Thursday, March 5, 2015

Getting Serious About Repowering Seventies-Era Brass

What's in that miter box? Just a rare, sentimental brass train
 from the seventies, soon to be hacked apart in a miter box 
With good progress on catenary and my workbench kinda sorta tamed, I've turned to my most ancient South Shore project, my Nickel Plate Products Modernized 80' Coach and Combine.

I bought both of these models in 1978, when I was still in middle school in Indiana. Naturally, my parents, siblings, neighbors, friends, and parish members were positively horrified that I plunked down fifty bucks for each of these beauties. The impracticality of these models for a brand new model railroader was underscored by their unpaintedness and their poor running. These models would barely make it around my 4x7 layout without stalling or surging, and making a hamster wheel-like cacophony.

Serious remotoring gear: Digital calipers
and Proxxon motor tool with drill press/
milling stand. I figured that if this rig
can be hacked into an actual CNC machine
tool, it might be precise enough for putting
hacking and boring into rare, expensive
brass model trains.
Proud as I was--and still am--of these brass treasures, I was learning then what many experienced model railroaders of a certain age know all to well: expensive brass trains of the seventies and eighties ran very, very poorly. Awful motors, slip-prone drive lines, noisy gears, poor electrical pickup, and inadequate and poorly balanced weight made many brass models beautiful-looking creampuffs. They also are ill-suited to DCC.

These NPP South Shore cars need new power trucks, reliable all-wheel pickup, and significant additional weight to meet modern performance expectations. Up-to-date lighting is also a minimum requirement.

I acquired a couple of Northwest Short Line Stanton drives over the past year or so for these two old cars. Test fits of these drives over the past few days made it clear that some serious cutting and filing and hacking would be necessary to get the Stantons into the NPP cars.

Cutting and filing and hacking my beloved old brass South Shore cars.

Repowering is getting serious.

I've been anticipating this serious moment for a few months, and have been accumulating correspondingly serious accoutrements of repowering. Digital micrometers are a fixture of many repowering articles on the web, and were cheaper than I thought. I wonder now what took me so long to add this miracle tool to my workshop. Amazon, Ebay, and MicroMark have numerous different digital micrometers on offer.

A miniature drill press was another must-have repowering tool, and some milling and grinding capabilities on the side would be a bonus. My workbench space is limited, so having a separate motor tool, drill press, and mill would not be practical. I homed in on the Proxxon motor tool system. This German-made motor tool system is known for it precision and high quality, as well as its standardized collar, which makes it a favorite for the 'maker' community to adapt to homemade computer-controlled machine tools. I'm not planning to start using CNC techniques for my model railroading (not yet anyway) but the Proxxon drill press/milling stand uses this unique collar for to transform the Proxxon motor tool into an extremely stable, precise, and versatile machine tool. It is also extremely quiet. My Proxxon rig came from Amazon.

The micrometer and the Proxxon rig are helping do more precise work, but they still haven't made it any easier to cut, drill, and hack a beloved old brass train.