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  • The Great Northern Empire Builder - Series Finale

    The last article in the series

    by Dave Schumacher

    Not drawn to scale - BLACK TRUCKS AND UNDERFRAME
    Prototype Modeler - February 1978 - Page 20 width= Prototype Modeler - February 1978 - Page 21 width=320

       [Ed. This is the final article of a multi-part series - Part 1 is in the August 1977 issue and Part 3 is in the December 1977 issue. Unfortunatetly, we do not have a copy of the October Issue for Part 2, so if anyone has a copy they would allow us to borrow and scan, please let us know!]

       The Great Northern's "Empire Builder" was named after the builder of the G.N. and architect of the Pacific Northwest Empire: Jim Hill.

       The role of flagship on Hill's Great Northern, the "Oriental Limited", was succeeded by the "Empire Builder" on June 10, 1929. Seven luxury heavyweight consists made the trip between Chicago and Seattle in just over 60 hours to provide the "ne plus ultra" in passenger service between the midwest and the Pacific Northwest.

       On February 23, 1947 the Great Northern formally inaugurated a new streamlined "Empire Builder", replacing the old heavyweight consist. The new trains were breathtakingly beautiful; G.N. owned four of the green and orange consists; the C.B.&Q. owned the fifth. The twelve car "Empire Builder" operated on a far swifter schedule (45 hours) than their heavy weight predecessors.

       The beauty, speed and luxury of these magnificent trains attracted an enthusiastic patronage; thus it was that only four years after the inauguration of the first streamlined version, the G.N. introduced a completely new 5 train streamlined fleet for the "Mid-Century Empire Builder"; the 1947 equipment was joined by a new sixth consist of identical cars to equip the new "Western Star" which replaced the venerable "Oriental Limited".

       The "Empire Builder" was further upgraded in 1955 with the addition of four dome cars to each consist: 3 dome coaches replaced the 3 48-seat long-distance coaches built in 1951; and a full length "Great Dome" lounge car was added to the train's complement.

       It was my good fortune to ride the "Empire Builder" several times in the pre-Amtrak and pre-merger days; it has always evoked a special "magic" in my recollection - a nostalgia shared by anyone who appreciates a fine train which is beautifully appointed and meticulously run. It was the flagship of the Great Northern in the days of President John Budd, whose philosophy was to run them right, or not at all. It was never otherwise on the G.N. - at least in my experience.

       To recreate the magnificent "Empire Builder" at its apogee is a labor of love and some expense. Although my model is not completed, I am close enough to the final consist that I might be able to offer the benefit of my experience in collecting prototype models, kitbashing and - perhaps - some scratch building to assist other modelers in assembling a complete "Empire Builder": 4 EMD F-7s; (1) Baggage-RPO; (2) Baggage-Dorm; (3) 60 Seat Coach; (4) (5) & (6) Dome Coaches; (7) Coffeeshop Lounge ("The Ranch"); (8) Diner; (9) Full length "Great Dome"; (10), (11) & (12) "Pass" series sleepers (6-5-2); (13), (14) & (15) "River" series sleepers; (16) Observation Lounge. [Arthur Dubin's Some Classic Trains lists a heavy summer consist for July 4, 1963 on page 309.] If you want to run a shorter consist, you can drop a few sleepers and a coach or two on the pretext that these cars were cut out for seasonal traffic adjustments - or to make the Portland Section. (See chart by Miller.)

    Not drawn to scale - BLACK TRUCKS AND UNDERFRAME
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       Within the past decade five manufacturers have offered models of the various "Empire Builder" cars; however, because no manufacturer has offered a complete consist, the modeler must assemble a composite out of the variety of models from different sources.

       There are two different approaches to modeling a train: some modelers are satisfied to approximate the impression of a train by following only the basic details, such as paint scheme or consist, with whatever is readily available off-the-shelf; the more ambitious seek to approach complete accuracy of detail such as window arrangements, numbers and car names, consist, etc. I tend to follow the second approach, although you will see that I have fudged or postponed some of the more challenging modifications necessary to "complete" accuracy.

       The first step in my undertaking of this kind is to build up a file of prototype data. My "Empire Builder" file was started four years ago - and is still growing. Table 1 below offers some basic referlences for prototype information of the "Empire Builder"; some of these sources will be referred to again in the text.


    A. Books and Periodicals:

    1. Burlington Northern Passenger cars; Charles A. Rudisel ($30); CAR Publications, 3963 Scheuneman, White

    2. Carbuilders Cyclopedia 20th Edition, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Co., 350 Broadway, New York, N.Y. pp. 508-516.

    3. Car Names, Numbers and Consists, Robert J. Wayner, Wayner Publications. pp. 228-234.

    4. Model Railroader, Sept. 1975, pp 48-51 ("Great Dome" conversion)

    5. Railroad Model Craftsman: a) Feb. 1967, pp. 36-37 (4 Sec. 8 Dpl. Rmt. 4 BR "Pass" sleeper from 1947) b) April 1967, pp. 34-35 (Budd Dome Coach from 1955) c) March 1970. pp. 36-37 (4 Sec. 7 Dpl. Rmt. 1 Comp. "River" sleeper from 1951.

    6. Railway Age: (Simmons-Boardman Pub. Co. 350 Broadway, N.Y., N.Y.) a) April 12, 1947, pp. 734-741 (First streamlined "Empire "Builder") b) June 4, 1951, pp. 55-56 (Second streamlined "Empire Builder") c) June 11, 1951, pp. 56-62. (Second streamlined "Empire Builder") d) May 30, 1955, p. 46 (Budd Dome Coach)

    7. Some Classic Trains, Arthur Dubin, Kalmbach Publishing Co . pp. 308-313.

    8. The Trains We Rode. Vol. I, Beebe & Clegg. pp. 242-251.

    9. From Zephyr to Amtrak, Randall Prototype Publications 74-79.

    B. Miscellaneous:

    1. "Vanishing Vistas" train postcards (Lyman E. Cox, P.O. Box 15902, Sacramento, Calif. 95813)

    a) 1947 "Empire Builder": cards No. JT-66; No.JT-237 ; No. JT-238; No. JT-239; No. JT-787; No. JT-789.

    b) 1955 "Empire Builder": cards No. JT-68; No. JT-242; No. JT-786.

       Once you have assembled a file of the background information which you think you'll need, you can begin to put together your "Empire Builder."

    Motive Power:

       The first 12 car edition of the "Empire Builder" in 1947 was powered by a pair of EMD E-7 A units in the striking green and orange livery. To model these units you could use either Model Power's E-7 or the AHM E-8 drive with a Cary E-7 shell; Hobbytown also offers this engine.

       The Model Power unit is not presently available in the GN paint scheme, so you will have to begin by stripping the paint from the plastic shell: I soak the shell in a glass jar of cheap brake fluid, attacking it periodically with a toothbrush until all the paint is removed. (The shell is also available undecorated.)

       Wash the shells in warm soapy water and let air dry.

       You will need to remove the "modern" style EMD numberboards (these are the extended housings set at 45 degree angles on the nose). Then fill in the opening on the body with body putty and sand smooth. New numberboards may be fabricated from a flat styrene sheet (.020" thick): cut four pieces a scale 9" by 2'9". F1. Cement them in place at the same height as the old numberboard, but back further along the side: the rear edge should be l' scale from a vertical line drawn straight up from the point at which the curve of the pilot joins the straight side frame along the bottom edge of the engine.

       Then wait for the cement to dry be fore cutting a rectangular opening through the styrene and the body shell: 6" x 9" scale with the rear edge 1" scale from the rear edge of the styrene strip. Using a No. 52 drill (1/16" or .0625"), drill a hole for the marker lights centered on the forward part of the styrene, ahead of the rectangular opening. [Fig. 1].

    Great Northern F7 364-A westbound on the point of the Empire Builder in May, 1959. - Photo is by Will Whittaker
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       Cover the louvered vents behind the cab doors with a thin rectangle of wire mesh trimmed to fit inside the louver opening (I recommend Kemtron's brass No. 80 mesh - part No. 1158 - available from Walthers). Place over this a thin sheet of styrene (.010") cut to fit the 4'9" x 1'9" inset: when the piece fits snugly cut two square openings 1'6" scale. The first opening should be about 7.5" scale from the top and the second square should be 1.5" scale below the below the first. (For this type of work with thin styrene I suggest a very sharp X-Acto blade and a piece of window glass beneath the styrene.) Use Elmer's glue to attach this piece in place. [Fig. 2].

       You should also cut one number board 1'9" x 9" scale from the .010" styrene and glue it between the upper headlight and the top of the nose door. The hole for the screw in the Model Power roof should be filled in.

       Remove the cast on tabs which simulate roof lift rings; before you sand these locations smooth, dimple the center of each broken off casting with an awl and drill out the locations with a No. 70 drill. The awl helps mark the location; and more importantly, gives the drill bit a place to start so it won't wander off or break so easily. Don't insert the lift rings until you are ready to paint, or until after you have finished painting.

       Fill in the pilot with body putty. Using a 1/16" drill and files, you should cut out an opening 3'3" across and 1'9 " high in the pilot of one unit (this will be the coupler opening for the rear unit). On the pilot for the lead unit cement a strip of .010" styrene cut to a scale 2' x 4'. Scribe vertical line in the middle of the strip [Fig. 3].

       Two pieces of the same .010" styrene, cut in squares 2' scale, should be rolled back and forth over a paint brush handle until they acquire a slight curve. Cement these in an open "clamshell" position on either side of the coupler opening on the rear unit.

       Using a small square jeweler's file, enlarge the two foot steps on either side of the pilot until the dimensions are approximately 9" across and 6" high (scale).

       You are now ready to paint the two units: see the directions which follow the modifications of the F-7 units below.

       F-7s: The "Mid-Century Empire Builder" was powered by the familiar EMD F-7 - typically in a A-B-B-A lashup. These are available in brass from Hallmark or Tenshodo or in plastic from any number of manufacturers; I prefer the cost and workability of plastic: its much more forgiving!

       I used the Athearn units; I got them all powered because I didn't want to see a sixteen car consist, with a number of brass cars, stumble on the hill. If I don't need all that power when the train is completed I'll slip one of the A unit shells on a dummy frame and install an operating Mars light circuit in the leading A unit.

       Your first step is to strip all the paint off the shells with cheap brake fluid. (Unpainted shells are also available at some hobby shops or directly from Athearn: A unit, part No. 30230, B unit, part No. 30240, at $1.50 each.)

       Drill all your handrail holes. The latest Athearn bodies are conveniently "dimpled" in the correct locations for all the handrails. Use a sharp awl to deepen the depression: make it easy on yourself - and your drill. I use a No. 70 drill (slightly oversize).

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       You will also need to drill additional holes for the windshield wipers and the assorted grab irons which follow GN practice. [Fig. 4].

       Note the tour holes found to either side of the front buffer plate in the middle groove of the anticlimber: the dimensions here are approximate, as you will need to get the holes as close together as you can without actually running them together. I put one hole one foot (scale) from the edge of the buffer on either side. The fourth (outside) hole should go directly below the inside edge of the small louvered vents on each side of the nose; then add the second and third holes between the insde and outside holes, taking care to space them evenly. The awl is a great help here, too. [Fig. 5]

       Using the awl to start the drill at the center, drill out the marker lights with a No. 52 drill (1/16" or .0625").

       The Athearn number boards are improperly cast on the body: this minor in accuracy may be corrected either by removing the cast-on numberboards entirely and replacing them with the GM number boards castings from Athearn's Alco PA kit (available separately from Athearn: Part No. 33235 for $.25); or by trimming the cast-on number boards with an X-Acto knife [ Fig. 6].

       In either case you should cut out the numberboard openings, if you want illuminated numberboards: I used the 1/16" drill and a square file to make a rectangular opening inside the frames.

       Roof lift rings: cut off the cast-on plastic tabs on the roof and use the awl to mark the centers; drill out the holes for inserting the rings with a No. 70 drill. Scrape away any excess plastic left after this work with an X-Acto knife. I suggest you wait until the model is painted before installing the rings; they may break off in the course of handling.

       Remove the Athearn horns and fill in the two holes with body putty. When this has dried you can drill a smaller hole in the right rear hole where the Athearn horn was located: use a No. 69 or No. 70 drill. Don't install the air horns at this point; they are very delicate.

       Drill out the exhaust stack at the rear of each of the four units with a No. 47 (5/64" or .0781") drill.

        The next step is to remove the Athearn pilot, which will be replaced with the Holgate and Reynolds PL-53 cast snow plow ($1.50). Follow the instructions given on the package: use a razor saw to remove the Athearn cast pilot, cutting below the row of bolts (around the front of the pilot) which is beneath the anticlimber. Do not cement the Holgate & Reynolds snowplow to the Athearn shell at this time. [Fig. 7]

       The final step on the shell is removal of all the cast-on fuel tank detail below the sill except for the 2'6" scale section which includes the fuel tank spout and fuel gauge. [Fig. 8.] Fill the small opening in the casting (its there to fit over the snap-on metal tabes in the frame) with body putty. Cut out of the separated fuel tank casting the small forward hatch; this should be cemented to the cast fuel tanks on the frame (in the same position where it would have been before the plastic piece was cut off.)

        The frame requires a few modifications: File off the metal snap on lugs in the area above the fuel tanks. Remove the cast coupler lugs on either end; then drill and tap (No. 256 tap) a hole in the center of the frame on each end for installation of Kadee 5 & 10 couplers. [Fig. 9.]

       Holgate & Reynolds has a winterization hatch which may be added as a duplication of the prototype modification.

       PAINTING: the E-7 or F-7s should begin with a bath for the shells in warm soapy water (make it short in order not to loosen the Elmer's glue used on the E-7). Scrub the shells gently with a toothbrush to remove any grease or dirt remaining from your super-detailing handling. Let dry.

       A primer coat helps you pick out and correct minor flaws before you get too far along on the exotic G.N. paint scheme.

       I used the MHP (Wright Enterprises) G.N. Green (WE-801) and Orange (WE-802) which is no longer available. Scale coat now offers the G.N. colors: G.N. Green, No. 45 and G.N. Orange, No. 46. (Dick Miller says Scalecoat No. 25 is close too.) I sprayed the lighter Orange first; then masked after the Orange had a good time to dry (several days). The opaque Green covers the Orange better than vice versa. Note that the Orange bands go around the corner of the F units on the ends: they come in about 3" scale from the sides. The balance of the ends are painted Green. Champ offers stripes; but they aren't curved.

       Masking must be done very carefully: the gold stripes which separate the Orange and Green areas won't cover enough to fudge around any noticeable discrepancies. I used the backing paper from the decal sheet as a stencil to guide cutting the masking tape for the curved paint separation lines on the nose. Use a sharp X-Acto blade on a piece of window glass for clean cuts.

       The information sheet which accompanies the Micro-Scale decal set for G.N. Cab Units (No. RH-45) includes excellent side elevations of both the E and F units to assist you. [Fig. 10 (reproduced with permission of Krasel)].

       I also found some of the "Vanishing Vistas" pictures from Lyman E. Cox very helpful: E-7s are shown in cards No. JT-66, JT-237, JT-238, JT-239, JT-787; I used No. JT-68 as a guide to painting and detailing by F units.

       After you have let the Green paint dry you are ready to apply the decals: I used the Micro-Scale set (RH-45) following their directions for application with Micro-Sol and Micro-Set. I don't consider myself much of an "expert" in this area, but I was delighted with the results.

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       The early G.N. F units used an extended railroad Roman style of lettering; however, I prefer the more modern and distinctive G.N. style which was used right up to the advent of "Big Sky Blue."

       I touched up the paint job on the F units by adding flat black to the center of the radiator fans on the roof and in the side grill area. I put a touch of red on the fuel filler cap and a dash of silver on the fuel gauge. I also added silver to the three "kickplates" on the steps up to the cab [Fig. 10.] The anticlimber should also be painted silver all the way around the nose to the point where it touches the silver stripe running along the bottom edge of the frame.

       A nice detail touch is the addition of antiskid pads on the nose directly beneath the windows: these were simulated by cutting 9 rectangles out of black dry transfer lettering material (a scale 2' x 6") for each unit.

       It should be noted that G.N. had a simplified green and orange scheme (Cox card No. JT-786; also shown on MicroScale No. RH-45 instructions) in the 60's.

       After all the paint and decal details were completed, I oversprayed the shell with a half and half mix of Micro Scale Gloss and Flat. Scalecoat should work equally well. The result is a smooth clean finish which binds the decals to the shell and helps further hide the film - but doesn't look "too glossy".

       The underframe was taken apart: to remove the power trucks and detach the side frames by prying off the top and bottom clips. The truck side frames and the frame should be painted a semi-gloss black.

       Now we are going to start putting things back together. I used Walthers diesel dressup kit (933-822U, $1.50) for the porthole windows and cab side windows in the F-7. On the E units you can use the glass removed from the Model Power shell before painting. In either the E or F units I think it is worth the time to cut and file a piece of clear styrene or acrylic plastic window material to fit the cab windshields. I cemented these in place with Elmer's white glue; this won't endanger the beautiful paint scheme. (You may find the Model Power windshield satisfactory "as is" on the E.

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    Athearn F7A and B units painted and lettered for the Empire Builder. - Author photo
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       I used a clear styrene circle cut with a paper punch for the lower headlight lens. For the upper headlight I used the MV Products lens (No. LS-ll, 2 for $1.50). If you wish to illuminate the upper headlight you should remove the silver reflective backing on the MV lense by sanding a small "hole" through the backing with a very fine sandpaper.

       The marker lights for the E or the F units can be made using the MV lenses for the GE U-boat headlights. You can also use some of the clear plastic sprues floating around in your plastic scrap box or fill the holes with a couple of tiny dabs of clear epoxy.

       Handrails can be applied from the Walthers diesel dress-up kit or made from thin (No. 71) piano wire; you'll have to make up some grab irons in any event for the special G.N. locations. Glue the handrails in place inside.

       Cut eight pieces of flexible wire, .028" or smaller, for each A unit: the pieces should be about 3' scale long and should be inserted in the holes drilled in the middle groove of the anticlimber on either side of the nose: these simulate the signal hoses. The wires should be left with about 2' scale exposed: bend and gather the wire in a "drooping" curve toward the center so that the four signal hoses join at either side of the buffer above the coupler picket [Fig. 5 .]

       Cut and shape with a file four pieces of clear styrene to insert as "glass" in the numberboards: start with pieces slightly larger than 2' x l' scale: use white glue to secure them (applied from inside with a toothpick around the inner edges of the number board). Cut from the decal sheet (Micro-Scale No. RH-45) decal number board numerals which will match the cab unit numbers; apply these over the numberboards and hit them with a quick shot of clear gloss overspray.

       I added the roof lift rings at this point, as we are just about finished with repeated handling of the shell. You can use either the Kemtron cast brass rings, which are sturdy, but not cheap (part No. X-67 at $1.00 a dozen); or the Detail Associates cast plastic rings which aren't as sturdy, but aren't as expensive either (part No. LR-llOl, $1.00 for three dozen.) In either case , you'll need 48 for 4 F units. Paint them Green.

       Once you have added the Kadee 5 & 10 couplers to the frame, you will need to remove the "air hoses" (uncoupling lever) from the front coupler on the two A units so that the snowplow pilot will fit.

       I glued the Holgate & Reynolds snow plow pilot to the nose with Goo after the shell had been slipped onto the frame: even without the snap-on lugs the shells are snug enough to stay on by themselves; however, with all the weight in the powered frames I would suggest you use Elmers glue along the sides as a precaution. Do this after you have made all your break-in adjustments to the drive and installed your lighting. This allows the shells to be removed for periodic servicing.

       I applied Walthers diaphrams to the units.

       The very last thing to do: add the three-chime air horn (Detail Associates, part No. AH-1601); it is very delicate, as you will no doubt discover in the course of assembly. The two outer horns face forward; the center horn faces back. Insert the assembled horn in place only when you are sure you won't be handling it often.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Dave Schumacher
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date February 1978

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