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I have been bitten by the 3 Rail Scale bug and I'm now wondering How to install fixed pilots. 3rd Rail has recently offered fixed pilots for their 3 rail diesels, but they cost an arm & a leg nowadays. Norm Charbonneau used his 3D printer to make fixed pilots, but I don't have one, let alone the skill to design a pilot. Is there an easier way to make fixed pilots? (Also my layout is O54/O42 Radius only, so will fixed pilots and Kadee Couplers be a problem?)

Kyle - A Fellow "Rail-Nerd"

Last edited by Kyle Pax Express
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Before you start converting diesels to Kadee’s. Start with a couple of boxcars and see how they perform. If they pass the test. Small diesels should be fine. I just can’t see passenger cars working.

For fixed pilots. Go to Shapeways and search O scale pilot spacer. A few should pop up and may be what your looking for.

I only have done one model. An MTH RS1. I made the spacer out of aluminum from the big box store. Cutting, drilling, shaping and tapping is involved. Not hard and can be done with basic tools. I had 3 to do. I ended up buying a junker on eBay just to use the chassis for mock up. If you don’t like it and want to revert back. You may have already ruined some factory parts.



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A few conversions I did going back at least 15 years now before I decided to migrate my PRR and CNJ models to 2 rail and stick with lobster claws on my 3 rail trains.  I made spacers for both of these units and removed the electro couplers off the trucks.  It worked out much better on the F40PH than the C30-7 as the balance of the truck got thrown off on the 6 wheel trucks and it never ran right after, but with time I probably could go back and fix that.

F40PH to start.  The donor was an MTH VIA Home Hardware unit.  First I removed the dynamic brakes as NJT units were not delivered with them.


Masking of the model for new paint.


Spacer added to the front and rear pilot, brass rods used for HEP connections, addition of the Kadee coupler box, and infilling the hole left from the removal of the claw.


Fresh out of the pain shop.


added decals, painted coupler and painted MU and HEP connectors.


Some gentle weathering added.


My C30-7 meant to replicate the U34CH:

Rear and Front views fresh out of the paint shop.  I did this spacer out of two layers of plastic and made a template to cut them out more accurately than the crude attempt on the F40.  I like the results much better.  Also added was a hand made cut lever for the couplers, the covers over the air lines, and the HEP / MU connectors.


"In service" look with some fairly heavy weathering to reflect this unit at the end of life.


One cautionary tale.  After these truly enjoyable exercises, I just made the choice that for my primary and hopefully future layout, I didn't like the 3rd Rail anymore either!

As 3RS for operations, I was able to run 4 axle locomotives and 40 freight cars with Kadee couplers on my modular 3 rail layout on the 054 loop without issue.  80' passenger cars ran on the 072 loop but depending on how closely the couplers were spaced, I sometimes had challenges running them that tight and recommend at least 080 curves.  Of course the larger the curve you can fit the better in any situation.

Athearn O 2 rail car that I've swapped the wheelsets out for 3 rail and 2 rail at least twice!


Weaver 3 Rail GG1 was a breeze.  Just swapped out the coupler with a #805 coupler and pocket.


Atlas 3 Rail Comet Cars.  Not being the easiest cars to disassemble, I cut the 3 rail coupler off with tin snips and threw them away. This left a great opportunity to fill in the end of the cab car with the missing details.


My 2nd partially completed O scale layout circa 2010 with various cars converted to Kadee couplers.


The fun part of running trains with Kadee couplers was the sound they made when the slack action was pulled out of the train when I started one.  You could hear all the couplers clicking together which is very prototypical.  Fun times!


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Last edited by GG1 4877


In addition to what Dave C. has said, you can also use styrene, as I have, to create shims for the pilot. This is what has been used on all of my conversions. In the age of 3D printing this task has been made even more precise as you mentioned with Norm C. and companies like Shapeways.

Also, I have one corner of 054 curves and my four axle diesels negotiate them fine. However, if you intend to run 6-axle diesels you may run into a problem. At the very least you will probably have to use a longer shank Kadee coupler.

Do a search on here for 3-rail scale, fixing pilots, etc. There are great examples from other forumites who have done great work in this area. That's how I started this brave venture.


Last edited by luvindemtrains

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