Thursday, December 17, 2015

Modeling a Conrail C30-7A...

This past weekend marked the end of a 4-month long project to build an accurate General Electric C30-7A locomotive for the Conrail roster on the Onondaga Cutoff.  This post will commemorate the research and basic construction required to create a good replica of one of these unique-to-Conrail locomotives.


First, a comparison of the cab, hood, and radiator details that differ between each model.  The above photo is courtesy of ebay, and is comprised of two images copied here atop one another to show the different locations of the filter intakes, tall engine room doors, and cabinets.  While these are Overland models, I started with an Atlas C30-7, with many parts from the Atlas B23-7, which allowed me to create the C30-7A car body.

A critical resource for my modeling Conrail's fleet of locomotives in the 1990's has been Conrail Motive Power Review 1986-1990 by Bill Withers, and published by Withers Publishing.  This book is a bible for us Conrail modelers and I highly recommend it!  

The first cuts are always the hardest - I had to muster up quite a bit of courage to cut into a $75 dollar model.  Still, a nice X-acto razor saw and mitre box helped in that effort.  Cuts are made slowly and carefully, letting the tool do the work, and not trying to force things along.  

With any sort of major kitbash, I find it helpful to do periodic 'check up' loose assemblies to see how things are fitting.  Luckily, the C30-7A and the C30-7 from which it came share a common car body length, and even more luckily, the Atlas molding includes the walkway and pilot casting as a separate piece to begin with.  This allows a positive check where I can see if any issues need adjustment before assembly.  

You can see here in the splice behind the cab that I had to cut an extra sliver to lengthen the body - the first was too short!  

While the new cab and full-body cuts as seen above are the biggest changes needed, there are many other details that set apart a C30-7A.  Extra radiator grill intakes from Hi-Tech details are necessary, as is a modification to the battery box doors on the left (conductor's) side of the walkway casting. 

The first, tall door must be chiseled so that it matches the height of the door adjacent to it.  I used putty to fill the depression between the doors to create a large, continuous door, to match prototype photos.  Finally I used styrene to add the hinges below. 

Again - slow, careful work and a sharp blade is required here to get the look (and just as importantly to avoid injury!)  You can also see I removed all the cast-in steps.  Conrail GE's are built with 3 steps per step well, instead of 4. 

It required about 3 applications of putty, then carving and sanding each layer, before I was happy with the joints.  I also removed the cast-on headlight bracket on the short hood, while avoiding removal of the sand fill cap.  After all the putty cured, I scribed in new cabinets behind the cab to match prototype photos.

Yet another detail that required changing is the headlight/number board casting.  As molded by Atlas, the C30-7 headlight is in a rectangular box.  Thankfully the B23-7 cab comes with the correct rounded headlight casting and better-detailed number board boxes, and so yet another part had to be purchased from Atlas.  

Lighting was a challenge due to the cab changes.  I ended up going with the Atlas B23-7 clear plastic casting and light guard, but that required quite a bit of filing for the clear plastic casting to fit through the cab wall.  I used black art paper as a light block behind the cab an on the bottom of the light guard.

Now we are moving into some of the fine detailing, after the putty joints are acceptable and the body has been glued together and to the frame.  I added the Hi-Tech details GE anti-climber casting to the front walkway and a Details Associates cab signal box to the walkway behind the cab on the left side of the locomotive.  Thanks to the Conrail Modelers group on Facebook, I found that one of the members there used to create custom GE marker light mounts in HO scale!  That made the installation of the distinctive Conrail marker lights quite simple.  Grab irons also were bent and installed at this time.

Also, I installed A-Line photo-etched brass steps on all four corners and then finished the battery box door (visible on the far right above) before installing Smokey Valley brass stanchions, and bending my own .015 brass wire (front and rear) and .015 steel wire (sides) handrails to match.  Smokey Valley stanchions needed new holes to be drilled as they did not fit the Atlas frame (they were made for Athearn GE's).  Stanchions for each railing go first, then the railing itself.  I elected to solder the stanchions to the handrails - I was nervous about that process, since that too was a first for me, but I am very VERY pleased with the result.  I used a simple pencil iron, paste flux, and electrical solder for a quick and extremely strong joint.  

The steps and Smokey Valley products were my first experience, respectively, with both.  I am very pleased with how these turned out!  

After the addition of other details including a Hi-Tech exhaust stack, a Details West Leslie RS-3L horn casting, Details Associates Sinclair antennae, and cab details including the rain gutters and flag holders that I fashioned out of styrene, we were ready for primer and paint.   I used Testors Aircraft Gray for primer and Scalecoat Conrail Blue for the finish coat.  Each spray can was warmed in hot water until the can was warm but not hot, which gives a lower viscosity paint application and ensures the details will not be hidden.  

After the primer cured for 2 days, I inspected the joints and was satisfied, so I proceeded with the blue coat - what a difference!  While the blue cured, I installed a LokSound Select Direct decoders programmed for the GE 7FDL prime mover, and then replaced the stock Atlas sideframes with new Atlas sideframes from their C40-8W, which fit perfectly and include the correct exposed roller bearings and profiles.  The underframe got a coal of Testors flat black enamel paint.  

As always, I am amazed at how the color of the blue seems to change once details are applied.  I used Microscale decals to decorate the locomotive, and then used white enamels to add the safety ends to the handrails, grabs, and coupler-lift bars.   Dull coat was applied to seal the decals and even out the appearance of the model.  

After the dull coat cured for 24 hours, I used flat black enamel for the exhaust stains, and then gave the engine and underframe a coat of airbrushed grime.  I used rust enamels for the darker stains around the battery boxes, then used chalk pastels to add localized grime and rust as applicable.  Finally, I installed window glass in the cab, and used MV Products red lenses to represent the marker lights.  I am pleased how those came out, too.

I'm excited about the results - here's a few 'finished' photos!

All in all, this was close to 80 hours of work, including some but not much corrective work that I try so hard to avoid.  Even in a perfect process this would be more than 70 hours, which is a lot to spend on one locomotive when there is an entire layout to consider!  That said, it is indispensable for this era on this railroad.  This model is a real challenge to get to a finished state, but I am excited on 'my piece' of the Chicago Line to have a well-modeled 'plain jane' like this one.  6577 will be a major contributor to moving big trains on the Onondaga Cutoff!



  1. I fully agree. While a lengthy project, this piece of moving detail work firmly sets the scene, and adds to your overall effort to create a section of time and space. Great work!

  2. Awesome job! I love running the trains but I also love the detailing just as much.

  3. Hi, Just started the project the other day. So far, so good. thanks for the inspiration. Lou