Volume 4 No. 2, How a New Product was Developed for S Scale

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 4 No. 2, March 16, 2015

How a New Product
was Developed for S Scale

by John Gibson

The Sunkist Citrus Fruit Shed Kit –

In 2006, the NASG underwrote a run of a Sunkist citrus shed kit in S scale.  The story behind this kit, manufactured by Showcase Miniatures, is just one example of how a new product was brought to S scale.  It’s a recipe that others have followed successfully, and you can do it too.

I live in the Sacramento area of northern California, along the original transcontinental right-of-way built by the Central Pacific Railroad (which became the Southern Pacific).  In the first half of the 20th century, the area was one of the largest producers of pears and plums.  Each year between 1953 and 1956, the SP handled more than 10,000 carloads of pears and 2,500 carloads of plums.  Almost all this fruit was transported by the SP in Pacific Fruit Express (PFE) refrigerator cars.

The S scale model railroad that I’m planning is based on this industry.  To this end, I’ve been researching how the fruit was processed for PFE shipment to distant markets.  Generally, the fruit was picked in the orchards and transported by truck to packing sheds located on sidings along the SP right-of-way.  Once at the packing sheds, the fruit was graded, washed, wrapped, and packed into crates.  The crates were then loaded onto pre-cooled PFE reefers for shipment.  To replicate this traffic on my railroad, I will need to model several of the area’s packing sheds.

My research has located photographs of several of the packing sheds that I intended to use as a guide to scratch-build or kit-bash these buildings.  However, I’ve been unable to locate pictures of all the packing sheds.  So I’m always on the lookout for suitable model structures to use in the meantime.

In September 2005, one of the Yahoo e-groups that focus on the citrus industry announced that Joe Warren, owner of Showcase Miniatures, had just released an HO laser-cut low-relief building kit based on the Sunkist San Fernando Heights Orange Association packing house.  I Googled the Showcase Miniatures website to take a look at the kit, and was immediately impressed.  I thought it would work well for my purposes as built and as a base for a kitbash.  I also thought the structure could double as a warehouse or an industrial building.

(Note:  “Low-relief” structures, often referred to as two-and-a-half-dimensional, are generally meant to be placed against a layout’s backdrop.  They have partial-depth walls perpendicular to their front faces, and no rear walls.  When placed in context with other closely spaced structures on an industrial siding, the lack of complete depth is not noticeable.)

I contacted Joe Warren to see if he would be agreeable to producing the kit in S scale, and if so, what he required for production.  I was pleasantly surprised when Joe enthusiastically responded that the kit could be easily converted to S scale and that he was interested in producing the kit if I could guarantee 50 orders.  We discussed the size of the finished model and the estimated cost.  One of the advantages of this project was that I knew I could front the cost of the entire project, and thus guarantee the minimum numbers Joe required to do the work.

Once the preliminaries were completed, I set about gathering orders for the project.  I advertised the kit on the S-Scale and S-Trains Yahoo e-groups.  I also got promotional pieces printed in the “NASG Dispatch,” the “S Gaugian,” and “1:64 Modeling Guide.”  If I were doing this project today, I would also advertise in the S Scale Resource and of course on the NMRA S Scale SIG Forum.

In about a month I had 25 orders.  Then in October, NASG President Sam McCoy contacted me to discuss the project’s history and to see if I had any commitments for orders.  Sam then told me that NASG Board of Trustees might be interested in investing in the project and wanted to know if I would be willing to turn the project over to the board.  I quickly agreed, and the NASG board approved the project.  The plan was for the NASG to buy the initial run of 50 kits for sale to NASG members, and to handle the logistics regarding these orders.

The NASG Board assigned Western VP Gerry Evans as project manager.  I turned everything over to Gerry; then all I had to do was wait for the building kits to be produced.  After Gerry worked with Joe Warren on some minor modifications, the citrus shed kits were rolled out in the summer of 2006.

In addition to getting buildings I needed for my railroad, I learned the following about getting a new product made for S scale:

  • It’s very important that the manufacturer wants to produce a product for S scale.  Joe Warren was looking for a project to test the S scale market; I was lucky enough to approach him at this time.
  • It really helps if the item has never been produced in S scale before.  For example, I thought the citrus shed could also double for a machine shop or a warehouse.  When I was gathering reservations, I found that I was not the only person who thought that way.  Customers were also telling me the same thing about the potential to use the building for other uses than a citrus shed.
  • A new project has to be aggressively promoted in every venue read by S gaugers to get the word out and the orders rolling in.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!  Many projects fail because the vendor can’t figure out how to reach us!
  • You have to have thick skin because some folks like going negative and are going to tell you every reason why the project will not succeed.  Even worse, these Negative Nellies will want to share their opinions, which can hurt the project as well as put a negative light on S scale in general.

I was lucky that the building caught the eye of the NASG Board and that they picked up the cost and logistical work for the orders, but I was prepared to buy the whole run because I wanted the building.  As such, I had to be prepared to do whatever was needed to sell what I did not need.  For example, I knew that I would likely have to sell several kits to the hi-rail crowd.  So I was prepared to offer a built version (which I was going to build).  Fortunately, thanks to the NASG, I did not have to offer kit-building services.

I am glad to see that this process is still occurring in S scale and that people are taking the initiative to bring new products to S.

Editor’s Addendum

A couple of other examples are worth noting.  S scale New York Central fan Ed Loizeaux noticed that Model Memories was producing very delicate photoengraved brass kits for HO models of the graceful cantilever signal bridges that were the standard along the NYC’s Hudson Division.  Ed negotiated a minimum order quantity with Model Memories (MM) and got his signal bridges.  Ed’s personal requirement met the minimum; however, MM continues to offer these S scale kits in its inventory.

For a long time, American Models (AM) offered its rib-side twin coal hopper cars in only one NYC livery – black.  The black color scheme appeared on the prototype after the time frame that I personally model (1955).  I needed a freight car red version within a particular car-numbering range.  I asked AM’s Ron Bashista if he would to the red version, and if so, what was his minimum order quantity.  His answer was yes he would, with a minimum quantity of 25.  So I polled the Yahoo S-Scale e-group’s members for interest and came away with commitments for 27 red hopper cars.  AM then produced the cars, and afterward added them to their standard product line.

Volume 4 No. 1, Gilmaur Etched Brass U18B Diesel Body Kit

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 4 No. 1, February 18, 2015

Gilmaur Etched Brass U18B Diesel Body Kit

by Dick Karnes

The S scalers at February 2015’s O Scale West Plus S meet in Santa Clara CA were pleasantly surprised to see the American debut of a new brass kit from the United Kingdom. Mike Calvert was there, off in an O scale corner, displaying the new Gilmaur etched brass kit for an S scale U18B. Mike did the etching drawings; his friend Colin Stewart assembled the pilot model.

The kit consists of brass etchings, cast white-metal components, an envelope of machine screws and nuts, and a detailed instruction booklet. Detailing parts must be supplied by the modeler, e.g., handrail wire, grab irons, windshield wipers, door handles, coupler lift bars and brackets, and various items specific to the particular prototype road being modeled. Most of these can be obtained from BTS. The modeler also needs to provide a motor, power train, and power trucks and sideframes. Prototype U18B locomotives sported a variety of truck sideframes, but AAR Type B (as on American Models RS-3 trucks) and EMD Blombergs were most common.

The hood, radiator grid, and underframe stiffeners are pre-formed. All other brass parts are flat, reverse-etched with bend grooves for easy, crisp bending to the required angle. Where appropriate, the etchings are designed for slot-and-tab placement of the components (e.g., step treads) for soldering. Handrail stanchions are also included, etched to represent the prototype’s U-shaped cross-section. These are particularly fragile; Mike recommends tinning the rears of the stanchions with solder before removing them from the fret in order to provide added stiffness.

Two kinds of motor mounts are provided: One U-shaped set for mounting American Models-type trucks that require a mounting nut high up inside the hood, and another set for under-the-floor power trucks such as Black Beetle and the forthcoming Jim King/NWSL Stanton drive.

You need soldering skills to assemble the model. A soldering iron is the minimum requirement. However, if I were to build this model, I would prefer to use a 140-watt trigger-operated soldering gun for the lighter work such as installation of steps, stanchions, and smaller details.

Retail price: $200 USD (check or PayPal), including shipping. Contact Mike Calvert (mike.calvert@btinternet.com) to order.

Volume 3 No. 2, CNR Montreal Locomotive Works FPA-2 #6706

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 3 No. 2, August 11, 2014

Canadian National Railway
Montreal Locomotive Works
FPA-2 #6706
(Road Class MPA-16a)

by Dick Karnes

The Prototype

In 1955, under license from the American Locomotive Company (Alco), Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) built six FPA-2 diesel locomotives and six matching FPB-2 units for hauling CNR passenger trains. These locomotives were essentially FA-2 diesels with the addition of a steam generator. The Canadian units also had features for cold-weather operation, most obviously winterization hatches.

Ditch lights were added later; the units did not have these when built. (See black-and-white MLW builder’s photos). I modeled the as-built configuration, as my layout is circa 1955. The paint job is also per the original, with green handrails and black kickplates. (Note the differences between the builder’s photos [B&W] and the later color photo.)

The Model

The loco started out as a lot of “stuff,” primarily a powered AM FP-7 chassis, an American Models Alco FA shell from a swap meet that some inexperienced modeler had severely damaged while trying to add a second headlight opening, and a bag of SouthWind Alco FA/FB detailing parts.

I referred quite often to James Whatley’s article on converting an HO FA-2 to a CNR FPA-4 in the January 2013 Railroad Model Craftsman. I relied heavily on this article for suggestions on how and what to do to create my loco. A chat with Andy Malette confirmed that the rear features and color of the FPA-2 and FPA-4 were identical.

Superstructure (see unpainted model photos)

I did a lot of work on the carbody. The unpainted model photos pretty much highlight what I did. All the brass parts were from the SouthWind FA/FB detailing kit. Handrails above the coupler lift bars, and the lift bars themselves, are formed from .020″ steel wire. The cab awning is a piece of styrene sheet. The stainless-steel Farr Grilles are a Des Plaines Hobbies product, intended for EMD units. I narrowed them with a coarse bastard file in order to fit the FPA-2 grille areas.

I filled in the rear of the pilot (on both sides) with .060″ styrene to achieve the correct prototype contour. I also filled in the second headlight hole in the nose with .060″ styrene and faired it in with Squadron Green plastic body filler. You can see more of the green stuff used to repair dings on other parts of the carbody.

The winterization hatch as well as the flat platform “thingy” were built up of layers of styrene sheet, files, sanded, and filled to achieve the correct contours according to the RMC article. The larger of the two vents over the train heat boiler (rear of roof) is an O scale trolley car pole retriever. The smaller vent is an S scale coach lavatory vent. The grab at the left rear of the roof is another piece of formed .020″ steel wire.

Lift rings and wipers are from the SouthWind FA/FB detailing kit. The diaphragm striker plate and the modified horn cluster are from an Overland E-unit parts pack. With the exception of the Pacific Rail Shops ladder, the rest of the rear-end details are from the SouthWind FA/FB detailing kit.

The front coupler in the unfinished photos, a San Juan Car Co. “Evolution” coupler, was replaced after painting. Both couplers are now Kadee #808s.

Chassis (see unpainted model photos)

I replaced the AM Blomberg sideframes with SouthWind AAR Type B sideframes built from parts in the SouthWind FA/FB detailing kit. The fuel tank is built up of styrene sheet overlaid on the AM chassis’s underfloor fuel tank. The various bolts and clean-out plugs are from the SouthWind FA/FB detailing kit. The fuel level indicator on the left side of the tank was made from a brass relief valve from a SouthWind A-B brake set plus a length of brass wire. The fuel pipes on the front left of the tank are simply formed brass rod. The side steps are from the original FA carbody shell.


I used the color prototype photo as a guide for painting and lettering. All paint is Scale Coat, airbrushed. The first coat is CNR yellow, no longer available in the US. I sent the completed body shell to Andy Malette, who sprayed the entire carbody with the correct CNR yellow. When I got it back, the masking began. Next came CNR green, which I had, thanks to the NASG’s CNR Pullman Car remediation program of some years ago. I masked the yellow, including the striping, and oversprayed the green.
Then I masked again for the black, including the thin one-inch black stripes that divide the green from the yellow along the bottom of the carbody.

After peeling off the masking tape and letting the paint cure for a week, I began decaling. I had a lot of striping left over from the NASG remediation program, so I used the stripes of yellow bordered with black to finish the black stripe wherever yellow meets green. Curves in the stripes were achieved by repeated applications of decal solvent accompanied with teasing the stripe segments with a No. 11 X-acto blade. Some of the black striping done by masking was rather ragged, so the decal stripes were overlaid on these to clean up the look. The sharpest curves were not outlined with these leftover passenger-car stripes (but see next paragraph).

The lettering and herald came from a Black Cat decal set for CNR diesel units. Also, portions of the black “O” in “National” were cut and fitted to the sharply curved color boundaries.
Finally, the handrails were all repainted by hand with CNR green, per the color prototype photo. A cardstock mask behind each handrail served to protect the carbody color from paintbrush mishaps. Then the entire body shell was given an overspray of Floquil “Flat Finish.”

Clear plastic windows, lenses, and number board decals were applied last; the number boards were then hand-brushed with clear nail polish.

The chassis was next. I masked the couplers as well as everything above the floor, then painted the entire chassis with a spray can of Floquil Grimy Black. Then I removed the truck cover plate/sideframe assemblies, separately painted the wheels, and cleaned the treads with lacquer thinner.

Parts Breakdown

Scratchbuilt Parts:
Fuel Tank
Big square thing on roof
Winterization hatch
Cab awnings
Various hand grabs
Front coupler lift bars
Stock Commercial Parts:
Truck sideframes (kit)
Door handles
Rear handgrabs
Cooling coils
Back-up light fixture
Fuel tank cleanout plugs
Rear coupler lift bars and hangers
Roof lift rings (“U”s)
Rear end lift rings
Flag stanchions
Bolt heads
Fuel tank clean-out plugs
Windshield wipers
Lav vent
Hose cocks and gladhands
Overland diaphragm striker plate
Kadee #808 couplers
American Models clear plastic sprue (windows etc.)
Pacific Rail Shops ladder
MV lenses (back-up light, classification lights)
Black Cat decals
Clouser trolley pole retriever
NCE DCC decoder
Modified Commercial Parts:
Overland horn cluster
BTS relief valve
Des Plaines Farr grilles
American Models:
Powered FP-7 chassis
Carbody molding
ACC (super glue)
Brass rod
Squadron Green plastic body filler
Sheet styrene
Liquid plastic cement
Steel music wire
Electrical wire
Wire insulation (for hoses)

Volume 3 No. 1, Bill Young’s Southern Pacific

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 3 No. 1, July 23, 2014

Bill Young’s Southern Pacific

by Dick Karnes Photos and drawing by the author except as noted

Background and Concept

Bill Young earned his civil engineering degree from Stanford University in 1963. He is now a retired general engineering contractor living in St. Helena, CA, summering in Mt. Shasta, where he has his layout. In the winter he builds equipment for his layout; in summer he installs it. It’s not really a surprise, given his background, that Bill’s first love is bridges. The layout is designed as a showcase for Bill’s bridges.

Bill’s Espee is an around-the-wall layout in a dedicated 10 x 24 room, essentially the size of a one-car garage. The layout consists of one single-track loop and one double-track loop that both converge on the town of Dunsmuir CA. There are ten totally scratchbuilt bridges ranging from wood trestles to steel trusses to a three-track motorized bascule bridge that incorporates electronic sound effects recorded from a real motorized bridge. By “totally scratchbuilt,” I mean that Bill fabricated every individual structural member, e.g., laced girders and columns, piece by piece from sheet and strip stock.

This layout is actually Bill’s second. He met fellow Californian Lee Johnson between layouts. Lee suggested that one of the loops in the new layout should be separate from the other two for better scenic effect. Lee also helped design the Dunsmuir yard that ties everything together and makes the layout functional.

Bill does his layout construction projects in the winter half of the year, in St. Helena. When he and his wife move up to Shasta for the summer season, he takes his newly completed projects with him to install on the layout. The entire town of Dunsmuir on Bill’s layout, consisting of two 1’x 6′ sections and one 1’x 3′ section, were built in the winter and installed end to end on the layout. Dunsmuir Yard and all the bridges were likewise built in the winter season in St. Helena, then schlepped north and installed on the layout.

Bill’s friend Diana Woods, a professional artist, painted the backdrops. Eric Tiegel did all the electrical work – last!! Layout power is NCE DCC. And “every stinking foot [of track] is hand-laid” by Bill.

Bill’s work has been published many times, including the NASG Dispatch, S Gaugian, Model Railroader, and two BASS (Bay Area S Scalers) calendars. His three-track bascule bridge won First Place at Sacramento’s 2011 NASG National Convention.

Bill Young’s Southern Pacific Gallery

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