Welcome to My HO Model Railroad Blog
This Blog is about my HO Model Railroad Hobby and how I model the Southern Pacific from my memories of the mid 1950s era as a teenager. I wrote a short synopsis of my back ground that can be found by going to my About Me page.

My layout is set in the mid 1950s in the Southern New Mexico/West Texas area. I grew up in El Paso Texas during the end of the Steam Era and lived in Alamogordo, NM during the 1960s & 70s. My wife and I are both retired and now reside in Bakersfield California. We have lived on both ends of the Southern Pacific Cab Forward Southern Route.

This is a simple track layout drawing of my Model Railroad.

You can click on the colored text to follow the links.

I moved the About Me & My Layout articles to their own page because they seldom change.
Updated December 5, 2014

To go to my current Locomotive Inventory click here.
Updated September 14, 2015

To go to my additional pages scroll down to the bottom of my Blog, there are links to navigate my blog as well as other model railroad interests.

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Thanks for taking the time to visit my Blog!

March 18, 2018 SP Heavy Weights

I have been sluggish with updating my blog, sorta comes with age.  This post will be the on going progress of my current project.  Feel free to ask questions or comment at melsmodelrailroad@gmail.com 

After finding an old video of a Cab Forward pulling a string of Heavy Weight Pullmans out of Bakersfield (I think it was the Lark) in the middle 40s I decided to add some HW passenger cars to my fleet.

Bakersfield to Saugus mail pickup video

I began by attending the Annual Kern County Train Show in early March.  I picked up five used Athearn Heavy Weight cars for $5 each, should have bought more. 😢

There wasn't a HW baggage car at a reasonable price so I went to the old standby, eBay.  I picked up a baggage car and a coach for $8.

I stripped everything down to the bare shell in preparation to be painted.  Four of the cars had Walthers diaphragms so I decided to try them on my layout.  My smallest mainline radius is 26" so I'm hoping they will be OK.  I had two pairs of Walthers and ordered another four pair.

I also picked up a second HW baggage car (IHC) off eBay, I plan on doing a kitbash with it.  The SP had several shorty baggage cars so the IHC will become a shorty.

All eight cars are in excellent condition.

This is where I'm at (March 18).

The white car is the IHC baggage that will become the shorty.

I have completed the Athearn Baggage car, I installed the electronics to power the LED lighting for all of the HW cars.  I'm going to use the end doors for the wires between cars, they will be hidden by the diaphragms.

This is the finished electronics.

This is the on board charger for the 1000mah Lithium battery.  The two small parts at the top right next to the mounting screw are the Red and Green LEDs for charge indicators, Red - Charging, Green - Charged.  They can be seen through the larger door windows. 

The TP4056 comes with a USB connector mounted between the two 2mm screws on the left (power in), I removed the USB connector and used the solder tabs under the screws for the connections for the 5 volts power in and the 4 volts out to the battery on the right (Battery out).  I went with 2mm solder tabs instead of soldering to the board.

I used the Athearn HW trucks with home made wiper contacts (Kadee coupler springs) and some superflex #30 wire for power pickup.  I installed Athearn metal wheels, all twelve wheels pickup rail power.

The power is routed to a 1½ amp bridge rectifier then to a LM7805 5 volt regulator.  The 5 volts from the regulator feeds the TP4056 charger and the charger goes directly to the battery.  

I glued a magnetic latching read switch to the underside of the roof to turn on and off the 4 volt passenger lighting when running in DC mode.  A simple wave of a small magnet above the baggage car roof will operate the reed switch.

If everything works out as planned I will add a Digitrax FL1 single function DCC decoder later to control the lighting when running in DCC mode.

I was worried about a problem should a car derail and cause a short in the power wiring.  The LED power distribution is less than 50ma but with a 1000ma battery a short could do some serious damage.  I found some resetable fuses made by Littlefuse rated at 50ma so I installed a micro connector to hold the fuse.

My Daylight streamline passenger cars draw a bit over 60ma so I bought some 100ma fuses for their power unit.  The Daylight power unit has a 5000ma battery so it's safe too with the 100ma fuse.

While waiting for my LHS to get me the SP Lark/Owl colors I have continued with the interior lighting of the observation car.

Here is a typical HW Observation/Business car floor plan.

I use 5mm wide angle warm white LEDs for all of my interior lighting.

I use 10K resistors for low level lighting and 4.7K for high level lighting.  Multiple LEDs work better a lower light than a single or double LEDs at a brighter level.

The view from below the car shows the two LEDs for the vestibule.

The SMT 1206 Red LED is very bright and it is only drawing .5ma, I might have to drop the current more to lower the brightness.

I added some figures standing on the Vestibule.

I drilled .02" (#76) hole in the bottom of the figures and super glued a short piece of .02" Phosphor Bronze rod as a support.  I drilled several .021 (#75) holes in the floor of the Vestibule to position the figures.  The rod fits tight enough in the floor that the figures don't swivel around.


I made the curved seat from individual seats from my earlier castings.  I made a mold of it for future use.

I've finished the interior and it's ready for occupancy.  I decided to come up with some table lamps for those that would like to read while riding the rails.

I made a couple of table lamps from 5mm warm white LEDs, the tables are Athearn Streamline windows and painted dark brown.  I made the table legs from the LED pins and they plug into a micro connector mounted in the floor of the car.

They look pretty good without ambient lighting.

I have experimented making lamps using LEDs and they look pretty good.  I picked up some 3mm plastic beads at Hobby Lobby to use for the table lamp bases.  That was a real improvement over my hand made bases.  While I was in the experimental mode I tried my hand making some floor lamps too.  This is a picture of a few of my lamps.

The floor lamp is supported by the LED wires, I separated the leads with a #11 blade then coated them with Super Glue Gel then sanded and applied several coats of TCP primer.  After a good sanding I painted the support with Deco Art Metallics Splendid Gold.  I halved one of the 3mm beads for the lamp base.

The table lamp (LED) on the right has a 4.7KΩ resistor in series, at 4 volts it draws 300ųa. 

Here is the IHC Baggage car being Kitbashed.

I chopped the car at the center of the dual door so that one door can be removed.

I took cut a second section out of the center to shorten the overall length of the car.

After a bit of fill and sand I shot it with Rust-Oleum Automotive Primer.

This is my kitbash with SP Lark colors ready for finishing.

Things are coming along pretty good, this is my heavy weight fleet ready to decal.

I finished my first Heavy Weight, the Athearn 70' baggage car.

It turned out pretty good.  It's finished and ready to go.  The electronic and lighting work as designed and I used .040" clear Styrene sheet for the windows.  The Styrene looks better than the Athearn windows, no light reflection on the bottom sill like in the Athearn windows. 

I started making castings for the interiors, I made 8 seat seat castings.  There are seven chairs on each side of the castings and the day coaches need 16 chair seats on each side.

I'll tackle the bed/seats for the sleepers next.

I bought an Athearn HW diner off eBay new in the box kit.  I painted it Southern Pacific Lark Grey.

The flowing pictures are of my lighting procedure for all of my Heavy Weight cars.

The picture above shows using number 8 bird shot for weight.  The depressed area in the center of the car frame holds two ounces of bird shot, the same weight as the Athearn metal weights.  By using the bird shot for weight I gained ¼" of usable space lowering the interior so that I don't have to cut off the legs of the passenger and SP staff figures to keep them in proper proportion. 

This shows the pass through wiring and the connector for the LEDs in the shell.  I went to inline mounted connectors instead of a jumper wire between the frame and shell.

I drilled two holes in the frame to hold the male connector then with the female connector plugged into the male and a dob of super glue gel on the female I set the shell in place to fix the correct position of the female connector so that it mates correctly to the male.

Because I'm using diaphragms on my HW cars I'm using a short polarized jumper to connect between cars.   I went with polarized connectors because of the LEDs.  The micro connectors are quick disconnect type and I use Kadee Scale Shelf Couplers to prevent accidental uncoupling.

The jumpers won't be seen passing through the diaphragms. 

When I'm working on my painted cars and locomotives I use a hand towel to prevent scuffing the paint.

I'm sorta jumping around on this project.  This is a coach with the seats installed and painted Lark Light Grey.  Next step on this car will be painting the carpets.

Progress is slowly coming around, I'm currently working on the interior of the diner.

I ordered some restaurant chairs from Shapeways for the diner.

I didn't order enough chairs to include the side tables so I have more on the way.

I tweaked the car LED lighting to balance the eating area and slightly brighter in the kitchen.  By using wide angle warm white LEDs is was able to keep the LED current very low with realistic looking light.

I've changed the wiring of my coaches to make the lighting adjustable.  I changed the series resistor to each LED from 4.7KΩ to 330Ω and added a 2KΩ 25 turn potentiometer in series to the paralleled LEDs.  I mounted the pot in the open door on the forward end of the car.  The diaphragms will hide the pot from view.

The coach is on the left and my diner is on the right.  I went with 1" LED spacing in the coach and ¾" spacing in the dinning area to get better light distribution.  I'll make the final light adjustments after I have painted the interiors and added the passengers.

The current is adjustable from 500 microamps to 29 milliamps for total LED current from the 4 volt source in the baggage power car.  The coach looks good at 2ma with the unpainted interior and the diner looks good at 3ma. 

Seat Modification:

 I bought some IHC coach interiors many years ago and made molds of them to make my own interiors.  The seat spacing isn't correct for my Athearn Heavy weight coaches.  I cut up two of my castings to correct the spacing so that each seat matched the window spacing of the Athearn coaches.  The original IHC seat configuration was made up of two sections of 14 seats, 7 on each side.  I stayed with 14 seat sections for my new mold with the correct spacing.

The picture above is the new mold with the correct spacing and a casting ready to install in a Heavy Weight coach.

I have finished the Observation car.  I have all the lights working the way I want and I populated it with hand painted passengers.

The painting went better than expected.  I used flat Crafters Acrylic paint, it took about three hours to paint the 20 figures. 

The three ladies on the rear platform are prepainted Preiser figures.


With the success of my Observation car interior I decided to tackle my Diner.

It didn't go easily, between dropping things and the figures fighting me it took six hours to get it to this point.

I still have to detail and populate the kitchen but that will have to wait until another day, this on really got to me.

More to follow soon

August 9, 2014 Remotoring a Rivarossi Cab Forward

I updated this post to the newest version of my Brass Frame.

I added 16 pictures of the new version to the end of the original post.  The finished Cab Forward runs much better than a new Rivarossi Cab Forward.  Even without adding additional weight the drawbar almost doubled.

The shell fits much better too, with the new brass frame it only needs the top center screw to secure the shell because of the better alignment from the new frame.

I plan on making brass frames for all of my Cab Forwards and AC-9s.  This project took a total of 10 hours and $4 for the brass to make a perfect running Cab Forward, not including the dual Canon EN22 motors.  I found 20 EN22 motors at $1.19 each about 8 years ago, should have bought 40 at that price.

I updated my CAD drawing to lower the front drive wheels to the correct position.  My original drawing has the drive wheels .053" closer to the bottom of the boiler than the original Rivarossi.  The corrected drawing is at the bottom of this post with a link to my Google Drive full size PDF.


Over the years I have remotored over a dozen Rivarossi Cab Forwards and created several posts on remotoring them.  This post is a new angle on remotoring.  After thinking about the dual Canon EN22 motor Cab Forward modification I had an idea bonk me on the head, "Why not make a new frame to fit the two Canon motors?"  I decided to do my thing on my CAD to see if it was easily doable.

I began by making a drawing of a Rivarossi Cab Forward "out of the box".

After about three days of dinking around off and on drawing several versions I came up with a scheme that I thought should be rather easy to do.

The picture above is a preliminary concept to see if it was a doable project.

After three or four days playing around with several versions the drawing above is the one I liked the best.  The inline shaft alignment should result in better efficiently with less mechanical problems.  After I drew up all the components to scale it was simple to move things around on the drawing.

By using K&S Brass Strips there is very little cutting.  The motor shaft alignment recess is easily accomplished by using .062" thick brass strips, three layers equal .186" and the shaft recess needed for alignment is .184".  Because of the curvature of the boiler in the Rivarossi shell the bottom brass strip works out to ½" wide by 4 7/16" long.  The second layer also needs to be ½" wide by only 1½" long, the top two strips are ¾" wide by 1½" long.  The wider top sections will give a larger working area for the Rivarossi gearbox.

After cutting the brass strips to size I used vice-grip pliers to hold the various pieces together to drill and tap holes so that I could keep them inline for soldering.  I used a 150 watt soldering iron to solder the brass then a sharp metal file to trim it up into a nice looking frame.

I have finished the brass frame and installed it in the Cab Forward shell and test run it with it's tender and both run terrific, very smooth with no wobble.

The picture above shows the brass frame in the shell wired to DCC specs.  In this version I'm going to install the 1.4 volt regulator in the tender with the sound decoder.  I'm going to use the green wire on pin 3 of the NMRA connector for the Marker lights to turn them on and off with DCC Function 3.

 I will add more to this post after I complete the wiring and add 8 ounces of lead bird shot to the boiler for added traction.

Added August 10, 2014

This dual motor conversion of a Rivarossi Cab Forward works so much better than the original that I'm going to make a second brass frame to experiment with.  The locomotive runs so unbelievably good I'm going to replace the frame in one of my kitbashed AC-9s also.

 Added August 15, 2014

After several hours of testing both a Cab Forward and a AC-9 using my home brew dual Canon EN22 motor brass frames I have come to the conclusion that dual motors with inline motor to gearbox alignment does away with all of the "Rivarossi Wobble".  Both run extremely smooth without any wobble.  I'm currently installing my third dual motor brass frame in a Rivarossi Cab Forward.  

Updated CAD drawing January 14, 2018

This is a more accurate drawing of the Brass Frame.  The front Rivarossi trunnion mount on the original drawing was .053" higher than with the original Rivarossi frame.  The detent corrects the error to +.01". 

A actual scale size PDF is available on my Google Drive, click here.

Updated Brass Frame January 23, 2018

The following pictures are the new version of the brass frame with the modification to lower the front driver assembly mounting bracket.  My original brass frame was off by .053". 

A few pictures of other things I did to complete the Cab Forward.

The Rivarossi Cab Forward ladders are part of the headlight mounting bracket.  I used Athearn Caboose ladders to make the Cab Forward ladders.  I attached the ladders to the Rivarossi shell so that the grab irons don't have to be removed to remove the shell.  Now the shell can easily be removed with one boiler screw.