Sunday, January 30, 2011

Best Laid Plans-or Lemons to Lemonade

Per my last post, the new Aristocraft PCC brought a lot of new "juice" and excitement. My original plan was to purchase two of them, cut them up and produce an Illinois Terminal double ended PCC. Alas, the amount of cutting and reconfiguring was just too much, it would be easier just to scratchbuild one than to try and make one out of the Aristo bodies.

Of course in typical fashion, I had hastened to the local shop and purchased a pair of PCC's without looking first. So now I had a pair of PCC cars that I didn't especially want or need, and were something of a thorn in my side given the fact that while painted "Chicago", they weren't even close to prototypical.

I considered a couple of options, just sell the damn things and get my money back, paint and detail them into something unique that Aristo wasn't offering (at least yet), scrap the bodies and use the trucks to build a Chicago Rapid Transit 5000 series articulated elevated car (below)

I almost did this project, the primary thing that held me back was the big flanges on the Aristo trucks, the smaller rapid transit/streetcar style flanges are almost delicate in comparion on the prototype

(But I promise to build this at some later date !)

Anyways, it occured to me the obvious thing to do was build a "real" Chicago car out of the bodies. Chicago cars were longer and wider than all other PCC models, and had a third set of doors at the rear of the cars. It would be a relatively simple bash to add the length and doors, I didn't bother with the added width though. One nice aspect of the Chicago cars, they have full skirting, so the trucks are completely hidden,, what oversized flanges ??

One of the prototype cars, in a later CTA paint scheme.
Mine will be done in the blue/creme with red belt rail scheme,
like the car preserved at IRM.

So, with a plan, or at least an idea in mind, let the carnage begin !
The car is a total bitch to get apart, a billion tiny screws, the screws holding the body to the floor and power mechanism on one car were stripped and had to be drilled out, and removing the mega-thick window "glass" is a major job.

Stripped the cars down to basic body shells and fired up the X-Acto razor saw....
Oh, the humanity,,, I wonder if this is in any way a reminder of when the real cars were cut up for parts to build new elevated cars ?? (And yes, I know they didn't recycle the pre-war cars, only the post-war ones with the standee windows !)

I will say that the plastic Aristo molded the cars in is very workable, and takes MEK quite well.

Sharp-eyed viewers will see a bottle of Plastruct styrene cement, that stuff has been gone a long time, and I just keep refilling the bottle from quart cans of MEK bought from Home Depot. A lot cheaper, but be careful, it is nasty stuff, make sure you know what you're doing and VENTILATE !!

So, after a few hours hacking and slashing, mocking up, etc...

The basic concept....

Lot more to do of course, more filler, close out the skirts, sand smooth, prime/paint/etc.
All in all, not a bad job, relatively easy (my opinion only of course), but not for the faint of heart or light of checkbook. Several folks were shocked that I had just dropped $500 for a couple of trains and couldn't wait to hack them up, but for basically that same amount of money, I'll end up with a more prototypical car, and at least for the time being, something no one else has.
Fortune goes to those with the courage of their convictions I guess,,, and it don't hurt to have separate finaces from the wife either !

More updates as it get finished, and (surprise !), a bonus/smart-ass bash from the left-overs !

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Large Scale Aristocraft PCC car

The new Large Scale Aristocraft PCC car

After a roughly 2+ year wait, the new Aristocraft large scale PCC car is hitting store shelves.

This is a two part review, first being a review of the product as it might appeal to large scale modelers, and secondly, a review with an eye to prototype modeling applications.

To begin with, the car is (my opinion only) reasonably priced. Prices will vary around the country, and market conditions (online versus brick/mortar stores versus train shows/swap meets, etc) Looks like the starter price is roughly $225, I suspect these cars will be pretty commonly available within 6 months at less than $200.

Overall proportions are pretty good. The car is nominally 1:29 scale (more on that later), the only real glaring defect, is the front end treatment, it just doesn't flow properly, it's too flat. Having said that, the car is based on an earlier Brooklyn prototype so while it doesn't have the "classic" look/feel, and still isn't 100% correct for the prototype, in fairness, it's pretty close to the actual car used as the model. The split destination sign is another questionable feature, I suspect more people are used to the full window across design, easily modified of course. The windshield wipers should be removed immediately !

The blind side

Credit where credit is due department.
Living in the Chicago area, our local large scale "supermarket" is St Aubin Station in Woodstock, Illinois. Nice people, good inventory, decent pricing, highly recommended. They started the PCC rush in our area with two cars painted for Chicago, with two different destination signs, one for Wrigley Field (home for MLB's Chicago Cubs), and for the Field Museum (one of Chicago's keynote downtown museums). The Wrigley car is numbered 4391, to mirror one of the Chicago PCC cars just down the road from St Aubins' at the Illinois Rwy Museum, and give Aristo credit, they made the effort to number the Field Museum car with a different number 4392.

Having said that, the Chicago colors are off. The green on the model is too pale, and the cream color is more white than cream as opposed to the real thing. These models are also wrong to represent Chicago cars, all Chicago PCC cars were longer and wider than all other PCC cars, and additionally had a third set of doors at the rear of the cars. Will most modelers not really care about the prototype and slightly off paint ? Probably not. This is part of that G scale modeler versus large scale prototype modeler discussion.

Do whatever makes you happy, it's your car, you paid for it.

Other features

On the underside (and on the blind side of the car) is a set of three switches. You can turn the interior lights on or off, turn the motors on or off, and there is a separate switch to set the car to run off live overhead or off track power.

The trolley pole itself is a bit of a strange design, the base/spring set-up is far too long for anything prototype, not really sure about the logic of the design there. It's an otherwise nicely dimensioned pole (with trolley wheel, operating !)

The tail end of the car shows the rear markers/brake lights, said to light when the car slows, and the trolley retriever treatment. The retriever is non-functional, the "trolley rope" quite oversized, but trivial things.

The trucks are well proportioned with decent detail, suitable for most people's needs. The glaring defect as can be seen readily above is the wheel flanges. Again, G scale versus scale modeler, the cars are designed for use on the LGB 45mm standard track and oversized rails.
I did measure these flanges against much smaller, scale rail (as appropriate for 1:24, my personal large scale preference), that rail would still be oversized for a 1:29 car, but the car could make it, assuming your trackwork was basically perfect, not much room for error there.

The scale differences.
The long time argument in "G scale" is scale itself. G scale encompasses so many "standards" ranging from 1:32 to 1:20.3, with way too many stops in between. I did some side by side comparisons to show how the new PCC looks next to some more familiar "standards"

Probably the most common large scale trolley is the Bachmann single truck open and closed cars. These are nominally 1:20.3, almost a 10% scale differential, made obvious below.

Even the GHB 1:24 streetcar (closing the gap a bit) still towers over the new PCC

Is any of this a problem ? Ask yourself, it's your trains, your railroad.

You don't have to answer to anyone except you !

Getting to the interior is relatively simple, there are 4 philips screws holding the body to the floor/truck assemblies. Removing the screws (follow your instruction booklet) allows you to separate the body. You will find the body still attached by virtue of a wiring harness for the lights at the rear of the car. Simple connector disconnects the body easily .

The interior is minimalist at best. Cast seats, no real motorman's position details (farebox, etc)
Again, realize that MOST people buying this will be very happy putting it on the track in the garden or even indoors, with no overhead, just another car to run.

Overall, this car is sure to be a hit with G scalers. It runs very well (a bit noisy in my opinion, but most of that would be lost with garden railroaders), looks pretty good, and will be available in several paint schemes. Aristo has a good reputation for quality and performance, as well as follow up for service and repairs, so nothing but good things should be expected.

For the prototype modeler, I would say, consider a gauntlet has been thrown down, you have a good starting point to build something spectacular and unique, run with it. I personally purchased two cars with a specific kitbash project in mind, as well as a future use for the second pair of trucks. I'll document those efforts in the coming weeks, and I look forward to other's efforts as well.