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  • Modeling Maine Central's F3's

    by Mark E. Sharp

    Model photos by the author, others as indicated

    672A, and B enter Spencer yard on the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders' layout.
    Model Railroading - November 1999 - Page 20

    AT THE END OF WORLD WAR II, America's railroads were desperate for new motive power. Some received FTs and F2s during the war, but these were hardly enough to fill the gap. Steam locomotives that had been retired were brought out of storage during the war to satisfy the vast requirements it placed on America's rail transportation system.

    EMD introduced its F3 in August of 1945, sending demonstrators across the country on a 100,000-mile tour designed to convince the railroads to purchase the new model. However, EMD was really in the driver's seat. The War Production Board had prohibited EMD's competitors from producing road units during the war. Limited to the switcher units they were allowed to build, they were in no position to challenge the F3. With this lack of competition, and the railroads' great need for mainline motive power, the F3 would have been a big seller even if it had not been so well built.

    The F3 went into production in October of 1946 with both cab and booster units available. This gave owners the flexibility they needed to mix and match motive power for each particular task. The F3 boasted many improvements over the FT/F2 models. These included: a new generator, which could produce both AC and DC current for smoother operation; a new cooling system which allowed any or all of the 36" roof fans to operate as needed; modular construction in the electrical and plumbing systems, making maintenance and repair easier; and a 2cycle 16-cylinder series 567 prime mover rated at 1,500 horsepower, up from the FT/F2's 1,350. For passenger service, a new 1,600 lb. per hour steam generator supplied train heat.

    The F3A unit measured 50' 8" long; the F3B was 50'. Loaded, each weighed 230,000 lbs. and carried 1,200 gallons of diesel fuel, 200 gallons of lubricating oil, and 16 cubic feet of sand. The carbody was the same as the F2, with four raised fans and, in the early models, small number boards. Most modelers are aware that the F3 can be classified into four "phases." The Phase I F3s had four raised fans, three port holes on each side, dynamic-brake grids on the roof, "chicken wire" instead of a filter grille, and rode on Hyatt roller-bearing trucks. These early trucks had both large box and sloped journals.

    The Phase II F3s began to come off the production line in early 1947. At first, these had raised fans, then low ones. They had only two portholes on each side, with four louvers between them. The distinguishing feature of the Phase II unit is the grille chicken wire that extends down the side between the two portholes. Phase IIs also had large "bug-eye" numberboards, a feature that continued through F9 production. The Phase III units, produced in 1948, had four louvers and two portholes with no chicken wire between them. Finally, the Phase IV units had Farr air grilles, making them look exactly like the F7. The Phase IV F3s are sometimes called F5s.

    The F3 was a big seller. EMD sold 1,111 cab units and 695 boosters. The biggest purchaser was the Union Pacific, with 89 A units and 90 boosters. Virtually every Class I railroad in the country, with a few notable exceptions, such as the Norfolk & Western and the Delaware & Hudson, purchased them. The F3 gave EMD a solid hold on the mainline diesel market for 15 years, helping to establish it as the preeminent locomotive builder in postwar America.


    At the end of World War II, the Maine Central was conducting joint operations with the Boston and Maine Railroad. The MEC had tracks in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, although its equipment could be found throughout the B&M system. The MEC's fleet was considerably smaller than B&M's, and its backbone during the '50s was its covered wagons, its GP7s, and its various switchers.

    The Maine Central began its dieselization program in 1933 with the purchase of a St. Louis Motor Car, #90l. It continued with the purchase of an EMC articulated train in 1935, dubbed The Flying Yankee and later The Cheshire. The MEC began purchasing freight diesels when it bought two Alco HH660 switchers in 1939. As a small road, the MEC could obtain only a couple of other switchers during the war.

    It's a beautiful September day in 1956 as 671 A leads a through freight to Rigby Yard in South Portland. Accompanying her are an F3B and an F5 in the new green paint scheme. Martin Zak photo
    Model Railroading - November 1999 - Page 21

    MEC's first F3s were Phase II units with low fans, dynamic brakes, steam generators and Hyatt roller-bearing trucks with sloped journals. They were delivered in December of 1947 in a beautiful maroon, black and Dulux gold paint scheme similar to the B&M's. The MEC bought two A/B sets, numbered 671 A, 671 B and 672A, 672B. In postwar New England, passenger operations were a significant part of the railroad business, and both the MEC and the B&M purchased diesels with this in mind. Both roads pooled power, for example, on the passenger runs from Portland to Worcester on such trains as State of Maine; the MEC's F3s were used on these assignments. However, when the E7 came along, and was purchased by the MEC and the B&M, it replaced the F units in passenger operations. The MEC F3s saw little passenger service after about 1950.

    The MEC was so pleased with the versatility and reliability of its F3s that it purchased six Phase IV units, or F5s, numbered 681 through 686 in 1948. These were not steam-generator equipped, and had Blomberg B trucks and Farr air grilles as they came off the assembly line only three months before EMD began F7 production. The MEC did not purchase F7s, opting instead in 1950 for the road switcher GP7s which became the mainstay of its fleet for the next three decades. The MEC traded in all of its F units to EMD in 1966 when it purchased GP38s.


    Athearn has offered a Phase I F7 for years, and it has been a reliable and affordable model. The Athearn unit comes with steam generators and a Farr air grille. You could sand off the generators and paint the locomotive to represent an MEC F5. Cary made an F3 metal shell, but this was not very accurate. B unit shells are available from Highliners but these lack the chicken wire between the portholes; the Athearn/Highliners A units still haven't been released at time of publication, nor has InterMountain's proposed F3s. Since my model was built, Like-Like has released its Proto 1000 Phase II F3A and B with high fans and no dynamics. Stewart Hobbies began producing F3s about a decade ago, and has done virtually every phase of the F3, F7, and F9. They recently began rereleasing these models. When my models were built, Stewart offered the only plastic Phase II locomotive which could be built into an MEC unit, but modelers now have two options, with more on the way. And Stewart/Kato locomotives have the best drives in the world, period.


    671A; date and photographer unknown, but probably the early 1960s. Note the pilot stripes, roof appliances and safety grabs. Courtesy Bob's Photo
    Model Railroading - November 1999 - Page 22

    The beauty of the Stewart F3 Phase II unit is that you only need to do a few things to it to make it a great Maine Central model. First, drill all of the holes for the grabirons, lift rings, windshield wipers, and rear back-up light. I used a #77 drill bit (.018) for the grabirons since I formed them from .015 brass wire. The same bit will also work for the lift rings.

    The Stewart front coupler hole needs to be enlarged into a D-shape, as shown in Photo 1. You can do this with some careful carving with a #11 blade and a file. You should also carve off one or two of the ribs on the rear of the unit with a chisel blade (#17) so that you can mount the back-up light flush. When you are satisfied with the fit, drill the appropriate hole for the light and mount it. As you can see from the photos, the MEC had rather large back-up lights on its F units. I used a "standard" DW 209 back-up light on these units, because I could not find anything more closely resembling these lights in Walthers catalog. I then sanded off the A-unit class lights and drilled holes to accept MY LS22 lenses.

    The Stewart shells come with mold parting lines on the front of the A-unit shells. I removed these with 400-grit sandpaper, then smoothed out the area with 1500-grit sand paper (available at most auto parts stores if your hobby shop does not carry it). I then puttied the depressions over the cab win dows and sanded everything smooth.

    I wanted coupler lift bars on these units and found that scratchbuilding them was easy. For the lift-bar base plates on the front of the A-units, I first cut two 1/8" square pieces of .010 styrene. I then drilled two holes in each with a #74 bit, and attached the styrene to the p i lot. After the units were painted, I drilled holes in the pilot through the holes in the styrene. I then mounted two DA 2213 coupler lift bar brackets in the holes, and formed .015 brass wire to make the bars and handles. I then painted the wire and brackets.

    Model Railroading - November 1999 - Page 23

    On the "B" end of each unit, I simply mounted the wire in DA 2206 eyebolts, bending it as required. I mounted the DW 209 rear draft gear by cutting off the top of the part, leaving two mounting posts exposed. I then drilled holes in the part and in the body shell to accept the .0 1 5 wire I ' ve been using. I then p l aced a small piece of wire in the draft gear and l i ned it up on the corresponding hole in the shell. When the assembly is glued together, it is much stronger than a simple butt joint. The rear of the unit is shown in Photo 2.

    The Stewart units do not have steam generators, but these are available from Custom Finishing (CF214). I mounted them per the kit instructions. I then placed four additional "stacks" on the unit, using .033 wire. The roof then looked as it does in Photo 3. Once everything on the body was complete, the shell looked as it does in Photo 4.


    The MEC passenger F3s came with early sloped journal Blomberg sideframes while the Stewart models have Bloomberg Bs. Although Detail Associates makes parts to modify these trucks to have box or sloped journals, the task of filing off truck journals and building new ones is time consuming and difficult. When Stewart released their FTs, I hoped their sloped journal sideframes would fit the F3s. They did, and I was able to order the sideframes directly from Stewart. I drilled holes in the brake cylinders to accept .015 wire for rigging and holes on the "front" side of each sideframe to accept .019 wire for sand lines. I mounted all of the wire and handpainted it black.

    The MEC units had speed recorders on the cab units. Detail Associates makes this part (DA 2807). I mounted only the center portion of the recorder in the middle of the left box journal on the truck. To keep the recorder wire in place, I mounted a DA 2206 eyebolt in the chassis and ran the wire through the bolt. The whole assembly is shown in Photo 5.


    When the MEC ceased its joint operations with the B&M in the mid 1950s, it decided to repaint many of it locomotives green. Although the front herald was modified to a simpler pine tree, the body striping remained the same. The striping was hardly unique to the B&M; the boys at EMD put these stripes on D&RGW and LV locomotives as well. Obviously, the repaint process did not occur overnight, so it was not uncommon to see green and maroon units running together for several years. I first painted an A and B unit green. I used MODELflex Northern Pacific Light Green after experimenting with several colors and matching photos out of Morning Sun's New England Rails book. Polly Scale makes an MEC Green, but I was much more comfortable with the MODELflex paint, and found it more readily available in my area at the time I did the project. Once I had painted each unit green, I masked and painted the black on the side skirts, pilot and roof. You'll need to mask the cab roof using the decal as a guide to match the curve of the gold stripe. Also, don't forget to cut a piece of .010 styrene for the front-mounted numberplate, which will also be painted.

    671A backs into the bulk fuel distributor's siding on the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders' layout.
    Model Railroading - November 1999 - Page 24

    The MEC maroon presented a problem because MODELflex didn't make a B&M maroon when I built the model, although I believe they now offer it (but I've still never seen it). Polly Scale's B&M maroon appears to be a pretty good match, but as I stated above, I had trouble finding it when I did the project; it's readily available now. Accu+paint makes an "engine maroon" but that paint is also not always available. Several sources I read suggested using Erie Lackawanna maroon. I looked at the Accu+paint and EL colors but found them too brown. I know that both Proto 2000 and Stewart have produced B&M equipment in this brown shade, but I felt the photos I'd seen showed the units faded to a redder appearance over time. I experimented with a dozen different color combinations before settling on a MODELflex mixture of five parts Milwaukee Maroon, five parts Deep Red, and two parts Pennsy Maroon. While this is not the simplest formula, the MODELflex colors mix easily and the batch I made is still intact, several months later. Once I had painted the maroon, I masked and painted the rear, as well as the side skirts, pilot and roof, black.

    The chicken wire on the Stewart grilles is beautiful, so I decided to give it some depth. I masked as shown in Photos 6 and 7 and painted the exposed areas with a wash of Floquil Engine Black and Diosol mixed 1:4. Don't overdo this step; you only need a few passes with the airbrush to create the effect. If you put on too much black, the result is not believable.

    Once the painting was completed, I applied the decals from the Microscale set. I used decals from 87-910 for these units, from 87-793 for the kick plates and from MC-4056 for the builder's plates. Although the green and maroon schemes are very sim ilar, note that the maroon units had numbers only on the front plate and numberboards while the green units had them on the sides as well. Also note that the yellow and black pilot stripes and other roof appliances on the green units began appearing in the late '50s, well after all of the F units had been painted green. Since I wanted to run the maroon and green units together, i.e., during the repainting process, I chose not to apply the pilot stripes or roof appliances.

    672A approaches the mainline on the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders' layout.
    Model Railroading - November 1999 - Page 25

    Once the decals were in place, I painted the lift rings and roof grabs black and the side, front and pilot grabs AccuFlex Soo Line Dulux Gold and mounted them. For some reason the MODELflex color is not a good match for the decals. I then attached the horns and the American Limited diaphragms and the models were ready for weathering.

    I weathered the roofs and sides of the models with a wash of Floquil SP Lettering Gray and Diosol, mixed 1:4. After this had set for several days, I weathered the trucks, pilots, skirts and lower portion of each shell with a mixture of 50/50 Floquil Rail Brown/SP Lettering Gray which I again diluted 1:4 with Diosol. I waited several days before installing the cab glass and lenses. This is essential, as touching the models too soon after this weathering will leave finger marks.

    I finished the models by painting the windshield wipers Silver, drybrushing the couplers Rail Brown, and mounting them. These locomotives were easy to do and will be workhorses on my layout. I hope you'll give a project like this a try soon.

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