Friday, September 22, 2017

Kit Bashing an HOn30 Steam Dummy

In the mid-1800s in American cities, horses and mules pulled streetcars for transportation. But they were too expensive to run, unreliable and unsanitary. When transit companies tried using steam locomotives, horses got spooked.

Companies responded by inventing the steam dummy. The dummy used a lower-pressure condensing engine which did not make as much noise releasing steam. And the steam dummy was disguised to look like a passenger car. Here is a photo of a steam dummy operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

There were two types of steam dummies. Either the engine was a separate car which looked like a passenger car and worked like a typical train that pulled passengers in another car, or the engine and passenger car were combined into one car.

But the horses still got scared. It turns out it was the noise of the steam engine, and not what it looked like, that frightened the horses. By the beginning of the 1900s a new technology almost completely replaced the steam dummy: electric streetcars.

I have been working on the Motive Power category of the NMRA Achievement Program, which requires the candidate to construct three locomotives, at least one of which must be scratch built. The others can be kit built or scratch built, and must be super detailed. In an earlier post, I described how I scratch built an HO gas mechanical "critter". With the scratch building requirement behind me, I began to look around for something different to make for my next project.

A friend and fellow narrow gauge modeler, John Niemeyer from Minneapolis, suggested I build a steam dummy, a locomotive I had never even heard of! With some encouragement, I began to do some research on this seldom modeled little engine. A Google search came up with a number of photos of long forgotten steam dummies.


John had tipped me off to a company in Ontario that sold a conversion kit for an HOn30 Porter that fit over an N gauge Life Like 0-6-0 saddle tank switcher mechanism. He also suggested that the side tank Porter might fit neatly inside an HO scale Bachmann San Francisco cable car. So essentially, I would build an engine inside of another engine inside of the body of a cable car! The cable car would have to be significantly reworked for everything to fit together, but I was fascinated by the possibilities.

After a search on the internet, I found several of the Life Like switchers on eBay. The engine ran on N gauge track, which works out to 30 inches in HO scale, or HOn30.

I contacted Railway Recollections in Brantford, Ontario ( and explained what I was trying to do. The owner of the company was more than happy to help, and sold me the parts I would need to build the Porter without the cab (since the cable car body would serve as the cab). The resin kit came with two sheets of instructions and diagrams, along with a pile of little parts to be assembled and fit over the Life Like mechanism. The kit also included lead weights to fit inside the side tanks. Here are the parts I used after painting them a grimy black.


The first step in building the Porter engine was to remove the shell of the Life Like switcher. The cylinders were then cut off with a jeweler's saw. The rods and slide supports would go into a new pair of cylinders, inclined at an angle to the locomotive frame. Here is the mechanism with the Life Like cylinders removed.


Assembling the Porter shell was tricky. The instructions and pictures were not always clear, especially for the cylinders, that have to be glued together and then attached to the saddle. The saddle sits on a "ramp" that inclines the cylinders relative to the frame. The boiler and side tanks go over the saddle. Putting it all together while inserting the piston rods and hangers was challenging, to say the least. In addition, the Life Like mechanism did not work well on the first try. It took a good deal of cleaning the gears and drivers with alcohol, followed by a few drops of oil, to get the motor to work properly. But the finished product was just what I needed for the engine of my steam dummy.


With the engine part of my steam dummy completed, I turned to the shell of the Bachmann cable car, which would fit over the Porter mechanism. I have ridden on these cable cars, and enjoyed the experience of hanging on the open handrails and watching the world go by. Unfortunately, the open part of the cable car would not be needed for this project. The engine would just fit inside the enclosed part of the car. The rest would be cut away.


The cutting and pasting would be drastic. In the above photo, the left end is the front of the car. It would become the rear of the steam dummy. Everything to the right of the enclosed portion would be cut away. The back of the car at the far right would become the front of the new engine. This required cutting away the roof back to the second window. Then another piece of roof and the end of the clerestory was cut from the the cast off section of roof, and fit on top of the body to butt with the remaining roof. Here is a photo of the result before gluing and painting. The seam can be seen where I placed the new end on the roof. The resulting car body fit snugly over the locomotive tanks.


The little steam dummy was beginning to look like a real engine! Using a fine grained flat file and emery cloth, I smoothed out the joint where the roof sections abutted. Cracks and holes were filled with white Squadron putty, allowed to dry and sanded smooth. A floor was added across the rear between the steps, allowing the body to rest on the back of the engine frame. I added a brass whistle on the roof, then masked the rear floor and interior before spraying the entire body with Rust-O-Leum flat gray primer.


Notice that a hole has been cut in the front of the car for the smoke box. At the same time, a coal bunker was formed out of styrene and cemented to the rear to form a coal bunker.


At this point I had to consider something that had not occurred to me before. What color was my steam dummy going to be? I played around with coach green, but I really wanted something that would stand out on the finished model. After all, engines in the early days of steam railroading were often brightly colored. Finally, I decided on Testor's dark red gloss spray paint. Here is what the engine looked like after painting.


The locomotive was cute as a bug. But how to letter it? I went back to the pictures of steam dummies I had gleaned on the internet. Most of the photos were old and faded. But one stood out. It was the picture of a street railway steam dummy and coach in Brooklyn, New York! On the side of the engine were the words: Bay Ridge. The letter boards had the inscription: Broome Street to Fort Hamilton.


I knew exactly where the picture was taken! I used to work in Bay Ridge. Fort Hamilton, at the southern end of Brooklyn, is where you find the Verrazano Bridge today. The photo was taken before the consolidation of the five boroughs into the City of New York early in the 20th century. I knew right away my steam dummy would have to be lettered Bay Ridge. The letters I selected are Old Fashioned Yellow with Shadow from Microscale.



Additional details were added at this time, including an engineer and fireman and a brass bell on the front. Fine coal was dribbled into the bunker and a mix of matte medium and alcohol added to cement it in place. In my imagination, Bay Ridge No. 7 is still chugging through the mists of time, up and down the streets of Bay Ridge.


The Bay Ridge steam dummy was judged and received more than the necessary merit points toward the AP Certificate in Motive Power. I have already started work on my third locomotive to complete the requirements in this category. It will appear in a future post. Look for it!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Trip on the EBT

In my last post I described how I built my HO scale version of the EBT shops at Rockhill Furnace. Now it was time to place the structures on the layout, adding scenery and details to complete the scene.  Here Baldwin #14 is backing out of the roundhouse onto the 65 foot steel girder turntable for a morning run.

To the left is the old stone farmhouse that dates from before the EBT was built in 1873.  In its common carrier days the EBT used the building as a yard office.  Directly behind the turntable is the brick paint shop, where today the Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT) continues its restoration work. On the right a corner of the eight stall roundhouse is visible.   If you look carefully, you will see an 1950's railfan snapping a photo of #14 with his brownie hawkeye camera.

Backing off the turntable, the locomotive passes over the ash pit and past the blacksmith shop as it moves to the standpipe where the fireman fills the tank.

In the above photo, the sand tower can be seen on the left, with the garage between the tower and the wooden storage sheds where pipe and rod stock were kept.  With the tank filled, #14 continues in reverse past the sand house, the locomotive and machine shop and the car shop.  A couple of shop workers are discussing repairs to one of the EBT's home built steel boxcars.

After filling up at the concrete coal dock at the south end of the yard (under construction), the engine picks up combine #14 for the crew and proceeds down the eastern spur to Blacklog .  Train crews preferred the smoother riding combines to the EBT's two classic cabooses.

In the above photo, from the front left, are the power house, the coal shed, foundry, pattern shop, and part of the electrical shop.  Behind the foundry is the ventilator and roof of the blacksmith shop.  The scale can be seen just behind the roof of the engine cab.  In the rear are the sand tower, storage sheds, farmhouse and paint shop.

It's a short run from Rockhill Furnace to the fictional town of Blacklog, where the EBT meets the free lanced Blacklog Valley Railroad, a standard gauge line extending from Port Royal, Pennsylvania to Hancock, Maryland.  The dual gauge yard and the town to the rear are loosely based on the EBT's northern terminus at Mount Union.

As #14 and its combine head toward the Blacklog wye, they pass standard gauge yard goat #3 shunting loaded EBT hoppers to the dump track of the coal processing plant. Here Broad Top coal is washed and sorted, before being deposited in standard gauge hoppers.

The wye lies at the foot of a hill where ganister rock is extracted and moved by conveyor to the Blacklog Refractory (BREFCO) to be made into high temperature fire brick for the steel mills in Pittsburgh, Youngstown and beyond.  The wye was originally dual gauged like the yard, but has recently been converted to narrow gauge, hence the piles of ties and discarded rail.

After turning on the wye, engine and combine retrace their tracks through the yard, passing a long line of empty narrow gauge hoppers.  Engine #14 will pick up a string of empties and haul them to the mines on Broad Top Mountain.

After dropping the combine, #14 backs up and couples to a line of empty hoppers.  A short reverse maneuver picks up the combine, and what is now Extra #14 heads out of Blacklog toward Broad Top Mountain and the company town of Robertsdale.  (By 1950 most trains ran as extras. The exceptions were the daily mail train and the morning and evening miners' trains.)  A wooden boxcar of LCL freight is at the head end.

As Extra #14 returns to the main line, it passes the Rockhill Shops again.  Heading south past the car shop the engineer whistles a salute to the M-1 motorcar waiting "in the pocket" on its return from the morning mail run.

After a long but uneventful journey up the mountain, Extra #14 finally arrives at Robertsdale, where it will drop the combine at the station, pull the hoppers into the waiting empties track, turn on the Robertsdale wye, and pick up a string of loaded hoppers for the trip back down the mountain.  

Blacklog, Rockhill and Robertsdale are now largely complete.  What remains unfinished on my EBT layout are the rural meadows and woodlands that separated these mid-century coal towns.   Look for more photos in future posts as the work continues.  If you would like to learn more about my version of the East Broad Top Railroad, look for the article in the 2017 HOn3 Annual on sale from White River Productions.