The Italian Job: Rivarossi French 4-6-2 Chapelon Rebuild: Part 2

After a couple of months of delay, here is Part Two of "Terry from Delaware's" quest to rebuild his Rivarossi locomotive that he bought from some cad on eBay (uhh...that cad was me! Strange story right? No, I did not know Terry before he won my eBay auction).
The good news is that Terry completed his rebuild of this loco!  I hope you enjoy this post, please check out Part 1 here, and my original blog post when I first added this same loco to my collection years ago. Jerry/Quinntopia
Even more apologies to The Italian Job and The French Connection.

Subtitle: Locomotive Repair for an N Scale circa mid-1980s Rivarossi French SNCF 231E 22 Class Chapelon 4-6-2 Nord Steam Engine and Tender

The story and completion of the rebuild and refurbishment of this Italian made N scale French locomotive picks up with part 2 of 3. And I must make an admission or confession. Those reading the first part of this tale may recall my recommendation not to throw away anything during a disassembly or rebuild. Throw away nothing.

That is still a good idea, but in the past it seems I have ignored my own advice. Maybe that was before I fully realized the value of keeping things. Or not having the sharp eye for a second use or rebirth of an item of object.

The value in keeping a small scrap or odd item is a trait that I learned from my late father. But don’t get the wrong idea. He was not a pack rat. But he did have a knack for holding on to certain things. And he was wise and thrifty. Low and behold many of those ‘saved items’ found a second use. This is a smart and frugal behavior I learned from Dad and I am glad I have that characteristic. So in the case of this rebuild, the item of utility might be surprising. It is not a screw, washer, wire, bulb, or other oddity. It is not a new or replacement item made by Rivarossi or another N scale locomotive maker. No nothing of the sort. The item I refer to are those older format 3 ½ inch floppy disc cases. The older black case color in particular. One might ask “what on earth could that have to do with a train rebuild?” Read on.

Part 1 ended with having soldered the new upper light bulb mount to the original cut stump remaining on the locomotive chassis apron. It was a good effort and helped turn the corner on this project.

Next I looked over the remaining pieces and pondered their refinement and reassembly. It is a good idea to work slowly. This is for two reasons. Some steps may be irreversible. Hence you cannot backtrack. The second reason is that I was unfamiliar with the original assembly of these Italian N scale trains. And for that reason, if some steps are not irreversible, others may be permanent or fatal. Then it might be necessary to go out and buy another. That may be a poor option too. And I often remind myself of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare. Remember, the tortoise won the race. Slow and steady wins the race is a mantra that I like to say.

I set about the work on the cut boiler tube. If you look at the sixth picture in part 1, it is evident that I had to sever or cut though the small plastic pin or tube that protruded down through the chassis apron into the piston or valve head body assembly. I was determined to replace that cut pin. Working with the wire gauge drill bits and the fine point X-Acto knife I cleaned out the portal in the chassis apron. I carefully drilled out the bottom of the boiler tube bottom end with either an ~80 or 90 wire gauge drill bit (if I recall correctly). 

Now for that prized item of which I had previously thrown away about 30 cases. The 3 ½” floppy disc. I believe they are made of ABS or a polystyrene based plastic. My understanding is that is similar if not the same as the shells of many of the early Rivarossi and similar scale locomotives. So I set about to make a new pin.

My first ‘second use’ and interest in the floppy disc cases actually arose from a desire to practice N scale decaling or lettering. One of my other goals is to build certain locomotive and passenger car combinations. Some of those ‘liveries’ can be purchased and others are less often seen for sale. So I wanted a canvas or practice surface. If I was planning to paint a loco and tender shell, and then either decal or stencil lettering or other decorative ornamentation I did not want to practice on an ‘A+’ grade item. No I needed practice. Enter the floppy disc cases. But that will be the subject of another build. For now I need to finish this Italian - French connection.

I stripped open a few cases and removed the electronic, spring, and soft wiping wafer guts. This left only the two outer clam shells or halves. An added bonus inside those case shells, are ridges and grooves of varying thickness. So with a little research, testing, and cutting and assembling chips I found that cyanoacrylate (CA) glue and Plastruct solvent weld are two good means to glue these ABS cases and components together. But those two solvent or glues work and function very differently. So depending on the need a different mode might be needed. For example, the Plastruct solvent is quite good at softening the ABS or polystyrene and will give a fairly good bond, although perhaps not rigid strong. Generally it will not leave a haze or cast residue or sheen if carefully applied. But, it will also soften or dissolve. So if you don’t have much to work with and only a small piece that can be a problem. If you are not careful, everything will collapse to a dark or blackened morass in front of your eyes. So be very careful if you are trying to reconnect thin tender grab rails or the front pilot of a Berkshire or a Mallet with a ketone-based solvent. Because once gone – they are gone. Some good advice I obtained from one of the guys at Nicholas Smith Trains in Broomall, Pennsylvania, was use a very fine detail brushes. Like a 3O or 4O. That is wise advice. (PS. - if you want to visit a neat train and hobby shop with just about everything, then you need to get in their store. I don’t think you will be disappointed.)

The CA glue is also good, but use it where it can be hidden. It tends to have a sheen and thickens since it does not dissolve the ABS. So it must be used sparingly. (Remember the boiler shell CA glacier I had to work with previously.) So the trick is to gauge what you need. Sometimes trial and error on expendable items is needed.

To fashion the pin I shaved and chipped at the inner ridges of the floppy disc case. Doing so you quickly learn that the thin ABS can curl or roll. It does not have much dimensional stability. Slow careful work with a razor sharp blade is essential. Otherwise you will have black, inedible shave ice that would not be palatable. And since I needed a round pin, I first used the blade and through scraping I rounded a large portion of the ridge before severing it from the case. In short time I had a few suitable pieces.  Whatever you do don’t sneeze or leave the table. They will be gone when you return.
For reasons explained above I decided to use the CA glue to position the pin inside the drilled cavity. Once dried I would then carefully scrape away any excess. With a little CA, some adjustments, and time I had the pin completed.  At this point it is still evident which one is glued in. I then set that aside and let it dry.

Now it was time for the next big challenge. The reappearing front smokebox boiler cover. Those reading this story will recall the surprise of finding that item still attached to the locomotive boiler shell. Granted it had been ground, drilled through, installed backwards, and had a brass tube protruding through it – but it was there. Damaged goods but it was not missing. The brass tube escutcheon was cut at an angle. How would I get this sorted? 

So I headed to the basement to ponder this next step. This detail piece is much smaller than a dime. With all the work items and dark crevices, boxes, etc. in the basement I decided that working there would be a bad move. This little piece would head off somewhere to never appear again. Many of us working with these small gauge trains will know this all too well. A small spring or screw gone, forever. Not to Davy Jones locker, where it might wash up with the tide, but instead somewhere  far away, out of sight, out of view. Gone, but near and irretrievable. For that reason, one of my odd tricks, I sometimes work inside a small chocolate candy box or cigar box. It works quite well. (Now - and this is not a product placement - but if you are looking for good chocolate, check out Hughes Home Maid Chocolates from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Ok, maybe this is a plug. But I get nothing from this, other than passing along this wonderful source. They are located on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. And the best part, if you eat the candy quickly you will have that wonderful box and lid to retain and store those small items. If you look at picture 10 in part 1, showing the pieces in a small white box, that is a Hughes Chocolate box lid. One of our family friend’s sharp eye caught that right off the bat when they read part 1 of this story. I apologize for the digression, but it really is good chocolate.) So I shut off the basement lights and headed back upstairs.

I figured a solution to work up the smokebox cover. First I would secure it and then carefully cut it with an X-Acto saw blade. 

Careful work with a small flat file and it was getting to a better place. 
After some final cleaning and polishing I filled the inside reverse side of it with a metallic epoxy and let it sit and cure. 

These next pictures show the gathered pieces in various stage of repair and rebuild. The first was taken just prior to my having soldered the light bulb post. The second before the air tanks were set in place.

Next I returned to final fitting and positioning of the new light bulb mount within the boiler shell. This took many clips with snips, filing, and careful adjustment. 

I then returned to the cured smokebox cover. It quickly became apparent that the inserted brass tube protruded too far into the boiler shell front. Hence it would not sit in proper position. Thus I would need to remove a large portion of it from the inside recess. How was the question? And in reflecting, this is perhaps why it had been installed in reverse in the prior work.

This is where another little odd “Life lesson” entered into the crevasses of my mind. A “Life lesson” is a term that my eldest daughter uses to describe something that we should pay attention to, something of note. And I agree with her entirely. For this project, I had visions of that small, sacred, smokebox cover flying across the basement never to be seen again as I worked with it. And if that happened, with already considerable time and effort, as well as money spent and no spare or back up – I would be out of luck. It would be one of those irreversible moments. So what do I do?

For some reason I recalled rebuilding a lawnmower in Yorktown, Virginia as a young teenager. Yes – an odd story from decades ago but it was fun and it brings back great memories. And it had a present day message, a life lesson. As that young teen some decades ago, I was given an old ~20 inch 4-stroke push mower by a neighbor and family friend. It had sat outside in his front yard for years. It was ‘solid as a rock’. So of course I accepted the gift and the challenge. (Remember, I can’t pass up the odd item. And the price was right, it was free.) So I pushed it home. That was a project for my father and me to tackle. We did and it was fun. We took it apart, freed the stuck piston, rebuilt it, put in new rings, ground the valves, and she was ready to go. Well almost. There was a reason it sat there those years. The recoil starter spring had broken. Now that was a challenge. The small end with two grooves that held the spring securely in the metal housing had snapped. What to do? Without being held securely, you got one pull and no recoil; the spring was not held or coiled so it would not rewind. And if the engine did run, trying to carefully recoil the starter rope on a running engine is not advised. It is probably a good way to lose fingers or fingertips. So at about age 12 or 13 I tried to figure it out. And I did. I clipped two small grooves in the end of that spring. I would simply reattach it in the cast housing, put it back together and all would be well. And then I tried to reassemble it. Well, if you have ever tried this, I offer the best solution. Have someone else do it. Pay them. Pay them well. I chased that slithering sharp serpent all around the garage for about a half hour. And what is worse, it is hardened or blued steel. And it is sharp, has a strong memory, and will whip and snap like a caged bull or worse. But I was determined and I finally got it. The trick. I used what we have always called ‘sugi wire’. It is the 30 or 40 thin single strand bright color-jacketed phone or communication copper wire cables that were housed in a ¾ or 1 inch gray vinyl sheath. I pulled single strands and tightly wrapped that spring in several strands of the wire, getting tighter and tighter with each twist. And somehow I got it wound tight, set the new ‘grooves’ to hold that coiled strand in the housing, got the coil spring fully rewound, reassembled, and functioning. And I used that mower for about the next four or five years mowing lawns. So the moral of the story, or the “Life lesson” was ‘secure your work’. Why that story entered my mind as I sat at the kitchen table figuring how to fix that smokebox cover I will never know. But that is how it happened. And it saved me from losing that irreplaceable smokebox cover.

The solution - I would invert the smokebox cover, duct tape it securely to a board in my vise. I then used a punch to cut a circle in the duct tape and then used a Dremel with a small grind stone to remove most of that inner protruding brass tube. 
It is not pretty but it would be hidden. And best of all, it did not wind up somewhere lost in my basement. Here is a good picture of the completed lightbulb post. 

To Be Continued! 
See Part 3 for the stunning conclusion and final assembly of Terry's Rivarossi Chapelon!

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