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  • Modeling Maine Central's Phase 3 RS3

    by Mark Sharp

    Model photos by the author

    MEC 556 sits in the snow (theres plenty for everyone in Maine) awaiting her next assignment. That appears to be maintenance-of-way equipment in the background. Date and photographer unknown.
    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 40

    For most of the first half of the 20th Century, the Maine Central Railroad was controlled by the Boston & Maine Railroad. The two shared a common management from the early years of the century until 1953 when the companies split apart. Although the arrangement was not technically a merger, it resulted in joint operations in a number of areas. For example, the Portland Terminal Company was formed by MEC and B&M to handle railroad operations in Portland, Maine. The MEC and B&M pooled power and passenger services, trackage rights and had similar color schemes. Starting with the delivery of FTs to the B&M in 1943, that scheme consisted of a maroon carbody with gold striping and a black roof. The striping was more or less of a standard type shared by such other railroads as the Denver & Rio Grande Western and the Lehigh Valley. When the MEC and B&M split apart, the Maine Central changed the maroon to green, more in keeping with its operations in The Pine Tree State, but otherwise kept the attractive stripes and black roof.

    RS3s on the MEC

    During World War II, Americas War Production Board (WPB) controlled the number, types and distribution of equipment used by the countrys railroads. This was a somewhat better arrangement than the disastrous United States Railway Administration (USRA) which, in essence, confiscated Americas railroads during World War I. In any event, the WPB assigned the task of producing switching locomotives to the American Locomotive Company (Alco). Alco had substantial experience with these, having produced a number of successful models before the United States entered the war in December of 1941. On the other hand, for example, the Electro Motive Corporation (EMC, later EMD), was designated for road-power production, which it delivered in the form of its FT.

    After World War II, Americas railroads began replacing their steam fleets and early diesels, which had taken a beating during the conflict. During the immediate post-war years, each of the railroad equipment manufacturers naturally had an advantage producing that type of power to which they had been limited during the war by the WPB. For Alco, this meant domination of the road switcher market until the early 1950s.

    Alco began production of its RS (road switcher) line of locomotives with the RS1 in 1941. It produced the RS3 from 1950 to 1956, with a total of 1,370 units sold. Alco introduced the next locomotive in the line,

    Heavily weathered MEC 556 sits next to an unidentified GP38 sometime in the 1970s. Maine Centrals RS3s provided long and faithful service. However, they were relegated to branchline and emergency service with MECs purchase of U25Bs and GP38s. The RS3s were off the railroad by the late 1970s. Date and photographer unknown.
    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 41

    the RS11, immediately thereafter. As delivered, the RS3 came with Alco's 244 V-12-4-1600 prime mover that developed 60,000 pounds of starting tractive effort. Alco produced the RS3 in three distinct phases. It should be remembered that the locomotive companies did not generally designate phases for their products. Of course, they made changes to their locomotives during production, but the phase designations are of rather recent vintage, and were invented by modelers and rail fans to aid in locomotive identification.

    The Phase 1 RS3 came without any car-body filters. However, during 1950-1953, Alco improved the air handling inside the hood of the RS3 by using such filters. Phase 2 units are recognizable by the air filters running along the edge of the roofline on each side of the carbody. Further improvements led to two sets of stacked air filters on each side of the carbody. These RS3s are designated as Phase 3 units. Some other changes, such as angled numberboards at the carbody corners, are also evident on Phase 3 RS3s.

    A total of 232 Phase 3 RS3s were sold, generally in small lots to various railroads. By the end of the RS3 run, EMD had become the dominant player in the road switcher market, surpassing Alco with its sales of GP7s and GP9s.

    The B&M took delivery of RS2 and RS3 units to replace the steam locomotives, which had been the backbone of the railroads service for decades. Many of these included steam generating equipment to help carry the B&Ms commuter traffic, a significant part of the roads operations well into the 1950s. As the RS units came on line, they replaced the B&Ms 4-6-0s, which had been handling commuter chores for more than 30 years. The RS units proved better at this task than EMDs ill-fated BL2 locomotive.

    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 42

    Although still controlled by the cost-conscious Boston & Maine, the Maine Central prospered after World War II, doing a substantial business hauling lumber, paper, potatoes and other agricultural products. In 1949, the railroad acquired five RS2s, 551555. In 1953, after its divorce from the B&M, MEC purchased two RS3 units, 556 and 557, delivered in the roads new green scheme with steam generating equipment for passenger service. The Maine Central used its RS2s and RS3s throughout most of its system. Number 556, the unit I modeled, was first employed with 557 pulling Rockland passenger trains. Later it was used on the Calais branch at the far eastern end of MECs system, along with RS2s and RS11s, and on the Vanceboro-to-Bangor line. MEC purchased GE U18Bs in 1975 to replace its RS2s and RS3s. Id say the railroad used its Yankee horse sense when it purchased these RS units, since it got close to a quarter of a century's worth of service from them.

    Modeling Options

    If you want to model an HO scale RS3, you have three choices of manufacturers. Atlas first produced its RS3 about 15 years ago. It came with a Kato drive, the best in the world by far at that time. However, the body was too short and the model was available only as a Phase 1 unit. Atlas is presently re-running this locomotive as part of its "Classic" series. Improvements include somewhat better tooling on the shell and elimination of the molded-on grabirons found on the original model. The drive system, although no longer Kato's, is still superb. Unfortunately, the shell still is too short.

    Model Die Casting has produced an RS3 for a number of years. Its detailing is not as fine as Atlas's, but the model is priced substantially below the Atlas unit. In the last few years, MDC has improved the drive train and motor on the model, and I consider its performance to be on a par with LifeLikes Proto 2000 line of locomotives. The shell is nicely done and with a purchase price of about $50, its quite a bargain. However, as with the Atlas model, it comes only as a Phase 1 unit.

    Stewart Hobbies began producing its RS3 about 15 years ago. At first, the Stewart shell was designed to run on an Athearn-type chassis, and it suffered from the relatively poor quality of Athearn locomotive performance of that time. I say "relatively" because the Athearn products ran just fine, and only suffered by comparison to the Atlas/Kato locomotives, which were a quantum leap forward in quality. Stewart later began producing its RS3 with Kato drives, as it was doing with its F-unit models at the time.

    The Stewart RS3's big advantage was that it was produced in Phase 1, 2 and 3 versions. The models came pre-assembled or, in the case of undecorated units, in flat sided kits. These required a small amount of assembly, which could easily be done in one evening. When I decided to build a Maine Central RS3, I knew I had to go with a Stewart model. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to find one with a Kato drive. Since I had a surplus of Atlas/Kato RS3s, I decided to try to fit a Stewart RS3 shell on an Atlas chassis. With a few small modifications, I was able to do so, and now have the MEC RS3 I wanted to work with my MEC RS2 and B&M RS units.

    Shell & Chassis Modifications

    Since I was starting with the undecorated Stewart RS3 kit that comes as a collection of flat pieces, it was easier to make most of the modifications before building the shell. First, an X-Acto #17 blade was used to shave off the molded-on grabirons on the ends of the shell (see Photo 1). I then used a #77 bit to drill holes for the grabirons and NBW castings. What remained of the grabirons was sanded off so that the ends looked as shown in Photo 2. The Stewart single headlight was replaced with a Detail Associates twin sealed-beam casting. I filed and sanded off the headlight casting on the shell (see Photo 3) so that the DA part would mount flush.

    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 43

    The Stewart model, although a Phase 3, has the conventional flat numberboards at each of the corners of the carbody. These were removed (see Photo 4) and replaced with DA numberboards. The Stewart walkway does not quite fit the Atlas chassis; it needs to have the lip that runs along the underside of the inner part of the walkway removed. You'll also need to remove a small portion of the deck nearest the hood. Photo 5 shows the removal of the lip with a Dremel tool. I finished with a file and sandpaper. Finally, the stanchion recesses under the walkway were carved off so the walkway would fit flat on the chassis.

    I did some test fitting of the shell parts to the chassis and found that the sides would not fit without carving off a small amount of support material for the cab (see Photo 6). I then assembled the shell, less the cab, installed the DA twin sealed-beam headlight casting and painted everything Primer Gray. A bracket for the cab horn was made from .010 styrene (see Photo 7).

    Notches were carved on the corners of the carbody for the corner numberboards. I began by scribing the rough outline of the notch, then cut and chiseled until it looked right to me. Photo 8 shows the scribed outline and one carved-out notch. This is a tedious and time-consuming task. Take it slowly, and check frequently for fit and to be certain everything is level. I really struggled with this part of the project, but I felt it was easier to carve the shell than the Precision Scale numberboards. Further, the prototype photos clearly show that there are substantial recesses in the carbody into which the numberboards are set. I did not fill behind the numberboards with putty because the prototype boards did not have a flush fit. I also drilled holes in the shell for the class lights at this time.

    The Stewart shell does not have an equipment box forward of the cab on the fireman's side as the prototype did. This was remedied by scratchbuilding one from .040 styrene. The roughed-in box is shown in Photo 9. A step was added, along with hinges that were cut from a Cannon & Company equipment door. Im sure Gordon Cannon would be surprised to discover his exquisite parts have ended up on an Alco! The handrail stanchion hole was puttied in so that the area looked as shown in Photo 10.

    The Stewart handrails, while adequate for their day, really do not stand up to those available now. I decided to use the stanchions but to replace the rails with .015 brass wire. I started by slicing off the stanchions from the handrail assembly with a #17 blade (see Photo 11). I then drilled a hole with a #77 drill bit as shown in Photo 12 to accommodate the wire. Once the model had been painted and decaled, it was a simple matter to bend the wire, run it through the stanchions, and attach everything with cyanoacrylate (CA) glue.

    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 44

    Next, I shaved off the footboards on the pilots and replaced them with DA seethrough footboards as shown in Photo 13.

    The Stewart pilots are open beneath the coupler mounts while the prototype pilots were closed. I closed off the opening with sheet styrene then drilled out holes for and installed the DA coupler lift bar and brackets. Note that the lift bar is a little wide for the pilot. However, I preferred this to trying to hand craft this part. The NBW castings for the grabirons were installed at this point and holes were drilled for the MU hoses. Hoses and grabirons werent installed until after the model was painted. Finally, I drilled and tapped for 2-56 screws on the coupler mounts under the pilots.

    The number faces of the DA numberboards were painted black, then the numberboards were assembled per the DA instructions. The brass face plate was attached with Testors liquid cement (see Photo 14). Do this slowly, just touching the glue to the brass. Use as little glue as possible to avoid spoiling the styrene. I suggest using a small set of tweezers to hold everything, as shown in the photo, while you are gluing. It is nearly impossible to do this part of the project "bare handed."

    The Atlas chassis is a little too long to fit into the Stewart shell and walkway. To remedy this, I cut off the ends of the frame with a Dremel tool (see Photo 15), then test fitted the shell on the frame. When I was satisfied with the fit, I glued small pieces of .040 styrene to the bottom of the walkway (see Photo 16) to ensure that the shell will always be properly centered on the frame and wont slide around.

    Paint and Decals

    Painting the RS3 was a relatively straightforward task. I use MODELflex Northern Pacific Light Green for my Maine Central locomotives since I find it to be a dead match for the MECs Pine Green color. The body was masked, leaving the filters and walkway exposed (see Photo 17), then painted MODELflex Engine Black. The exhaust stack was masked next and painted Scalecoat II Aluminum. Ive tried using MODELflexs metallic paints but have never had any success with them.

    Decaling the locomotive was a much more difficult matter. Microscale does not make a decal set for MEC RS units, although they do make the set for B&M Alcos. Fortunately, Accu+cals made a beautiful decal set for the Maine Central many years ago. I was lucky enough to find a couple of these sets in the back of a hobby shop and was thus able to do this project. Hopefully, Microscale will do a Maine Central set soon. It should be easy, especially as it would be identical to the B&M set except for the name.

    Unfortunately, the Accu+cals set is not really set up to letter a Phase 3 RS3. I had to cut each of the letters of Maine Central and then apply them individually to make everything fit. This was a little scary since I did not have extra decals and could not really afford to make a mistake. In any event, I was pleased with the way everything came out. I used numbers from Microscales Canadian National hood set 87-948 for the numberboards as those in the Accu+cals set did not fit well.Final Touches

    At this point I was ready to install the stanchions and handrails. I simply ran the .015 wire through the stanchion holes I had drilled earlier, bent the wire to the appropriate shape. The assembled handrails and stanchions were then installed and painted black. The drop step, horn, lift rings and MU hoses were also installed at this time. The prototype had MU boxes and connectors attached to the front and rear handrails. I fabricated the boxes out of some scrap styrene, glued DA MU plugs to them, painted the assemblies green and installed them. I also painted the inside of the class lights aluminum to simulate lenses.

    RS3 556 shoves a empty gondola in Old Fort on the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders layout while sister RS2 553 sits nearby.
    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 45

    The truck sideframes, pilots and underbody were weathered with a mixture of Floquil Roof Brown and SP Lettering Gray. I usually use a 5:1 mix of thinner to paint to get the appropriate weathering mix. I prefer Floquil for this task because it leaves a flat finish. Note that I removed the sideframes from the trucks to avoid getting paint in the gears. The copper electrical pickups were handpainted black (see Photo 18) because they show through the sideframes; the black makes them less obvious.

    The hood and cab were weathered with a diluted mix of SP Lettering Gray. Finally, I weathered the top of the hood and cab, as well as the louvers in the front of the locomotive, with diluted Floquil Engine Black. I was somewhat more liberal with my application of this than usual as I wanted to simulate the sooty appearance of an Alco locomotive. I also handpainted the couplers Floquil Roof Brown, undiluted, at this time.

    I let the weathering dry for several days, then installed a Run 8 window set for the cab glass and attached the windshield wipers. The Run 8 set fits very well, but youll need to cut out each individual window to get the flush fit the set provides. I used Microscales white glue for the glass and wipers as it dries clear. Some styrene was then attached under the hood to support the light bars. I found that I had to widen the holes in the twin sealed-beam light casting to make everything fit. I did this with an XActo #11 blade (see Photo 19). Although I had done this earlier, the paint and weathering I had applied to the model had narrowed the diameters of the holes somewhat. I then installed the light bars and placed the shell aside. To finish, I re-assembled the chassis and trucks, placed the shell on top, and test ran the locomotive. Everything went fine. Although installation of digital command control is beyond the scope of this article, its not that hard for this locomotive. Since this is an older Atlas chassis and motor, you'll have to hard wire the decoder.

    Building a Maine Central RS3 is a project thats great for a beginning modeler. There is no difficult cutting or kitbashing, and you can probably build the entire locomotive in less than ten evenings of work. I really enjoyed doing this project, and hope you'll give it a try soon.

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