|This was not my first attempt at building a locomotive.
I had several successful locomotives before this one. I learned something
new with each model. The first attempt, which I will call number Zero, was
a gas engine named "the brick special" by LALS members because of my choice of
ballast (1992). The bricks were attached by the gravity they provided, and
ultimately found new resting places along the track. When I ran out of bricks, I
used a partly consumed bag of cement. This, too, ended up trackside, aided by
the engine and still running chains which distributed it into the sprinkler
mists, etc. Two weeks later one of the guys was digging there, and remarked that
the ground was like concrete. I replied, "I can't imagine why". This machine
went through many revisions and was ultimately scrapped, to the relief of
The First real engine, numbered 26, is a steeple-cab electric. It's currently
at LALS, where most of it went together. It had wheelchair motors and was slow
and weak (1993?). I understand the current owner had it overhauled and it is
currently operating nicely. The locomotive was in an issue of
Modeltec (1995 IBLS meet?).
Successful chassis number Two had four wheels, and
used a surplus 1 hp 24 v [refrigeration?] motor and worked very well (1996?). I
sold the chassis, which through a series of owners, was finished into a nice
boxcab currently in Ridgecrest, CA.
Number Three used a gas engine (2002). This was by far the best gas
locomotive I have ever owned, with an Eaton hydrostatic drive and ample
reduction. It was, however, a mess to fuel and oil, it was noisy, and it did not
run smoothly like an electric.
Number Four (2003) was a 4 ¾" gauge four wheel electric using a surplus motor
and homemade controller by a member of LALS.
Number Five is the chassis I'm writing about here which was completed in
March '07. When you build on a budget like me, you can appreciate the
importance of project #5. It's a fantastic locomotive that can be
built with minimal skills and will fit the most meager budget. It will fit
in the smallest car, or the smallest yard (see my video). It works for everyone.
It is perfect for moving your big heavy steam engine and heavyweight consist in
and out of the sheds as well. Each attempt has been a learning experience.
I found I like electric power the best. The noise of a gas engine detracts from
the ambience, and I like the growl of a traction motor and the sound of the
track going by. I like talking on the radio or to the person behind me.
Electrics are the way to go!!! Power, pulling performance, and smooth operation
are what well-designed electric locomotives will offer.
The real trick in succeeding is not to make
tolerances too close. A little slop in things is good. Use layout dye and
reproduce the dimensions on the part carefully before cutting. Use a power
bandsaw ($150 from Harbor Freight)
to make these cuts. This is a tool you cannot live without. Make sure the blade
is tight and buy a Starrett blade, which is the best way to get the most from
this tool. Begin making the journal blocks by drawing an X from corner to corner
to find the EXACT center of this piece and then punch a large dimple in it at
the center. Using a center in the tailstock, press the journal block up to the
four jaw chuck and grip firmly. Center drill the block, and work up to a half
inch bit. When the hole is large enough, bore so the bearing (which can be
supplied by Ben Viola / Roundhouse) is a little loose inside and sits flush with
the block. This is how you make the blind hole in the journal. Then, slot in
your milling machine 5/16. The sideframes are 1/4 inch thick. Remember- loose
fits between journal and frame. Make a 1/8 hole in the top of the block. Center
drill round stock 1/8 for about 1/2 inch. Cut the drilled stock to make 1/4 inch
thick circles. Cut short pieces of 1/8 brass rod (hobby shop) and with Loctite,
secure the pins in the hole in the top of the journal, and place a circle on the
pin. This is the spring keeper. The free end of the spring rests in the top of
the pedestal. Order a 12 inch long, 1/4 inch thick, and 2 inch wide aluminum
plate. This will be used to make the coupler brackets. You should also order
some heavy duty 2" right angle stock, about 18" worth. Make sure it is the heavy
gauge angle stock. This will make the corners of the frame (cut in your new
saw). You will need a drill press. A six inch lathe and hobby mill are also
required. A grinder is a handy tool. A presswill be needed to assemble the
wheelsets (or you send Ben the sprockets and let him do it). I always overbuy
materials, just in case. I also like to build a scrap bin, which is very handy.
List of materials:
1) Electric Motors - two 200 watt/2750 rpm/24 volt motors from
2) Batteries-- type U1 from RageBattery.com
3) Controller--Curtis 1505 from
4) Knife switch--DPDT for directional control from eBay (relays can be used)
5) Metal frame and deck pieces from
Metal Express or any good online metals shop. Ends and sides were cut to
needed dimensions by the shop. Shaft material from hardware store is good
6) Sprockets and chain from Burden Surplus (surpluscenter.com)
7) Wheelsets - 3" from Ben Viola / Roundhouse (714-891-5378). Ben is a member
8) Couplers from wherever. Coupler is pinned in a homemade assembly.
9) Springs are from Century Spring
Company and I used number O-98. They have a forty dollar minimum so order
2 sets (8 total) and ask for their catalog. They are in Los Angeles.
These suppliers are very easy to deal with and will save you the most money
and hassle in acquiring the necessary goods.
Here is a sketch of some of the main components.
This should help you to get started on your own locomotive.
Written by Joe Powell
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