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  • Athearn + Atlas - Realistic PRR F7's

    On April 21, 1952, R. D. Acton Sr. photographed a westbound Pennsy freight from Troy Hill Road west of Urbana, Ohio. To the right of the trio of FTs is the passing track used by passenger trains to overtake slow moving freights while the separated track to the far right in the photo was the eastbound main.
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    Pennsy's F7's went from skirts and radio train phone antennas to grab irons and Sinclairs

    by JIM SIX

    The F7's were still being broken in when No. 9802 worked tonnage west through Bradford, Ohio, bound for Logansport, Ind., and Chicago, on April 19, 1952. Train phone antennas, passenger-style coupler shrouds and lack of m.u. cables bespeak an era when units operated in matched A-B-A sets and carried a single road number. PRR received its FTs between 1950 and 1952. Photo: R. D. Acton Sr.
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       Those Conestogas of dieseldom, EMD's F units, have endeared themselves in the hearts and memories of as many as three generations of North American railroaders. The "bulldog" noses of these popular units, fondly called "covered wagons," have in themselves become symbols of railroading, and their likeness frequently appears on TV news background boards and in print advertising - long after most railroads have put the units themselves out to pasture. From the FT to the F9, these conquerors of the iron horse were of the same basic design, yet owing to a spectrum of paint variation - from the red and silver of Santa Fe's famous "warbonnet" to the somber black of Penn Central and early Conrail - they offer tremendous modeling appeal.

       The once-mighty Pennsylvania Railroad stabled several hundred cab units. Its purchases began with the F3 model in 1948, and at that these were intended for helper service over the "mountain" west of Altoona, Pa. The "Standard Railroad of the World" approached diesels cautiously but soon went on to buy F7's that found assignment to virtually every part of the railroad (outside of the electrifed zones) in virtually every type of service.

       In fact, the F unit contributed to something that was never accomplished in the steam era - a high degree of standardization of motive power from one railroad to another. At that, Pennsy's F-unit fleet had one initial distinctive feature that set it apart from those of other railroads: the presence of train phone antennas. This carry-over from steam years was found on almost all early P-Company growlers as well as on the entire fleet of cabins. The antennas appeared much like railings atop the roof, giving the Brunswick green diesels an appearance unique in railroading.

       HO modelers have had little trouble locating covered wagons for model rosters. At one time Varney and Penn Line both produced F3 versions, and first Globe and then Athearn marketed F7's. For several years Bachmann has imported an F9. Aside from these, various brass models have appeared from time to time. For the non-standard dual purpose (passenger and freight) F unit, Atlas introduced an FP7 a little more than a decade ago.

       What then is the purpose of this article? Aren't EMD covered wagons so readily available that we need not elaborate on modeling them here? Hasn't Cary filled any vacancies in the ranks with their cast metal body shells? These may well be valid questions. However, the goal of this article is not to produce a model that isn't already available, but to put together an improved product.

    Top: In August 1956 No. 9676 retained most of its original appearance although grab irons were coming into evidence and couplers were exposed. Of interest is the early-style number boards, which EMD actually had begun phasing out with later F3 production. FTs had 16-cylinder 567 engines rated at 1500 h.p. Pennsy also owned steam-generator equipped, 4-foot-longer FP7A's. Photo: Paul Dunn Collection of Louis A Marre

    Middle: Late-model F3 No. 9566 illustrates a 1960 transition stage: train phone antenna masts remain but the side skirting has been removed. Photo: Collection of Louis A. Marre

    Bottom: By December 1966 this F7 had a new number (1903), ACI labels, radio labels and cable receptacles by the headlight in addition to the other refinements, but a piece of skirting remained above the battery box door. Photo: The Gorys: collection of Louis A. Marre
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       Without directing undue criticism at the manufacturers, it should be noted that no single F-unit model combines all the correct dimensions with the proper nose and roof-line contours. Remember, these locomotive models utilize shells that were first introduced several decades ago (case in point - the Globe and Athearn body shells.) For today's discerning modeler, the accuracy and fidelity of detail must be much improved over that of years past.

    Construction begins

       Being basically satisfied with the general contours of the Atlas FP7's, I wanted to utilize this model to perform conversions to achieve a better F7. What resulted from the "bash" is PRR No. 9817, an F7 with a shell composed of parts cut from both the Atlas FP7 and Athearn F7 locomotive shells, and PRR No. 1901, an F7 which also utilizes the latest chassis mechanism from Athearn including the flat (narrow) motor and turned brass flywheels. Newer Athearn units come equipped with excellent molded plastic Blomberg side frames. I had used (and modified) Atlas trucks.

       I wanted to do two F7's in order to represent two major stages in their operating lives: The "as-built" stage of the 1950's when a prominent feature was the train phone antenna and the "modified" stage of the 1960's when the antenna was removed, the side skirting was cut away and various details were altered. So that I could run the two F7's together on my layout, I modified the 1950's era locomotive (No. 9817) with cut-away skirting and additional grab irons, as if it had undergone some buy not all of the transitional changes between stages.

       The first order of business is to acquire all the needed parts for the project. If you don't have undecorated units, make sure to remove all paint from the shells. Use either brake fluid (from your local auto supply store or mass merchandiser) or a commercial paint stripper designed to be used with plastic (Scale Coat Wash Away will do nicely.)

    Left: No. 9817 is representative of the appearance of Pennsy F units in the era when the first major modifications were being made - the late 1950's and early 1960's. The train phone antenna masts( a trademark of early PRR diesels) give the roof line a distinctive appearance but the skirting has been removed. Weathering enhances the pilot and trucks.

    Right: PRR No. 1901 represents a locomotive near the end of the P-Company, at the time when the merger with the New York Central was being planned.
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    BILL OF MATERIALS (per  locomotive)

    Key # Description



      Key # Description 9817 1901
    1. lift rings, D.A. LR-1102 x x   18. windshield bridge, strip styrene   x
    2. windshield wipers from GSB x x   19. lift rings, D.A. SY-2206 x x
    3. three chime horn, Nathan, D A AH-1601 x     20. grab, D.A. SY-2202 x x
    4. exhaust stacks, D.A. EX-2401 x x   21. 36-inch cooling fan, D.W. CF -142 x x
    5. truck bearing journals, D.A. TK-2806 x x   22. Kadee No. 4 coupler for pilot x x
    6. </i>bug-eye</i> number board, D.W. NB-165 x x   23. .015-inch piano wire for side railings x x
    7. fuel filler, D W FF-149 x x   24. .010-inch brass wire for nose and windshield grabs x x
    8. train phone antennas, UTAH PACIFIC 755-91 x     25. .012-inch sheet styrene for roof panels x x
    9. speed recorder drive, UTAH PACIFIC #SR-61 x x   26 .005-,.010-inch sheet brass for pilot shield x x
    10. sand lines, grain-of-wheat bulb wire x x   27. * radio decals from Dom Colucci   x
    11. window kit, D.A. WS-3305 x x   28. Athearn F7 with new trucks x x
    12. sand hatches, D.A. DS-3003 or SD-3004 x x     Atlas FP7 shell x x
    13. truck bearing journals, D.A. TK-2805 x x     NOTE: the radio decals are available  from:    
    14. air horn, 3-chime <i>Leslie</i>, D.W. AH-190   x     Dom Colucci    
    15. radio antenna, Sinclair type, D.A. RA1803   x     63 Alverne Drive    
    16. stainless steel grills, D.A. GR-2704 x x     Poland, OH 44514    
    17. m.u.-hoses, D.A. MU-1508 x x     NOTE: D.A. = Detail Associates, D.W. = Details West    

       Once the shells have been cleaned and have had time to dry, we're ready to begin cutting. Using a razor saw, cut the desired parts from their respective shells. We'll need two sides (engineer's and fireman's) cut from an Athearn shell and a cab nose, a roof and a rear section cut from an Atlas shell. (fig. 1)

       From the Athearn shell, remove the side panels by cutting a long the top of the grilles and then cutting up the rivet panel immediately behind the cab door. If you are choosing to model a locomotive for a 1960's vintage railroad, remove the skirting along the bottom center of the side panel.

       From the Atlas shell, first remove the back of the locomotive. Remove the side panels in much the same way they were removed from the Athearn shell - by cutting between the roof line and the grille on each side. Before doing this, however, test-fit the Athearn side panels against the cab and roof to determine just how much of the Atlas roof must be removed. Cut the side panels away by making a final cut up the rivet panel behind the cab door on each side. Next, shorten the roof by removing the blank panel section behind the front fan. Do this by cutting along the rivet lines of the unwanted section.

       Now we're ready to re-assemble the new "kit" we've created. For cement, I used a combination of both Testors Plastic Cement (liquid) and ACC cement. Because the plastics used by Athearn and Atlas are not the same, I found that Testors alone does not permanently bond the plastics together. Once the cement has had time to set, apply ACC to the inside of the joints. Use sparingly because the capillary action of the ACC can cause it to run to places that will end up ruining the model.

    Top: Photo of shell ends offers a comparison of Athearn (left) and Atlas (right) roof contours. The Athearn roof is too flat whereas the Atlas has a more rounded, correct shape. The roof contour also affects the shape of the cab area, especially the windshields.

    Bottom: When the model was being built, Atlas trucks were modified to represent Blombergs. Now that recent Athearn kits have new Blombergs, such a step is unnecessary. Shown is the hack saw cut made along the fuel tank to give a suspended appearance.
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    Top: PRR 9817 was finished in Accu-paint No. 31, Brunswick Green. It has small numbers in the number boards, compared to the larger style appearing in the bug eyes of No. 1901, which portrays a renumbered unit. A light dusting of road dirt is apparent over the truck and on the pilot; black m.u. hoses stand out on the weathered pilot. Photo: Jim Six

    Middle: Don't look now, but someone left the rear door open. Simple trick can add to the realism of a model. The spacing between the fuel tank and body shell, which was increased by a cut with a hack saw, is clearly evident. Improvement made by the addition of stainless steel grilles is also evident. Photo: Jim Six

    Bottom: Here's photographic proof that train-phone antenna masts were a prominent feature of some FTs virtually to the end of their Pennsylvania careers. Brunswick Green No. 9697 was photographed at 59th Street Yard in Chicago in 1966. Photo: Mike Schafer
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       Closely examine fig. 2 to see how the side panels are fastened to the cab using sheet styrene to reinforce splices. If the styrene pieces come too close to the bottom edge, some of the material will have to be removed later to clear the Athearn frame which already is wide enough to present a tight fit. Once the sides are in place, attach the rear section using the same techniques.

       The next step will be close to the hearts of modeling purists! Because the lead cooling fan has a casting blemish, remove all five fans and exhaust stacks and replace with commercially produced counterparts (figs. 3 and 4).

       As long as we're correcting details, focus attention on the rear-most roof panel. Beneath this panel is where EMD located the steam generator boiler and fixtures for passenger equipped locomotives. The cast-on panel of the Atlas model is much too large and must be replaced with one corresponding to the size of the prototype's. Remove the entire panel by sanding the roof smooth. Cut the new panel from .012" sheet styrene using ordinary scissors. For proper dimensions refer to the Athearn panel. Cement in place using Testors or a comparable brand of liquid cement.

       If you intend your model to be steam generator equipped for passenger service, install a Details West No. SG-l18 kit. Since placement of these parts was not the same on all prototypical locomotives, you probably should consult photographs of your "target" locomotive.

       For the Pennsy F7's I was portraying, steam generator equipment was not included. However, unit 1901 represents the post "train phone era" and so I installed a Sinclair antenna centered on the new panel (fig. 5.) Number 9817, of course, does represent the train phone era, or at least the tail end of it, and thus I installed Utah Pacific antenna sets on this model.

       Turn your attention next to the nose area. In order to duplicate the quality of detail work done elsewhere, remove the number boards and replace them with Details West counterparts. The horns used on my two diesels are different from one another: No. 9817 uses the original whereas No. 1901 features a more recent Leslie 3-chime trumpet.

       A close look at fig. 6 reveals much of the detail work that goes into the front quarter of an F unit portraying the "modified" stage. Shown are the ladder (grabs) up the side of the nose, grabs over the windshields, new number boards, nose lift rings, the Leslie horn and a passenger-type pilot. These are commercial parts except for the pilot. All but a few of Pennsy's F units (some early F3's) were equipped with a passenger-type pilot. Fabricate them from .010" sheet brass in the manner described in the PM article (November-December 1982) on Milwaukee Road E units.

       Another commercial part that can be installed at most any time once the shell is assembled is the pair of etched stainless steel grilles covering the intakes along the tops of the side panels. Several more minor details can be installed at this time. Small eye-bolts fitted to the roof top will simulate lift rings. M.u. hoses can be installed on the pilot. Nose grabs flanking the front door can be added.

       If you are modeling the 1960's era, you'll also want to pay particular attention to the chassis. You will already have removed the skirting from the side panels (as a generalization, skirts were still in place in the 1950's but were removed in the 1960's), so next you want to improve the now-exposed section of the chassis. Strip the frame and use a hack saw (yes, a hack saw) to cut a slot approximately 5/64-inch wide and about 1/4-inch deep at the fuel tank just below the bottom of the main frame (fig. 7). This gives the illusion that the tank is hanging rather than being part of the frame.

       The captions accompanying the detail photos of the finished models provide information on what other final touches were made.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Jim Six
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date January- February 1985

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