Modeling the Ontario & Western
by Don Spiro
I want to thank John Deserto for pinch-hitting with his excellent scratchbuilding feature on the M&U's Middletown depot in the last Mountaineer.
Since my last column, not much if anything has happened in the way of specific new O&W models being released by the major manufacturers. Except of course from that all-time champion of O&W models, Al Seebach. Over at the O&W Car Shops Al has the Stewart F-3's decorated in O&W colors in single A units or AB sets. He also has a detail kit to model the pilot footboards and grab irons on the 500's. Decals for the NW's and FT's plus the eagerly anticipated laser kit for the O&W wood cabooses are close to being available as well. Feast or famine, eh?? Nice to have such a sumptuous OWENDUBYOU buffet laid out in front of us for once!! Let me go on the record by stating that in my humble opinion no one has done more for the cause of us modelers of the O&W than Al Seebach. Take away all of the models; both brass and plastic, details and decals he has produced over the past decade and a half and what would we have??? Yeah, Micro Scale's crummy sheet of less than accurate decals for the O&W and that old NKP brass caboose model from the seventies. Thanks Al for your tireless and oftentimes thankless effort and support!!!
The following are some new items that I have acquired or sampled over the past few months and feel noteworthy for O&W modelers. Accurail's USRA double sheathed boxcar is perhaps one of the finest "shake-the-box" freight car kits to appear in years. The die work is exquisite, it surpasses their previous outside braced boxcar and that is going some. The molded-on grab irons are some of the most delicate on any car. The wood siding is sharply defined and the paint jobs on the decorated versions are flawless. New to this kit is a scale thickness roof walk. My only real complaint about Accurail's previous outside braced boxcars was the roof walk being too thick in cross section. I ended up replacing the roofwalks with Tichy wood roof walks. The new roof walks on the DS cars are as fine as Tichy's.
Also new to this kit and for Accurail are Andrews trucks. These fine trucks feature the straight frame across the top of the truck rather than the drop ends over the journals as on Kadee's Andrews trucks. Assembly of this car is quick; it takes about fifteen minutes to build. Painting the trucks grimy black with a wash of rust and some weathering of the car overall will only increase the realism immeasurably. The Double Sheathed boxcars are offered in an ever-growing list of roadnames.
Speaking of USRA, Intermountain's recent USRA composite gondola marks the first commercial kit that combines the exquisite plastic castings Intermountain is famous for and "state-of-the-art" Laser Cut wood. The USRA gondola looks like the gondola version of the USRA outside braced boxcar and on Intermountain's kit, the steel side trusses and ends are cast in plastic. The wood sides and floor are done in laser cut wood. On the two cars I bought, a New York Central and a Boston & Maine, the lettering on the wood sides and plastic body line up and match perfectly in registration. Before I built the NYC car, I lightly sanded off some of the paint on the wood sides to reveal the wood and model a heavily weathered car. The realism is startling! All details like grab irons are separate castings and Andrews's trucks are included with the kit. The only item missing is a weight and ReBoxx makes weights specifically for this car or an Athearn box car weight might fit between the underframe and floor. Though this is a "craftsman" style kit, it is easy and fun to assemble and the finished car is museum quality.
With all of these new steam locomotive models being released by Athearn, Bachmann and Life-Like there is an increasing demand for sound systems, especially for those of us not wired into DCC. I had a chance to sample a new sound system by QSI called "Maxx Traxx". The unit is not an onboard system; rather, a speaker is mounted somewhere on your layout, in a structure or under the table. The unit is user friendly, the instruction book is simple and easy to understand and wiring could not be any simpler. A plug goes into the sound unit box that is smaller than an Athearn freight car box. Off of this plug are two wires that go to the AC post on your power pack, two wires that hook into the DC posts on the throttle plus two wires to the speaker. Within minutes of unpacking the unit, my railroad room was filled with the digitized sound of BIG steam. The sounds are very realistic and add an entirely new dimension to these new locomotives. Along with an ear splitting and full chuff sound, soulful whistle and realistic full-bodied bell sounds the unit has a wide range of other typical railroad sounds. These sounds are easily accessed by pushing the horn and bell buttons in a prescribed sequence. Coupler crashes, flange squealing, brake applications; single or double pumps, grade crossings and a host of other sounds are in the unit.
I have two Bachmann Consolidations and a Mountain on my railroad, each wheel arrangement having different diameter drivers. This difference in driver diameter means that the chuff rate is different on each style locomotive. The system allows you to adjust the chuff rate for any particular locomotive as well as the volume, a notable feature. If I have a criticism of the unit it is that because the speaker is not on board the locomotive, on certain style layouts it is at times apparent the locomotive is not making the sounds. My railroad goes around the room shelf style, and as a result of speaker placement, when the train is across the room from where the speaker is the sound is behind you. An island style layout is perfect for this style sound system. Additional speakers could be added around the layout to enhance the realism on a layout such as mine. Nonetheless, as my friend Rich Hedstrom of Kenvil Hobbies sez, "any sound system is better than none." He's absolutely right and this system is truly exceptional in the realism of its various sounds! A diesel system is also available and once you are wired in with either the steam or diesel you merely unplug the wiring harness and plug it into the other box to change sounds.
If the roads and commercial districts on your layout are a bit sparse in vehicles, seek out the line of HO scale die cast vehicles from Mini Metals. Detailed and finished to a level that would please even serious car model collectors, these vehicles deserve a place on your railroad. So far the line features a '41 Plymouth Coupe, a '47 Ford Woodie Wagon and top down Convertible, a '53 Ford sedan, a '55 two-tone Chevy Bel Air convertible complete with a Continental kit, a '50 Ford pick-up, a '61 Chevy Impala and a '70 Chevelle SS. Each model is offered in two colors and features multi-color paint jobs, appropriate wheels and tires and fully detailed interiors. The hoods open to reveal detailed engine compartments as well!!!! There simply are not any finished vehicles available as fine as these are with a modest price tag of around $7.99 list. The next batch about to be released will feature a tank and box version of the way cool and stylish White Buffalo cab-over truck.
While I haven't seen or used it yet, NWSL has announced a new improved version of the Chopper, an indispensable tool for scratchbuilding. It appears from photos that the cutting arm on this improved version pivots to any angle in a 180° range. On the old Chopper, you used two templates that only offered a total of four angles to cut angles in strip wood or styrene. This improved version looks to be a winner and I'm looking forward to giving one a try.
And in closing, as you read this we are one day closer to the release of Bachmann's Russian Decapod. While not an O&W locomotive, one lettered Susquehanna or Erie would fit on any O&W layout. Remember, the O&W was contracted to do heavy repairs on the Suskie's Deks at Middletown and there was the M&U connection with the Susquehanna at Hanford. I am sure too that the Erie Russians rolled past the M&U depot at Middletown on more than one occasion. This is a great time to be in this hobby; the amount of new product and the choices are almost staggering!