Engine Terminal

Engine Terminal
Empties tracks at the Laurel Ridge Prep Plant- Summit Springs, WV

Saturday, February 1, 2014


After what seems to be like forever, the last two F-units are finally in the paint shop. The photo below shows them ready to receive their first coat of paint.

This is one of those projects that just seemed to take forever! It began over ten years ago with the thought that I would take a couple of old Athearn Blue Box shells and upgrade them with American Model Builders windows and a lot of detail parts. One unit was going to be powered and one would be a dummy. Along the way I acquired a Proto Power West can motor and installed it into the Athearn chassis. I even went so far as to add new trucks and side frames and installed a decoder to make sure it would run OK.

Fast forward a few years and I decided to upgrade the units with Highliner shells. When the boxes arrived, I was amazed at all of the parts and the options. It was clear that, in addition to the time required to build the models, I was going to have to do some research and decide which variation of F-unit the railroad would have in service.

At one point, I pulled out a couple of Stewart F3's with Kato drives that my Stepfather had given me a number of years ago. I remembered his comments about how well they ran, and it occurred to me that I might be able to use the drives under the Highliner shells. Alas, there didn't appear to be a way to make this work. So it was back to detailing the shells. I started with the rear of the shells and worked my way up to the top before losing interest in the project. It was off to work on other projects.

Sometime around 2006 or so, I came across a post on a forum somewhere that talked about how the Highliner shell was a perfect fit for the Stewart chassis. I believe it may have referenced an article on how to make this work. That did it. I went to my file card holder where I've made notes on the articles of interest that I've come across over the years and pulled every article on F-units. There were several that covered the installation of an Highliner shell on the Stewart chassis. By this time, however, I had mounted the couplers to the shells of the F-units. In order to see how they would fit on the chassis, I had to remove the ends of the chassis. This meant disassembling the entire chassis, cutting off the ends with a hacksaw, and then re-assembling everything. After all the changes were made, the Highliner shell fit just as advertised. Perfect! Now I was off to the races. Until I went to put one of the motors back in and broke both of the drive shafts. A quick search of the Internet for parts turned up nothing. A check of the Bowser website showed what appeared to be the correct parts, so I ordered them. Of course, once they arrived, I realized they weren't the correct parts. So the project went back into storage.

Some time later, I came across an article about re-powering a locomotive in which the author used brass tubing to connect the two ends of the driveshafts. Bingo! There was the solution to the problem with the F-units. I pulled the kits out, figured out what size of plastic tube I would need, and began working on the project in earnest again. At this point I was adding sound units to the layout, and I decided that both of these engines would get Tsunami decoders. I completely stripped the chassis, disassembled the trucks, cleaned everything, cut out an area for the speakers and the cab interior, and then carefully reassembled the chassis. The truck side frames even made it through the paint shop. The photo below shows the completed chassis at this point.

Now that the chassis were almost complete, I turned my attention back to the shells. I wanted to add grab irons to the engineer's side of the cab so I carefully marked the locations on the first unit and drilled the holes. I then proceeded to drill holes for the NBW castings above the grab irons. Every third or fourth try, I would miss where I intended the hole to be and would have to fill the errant hole with Bondo auto body filler. Once the  filler was dry, I would sand it smooth and start a new hole. As I neared the top of the shell, I really missed. I filled the hole, but every time I tried to drill a new one, the drill would walk into the old hole. Completely frustrated, I put the project aside again. However, the two shells remained on the shelf above my work area and the chassis were in a box next to them.

About the time I put the F units aside, I started operating the layout. It quickly became clear that I was going to need a lot more motive power, and it was clear that a lot still remained to be done on the F-unit shells. So the quickest solution to the problem was to build other units. In short order, two U30B's, a Broadway Limited F unit, and two Kato SD40's were painted and lettered, weathered, and placed into service. Then came the construction of the west end staging yard and the changes to the scenery and track around North Pierce. Still later came 18 Detroit Edison unit train cars, two more SD40-2's, and a couple of GP38's. 

Toward the end of last month, I decided it was time to finish all of the projects that were in various stages of completion. This included the F units. I made one more attempt at drilling the hole for the NBW casting that had stymied me before- with the same result. It then occurred to me that I could shave the stem off the NBW casting and simply glue it to the shell. Success! I was finally able to move on with the project. Prior to  digging back into this project, I had come up with idea of creating a small dimple with a pin where I wanted to drill the holes for the NBW castings. The small drill bits have a tendency to walk away from the initial starting point without a pilot hole, and this seemed like the solution. And I also started using a magnifier, which has made all of the difference in the world. Rather than trying to fight to see the location on the shell and denying that I was having any problem seeing it, I finally gave in to the magnifier. Now I wish I had done it years ago.

So at last the F units are finally in the paint shop. I still have to paint some figures and determine how I'm going to mount them in the shell. And I have to paint and weather the units. But the finish line is in sight now, and that has provided a lot of motivation to finally finish this project.

Postscript: When I told my wife this story, obviously pleased with my progress, she said "Now they'll probably sit in the paint shop for two years." Sigh...


  1. If you don't mind me asking Tom, what colour/brand grey and yellow are you using for your locomotive scheme?


    1. Brad,

      The yellow is Floquil UP Armor Yellow and the green is Floquil Pullman Green. I've been surprised at how many people have thought the Pullman Green was a shade of grey.


  2. Tom,

    Great post on the saga of your F units, it was neat to see how the hobby evolved with the engines from not only articles and forum posts but also with the evolution of DCC from just decoders to now sound decoders which have become the norm.

    Greg McComas
    Michigan Interstate Railway


  3. Thanks, Greg. I knew these units had been in the works for a long time, but I had forgotten how long until I started writing the blog post. One of the downsides of doing project in fits and starts like this is you forget where you left off. It then takes additional time to get back up to speed on everything that needs to be completed. More on that to come.

    I checked out your blog, and the Michigan Interstate is a great looking railroad. Nice work!


  4. Appreciate the kind words, I can take credit for fleet planning and acquisition but I do not have the time to paint or weather the fleet. I am lucky to have two modellers; Fred Fogelsinger (10 years) and Shannon Crabtree (3 years) who work as the contract paint shops doing the detail, painting, and weathering work for my home road fleet and foreign road fleets.

    Tom if your ok can you please send me your email address: gregory.mccomas@gmail.com

  5. So your main body color is Pullman green ? Correct.