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  • Adding a V&O Connection to Your Operations

    by Larry Puckett

    Photos by the author

    V&O FA2 242 waits on the interchange track after making the run in from Afton.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 32

    V&O Operations

    I have always loved the Virginian and Ohio Railroad; after all it offers classic locomotives muscling long trains through rugged scenery. Furthermore, how can you not appreciate a railroad that began dieselizing immediately after World War II yet ran steam locomotives into the late 1950s, and was one of the last major railroads to operate classic EMD and ALCO cab and hood units? As an operating railroad it moves large quantities of traffic across its north-south bridge-line route, while generating coal and other traffic online. It has a long history that offers a wide variety of modeling opportunities for model railroaders.

    Much of the popularity of the V&O can be traced to the efforts of well-known model railroader Allen McClelland and his magnificent Virginian and Ohio layout. Unfortunately Allens V&O no longer exists, although he is currently building another one in his new home. Allen is known as quite an innovator among model railroaders for his development of walk-around control, good-enough modeling, and prototypical operations. Its the latter innovation that is of particular interest to me - operating a model railroad as a complete transportation system, instead of as an isolated "pike".

    Part of his complete transportation system concept was connections to the outside world that Allen included in his operations through interchange and transfers runs. His original V&O layout provided connections to the CB&O, D&S, KC&B, VM, AM, GV, and the OM&SS, requiring interchange and transfer runs with all of them. Interchange and transfer runs can add a lot of interest and realism to operations on any model railroad, large or small. However, to maintain the illusion of realism you need to have some locomotives and a caboose for the railroads with which you want to interchange. Okay, maybe not every railroad, since you can operate interchange tracks just like any other industrial siding. But to make things interesting wouldn't it be great to have a couple trains a day pull into your main yard behind a consist of blue V&O F-units with a bright red V&O caboose bringing up the rear!

    In planning the operations for my Piedmont Southern Railway I wanted to include similar interchange and transfer operations. In addition to my Southern locos I started purchasing and painting models for other local roads that operated in the general vicinity, such as the C&O, N&W, VGN and the SAL (okay, the SAL may be a bit of a stretch). After a visit to Allen McClellands V&O a few years ago I decided to add a set of V&O diesels and a caboose for transfer runs to and from his Afton, VA, yard. Then that project went on the back burner as I worked on the layout. Over Christmas 2002 though, my interest in the V&O resurfaced when I found my old artwork for the V&O decals - that rekindled the fire.

    Which Units to Model?

    As I said earlier, the V&O offers a variety of freight locomotives to model. One interesting option would have been to use a steam loco like one of the V&O's 2-8-0, 2-10-0, or 2-8-2s. Since the V&O ran steam into 1958 they would fit within my era, and I may eventually add one to my roster. For me, however, the blue cab units, including FTs, F3s, F7s and FA2s epitomize the V&O. One important observation about the V&O cab units was the unmistakable family resemblance even between units from different manufacturers such as ALCO and EMD. Part of the reason for this family resemblance is that this is a case of form following function. Accordingly, the V&O shops applied the same equipment, such as grabirons, MU hoses and lift rings in approximately the same locations to meet the same needs.

    V&O F3A 229 provided the other half of the interchange consist.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 33

    Since I had an undecorated Stewart F3A and Life-Like FA2 on hand I was ready to go. However, I still had to come up with a caboose for the transfer runs. The V&O in the 1950s had a large roster of older Santa Fe-style cabooses painted a classic caboose red, and new bay window cabooses painted in the later blue paint scheme. Being something of a traditionalist, I decided to go with the red caboose. This was a fortuitous choice since I was at a train show and was able to pick up one of the new Athearn Santa Fe caboose models. These are the same cabooses Allen used for his models but with recently updated details such as cast plastic handrails and styrene window glass inserts. One of my goals in this project was to use some of the highest quality models and detail parts that were not available when Allen developed most of his early diesel roster, to in essence bring V&O modeling up to current standards. With the models selected and on hand it was finally time to get out the glue and detail parts.

    Details for the FA2

    To begin this project I used medium- and fine-grade sanding sticks to remove the mold-parting lines on the nose, which are quite apparent. With that done, the next big project was adding dynamic brakes and the correct exhaust stack to the FA2. My model was one of the early release units that came without dynamic brakes. However, in the most recent release of these units some had them, so you can save yourself a little work if you can find one. Assuming you end up with a non-dynamic unit, heres how to fix it. The good news is that Cal-Scale (CS) makes a nice dynamic brake casting (CS 461-462) in both plastic and brass. The bad news is that these castings are not made to be surface mounted you have to cut a rectangular hole in the roof in which to mount them. I centered the casting in the proper location on the roof and traced its outline on the shell. Using a #11 knife blade I cut an opening in the roof slightly smaller than the outline of the dynamic-brake insert. I made the opening smaller since its a lot easier to enlarge the opening to get a good fit, than it is to try to fill large gaps with an oversized opening. To enlarge the opening I filed it with a large flat file, checking the fit periodically. Once I had a friction fit, I installed the plastic casting and flowed in a little Ambroid liquid cement from the inside.

    The nose of the FA2 has a number of important details that give the cab diesels a strong family resemblance. Those big lift rings add a strong utilitarian appearance.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 34

    The other big change to the FA2 shell involved replacing the exhaust stack. Actually, in the first release of FA2s the model makers created a totally odd part, which looked sort of like an old rug beater, for the exhaust. I removed it and filled the hole with putty, sanded that flat, drilled a hole and glued on the correct CS 460 turbo-exhaust casting. After that I removed all the plastic lift rings and installed metal Detail Associates (DA) 1106 in their place. The horn was also wrong, so I removed it, puttied the hole, drilled new holes and installed some plastic horns left over from Stewart F-units. If you dont have any of these then a Custom Finishing (CF) 215 would be a good choice. Moving to the rear of the unit I added Details West (DW) 295 MU hose clusters and a DW 162 backup light I added the MV Products (MV) 25 lens after painting and weathering were completed. I just eyeballed the locations based on photographs.

    The nose and engineers side of the nose required the largest number of details. To begin with, I drilled a hole on each side of the nose door and installed a DW lift ring, left over from a DW 309 super detail kit, with a drop of CA cement. As a substitute you could use a DA 1102 lift ring. Its important to install these first in order to accurately place the grabirons that are installed above them. I drilled #77 holes for these grabs, then created a pair using .015 diameter wire, and glued them in place with a touch of CA cement. Next I moved down to the pilot and drilled mounting holes for the DW 295 MU hoses and one for the DW 267 train line air hose. I left the small plastic grabs on the anticlimber. To finish off the nose I used a #17 knife blade to remove the cast-on class lights, then drilled #53 holes so that later I could mount MV 22 lenses.

    On the engineers side of the cab, I left the cast plastic grabs in place since they are a reasonably nice, if not a bit oversized, casting. Most of the other details here involve the grabs that provide crew access to the top of the nose. The long step located directly in front of the cab door needs to be installed first since it provides an important reference for locating the grabirons. I made mine from a piece of .060 styrene angle (Evergreen 291) that I glued in place using a little CA cement. I then installed a DA 2202 drop grab right on the curve of the nose in front of the left windshield frame and then another grab halfway between the first one and the long step. Using .015 brass wire I made a long hand grab and installed it under the left cab window. Finally, I installed three equally spaced DA 2225 straight grabs on the nose in front of the windshield. I eyeballed the locations of all these, making sure to keep everything level and symmetrical.

    I included this side-by-side photo of the completed engineers side of both the FA2 and F3A to emphasize the strong family resemblance created by the various appliances. Note the wiper-blade patterns on the windshields.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 35

    Details for the F3A

    I began the F3A in much the same way as the FA2 by sanding the mold parting lines on the nose. After that I moved to the roof where I drilled #77 holes in the dimples cast into the shell and installed DA 2206 lift rings with a drop of CA cement. I installed the same horns on the roof that I used on the FA2. After that I drilled holes for windshield wipers and long grabs over the windshield. Although I held off on installing the wipers until after painting, I did bend a pair of grabs from .015 diameter brass wire and installed them. The rear of the F3A required a bit more work than that of the FA2 since it does not come with a diaphragm. First I put together an American Limited 9910 diaphragm and installed it over the rear door. I then installed a DW 162 backup light to the left of the door and lift rings over the door. The lift rings I used were left over from a DW 309 super detail set and are not listed separately in their catalog. As a substitute you could use a DA 1102 set.

    The nose of the F3A got the same treatment as the FA2. I drilled a hole on each side of the nose door and installed a DW lift ring. I then drilled #77 holes for the grabs above the lift rings, created a pair using .015 diameter wire, and glued them in place with a touch of CA cement. On the pilot I drilled mounting holes for the DW 295 MU hoses and one for the DW 267 train line air hose. I drilled out the dimples and installed handmade .015 brass wire grabs on the anticlimber. For the coupler cut lever I made my own from .015 brass wire and small pieces of brass, however, Details West now offers a cast-metal one (DW 316). Finally, I used a #17 knife blade to remove the cast-on class lights, then drilled #53 holes for MV 22 lenses.

    On the engineers side of the cab, I drilled mounting holes and installed handmade .015 brass wire grabs on each side of the cab door. The long step located directly in front of the cab door was made from a piece of .060 styrene angle glued in place using a little CA cement. Using .015 brass wire I made a long hand grab and installed it under the left cab window. I then installed a DA 2202 drop grab right on the curve of the nose in front of the left windshield frame and then another grab halfway between the first one and the long step. Finally, I installed three equallyspaced DA 2225 straight grabs on the nose in front of the windshield.

    The Caboose

    Since the Athearn caboose came decorated I pulled out all the window-glass inserts and stripped the model in Chameleon paint stripper. There are only a couple small details to add. First, I installed a pair of CS 375 marker lamps on the rear side, near the roofline. I then replaced the more modern trucks with a set of Tichy 3052 caboose trucks. Afterwards I washed the model thoroughly and let it dry.

    Paint and Decals

    V&O diesels of the era I model had a bright, slate blue color. Allen used Floquil dark and light blue mixed in equal parts, however I was not able to locate these locally. Instead I used MODELflex paint and eyeballed the color, mixing three parts Conrail Blue to one part Wabash Blue. I washed the models thoroughly, and after they had dried I gave them a good coat of the blue mixture.

    I painted the caboose MODELflex Caboose Red. Next I taped off the body and painted the main roof and the frame black - the roof of the cupola was left red. The caboose paint scheme required several white stripes: one at the roofline, one at the waistline, and two near the bottom of the car sides. While you could paint these on I decided to use some white stripes left over from another set of decals, cutting them to a scale 1" height. I hand painted the marker lamps yellow but waited until after weathering to glue in the colored jewels.

    These views of both sides of the FA2 locomotive should provide all the information you need for applying details and decals.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 36

    The decals for this project present a special problem since none are commercially available. I developed my own set using Adobe Illustrator, but other graphics programs should work just as well. For the roadname lettering I used a Times New Roman font set at 14 pt, stretched to a prototype length of 17' 6" for the lettering. The numerals on the diesels were also 14 pt, and 12 and 10 pt for the numerals on the caboose a small 10 pt V&O is required for the end of the caboose. The herald proved to be more of a challenge. I scanned a copy of the herald into the computer and then used it as a template to redraw the herald; this allowed me to resize it without any loss of definition. The heralds used on the nose of the locos are 15 " tall by 27" wide - those on the caboose are 18" tall by 33" wide. I also printed the numerals for the numberboards to get a perfect fit they were 8 pt for the FA2 and 9 pt for the F3A. Originally I had planned on having a set of decals printed by one of the companies such as Rail Graphics that offer that service. However, in the interim I purchased an Alps printer, which allows me to print my own decals. Since the lettering and herald are white you have to have a printer that can print that color. The Alps printer is the only one that I know of that will do this. I used Microscale TF-O clear decal film - heres a tip, buff the decal sheet lightly with a 3M Scotch-Brite pad before printing. I have found that roughing the surface slightly increases the adhesion of the lettering. The EMD and Alco builders plates came from various Microscale decal sets. If you would like a copy of the V&O artwork I have saved it as a PDF file and placed it on my web page at

    Weathering is a very subjective addition to any model. I generally prefer very subtle effects built up in small increments. Initially, I sprayed a very light coat of MODELflex L&N Gray over the roof, then on the trucks, pilot and fuel tank. I then added light touches of Milwaukee Brown on the pilot and trucks. I also sprayed some of the L&N Gray on the sand-filler hatches, dragging it down the sides of the body to represent dust from spills.

    I gave one area special attention with black chalk. The air vents between the portholes on the F3A always look black on prototype locomotives. To simulate this I worked black chalk into these areas with a short stiff brush. Another detail I noticed in the prototype photos was that the wire screen material between the portholes tended to pick up a lot of grime. I lightly dusted these areas with more of the black chalk, being careful not to overdo it. I made the same applications on the grilles of the FA2. By working carefully you can make the structural members behind the grilles stand out.

    On the caboose I hand-painted the grabs and edges of the steps Reefer Yellow. I sprayed the same weathering on the caboose as on the locos and then added L&N Gray on the roof near the smoke jack, dragging it down to the top of the body.

    With the weathering completed I mixed up a 50:50 mixture of Dullcote and Glosscote for the final finish. This mixture provides a weathered look without being overly dull. I limited pure Dullcote applications to areas such as the trucks, pilots, fuel tanks and roofs. Another little trick I used was creating the windshield wiper pattern on the windshields. I did this by cutting a mask from masking tape and applying it to the windshield before spraying it with Dullcote. Once the mask is removed it leaves a clean spot that gives the appearance of the pattern created by the wiper blades. After the finish had hardened I installed all the other glass inserts, windshield wipers, and MV lenses.

    The completed caboose truly is an eye-catching addition to any model railroad.
    Model Railroading - May 2005 - Page 37

    Since these units are only going to be used with one another I did not install Kadee couplers on the rear of each unit. Instead, I had some non-working, close-coupling dummy couplers that Life-Like used to include with their diesels. With these installed I can separate them for travel and still get prototypical spacing between the units. As an alternative you could also use Kadee 450 close-coupling adapters or make a drawbar from styrene.

    DCC Control

    I hardwired a standard HO-rated DCC decoder in both the FA2 and F3A - although you could install one of the boards specially designed for the Stewart units. In both cases this is a pretty straightforward installation since both motors are already isolated from the frame. However, getting these two models to operate together at something approximating the same speed took a couple adjustments to the DCC decoder settings. The FA2 and F3A both run at about the same speeds once they are cruising, however the FA2 is much slower to accelerate and stops much faster than the F3A. Normally you could develop your own speed tables to correct for this difference in performance, but the two decoders I used only support speed tables in 28 speed step mode, and I like the smoother performance of 128 speed steps. Consequently, instead of using my own speed tables I just increased the acceleration rate of the F3A and the deceleration rate of the FA2 to about 200. This slowed the F3A down during acceleration and stretched out the deceleration of the FA2 just enough to allow them to catch up with one another. The finished units are now hard at work making daily runs between the V&O yard in Afton, VA, and my Piedmont Southern yard near Lynchburg, Virginia.

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  • Ed Sumner
    Ed Sumner How many Piedmont Southerns are there? There was a Piedmont Southern in GMR recently, owned a guy in MD.
    Obviously the V&O no longer exists at all as a model, and no one's mass-producing V&O stuff for the 50s era. I have an original car from Alle...  more
    March 22, 2012