Hello all,

I have a 1980(ish) Sunset Models N&W J Class 4-8-4. It is all original (right now) and I need to convert it from 2 rail operation to 3 rail. I have found a company that will install MTH ProtoSound 3 in it, but I was wondering work I need to do to prepare it for that. For the wheels I am using Lionel's parts for their recent rendition of the 611. Obviously I will need to install pickup rollers, but should I also use the Lionel motor or is there a better option? Also, are there any other steps I am missing? Thanks!

Original Post

You might have better luck seeing if Sunset has the three rail parts. They would probably fit better than Lionel parts.

 

Do you have your own machine shop?

 

The cheapest/least hassle option would be to find and convert an old MTH Premier proto one version of this loco. They used to be cheap, but all the hoopla about 611 coming back online may have caused the well to dry up, at least for a while.

RoyBoy

They did not make a 3 rail version. Just the 2 rail, plus being 35 years old, any parts would be almost impossible to find. I do not have a machine shop. I have a couple PS1 locomotives and they are a paint to run. The battery is frustrating and they have other issues. The PS3 would allow me to download the sound set from the 611 in the current catalog which MTH claims will have sound recorded from the real locomotive. Having seen it in person, I am in love with her sound (particularly her whistle).

If this was made before Sunset was making three rail engines you may not have enough clearance between the frame and wider wheel flanges of the three rail wheels. Have you measured the frame width and compare it to the distance between a wheelset of one of your three rail engines? 

 

Pete

Originally Posted by Will Ebbert:

Hello all,

I have a 1980(ish) Sunset Models N&W J Class 4-8-4. It is all original (right now) and I need to convert it from 2 rail operation to 3 rail. I have found a company that will install MTH ProtoSound 3 in it, but I was wondering work I need to do to prepare it for that. For the wheels I am using Lionel's parts for their recent rendition of the 611. Obviously I will need to install pickup rollers, but should I also use the Lionel motor or is there a better option? Also, are there any other steps I am missing? Thanks!

Cheapest/hassle free fix is to sell it and buy a 3R version.  You'll be money ahead, big time. 

 

If it was a unique locomotive never made in 3R, but only in 2R, I'd pull the trigger.  However, there are many beautiful 'J' N&W 3R locomotives available.  By the time you deal with the hassle and cost of converting, I'll bet it's close to the cost of a nice used 3R 'J'.

 

Good luck, let us know how you turn out.

Originally Posted by Boilermaker1:

quote:
...is there a better option...


 

Just buy a J with PS3 already in it. They shipped last month.

I agree. Just sell it and put the money towards a modern 3 rail locomotive. You will be much happier, with less aggravation, and it is a much better investment. By saying that I mean, if you spend money to change the drivers to allow this locomotive to run on Fastrack and add PS3 ($$$ for the kit and labor--you never get that money back) you will most likely end up having something that most folks don't want because newer versions are more detailed and more accurate, etc. So if you ever go to sell it someday you will take a big loss. If you buy the new MTH J and sell it someday you will also take a loss but it will be smaller of a loss. Just my opinion speaking from experience.

Phil

TCA Member

NYCHS Member

MTH RR Club

I have seen the Lionel J in person and photos of the MTH one. Mine is far more detailed. I don't plan on selling it. If I get it upgraded, there will be no need to sell it. Almost all of the details are right and the only one that aren't are due to modern changes to the locomotive which nobody has done correctly (extended coal bunker, roller bearings on the tender, etc). If I put PS3 in it, it will have sounds from the real 611. The wheels are $220 for both the engine and tender and PS3, smoke, and LED lighting is $550. In total that will only put me a few hundred dollars more than either the Lionel or MTH version.

I wish you good luck with your project. 

 

I'm just curious about something. I re-read your first post. If I understand you correctly you are going to put Lionel drivers into the Sunset chassis? How did you figure out that they will fit and operate properly? I'm surprised Lionel has extra drivers to sell. At least once you get it all done you can sell the factory 2 rail drivers and get some of your money back. 

Phil

TCA Member

NYCHS Member

MTH RR Club

The Lionel drivers come with a chassis so if they don't fit directly into the Sunset one I will just use the Lionel version. Lionel sells extra parts for all of their locomotives. Some of them have to be ordered through dealers, but they always have extras in case you damage your model. I doubt they would want them back, but I saw a Sunset J Class chassis for sale on eBay a while back and it went for a couple hundred dollars.

I know its your locomotive and your free to do as you wish. But just why? I cant grasp why ruin a 2 rail loco when there are plenty of 3 rail versions available. The amount of money your spending to do this, why not pick up a 3 rail version, call precision scale and get a box of detail parts for say 100 or so and redetail it???

I already have this, if I sold it I probably wouldn't get as much as I paid for it, and even if I get the details to add on, brass steamers just look so much better than die cast. Corners are crisper, details are finer. On die cast steamers, things that should be thin like the cab sides and the coal bunker on the tender scale to be 2 or 3 inches thick. Plus, this makes a project for me and it will be a locomotive to be proud of for the rest of my life. Anyone can buy a Lionel locomotive and slap a couple extra details on it, but this is something special.

Originally Posted by Will Ebbert:

 Anyone can buy a Lionel locomotive and slap a couple extra details on it, but this is something special.

 

Indeed Will. Many don't seem to comprehend the difference between making something yourself vs simply buying something someone else made.

 

Pete

Originally Posted by Will Ebbert:

I already have this, if I sold it I probably wouldn't get as much as I paid for it, and even if I get the details to add on, brass steamers just look so much better than die cast. Corners are crisper, details are finer. On die cast steamers, things that should be thin like the cab sides and the coal bunker on the tender scale to be 2 or 3 inches thick. Plus, this makes a project for me and it will be a locomotive to be proud of for the rest of my life. Anyone can buy a Lionel locomotive and slap a couple extra details on it, but this is something special.

I won't rehash everyone else's doubts, but if you are able to do this please share pics.

I understand completely the concept as i have a large collection of custom built locos by various famous builders such as bill lenoir, jerry white etc...as well as my own. At the end of the day, sunset still built the j as well, not custom built.
Originally Posted by Norton:

       
Originally Posted by Will Ebbert:

 Anyone can buy a Lionel locomotive and slap a couple extra details on it, but this is something special.

 

Indeed Will. Many don't seem to comprehend the difference between making something yourself vs simply buying something someone else made.

 

Pete

Originally Posted by Norton:
Originally Posted by Will Ebbert:

 Anyone can buy a Lionel locomotive and slap a couple extra details on it, but this is something special.

 

Indeed Will. Many don't seem to comprehend the difference between making something yourself vs simply buying something someone else made.

 

Pete

Nope. Build a lot of my own stuff and encourage others to do the same. However, this idea of converting an 80's brass loco to 3-rail is going to be fraught with a lot of issues that would be difficult to overcome even by a seasoned machinist. And in the end it is likely the locomotive will not look right (sunset body on a lionel frame?) will not operate well (big flanges on a scale loco) and will cost a lot of money that could otherwise be spent on another less detailed, better operating locomotive. Obviously he can do what he wants but there are a lot of experienced voices on this forum and they all seem to be saying the same thing. 

Will,

 

Do you ever get the feeling nobody actually reads what your saying or their comprehension level is somewhat lacking?

 

I'm going to talk To Gary Yoesley about your project and see if he can be of any assistance.  He was Sunset's primary service guy for 30 years.  He probably knows more about these models than anyone else.

 

Jay

Yes glad you noticed, my comprehension level is really lacking on this project.


Originally Posted by Jay C:

       

Will,

 

Do you ever get the feeling nobody actually reads what your saying or their comprehension level is somewhat lacking?

 

I'm going to talk To Gary Yoesley about your project and see if he can be of any assistance.  He was Sunset's primary service guy for 30 years.  He probably knows more about these models than anyone else.

 

Jay

Will, OK I see where you are coming from. If it were me I wouldn't do it but it's your locomotive and your hobby and I don't judge. Just do whatever it is that makes you happy.

 

The reason I gave my opinion as to sell it earlier is because many model railroaders often change their interests over time myself included. They change scales, eras, leave the hobby, move to a new home, come back to the hobby, etc and while you say you will never sell the engine now you never know what life is going to throw at you in the future. You know what they say about the best laid plans.

 

I have one other suggestion and I know this suggestion is so insane I probably should be shot or banned from the forum for even thinking it but why not just build a loop of 2 rail track to run this locomotive on? If it is as nice as you say and I am sure it is, then wouldn't it look better on 2 rail track as compared to Fastrack? Remember PS3 doesn't care how many rails are underneath it.

 

I am sorry but I disagree with this statement: "Anyone can buy a Lionel locomotive and slap a couple extra details on it, but this is something special."

 

I agree with you that if you are successful with this conversion it will be something special, however it isn't easy to detail die-cast locomotives. It's much easier to add details to brass. If you have read threads by forum member Wowak who has detailed and kitbashed 3 rail die cast locomotives I'm sure you wouldn't say he just slaps the stuff on there. What he does is also something special. Both are.

 

 

Phil

TCA Member

NYCHS Member

MTH RR Club

Originally Posted by Yves:

Instead of turning to 3 rails a very nice 2 rails model, have you thought of converting your entire layout to 2 rails?

 

You seem to find more pleasure in the precise and realistic aspects of 2 rails engines.

 

Yves

I was wondering when someone would make that suggestion.

Well, I suppose it is a good thing that someone wants to cut up a Sunset "J".  They had a lot of detail, but they were not in the category of "great" brass.  Still, they can be sold for around $600, and the very nice Williams with baked-on paint can in turn be bought for around $300.

 

If you do it yourself, you will definitely need a narrower frame.  Depending on how Sunset detailed the frame, that could mean a new frame.  If you plan on using it on 3-rail typical curves, say, O54, you will need to remove the tail beam and find a smaller set of cylinders.  Often the front frame will need lengthening.  A longer drawbar is trivial, as are the tender trucks and dremeling the rear of the tender to accept the giant coupler.  Your locomotive will then be worth about $100 if you ever decide to sell it.

 

You will learn a lot, though, and that is priceless.  Let us know how it goes.  I shall keep my Williams 2-rail "J". Very happy with it.

By the way, I just converted a Lobaugh Berkshire to 3-rail for a guy.  We used a Williams mechanism, and just cut the tailbeam to accommodate the four wheel Berk truck.  Bolted right in.  I wonder if you could do that - just buy the Williams "J", bolt the mechanism into the Sunset boiler, and sell the leftover pieces as a beautiful 2-rail locomotive ready for assembly.  I bet you would break even, except for all the expensive electronics.  I might even bid for the leftovers, and I am all through adding to my collection.

Originally Posted by bob2:

By the way, I just converted a Lobaugh Berkshire to 3-rail for a guy.  We used a Williams mechanism, and just cut the tailbeam to accommodate the four wheel Berk truck.  Bolted right in.  I wonder if you could do that - just buy the Williams "J", bolt the mechanism into the Sunset boiler, and sell the leftover pieces as a beautiful 2-rail locomotive ready for assembly.  I bet you would break even, except for all the expensive electronics.  I might even bid for the leftovers, and I am all through adding to my collection.

I have thought about that option. I saw a William J on eBay not too long ago for a decent price and almost bought it. I may look for another before buying the Lionel parts.

Originally Posted by Yves:

Instead of turning to 3 rails a very nice 2 rails model, have you thought of converting your entire layout to 2 rails?

 

You seem to find more pleasure in the precise and realistic aspects of 2 rails engines.

 

Yves

I've thought about it many a time and if I could wind back the clock I would definitely do 2 rail, but then it would go from converting one locomotive to converting my entire fleet. If I had plenty of time and money, sure I would, but I'm about to start college and therefore don't have much of either.

Start college as in just fooling around, or are you 19 and going for a degree?  If the latter, put the trains away for six years, study your tail off, emerge with a masters in something, and then get back in to trains.  Voice of experience here - you never really catch up if you are not serious right off the bat.

 

I got serious at 26, and was always about six years behind my colleagues.  Worked out in the long run; all my friends are now 20 years younger than me.

Originally Posted by bob2:

Start college as in just fooling around, or are you 19 and going for a degree?  If the latter, put the trains away for six years, study your tail off, emerge with a masters in something, and then get back in to trains.  Voice of experience here - you never really catch up if you are not serious right off the bat.

 

I got serious at 26, and was always about six years behind my colleagues.  Worked out in the long run; all my friends are now 20 years younger than me.

The latter. I will. May bring one or two trains down to my dorm to put above my bed, but they will definitely have to take the back burner.

Wiil. Norton and others are correct. You will have issues with the wheel widths and clearing the siderods and the valve gears. Since you are using fastrak, the 3 rail flanges and wheel widths are a must  to run smooth.over switches and other specialty track sections. Also note not all the super detailing on a two rsil loco could be saved due to flange clearances for 3rail. By the time you convert the 2rail to a 3grail. You would have a hack job, spend at least twice the amount of $$ for a new 3-rail one

member:Golden Spike Club Charter Member

I've done the type of swap 2rail to 3 rail you want to do. The first thing you need to do is connect a DC transformer to your rails and see if the loco will navigate your 3 rail track.

 

If it does, the conversion is relatively straight forward using TMCC from ERR. That being said, you are miles ahead if you convert it to battery powered RC with sound. That is what I'm doing now. It is a much better solution. Even though the 3 rail conversion is straight forward it is difficult to execute with a good chance of shorting your TMCC unit. Maybe it is easier with MTH equipment, I don't know.

Originally Posted by Ron H:

I've done the type of swap 2rail to 3 rail you want to do. The first thing you need to do is connect a DC transformer to your rails and see if the loco will navigate your 3 rail track.

 

If it does, the conversion is relatively straight forward using TMCC from ERR. That being said, you are miles ahead if you convert it to battery powered RC with sound. That is what I'm doing now. It is a much better solution. Even though the 3 rail conversion is straight forward it is difficult to execute with a good chance of shorting your TMCC unit. Maybe it is easier with MTH equipment, I don't know.

Fantastic! I've been looking into RC with a friend. Would I just use an HO scale type sound decoder?

While I would love to convert certain powered 2 rail models to three rail, they would

all be models for which no three rail versions exist.  (there are a lot of those) I would not go through the hassle of cutting up something, if I could find a model of it, and the chassis was close.  If detail is not good, I would tackle adding that to it, and not have all the potential problems cited above.  It sounds easier just to build up a brass detailed shell for an existing three rail chassis. (obviously, that demands soldering

skills, but starting with a running chassis, you are more likely to end with one)

??Another one of THOSE!!??  What you want to sell is not what I want to buy!

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