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Exceptional Cheapness

Stoker
Honorary Life Member
Joined: February 23rd, 2010, 4:23 pm

January 12th, 2018, 8:11 pm #1

Hiya'll

Let's try this again now ... shall we???



You all must know that I am something of a train nut, or more specifically a Steam Train aficionado (a look at my avatar should give a clue), with a special bent toward Narrow Gauge of the American West. 

One of my personal favorites was the narrow gauge South Pacific Coast (SPC), that was originally set up to wipe the eye of the Big Four of standard gauge Central Pacific / Southern Pacific (CP/SP) fame, by James Fair who was one of the fabulous Silver Kings of the incredible Comstock Lode. In the very heart of the CP/SP west coast territory, within sight and sound of where I was born and raised, he put in place a narrow gauge competing line that ran cheek by jowl along the SF Bay with his rivals, crossed their tracks and headed off into the coastal mountains to reap a reward of Redwood timber and agricultural harvest along the way to a coastal city (Santa Cruz) on the north shore of Monterey Bay, which at the time was the third busiest port in California. In time his ploy was so successful that the SP folks felt compelled to first lease and then eventually buy the SPC outright, at a huge profit. The SP then proceeded to standard gauge the SPC, the result of which being that a large quantity of the now obsolete narrow gauge equipment ended up running on the remnants of the Carson & Colorado narrow gauge that was also bought out about the same time by the CP/SP, over here on the east side of the Sierra where I live now!

So much for a thumbnail history ... though anyone who would like to look into it deeper can find much info on the internet, or I could recommend a couple of fine books that make for fascinating reading and are well illustrated with wonderful period photographs, so feel free to contact me if more background is desired.

Onward now into the cheapness ...

Bachmann Industries released a G-Scale model of a Baldwin ten wheeler (4-6-0) in the early 1990's that was a very reasonable representation of the type that was acquired by the SPC in the early 1880's, which through the ensuing years was regularly upgraded by Bachmann and put out in various liveries, including some that did a good job of depicting SPC engines # 21 & 22. Many of the earlier models were fraught with mechanical difficulties, and lacked convincing detailing, but as the years past these models got better and better, and while even the best of them will never be considered a truly "Fine Scale Model", they are now functionally adequate and visually appealing, to my eye anyway.

I should throw in a caveat here, in that I am most certainly not what is commonly referred to in the model railroad hobby as a "Rivet Counter", though I have great respect for those who are, and capably build to that standard. Back when I was deeply involved in HO / HOn3 modelling (of approximately 1 : 87.1 scale ratio), I adopted a scale standard that I referred to as "3 foot scale", which is to say that as long as something looked about right from three feet away, it was within my scale requirements for my railroading purposes. Now that I'm turning to modelling outdoors in the large G-Scale format (1 : 22.5) and more specifically the nearly equal Fn3 Scale format (1 : 20.3), I now propose using a "10 foot scale" standard, so that in fact the two scales that are about 10% different are essentially interchangeable, being so close as to be virtually indistinguishable without a measuring device in hand. Even that won't really produce a discrepancy, as prototype narrow gauge equipment was built to so many different standards and sizes anyway, even Baldwin engines, that a simple 10% size difference was more typical than exceptional! In point of fact, although these Bachmann produced models are not even close to fine scale standards, they do pass a much closer inspection than my new ten foot standard, so I can be quite happy with them in that regard .... and did I mention that they are not at all expensive!?!?

If you look on eBay or like venues, you can typically pick up these Bachmann G and F scale locomotives and cars for about the same price as HO or O scale equipment of similar quality and detail, which to my mind makes them quite a huge bargain! What's more, due to size, they are much easier for my old hands and eyes to work with and to work on, so there is that bonus as well. Combined with the fact that I have no indoor area that I could possibly dedicate to a model railroad currently available to me, but I do have a rather large yard, so outdoors where I like to be anyway, is now an option!

Okay ... enough preamble, let us get on with the topic at hand.

I have, thanks to not being much on the Forum of late, been able to spend some time on the workbench out in my shop, and have just recently completed the modifications necessary to modify a Bachmann (Big Hauler) SPC #21 locomotive of approximate 1880's Baldwin scale heritage from track power and control to radio control and battery power. Although the process took me a week or so, I suspect that my two steps forward and three back methodology might have been possible to execute in a single day, but I was experimenting as I went along, for I wanted to do this as cheaply and conveniently with as much versatility as possible, rather than paying the very hefty prices for train dedicated systems that are already on the market. So the upshot of this is that I used standard off the shelf radio control systems that I can use for boats, planes or whatever, to achieve my goals and am quite satisfied with the results thus far.
Furthermore, I paid less for all my modifications and also the radio gear, than I did for the two battery packs that I used to produce 14.4 vdc with a 6800 mah capacity that seems to be giving me about four hours run time, for an actual mileage traveled of almost six miles .... wow!!!

The all up costs of the R/C equipment and Battery Packs along with everything else needed to produce the modifications has cost me well under $75. Did I mention that the R/C system is actually six (6) channel, of which I'm only currently using two channels and may use a third later, such that I should be able to run two trains (double heading) individually controlled at the same time from the same transmitter. Hobby King is my source for the R/C equipment, and I'm just flabbergasted at the cheapness of these systems these days. Yes, I don't think I'd trust them to fly a very large, heavy or expensive airplane, but for trains, cars, boats or other things not likely to crash, these systems seem just fine indeed, in my mind anyway!

I'll follow in this thread, with a bit of a build post, for those who want a good laugh at all my false starts and missteps, but to also give the basics for doing likewise without some of the "fun" I had.
Are we having fun yet?
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jkbixby
Steam Legend!!
Joined: January 9th, 2014, 3:11 am

January 12th, 2018, 8:22 pm #2

I'll be following as it sounds like an interesting project and I'm curious how your ten foot scale standard looks - ought to be good!
Regards,
Larry
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Stoker
Honorary Life Member
Joined: February 23rd, 2010, 4:23 pm

January 12th, 2018, 8:34 pm #3

jkbixby wrote: I'll be following as it sounds like an interesting project and I'm curious how your ten foot scale standard looks - ought to be good!
Well Larry ... the above photo is from a fair bit closer than ten feet, and I think it looks pretty darn good, to me anyway, so it fills my bill!
Are we having fun yet?
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jkbixby
Steam Legend!!
Joined: January 9th, 2014, 3:11 am

January 12th, 2018, 8:50 pm #4

Looks like it's close to my "good enough for who it's for" standard - as you've found out life's a lot easier when you adopt a realistic standard for your hobby work (and most everything else too)!
Regards,
Larry
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tiger1john
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Joined: June 28th, 2017, 8:57 pm

January 12th, 2018, 9:00 pm #5

Great post very interesting, thank you

John

John
He who dies with the most toys wins


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Stoker
Honorary Life Member
Joined: February 23rd, 2010, 4:23 pm

January 13th, 2018, 12:50 am #6

Now I do realize that the somewhat garish paint scheme with the Russian Iron boiler jacket does effectively make the model look more "Toy like" in appearance, but in fact it is fairly close to the prototypical paint job of the engine as originally delivered by Baldwin, and kept in this scheme, well polished and cleaned for many years there after. This was no little fly-by-night, seat of your pants, penny pinching narrow gauge operation, but rather a first class affair with all appointments intended to match the expectations of the most discriminating clientele, thus beautiful to behold as well as functional, and the talk of the times in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area of the late 1870's thru 1900's! Perhaps I should point out that these engines did finish out their long careers with other carriers in basic black livery, oil fired and somewhat modified, but their first employment was at the pinnacle of a beautiful era in steam locomotion!!!

While I will grant you that the molded plastic coal load could do with a layer of real coal grains glued over the top (which will eventually happen), or perhaps "get" converted to oil with a tank top shell, it still looks pretty fair to my eye, even in the rain!

Are we having fun yet?
Yeow!
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Stoker
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Joined: February 23rd, 2010, 4:23 pm

January 13th, 2018, 5:11 am #7

Now on to a bit of shop-work.


Got her laid on her back in the styrofoam packing block with a couple of battery packs laid in for potential fitting into the space that was originally occupied by a 33 ounce cast iron block that mounted on the two screw pedestals on either side (front and back) of the motor and gear sets in the chassis above. You can just see the top of that cast iron block peaking over the edge of the far side of the chassis, just to the left of the solder spool. Just ahead of the right steam chest is a bunch of screws and small parts that have been removed, and above there you can just make out the original axle electrical contact brass strips for track power that have been removed. Otherwise this is just the very first foray into the innards of the beast, looking to see what might be possible and what might not.
Are we having fun yet?
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Jim
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Joined: November 18th, 2013, 11:53 am

January 13th, 2018, 6:23 am #8

Golly Daniel its great to read what you've been up to my friend!
Cheers,
Jim

My YouTube Channel with 302 Steam Videos
https://www.youtube.com/user/Blue123Hee ... ity_view=3


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Stoker
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Joined: February 23rd, 2010, 4:23 pm

January 13th, 2018, 11:31 pm #9

So now back to the workbench.

With the batteries intending to replace the original cast iron weight, I started looking around for places to put the other key components within the boiler/cab shell and came up with this as a possible mount site for the receiver, hard against the inside of the boiler backhead where there seemed to be plenty of room.


It would have worked good there too, except it was just out of reach of the ESC and servo wires, and though I could probably have located them back there as well, none of that R/C stuff would have been accessible without taking the engine apart to the point seen here. So even after tapping four holes in a very awkward place, and setting the receiver into position, I ended up abandoning this location in favor of the smokebox and front of the boiler where at least partial access could be gained through the front of the smokebox by modifying the clips that held that in place.

I also did a bit of a mod on the smokebox front plate as it originally came mounting two DPDT slide switches, the top one for current reversing to conform to either NMRA standards or other large scale standards. I removed that switched and replaced it with a charging jack that was easily accessible behind the smokebox door.


Also seen in this photo is an early failed attempt to add more weight to the battery packs, as they didn't weigh as much as the original cast iron weight. With lead strapping wrapped around the battery packs in this manner there was an interference fit of the boiler shell going over and seating down all the way, so it couldn't be done without spacers and changing the fit of the chassis. 

The lower DPDT slide switch that you still see mounted on the smoke box front in the lower position was originally an on / off switch for the smoke unit that was mounted on the top inside of the boiler shell. I removed that because I've never liked the look of that kind of smoke .... wholly out of scale and visually wrong, so I find it easier to imagine the correct look of smoke starting from no smoke at all, rather than first having to "erase" the wrong looking smoke in my mind. What I retained the switch for was to use as my main power switch so that in the on position the batteries were hooked to the R/C and available to the motor, and in the off position the batteries were hooked to the charging jack. This worked out very well on the first try   .....   amazingly.

You can also see in this shot, a plexiglas plate that I made and used to mount the servo and the other DPDT slide switch which has been modified to function as the directional reversing switch for the motor polarity. Servo linkage has not been installed in this photo, as that required a special slip linkage that had to be carefully dimensioned to work as intended, as seen in the next photo below. The requirement of the linkage is that it throw the switch all the way to one end or the other, but then leave it there as the servo returns to center, so there has to be just the right amount of slop or slack in the system for it to work correctly .... and after a couple of attempts and some careful measuring  ...  it does. Now to see if this soft styrene will hold up to the task over time, or deform and increase the intended slop ratio until it becomes non-functional?!?!


If you look carefully through the plexiglas, you can just make out the underside of the ESC, as it sits upside-down in an area where there is cooling available through holes in the lower chassis. As it turns out, even though I am seriously exceeding the ESC's voltage input specs (one of the experiments in progress here) of 10 cells / 12 volts, I have yet to detect any heating or other problems after over ten hours of running under load with 12 cells and 14.4 volts nominal, but closer to 16 volts actual. It's a 20 amp unit, and as near as I can tell this engines electric motor draws something less than 2 amps, so perhaps that is where my safety margin lies and it otherwise ignores the over voltage that I'm feeding into it?

More later.
Are we having fun yet?
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MrDuck
Steam God!
Joined: March 5th, 2010, 5:48 am

January 14th, 2018, 12:58 pm #10

Your title is a bit misleading as the tight rope balancing act is where most of us reside as far as ho bies go.

I would say "achievable on a most reasonable budget".

The first thing I do notice is that the Bachmann items are perfect for modellers. The details and precision of modern plastic casts and easy to weather to make them look highly realistic.

Anything can be bought for the right amount but achieving by doing is impressive.
Et in Arcadia Ego
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