I started out in this hobby of Model Railroading about 35 years ago as a custom painter in HO. I then moved into O gauge and to custom detailing. I added detailing and repairs to my repertoire and finally became exclusively an O gauge brass custom builder. This little venture lasted until about 1985 when the market for O scale brass custom pieces had all but dried up, a victim of high (actually astronomical) prices and new excellent quality plastic models. I gave it all up to pursue my first love…. real trains. Then a few years ago I discovered G gauge. Specifically Aristocraft Alco FAs…Alas old habits die hard and I was in love all over again.. the detailing opportunities seemed endless, and besides my eyesight was not getting any better. I busied myself acquiring detailing, modifying and of course painting all types of G scale locos and rolling stock.
Searching for a project one evening I spied the Bachmann 4-6-0 from an old Royal Blue train set I had acquired at a bargain price. This was one of the very early sets before Bachmann became the class act it is today, and after a lot of work I got it to run poorly, that’s up from awful. Unfortunately even this was still a great improvement. That’s probably why it was so cheap. In any event this very fact made it an ideal candidate for a major renovation project. If the project were a failure it would be no great loss. I also decided early on that I would spend no money on expensive detail parts etc. and I would reuse everything possible.
Now that the ground rules were set I studied the loco. Its long boiler and large 3 window cab made it an excellent candidate for a Camelback. I took the cab off and held it at approximately the center of the boiler right over the large steam dome. Yep it looked like a camelback all right.
Just to make sure that the model would be believable and of reasonable accuracy, I spent some time looking up photos of camelbacks, especially on the D&H, my favorite railroad. There were a lot of them in the east on the anthracite road roads. After all it was the burning of anthracite that necessitated the large fireboxes that left no room for a cab, and resulted for a time in many roads using the camelback configuration. Happily I discovered that the D&H had quite a number of camelbacks and many of them were 4-6-0’s in the 500 series. These 500 series locos had many characteristics that made them similar to my Bachmann loco. I did indeed now have a new project.
I spent a week or so off and on planning the project. The plan had to meet my goal of modifying the loco using just its own parts, and overall it had to be simple and cost effective. Of course anyone reading this can do as they wish., but the point is, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. All I needed for this project was the 4-6-0 itself, various sizes of sheet styrene and a few bits of wire.
Now for the plan. How to actually make a respectable D&H 4-6-0 camelback from my stock Bachmann loco. The rear cab roof overhang needs to be trimmed off and the removed piece can be used for the fireman’s roof. The running boards can serve as the mounting for the cab and the inner form for the new firebox. The details can be relocated and for now the tender can stay pretty much as is. Now that the plan is roughed out lets get started.
First disassemble the loco and save everything. Remove handrails, stack cap, bell, pop valve, whistle, generator, air compressor, headlight, and cab. Set the tender aside for now. Now remove the top half of the boiler. This will release the air tanks and front running boards. Now disassemble the air tanks from the front running boards and reassemble them with the two screws and set them aside. Now cut the air tank mounting fins from the two front running boards and set them aside also. Next remove the steam dome (the larger one) from the boiler all the way down to flush with the boiler jacket. There is no special need to be extra neat here as we don’t have any further use for the dome and the resulting hole in the boiler will be covered up. Cut a piece of .010 styrene sheet the width of the space between the 3rd and 4th boiler bands and long enough to wrap around the boiler from left side running board to right side running board. Shape it carefully until it is an exact fit and glue it into place. Now all traces of the missing dome are hidden. Now reassemble the boiler ,making sure to reinstall the front running boards, now sans air tanks.
Now for the cab. The first thing we must do is to locate the cab longitudinally on the boiler so that our future semi- circular cutout in the new rear cab enclosure for the boiler can be measured exactly. You will note that there is a squared off mount on top of the boiler where the generator used to be. Use this as a guide as the rear wall of the cab will butt tightly to this protrusion. This placement allows the front of the cab to just clear the front running boards. Now for the cab modifications. Upon visual inspection you will note that there is a characteristically large roof overhang at the rear of the cab. We are going to cut part of this overhang off to use as the fireman’s cab roof. Measure the size of the front overhang and repeat this measurement at the rear so that both front and rear overhangs will be identical on the modified cab. I use masking or some form of striping tape to produce my cut line. We can’t waste any of this roof so you must be very neat here. Next cut the roof overhang off. Dress both resulting pieces with a file, making sure that the small piece we cut off the cab is square and the cab roof is rounded slightly at the corners to approximate the shape of the front overhang. Next cut a piece of substantial (.080”) sheet styrene to fill in the rear opening of the cab. After you shape it to fit into the opening lay it flat and mark out the boiler curve opening and a couple of upper cab windows (identical to the existing windows in the front of the cab) and cut them out. Next glue the new rear cab wall in place. A general note here.. I found everything to be much sturdier if all butt joints are backed with small styrene splice plates on the inside. Next test fit the cab in place on the boiler to check it. It will ride slightly high on the center running boards but we will solve that problem when we actually mount it in the next step. Looks pretty good already doesn’t it?
Next we have to work out the mounting of the cab. The cab must be removable so we can paint the boiler inside, put windows and figures in etc. When you test-fit the cab on the boiler you will notice that it fits pretty nicely over the center running board but as we mentioned earlier, slightly high. To solve this problem trim the center running boards slightly until the sides of the cab overlap the edges and the bottom of the cab side is flush with and completely covers the edge of the running boards. Now measure and glue mounting brackets inside the cab so they will set fully on the top of the running board. Brace them appropriately once you get them accurately located. Now a couple of clearance holes in the running boards, a couple of corresponding pilot holes in the cab mounting brackets, and a couple of self tapping screws and you have a removable cab that’s sturdy enough to pick up the locomotive just in case some busybody comes along and tries to pick it up by the cab.
Now for the fireman’s cab. You will note that the boiler backhead slides upwards and can be easily removed, so do so. This makes a handy template. Next cut a piece of heavy (.080”) styrene the width of the cab and slightly shorter. In the photos of D&H 4-6-0 camelbacks I studied the roof of the rear cab was always somewhat shorter (lower) than the engineer’s cab. The high point (center) of the fireman’s cab roof is 1 inch above the boiler jacket on my model. Now use the backhead piece to scribe and cut out the front of the fireman’s cab so that it will fit around the backhead and rest solidly on the engine deck where the original cab used to be. Don’t forget to lay out and cut in the triangular windows in the front of the fireman’s cab at this point. Next take the small piece of cab roof that we cut off the main cab and glue it ( butt joint) to the piece of cut .080 styrene. When it is solid file it down to match the profile if the roof piece. Now use lighter (.020) styrene to make appropriate sides for the fireman’s cab. Don’t glue this assembly on until you have dealt with the firebox.
Firebox. This is probably the most challenging part of the model. We can’t ignore it after all as it was the size of the firebox that dictated the location of the cab to the center of the boiler in the first place. In order to model the firebox I cut two pieces of styrene (.020 or so) the exact width of the space between the rear edge of the 4th boiler band and the front of the fireman’s cab. The idea here is to start at the top third of the curve of the boiler, (about 2 o’clock) extending straight down to the outside edge of the rear running board, forming the sideslope, thence breaking vertically downward for about ¾ inch forming the side of the firebox using the rear running board as both the form and the inside brace. Once you have it formed in the proper shape glue it at the boiler and at the running board. Now turn the loco upside down and form the remainder of the fire box with end sections and internal bracing using the underside of the running boards for support. This assembly will be lower than the rear set of drivers so be sure to leave clearance for them in under the new enlarged firebox. Finish it off with a piece of .080 sheet cut so it overlaps the firebox bottom slightly to resemble the ashpan and glue it on the bottom of the firebox. Smooth off the joint at the boiler with green squadron putty or the like. Repeat for the other side. Next we install new running boards over the sideslope of the new firebox. Cut the running board from sturdy stock (.050 or so) the exact width for it to be flush with the outside edges of both cabs and support as required with bracing either off the firebox slope or through the slope to the original running board below. Add rivet detail by cutting narrow strips of .010 and center punching the back to make rivets. Then glue these strips on the vertical sides of the new fire box. Now you can permanently install the fireman’s cab. This is also a good time to put on the center cab and admire your handiwork.
Finally the details… Now is the time to look at as many pictures as
you can find of the loco type you intend to model. We must remember that virtually
all steam locos have the same appliances, just the location varies. For my
D&H 4-6-0 there is a place for everything. The air tanks we set aside earlier
go on top of the boiler directly over the firebox. I glued them there. I should
note here that I didn’t bother to fill the screw holes where the two
halves were fastened together. I reasoned that they would be hidden and as
a general rule I try not to cover any screws that I may want to remove later.
It was not one of my better decisions and I regret it. I placed the tanks so
the screw holes were looking down but you can still see them. On the plus side
the placement of the tanks tends to hide the joint where the sideslope of the
firebox meets the boiler. Now for the generator.. The only logical place was
the spot where the headlight was, and it was prototypical too. So I trimmed
the headlight mounting fins from the top of the boiler and covered the holes
where the headlight was mounted with .010 styrene and proceeded to mount the
generator. Be careful to mount it so the exhaust is facing rear. This puts
the exhaust stack from the generator over the top of the smoke stack. I had
removed the spark arrestor or stack extension already as I thought it looked
silly so that decision helped me now. Now since we have displaced the headlight
I decided to mount it overhanging the boilerfront ala D&H. I trimmed the
headlight bracket a bit and mounted it. Make sure it clears the smokebox door.
Next the bell. Simple, mount it on top of the boiler between the air tanks.
Next the pop valve and whistle. We have removed the steam dome so they can’t
go there. Remember that these particular appliances must be at the very highest
point of the boiler in order to function properly. So that means the top of
the boiler.. but where? Remember the flat protrusion where the generator originally
was? A good spot so I placed them there after first filling the holes and smoothing
it off. Now the air compressor… Along side the boiler is where it generally
is. If I had planned it better I would have cut out the front running board
but since I hadn’t I simply cut the generator in half horizontally and
glued the top on top of the running board and the bottom directly below it
on the bottom of the running board. Suits me.
Now the hand rails. Remember my 4-6-0 is an early one and the handrails and stanchions are all molded in one piece. I cut the rails off freeing the stanchions. I then drilled out each stanchion and installed new similar size brass wire to form new handrails to suit the loco. I also formed new handrails from brass wire , soldered them together (I knew all that experience building in brass would come in handy sooner or later) , and installed them on the running boards on the sideslope of the firebox. A couple of grabs on the fireman’s cab and it was a wrap.
A few miscellaneous thoughts that come to mind at this point. D&H cab window trim was painted red so I faked window trim with paint on the new window openings at the rear of the center cab and also at the new window openings at the front of the fireman’s cab. This helps the illusion that they belong there measurably. In order to get the Bachmann window “glass” into the cab you have to cut it in half along the top so that it will clear the mounting brackets etc.when you snap it in. Working with styrene was a new experience and I found Tenax plastic weld to be very effective. Since I have a passion for structural strength I made liberal use of internal bracing and struts wherever I could. Wherever I give thickness information on the styrene sheets ,it is what I used and you certainly should use your own judgement here.
So its done. I fulfilled my goals and essentially made a badly running, reasonably good looking loco into a sort of especially interesting and quite striking looking, poorly running loco. Not to be too hard on Bachmann, they are remarkably clever at producing reasonably good looking equipment for the price and I have seen newer improved versions that run very well indeed. I may buy a new one sometime and use the improved running gear on my special camelback. Speaking of newer versions, I have recently seen some 4-6-0’s with entirely different, 2 window cabs with enclosures at the rear so you need to take this into account if you want to make a camelback for yourself. You will surely have to treat the cab modifications differently.
I almost forgot the tender. I didn’t do anything except center mount the rear headlight on the tender deck ala D&H. In order to make a more respectable D&H 4-6-0 camelback tender I would have had to shorten it considerably and raise the sides by a lot. It would be easier to start from scratch and I wasn’t up for that at this time. So I just lettered it D&H and that will have to suffice. I guess that probably will drive some of the “rivet counters” crazy (I know because I used to be one and proud of it) but remember this is a reasonable approximation not an exact replica and the final result is a loco that is a lot closer to a D&H camelback than when I started, and most importantly it suits me and I enjoyed doing it.
Describing the painting the model would require another article and there is already plenty of that kind of information available so I wont bore you with my techniques here. Suffice it to say I painted the model D&H #556.
Just to show you how one project leads to another, I ended up painting a
whole train of Bachmann passenger cars for my new loco. The D&H ran a number
of Miners commuter trains out of Scranton that were solid black open platform
wood cars and the inexpensive Bachman passenger cars were nearly perfect if
not a bit short. That led to a conversion project where I made an RPO out of
a standard combine by installing a door cut from the inner partition, and filling
a few windows.
One last note…. This is how I chose to do this project and I shared it with you. This can really serve as an inspiration to go do it better. There are many with talent and patience that could do this stuff in a heartbeat with surely better results… so why not try it? It’s fun and rewarding and in this case cost is really not an issue. My only advice is to think it out thoroughly, plan your moves and above all don’t hesitate to adjust your plan if you get a better idea along the way. You have only to look in the pages of any good model railroad magazine to see what can be done… simply and easily too. I hope you try it and have as much fun as I did.