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Comprenshive Tips. Hints And Techniques For Budget Minded Diorama Maker, Model Train Enthusiast And Wargammer

How To Scratch Build HO Locomotives

About scratch building scale model trains.  Resources, tips and hints.

I am a scratch builder.  I build in brass.  I build accessories such as water columns, signal lights, coaling towers, water tower boilers and pumps, engines, yard cranes and more.

As a scratch builder I am always looking for tips, hints, how to and supplies. As I do my research I add it here so I can find it again.

You are invited to go through it to see what is useful to you.

First let me show you some fantastic plans that are widely used in Europe. They are large scale but people scale them down. They are authored by one of the most famous designers in Europe.  You can see them here.

Artful Engineering – Great videos on working in brass. And an excellent book that is a step by step guide to building a brass engine.

Building Locomotives  – Excellent info on building a chassis plus much much more.

About Com Resources – Motors, bogeys, etc.

RB Model – Brass Sheet And Wheels

Adelbertus– figures, tubes, brass angle.

Here is a great video on building trackside structures.  If you are into brass, this should turn your head.  Click Here.’sLocosBrass.html

MR has had at least 2 series over the last 10-20 years on scratchbuilding an engine out of brass and Kalmbach has a bookazine on the last project, a NYC 4-6-0.

Dave H.

A collection of posts from forums.

How are your modeling skills in general? Scratch building of any kind requires a good set of overall skills, not something you’re going to pick up over night or out of a book. Working with brass is whole nuther ball game, in addition to other basic modelmaking skills, you need to be able to solder well and some machining skills wouldn’t hurt.

A good place to start, would be some locmotive kits, (Bowser, Stewart, MDC), to learn how things go together. Get yourself a Walthers catalog, (the paper kind – not online) , it’s full illustrated parts and ideas, (it’s the scratch and kitbasher’s bible).

You’ll need measuring tools, scale rules, squares and a caliper. You’ll also need plan drawing of the locomotive you want to build. And then you need to do research.

I started out learning how to detail/modify locomotives to more closely represent a prototype, then more advanced kitbashing until finally I built up my skills and knowledge to do some scratch building. That took about 20 years! Today, with everything that’s available on the market there’s not a lot of reasons to scratch build locomotives, unless it’s just for the fun of it.

You could start out with a simpler kitbash using parts from the Walthers catalog and alse where.

If you have a locomotive in mind let us know and maybe we can be more specific.

Edit: Railroad Model Craftsman and Mainline MOdeler are both excellent mags for kitbashing and scratchbuilding, look for old issues at trainshow and LHS. You might also want to check out some of the Kalmbach books.


MR did a long multi issue article on scratch building a modest sized brass steamer within the last ten years as so.  Was pretty good one, pix and drawings.  All hand tools and not too many of them.  The MR website search engine ought to find it for you.  The Walthers catalog carries a weath of brass detail parts, pilots, brake gear, cabs, steam domes, gears and motors, smoke box fronts, power reversers, wheels, whistles and bells, injectors, super heaters, blow downs, cylinders, etc, etc,etc.  North West Short Lines is good on motors and gear boxes.

Using a piece of copper or brass tubing or pipe for the boiler is easier than bending one up out of sheet brass.  Look for a straight boilered prototype.  In fact I’d think about using tubing as the under layer of a tapered boiler.

You need a set of good dimensioned plans plus some photographs to work from.  MR used to run plans and pix in every issue.  They gave up on that sometime in the ’80s.  You will have to draw your own plans showing the “non prototype” features like the motor mount, gear box, frame, and method of attaching the boiler/cab assembly to the frame.

Was it me, I’d start by scratch building something simpler than a locomotive to get my hand in.  Say a gondola in brass.

However, you might contact Railroad Model Craftsman magazine and check some of their past articles on scratch-building locomotives.  I’m sure that their archives are complete enough so that you can probably pull up a lot of information on both kit-bashing and scratch-building.  RMC is the model railroad magazine that tends to focus more on these projects.

Good luck.  Fra

would suggest to the OP that he look up articles by Carl Traub and Mel Thornburgh, definitely, and look in very old magazines. 1950s aren’t old enough. They’re mostly kits and RTR, where locos are concerned, though you do see some SB steam. I mean go back to the 1930s, when you could pretty much count on every issue of THE MODEL CRAFTSMAN as having a scratchbuilt loco in it. You can also find truly maddening things like a writeup about a tour of the Baldwin Loco Works. Sigh…I need a time machine.

An interesting diversion is to look up “kitchen table locos”, or look at Eric La Nal’s 1930s HO articles, where you’ll find descriptions of building locos from wood and cardboard. Eric La Nal even had a writeup about making passenger car trucks from manila folder stock, laminated. It apparently worked.

Bud Sima published an article on building a 2-8-0 on a Bowser chassis this way, as recently in 1972. I’ve tried it myself, in fact, scratchbuilding a wood and card superstructure on the chassis of a Model Power Fatboy (sold by IHC at the time) to make something like a typical Baldwin narrow-gauge 2-4-0 scaled up to standard gauge. It did look better than the Fatboy, and I still have the tender with its hand-split wood load (there’s your tree-cutting; twigs really) but I think I’d rather use something more durable than that, when I get back into scratchbuilding locos.

But still, the articles are good reading, and might be an inspiration for using whatever materials you happen to be good at, rather than what is declared to be proper. When it’s painted, it’s covered, right?

There’s a book called HOW TO BUILD MODEL RAILROADS AND EQUIPMENT, by Barton K. Davis, which covers the scratchbuilding in brass of a SP 4-6-0, several freight cars, several passenger cars, and a FM cab unit, with scads of info.

Here are some other resources I have found:


oscaletrains, you ain’t trying hard enough! In the past 45 years or so there have been dozens of articles dealing with scratchbuilding locomotives both steam and diesel in both brass and plastic!

Go to the index and keyword scratchbuilding; there’s 148 pages there going clear back to 1933. To find recent articles by Traub, Thornburg, Odegaard, and others select descending order; start at, say, page 130 which should start you off sometime in the 1960s or so.

A word of advice, don’t get hung up necessarily on locomotives; remember that the procedures are essentially the same for locomotives as for passenger and freight cars.

There was an article in MR once, on building a 25 tonner, where the author stacked small angles and soldered them together, then soldered them into the hole where the louvers were to go. You could also scribe the vents, or *maybe* produce some sort of chisel-edged punch and mating die, and actually punch them out. You might be able to use nothing more than a small chisel, and use the end grain of a hardwood block for the “die”. I’m not sure how well it would work.

Another thought: cut the vents from an old plastic diesel shell and glue them in place. Why not? If you picked one with good die work, and sanded them very thin so they wouldn’t stand out, it could be fine once painted.






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