Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Old Josh must be turning

In the first 2 decades of the 20th century Josh Cowan worked his butt off to put his 2" gauge competitors out of business. Within the first decade he pretty much killed off Howard and Knapp, and in the second he finished the job on Carlisle and Finch and sent Voltamp running into the arms of Boucher, only to have them convert to standard gauge soon after. So this must have been a real slap in the face....

Around 1910 or so a young model railroader named George Hopkins had a single Carlisle and Finch #34 and some gondola cars to call a railroad. He also had a friend who brought his train over, and then left it there. Accounts vary whether he abandoned them or told George just to hold onto them for him. Either way, pretty soon possession became 9/10ths and George decided he needed to do something with them. The train was an early Lionel thin rim #6, most likely split frame based on the solid 3 rivet tender trucks, with 1st series freight cars. What George did was convert them to run on 2" 2-rail track, exactly the opposite of what Josh had been marketing all that time.

Fast forward to 2004 and the estate of George's son, Dick, was being split up and the converted #6 was in play. This wasn't some deep dark newly found wonder - George and Dick had been running the #6 on George's Trans Attic and United Railway for the better part of 60 years, and both were well known in the 2" gauge train community. [I am currently working on a track plan of the TA&U and will post it when I am done. It was an amazing piece of work.] I was fortunate enough to acquire the #6, and in fact I seem to be the only one who had any real interest in it - even the guy selling the collection thought its value was pretty much only in the wheels.

But I love it. It’s not clear to me when George converted it; in interviews he suggests it was around 1910 which would have made him about 15. Parts of the conversion are crude enough that it could have been done by a teenager, albeit and darn talented one, but the courage to do something so crazy and the fact that mechanically it works so well suggests maybe he was a little older.

Regardless, an extensive amount of work was done to convert it. The entire frame was discarded and replaced with a long wood block. Parts of the side frames were kept for bearings. The motor was remounted on top of the wood block. The reverse unit was left intact. He may have originally used it but now it is not connected. A rectifier has been installed. George ran his layout on DC and the rectifier allowed him to remotely reverse the engine by switching track polarity. The wheels were insulated by cutting the axles short and inserting the stubs into a wood dowel with a hole drilled surprisingly accuratly down the center. The drive axles needed to be positively locked onto the wood dowels for torque, and he accomplished this by drilling holes though the wood dowels and axle stubs and inserting nails, essentially acting like cotter pins.

The engine was repainted black, some piping and air pump detail added, and for some reason a non-working headlight installed. However the headlight looks great.

When I got it, it required a little work. The wood dowels insulating the drive wheels were getting very dry and in fact one cracked in half. I wired it back together and used some epoxy to hold the nails in. The pony truck was simply screwed into the frame, with very limited range of movement. This worked fine for George's large 10' radius layout, but not for mine. I made a swing arm for it patterned after a real Lionel #6. It came with its original, though repainted, tender (unfortunately the solid sided 3 rivet trucks couldn't be found, so I got it with the later open sided 3 rivet trucks). I needed that tender for an original #6, so I made a slope back tender for it which was basically a combination of Lionel's prototype #6 slope back tender (TCAQ, Oct 2006, vol 52, #4)and the #5 tender. George never lettered it. Since the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie is one of my favorite railroads, I made up some rubber stamps using fonts as close as I could find to the ones used for the Lionel prototype slope back tender (also lettered for P&LE).

It runs smooth as a champ. I repainted and re-gauged a couple Lionel Day coaches to go with it and the whole thing sails around the layout. In all, I have less money in the entire train than the going rate for a single excellent condition 200 series freight car.


Standard Gauge Blogger said...

That's friggin awesome!!! What an incredible set of trains. The thing that this says to me - who cares about the size of the track?

I am curious - is 2 inch track more or less reliable than three rail tubular? How's the electric conductivity? Why was it abandoned? Seems like every gauge including 2 7/8 is more popular the 2 inch....

alex said...

You know how Lionel called their track 120 pound track 'cause you could hang 120 pounds off it? The strongest 2" 2-rail track is Voltamps, and its probably 12 pound track. Its rails spiked into wood. Great for an adult modeler, not so great for kids. The individual ties and rail track I used can only be set up on a permanent base. Not so good for the around the Christmas tree set up. My electric conductivity is great because I soldered jumpers across the joints - again fine for modelers, not so great for kids. You can't just lay out reverse loops like three rail. You need to use insulated sections and a DPDT switch to change polarity of the track while the train is going through the loop.