Volume 1 No. 8, Modeling Cut Bars

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 8, April 4, 2012

S Scale Uncoupling Bars
Locomotives and Freight Cars

by Edwin Kirstatter


Commonly called “cut bars” by railroaders, uncoupling levers are not included in most S scale kits and some ready-to-run models. Many brass cars include them, although sometimes they must be attached by the modeler. For our cars, we often have to make our own.

There are two basic types: top- operated and bottom-operated. Older couplers were uncoupled by pulling the locking pin up. The newer types use a rotary motion, below the coupler body, to lift the locking device. Additionally, there are several variations within the top-operated type.

Making cut bars really isn’t very hard; here’s how I do it.


To build these bars I use .016″ (26 gage) brass wire. The wire I use comes on a spool and needs to be straightened. It’s very hard and breaks easily when making 90 degree bends, so I anneal the wire to make it soft. A match will do the job, although a small torch or cigarette lighter will work better. Be careful, since too much heat will melt this small wire. Straight wire of half hard brass, phosphor bronze or iron would work better. Music wire will also work, but your bends must be right the first time, as you cannot straighten it without breaking. Tichy Train Group has .015″ phosphor bronze straight wire that works very nicely.

Bottom-Operating Cut Bars

The bottom-operating type is the easest to make, as it only requires one pivot point near the left edge of the car below the poling pocket or where it would have been. First, if there is no place on your model to mount that outer pivot, you need to add a mounting plate made from plastic or metal. Drill a hole in it for the eye bolt and cement or solder in place. Now you can make a bar from .016″ wire. Bend a loop in the end of the wire to fit around one of the Kadee coupler box mounting screws. Then bend the wire toward the trip pin and finally to the left and upward at an angle going toward the eye bolt. Fish the wire through the eye bolt and secure the looped end with one of the mounting screws. Bend the brakeman’s handle down and cut off at 15 scale inches.

Top-Operating Cut Bars

To make the top-operating bar for the “A end” (the car end opposite the brakewheel end), start by bending a small loop at the end of a piece of wire. This simulates where a link, which would have gone down to a prototype coupler’s lifting pin, would be attached. The link will not be represented, as we can’t operate Kadees using these. Now, measure the distance from your coupler’s knuckle pivot pin back to the end of the car. Using this dimension, make a 90 degree bend to the left, keeping your loop horizontal. Now measure from coupler center to the near left edge of the car. If your model has a poling pocket, you will measure to just inside of it. With this dimension, bend your wire down 90 degrees. This will form the handle the brakeman grabs to lift the bar and uncouple the car. Reference the illustrations and prototype photographs included with this article to further understand these bends. Cut the wire off a scale 15″ below the bend. You have now formed your cut bar.

You need two pivot points for this bar, one at each end. For these I use Detail Associates #2206 HO Eye Bolts, or lift rings as they are sometimes called. Mark the car end and drill for these. One will be in the center of the car end just above the end sill. The other will be at the left edge where the bar drops down. String the two eyebolts onto the bar; then press their shanks into the holes you drilled. The shanks of the Eye Bolts are slightly smaller than a #80 drill. Cement them in place with Super Glue, Pliobond or Walthers Goo. You have now completed the A end of the car.

The cut bar on the “B end,” or brake wheel end, is a little different. At the B end, the uncoupling bar passes over or around the handbrake staff. You will have to make a little bulge in the bar at this place to clear the brake staff.

Carmer Coupler Lifting Levers

There is another type of top-operated uncoupling bar called a Carmer coupler lifting lever. You will find these on many older cars and especially on the Pennsylvania Railroad. This type has a pivot at about the mid point from car side to coupler. The Carmer coupler lifting lever requires the brakeman to push down rather than lift up. This lever is more difficult to make. I cut the basic shape from .015″ sheet brass. Standard Railway Supply made an etched brass version that is usable and may still be found.

Steam Locomotive Cut Bars

The cut levers used on steam locomotives and diesels are different from those used on cars and the levers used on diesel locomotives differ from those on steamers. The steam loco type, used on both the engine and the tender buffer beam, is a long bar going from one side to the other supported by four cast stanchions, one at each end and two in the middle. The cut bar could be lifted from either side but the brakeman had to lift the whole thing. These cut levers were heavy. Make them from .025″ wire.

Diesel Locomotive Cut Bars

The Diesel locomotive type can also be lifted from either side; however, it differs in that the brakeman is only lifting half of the lever. An independent loop in the center, on which the lifting links slide, is lifted by either side’s lifting lever. Four mounting rings are required to support these three separate pieces. I make them from .020″ brass wire.

Since the original publication of this article, S Scale modeler Pieter Roos submitted additional examples of cut bars on S Scale rolling stock. His examples can be viewed in the gallery below. –editor

Volume 1 No. 7, B&O I-1 Caboose Laser Kit

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 7, March 29, 2012

B&O I-1 Caboose Laser Kit

reviewed by Brooks Stover, MMR

Available through: The Supply Car, LLC
356 Conrad Circle
Columbia, SC
Website: www.thesupplycar.com/
Price: 69.95 Basic Kit (trucks, brake details and decals available at extra cost)

Manufactured by: Lake Junction Models, LLC
673 N. Forest Ave.
Webster Groves, MO 63119
Price: 69.95 (less trucks, decals & couplers)

It was a long time coming but S scale now has a beautiful laser-cut kit of B&O’s familiar I-1 caboose, the first model of this prototype ever available in S. The prototype I model, the Buffalo Creek and Gauley of West Virginia, obtained two B&O I-1’s in 1958. It is generally believed that they were gifts to the then BC&G Superintendent, Richard Manning, from a former associate at the B&O. In any case, I was thrilled to learn that at long last I could have an accurate model of an I-1 for my layout. The kit is available in both narrow and wide platform configurations (Figures 1 and 2) and a transfer caboose version is also now available. This is an advanced kit but builds into a beautiful model.

(figure 2)

The Supply Car, LLC & Lake Junction Models, LLC

The I-1 kit is produced by Lake Junction Models and is available through both them and Supply Car, LLC. The Supply Car’s owner, Bob McCarthy, was instrumental in making the I-1 kit a reality. When purchased through The Supply Car, the kit can customized by specifying whether AB or K brake details are to be included ($7.00), if scale or hi-rail trucks are desired ($7.95), and whether B&O decals are needed ($6.50). The Supply Car, LLC also sells other S cars and structures in both kit and RTR form. Bill Hoss, owner of Lake Junction Models, has had his own company about four years and has had kits on the market about three years. He currently produces structure and rolling stock kits in HO, N, O and S using laser, photo etched and polyurethane parts. Prior to his current venture, Bill designed kits for over 20 years for a major model manufacturer. Lake Junction Models sells the kit less trucks, couplers and decals.

Kit Contents

The kit contains about 175 laser-cut wooden pieces in five different thicknesses ranging from 1/64” up to 1/8”. A good number of these, most notably exterior walls, the window frames, window sills and underbody parts are peel-and-stick. There are three small sheets of parts cut from what is called ‘stencil board’ which are also peel and stick. Also included are three sheets of etched brass parts, window glazing and adhesive backed paper roofing material. There are polyurethane castings for the coupler pockets and the smoke jack, as well. As mentioned, brake rigging details are available, too. Brass wire is included for the handrails. A bending jig is available separately.

The most detailed set of instructions I have ever seen on any kind of model is included on a CD and online at www.LakeJunctionModels.com. When printed out it is 25 pages long. Every step of the assembly is illustrated, not with a sketch or drawing, but with an actual color photo of the model being assembled (Figure 3). These couldn’t be any clearer or more complete. Included with the instructions are a couple of pages of prototype photos showing various lettering schemes used by the B&O over the years on these cars.

(figure 3)


This kit was the first laser-cut wood kit I ever built, so I don’t have anything to compare it to in terms of ease of assembly, accuracy of the parts, etc., but suffice it to say I found the parts to be very accurately sized and all cuts were clean and precise. As is always good practice, I test fit each part before assembly but only on very rare occasions was it necessary to do any substantial sanding to make things fit. In the comments below, I highlight the areas where things did not go exactly as planned, not as a criticism of this fine model, but as ‘lessons learned’ for those who might want to build the kit themselves.

(figure 4)

Most of the entire floor and chassis assembly is made up of peel-and-stick parts and so can be put together almost without glue (Figure 4). The floor inside the cabin as well as the floor visible between the frame rails from the underside is scribed to represent individual boards. The platform steps at each corner are each made from one piece of etched brass which is simply folded and bonded to the underbody. Wooden step treads are then added. What looks like a complicated piece of the model actually goes together easily. The instructions call for the couplers to be installed as the very last step in the assembly but I installed them while the floor was still a separate part. This allowed using the needed pressure on the screws holding the couplers in place which would potentially damage the finished model (Figure 5).

(figure 5)

Not surprisingly, the most tedious part of the construction is the hand rails on each end and the grab irons elsewhere. There are clear instructions for assembling the railings and the end ladders, but a great deal of patience is required here. Anyone with experience soldering/gluing railings or ladders shouldn’t have too much trouble. I chose to use plastic ladders from another kit only to speed things up. One word of caution relates to the “height gauge” in Step 59. This gauge is intended to establish the proper height for the horizontal railing on the ends of the car. Unfortunately, it can be positioned incorrectly resulting in railings which are too low. I know, I did it! Be sure and look at the gauge carefully as the lettering printed on the gauge must be upright for the gauge to be oriented correctly. There are instructions for accurately forming the grab irons, including those on the roof of the cupola but frankly these were beyond my level of skill. I fabricated ‘reasonable representations’ for my BC&G model.

The kit design includes a very clever inside-outside wall arrangement for the main body that automatically creates offsets for the window frames. The adhesive on the outside wall panel remains exposed and bonds the inside window frames when installed from the inside and the glazing attaches to adhesive on the inner surfaces of the inside window frames. The outside window frames and sills are also peel-and-stick. The construction of the entire main body goes very quickly and, again, with little glue required. It’s a very clever design, indeed.

The cupola is a bit of a different story. It is made of four pieces of rather thin material and considerable care is required to get the four sides glued up firmly and square. Once the four sides are assembled, however, the remaining pieces, though small, go on nicely and give the cupola a very detailed appearance. It looks like every board on the prototype is represented on the model.

One other area which gave me trouble was the adhesive-backed paper roofing material. I could not get the backing to come off properly and so did not use this material. Instead, I simply covered the roof with crepe-textured blue masking tape which when painted looks like tarpaper. I was very happy with this compromise.

As mentioned, correct trucks are available when the kit is ordered, but these are optional. The underbody is designed to mate with the available trucks resulting in the coupler pocket at the proper height. In my case, I chose to not use the coupler pocket in the kit and simply mounted Kadee #802 couplers. I also had to shim the trucks and the coupler because of my use of hi-rail wheels.


The instructions suggest painting all the parts before assembly and then caution that paint must be removed from surfaces that later have to be glued together. I took a somewhat different approach as I carefully thought through the assembly sequence and determined what parts could be built into sub-assemblies before painting. This approach seemed to work fine. First I buiIt up the floor and chassis and painted it when compete. The underside I painted Floquil Grimy Black and the interior floor I left unpainted to represent a well used floor. The steps and railings were painted red and yellow respectively. I built the entire main body as an assembly and then painted and decaled it. I built up the cupola as another subassembly before painting (Figure 6). I pre-painted the grabirons and ladders before installing them and then did whatever touchup was necessary after installation.

(figure 6)


(figure 7)

When I started assembling the chassis and saw how nice the individual boards on the floor looked, I felt the model just begged to have an interior. What I decided to do was build a greatly simplified representation of an interior and then leave both end doors open so you could get a glimpse inside (Figure 7 & 8). Of course, you can also see a bit of the interior through the windows. I did not make the roof removable so I could get away with a considerable approximation of the interior. I did a little research on the internet to find interiors of typical cabooses and went from there. I built the center cabinets and restroom and a suggestion of cushions on the cupola seats. At one end I installed a sink with overhead water tank, a potbelly stove, and a built-in table with seats. At the opposite end of the car I put a long bench with a cushion and a couple of buckets of parts and tools. The effect is exactly as I hoped…the impression of an interior without having modeled one in great detail. Just enough light falls through the doors and windows to let an observer see there’s something in there.

(figure 8)


This is an advanced kit, but it is extremely well engineered and well made. The parts are accurate and fit together very well with little trimming. Using care, a very nice model can be built. My BC&G crews are extremely happy with their new crummy (Figure 9) and so am I. I highly recommend this kit to anyone who is interested in this classic wooden caboose.

(figure 9)

Volume 1 No. 6 Addendum, Altering the Lionel U33C

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 6 Addendum, March 20, 2012

One Modeler’s Observations on
Altering the Lionel U33c

by Don Thompson

I am attempting to fix the pilot to the body per the prototype. Actually, that’s the easy part! The hard part is getting the truck to move at all. The reason is that the front of the truck is trapped between the steps. Lionel did a great job putting the trucks in the correct longitudinal location, and now I can see that taking the pilot swing approach may have been the wise way out for model radius curves. The prototype photo clearly shows the truck nestled between the steps, which creates a problem for us modelers who cannot accommodate prototype curves in our train rooms.

I removed the pilot mounting fixture from the truck, hoping that would help, but more surgery will be needed. There is room to move the sideframes in toward each other because the scale wheels are a lot narrower than the tinplate wheels for which the sideframe spacing is designed. I’ll try this to see if the result will be enough swing for 45″ radius curves and No. 6 turnouts. Grinding off the backs of the steps may also help somewhat.

I’ll keep the SIG informed as I progress.

Volume 1 No. 6, Lionel U33C

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 6, March 3, 2012

Quick Look:
Lionel’s U33C S Scale Diesel

by Ed Loizeaux
photos by Dick Karnes

The General Electric U33C is the first totally new diesel locomotive made by Lionel for American Flyer and S scale enthusiasts. “Lionel is not the company it used to be!” was my first thought as I opened the box: a new diesel featuring scale wheels. Yes, you read that correctly. It ran for six non-stop hours on my home layout, which features code .100 rail throughout, laid to NMRA specifications. There was nary a trackability or performance problem with through dozens and dozens of turnouts – quite a change from the goode olde daze of A. C. Gilbert.

This product represents Lionel’s toe-in-the-water venture into the S scale market. Compared to older American Flyer products, it’s quite an improvement in the realism department. The very nice body molding, while not perfect, is realistic enough for most S scale modelers. The engine comes with large AF couplers on both ends that can easily be removed (one screw) and replaced with a scale coupler bracket (two screws). A Kadee #802 coupler screws to the bracket with two more screws. Lionel even includes the needed screws in a small parts bag. The purchaser can easily make a flat plastic filler piece to fill the large hole in the pilot resulting from the removal of the AF coupler. Someone at Lionel was thinking ahead on this feature.

All twelve metal wheels are powered and all wheels pick up electrical power from the track. Rubber traction treads are in the box, but not intended for use with the scale wheels. Headlights and back-up lights are LEDs that automatically reverse with direction changes. Sound and smoke are also included, as well as a motorized fan to blow the exhaust smoke upwards continuously. The horn sounds were particularly appealing to my visitors who watched the U33C circle the layout.

Lionel’s Legacy proprietary command control system (similar to DCC, but not the same and not mutually compatible) comes installed in the locomotive. For this product to operate with all features functioning, a Lionel Legacy command control system and Legacy throttle/cab must be used. Otherwise, the loco will operate on conventional AC, but some of the special features cannot be activated. As it comes from the factory, the loco will not operate on DC or DCC.

If desired, the internal Legacy electronics can be removed. Once removed, the conventional DC motor that resides in the fuel tank may be powered with ordinary DC or a DCC decoder if desired. Some scale modelers have already sold off Legacy electronics to their AF buddies, which helps pay for a new DCC decoder. My prediction is that Legacy electronics will soon appear on eBay. As my evaluation was done with Legacy, I cannot predict how the loco will perform with conventional DC or DCC.

This is only a “quick look,” not a review. I did not compare every detail to the prototype, instead concentrating on the features easily noticed without a magnifier. In no particular order, my observations are listed below:

  • Metal grab irons are separately applied details.
  • Handrail stanchions and handrails are a flexible one-piece molded Delrin part that’s quite resistant to breaking from excessive bending.
  • Lettering is precise and apparently complete, including features such as the GE builder’s plate and stencils such as “Air Filter,” “Danger High Voltage,” and “Diesel Fuel Fill.”
  • The body is injection-molded plastic with lots of detail.
  • Frame/floor/chassis is a heavy hunk of metal which is very rigid and firm, great for tractive power.
  • Trucks are metal, rigid, with cast springs and nice detailing. The fuel tank is cast metal and heavy.
  • There are twelve air hoses on the pilots.
  • The MU walk-through platform can be positioned “up” or “down”; there’s a detent to hold it in place.
  • Headlights (white), backup lights (red), number boards (white), and cab lights (white) are all illuminated. However, the infamous bluish tinge is present in the white LEDs.
  • The body molding has molded-in machined brass threaded inserts which are used when attaching the frame to the body. Thus, there is no chance of stripping out the screw threads.
  • The flared radiator on the top of the body can be removed to expose two small electrical switches. One turns the smoke generator and fan on and off. The other is to set the loco up for programming or for running. The radiator is held in place by four tiny super magnets. Cool!
  • Both pilots swivel with the trucks around curves. This design looks rather toy-like, but it appears they could be firmly attached to the frame without too much difficulty. My first thought is to use a piece of 1/16” thick black plastic and cut it to the proper shape and then epoxy it to the underside of the frame. Then attach the pilot parts to the plastic piece with epoxy or JB Weld (if sufficiently strong) or with small screws (drilling and tapping required). Eventually someone will actually do this and we’ll have a better idea of the difficulties involved, but it doesn’t look particularly difficult for an experienced modeler.
  • Due to the swiveling pilot, the end handrails do not extend downward far enough to match the prototype. The handrails could be extended, if desired, once the pilot is firmly attached to the frame.

In closing, it appears that Lionel is seriously testing the S scale market segment with this product. While not perfect, it’s a remarkable step forward toward greater realism, worthy of a serious look. Is it possible that Lionel/AF is the sleeping giant of S scale? What a thought…