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…

Volume 1 No. 5, Passenger Trains: Why “S” May Be For You

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 5, February 20, 2012

Passenger Trains:
Why “S” May Be For You

by Dick Karnes

There are cogent reasons to consider a switch to S scale. If you are in a larger scale and face downsizing your living quarters, S may be for you. If you’re in HO or N, are getting older, and your eyesight isn’t what it used to be, S may be for you.

Mike’s story combines both of these. Mike, forty-ish, switched three years ago. He was an O scale NYC fan who wanted two trainsets of the Central’s Southwestern Limited passenger train, a five-car Budd consist as it crosses the Midwest. He began to realize there was no way he could plausibly do this in the limited space he has, so he thought “I need to switch to HO.” But, being a practical man, he projected ahead another 20 years: “I’d have to switch scales again as my eyesight degrades.” Bob McCarthy’s streamlined passenger-car kits marketed under “The Supply Car” brand, pushed Mike over the edge.

Bob McCarthy’s cars can be furnished with Budd, Pullman, and ACF car sides in any prototype window configuration at no extra charge. Can’t find the one you want in Bob’s listing? Send him a plan and it’ll get made. I did that for the 1938 20th Century Limited observation car, and I got exactly what I wanted.

Shown are some of the components in a typical Supply Car passenger-car kit. This particular car is a diner from the NYC’s 1938 20th Century Limited. Shown above are the two sides against a core body, floor below, and some of the underbody details at the bottom. Roof details also come with the kit. The Supply Car will soon have full-width diaphragm kits to go with these.

Commonwealth 43-R triple-bolster roller-bearing trucks were standard on most 1938 20th Century cars, although the Century’s diners and RPO had six-wheel trucks. The 43-R roller-bearing trucks (shown from a 1938 Commonwealth ad) and similar SP-43 plain-bearing trucks are now a committed River Raisin Models project.

The Supply Car
356 Conrad Circle
Columbia, SC 29212
(803) 429-1811

River Raisin Models
6160 Upper Straits Blvd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48324
(248) 366-9621

Volume 1 No. 4, River Raisin Model’s USRA 0-6-0 – First Look

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 4, February 12, 2012

River Raisin Model’s USRA 0-6-0
First Look

reviewed by Ed Loizeaux
photos by Dick Karnes

This past weekend I had the opportunity to see and handle River Raisin Model’s newest brass imported steam locomotive – the USRA 0-6-0. When this project was first announced, I expected to see one loco in several different paint schemes. Instead, I saw six different locos and six different tenders in six different paint schemes – plus the painted, but unlettered version as well. To start with, the locos shown in the photos are “production samples” which means the pilot model has already been evaluated and corrections made. These production samples have also been evaluated and corrections made. The production models are expected to be shipped to customers in late February or early March of 2012.

Dan Navarre, sole proprietor of RRM, says he has a few unsold models of some versions. So if any of these look appealing, it would be best to order them promptly. The NYC version is sold out. I learned that one of Dan’s favorite remarks is, “If you wanted that version, you should have ordered it during the reservation period.” The versions seen include the NYC, B&O, UP, NKP, GT and PRR.

The amazing part of this project is that each loco and each tender is designed and built to be “road specific” which means the detailing and features are different for each railroad being modeled. Here are some of the unique features for each version:

1. Builder’s Plates – Each loco has a builder’s plate that is correct for the actual builder. Thus, the Baldwin-built locos have a round builder’s plate; the ALCO locos have a rectangular one and the Altoona Works (PRR) have an oval one. If that was not enough, each builders plate has the exact same number as on the side of the cab. How much accuracy can we tolerate?

2. Most of the smokestacks look similar, but the B&O version is noticeably shorter and fatter. Dan assures me this is not an error, but prototypically correct.

3. Between the six locos, there are five different headlights. Each headlight is correct for the road being modeled. If that were not enough, the number boards and number plates are also correct for the prototype railroad.

4. The NKP version has the unique “front end throttle” used by no other of the six. How many in S-land know the difference between a “front end throttle” and a “dome throttle”? Ask Dan. He can explain it to you.

5. All clear vision tenders are different and each is correct for the road being modeled. The USRA standard tender has a coal pusher included which Dan says has never been done before in any scale.

6. The GT version has a very unique and interesting handrail arrangement on the front. All versions have different handrail arrangements to be correct for the road being modeled. In addition to the handrails, each loco has different piping to be correct for the road being modeled.

7. Each version has a different whistle location to be correct for the road being modeled.

8. The prototype GT version had number plates (made from sheet metal) attached to the cab sides. The RRM GT version has 3-D numbers etched into the cab sides. The thickness of the numbers can be seen and felt. No Optivisor needed.

9. The GT 0-6-0 prototype tenders had different logos for each division. The size and case (upper vs. lower) were unique for each division. RRM got it correct for the road and division being modeled.

10. The GT version has handrails on the cab roof per the prototype.

Features common to all versions are listed below:

A. All versions have working headlights, backup lights and cab lights.

B. The defacto DCC standard 9-pin connector with shorting plug is wired in place.

C. The tender floor looks like Swiss cheese to let the sound out. Customer has to put the sound in.

D. A very high quality MAXON motor was used for high torque at low rpm. Slow switching speeds should be excellent (in theory). Note: I did not operate the locos. This is a visual report only.

E. All drivers have stainless steel drivers. No more nickel-plated brass! Personally, I am very happy to see this become a new standard. Thank you to Boo-Rim (and Dan).

Dick Karnes clicked a few photos on the Bay Area S Scale (BASS) modular layout. They are included here for your visual enjoyment.

As usual, the question for RRM is now: “What’s next, Dan?”

Volume 1 No. 3, The Outhouses from Wild West Scale Model Builders

The S Scale Journal

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

“The Outhouses”

reviewed by Dick Karnes

Kit No. 317, $14.95 MSRP
Wild West Scale Model Builders
P.O. Box 1971
Englewood, CO 80150
(303) 842-6106

The kit builds two typical peaked-roof outhouses. This particular kit is front-gabled; kits for side-gabled and shed-roofed outhouses are also available (Nos. 216 and 218 [HO], No. 316 and 318 [S], same prices). As a Northern New Jersey teen-ager, I spent a fair share of my Boy Scout summer-camp time in outhouses. Even though my camp’s facilities were two-holers, I can tell you that this kit’s one-holers are quite accurate!

This is a well-conceived kit. The experienced modeler will be able to assemble one outhouse per hour, not including painting. The inexperienced modeler will learn a lot about laser-cut kits, will make a couple of mistakes, and yet will produce a model indistinguishable from that of an expert.

The two outhouses are very similar. The only differences are just two: The door of one has a diamond-shaped vent hole, whereas the other has no vent hole. Also, one outhouse has horizontal sheathing, whereas the other has vertical sheathing. Either door can be built with or without “Z” trim, and opening either left or right. You also have the option of using three blank walls or two blank walls plus a windowed wall.

A sixteenth-inch thick scribed fret contains the floor, sides, rear, front, and roof decking. Two more thirty-second-inch thick frets contain most of the rest of the laser-cut parts. Additionally, there is ample laser-cut rustic shingle material plus wood angle stock for corner caps.

Before cutting the parts from the frets, I brush-painted the parts with Floquil BN Green for the walls, door, and window sash, and Floquil Southern Green for the trim. I left the toilet seat and floor in their natural wood color.

I followed the instructions for my first outhouse. The instructions suggest installing the window sash and frame on the side, and the door frame on the front before assembling the four walls and floor. Based on my experience, I deviated from the instructions for the second outhouse. I waited until the four walls and floor were assembled before gluing the door frame in place. The reason is that you are nearly certain to break the front wall, which means that you’d also break the door frame in the process. Let me explain.

The front wall is U-shaped because of the door cut-out. As such, it is much weaker than the robust side and rear pieces, which are solid or nearly so. Furthermore, the interlocking edges of the adjacent wall sections that form the vertical corners of the structure are extremely tight – So much so that dry-fitting is not possible. You just can’t force the parts together. The solution is to use a slippery adhesive like a water-soluble white glue. I prefer Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue because it begins to set up rapidly while still allowing some adjustment, and it dries clear and non-shiny.

You will need to force-fit the adjacent wall sections together. This goes well for the rear and two sides. I was unable to get the front wall in place on either of my outhouses without breakage. The best approach is to assume it will break. Slice the front wall into two pieces before attempting to attach it. With your modeling knife, cut the front wall along the pre-scribed line nearest to one of the upper corners of the door opening, because that’s where the part will break anyway. This allows you to fit each side of the front wall to its adjacent sidewall independently. Then work a little glue into the butt joint where you made your cut to separate the front wall into two pieces.

Finally, glue the door frame in place. This piece, flimsy as it is by itself, will stiffen the front wall once it is glued in place. Then glue the floor, with toilet seat already installed on it, into the bottom of the entire wall assembly. This will “square” the building and trap the bottom of the front wall so it won’t go anywhere. Be sure to do this before the glue sets up permanently (about 20-30 minutes).

I contacted Wild West’s Mike Pyne to discuss this fit-up problem. Here is what he said:

“I started producing kits with a very calculated offset that would allow for assembly of the model without glue for a “dry-fit” as you mentioned. This allowed me a way to build a prototype structure without permanently gluing any parts so that I could change them if I needed to. It takes a lot of time to adjust all of the tabs, rather than just making the male and female parts the same in the drawing file. [This is because] when the laser cuts the parts, it burns away part of that line that it cuts, so if there is no planned offset, the pieces will fit very loosely.)

“It sounds like I might need to revisit the outhouses and check on their tab offsets! The kit should be able to have a “dry-fit” assembly, and, as you mentioned that it was not possible, there must be something wrong that I need to look at.

“On two of my upcoming not-yet-released S scale kits, I have modified the offsets just slightly. I hope this helps with the problem you describe.“

You will need to be careful with the corner-cap angle material because the four lengths are just enough for both outhouses. Instead of pre-cutting the lengths in half, I glued each uncut angle cap to the outhouse corners, flush with the bottom of the floor. Then, with a new No. 11 X-acto blade, I carefully cut the excess angle off, even with the slope of the roof. Then I did exactly the same with the second outhouse. You may have to try the angles in different corners to get sufficient length against the slanted side. The resulting shavings are miniscule.

The rustic shingle material is beautifully done. I applied mine with Aleene’s glue, which required me to be patient. This is because the last two tiers of shingle need to be trimmed at the ridge, which requires the glue to set up first. Alternatively, I could have used a thickened version of CA glue for much faster curing. Two ridge cap strips are included in the kit. I folded and glued the ridge cap in place on one outhouse. For the second, I chose to cut the individual cap shingles apart and apply them individually.

Construction of each outhouse should take about an hour for an experienced laser-cut wood kit builder, two or three times as long for a neophyte. If you are new to laser kits, this one’s the one for you. You will probably make mistakes, you will be able to recover, and you’ll get an automatic second chance to do better. And you won’t spend much money for the experience!

Volume 1 No. 2, The PRS Story

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 1 No. 2, January 18, 2012

The PRS Story

by Ed Loizeaux

PRS LogoPACIFIC RAIL SHOPS is a familiar name to S scale enthusiasts everywhere.  In the late 1980s, PRS produced and marketed a line of injection molded freight car kits of the highest quality.  Today, over 20 years later, PRS kits remain respected and sought after.  While ready-to-run has become popular these days, the PRS kits of yesterday enabled easy modification to create detailed models with many variations.  PRS kits frequently show up on eBay and at model railroad conventions and can still be obtained.

PRS cars can be grouped into four basic categories — 50’ box cars, grain car, 40’ box cars, and 40’ refrigerator cars.   One interesting aspect of these kits is the multitude of variations possible through the use of different doors (single & double), ends (square post & W post), roofs (Viking & Murphy), door types (Youngstown & Superior), ladders (7 & 8 rungs), trucks (Bettendorf, National B & ASF ride control), roof walks (wood & metal), car height (10’ & 10’6”) and other details.  All PRS kits came painted and lettered with a wide variety of road names representing a long span of years and many locales.  The level of detailing and authenticity was exceptional and represented a major step forward in the state of the art for model railroad manufacturing.

This historical recollection of PRS was sparked by an e-group question from a newcomer to S scale.  His question asked about the beginnings of PRS and a variety of answers sprouted forth – none of which were completely accurate.  Knowledge of PRS’s history was lacking — even by hobby industry insiders.  Interviews with founder Jerry Porter were conducted to learn the complete story of this interesting business venture and significant part of S scale history.

In 1985 at the NASG annual convention in Sacramento, California, John Verser and Jerry Porter were introduced to each other by a mutual friend.  They enjoyed a 3-hour breakfast meeting while discussing the model railroad business, S scale in particular, goals and aspirations.  At the end of breakfast, they decided to proceed, shook hands and PRS was born as an equal partnership.   Jerry originated the company name and John’s wife created the smoking PACIFIC RAIL SHOPS logo as her contribution to the effort.

PRS’s first S scale project was planned to be a PFE reefer, but this decision was soon changed to a 10,000 gallon tank car.  Grandt Line was contracted to make the tooling and financial deposits were made.  Unfortunately, the primary tool making employee for the PRS project at Grandt Line soon left to form his own company.  Grandt Line refunded PRS’s deposit money.  However, a new S scale A-B brake set had been completed and was simply added to Grandt Line’s catalog.  Thus, the Grandt Line A-B brake set was, in effect, the first S scale product created by PRS.

John and Jerry then set about to locate another firm to make tooling and manufacture S scale cars under contract to PRS.  Eventually they discovered FRONT RANGE PRODUCTS in Colorado and visited FRP in person.  They obtained a quotation from FRP for a 50’ box car, but it was very expensive and PRS did not proceed with FRP at that time.

Several months later, it was noticed that FRP had released several new products in HO that would be popular in S.   FRP was revisited and the tooling costs for an S scale 50’ box car were now significantly lower.   Tooling for this car had already been designed for HO, the computerized tooling CAD file already existed and converting it to S scale was much easier than creating everything from scratch.  PRS decided to accept the new lower bid and FRP began work on the 50’ box car.

Later, while inspecting a test shot for the 50’ box car, the primary tooling person at FRP let John and Jerry know he would soon be leaving FRP.  Somehow, his home phone number mysteriously ended up in the hands of PRS.  Eventually, he was on the PRS payroll.

While waiting for the completion of tooling for the 50’ box car, it was decided that Jerry would relocate with the assignment of establishing a genuine in-house tool making and manufacturing capability.  Jerry closed down his high-end stereo shop in Walnut Creek, California and soon found himself looking at the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and breathing smog-free air.

Jerry found a facility to lease and was in the process of making the final arrangements.  Unexpectedly at the last minute, the realtor approached Jerry with the news that the owner really wanted to sell the building instead of leasing it.  It turns out the building was a bank foreclosure, the seller was desperate and the bank cooperative.  Jerry negotiated a negative down payment with the bank and moved in.  Yes, the bank actually paid PRS to buy the building.  PRS now had their own 5,000 square foot structure which was literally across the railroad tracks from FRP.  A good baseball pitcher could have hit the FRP facility with a fast ball from the PRS building.

At this point, a business reorganization took place.  A new company, named INTERMOUNTAIN, was formed to design tooling and manufacture products.  Jerry Porter was in charge of IM with the charter to design and make tooling, inject molten plastic, paint, pad print, and ship parts (not kits) to PRS in Oregon.

John Verser managed PRS which was operated from his home in Oregon.   The PRS charter was to handle sales, marketing, advertising, accounting, packaging and shipping of kits (not parts) to customers.  This was the concept for the future in the minds of these two entrepreneurs.  A totally integrated model railroad company, with all functional areas under in-house control, was the ultimate objective.  Quite a vision to say the least.   PRS was equally owned by Jerry and John at this time.  Decisions regarding which prototype to model were made jointly.

The PRS 50’ box car tooling was manufactured under contract to FRP.  The tooling was then moved to IM for the injection molding and painting processes.  Jerry himself loaded the tooling into a pickup truck and drove it across the tracks to IM.  Finished painted parts were then shipped to PRS in Oregon for packaging and shipping under the PRS label.  At this time, PRS owned no factory, machinery or anything tangible except for the hard tooling for a 50’ box car.

PRS AdOne interesting story regarding the 50’ box car NYC Jade Green paint scheme pertains to a very enthusiastic modeler who was fanatical about color accuracy.  This person, who shall remain unnamed, found a brown NYC box car and climbed inside to inspect the underside of the roof.  Paint shop practices, at the time, were such that insides of roofs were frequently sprayed with excess/surplus paint where the color did not matter.  In this instance, he found genuine original NYC Jade Green paint in mint condition – unaffected by sun, rain, dust, soot or anything else.  Needless to say, the paint samples were soon in the hands of IM.

Another decoration story regards a fellow who took large sheets of tracing paper to a real box car, taped it to the side, and traced the exact outlines of the lettering and logo for IM’s use.

The experience with FRP and the 50’ box car was illuminating.  It was soon realized that computerized tool design enabled the conversion from one scale to another quite easily.  Thus, tooling designed for an HO model could be converted to an S model or O model at much less cost than ever before.  Also, it made technical sense to initially design tooling in S scale since subsequent conversion rounding errors would be minimized when converting to HO or O.

John and Jerry also made the fundamental decision to create extremely accurate and authentic models.  Their goal was to create exceptional mass-produced plastic models that would look right at home being pulled by expensive brass imported locomotives.  Eventually, they would “raise the bar” for models in all scales.

Up to now, the only S scale kit produced was the 50’ box car.  It was time to get on with the next S scale project which would be designed and manufactured in-house by IM.  Jerry and John both realized a competent computerized tooling design person was a critical need for IM.  A qualified person was recruited to join and was offered a share of ownership in IM to insure his retention.   At this point, some business reorganization took place.  Jerry sold his share of PRS to John and retained a smaller share in IM in order to make this new arrangement possible.  Now IM has three owners (with unequal amounts of stock) and a dependable qualified tooling design person.

The first IM product was a highly regarded O scale box car which was very successful.  The choice of paint for this product was thought to be rather straightforward, but disaster struck.  The first O scale box car was painted with a well-known brand of model railroad paint.  Days later it had not cured and questions were asked of the paint manufacturer.  Upon investigation it turned out the fellow mixing the paint batch forgot to add the hardener.  Groan….   From that point on, IM standardized on color customized automotive lacquer paint which matched prototype paint chips submitted by museums and modelers alike.

But what about S scale products and plans?  When would they get off the ground?

IM was interested in doing the PFE reefer in S scale.  But a persistent fellow from Minnesota kept calling and asking for a grain car.  Eventually, Ken Zieska offered to buy 300 grain cars and PRS/IM decided to consider that project.  But the quantity was not sufficient to change their plans from tooling a PFE reefer.  As time went on, Walt Danylak in Syracuse, NY learned of Ken’s interest in the grain car and contacted PRS/IM.  Walt was a NYC enthusiast and, coincidentally, the NYC was the first railroad to use these grain cars.  After some discussion, Walt offered to buy 1,000 grain cars and the deal was sealed.  Naturally, the first paint scheme out of the IM shop was the NYC version.  The grain car was sold under the PRS name, but was designed and manufactured by IM.   PRS paid for and owned the tooling as a matter of policy.

Jerry eventually hired an accountant to maintain financial records for IM.  Prior to the start of the next S project, Jerry bartered his interest in IM back to the firm in exchange for tooling and manufacture of an HO car and some cash.  Jerry then started his own new firm, INNOVATIVE MODEL WORKS, and began working on an HO project.

At this point, IM was jointly owned by John Verser, the original tooling design person and two new ex-FRP employees now on the IM payroll.   IM had recruited a second tooling person and a pad printing employee and wanted to insure their retention with stock ownership.   Over the next few years, IM’s day-to-day operations were managed by several other paid employees since Jerry was no longer a part owner.  At times, the accountant, and later his son, ran the plant.

PRS AdBy now, John was an absentee partial owner of IM and the accountant did not have S scale enthusiasm in his blood.  S scale gradually drifted to the back burner over time since the profit potential in HO and O was so much larger.  IM was willing to rerun existing S scale products, but had little interest in tooling up for new S scale products.  Profits were slim and the future was becoming less attractive.  John bartered his interest in IM back to the firm in exchange for tooling and manufacture of the PRS 40’ box cars.  As usual, PRS owned the tooling.  Eventually, the accountant had majority ownership of IM.

The PFE reefer was the final S scale product financed by and marketed under the PRS label.  This project utilized several tooling people and production companies in various locations.  The tooling and plastic injection for the body was handled by Randy Wilson in southern California.  The roof and hatches were designed and shot by another company also in southern California.  Various detail parts were created and shot by a former Grandt Line employee located in northern California.   Interestingly, this was the same person who created the original PRS/Grandt Line A-B brake set in S scale.  Several different people, including Jerry Porter at INNOVATIVE MODEL WORKS, painted and pad printed the reefers over the years.  INTERMOUNTAIN was not involved with the production of PFE reefers in S scale.  As normal, PRS owned all the reefer tooling.

PRS considered other S scale projects, but none ever quite materialized.   One potential concept was for a flat kit of a Fowler box car which would have been a dramatic departure from the usual one-piece-body-casting type of kit.  Tooling for the Fowler box car was very close to completion, but was never quite finished.  There was also thought of doing a hopper car after the PFE reefer, but that project never got beyond the contemplation stage.

Considerable thought was given to locating a Chinese firm to take over the design and manufacture of S scale products for PRS.  For a variety of reasons, a Chinese connection was never concluded.  The cost of new tooling continued to rise as time went on.

PRS continued to subcontract future production runs of existing S scale kits to IM.  Eventually that activity dwindled and John sold PRS to DES PLAINES HOBBIES several years ago.  DPH now imports ready-to-run PRS-created freight cars assembled in China under the name of S SCALE AMERICA for both the scale and AF-compatible segments of S.  The original PRS kits are no longer available except when found on eBay and other aftermarket outlets such as swap meets and conventions.

John Verser created a new company called GOLD COAST MODELS for the purpose of importing Korean-built brass models of SP cabooses.  Some of the original PRS kits were later sold under the GCM label for reasons not fully understood even to this day.

In later years, John Verser’s son, Felix, began selling his personal collection of PRS kits on eBay.  At first, the kits were brand new and complete.  Later, the trucks were not included.  Still later, the various part sprues were of different colors.  Sometimes the color of the doors did not match the color of the body.  Much later, the “last one” was up for bid.  The infamous “last one” was sold many times over much to the amusement of those who knew Felix.  Over time, this personal stash of PRS kits was reduced and depleted.

Complaints about PRS products were darn few.  One fellow up in Canada lived near the tracks and complained there was no such thing as a white maple leaf on CN box cars.  He claimed only the green leaf was correct.  After some research, PRS concluded the white leaf was indeed correct, but was only used for a couple of years by the CN before being replaced with a green leaf.  Even after this information was communicated, the complainer still maintained the white leaf never existed because,  “I have never seen one.”

Other complaints were minor and included comments about the end stirrup steps being too fragile, the brake wheel shaft being too long, grab iron holes being staggered (asymmetrical) and the box being too small to hold a finished car with couplers attached.  No matter how much effort is made, there is always something not quite right.

The PRS enterprise operated from 1985 until about 2005 – a 20-year lifespan.  During this time, tens of thousands of S scale kits were produced and sold to S enthusiasts all over the world.  John Verser personally inspected every single part and packaged every single kit during the entire lifespan of PRS.  In John’s mind, quality control was not something to be delegated.

The PACIFIC RAIL SHOPS experience is an amazing story and tribute to two ordinary fellows with a dream and a vision and the willingness to devote their time and resources to actually make it happen.  As a result of their efforts and adoption of new computerized tooling technology, the accuracy and authenticity of railroad models in all scales was vastly improved.  S scale modelers everywhere owe a huge debt of gratitude to John Verser and Jerry Porter for their accomplishments and contribution to S.

I am proud to know them and be their friend.

Ed Loizeaux
December 2011