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 8 – Shell Painting

Now that the Poole Model Railway Society’s exhibition is over for another year I can return to my normal activities and this week I’ll be getting back to my step-by-step build of an N Scale A-B-A ready-to-run set of Alco C-855 locomotives.  This week will be concentrating on painting the locomotive shells.  You can find part one of the build here.

As you may recall the shells when delivered were white, or rather translucent, and I cleaned them up using a bath of Goo Gon for twenty-four hours.  Once they had dried and I’d removed all the excess powder with my brush in a Dremel style tool they looked like this.

The first step is to prime the parts.  Originally when I started painting 3D printed models I used to simply paint or spray acrylic paints directly onto the prints.  Although this worked well it does have a few disadvantages.  Firstly the material is porous and the color soaks into it which can alter the actual color.  Secondly with lighter colors it needs several coats to prevent light from showing through which can cover up detail.  Thirdly only acrylic paints can be used because enamel paints had a reaction to the material and simply didn’t dry.

So I now spray all the parts with a primer similar to Tamiya Fine Surface Primer to cover all the surfaces.  Because it’s so fine none of the detail is obscured as you can see below.

Once the primer is dry my attention is then turned to the main colors.  Union Pacific locomotives have used the same colors for long time; Harbour Mist Gray and Armor Yellow.  I intended to use True Color paints for these models and although the Harbour Mist Gray is spot on I find their Armor Yellow is a little too orange so I mixed my own to color match with several other Atlas and Kato UP models.

The Armor Yellow is the first to be put on and I sprayed all of the sides leaving the top clean.

Then, once dry, I masked off the area below the top Harbour Mist Gray area.  It’s the masking off which takes all the time and once it was done I jumped right into the spraying so I don’t have any photos, sorry.  But once dry it looks like this.

Spraying the Harbour Mist Gray on to the Armor Yellow requires less paint than the other way around; dark colors always cover better than lighter. I then masked off above the lower section and sprayed that part as well.  This was even trickier to mask off; who designed this kit anyway?!  Once the mask is removed the shell looks like this.

A few areas have a bit of paint bleed between the colors but as I planned the paint joint to be in the middle off the red line it won’t show.  A few areas also didn’t get any paint but these can be touched in with a paint brush as I work through the fine details.  All three shells are now sprayed and ready for the next step.

As well as the main shells I’ve also sprayed the sand boxes and fuel tanks.  As there are so many parts I find it easier to use a piece of masking tape with the parts stuck to it.

The next step is to apply the decals and I’ll be using Microscale sets, 71105 and 60-35, plus a few extras from set 60-36.

In next week’s post I will show you how to apply the decals.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 7 – Truck & Pilot Reassembly

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 will be concentrating on reassembling the trucks and pilots now they’ve been painted.  You can find part one of the build here.

In last week’s post I stripped down the trucks and pilots ready for painting and below you can see all 12 trucks now in shiny silver. They’ve been sprayed with Humbrol enamel paint.

To reassemble I start with one of the inner trucks.  These are not powered and simply  track along behind, or in front, of the lead truck forming the span bolster.  A ‘span bolster’ is the name given to this configuration of trucks.  On the prototype they’re linked together by a beam which is connected to the locomotive at one rotation point, allowing the truck to articulate. Together, the trucks form one big truck under each end of the locomotive.  Having the trucks individually fixed to the locomotive would make it harder to negotiate corners.

The wheels have points on the end of the axels and simply press into the truck which has holes for the points.  You’ll need to pry the sides apart slightly to allow the points to drop down into the molded holes.  If the wheels don’t spin freely they’re not in the right place.

The powered truck fits over the peg on the trailing truck.

The metal weight is then fitted over the wheels.  Once fixed in place this will also stop the trucks from separating.  The metal weight is important as it stops the unpowered truck from jumping the track and derailing the locomotive.

The weight is held in place by one screw on the underside.

This can then be repeated for each set of trucks, six in total for the A-B-A set.

The pilots are painted in UP Harbor Mist Gray.  I used Tru-Color paints for this.

The front of the chassis is slightly easier than the rear as there’s less to reassemble.  The truck center is as we left it with the black coupling pocket positioned between the metal halves, holding them in the right place.

This particular chassis is for the C-855B and I’ll be using Uni-Mate couplers between the A-B-A set.  These give a great coupling which can’t be uncoupled without lifting the locomotive.  The Uni-Mate fits into the pocket with a spring as shown below.  This is the same fitting as the original Rapido coupling, and a Micro-Trains knuckle can also be fitted in the same way, which I’ll be using on the two A units.

The front pilot can then be fitted over the truck which also holds the coupling in place.  It will click in as the pegs find their positions.

The rear of the chassis is similar but the pilot fixes on from above the truck (behind in this example as the chassis is upside-down).

By squeezing the metal halves slightly together the pilot will fit over and the two locating pegs should clip into place.

The coupler pocket can then be pushed in-between the halves acting as a wedge, clamping the pilot in place.

Again I have fitted a Uni-Mate coupler as this is the C-855B.

To stop the coupler falling out the U-shaped plastic clip fits over the pocket holding it all in place.  The geared wheels can then be replaced.  If, as below, your model had the brass wheels wipers, don’t forget to put them back in, ensuring the wipers are behind the wheels.

The trucks can now be fixed back onto the chassis and held on using two screws in each end.

With all three chassis reassembled with their new silver trucks my attentions can now be turned to painting the shells, which is a time-consuming project and I’ll be covering that in another post soon, but just as teaser here’s one under way.

One thing I will say, having painted this shell we’ve really seen a difference in the quality of the 3D printing, not only in the improved detailing in the model but also the paint adheres really well. The flat surfaces are very smooth, and all together this makes for a great model. It’s rewarding to see the developments that have taken place in 3D printing, especially when we can pass those benefits onto you.

Alco C-855 R-T-R Build – Part 6 – Trucks & Pilots

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 trucks and pilots.  You can find part one of the build here.

Now the chassis are all ready, stretched, notched and DCC fitted as shown below, we need to turn to the cosmetic parts.

The three chassis supplied for this build came from locomotives painted in different railroad liveries and consequently the trucks and pilots are all different colors.  And the one at the bottom of the image below has been weathered.

The C-855 has silver trucks and UP Harbour Mist Gray pilots as you can see in the photo below.  (Taken from American-rails.com).

The truck assembly is fairly straight forward.  The two screws on the front truck hold both trucks to the locomotive.

The front truck side frame and rear truck then lift off leaving the wheels behind.

Inside the rear truck is a metal weight which holds the wheels in place.

The weight is removed by taking out the last screw.  This also separates the two trucks.

The wheels are fixed between the truck side frames and can easily be removed by gently spreading the side frames outwards until the wheels pop out.

Next we have the pilots. The front pilot is a plastic molded section which is clipped over the two metal truck sections.  The truck is in two sections to electrically isolate each side.

On the top are two tabs which can be pushed apart and the pilot drops down.  This also releases the coupling and spring so make sure it doesn’t fly off.

The rear pilot has a similar plastic molded section but this time it fits on the top of the truck sections.  There is an extra clip which fits under the pilot to hold in the coupling and spring.  In the picture below I have removed the clip.

The coupling, spring and spring box is then removed as shown below.

Lastly the rear pilot can be slid off the truck sections.

The two sections as shown below are ready for painting as are the four truck side frames.

The painting will be covered in a later post as will the re-assembly of the trucks where I will cover changing couplings.

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 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.