Or "how to turn a beautiful new engine into an old, ugly monstrosity". 

Modeling the CNJ (more accurately, the South Amboy, NJ area, including the CNJ, PRR and RRRR), there's one glaring omission from O scale available motive power. CNJ had 86 (if my counting is correct) big Mikados, from their original USRA fleet, through 4 additional purchases, all of the latter with Wooten fireboxes, and many fitted with Elesco feedwater heaters, creating one big, brutish, beautiful engine.

Now, until Lionel's recent ($1299 msrp) BTO USRA Mikados, big Mikes have been scarce as chicken teeth in O scale. Hines Lines made a fine one starting in 1946, good luck finding one for sale (or affording it). Not having $1299 (and not being particularly interested in a bland USRA model) or a wayback machine, I decided I'd attempt to build my own. 

Now, where to start? A PRR L1s is close, at least as far as boiler size goes (rumor is it was the inspiration for the USRA heavy mikado), and they exist in O scale. Only problem, most have cast bodies, and removing a belpaire firebox from a casting sounded like a *****. 3rd rail made one in brass, but if I wanted to drop that type of cash, I'd buy the Lionel USRA and modify it. Plus, the front of the engine was entirely different.

Since the USRA light and heavy Mikes running gear is nearly identical (other than 1" bigger cylinders on the heavy, and nobody's going to notice 1/48th of an inch difference on the model), and Williams brass light Mikes are plentiful, I figured that would be my base, and I'd modify the boiler and add the trimmings to flesh it out. Now, as luck would have it, the cheapest donor unit I could find was a brand spankin' new, in the box Williams Southern RR light Mikado. BEAUTIFUL engine. Were I a fan of the Southern RR, it would have lovingly graced my collection. But no, the route of the Jersey Devil was in my blood, so a sacrifice it must become!

It took quite a while to get up the courage to disassemble it. Some of the trim came off grudgingly with a soldering iron, but in the end, it had to go under the torch to remove the big stuff. And hey, the boiler came apart in 2 pieces! That surprised the heck out of me (never having attempted anything like this before).

Stay tuned for "Part 2, the Reconstruction"...s-l1600 [3)

 

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Part 2 (now with more pictures!

I had a plan (hair-brained as it might be). From diagrams and research, it seemed that the heavy Mike's boiler was 96" in diameter at its widest, and the smokebox was 86" in diameter. Scaling 96" down came to a wonderful 2", and the smokebox scaled to just over 1 3/4". Ordered some brass tubing, and figured I'd clad the original boiler using that and JB Kwik to hold it in place rather than attempt to solder everything, as I have no plans to ever take it apart again, and the faster curing time of the "Kwik" would allow me to get more work done, faster. Cutting the tubes for the straight parts was easy, cladding the tapered parts a bit more challenging, involving cutting tubes lengthwise, then fitting and trimming as needed to cover. I also cut a ring the thickness of the smokebox front which was applied to the original front to bring it out to the diameter of the new, larger smokebox.

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I originally planned to meticulously map the items I'd removed from the original, so I could put them back on the finished product, but quickly scrapped that as I realized that it would be much easier to just figure out where things needed to be and drill new holes when that time came, since not everything would be in the same place, or used at all. 

2 large aids were the folks at CNJ at Mauch Chunk (a wonderful bunch of guys who model the CNJ in the UK), who put together a guide for converting an HO BLI USRA Mikado to both CNJ M3s and M3as BLI USRA to CNJ Heavy Mike conversion, and Brasstrains.com's pictures of an HO OMI CNJ M3as 2-8-2. Armed with this info (and some detail parts from Precision Scale Co.), I was on my way.

First order of business after enlarging the boiler was adding the Wooten firebox. Our good friend styrene came to my aid. I JB Kwik'd the first layer onto the original brass firebox, and built it out as needed, then filed and shaped it. Also used styrene for the cover in front of the cab. A hose clamp is holding everything to the correct diameter until the front of the boiler is attached again. Hit everything with a quick coat of primer to see what needed a bit more work, and drove on...

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Put the smokestack back in, attached one of the domes, and added the Elesco feedwater heater. Only problem, the ends on "Precision" Scale Co.'s heater were reversed, so I had to cut them off, re-attach them and THEN I could mount it. It's starting to look like a train again, rather than a collection of brass tubes with various holes cut in them!

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Stay tuned for Part 3!

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Last edited by Magicland

Great project, Magicland!  Thanks for posting...I’ll be following this thread closely.  Being a huge CNJ fan, I’ve been patiently waiting for one of the manufacturers/importers to offer an accurate CNJ Heavy Mike.  I remember being happy to hear that Lionel was going to offer one, only to see later that it wasn’t an accurate representation of the CNJ’s Heavy Mikes.  3rd Rail would probably be the most likely candidate to produce an accurate version, but that’s probably a long shot.

These locomotives worked hard for many years dragging heavy freights up and down the mountain grades of northeastern PA where I grew up, so I’d love to own one or two.  I know my modeling limitations and probably won’t tackle a project of this magnitude; but I certainly will watch and appreciate yours!

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When I saw CNJ and Heavy Mike in the title I was hooked! Looking great! Is that a recent Williams mike or an older brass one? Looks like an old one.

You apparently have the skills.  The better way is to solder the courses back together, and that could have been done with the same torch.

I too use the brass bar rail, but screw it together with rings underneath, using 2-56 brass F/H screws before soldering.  With the right flux, the solder just leaps in there.

Too late now, but when the Hines Lines show up, they go for $150-$300.  And the Scale Craft K4 has the L1 boiler, but its taper is not like the big USRA.

Very nice work!

@Trainmstr posted:

When I saw CNJ and Heavy Mike in the title I was hooked! Looking great! Is that a recent Williams mike or an older brass one? Looks like an old one.

I believe this was the 1990 one. Crazy, it being NIB 30 years later, it was in pristine condition, and I really hated taking it apart.

@bob2 posted:

You apparently have the skills.  The better way is to solder the courses back together, and that could have been done with the same torch.

I too use the brass bar rail, but screw it together with rings underneath, using 2-56 brass F/H screws before soldering.  With the right flux, the solder just leaps in there.

Too late now, but when the Hines Lines show up, they go for $150-$300.  And the Scale Craft K4 has the L1 boiler, but its taper is not like the big USRA.

Very nice work!

While I appreciate your compliments, I'm just winging this as I go along. I'm totally in awe of the people who put things like this together in the first place, fabbed completely out of brass, as that's a level of skill I can only dream of attaining. When I look at the original postwar Hines Lines models, I'm amazed at what they were able to do at the time with the tools they had. Truly works of art...

Okay, I've been busy with a few other projects, but I'm finally getting a chance to work on this again (or, more accurately, show my work). Added the ash pans to the firebox (also had to rework the front of the firebox as I found a more detailed picture of the details, rivets will be added prior to painting), have the shell re-assembled into one piece, trimmed the running boards closes to the cab (not seen in the pic, as they haven't been re-attached yet). Before I re-attach them, I need to plot out a good bit of the plumbing and where it'll run, as some of it needs to go between them and the boiler/firebox.

Next I'll work on a bunch of the details. Need to add the bands between the boiler sections, whatever you call the plugs that should blow out before the boiler explodes, foot steps, mark and drill for the handrail stanchions, and whatever plumbing that needs to go on before the running boards. Hopefully I'll have pics of my additional progress sometime this weekend...

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Hopefully I'll get an updated photo either tonight or tomorrow. Had to fill the seam above where the firebox starts, it's about 1/8" off from where the band at the top of the firebox falls.

CNJ used 2 single stage air pumps instead of a cross-compound unit (which the original model had). Had these made on shapeways, turned out cheaper than getting them from Precision Brass, and they're more detailed. Hard to get the detail to show up in a photo since they're made from clear plastic. 

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Minor progress made. Bands between boiler sections replace/added, holes drilled for and pressure reliefs and boiler steps replaced. Holes drilled for some plumbing, routes marked for the others that I need to run before replacing the firebox section running boards. Up next, running that plumbing and fabbing a mount for the generator, then re-attaching the firebox section running boards, as well as drilling the holes for the handrail stanchions (also hopefully finding the one that ended up on the kitchen floor when I removed them, or finding a replacement).

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Looks impressive. I am also one of those that would have bought the Lionel CNJ Mike if it had been accurate so I will definitely be keeping an eye on your exciting project.

Intermission. While I waited for the stanchions to show up, I finished off this. Needed something to interchange freight in South Amboy. Started as an MTH Chessie SW-9. 20200619_202037

Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Stanchions came today, hoping the holes are big enough for the handrail wire... 

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I am mightily impressed by this project, both in the work done and the absence of whining for 3rd Rail to make the loco. Good on ya!!

Well, looks like the holes on the stanchions I ordered are too small for the handrail wire (1 mm) that I have (reusing the original handrails). Tried drilling out the ends to 1 mm, but that just removes the end once the bit starts to cut. So, it's either find some other suitable stanchions, or figure out some way to create ends for the stanchions with 1 mm holes (Thought of using seed beads, but when the size is right, the hole is too small). Only need to make 2 (hopefully, lost 1 and broke 1 in the removal). Other than the holes in the end, the stanchions I got are fairly close matches.

So, with that at a temporary standstill, I fabbed up a mount for the generator and got that attached, and gave everything a light coat of primer to check for any areas that need further work before the serious plumbing starts. Which presents, of course, another problem. I've got good detail pics of 2 M3as models, but neither of them are close to each other, or pics of the actual engines as far as plumbing goes (though good detail shots don't, for the most part, exist), and even the actual engines don't match each other (depending on the year, repairs, modifications, etc). So I'm going to have to plan this out as a "most likely" thing and take a bit of artistic license. Also threw some paint on the parts of the chassis I had to modify to fit the larger smokebox. 

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Quick update. Started on the plumbing. Disregard the pattern on the hose wrap, it won't stay that color. Temporarily re-attached the chassis to help with positioning (and the screw hole lined up AND worked!). Trying to figure out how to support the feedwater pump and air pumps, I expect most of the day tomorrow will be devoted to that...

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