Sunday, July 26, 2009

The O scale Fleet

The O scale Fleet
Besides the large scale cars, I have a small (and growing from time to time) fleet of O scale cars as well. I'm toying with the idea of a small layout, but keep considering the amount of time it would take from building, not overly sure which argument is going to win out over time.

In the meantime, I have presently have two small dioramas for posing the cars. They're "accurate" for posing the Fox River cars, you have to give a bit of modeler's license for the CA&E cars. I have plans for a couple of similar CA&E dioramas, but those are future projects.

AE&FRE 306, this is a Ken Kidder brass import, late '60s, early '70s. After the AE&FRE folded up passengers operations, these cars were sold off to the Shaker Hts Rapid Transit in Cleveland. They served enough time there that the modifications made to the original cars in Cleveland is how they were modeled. So some minor backdating is necessary to at least capture the "flavor" of the cars. This car has the original Ken Kidder poles still attached, something of a nod to our collective model railroading history and heritage.

AE&FRE 302, similar to the 306. Another Kidder import, posed on the Elgin city street diorama. Some finishing work needed for both the car and the diorama, but you can get a sense of some of the custom artwork/decals made for the cars. This car has Q-Car poles.

The Fox River Line had quite a fleet of Birney cars. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of them had twin sets of front end doors, not something that I'm aware of ever having been commercially modeled (in any scale). They did have one car with the more traditional single set of doors, Car 48, which was purchased second hand from the Aurora Plainfield and Joliet. (Their #101). This is one of the current Corgi diecast imports, stripped and repainted after some detail re-adjustments. On the Elgin diorama, even though the 48 likely only operated in Aurora.

Another Kidder import, the 301, this one is in Shaker Hts colors (which is how I purchased it) I guess eventually it will be stripped down and done in AE&FRE colors, but it is a nice representation of the next step in the cars lineage.

We'll do the CA&E cars chronlogically,,,

One of the Kulmann cars on the Elgin street scene. Although this particular spot wouldn't be correct, the CA&E cars did operate on Elgin city streets like this. This is a Car Works brass import, currently unpowered. Painted in most of the orignal/as delivered scheme (really needs the doors and window frames done in dark brown, plus the lettering)

Jumping ahead to the steel car era, one of the Pullmans. This is an old Chicagoland Traction resin kit, originally offered in both O scale and HO scale. 20+ years old at this point, I'm pretty impressed with how the resin has aged (favorably). Wagner power and poles.

Last one (at present), another brass import from Car Works, a St Louis 450 series car. Often called "fishbelly", or "curve sided" cars, the cars have a distinctive body style that is wider at the window area and tapers to a narrower floor area (for close clearances on the Chicago elevated)

Other cars currently in the "fleet", but not far enough advanced (just yet) for adding here..

Another couple of the Corgi Birneys, one as the aforementioned Aurora Plainfield & Joliet 101, another for the Rockford and Interurban Rockford city service. A West Towns car (not really part of the "scheme" here, but an interchange partner), and a CA&E 500, the CA&E's one car, lightweight car design experiment. This car ran briefly on the Batavia branch and was deemed unsuitable for interurban service and eventually sold to the North Shore Line.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

AE&FRE 49 (Cab on Flat)

Aurora Elgin & Fox River Electric #49
"Cab on Flat" work motor
(Don Idarious Photo, 1938)

The Aurora Elgin & Fox River Electric could be typified as primarily a passenger line, but there was a reasonably healthy freight business as well. Far and away, the primary freight customer was the state mental facility which until the early 1970's used southern Illinois coal, shipped in hopper cars by the Illinois Central and interchanged at Coleman (just south of South Elgin) to feed their boilers and provide heating.

This freight traffic (and other businesses) kept the line in business from when the passenger operations shut down in 1936, for over 60 more years.

At the time of the passenger service shut-down, the freight service was handled by two homebuilt "cab on flat" work motors. Essentially flat cars with motorized trucks, and a centered operators cab, the AE&FRE 49 and 23 operated all electric freight operations until the line was finally dieselized in 1946 with AE&FRE 5, a 45 ton center cab, side-rod diesel unit. This diesel finished out the railroads operations in 1972 and was sold to a local quarry. This unit was well maintained and has since been recovered by the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin, returning it to it's "home rails"

Of the two, the "49" is the easier locomotive to model, and quite frankly, I have far more detailed photos of it than it's sister, the 23. So, once again, we start hacking and slashing otherwise innocent sheet styrene in the quest to replicate something in 1: 24 scale.

One afternoon of effort has gotten us thus far :

More to come !

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Aurora & Geneva Semi Convertible

GHB "Old Tyme Trolley"

About 3 months ago, I was lucky enough to find one of those "Holy Grails" on ebay, at a reasonable price. Short version, about 25 years ago, GHB Models produced a very limited run of something called an "Old Tyme Trolley". An all brass, "museum quality" model of a 1:24 scale Brill semi-convertible car, with full interior (including working walk-over seats), and maximum traction trucks, powered with NWSL Magic Carpet Drives. This is a 1:24 scale model, but is gauged to operate on the 45mm standard (LGB) track.

The Maximum Traction Truck (w/NWSL Carpet Drive)

Selling price back in the day was, if memory serves, a bit north of $700. More than I could afford at the time, and quite honestly, I hadn't really been bitten by the large scale bug just yet.

Fast forward a quarter of a century (yeah, it's a long time, but as I type this, the realization that we're just 6 days away from the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing is really sinking in) I'm doing one of my weekly checks on ebay, running through my list of keywords to search, and up comes what is basically a mint condition offering of this car. I honestly beleive this car was out of it's box a handful of times to be gawked at and admired, and nothing else. There was a reserve amount, bidding got to around $600, didn't meet the reserve, didn't sell.

I sent the seller an email, offering $700, he said thank you, but he was going to hold onto to it for awhile longer.

Maybe a month later, there it was again, no doubt the same model, same seller. This time a starting price of $750, no reserve. I ended up being the only bidder and won the car, with shipping I ended up paying a bit less than $50 more than the original selling price of a quarter century before.

I can honestly say, after almost 40 years in the hobby, that I have seen a lot of models described as "museum quality", this one is on the short list of models that actually deserves that level of acclaim. I regret that I didn't take more pictures in the "bare brass" state it was in when I got it.

Originally painted with the lower sides painted in
Pullman Green. I liked this look better actually,
but the lettering didn't stand out enough.

Repainted with the cream sides and new lettering

The car is not an accurate model per se of the Aurora & Geneva cars, the car is two windows too long, and the sidewalls are not exactly right, but it is a good representative of this type of car, and quite frankly, it's just too damn nice to cut up. The paint scheme is sort of a best guesstimate of practices of the time period, a pale cream and Pullman green with brown trim/accents, and a light tan/sand roof, with black underbody and trucks. Decals were done on my laser printer, printed on decal film and applied.

As mentioned above, I don't think this car was ever operated in the 25 years before I acquired it. Once I had it, I ran it perhaps 4-5 feet back and forth over the top of a couple bookcases, but that's all I was able to manage. On July 4th, 2009, the car got it's real trial by fire, as it was run extensively for the first time at the Illinois Railway Museum as part of the Large Scale Trolley Group mini-meet being held in conjunction with IRM's normal July 4th Trolley Pageant.

After a couple of fits and starts that could best be described as working itself into shape, it ran like a champ, including in the rain. A real testament to the workmanship of both the Korean builders and NWSL for their drive units. I have to wonder what a 2009 version of this would cost, to say that I got a steal at the price I did, is really an understatement.

CA&E 411

Chicago Aurora & Elgin 400 Series Pullman Cars

One of my current (Summer 2009) modeling projects is a 1:24 scale model of a Chicago Aurora & Elgin Pullman car. I modeled car 411, this single car was built with Baldwin trucks, which I already had sideframes for. Everything else you see here is 100% scratchbuilt from sheet styrene, except for the trolley poles.

Not quite finished, but most of the
hard work is complete.

The completed trucks with the unique CA&E
third rail beams and pneumatic ice scrapers

Just some finish details, painting and then final lettering

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Big Birney

What is a Birney you ask ?

The prototype (the small cars in the foreground)

A Birney is a single truck streetcar, other than the PCC car of a few years later, the Birney is really the only other truly "standard" US design for a streetcar. Designed to be a lightweight, low density car, it was utilized in literally hundreds of places across the US and other countries as street railways and interurbans looked for cheap solutions to providing service on lines with mininal passenger traffic.

I'm building a model of a Birney streetcar, based on the double door design as used by the Aurora Elgin & Fox River Electric. One of the more unique features of the car is that it's built to 1:6 scale, or 2 inches equals 1 scale foot. There is some backstory to the reasoning for this.....

When I was a little boy (7-8-9 years old), like many young boys of the time (late '60s) I had a standard GI Joe toy soldier. The GI Joe of the day was a 12" tall doll (Sorry, no other word is truly appropriate). I was one of the luckier kids, I had a fair number of appropriately scaled accessories, the full size jeep amongst them. At the time, my father had an extensive HO scale model railroad, and I wanted a train that my GI Joe could fit into. Even at that age, I realized we're talking something pretty big and basically impractical, but the idea never really left my head.

A little more than a year ago, I was playing around with the dimensions of a Birney car and realized that, while still big, it wasn't an impossible idea to match a Birney model and the now 40 odd year old GI Joe idea. I made a consious effort to build this in a way that literally anyone could do, ie, no special tools, nothing that can't be found in a standard hobby shop or most craft stores. The majority of the car is built with sheet styrene.

The original layout, the car side is roughly 5 feet long

GI Joe himself, posed in the door openings.
All 12 inches tall (6 scale feet)

The basic body mocked up

Siding applied, windows in place,
platforms taking shape.

Major step towards completion, the truck is coming together.

Progress as of June 2009, time to start thinking about a roof and interior

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Traveling Display, the real "Interurbans of The Fox Valley"

I've been steadily collecting railroad books and materials for much of the last 30 years. An invaluable resource for modeling projects, that has now grown into a pretty sizeable collection.

Along with the books, papers, and photos, I've started collecting various items of railroadiana and memorabilia, mostly centered on those electric lines out of the Chicagoland area that hold most of my interest. Lanterns, advertising, paper goods like tickets/transfers/timetables/etc.

I've long held the idea that many people in this hobby do the same thing, some of more extensive levels than myself, some less. But the one overriding thing that most of them share is that they don't share any of it, it's all squirreled away in private collections that no one gets to see or appreciate. Over and above the obvious that you're not sharing what are historic artifacts, is the problem that most people in your family have no clue about the value of what you have, and upon your passing, it's just as likely to be tossed away, instead of preserved.

Like the old saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Last year I made the decision that I would become a one man show of sorts, putting together a display featuring some of my modeling efforts, along with some of the memorabilia. If done properly, it would be much like a traveling museum display (in theory anyways), highlighting and explaining a way of life now long past.
My original debut was to have been Trainfest 2008 in Milwaukee, but work and family conspired against that. I sat and stewed for awhile over that, but realized I had to make it work if this was what I really wanted to do. So, the first showing was at the HighWheeler 2009 show in Palatine.

The display features a mix of models and memorabilia primarily from the Chicago Aurora & Elgin RR, and the Aurora Elgin & Fox River Electric Railroad, with a sampling of materials from some of the the connecting lines like the Rockford & Interurban, the Elgin & Belvidere Electric, the Fox & Illinois Union, the Aurora Plainfield & Joliet, etc.

I was gratified, to the point of surprise really, with the response. This is a train show that is really focused as a display of the hobby for the public, so there's a good mix of railfans/modelers, and just folks out to see the trains, show their kids, etc.

To have compliments from other modelers is really the best, this is truly a jury of your peers, people who may not know exactly the amount of effort needed to build something from scratch, but can tell this isn't something you picked up at the local hobby shop.

The compliments and conversation with just everyday people was the most gratifying though, and proved my theory about sharing these things. So many people who remembered the "Roaring Elgin" and life in the suburbs with electric trains. Very nice to bring back some memories for these people, as well as be able to educate some folks who had no idea any of this existed.

The second showing was at the Fox River Trolley Museum on 7/3/09, and was as a direct result of one of the long time members seeing the display at HighWheeler and asking if I would be interested in setting up at the museum.

Somewhat different layout this time, the museum was kind enough to provide a nice tent that kept everything protected. I've made a concious decision to try and never have the same set-up twice, I want to add to it, change things so that it will always be fresh. As one of the museum members who had seen it at HighWheeler asked, "I see it's different, what did you add ?", to which my reply was, "That's the fun part, finding out on your own"

Hopefully this link will work, some photos of the event at FRTM.


Tenative future display plans at this point are for one, possibly both days of the South Elgin Riverfest Express (again at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin), the weekend of Aug 15 and 16, 2009, and I'm working with the fine people at Trainfest in Milwaukee to make the 2009 show in November.

Time to get this started

Started this idea a couple months ago, time to make it a reality I guess. As I've gotten "back in the game", so to speak, ie, come out of my cave and sharing some of my modeling publicly again, there have been any number of favorable comments (Thank you all, the checks are in the mail), and fielded a number of requests for the lowdown on the how and why I do things. This should be easier than writing magazine articles, although far less profitable !

So what's the idea here ?

Basically a combination of a running commentary of various modeling projects, railfanning adventures, etc. I'm thinking this is either going to be a really good thing, or is going to fail
miserably pretty quickly. In order to make it work, I'm going to need to make a committed
effort for updates (and related photography of the modeling which I'm pretty bad at). The good
news is that making a commitment to this should, in theory anyways, make me somewhat more
organized and focused, like I said, if it fails, it will be fairly obvious, fairly quickly.

One of the many things I do modeling-wise which is somewhat odd is that I typically have multiple projects going at once. Not a handful of things like most folks, 2-3 dozen at a time, spread over multiple scales, levels of interest/difficulty, etc. I'll be posting each separate project to a separate page, as soon as I can figure out how.