Christopher Brimley updated June 21, 2011


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  • Modeling New York Central's Erie-Builts

    by John Welther

    Photos by the author

    Its summer 1959 as a New York Central freight rolls through southwestern Illinois. The re-engined Erie-built is running out the last few years of service before being traded in.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 28

    Immediately following WWII, dieselization became a priority with Americas railroads. New York Central was among the roads to quickly realize the benefits of the diesel-electric locomotive. When compared to a steam locomotive the operational costs were more economical.

    Fairbanks-Morse was one of the builders that New York Central turned to at this time of transition to dieselization. The Centrals first order with F-M was for a pair of 1,000hp switchers in December of 1946. Nearly a year later NYC acquired its first two 2,000hp Erie-Built freight locomotives, numbered 5000 and 5001, for high-speed freight service on their hot-shot Pacemaker. NYC designated these units Class DFA-5A. These first two units rode on fabricated trucks but later received the Commonwealth cast-steel trucks common to later NYC Erie-Builts. Between December 1948 and February 1949 NYC acquired ten more A-units and two B-units. These became NYC Class DFA-5B (cab units) and DFB-5A (boosters). These locomotives rode on Commonwealth caststeel trucks and were numbered 5002-5101. At the time these locomotives were manufactured the Fairbanks-Morse factory did not have the capacity to build a locomotive of this size so their construction was subcontracted to General Electric in Erie, PA, hence the name "Erie-Built".

    In the late 1950s NYC began re-powering many of their Fairbanks-Morse locomotives with EMD prime movers. This was mainly due to the costly maintenance of FMs opposed-piston engine. In 1957 four of the Erie-Builts were re-engined with EMD 567C engines rated at 1,750 horsepower. While the balance of the Erie-Builts were retired in 1960, the re-powered units remained in service until April 1963.

    The Erie-built, assisted by a re-engined C-Liner, couples back up to its train.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 29

    The Model

    I began with the Life-Like Proto 1000 model decorated for New York Central in the classic "Lightning Stripe" scheme. Since Life-Like does such a superb job of painting and lettering their models I felt it was pointless to decorate it myself. As the model comes from the factory, it best represents the Pennsylvania Railroads version of the Erie-Built. The horn and the recesses at the rear of the model are indicators of this, and I made the appropriate changes to reflect an NYC version.

    Typically, the Proto 1000 (P1K) line of models come with molded-on handrails. I began by carefully removing this detail on the model. Since I was modeling a locomotive with an EMD prime mover I also removed the exhaust stacks. The horn was removed as well. Next I highlighted the frame around the windows of the cabs sides by brush-painting them Aluminum.

    The Commonwealth cast-steel locomotive trucks have a brake cylinder mounted over each axle journal. The P1K model only has them mounted over the outboard axles. It appears the reason Life-Like made the trucks this way is because the sideframes are a bit too thick and having a cylinder over the center journal, particularly behind the cab ladder steps, would restrict the trucks swing motion, causing derailments on a curve. I found some suitable brake cylinders in my scrap box. I think Train Station Products made them. I also feel that brake cylinders from an Athearn Dash 9/AC4400 would work as well. To enable the model to operate without derailing, the mounting plate of the brake cylinder was removed. The brake cylinders were then mounted over the center journals in the appropriate orientation by studying photos of the prototype.

    Front view of model showing some of the added details prior to painting.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 30

    I finished detailing the truck sideframes by adding a speed recorder and an ATS (Automatic Train Stop) shoe to the front truck. The speed recorder was installed over the left front wheel journal, and the ATS shoe was installed on the right rear journal. A small piece of wire from the speed recorder drive was applied to the ATS shoe with CA. Details West (DW) makes the only ATS shoe of which Im aware. This part represents a style used primarily by the Santa Fe, but rather than fabricate my own I went with the DW part for convenience. Its close enough for my taste until another one comes out. The sideframes were then painted with Polly Scale Steam Power Black.

    Detailing the body shell was next. I fabricated two sheet metal patches from .005 styrene sheet and applied them to the area where the original exhaust stacks had been. By studying photos of re-engined Erie-Builts I determined the location for the exhaust stacks and applied the EMD non-turbo-style stacks in those locations. I applied grabirons with nut-bolt-washer (NBW) castings over the windshield. Ladder grabs with NBW castings were applied to the sides of the nose, and straight grabirons were applied at both sides on top of the pilot shroud. I used 14" grabs bent to make them represent dropstyle ones at the back of the body. A backup light was applied to the left side of the back of the body. MU hoses and air hoses were applied to the front and rear of the model. Filler pieces of .020 styrene sheet were cut and applied to the recessed areas on the sides at the back of the body. I made a small, square plate of .005 sheet styrene, which was applied at the top of the left rear recess filler piece. These replacement panels were painted black, and the lightning stripe was re-applied using a decal piece from Microscales NYC cab diesel set. The indicator decals for the No. 2 end were also used.

    Next was the air horn detailing. The horns on the NYC Erie-Builts had a long narrow tube ending in the flared bell. I wasnt able to find a detail part to match this style of horn so I scratch-bashed my own. The first version I fabricated was too fragile, and while I was showing the model in its construction phase to my friend, Dave Davis, he suggested an alternative method, which provided better strength. The air horns were made using horn detail pieces from an InterMountain F-unit kit. I used the mounting bracket for a single chime and the bells from this kit. The bells are the second largest size from the IM detail sprue. A hole was drilled into the face of the horn mounting bracket to accept a piece of small-diameter brass tubing. Once the tubing was mounted to the bracket, a piece of .015 brass wire was inserted into the brass tube to create a mounting pin for the bell. A hole was drilled through the bell, and then it was slid onto the wire and glued together with CA.

    These two views show the model with all the added details (minus the hand rails) and modifications prior to touch-up painting.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 31

    After modeling a P1K C-Liner I admired the beautiful castings that were done for the handrails. Rather than make my own handrails for the Erie-Built, I checked with Life-Like to see if they had the C-Liner handrails available separately. As luck would have it they were able to provide me with a set. Since these were intended for the C-Liner the mounting varied slightly from how they are applied to the Erie-Built. For the most part I drilled holes in the top locations for the handrails and mounted them to the body while cementing them to a contact point on the lower area. The short handrails at the rear had to be shortened to properly fit that area of the model.

    At this stage the body and chassis were re-assembled and a pair of Kadee No. 58 scale couplers were installed. The couplers were brush-painted with Floquil Rail Brown. The added details were brushpainted with Polly Scale Steam Power Black. The re-assembled model was then airbrushed with a formula I call Road Grime. This is a combination of Floquil weathering colors containing Grime, Dust, Rail Brown and Grimy Black thinned 90%. Once the completed model had sufficient time to dry I applied cab wind deflectors to each side of the cab. The model was then ready to place into service.


    New York Central System Diesel Locomotives by William D. Edson with H. L. Vail and C. M. Smith.

    Fairbanks-Morse Locomotives in Color by Jim Boyd.

    Erie-Builts and H20-44s by David R. Sweetland.


    I wish to give a special thanks to fellow modeler and "St. Louis Mob" member Dave "Madman" Davis for our brainstorming sessions.

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1 comment
  • Mark Hill likes this
  • Jerry LaBoda
    Jerry LaBoda One down side to the Life-Like scheme... it is the passenger scheme. The freight scheme used black with the stripes.
    June 25, 2011