Work on the RS-3 conversion project is continuing with the addition of a second unit.  As mentioned in Part 1, I am following an excellent build thread on the Railwire forum during my conversion project.

There are some steps I have modified and other steps I am skipping over.    After a few attempts at trying to create hand grabs out of fine wire I have elected to skip that step.  They are just too small and frustrating to create and install.  I have nothing but admiration for the people who can install such tiny detail parts on N scale models, but I’ll pass for now!

For the large circular radiator fan I also used an old trick of using self-adhesive textured fabric repair material to get the appearance of a fine mesh.  I had previously used it on rectangular fans on the side of a CRS-20 conversion but it works just as well on the circular fan.  It just needs to be trimmed very precisely with a new sharp blade.

Primary body shell modifications underway 

I still have a few fit issues with the shells.   On one unit the long hood was sitting too high so I created a thin strip styrene skirt to fill the gap between the bottom of the shell and the top of the walkway section.  The second unit needs a bit of attention on the short hood end, probably including filing some material of the metal frame to get a better fit of the short hood and cab.  I’ll do any frame filing when I get to the decoder installation stage of the project.

Detail variations in horn arrangement and long hood headlight housing will make for fun when choosing the correct prototype road numbers

Side window shades were installed using etched parts from a suitably generic locomotive detail parts set.     Horns are Minatures by Eric parts that (fortunately) I had lying around in my parts box.   As is noted in the Railwire build thread and in other sources, the RS-3s had a bewildering array of minor variations between units with the horn cluster being one of them.   I elected to install a 3-forward horn arrangement on one unit and a 2-forward-one-back horn arrangement on the other.

The core of a good 1970s BCR fleet – 2 RS-11s and 2-RS-3s

The Railwire build thread describes a process to remove the Atlas pilots (by very careful sanding) and installing BCR correct parts.   I haven’t decided whether or not to do this step as I feel a simple styrene ‘shelf’ along the bottom of the Atlas pilot would give the same appearance with considerably less work.   Other than that the basic conversion is largely complete.

Not sure if I will proceed to the decoder installation and painting stage right away or switch to building some freight car kits.    As the New Zealand spring approaches I am more in the mood for small kit building projects that can be done over a few hours each week.


I have several building projects on the go at this point.   I find it more fun to have several projects on the go at once.  Often you can hit a sticking point on a model and it is good to step away and work on something else for a while.

While waiting for some additional parts to complete the RS-18  project i made a start on one of two RS-3 conversions.    These also use Briggs Models parts.   The Briggs parts represent the correct style of short and long hood that would have been seen on PGE/BCR RS-3s in the late 1970s era.    The conversion retains the stock Atlas Cab piece, handrail and chassis assembly.   Fuel tank modification is also required.

There is an excellent step-by-step build thread by Tim Horton on the Railwire forum.

I have been following the build thread closely so I won’t got into a step-by-step instructional article here.

Here are the first set of my progress pictures.  So far I have made the required modifications to the bodyshell parts to get an initial fit.  An initial coat of primer was then applied to all the parts.   The original RS-3 I used was an Atlas Classic model in Canadian National green.

With tracklaying and wiring complete it is time to turn attention to some model building.  The RS 18 was a common sight on the BCR north end during the 1970s so it is important to have a couple on the roster.  Fortunately, Briggs Models now makes bodyshell replacement parts that can be used on the old Atlas Classic Alco RS-11

The hard part is modifying the chassis to make room for the low nosed short hood.  Fortunately I did this several years ago when I did a major kitbash job to create a CRS-20 (which is essentially a later era version of the RS-11)

You can read about the CRS-20 conversion in the May 2016 Model Railroad Hobbyist which is linked below.

This first stage of the project involved fitting the major parts and making modifications to the stock Atlas RS-11 handrails to fit the new body shell profiles.

Next steps will involve fitting the various detail parts and giving the models an initial coat of primer.


Update. July 28, 2019.  A coat of primer added which makes the detail so much easier to see and photograph.,

Golden Spike Ceremony

June 1, 2019


Today marked the final joining of the staging yard to the main layout.   This was commemorated with two RS-3s meeting and a comedy oversized golden spike being placed at the final rail connection between the two layout sections.

Progress has been a bit slow over the last few months but a few hours per week were enough to get staging benchwork constructed and track laid and wired.

The staging yard represents points south of Fort St. John including Taylor, Teko and Septimus.    Currently it is just a 2 track stub ended yard but this will eventually be expanded to 3 tracks (I simply ran out of flex track).   There are plans to add a low sky board and some basic scenery which will make it a good place to take some photos of motive power and rolling stock items as they are completed

It is rewarding to know that it has only been 17 months from the painting of the railway room to the golden spike ceremony.   Much as I would prefer a larger space for more railway, this small layout has been able to progress very quickly.

As the New Zealand winter has firmly arrived now, it is time to turn attention to the large quantity of kits that have been accumulated over the years.



Things may have seemed quiet due to the lack of postings but I was busily working away on powering all the frogs of the 20 turnouts on the layout.   I had hoped that this wouldn’t be needed but I found that even my best running locomotives were stuttering and stalling on many of the Atlas turnouts.   I am currently running under DC so there is a possibility that this stalling won’t be an issue with the higher current of DCC but to be on the safe side I went ahead and powered all the turnout frogs in one big series of work sessions.

I had read a few articles on using inexpensive micro slide switches to provide mechanical motion to the points while simultaneously routing power to the frog so I decided to give it a try on one turnout.   When that worked I applied the same technique to all the others.

It took about a month of odd evening and weekend work sessions and the work was very repetitive and tedious so much so that I swore any other layout I build will have as few turnouts as possible.  The power routing does work though and locomotives now crawl through turnouts at slow speed with very few stalls even under the very low current of slow speed DC power.

When I laid the track initially I did solder wires from the frog connection (the small tab on Atlas turnouts) and dropped them down under the layout for future connection if needed (At the time I wasn’t sure frog powering would be needed).    This certainly made the process easier and faster

Another thing that really helped and that was purely accidental was my decision to use two layers of cork flooring as a sub-roadbed. The thickness of the 2 layers was deep enough to accommodate the slide switches such that they were flush with the top of the roadbed.    It also made switch installation easy in that all that was needed was to carve out a small rectangular hole in the cork.   The switches just stay in the hole without any glue needed.

The micro switches I used are double pole double throw type switches bought for about $1.50 each at Jaycar Electronics in Auckland.  Being New Zealand this is probably shockingly expensive relative to what you would pay for them in North America or the UK.

Basic steps I used for powering all my Atlas turnout frogs were as follows:

Step 1. Cut away top layer of foam roadbed, exposing cork sub-roadbed beneath,  Mark rectangular extent of micro slide switch and cut out hole through both layers of cork using sharp Stanley knife.

Step 2. Remove slide switch and drill holes through the benchwork for the wires to pass through.  I used a drill bit with a diameter similar to a drinking straw.  Initially I drilled 2 holes but soon realized one hole would be sufficient for the 3 wires leading from the switch.20190112_105807

Test fit the micro switch again to make sure it fits snug and flush.

Step 3. Drill a small hole in the switch knob.   I used a 0.8mm diameter drill bit which, although very delicate and fine worked OK in my standard drill. The switch knob plastic is very soft so drilling through it is easy.

Step 4.  I cut about a 2 inch length of 0.7mm wire and fed it through the hole in the switch knob. Bend the wire 90 degrees so that it is snug around the knob.  Make another 90 degree bend to point the tail of the wire in the direction of the turnout throwbar.

Step 5. I cut a 2 inch length of standard drinking straw and fed it through the benchwork hole drilled earlier. The straw is simply there to make passing wires up and down through the interior of my hollow core door benchwork easier.    I then went under the layout and located the green frog wires I had dropped down during the tracklaying phase.  i fed these up through the drinking straws until their ends popped out into view above the layout.20190119_104717.jpg

Step 6. Cut lengths of red and black feeder wire to connect the micro switch to the bus wires underneath the layout.   I started with 8 inch lengths and later trimmed them back under the layout before connecting them to the main bus.   Strip and tin the ends of the feeder wires and the frog wire in preparation for soldering to the micro switch.20190120_085536.jpgStep 7. Solder the red and black feeders to the micro switch contact pins making sure the the polarity is correct.   On my layout the red bus is along the front of the layout so I made double sure that all my micro switches were wired with the red feeder at the front.   The green frog wire is soldered to the middle pin.   I used small pieces of foam wedged between the contact pins to prevent any wires from touching each other and causing a potential short circuit.

Step 8. Pass the red and black feeder wires down through the drinking straws.   Under the layout pull the wires through, trim away any excess length, strip and tin the ends and connect them to the main bus wires.  On my layout I use terminal blocks to connect all feeders to a sub-bus which connects to the main bus.  I simply fed these turnout feeders into terminal strips along with existing track feeders.   It is critical to test each turnout after the wires are connected to make sure there are no short circuits.

The micro switch is not physically connected to the turnout throwbar at this stage but if you move the switch and points independently in the same direction a locomotive under DC power should run smoothly over the (now powered) frog without stalling.  If you reverse the position of micro switch without reversing the points then the locomotive will stall on the frog which is to be expected since the frog is now unpowered in that switch position.   I typically ran a locomotive over a completed turnout multiple times through all possible paths and changed the switch position to both confirm (positively and negatively…excuse the pun) that the frog was being powered (or not powered) according to the correct motion of the slide switch relative to the points themselves.


Step 9. Finally I trimmed and bent the throwbar wire from the micro switch to fit through the small hole on the Atlas turnout throwbar.   Some adjustment is usually needed to get the perfect amount of throw and to get a good physical stop between the point and stock rails.

At this point I thoroughly vacuumed away all the debris from the installation process, cleaned the pointwork tracks and tested it again under DC power

In conclusion, although the process was incredibly tedious, the results were worth it.    There are commercial products called Frog juicers available (they are for DCC only) that would have made this quicker but I went with the inexpensive but time consuming approach.

I am now moving on to installing the next section of benchwork that will hold the staging yard.   There will be some frog powering needed on the turnouts there but that will be a few months away and it will only be a couple of turnouts.


The plan for the Christmas break had been to complete the staging section of benchwork and lay the staging tracks.   However I wanted the ability to get things running on the main yard first so I turned my attention to getting the yard tracks fully wired and operational under DC power.

The layout is being wired for DCC but purchase of a DCC system and installation of decoders in locomotives is at least a year away, so in the interim I purchased a simple DC power pack and connected it to what will become the DCC main bus lines.

I made a fold-down holder for the DC power pack using some scrap pieces of wood and small hinges.  When operating sitting down (which is how the layout was designed to be viewed) the power pack is left in its folded down position.   If operating standing up it is flipped up to horizontal.  The lightweight power pack is simply mounted to the holder using Velcro strips.  This holder will likely be removed when DCC throttles are acquired, but for now it looks great and works well.

Best practice for wiring is to make sure every piece of track (no matter how short) has its own set of feeders.  I followed this practice and the result was a huge nest of wires under the layout.  Currently they have been roughly taped to the benchwork underside in order to tame them somewhat.  Eventually once the DCC system has been installed and is working the wires will be more neatly mounted.

Wire gauge in New Zealand is typically expressed in mm diameter (not AWG), but the key wire gauges I used roughly translate as 14, 18 and 22 AWG.  I used stranded 14 gauge wires for the main bus.   Soldered to these at regular intervals were stranded 18 AWG pig tails.   These pig tails were then connected via terminal blocks to groups of solid 22 AWG track feeders.

On previous layouts i had just soldered everything together and never had an issue.  Having heard more than a few stories about mystery short circuits from hell where the only diagnostic tool was cutting soldered feeders, I decided that terminal blocks would be a better approach.

I also soldered green 22 AWG frog feeders from all the turnouts but these are not connected to anything yet.   I am either looking at SPDT switch operated turnouts or using Frog Juicers.

Note that all the track feeders were soldered to the track back during the track laying phase.   They had simply been dangling in the wind for 6 months.   Despite that step being complete, I had estimated that it would be a couple of weeks work to get the bus and feeders all connected together.  In the end it took maybe 4 days working on and off in 2 hour blocks.

With the tedious wiring underway I cleaned up the layout room and placed some stock on the tracks and took some fun cell phone photos.   I wasn’t going for artistic moodiness but a few of them turned out that way anyway.    Apologies for use of CN and CP RS-3s though.   They are just stand-ins until I get the correct BCR shells on.

My first trip back to Canada in 3 years included a stop in Vancouver for the 2018 Vancouver Train Expo at the Pacific National Exhibition Forum.  It had been 4 years since I last participated so it was great to catch up with everyone, see some great modelling and attend an operating session on the N scale Dawson Creek subdivision.

It was also an opportunity to stock up on 1970s era appropriate equipment.   I obtained a couple of Atlas Classic RS-3s that will be used with the Briggs BCR body shells.   I also purchased a number of freight cars including some hard-to-find True Line Trains PGE and BCR boxcars and some CP and CN 40 foot boxcars that will be used in grain service.

On the layout front, things will likely be quiet until the Christmas break at which point I hope to complete the staging shelf and get things running under temporary DC power.