The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
© October 03, 2012
©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.
Building a Replica Park Train
Written by Todd Swan
Like most everyone in the large scale railroading hobby, my love for ride on trains came from growing up riding the park train at our local zoo. We had three “zoo trains”. The prime mover was a MTC G16 A-B combo (similar to this one in Chicago). We also had the original train that started it all, an MTC G16 A unit with three cars, and a S16 set with three coaches as well. It was always a treat to ride these trains. However, in the mid 80’s, parts for the MTC trains were getting hard to find, so the Lions Club (they founded the railroad) opted to purchase a Chance Manufacturing CP Huntington train. To a kid my age, getting a new train at the zoo was very exciting. However, I grew up and totally realized we lost the best trains when our MTC trains disappeared. With that being said, from the first time I can remember riding the "Z&00" Railroad, I knew I wanted a big train for myself.
One day my dad and I were riding in the truck and my dad pointed and yelled “Look at that!” A junk dealer on the edge of town had what I now believe was some sort of MTC E 10 that had been converted to gasoline engine power. We pulled over and my dad let me sit it in it. Meanwhile, the owner walked out and told my dad he wanted a $1000 for the train and 300 feet of track. I immediately started begging for the train set. I remember it being quite beat up, yet the guy telling us it ran well because he repaired the motor. I begged my dad for the train on a regular basis, yet I never could convince him to buy it. The train sat there for what seemed like years, and then one day, it was gone. My beloved train had been sold.
My dreams of owning a backyard train set was shattered until I discovered live steam locomotives in a Model Railroader magazine a few years later. The dream of having my very own train was rekindled! However, I didn’t realize I would spend the next 18 years dreaming about the hobby until I finally purchased my first Rail Systems SW 1500 in November of 1998. Since then I have built two 7.5” gauge railroads, and owned over 10 locomotives, two of them steam and four of them (diesel and steam outline) I designed myself. Now, I am not a machinist. I just think stuff up. So with the help of friends in the hobby, these designs came to life. I discovered that I really love dreaming up new ideas and thinking outside the proverbial box when it comes to building and designing locomotives. I have immensely enjoyed the 7.5” gauge railroad hobby. However, over the years, my want for a park train has never stopped. Due to the cost of the now rare MTC’s I knew the only way I could get one, was to design and build one myself.
My first dilemma was track… How in the world was I going to afford building a grand scale railroad? As we all know, that stuff is expensive! What’s the sense of having a grand scale train if you can’t run it? Well, if you are reading this article, then you probably saw a 3 part article (How to make your own Large Scale Backyard Railroad) a while back, written by Tom O’Connor about his success in backyard railroading with his grand scale train. Following Tom’s advice given in his article, I priced out the materials to build a 15” gauge track. The cost came to LESS than three dollars per foot. Now this type of track is small in comparison to other “grand scale” railroads, however, the article along with cost of the track gave me the perfect idea! I would build my train lighter in weight than the original park trains in order to run it on a lighter weight track. I figured I would use wheels that would work on the smaller flat bar track or grand scale rail. To me this is a perfect combination! I get the look and wow factor that I am looking for at home without spending a fortune on grand scale track, yet I can visit any 15” gauge railroad I want. Of course, with the locomotive being lighter weight, I wouldn’t be able to pull massive trains, but that’s not what I was going for. I wanted a big train to entertain friends at home without the worry of the train turning over while riding. All of us who are in 7.5” gauge know about the issues and liability of unstable trains.
Anyway, with the track dilemma solved, I started thinking of how would I build the locomotive light enough to keep from destroying the home track? The answer was clear…. It would have to be electric! By using electric motors, I would eliminate the heavy weight of the motor, gas tank, hydraulic/hydrostatic pumps and tanks, and other heavy mechanical components needed to make the locomotive function. Once I decided to go electric, I visited with several suppliers about what they used and the cost. Ultimately, I contacted Dan Tack with Precision Railroad Products and ordered two of the motors he uses in his heavy duty switcher. Dan told me that little switcher weighs in at about 450lbs and it could pull 9 ballast cars weighing over 700lbs each! I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s plenty of power!” Two motors would give me plenty of power to work with while tweaking my design. I also decided I would design my trucks to accept two motors per truck if I wanted more power.
Now that I had figured out my power source, it was off to the internet to find a source for trucks. Everything I found for trucks in 15” gauge was just too expensive and too heavy for the type of track I wanted to use at home. I concluded I would have to design a light weight truck that would accommodate my drive system and be functional for my needs. Before I could really do this step, I needed to get my hands on an old G16 and get some key measurements, so I could proportion my rendition to look (in appearance) as close as to the original as possible. Luckily, last summer I found an old MTC A unit that I really wanted to restore, but the ol' boy that owned it wouldn’t part with it for the world, but he had no problems with me taking photos, measurements and even a few parts so I could design my replica.
After carefully studying the reference photos and the measurements, I figured the hardest part to re-create was going to be the nose section. I actually looked at having one re-cast, but that was too expensive. I remembered seeing an ad on Discover Live Steam from Diamond Car Works for some G 16 fiberglass nose sections. I knew this was the answer to the problem, and with a confident plan in place, I called Don and placed the order.
I couldn’t wait for the nose to arrive so I could start drawing the plans for the body of the locomotive. A couple of weeks later the nose arrived and it was time to get started. Now, I am not an auto-cad kind of guy… I draw my stuff on graph paper then draw it full size on graphed poster board to make sure it looks like I want it to in 1:1 scale. Once I had the drawings done, I carried them to a local industrial fabricator that took my drawings and loaded them into a cad program. They used a CNC plasma table to cut out the pieces of the locomotive. These guys cut the locomotive body out then welded everything in place for me (they did this work in less than 3 days). While the fab shop was working on the body, I was designing my trucks.
Right away, I knew my budget wouldn’t allow for something as fancy as a replica Blomberg truck, so I sketched out a design I felt complemented the locomotive. The truck had to be simple, yet look good and function as well. Before I decided to bite the bullet and purchase 3”scale wheels and axles, I opted to build a pair of 7.5” gauge trucks that could be widened if my design worked….Yeah, this would be kind of a waste of funds, but I knew I could use them elsewhere once I was confident in my design. With widening the trucks in mind, I designed the truck to be bolted together, and with the simple addition of spacers and new center bolster, the frames could be widened to fit the larger wheels and axles at a later date. In order to do this, I took my drawings to another local fabricator that had a water-jet cutting machine. My design was loaded into their water-jet cad program and the result was quite amazing. The fabricator did a great job! The pieces of the trucks literally bolted together. The design proved to work well, so I hired Real Trains in California to make 3” scale wheels and axles for the 15” gauge trucks.
Now that the truck design was in place and the fab work on the body complete, it was time to start putting together the massive model kit I created. This was truly an amazing model. Venting screens were hand cut to length, and detailed battens were hand drilled and screwed into place. I had replica grab iron mounts water-jet cut and I bent and formed grab irons as close as could to those seen on the original trains.
It only took about two weekends and the evenings mid-week to have my locomotive looking like a real G16! Now that the locomotive was together, it was time to paint.
I was very pleased with the way the locomotive was turning out. I knew that spray cans wouldn’t do the locomotive justice. It would have to be taken to an automotive body shop to create the look I wanted. Now, this wasn’t a shot in the dark. I have a body shop here in town that touched up and fully painted trains for me in the past. This was definitely a job for my buddy, Harold Tiller, and his crew at Texas Paint and Body. Harold’s mouth fell open when I drove up with this locomotive on the trailer. He and the crew immediately ran out and started asking questions about the latest paint scheme I had in mind. I showed them a photo of a KCS F Unit in Southern Belle colors. Harold and the crew took the locomotive and the photo and painted it exactly how I wanted it in less than 24hrs!
Once the paint job was complete, I installed the electronics, batteries, head lights, bell and horns. I quickly built a test track out of some scrap lumber so I could test the locomotive. It ran flawlessly straight off the stand on to the rough wooden railroad. I was very pleased with how well the wheels and axles maneuvered over the sub-par track my son and I had built! The suspension in the trucks and motor design was a success! However, the locomotive made short work out of destroying the wooden track. Even though it is lightweight (considering its size), it was way too heavy for the scrap timber we used to build the test railroad.
Once the we had a successful test, the locomotive sat dormant for a few months… funds were tight, but it was time to start saving up to purchase the new wheels and axles from Real Trains in California. While I was waiting for the new wheels and axles to arrive, I started building real test track out of the materials mentioned at the start of this article. This would be a test of whether my idea was truly successful or not. Soon after the test track was finished, the new wheels and axles arrived. The trucks were widened and it was ready for a test, and a thorough testing it received! My daughter, Sarah, was actually the first one to take the new 15” locomotive for a test run. Everything worked beautifully. Soon my son heard the horn wailing outside and decided to wake up and come out join in on the fun. I never knew a couple of kids could have so much fun going back and forth in a straight line all day! Also, the locomotive had plenty of tractive effort and did not destroy the lightweight railroad. The test track was actually built from 3/4x3/4 angle iron which further proved the locomotive would run perfectly on the track described in Tom’s article. The project has been a huge success and I couldn’t be happier with the way this beautiful locomotive turned out.
If you have any comments or questions about the locomotive, please feel free to contact me via email at
Written by Todd Swan
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The On-Line Magazine of Ridable Model Railroading