UPDATE: This model has been upgraded with Tsunami 2 DCC/Sound
This is a model of a modern New York Central 4-8-2 Mohawk, Class L3a (Alco, Oct 1940). The L3a class was 25 strong and all were built by Alco (as opposed to subsequent L3 and L4 classes). The locomotives of this sub-class were dual-purpose: designed for both passenger and fast freight operations. While not having the top speed of a class J3a Super Hudson, the L3a had more power and better acceleration, useful on heavy passenger trains with many stops and starts. These modern Mohawks (the L1 originals were first introduced into service in 1916 and followed-up post-war by the highly successful L2 class) could even be found at the head of the 20th Century Limited when train lengths increased during the later war years. After World War II, L3a’s displaced Boston & Albany J2 Hudsons as they were much better at handling passenger consists over the Berkshire Mountains.
For Fillmore, in 1942, they are the largest mainline power available.
The model is from MTH. It has some interesting features like die cast construction, including the tender. Another unique feature is (or was, since I removed it) a decoder in the engine and another in the tender (the speakers are there as well). In doing so, MTH could provide a simple plastic drawbar which contained two rigid wires that carried the track power to both decoders. This design, while very easy for coupling the tender, is not, in my opinion, as reliable as a quick-connector between the two. The decoder uses MTH’s proprietary Proto Sound 3.0 system. While it also works on DCC, the available cv’s for tuning are extremely limited. Instead I chose to re-decoder it with a Soundtraxx Tsunami TSU-1000 Heavy Steam decoder.
The Tsunami TSU-1000 is the standard decoder on my layout for all steam (since making this decision, it has been replaced in the marketplace by the Tsunami 2). I chose the Heavy Steam version to make these Mohawks sound a little different than my Hudsons (they use the Medium Steam decoder) – although I know that neither sound exactly like the way real NYC locomotives did.
There is plenty of room in the tender for the new decoder, however the dual speakers are in a high enclosure at the front of the tender which made for routing the wires from the engine (track pick-ups, motor, and headlight) difficult. I cut the height of the enclosure down to a minimum in order to mitigate this. I used a combination of Miniatronics 2-pin and Soundtraxx 2-pin connectors to make the engine/tender electrical connections. The back wall of the cab, below the deck plate, was cut away as was a similar opening in the tender to provide enough clearance. This was done using my Dremel tool with cut-off wheels and a ball-nosed cutter (it isn’t pretty, but is not visible when on the layout). The headlight wiring inside the boiler was also modified with a Miniatronics 2-pin connector so that it can be disconnected when the boiler shell is removed.
I removed the pilot and tender trucks, drawbar, cab, boiler and running boards from the chassis. I discarded the unique MTH drawbar and made a new one from rectangular 3/32” x 3/16” brass tube. A piece of strip styrene was inserted inside for support while drilling the two holes and I left it there afterwards. There are a couple of things I will not compromise on: passenger cars will have full diaphragms and steam locomotives will have their tenders close-coupled. Or, at least, closer coupled than the way most steam locomotive models are supplied. I’m happy with the effect achieved on the Mohawk, although it is still not quite as close as it needs to be. On large power, achieving a close-coupled tender creates problems for negotiating curves and turn-outs. In the case of the L3a, it isn’t so much the four-coupled driver wheel base. It is more the very long tender and the six wheel trucks under it. MTH made the drawbar to go around tight model train-type curves, but its length was way too long for my tastes (it looked, well, toy-like). I shortened the coupling distance by .280″, which is half the factory length. The deck plate was also shortened and re-contoured. I also had to ensure that the three quick-connectors did not bind against the model when making those Fillmore curves. The tightest curve I have is 32”, but that is in the coach yard lead from the turntable. This is not Mohawk territory, although she moves through this and the twisty “s-curve” No 6 turnouts in the coach yard without complaint.
I built up the ash pan structure – this also helps to hide the large gap above the trailer truck where the model truck’s coil spring can be seen. The pilot and trailer trucks were soda blasted & weathered grimy black; the wheel faces too (the treads were masked with Jammy Dog 1.5mm tape). Details were picked-off by dry brushing with Testors enamel Dark Gull Gray. Since the chassis was bare, it was easy to paint the drivers (after masking the treads) by hand turning the flywheel to move the drivers thus avoiding rod shadow. The drivers, rods, and cylinders were weathered Grimy Black and then with a mottle of Oily Black. The pilot was also weathered the same way, then dry brushed.
This model is nicely detailed and I did not change the engine end except for adding a Frank Glatlz non-functioning coupler (available from Sergent Engineering) in the dropped position on the pilot. I did clean up areas where there were some tooling marks on both the metal and plastic detail parts.
The tender was modified a little more. Often models of New York Central steam locomotives have the tender ladder on the fireman’s side. This is not correct and, for me anyway, is a major thing that needs to be fixed. The tender shell is die cast, but I had a relatively easy time with moving the ladder over to the engineer’s side. A big help is that the ladder is made of brass with three long tabs that folded inside the tender wall via drilled holes. Each tab was secured with CA from the factory, but I was able to carve it away with a No 11 blade. The tabs were bent straight and the ladder was removed in good condition. To transfer the holes to the other position, I took a small piece of sheet styrene and glued a strip styrene ledge on either side of it at the same height. I inserted this inside the tender with one ledge at the bottom edge of the tender wall. I marked the sheet through the existing holes by using a sewing pin in my pin vise. Then I drilled out the styrene sheet with a .031” diameter drill – the holes for mounting the ladder are this big (!), but are not noticeable when the ladder is in place. Next I placed the styrene jig on the exterior of the tender using the opposing ledge and aligned it for the new hole positions. Drilling into the metal by hand wasn’t getting anywhere, so I risked drilling them with the moto tool while holding the jig firmly. This went very easily and in no time I had the ladder mounted in the correct position. The old holes were filled with Tamiya Putty and sanded smooth.
The tender is also missing another major item, in my opinion. There is no coal pusher, so I added one from Custom Finishing. This detail part is well made and includes the portion that goes inside the tender on the slope sheet. However, I cut the cylinder at an angle as only the exterior portion is needed. I made a water hatch handle out of .010” wire and added a Sergent coupler. The factory-applied coal load was enhanced with some finer Woodland Scenics Mine Run coal.
I did keep the factory NEW YORK CENTRAL lettering on the tender, the tiny L3a class lettering on the cab side, the builders plates, and the NYC oval plate below the headlight number board – these I masked with blue tack sticky putty. The headlight/backup lenses were covered with a small ball of blue tack. The cab windows were masked with pieces of 6mm Tamiya Tape. The road numbers were sanded away with 600 grit paper. Where I had made modifications to the engine and tender exteriors, these were touched up with acrylic Engine Black via airbrush.
Then the usual followed: Testors acrylic gloss for the decals; new road numbers and tender capacities applied from the Microscale NYC Medium Steam set; remove masks from the lettering only; spray Tamiya TS80 Flat Clear lacquer; two light passes airbrush thinned Grimy Black on sides, about six on the top of the engine and tender; apply Weathered Brown powder to selected horizontal surfaces and sand colored powder around the filler ports on the sand dome (all excess blown away with airbrush at 60-80 psi); drybrush details very, very lightly with enamel Dark Gull Gray; remove window/lens masks; re-assemble the trucks and drawbar.
This locomotive model was the source of some angst that caused me to pursue the troubleshooting & quartering adventure I made this past Summer. Somehow the slight cyclical hesitation is no longer noticeable and she runs quite well. I do hope that I have found the way with MHT Mohawks now – I’ve got three more to do!