Category Archives: Locomotives

Repairing an Athearn Challenger…

So this is my tale of repairing an Athearn 4-6-6-4 Challenger. SPOILER ALERT: it has a happy ending.

I had bought the Athearn Challenger back when they were first released. I believe in 2005 or 2006. And it has been a solid performer ever since then.

While working on other projects, I will quite often get 2 or 3 trains orbiting the layout. It’s really nice to look over and see the passing trains while sitting at the workbench. I will get them going and match their speeds as closely as possible to avoid a collision.

This particular time I happened to look up and see that the Challenger was struggling to pull its consist while another train was about to catch up from behind. Jumped up and started shutting everybody down before the impending impact.

Having stopped all trains, I walked over to the Challenger and as I was picking it up to see what was wrong I noticed that the front set of drivers spun freely.

I debated what to do. My first thought was to contact Athearn, but since the engine was 14/15 years old I figured they would probably not cover it under warranty. I decided to tear it apart and see if I could figure out what was wrong and fix it. Being pretty sure that parts would be available. Very happy I chose this route.

I got the engine to the workbench (had to clear the current project at hand out of the way) and looked it over trying to figure out how to get it apart. Had that DUH moment and grabbed the owners manual with the exploded view.

The disabled Challenger on the bench for repairs.

Turns out that there are two screws that hold the super structure / shell to the frame. One under the sand dome and one under the steam dome.

To remove the superstructure you need to remove only two screws. Plus pull the front of the smokebox off.

Plus you have to pull the front of the smokebox forward as there is a pin on the top and bottom that helps release the shell. Also you need to pull the rear grab bars (?) out the holes on the back of the cab.

Once the shell is off (it won’t go far as there are wires for the head lights attached to it) you encounter the circuit board on top of the weight.

The circuit board on top of the drive. Made a diagram of where the wires go.

The black caps pull off and the wires can then be removed. Made a quick diagram of where the wires go.

Circuit board wiring diagram.

With a working diagram of where the wires go once I started putting things (hopefully) back together, I pulled the plastic caps off and removed the wires. A couple of screws got the circuit board off and more screws released the top half of the weight. With the top weight removed the layout looks pretty much like any Athearn diesel.

Motor and drive set-up, just like the diesels.

Looking at the setup and marveling at how it was very familiar, I absently reached out and pressed on the front tower clip. With a little pressure it clicked back into place.

The tower that popped off.

That was it. After 14 years the front tower had popped off. The engine was fixed. Problem solved. How very anti-climatic.

Since I had it apart i figured I should add an Engineer and a  Fireman.

Source of the engineer and fireman.
Engineer and fireman installed.

The engine is now fixed. It not only is running as well as always, it has a crew in the cab.

Another problem encountered and solved.

Till next time, Stay Safe…

 

 

 

 

 

September Update…

We’ll go with the September Update, but it should be called “what I did on my summer vacation”. Furthermore it probably should be labeled “part 1”, as there is way more than one post should have.

So, with that in mind I’ll start with something of a highlight to the summer. Union Pacific #4014.

Minnesota got lucky with the touring locomotive. It rolled into St. Paul on a Wednesday afternoon. Spent Thursday open to the public outside the newly refurbished St. Paul Union Depot. Friday it headed north to Duluth, Minnesota. Spent Saturday outside their depot, which by the ways house an impressive amount of historic locomotives and railcars. One of them being the Big Boys contemporary, the DM&IR’s Yellowstone.

On Sunday it headed on back to St. Paul’s union Depot. I believe on Monday it rested and on Tuesday headed off to Chicago through Wisconsin.

My dilemma was where to see it. Going to see it in St. Paul would involve finding a place to park and then fighting the crowds. Odds were that you couldn’t get a decent picture or get close be cause of the crowd size. I later learned from some friends who work downtown that it was a madhouse down there.

A check of the UP’s schedule for the train showed that it would be stopping for fifteen minutes in Northfield, Minnesota on it’s way to St. Paul.

Northfield is about a half hour south of the Twin Cities or an hour south of me as I live on the north side of town. Having a time and a place, I looked at a map of the town and saw that the tracks ran right past a large park. This would give me a place to park and space to shoot photos and a video.

Unfortunately I was slowed by a couple road construction projects and I rolled into town at the same time the train was supposed to be arriving. So instead of heading to the park, I stopped at basically the first place I found. It was a convenience store parking lot at the junction of the mainline and the main road in (which comes into play later).

Hurried trackside with phone (video) and camera in hand, and then waited. For about an hour. They were running late.

Though I thought I had a pretty good position for photos, when the headlight appeared down the tracks everyone milling around suddenly moved closer to the tracks. This forced me to move almost to the ballast line.

Rolling into town.

This killed any hope of a clear video, but I got a couple of good shots.

Union Pacific 4014 rolling into Northfield Minnesota July 17th.
Tail Car for the 4014. Love the Herald on the gate.

With a couple shots in hand and a not so great video, I decided to head on home instead of trying to see the engine. Problem was, as you can see in the last picture, the observation car was parked across the road back out to the freeway.  Having looked at maps before hand, I knew there was nothing heading south out of town.  My new plan was to head north through town, get ahead of the train and then find a way back out to the freeway.

Passed this on the way through town. Happy I didn’t walk down to see the engine close up.

The crowd in Northfield looking at the 4014.

As I headed north out of town there was no way to cut across. I figure I would go to the next town up the line where I knew there would be freeway access. As I was driving I watched the dirt roads (I was out in farm country now) and saw small crowds (emphasis on small) at the crossings.

New plan. I turned off onto one of the roads and followed it to the crossing. Found the crossing and the small crowd .Had a great time talking to the people while waiting. Some had been leap frogging towns from the Iowa/Minnesota border and had plans on where they were headed to catch it next. Also talked to one guy who had been at the park I had planned to go to. He had said it was really crowded.

Anyways, did shoot a decent little video.

up 4014 video

That’s it  for now, many more updates to come real soon.

Till than, Happy Modeling…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Addendum to 10/1/2014 post

As I was reading through my last post after publishing it, I realized that some may get the impression that I was going to run the railroad with about 70 railcars and a whole lot of engines. And cabooses.

The home road lettered cars that I talked about, the coal hoppers and boxcars, would be in addition to the other cars that I have lettered for other railroads. These would be the other railroads that operate in the upper Midwest and northwest that would interchange with the Continental Northern. Examples would be the Northern Pacific, the Great Northern, the Union Pacific, Soo line … you get the idea.

The number of home road cars that will eventually be on the layout has yet to be determined. Right now I have 30 hoppers lettered for the CN, but I know that I will need another 15 for basic operation. The 20 boxcars that I had mentioned is just a start. I have to get every thing out on the layout to see what I have. From there I will make sure the percentage of home road cars to “foreign” cars is right.

For those who don’t know, when a shipper sends something in a boxcar, for example, and the car is interchanged onto another railroad, the receiving railroad has to pay the home road for the time that the boxcar is on their line. The receiving railroad would then make sure that the car got to its destination as quickly as possible, was unloaded and sent on its merry way. Either back to its home road or loaded with something new and shipped of to a destination on some other railroad. That is why the greatest percentage of a type of car will always belong to the home road on a layout. And that is why I have to see what I have and then adjust so that I have the appearance of a reasonable percentage of cars.

There are those out there with enough experience that probably understood this from the beginning, but it was bugging me and I felt that a clarification was in order. OK, clarified. I hope.

Below are a couple of pictures: the first is of a 2-8-2 Mikado with a string of hoppers.( sorry about the fuzziness, still working on depth of field) The second is of a pair of SD-7’s, one lettered for the CN and the other for the old road.

blog photos 007

blog photos 008

 

 

Locomotives and rolling stock of the Continental Northern.

LOCOMOTIVES

I have tried to keep the Locomotive and rolling stock roster for the Continental Northern as appropriate as possible. When dealing with a freelance railroad the trend is sometimes “anything goes”. The bulk of the motive power is 2-8-0’s and 2-8-2 Mikado’s. These wheel arrangements would handle the Midwest flatlands relatively well.  The lighter engines are supplemented with  4-8-4 Northerns and 4-8-2 Mountains, as they had to handle the mountainous regions out west. Add in several compounds because: A. other roads used them to get through the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest and B: they are really cool. There are also several GP and SD-7’s as dieselization shows up even on this subdivision.

The thought process is as follows: as the Continental Northern dieselizes, the newer power ( diesels ) are used out west where the lack of needed maintenance and frequent refueling ( water and coal ) are better suited to diesels. The older steam engines are moved to the eastern divisions, where there are shorter runs between towns and maintenance facilities.

ROLLING STOCK

The main reason I backdated the layout to 1954 was that inexpensive, high quality steam locomotives became available. Bachmann (bachmanntrains.com) and Athearn (athearn.com) led the way followed by Broadway Limited (broadway-limited.com) with their  DCC/ sound equipped locomotives. The hardest thing to give up was the diverse rolling stock of the more modern era’s. It seems as if each commodity has it’s own type of railcar. When I first switched I figured there would be a whole lot of boxcars and not much else. At least I would be able to cabooses on the trains, oh well.

Once I started to research the era more I realized that, yes there would be a whole lot of boxcars, there were a lot more types of cars in use. So yes, there will be boxcars, as well as hoppers for hauling coal, flatcars, tank cars, gondolas and short covered hoppers, which were starting to show up for some commodities. And cabooses.

I have the bulk of the hoppers for coal, I bought data only hoppers from Walthers (walthers.com). I still need to get another set. These are lettered for the Continental Northern. I have looking at picking up about twenty data only boxcars from Accurail (accurail.com), however they have been out of stock. I hope they will do another run soon. These will also be lettered for the Continental Northern. I have been lettering the cars with custom decals from Rail Graphics (railgraphicsdecals.com), I would highly recommend them.

PASSENGER CARS

There won’t be any “name” trains running on the railroad, as the run from the Twin Cities to Duluth is only about 120 miles. There will be daily passenger runs, but the trains will be mainly coaches. These will be mostly older, heavyweight cars.