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  1. zephyr1934

    MNS grain train

    I'm happy to present my most recent build, a midwestern grain train from the late 1970's in the US. I've been working on it for most of this year, though the inspiration and some parts purchases date back to 2006. Towards the end of last winter I had been train watching and after about a half dozen trains, each led by a couple of black locomotives pulling a mile long monochromatic string of cars, it got me thinking about an underappreciated heyday. Between 1960 and 1990 American freight cars were a burst of color, and even had a few hints of the old school railroad pride shining through, e.g., Milwaukee Road spending the extra dollar to weld a plate on the side of their covered hoppers declaring themselves "America's Resourceful Railroad." The freight cars were 100% utilitarian in design, but in the bright colors they went a little further and said, "look at me," with each car taking a different hue. Since then, freight cars have drifted back to browns and grays only flashing a random graffiti tag for flare after a night of hanging around with the wrong crowds. I wanted to capture that era in the days just after KarTrak Automatic Car Identification's failure showed how dirty railroading in America can be. But how and what? I've always had a soft spot for covered hopper cars, in particular those based on the Pullman Standard 3 bay design. I had a go at these cars in 2006 Shortly thereafter, I started collecting 1x2 door rail plates and double convex inverted slopes in yellow to build a Milwaukee Road version. Those parts sat in a box and I hadn't returned to that prototype until now. On the flip side, I had most of the parts in hand that I needed to start testing this build. Happy with the prototype, I expanded to 5 different liveries. These covered hoppers are 6 wide, featuring custom decals. With their weight they need roller bearing trucks, to ensure the trucks match the width of the car they use custom truck sides from At this scale it is impossible to get all of the details, so in this design I focused on capturing the essence, e.g., a continuous slope for the bins from the end of the car to the bottom of the chute, using thin vertical and horizontal members on the ends of the cars. Several of the cars have prototypical placards 1/2 plate out from the ribbing. A couple of the cars consumed almost all of the double convex inverted slopes available on bricklink in the given color. As with most of my designs, these cars are designed to negotiate R40 curves, and in turn, replicating the form of the prototype gave me a true appreciation of the design of the actual cars. Of course, once you start down the rabbit hole of looking at covered hopper cars, you wind up seeing lots of other cool cars... and the potential to build in colors that do not have door rails (dark green). Well, next thing I knew, I also had a design for the ACF center flow covered hopper cars. Once more the covered hoppers are 6 wide. These cars were designed as a complement to the Pullman Standard cars to fill out the fleet and bring in a few more colors/liveries. Why stop at 8 cars? Good question, of course you need a Canadian cylindrical covered hopper, who doesn't need a cylindrical hopper car? So I built one too. Now I know you've all been there, you build a MOC and then discover you need a second MOC to support the first MOC (or in this case, a 10th MOC to support the first 9). When I started out I did not worry too much about what would pull these cars. I have a few period appropriate 9v locomotives, most recent of which are from 2014, a pair of SW1200's. While there was one major solution (FX Track) two problems remained, (1) my old 9v locomotives were not powerful enough to pull the full train, and (2) it has been over a decade since I've run 9v trains in public. I originally thought that I would eventually address #2 at some later point in time, but #1 escalated the need. So off I went to build a period appropriate PF locomotive. I returned to MNS, the same road as the SW1200's. Minneapolis Northfield and Southern was a spunky shortline with a long history and a large fan club for a railroad with just over 80 miles of track. They had a history of unusual locomotives starting with their predecessor, the never electrified Dan Patch Electric Lines and the first successful gas-electric locomotive that was the predecessor to diesel electric locomotives, to a fleet of massive Baldwin center cab locomotives built in the late 40's (nicknamed the "blue dragons"), and their last purchased locomotives the SD39's in 1968. These were essentially SD40's with smaller prime movers (and thus, lower horsepower). They were painted in a distinct dark blue with a single white stripe running the length of the locomotive. The SD39's served until the MNS was purchased by Soo Line in 1982 and one has returned to the shortline (Progressive Rail) that now operates a portion of the old MNS route. My 6 wide SD39 has a lot packed inside, including 2 PF train motors, 1 rechargeable PF battery pack, an IR receiver, a pole reverser, and four weight bricks. Fitting it all in required some compromises, like filling the cab with the IR receiver, and my desire to make the white stripe brick built as much as possible made fitting the battery a lot more complicated. One obvious tradeoff is that the long hood is 5 studs wide to hide the battery, I would have preferred to keep it 4 studs wide. But also a little ingenuity to plow through some of the challenges. If you look closely at the side views, just above the fuel tank you can seek a small patch of dark gray from the battery. I used an old school 4.5v motor plate with 4x8 cutout to drop the battery down below the white stripe and snotted studs to hold the tiles on that cover the side of the battery. The build uses custom stickers, 3-axle motor covers and fan housings from, and custom railings to keep them closer to proportional than the brick built alternatives. But I did have to use the classic train wagon ends as a nod to the fact that this is a Lego train after all. Okay... just one more problem, I didn't have a respectable MNS caboose. So now I needed an 11th MOC to support the 10th. The MNS purchased 3 new bay window cabooses in 1972 and like the SD39's, these served until the MNS was purchased by Soo Line in 1982 and one has returned to the shortline (Progressive Rail) that now operates a portion of the old MNS route. The caboose is 6 wide (8 at the bays), featuring custom decals, roller bearing trucks to match the hopper cars. The net result is my all new MNS grain train, with 5 Pullman Standard 3 bay covered hopper cars, 3 ACF 3 bay covered hopper cars, 1 Canadian cylindrical covered hopper car, an MNS SD39 and MNS bay window caboose. All in liveries that would have been seen in the late 1970's or early 1980's. The total length is about 11 ft. All of the cars are 6 wide. Click here for a mediocre video of the train in action I hope you enjoy the train. Questions, comments and constructive suggestions are always welcome The full album is here