part 3 which will make this post redundant but for now here it is.

You may have noticed I regularly recommend test fitting things as you go and I should take my own advice.  The chassis below has been prepped to fit into a C-855 A unit and at the cab end you can see how the top chassis section has been notched to fit into the narrow nose.

But the lower section doesn’t fit all the way in and a test fit before I assembled the chassis would have told me that.  In the picture below I’ve removed the lower chassis section and placed it into the shell.  As you can see the inside corners of the nose clip the shell.

However this is easily fixed by cutting two notches in the chassis section as marked below.  Each notch is 3.5mm (0.1377“) wide by 2mm (0.0787“) deep leaving a nose of about 6mm (0.2362″) wide.

I cut these out using my Dremel tool and cutting disc.

The bottom chassis section now fits into the shell.

This extra notching is not required for the C-855B chassis as it doesn’t have a nose.  Next, as I have disassembled and resembled the chassis, I’ll test them for running smoothness and any binding in the drive shafts. Then it’s on to the shells which will be in a later post.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 5 – Fitting DCC Decoders

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 fitting DCC decoders to the modified chassis.  You can find part one of the build here.

Although this post is aimed at DCC installation the first part is also relevant to DC operators.

The chassis, as you can see below, is held together by vertical bolts which clamp the top and bottom sections together.  But the bolts also do more than that.  Instead of a nut on the bottom the bolts screw into the plates which hold in the trucks, and in turn convey the power into the chassis.  The bolts nearest the front of the picture and on the left hand side of the locomotive connect the left power pickup to the top chassis section.  The bolts furthest away and on the right hand side are isolated in plastic sleeves and connect the right power pick up to the lower chassis section.

When these models were new they had a grain-of-wheat bulb connected to the front bolts which was used for the headlight, and illuminated the cab!  But we can now use these as power connections for the DCC decoder.  The original bulb had a diode attached so it wouldn’t operate in reverse.  Con Cor soldered the bulb wire to a tab plate under the bolt head and twisted the stiff diode wire under the other.  As I want to ensure good contact between the chassis and decoder I’ve made another solder tab for the other bolt as can see below.   I made it from an old axle wiper taken from a scrapped locomotive.  The decoder, also shown below, is an N scale sized chip from Gaugemaster but any DCC decoder will work as long as it fits.

Now, before we start with the decoder some electrical bridges need to be added.  This is the part which also needs to be done for DC operation.  In the picture below you can see I’ve linked the two right hand side bots together as well as the left.  This is because where the chassis has been cut and extended the new glued joints can form an isolating barrier.  So if the decoder was simply connected to the two front bolts it wouldn’t receive any power from the rear truck.

The center sections will also be isolated and as the motor used to collect power by having the contact simply touching the chassis, it’ll no longer work.  So the motor wires I’m about to install for DCC will also need to be connected for DC but just back to the solder tabs.

For the DCC decoder the red and black wires are cut short and soldered directly to the solder tabs. They should now be linked to both sets of trucks.

The chip can then be folded in and secured with Kapton tape.  Kapton tape is ideal as it’s isolating, thin, strong and designed to withstand heat in electrical situations.

The gray wire is the bottom motor feed and runs outside the chassis and is soldered onto the bottom motor tab.

There is a wire channel printed into the chassis extension for this wire as you can see below.  This wire, once fitted can be covered in a piece of Kapton tape or glued in.

The orange wire runs halfway down the other side and connects to the top motor tab. It could go through the hole in the top but I like to do it this way.  The blue and white wire are for the headlight so stay at the front.  If you wanted to add a rear light the yellow and another blue would need to be run to the back but as these will run in an A-B-A consist the rear light is not necessary.  With all the wires connected, except for the head light wires which I’m going to cover in a later post, they can now be fixed down.

Again I used Kapton tape to hold the wires down.  It’s important to position the wires in the middle of the chassis as they run from one end to the other as the shell has feet which sit on top of the chassis.  But there’s a gap in the middle of the foot to allow the wires to pass.  The two strips of Kapton tape are where the feet sit.

The chassis is now ready for DCC testing.

The next step is to fit the shell and for that I have to finish painting it which I’ll cover in a later post.

 

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 4 – Chassis Assembly

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 assembling the chassis.  You can find part one of the build here.

Now the chassis sections have been extended it’s time to reassemble all the parts.  And for this build I’m also going to upgrade all the motors to newer Kato drives.  In the picture below you can see all the original parts plus the new Kato motor in the top left-hand side.

For this post I’m going to assemble the second chassis which you may remember from last week is for the B unit but the process is exactly the same for all three locos.  To start with I add the black plastic isolators into the pockets on the underside of the lower chassis section followed by the metal truck fixing.  Both are held in place by a countersunk screw, the shortest ones, which only pass through the lower chassis section.

Next, and this in an important one not to miss, the first new 3D printed part needs to be added.  It’s the small square screw fixing which holds on the fuel tank.  In the original the lower chassis has a threaded hole to receive the screw but as this section has been replaced by the stainless steel chassis extender a new fixing is required.  Threading the hole would require more work and it’s much easier to drop in this plastic part.

The square part simply presses into the square hole.

It will stay in place by friction and once the motor is fitted it can’t fall out.

The motor sits in a plastic cradle; this is to isolate it from the metal chassis.

The cradle has a peg on the bottom which fits into the hole in the chassis to ensure it’s in the right way around.

Next comes the motor.  Although I’ll cover this here I’ve written about this procedure before in a bit more depth which you can find here.  The new Kato motor doesn’t come with any gears on the drive shafts so the original ones will need to be removed from the old motor.

This is actually fairly easy to do.  I use a pair of needle nose tweezers, simply grip the shaft behind the gear and push it off.  Just don’t do it too fast or the gear will ping off behind the work bench!

To fit the gears to the new motor simply press them on with your fingers.  They want to go on so far that the shaft pokes out the other side but make sure the gears are not tight to the motor body and the motor can spin freely.

The next 3D printed parts are the drive shaft extenders.  These are toothed parts which fit inside the existing cup gears making them longer.

I used to glue these in but as my fellow modeller Mike Musick pointed out, they work better when left free with a bit of movement.  You can read Mike’s views on this here.

Also, as you may remember from last week’s post, Con Cor have over the years made a few changes to their chassis and one of those changes was to this cup gear.  The very first design had a different number of teeth in the cup.  This means the extender won’t fit.  But don’t panic, firstly these early chassis are now getting rather rare but if you are using one for you C-855 build you can get drive shaft extenders which will fit here.

The motor is now ready to be added into the chassis.  But first it’s very important to make sure the new drive shafts spin freely without any rubbing on the chassis. Across all the Con Cor chassis I’ve converted I’ve noticed that the drive shaft length varies; I have no idea why.  I’ve supplied the drive shaft extender for the more common shorter lengths I’ve come across.  This does mean that if you have longer ones the drive shaft will now bind against the chassis extender.  To overcome this pop the drive shaft back out and file down the 3D printed part on the cup side.  Running the part up and down a file will do this.  But be sure to make the reduction even.  I would also recommend doing a bit at a time and test fitting as you go as you don’t want to make them too short.  If you do you can get more here.  Once everything is good this would be a good time to add a tiny amount of light oil to each bearing, just a drop.

There may also be one more issue to resolve if you’re using the latest Rail Barron version of the chassis.  Con Cor updated the motor casing and added the curved notches you can see in the picture below.  And therefore added some material into the motor cradle so it’s a nice tight fit.  But this means the Kato motor won’t fit!  It fits fine in all the others.

These extra plastic parts need to be removed to get the new Kato motor in and I find the best way to do it is with a with a small burr bit in a Dremmel style tool.

All four corners will need to be removed to allow the new motor to fit.

Also, and this apples to all the cradles, a shim needs to be added to the base of the cradle as the new Kato motor is slightly shorter than the Con Cor one.  Before you glue the shim in a test fit is required because if it’s too thick it will create uplift on the cup gears which will be noisy and wear out the motor.

The motor fits in to the cradle with the motor contacts at the end with the larger hole.

You’ll need to lift the drive shafts in order to fit the motor in.

Once fitted and you’re happy that everything spins freely, and the motor turns both drive shafts, it’s time to add the rest of the chassis.  There are two plastic separators which also hold down the drive shafts, these get fitted next.

Then the top section of the chassis can be fitted and the other screws fitted between the top section and the metal truck fixing. The longest screws with a plastic insulator are used on the right hand side.  The medium screws are used on the left without insulators.

With the trucks installed the extended chassis should look like this.

At this point, using wires from a DC controller, I do a basic test to make sure everything runs well.  If it’s noisy, won’t run, or sounds like it’s struggling, STOP,  there are a few things to check.

  • Can you easily turn the motor with your finger?
  • Are the drive shafts seated properly?
  • Check the drive shafts are not too long and binding on the chassis.
  • Check the gears on the motor have been pushed on far enough but not too far.
  • Is the shim under the motor too thick forcing the gears up into the cup gears?
  • Are the gear towers in the trucks jammed?

Hopefully everything runs okay with all the checks done and any issues corrected.

The next step is to wire up the chassis, I will be doing this for DCC but I’ll cover DC as well and it will all be in the next post on this project.

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.

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.