Model Railroads

Page 9

Santa Train – The Early Years

Christmas 2007 was the first Santa Train on our front porch, shown in the first picture below. The train was motion detector controlled. It stayed in the box tunnel until a visitor approached the porch, then the train emerged and ran for a loop, or until the visitor left the detector range. Improvements for Christmas 2008 included a better motion detector with longer range (all the way to the street) and a longer initial run time (about a minute and a half). Also, the steam engine was upgraded with chugging sound (battery powered in the tender and not too practical due to short battery life).

Santa Train – 2009 – A Real Christmas Engine – A Kalamazoo 0-4-0T

With the resident chief gardener having shown increasing interest in the back yard garden railroad during the summer, it was not surprising that the railroad portion of her outdoor Christmas decorations also raised some suggestions. It was clear to her that (see above) a black engine and a brown (the “boxcar red” argument didn’t fly) work caboose were not very “Christmasy”. Soooo, off to eBay –

Above – 2009-08-06 – Since I am trying to model in 1:24 scale as much as possible, this Kakamazoo “1988 Christmas Special” caught our eye. The headlight housing and bell were missing and a side rod was broken, but it looked otherwise complete. The bid was sniped and it was ours.

We never have figured out why it said “Big Buster” on the cab roof, or why there were coins glued to the caboose.

The seller correctly indicated that the set originally included a wood side gondola, but said it had not yet been found. He promised that it would be sent, “if found”. Didn’t happen. It must have had lights or an animated display, since the locomotive had a power tap on the rear.

Above – 2009-08-28 – Disassembly was undertaken for inspection, education and repair. Although Kalamazoo has long disappeared as a manufacturer, there are several sources for parts, including Hartland Locomotive Works, still in business and right here in Indiana, so I dove in deep.


Above – 2009-10-12 – The cab floor was too high and crowded, and the motor block clearance area had some “dead air”, so some surgery was in order.

Above – 2009-10-22 – The cab floor was replaced in the new lower position and eventually painted black.

Above – 2009-10-23 – A new headlight mounting was initially considered for use with a leftover headlight from my Hartland 0-4-0. Didn’t work out.

Above – 2009-11-18 – The wiring needed work and, at the same time, the brass contacts on the motor block were proving troublesome, so the commitment was made to modify the wiring for the possibility of using the loco in the off-season as a test bed for battery power and radio control.

Above – 2009-11-18 – The motor block with the external motor power feed installed. The brass pickups from the wheels (one seen to the left) have been modified but are still to be reinstalled in the block.

Above – 2009-11-18 – The plastic drive gears were worn and determined to be slipping on the splined shafts, so they were replaced.

Above – 2009-11-18 – Since things weren’t complicated enough, I decided to add three blinking leds (a yellow slow blink, an orange slow blink and a red fast blink) to the firebox. The crinkled foil inside the back head and on the rear of the loco weight is to improve reflection.

Above – 2009-11-25 – Now things are complicated enough!! Shown are:

  1. Red plug – power into the motor from the “battery or track” selector
  2. Red and black wires lying close to the red plug – power from the track, to the wheels, to the brass contacts, to the onboard black plug, to the selector switch
  3. As yet unrouted red and black wires at top outside the chassis – power from the selector switch to the contact strip for all 4 leds.
  4. Black plug hanging out back – from eventual battery power to selector switch.

Yes, it did all fit, and more exciting, it works! And just in time, too, tomorrow is Thanksgiving and all the kids and grandkids will be here.

Above – 2009-11-25 – The locomotive had possibly been used in a display with frequent “power on” starts and stops. This had worn the plastic wheel centers enough that they had become sloppy. As shown in previous photos, the original wheels had white painted backgrounds with gold painted spoke inserts. I decided to make the backgrounds black to give the true spoke effect and to leave the new white replacement spokes and hubs unpainted.

Above – 2009-11-25 – As the locomotive goes back together, you can see the rebuilt wheels, the new brass bell and the “Big Buster” lettering removed from the cab roof.

Above – 2009-11-25 – And prominent in this picture, the new headlight. The recycled light mentioned earlier just wasn’t nearly as impressive as this one; it matched the balloon stack much better. Headlight and firebox LED wiring is visible, also.

Above – 2009-11-25 – The cab and coal box are installed and the engineer and fireman (included with the purchase) are getting ready to fire up for a test run. Just a few finishing touches to be done. 

Santa Train – Meanwhile…

The resident chief gardener had also suggested that only having scenery on about a quarter of the inside of the track loop looked incomplete (see initial picture).

Above – 2009-11-18 – So lumber was scrounged or purchased and new, manageable-sized panels were added. Also, I decided that the unrestrained “snow” was a hazard when it migrated too close to the track and got tangled in the side rods, so a new, popsicle-stick fence was added. A test loop was tried out in the basement.

Above – 2009-11- 25 – A new forest, a gazebo, lights and a lot more snow were added and on the day before Thanksgiving, it was was moved to the porch. Sure does look better but installation and wiring is becoming more difficult for old bones…..

Above – 2009-11- 25 – The final decorations were added to the loco and caboose and a successful test was run. And who is that coming round the bend?

Above – 2009-11- 25 –  Look, it’s jolly old St Nick himself, with one elf alongside waving to the crowd and FRED, the Flashing Rear Elf Device, bringing up the rear.

Above – 2009-11- 30 –  It took over 200 popsicle sticks, cut in half, painted white and hot glued in place, to make the fence.

Above – 2009-11- 30 –  Next year maybe I can cover up the electrical cords.

And finally, here it is in motion:

Above – 2009-11- 30 –  A long winded explanation and FRED disappears at the end.

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