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  • Modeling in 1:29 Scale - PRR F3 (EH-15) A-B-A

    by Gary Mittner

    Photos by the author

    Late afternoon sun glistens on this pair of EMD F3A (PRR Class EH-15) locomotives shortly after leaving the shops. They await the call to push tonnage over the "hill."
    Model Railroading - October 2001 - Page 40

    I have been a Pennsylvania Railroad modeler for nearly 20 years. Like many, I started out with a small N-scale collection, and then I built a layout. I soon made the move to HO scale and have been there ever since, even though I have also dabbled in 0 scale. However, I am making another move... this time to Large Scale. I am not giving up HO, just testing the waters to see what can b e done in 1:29 scale. Last fall I learned of the release of a G gauge diesel locomotive with a US prototype that I just had to look into. This locomotive, manufactured by USA Trains, is the EMD F3A and F3B. These locos are a favorite of many. When I saw the advertisements in the magazines, I said to myself, "Gee, I wonder what those would be like if detailed specifically for the Pennsylvania Railroad F3 locomotives?" I imagined great things could come of them if some time and effort was put forth. Several weeks later I had in my possession an F3 A-B-A lashup ready for my project.

    As is, USA Trains has done a nice job recreating the F3 in miniature, but I wanted to take things a little further in prototype correctness. To many, myself included, a Pennsy F-unit is not complete if it doesn't include the oh-so-familiar specific details for which the PRR was famous. The prototype research had begun. What did I need to add or remove to get these F3s to look like I wanted them to? First I had to decide on the era I wanted to model. I settled on the time after the paint revision of May 1953. Then I had to decide which specific units I had in mind. I always liked the A-B-A lashup the Pennsy used as helpers on Horseshoe Curve, so I decided to finish these as PRR Class EH-15s.

    With most of the research part of the project out of the way, I then concentrated on the modeling. Being a newcomer to the 1:29 scale scene, I had no idea what detail parts were available on the market by the various manufacturers. I discovered there were very few, if any, details that I could use on the F3s. That led me to yet another stage of the project. If I wanted these F3s to look as much as possible like the prototype I would have to learn a new side of the hobby...fabricating my own details. Surprisingly, this was achieved rather easily. The most noticeable details on any early PRR F3 diesel locomotives are the roof-mounted Train Phone Induction System, nose lift rings and the not-so-common passenger-type pilot which the Pennsy specifically ordered. These three items alone can turn an ordinary PRR F3 into something more familiar looking. Fabricating these parts was rather fun.

    For the Train Phone Induction System I fabricated an antenna mast out of strip styrene pieces glued together. This one mast came out perfect, but I needed 28...14 for each A unit. There was no way I could repeat this to get identical masts so I made contact with a model railroad manufacturer that could do resin castings, Trainstuff, LLC, of Connecticut. I sent the part to them, and they in turn made a rubber mold and made 28 cast-resin duplicates for me.

    Temporarily mounted train phone antenna - 1/32" wire was used for the piping.
    Model Railroading - October 2001 - Page 41

    The next parts that needed attention were the nose lift rings. This detail certainly became a fingerprint of the Pennsy F-units. Again, a styrene master was fabricated to my liking and sent off for duplication. Now how was the passenger pilot (AKA enclosed coupler pilot) going to be made? Easy, I took the USA Trains freight pilot supplied with the locos and applied a sheet of styrene to represent the metal plate found on passenger pilots. I wanted even more detail for this area, so I actually modeled three different versions of the pilots found on Pennsy F3s. The first pilot represents the one with the coupler doors in the closed position. I also fabricated one with those coupler doors in the open position. In the mid-1950s the Pennsy started to remove these coupler doors altogether due to faulty operation. The third pilot I modeled is the one with just an oval slot for the coupler to stick out (AKA sheet-metal pilot). All three versions of the new pilot were recreated in resin as well.

    Detailing the locos didn't stop there. I also needed to remove the large 45° numberboards that are installed on the USA Trains F3s. The Pennsy ordered all their F3 locos with the (four-numeral) streamlined numberboards. After filling in the holes where the original numberboards were I applied the new smaller streamlined ones. Again, a styrene master was fabricated and then duplicated in resin by Trainstuff, LLC.

    Attention then moved to the rear of the A units and both ends of the B unit. The rubber diaphragms included with the F3s were a bit large and distracting, but simply removing them resulted in too much of a gap between the locos. Once removed I fabricated a buffer plate of styrene and later resin, to resemble what was installed on actual PRR F3s (EH-15/EF-15). This is of simple design but improves the sparsely detailed rear area. The only other item I had to remove was the horn over the firemans side of the cab roof. The early Pennsy Funits had only a single-trumpet Leslie Horn, and it was located above the engineers side of the locomotive. I also added sunshades in the front windows and a rope for the horn pull. I decided to install Kadee® #1 scale couplers on all units.

    So with the detailing complete, it was time for a new paint job. The USA Trains lettering was not too authentic (wrong size, color, etc.), and a lot was lost when the 45° "bug-eyed" numberboards were removed and the small ones inserted. So I felt a more accurate paint job was needed - remember we are working on a scale project not a toy. In preparation for painting, the F3 shells factory paint was removed using a blasting booth. To match the Pennsy's DGLE (Dark Green Locomotive Enamel/Brunswick Green finish), I chose to use Polly Scale Brunswick Green. Once applied this gives you a black-looking finish with just a hint of green. Very nice!

    The cab interior was painted medium gray with an Indian Red floor to match the PRRs color specs. I used Microscales Gscale Alco PRR FA loco decal set, modifying them a bit to better fit the F3 locos. With the addition of custom-made builders plates, my 1:29 scale PRR EH-15s left the assembly line ready for imaginary service on a make believe Horseshoe Curve. Now to purchase some track and finish that scratchbuilt 1:29 PRR N-5b cabin car I started...but hey, thats another article!

    Although I am pleased with the outcome of this large-scale modeling project, I learned a few things after finishing it that would have made my models better. Most i mportant is the fact that 9542A/B and 9543A were Phase 4 units (with horizontal grilles) rather than Phase 3 units; 9540A/B and 9541A are the only numbers that are correct for a Phase 3 helper set (EH-15) with the chicken-wire grilles. And since I added the nose lift rings I should have also added the nose ladder grabs that were added during the same 1951 reshopping.

    With the booming growth of 1:29 scale, the possibilities may be endless. With a little effort, time and experience, anyone can end up with a model similar to these PRR F3s that takes this toy-like model to the realm of a prototype model in a larger than normally modeled scale.

    (Editors note: For information on obtaining the resin parts that Gary used, contact him at

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