I'm mostly messing around with On30 right now, but I may try my hand at O and HO in the future. I eventually want to totally scratchbuild a locomotive, but I'm sneaking up on it it.

BVM Dunkirk, No name lines!
BVM DunkirkDesert Dunkirk
I can't DCC this chassis very easily. I probably will drop it on another mechanism some day or clean it up and put it on E-Bay! Still a very nice kit, it won Second Place in the Favorite Train category at O Scale West 2005.

BVM Boxcab, Yosemite Short Line
BVM Boxcab
Another Boulder Valley models resin kit on a newer chassis that I can add DCC to. The YSL uses DCC so its a road requirement. I think DCC did help us complete a layout in 18 months so this is a good thing. I'm not playing with sound yet though! The roof is 0.005 styrene with hand embossed rivets using a blue cutting mat and a dull punch. This replaced the faux wood strips that the kit comes with. I think a metal roof looks better with this critter, otherwise known as the 'rolling outhouse'. Eccentric headlight by yours truly.

Backwoods Miniatures 2-6-2 Tank Engine
Backwoods Miniatures Tank Engine WIP
A nice etch bash kit that drops on top of a HO Bachmann 0-6-0. Destined for the South Pacific with guest appearances on the YSL.

Construction Books

"Minature Locomotive Construction" by John Aherne * (curio value)
John Aherne's book was OK for its time, it deals with British prototypes. It is weak on suspension and framing, I'd pick up the newer English books first. They distill 30+ years of thought in motors, gearing, suspension and even soldering!

"The Complete Metalsmith" by Tim McCreight **** (a useful inexpensive book)
"Practical Casting, a Studio Reference" by Tim McCreight
Filled with lots of information on manipulating small metal bits! Including low tech photo-etching, soldering, bending, the works. Also I second Boone Morrison's suggestion to take a class in jewelry making. I was lucky, when I was living in Long Beach they actually had a separate casting class. I was introduced to several low-tech methods of casting.

"Building the Shay" by Kozo Hiraoka****(Live steam) ***(everyone else)
Kozo Hiraoka in his book, Building the Shay describes a workable method of fabricating spoked wheels. He makes up rib stock on his mill, machines a tread assembly and a center and silver solders the mess together. Now for HOn3, you'd only have to make one as a master, then take it to a jeweler and have him cast up a bunch in sterling silver. Great electrical conductivity too! Haven't tried it yet, but if I do I'll post some photos.
He also has a lot of other miscellaneous how to including various fabrication techniques suitable for the larger scales.

"The 4 mm Engine Scratchbuilders Guide" by Guy Williams ****
Mr. Williams has written an outstanding book about scratchbuilding locomotives.  He begins by describing his beginning efforts and how the model locomotive has improved. He then explains the considerations to take into account when designing a locomotive. Mr. Williams feels that rigid frames work fine for larger locomotives and recommends suspensions only for the smaller ones.  He covers the basic tools, one of which is a small lathe and a method of drilling precise holes using a older Unimat or a newer small drill press. He covers the design and construction of the basic chassis and getting it running. About half of the book covers the upper bodywork including detailing methods and mass producing details. For example, he has a description of machining domes. He uses a flycutter and makes several light passes to machine off the bottom first. Then he mounts the result via a tapped hole on a simple arbor. He then finishes up with several scratchbuilding examples that should prove useful to anyone. One of the few bugaboos is that there are no table of contents. Since there is an index, this isn't that important.  112 pages, very well illustrated on glossy paper.
Wild Swan Publications, available in America from: International Hobbies (530) 268-8715

"Etched Loco Construction" by Iain Rice ***
This is a more specific book about building etched locomotive kits. There seems to be a large number of British prototypes available in this for along with a few American ones from such people as Brick Price and Chivers. Mr. Rice also manufactures his own kits, he can be safely counted as an expert in this field. The book includes a short history of etched kits and their evolution and some of the current professional techniques for producing them. The book also covers tools and materials, most of them are easily available and I suspect most hobbyists already have most of them on hand. In addition, preparing and forming the etched parts is covered in its own chapter along with some simple and easily constructed tools. A nice meaty chapter explains how to solder and assemble the basic unit and another chapter covers detailing in a fair amount of depth. The last chapter is a chapter on finishing, it's not very meaty, but as Mr. Rice points out, it's a subject worthy of its book. There's still enough information here to do a good job with. 80 pages, very well illustrated on glossy paper.
Wild Swan Publications, available in America from: International Hobbies (530) 268-8715

"Flexichas" by Mike Sharman ***
Mr. Sharman covers in great detail his methods for building fully compensated locomotive chassis.  He starts out with a brief review of the principles then starts with bushes, sideframes and pickups. He describes a simple axle jig used for alignment and then launches into an explanation of the several suspension types such as pony trucks. He then covers some methods for gearing your locomotive and winds up with an appendix of wheel arrangements that cover all of the popular wheel configurations.
The Flexichas book has a very good description of the Sharman hornblocks. Anybody with even the cheesiest lathe can make them. Since I normally model in O, my frames will probably be a bit over .020 since except for very old American iron, this is too thin!
Some of this material is covered in Mr. Williams's book as well as Mr. Rice's books. 36 pages, well illustrated.
The Oakwood Press, available in America from: International Hobbies (530) 268-8715

"Locomotive Chassis Construction in 4 mm scale" by Iain Rice ****
Mr. Rice feels that a small machine shop shouldn't be a prerequisite for building model locomotives. With the sources of supply our English compatriots have access to, this may be correct.  The book's title says it all, a book on chassis construction. It's fairly easy, even for American prototypes, to obtain great gobs of goodies to show off to your friends. The problem comes when it's time to push the stuff around the track. The book starts with a brief history of chassis and comments on current practices. He then runs through several methods used to assess a new chassis kit. the most critical is that the rods, wheels frames all have proper spacing. He then covers some methods of correction and refinement for stock chassis. Mr. Rice then covers in great detail pony trucks and the like followed by chassis compensation. He's a big fan of the compensated chassis ala "Flexchas" and has come up with several methods of applying this to manufactured chassis. He then covers wheels, running gear and motors and winds it up with a section on transmissions and tuning up your new chassis. If your thinking of building any kind of locomotive kit, I highly recommend this book. One of the few bugaboos that I have with this series is that there are no table of contents or cross indexes in the books. Don't let it stop you from getting any of these books. 160 pages, very well illustrated on glossy paper.
Wild Swan Publications, available in America from: International Hobbies (530) 268-8715

"Whitemetal Locos: A Kitbuilders Guide" by Iain Rice ***
There seem to be more American white metal kits than etched kits, the MDC kits come immediately to mind. Mr. Rice follows a similar pattern in this book to his Etched Loco Construction, he covers the history and manufacture of white metal kits. Next he covers the tools, including the special solders followed by a very detailed chapter on preparing the castings including some cute tricks like thinning the edges on a casting to make it look less bulky. He then covers assembly techniques after which comes a section on basic detailing. He then talks about "Gilding the Lily", an excellent chapter on superdetailing followed by two chapters on finishing. 64 pages, very well illustrated on glossy paper.
Wild Swan Publications, available in America from: International Hobbies (530) 268-8715

"How To Build Model Railroads and Equipment" by Barton K. Davis
New York: Crown, Published 1956. Hard Card Covers
Good article on scratchbuilding an SP steam locomotive. Also has some other good articles on rolling stock.

Magazine Articles

In general, if your interested in US locomotive construction, they can't be beat. There is a very old book by Mel Thornburgh published in the fifties that I've never seen. There are two fairly recent series in Model Railroader.  The first was Gordon Odegard's series in 1981-2, the other was Steven Anderson's recent series starting in Oct. 1997.  I recommend getting hold of these because they are a good starting point plus these are fairly cheap to obtain. They also cover some recent American sources of supply.

I also have a several of Mel Thornburgh's series as well as others from the 40's and 50's. For American locomotives we don't currently have a Guy Williams or Iain Rice, so for the most part we are stuck with the older works. The best Thornburgh series is the one on the Wabash Mogul, he repeats all of his techniques from earlier works and for narrow gaugers, moguls are a very common wheel arrangement.

Reference Books

American locomotives, 1871-1881; a collection of locomotive drawings and plans with descriptions, specifications and details, originally published in 1883 under the title Recent locomotives, by Railroad Gazette Publishing
Recent locomotives, by Railroad Gazette Publishing

Google Books
History of the Baldwin Locomotive Works from 1831 to 1897 By Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corporation Compound Locomotives By Arthur Tannatt Woods, David Leonard Barnes
The Early Motive Power of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad By Joseph Snowden Bell
The Steam Engine: a Treatise on Steam Engines and Boilers By Daniel Kinnear Clark
Modern American Locomotive Engines: Their Design, Construction and Management. A Practical Work... By Emory Edwards
Catechism of the Locomotive By Matthias Nace Forney
Locomotive Breakdowns, Emergencies and Their Remedies By George Little Fowler
Encyclopedia of Engineering: A Treatise on Boilers, Steam Engines, the Locomotive, Electricity By International School of Engineering
Modern Locomotive Valves and Valve Gears By Charles Leo McShane
The Railway Locomotive: What it is and why it is what it is By Vaughan Pendred (Mostly English)
The Walschaert Locomotive Valve Gear By William Wallace Wood, Probably more than you want to know.

Internet Resources

Improved compensation for a 4-4-0 (in Dutch)
János ERÖ model locomotives - absolutely fantastic
Lovely models, text is in Dutch
Rene Gourley locomotive
Scratchbuilding link for 1/32nd brass locomotives
Tom Mix - Scratchbuilding drivers
Yet another great site for pictures, text in Swedish

Internet Groups

Brass Loco Builders - great group!
Brass Back shop - looks interesting May not be that active


Guy Williams's and Iain Rice's chassis techniques are pretty simple. Mr. Rice doesn't think a lathe should be required and Mr. Williams quite often uses his as a drill press. They have the advantage that the axle centers will be spot on even if you are not adding compensation and building a rigid chassis. Odegard's chassis was sprung while Thornburgh's and Anderson's is a rigid design. I want to try a compensated chassis to see if they run that much better. People say they do, but I always like to try things for myself.

Cool items the old-timers didn't have/use.

  1. Low temp solder. In the States, TIX is available, melts at 145C/275F.
  2. Cheap styrene shapes. You don't have to use metal for everything and it works better than wood for very thin flat sections.
  3. Wonderful adhesives, epoxy, ACC, loctite, etc.
  4. Good motors and gears. Even N scale can run slow now!

Bits and pieces


American style bar frames are roughly 3-4" thick in my period of interest (1890s), so 3/32" would be scale in 1/48. As the years go by, the frames get thicker, 5-6". Getting nickel silver in the thicker sizes is a pain! I may try tool steel which Gordon Odegard recommends in his series and it is certainly flat and strong. In this series, he recommends 1/8th", probably more than I really need unless I build a really modern locomotive. I wouldn't bother with cold rolled or hot rolled steel for frames, there's little cost saving and they will not be as flat or stable after you machine them. I've worked with cold rolled in the past, if you remove the skin from one side and not the other, things get real ugly. One the other hand notchs seem to be OK.

Hot rolled doesn't have the uniform thickness that cold rolled has in these smaller sizes, I would have to flycut it to thickness to get something decent. Real cheap though and available everywhere in the US. I'm not going to normalize my frames for sure!



The only problem that most of the old-timers didn't have is drivers. Or maybe they had a big problem and ignored it! For American locomotives, especially in scales other than HO, you probably have to make or commission some one to make them for you. Most of the articles start out, the drivers....blah, blah! I'm mucking about with an MDC kit, I've chopped the body up a bit, next I'm going to build a new chassis. Gives you drivers, motor, gears and a good start.

Springing or Equalization