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benshell

The Saga of my USA Trains Big Boy

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Hi everyone,

 

I'm starting a long overdue thread to chronicle my USA Trains Big Boy project. A few of you have read about the start of this story on the USAT G Scale Group. I've decided now to start from the beginning in a single thread, both here and on the USAT G Scale Group.

 

My story begins last March with the ECLSTS. I wasn't at the show, but I was helping Shawn of the USAT G Scale Group provide live coverage of the event. When I heard that Charles Ro had two Big Boys for sale for $1800 each (without electronics) I asked if Shawn could help me buy one, and he graciously agreed. I provided my credit card number over the phone to Charles Ro, and then Shawn picked up the Big Boy and took it to a UPS Store where I again gave the store my credit card to ship it to myself, at an outrageous cost of about $300.

 

Unfortunately, the UPS Store did a poor job packaging the Big Boy, and the UPS carriers decided to drop it a few times. It was supposed to be insured for $2000, but it turned out not to be. The UPS Store guy put down $1000 for the engine and $1000 for the tender, and the tender wasn't damaged. After months of dealing with UPS claims, the UPS Store, and Charles Ro (to get quotes for repairs), UPS finally accepted that the engine had more than $1000 worth of damage, so I eventually got $1200 from them (including the packing and shipping refund for the engine box).

 

That's when Charles Ro changed their tune and decided not to honor the quote they'd given me in writing, which was a whole new chassis (including all wheels and motors) for $1000. The price was now $1600. I talked to Mike in parts, Charles Ro himself, and eventually Charlie's son Mike (known as the "bouncer" for problem customers) who treated me poorly and flat out lied to me about things they themselves said just weeks earlier in phone calls I documented, as well as an [admitted vague] email stating the $1000 chassis price.

 

So I decided to not to spend anymore money with Charles Ro, and instead fix the Big Boy myself. The damage is very repairable, it's just a matter of figuring out how to fix each issue.

 

For the record, although there is no excuse for the poor customer service I received from Charles Ro, they still make great products which I have continued to buy, but only used or through dealers instead of Charles Ro directly.

 

In my next post I'll start documenting the various repairs I have made so far, and am continuing to work through.

 

8637014992_7cd53e9920_z.jpg

 

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Wow! What a mess with Ro, UPS & insurance!!

 

That Big Boy in the pic sure looks nice though :)

 

I've heard other horror stories about Ro's so called service...or lack of.

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Chuck, yeah it's been a mess. I've also heard other Charles Ro customer service horror stories. If they'd have said "we made a mistake the price is really $1600" I would have been disappointed but I'd understand. That's really where the customer service went wrong. It was not what happened, but the way they treated me when there was a disagreement. I prefer not to speak negatively about any company, especially not the one that makes my favorite products. Still, my story wouldn't be complete without this disappointing chapter. I encourage everyone to buy USA Trains products, just be cautious in dealing with Charles Ro direct.

 

Fortunately as you can see the damage is mostly little stuff you don't see at a glance, although there are some important little things I need to fix.

 

The first major thing I tackled was the trailing truck axle. The original was bent (and I have no idea how that could have happened!). I bought a 72" of 7/32" stainless rod from Amazon.com (of all places!). I thought it'd be an easy operation on my lathe, since I just needed to turn the rod down to .196 diameter. However being a press fit it needed to be very precise, and I hadn't used my lathe enough to realize I didn't know how to do such precise work. I found out in my first try that I was getting a taper. I finally figured out how to align my lathe headstock and tailstock more precisely, and made a new axle that worked. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos while actually making the new axle, but I've included the photo I took when I originally discovered the bent axle, and another of the trailing truck reinstalled with the new axle, and the one old (and my mistake piece) next to it.

 

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Ben,

 

This should prove to be an interesting topic.  I saw your engine last year at the ECLSTS, while I was just prowling around. 

 

No electronics? Like no motors?  Was the whole frame bent?

 

Between this post and Chuck's, this looks like it will be a good resource for those who attempt repairs on this engine. 

 

The comment on the service is similar to my own, but I'll spare you that.

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Thanks for posting Ben, going to be interesting to see the steps and processes you use to make the necessary repairs as working with die cast is a different animal compared to plastic.  I know from talking with you originally back when all this was first going down I was really surprised at not only the damage you saw but how it was handled with regards to service.  My first USA BB experienced some sort of internal short and went up in smoke after the first 500ft or so.

 

http://www.rayman4449.com/USA_Big_Boy_Video_1_2100kbs.wmv

 

With that, the headlight and reverse light being wired backwards and the paint damage on the boiler from the Styrofoam packing making contact with the paint USA exchanged the engine with a new one without any fuss.  Of course in my case I was going through a dealer (RidgeRoadstation) so maybe that had something to do with it.  I have come to believe that working through a dealer generally results in a better level of service as opposed to working with the company direct as you actually have an advocate when you have a dealer in the loop.  My only other experience with USA was in ordering parts and have always had good luck with being able to get what I need and get a hold of someone knowledgeable (which think was Mike).

 

On the bent axle I just cant understand how that could have happened!  So aside from the axle and what looks like the front pilot railing what else was messed up with it?

 

I really hope you can get this sorted out without too much trouble so you can focus on customizing and enjoying your engine!  These things are incredible models without any doubt!!

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Mark, It came with motors and lights, but no electronics boards, speakers, or smoke units.

 

Ray, I have a theory about the rear axle. I don't think it could have been bent in shipping. Now that I've replaced it I've taken the old one and tried abusing it. It's very tough! I haven't bent it further at all yet. How the axle was bent I can't imagine, but my theory is that USA Trains sold it to me this way. It wasn't something that anyone would have noticed on display at the ECLSTS. And this locomotive was likely sold to be a shelf queen since it didn't have electronics, so I think they assumed no one would ever notice. By the way, to futher back up my theory when I disassembled the rear trailing truck some of the screws were partially stripped. I don't think that would have happened during assembly in China. Someone opened up the trailing truck at a later time for some reason, like to get rid of a bent wheelset!

 

Anyway, I need to go take some more photos; I'll share another project update shortly. (Progress is slow, partly because I'm constantly blocked on something, and partly because my top priority is building my 20' diameter mainline to run it on. My goal for both is to be running the Big Boy in June during the West Coast Regional Meet.)

 

In the meantime, here are all the photos I originally took to document the arrival and damage of the locomotive last year:

http://flickr.com/gp/benjaminshell/635by9

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Goodness it really took a beating.  When it comes to adhesives and diecast metal I'm not really sure what options are really available (for those cases where that might even be something you would want to do)

 

Your photos are excellent, what camera are you using?  It's long time I replaced my very old Rebel XT.  (Time for a 7d or the successor)

 

I hope you can get it going soon too.

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Wow!! That loco did take a severe beating! I doubt that even the real one that was laid over on it's side in a wreck was broke as bad as yours! 

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Here's a quick update on a simple cosmetic issue. The front platform railings were badly bent on arrival. They seem quite heavy duty, but they turned out to be easy to bend. However the fireman's side railing is broken (not just bent) in two places and I don't know of any way to fix that. You really have to look closely to notice the issues though. One issue is that one post doesn't go into the platform floor. The other broken part is more easily seen in my photos, but if I paint the broken area black I doubt you'd see it, even in photos. But if it ends up bothering me I'll probably go ahead and order a replacement from Charles Ro; otherwise I don't think I'm going to worry about it.

 

Before:

 

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After:

 

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Goodness it really took a beating.  When it comes to adhesives and diecast metal I'm not really sure what options are really available (for those cases where that might even be something you would want to do)

 

Your photos are excellent, what camera are you using?  It's long time I replaced my very old Rebel XT.  (Time for a 7d or the successor)

 

I hope you can get it going soon too.

 

Ray, as for adhesives I'll share my experiences with JB Weld soon. In short, it does work if there's enough contact area; not so much with little contact area.

 

Thanks for your comments about my photos! My camera is a Nikon D7000. The important thing isn't the camera though, it's the flash. Mine is a Nikon SB700 which I often use off camera. Quick frankly the lighting is terrible where I'm working on the Big Boy, but I use various work lights and the camera flash helps a lot for photos. My main work bench has much better lighting, but due to the weight and size of the Big Boy I'm working on it on another bench.

 

I think I'll be able to get it running before my June event. I'm more concerned about getting my mainline completed, so that's been my top priority! I am also a little concerned about whether or not the Big Boy will run reliably on my mainline. My track work is pretty good, but 100% perfect is hard and I've heard a lot of concerns about the suspension of the USAT Big Boy.

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I'm way overdue for another update, but I have been working on the Big Boy here and there, while also completing my 500 ft mainline before an open house on April 12, and working on some house projects before family is coming for my a four year old's birthday this weekend!

 

The most major repair I needed to make was to find a way to hold the gearboxes in alignment after the little protrusion from the casting fell off:

14028459493_1f45190b0b_z.jpg

 

My first attempt was to glue it back on with JB Weld. But, not surprisingly, that didn't hold. There just wasn't much metal to grip on. It's really a terrible design:

 

14005245732_554e04a9f2_z.jpg

 

Fortunately, this protrusion is only used when the Big Boy is in reverse. So, you can pull a long train, but I wouldn't be surprised if pushing a long train in reverse has caused this protrusion to break off for others. It's hard to believe it wouldn't! So, I realized there was space and some small holes on the other size of the gearbox, so I cut aluminum angle brackets to fit and prevent the gearbox from pushing back too far. I used existing tapped holes (M2.5-0.45) which had a little room on the top (backside) for these screws:

 

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For the most part this worked. However later I had to disassemble one of them because I needed to completely remove the gearbox, and in the process the threads stripped (which were holding by less than 1/4" in very soft metal). So for the rear casting I ended up drilling and tapping a single new 4-40 hole in the middle. The bracket is pressed up against running gear brackets so one screw should be enough. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of this while the locomotive was so disassembled. By the way, the M2.5 screws from the upside are holding copper brackets that pickup wires are attached to. Another option would have been to replace these with a through hole bolt, but it would have been more difficult to assemble and disassemble.

 

The next gearbox related issue was that there was now a hole through the gearbox, where the protrusion ripped out some metal. I wanted to be sure it wouldn’t leak oil or grease, so I JB Welded aluminum plates in place:

 

14005256311_dc8147d264_z.jpg

 

Unfortunately I later realized I must have gotten a little JB Weld inside the gearbox, so eventually I had to figure out how to remove it and disassemble it. It turned out to be easy; I should have done this much sooner before trying to JB Weld in place! You just have to remove four screws from the bottom cover of the gearbox and then pull it up and out. Once opened up (which required a little filing on my overly aggressive JB Welding of the cover place) here’s what it looks like inside:

 

14005422811_5810b09960_z.jpg

 

And that concludes (hopefully!) the story of the gearboxes. Next up, look what happened while trying to reassemble the chassis:

 

14005251151_a7d279325d_z.jpg

 

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Not being familiar with the make up of the BB I don't know what I'm looking for,  anyone please help??

   Also, having to mess with dealers is no picnic either,  they will openly lie to you just like USAT did to you,

PROFIT being the key word here.     

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You have had quite the project with this Ben.  Tell me this when you have enough surface area and can get the metal surface prepared with some grinding/filing are you seeing the JB Weld really bonding the pieces well?  I would guess if so you could do the same with the front steam exhaust return like from the front engine set.  This is good information because I have found that a lot of things do not adhere well to the die cast metal which makes accomplishing some things a little more challenging.  I really like the look of those gear boxes... all metal, all ball bearings.  Only part of the entire drive train to watch and make sure stays lubricated is the plastic universals.  I'll be keeping my oiled because that will be the most likely place to see any sort of unusual wear.  If you have the motors off and the bearing on the motor (worm gear end) is a brass bearing then would probably put a drop of oil on that as well as I've had one USA Hudson motor that wore out enough from heavy use to get out of alignment and have the armature impact the magnets in the motor case.

 

That said looks like you are doing a great job Ben and actually making good progress!

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Nick, I would have to look on mine to see what he is referring to otherwise I would reply with some additional info.

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Tell me this when you have enough surface area and can get the metal surface prepared with some grinding/filing are you seeing the JB Weld really bonding the pieces well?  I would guess if so you could do the same with the front steam exhaust return like from the front engine set.  This is good information because I have found that a lot of things do not adhere well to the die cast metal which makes accomplishing some things a little more challenging.

 

Yes, give those two conditions (clean rough metal and decent surface area) JB Weld seems to be working well. Still, I wouldn't rely on it for anything too structurally important.

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So, now that I've piqued your interest, I won't want too long to share the rest of the story on the front steam exhaust return. While re-assembling the chassis I realized this part was bent. I tried to bend it back, and not surprisingly it snapped. I looked at older photos and found that it was not bent before, so it must have happened during disassembly. It did take me awhile to figure out how to disassemble the chassis, and it's odd how weak the design is of this part.

 

So here's what I did. I drilled the tapped the part that goes up into the smoke box for a 4-40 screw, and I drilled a through hole in the other part. I connected them with piece of steel, which then I used JB Weld and Loctite on as well! It's difficult to remove this part (you have to remove the front platform, both pumps, and the cylinder block casting first!) so I really don't want to fix this part more than one. Structurally this part doesn't seem to be too critical, but it should be a lot stronger now! Finally I sanded the JB Weld and painted it. It's hard to get a picture of the part with the chassis assembled (which is a good thing for my repair!) so I've included quite a few:

 

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Next I'll share a few more details related to chassis issues, including one more major problem that fortunately was easy to fix. However in 12 hours I'm headed to Southern California to go chase the full-size Big Boy moving over Cajon Pass on Monday! So I'll get back to this next week, probably after sharing UP 4014 photos.

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Benshell...WOW! Doing a great job figuring out how to fix it! 

 

What kind of milling machine is that?

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Benshell...WOW! Doing a great job figuring out how to fix it! 

 

What kind of milling machine is that?

 

Thanks Chuck! The milling machine is a Little Machine Shop mini mill. I've only had it a few months, but it sure comes in handy even for the simple stuff I've done with it so far.

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Ben, have you had it far enough apart to inspect the driver suspension springs?  This is the one thing I have felt that needed investigation as I really think the existing springs are too stiff which makes the engine not as able to conform to variations in the track (and thus derail easier and more often than it should).  I'm just wondering what they look like and how big they are.   I'm sure finding exactly what would be needed would be a chore but thought I'd bring it up.

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If you are looking for different springs, McMaster Carr has a HUGE selection of them.  their web site pages 1242 and 1243 seem to be the size for out application.       

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Thanks for the tip Nick!  I will check them out, may be worth tearing the Big boy apart and ordering some different springs to see what I can find.  Will still be a project for sure but having a good source will be a big help. 

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