A few years ago, when Rapido announced their new RS18 I started to raise some funds to acquire one for our club layout. Having kitbashed several of them from Atlas RS11 in the old fashioned way, I was eager to see a state of the art model of that iconic locomotive. However, I was prudent and didn't pre-order it yet, wanting to see the final product up and running before committing to buy. When the time came to place an order, I changed my mind. The chronic issue of missing parts on my set of 3 Rapido undecorated SW1200RS left a sour taste in my mouth and I felt I would not embark on another round of frustration dealing with costly models that doesn't live up to expectation. As they say, if you want it well done, do it yourself. And sure I did.
|CV 8081 in St. Albans, VT (credit: cnrphotos.com)|
Having about $300 in my pocket, I asked myself how this money could be invest to get a maximum amount of modelling opportunity, fun and sense of achievement. The answer wasn't very glamour! I ended up on a website searching for cheap but reliable locomotives to bash. Taking advantage of a sale, I got myself 3 Bachmann Alco S-4 for $40 each and a Bachmann GP9 for $60. I figured out the remaining money left from the cancelled order would be enough to cover for paint, decals and details. The goal was simple, since many of my switching layout ideas are around small towns on Quebec South Shore, family-owned feed mills and old paper mills, I thought it would be a good occasion to try replicate a few classic Central Vermont, Maine Central and other American connecting lines with Quebec. A quick search on Railroad Picture Archive proved they all had interesting variations that would be great to model.
Sure, the Bachmann models are spartan and lack details such as grabirons, but their newer diesel have reliable drive, crisp details and are DCC ready. Also, they are easy to take appart and reassemble while they shells are sturdy. Basically, they lend themselves to customization for an affordable price. At $40, I couldn't really complain about anything.
So far, I've not completed my 4 kitbashes, but they have brought me plenty of leisure time and provided many challenges I had to answer with creativity. The more I get involved in this hobby, the more I like to build things myself instead of relying on manufactured detail parts.
Another nice thing about starting with basic models is you have to better research your prototype. You end up learning a lot about real locomotives and how they evolve after each visit at the shops. A stock model such as an Alco S-4 starts to look noticeably different after 30 years in service. Your Maine Central switcher is now distinctly different from your Central Vermont one even if they were built by the same plant in the same era.
|Some mesh from a faucet and voilà!|
Speaking of Central Vermont, it is amazing how they customized their S-4 over the year, changing windows, removing louvers, messing around with the smokestack and adding rotating beacons and firecracker antenna. The most interesting change is probably the fascinating "Safety First" sign put on top of the hood.
|Small scratchbuilt details are often a better fit|
While making this model, I ended up making several detail parts by myself to save money, get away with shipping delay and get exactly what I want. The bell bracket was made of sheet styrene and using Atlas spare part generic bells I once purchased in bulk. The smokestack is a bunch of styrene profiles put together and filed down to shape. The new radiator grill was made out of an old sink faucet aerator mesh. The firecracker antenna is a styrene rod on a phosphore bronze pin. Finding these parts from shops would have been a nightmare and worst, it would have been a compromise since you won't find custom CV parts anywhere.
|Decals shall be altered to fit your model...|
Even when painting the locomotive I had to compromise. Microscale has a set of decals for CV RS11 and GP9, but it doesn't really fit a S-4. I had to cut several parts of decals and reassemble them to get the proportions right. This is certainly not the easiest way to do it, but there is no easy way out.
At the end of the day, these cheap models have brought me countless hours of relaxation and achievement. I've learned once again a lot in the process and had a lot of fun. I know for a certainty I wouldn't have got that kind of reward if I went with my original plan.