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A few weeks ago, I finally decided what I wanted to do with this shabby Lionel handcar that I picked up at my last York trip. I have designed and built another unusual rail vehicle seldom seen in O Scale-- the Pennsylvania Railroad's custom made Street Tractor! The PRR built several of these vehicles in their Juniata shops back in the 1910s. They were in service in Baltimore through the 1940s, being gradually replaced with more modern vehicles in the 1950s and 1960s. Here is a link to an article where you can read more about these interesting early road-rail vehicles.

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The project began with dismantling the handcar so I could take measurements off the frame. There were two screws and one rivet that had to come off. Here's what the motor frame looks like once you pull off the top section and pop off the little gear for the gandy-dancer movement. I kept the two body screws so I could reuse them to attach the new body.

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Using a photograph of an original tractor and the dimensions taken from the handcar motor frame, I created a new virtual model in Fusion 360. I had to deviate from the prototype in a few areas to make it fit, but it came together after a couple of test prints.

Pennsy Street Tractor development in fusion

My biggest concern was the pulling power of the handcar motor. Modern Lionel handcars are powered by a little bitty 0.5A can motor and a very simple worm drive powering only one axle. The motor isn't even screwed into the frame, it's roughly held in place by a shelf on the body. I made sure to clean and lubricate the motor drive before I started.

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By carefully adjusting the body screws to put just the right amount of pressure on the motor, I was able to comfortably pull 1 boxcar at about 13V on my small O54 conventional loop.

After one final design revision to adjust the screw hole placement, I finally had the body fit to my liking. The conversion kit consists of 2 resin pieces (the body and the muffer on the roof) and 2 filament pieces (the couplers). The couplers are held onto the buffers by screws threaded in from underneath.

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With the CAD design out of the way, it was time to build the whole thing. I started by painting the model with some nice Rustoleum 2x Forest Green.

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After this came decals and handrails. I used my usual 0.050" wire for handrails and rummaged up some scrap PRR decals that I had lying around in the shop.

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After taping in some clear plastic window glass, the first Street Tractor was fully assembled and ready to roll.

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Here is the finished Street Tractor running on my layout.

A future project will be to add some form of a motor control board (the model is awfully small for full command control!) and LED lighting for the headlights. Until then, happy holidays!

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  • Pennsy Street Tractor development in fusion
Last edited by Trainguy Ken
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That's really cool Ken!  If I tell you how to get a lot more pulling power, will you print one for me?

Seriously, look for the K-Line Plymouth, it has a dual gear motor and drives all four wheels.  It's the exact same frame, so it'll bolt right on to your shell.

Here's three Plymouths pulling a dozen cars, including up the 2.5% grade.  One of these chassis in your shell should pull three or four modern boxcars, especially on flat track.

For the ultimate, you could add full command/control with sound.  It actually runs pretty smooth, I was a bit jerky at the controls, I was trying to run it really slow, and without cruise control, that's tricky.

That's really cool Ken!  If I tell you how to get a lot more pulling power, will you print one for me?

Seriously, look for the K-Line Plymouth, it has a dual gear motor and drives all four wheels.  It's the exact same frame, so it'll bolt right on to your shell.

Here's three Plymouths pulling a dozen cars, including up the 2.5% grade.  One of these chassis in your shell should pull three or four modern boxcars, especially on flat track.

For the ultimate, you could add full command/control with sound.  It actually runs pretty smooth, I was a bit jerky at the controls, I was trying to run it really slow, and without cruise control, that's tricky.



And a kick-*** smoke unit too......

@RSJB18 posted:

Neat project Ken. Very cool.

Thanks Bob! I first found the Street Tractor in a historical photo archive a few weeks ago and as soon as I saw it, I thought about the handcar motor that was still lying in my parts bin and thus the plan formed.

@coach joe posted:

Another incredible project Ken.  You're definitely putting your 3D to some good use.  Will the street tractor run an slower than shown in your videos?

You got me thinking about that so I did an experiment. After running a lap or two to warm up the street tractor's motor, I was able to get it down to about this speed without stalling. The tractor will crawl at a fairly low voltage but the motor just doesn't have the power to pull anything below 11V. Every time I run something conventional, I really appreciate the low-speed performance of all my command engines!

That's really cool Ken!  If I tell you how to get a lot more pulling power, will you print one for me?

Seriously, look for the K-Line Plymouth, it has a dual gear motor and drives all four wheels.  It's the exact same frame, so it'll bolt right on to your shell.



That's a very good tip on the K-Line Plymouths, those do look like a better platform to build customs on than the handcar motors. I still have a couple of unused donor frames left in my "guilty pile" of half finished projects but I will start shopping for a Plymouth once I finally get caught up.

I have just finished redesigning my Pennsy street tractor to fit a K-Line handcar motor. As @TheRambles suggested on my GE 25-tonner build, this is a very nice little motor with a heavy diecast frame, abundantly available and quite economical.

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Extracting the motor from the K-Line handcar required taking out 4 screws and then drilling out 1 small rivet to disconnect the linkage to the "gandy dancer" bar. Out of the box, it was quite evident that the who-knows-hold-old grease wasn't doing the job anymore. A liberal application of Red n Tacky to the worm gear resolved the problem handily.

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The handcar has a little lever riveted to a plastic gear that makes the "gandy dancer" pump as it runs. There's no need for this motion in the street tractor and the gear is kind of in the way, so I just snapped the gear off with a pair of pliers. From this same photo, you will notice that only 1 axle is powered on this handcar, and that axle has traction tires on both wheels. That means that the locomotive's unpowered axle is also the only ground connection. The third rail pickups are both proper spring rollers which is a nice improvement over the MPC motor's copper slider.

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Here is a Fusion screencap showing the new K-Line body on TOP and the old MPC body on BOTTOM. Although very similar at a glance, there are some important changes-- the mounting holes are different, and I have made some further small improvements to the end buffers and the insides of the hoods. It's a very different body underneath!

Pennsy Street Tractor kline vs mpc bodies

Here's the prototype build. The original body screws from the K-Line handcar are too short to work with the new body, so I found some 5/8" long #2-56 screws to hold it together. The fit is quite nice, the four screws hold the body on well and aren't as visible as the ones on the MPC chassis since they insert from the bottom. The couplers fit into the end buffers about the same as my original design.

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With the new body mounted to the new frame, I was eager to see what it could do. I connected two boxcars and an illuminated caboose to see how the new Pennsy street tractor would perform.

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Here's the video of the track test. A significant improvement! No real issues with stalling, the street tractor runs quite smoothly at only 13V.

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  • Pennsy Street Tractor kline vs mpc bodies

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