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My WAR TRAIN (Army Train)

Some of my happiest memories are from age eight, when my buddies and I would play in our basements for hours with our toy trains and army sets.  Never again would life be so joyful and innocent.  I wanted to pay homage to and revisit those times just a bit.   Hence . . . the War Train, built according to only two rules:

1)      What would Lee Willis, at age eight, have loved most?

2)      What would Lee Willis, at age eight times eight, love to build?

So . . . with apologies to those who (understandably) take the modeling or armor and wartime trains down to the last rivet very seriously . . . well, my war train is far closer to Calvin and Hobbs (“ . . . tyrannosauruses flying F-15s. . . ") than to reality: It is not just not proto-typical, but some details don’t even make sense at all.  But the eight year old inside me thinks it is grand! 


After the video, I have some stills of the various cars and armor including particularly the scratch built stuff, and comment on each. . .  


Statistics: the train is 24’ 3” long head to tail and includes four locos and 21 flatcars and other things that roll on RR wheels.  There are 30 military vehicles and cannon (including the two RR cannon).  I have not weighed it all but this is by far the heaviest consist I have, and by two feet or so, the longest I will normally ever run. 


Locomotives are RMT BEEFs.  I got an A-B-B-A set when they first came out, because I love BEEPs and like RMT’s spunk and creativity.  They are fantastic, even heroic runners, but frankly too toy-like to be scale and too scale to be toys -- I just could not find a “role” for them on my layout.   This is perfect . . . 

I added gun turrets and side-sponson mounted guns, and (cool!) battle shutters on the windows of the A units.  The gun turrets and sponsons are made from the caps of shampoo and spray paint containers. This A-B-B-A set has eight small motors (both A units are powered) and so it has the power to pull this heavy train, but with all the diecast armor and the additional weight I had to add to some cars so they do not stringline, the entire four loco set spins its wheels pulling them up a 2.5% grade unless it gets a running start – but it gets to the top!! (Its coming down the other side in the video).  I love the lead A unit with its B-17-like gun turret.

1-A Units with gun turrets

Rolling stock includes some store bought but about 60% of the flatcars are homemade  – 2 ¼ by 10” quarter-inch plywood covered with strip wood or styrene sheets on top and sides (I did both) with a few details like ladders added, but kept simple.  Atlas trucks.


Military equipment is about 2/3 Corgi - 1/50 diecast.  Most of the rest is Tamiya 1/48 plastic kits,  with a few bashed diecase vehicles and such - the command car was once a Lionel early-era track inspection car (all three I have burned their boards – two were converted to Superstreets, this third is now just a model). Tanks are Corgi Pattons - I had ordered the MTH set of six Pershings but that was cancelled so I used those.  All of the vehicles except the command car was bought from Amazon – over the past year I cruised the site’s Toy and Games section each Friday afternoon using the search engine to look for bargains at all its affiliates.  I got one of the tanks for only $11, a bargain for diecast armor.


A Tank

Various Armor


The towed artillery - three are scratch built except for the wheels which come from model trucks that I converted into SS vehicles, thus leaving their stock wheels in my parts bins.  The exception here is the largest towed cannon (upper right below) which is bashed from a 1/35 diecast fixed fortress defense cannon (unknown name brand).

Small artillery


Smaller railroad-cannon uses parts from a toy cannon I bought for $6 in the toy section of a CVS near Ft. Bragg, mounted on a diecast MTH depressed-center MTH car, with a lot of scratch added stuff just to make the loader and it all look interesting.  This took only a couple of hours to make.

A small railway cannon


The “Schnabel tank” is an idea I got while looking at pictures of the Karl Gerat  -  the gigantic (37 foot long) tracked mortar carriers the Germans used during WWII.  They carried a 21” inch caliber barrel that was 13 feet long and were carried to the battlefield on a kind of Schanbel car assembly.  This fictional American 3XM4 tracked mortar is a scale 40 feet long and has a scale 24” inch barrel 16 feet long.  It is completely scratch built except for using tracks and bogeys from three Tamiya Shermans, along with a smattering bashed parts from those kits and elsewhere (e.g., the grating over the engine area is cut from the grating on the top of the plastic “cage” in the stock Schnabel car).  It took two weeks of afternoons and weekends to design and build this.  Unlike the German Karl Gerat, which was truly a Schnable (the vehicle locked onto each end piece of the RR car and its armored body provided its own structural strength) my model is actually invisibly supported from underneath).  As with the homemade flatcars, Atlas trucks. 

A Schnabel Tank



Large rail-cannon is modeled  more on US WWI 12” coast defense guns than on battlefield (German or Russian) railway cannons of WWII.  The gun is intended be a US Navy Mk II 50 caliber 16” rifle and is scale in caliber and length.  In deference to the German mega-gun Dora, this unit is named “Dorathy.”  The trucks and lower swivels are from an MTH Schnabel car and the central body began life as an MTH 60’ gondola car.  Everything else except a few bashed bits and pieces started life as styrene sheets and rods, etc.    This unit actually ended up being 3/4 inch shorter than the stock MTH Schnable car: “although the “load” looks a lot longer it has had the support cages removed.  The model is just shy of 25" long and will run nicely on 72” through 48” diameter curves and probably 36 but I have not tried that.   Note the eight wheels (two trucks) added under the body of the cannon, for a total of 36 wheels in all. 

Big railway gun


Lepage Glue Gun.  Under the tarp is the reason for the entire train -- all of this awesome armor is just to guard this German super weapon, captured in the last weeks of WWII.  This is the infamous 344 mm Lepage Glue Gun, which so terrified the allied pilots in Catch 22 that Yossarian fainted when he heard it was real and not just a fantasy.  It glues an entire squadron of planes together in mid air, causing them to crash.   Unfortunately, one of the hugh shells it fires has leaked (see picture) so the tarp is permanently glued to the flatcart - otherwise I promise I would roll back the tarp so everyone could see what it looked like.  

A Lepage Glue gun


Caboose is just your basic armor-plated caboose fitted with armor, machine guns and an anti-tank gun in a turret. 



No missiles and radar – those came a year or more later for me, after Sputnik, when I was nine or ten.


I had a lot of fun building this over the last few months, and it brought back a lot of memories. 


Images (9)
  • 1-A Units with gun turrets
  • A Tank
  • Various Armor
  • Small artillery
  • A small railway cannon
  • A Schnabel Tank
  • Big railway gun
  • A Lepage Glue gun
  • DSCN0025
Videos (1)
Last edited by Lee Willis
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