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!

Last edited by CNJ #1601

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...

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