Brass Steam Engines questions

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Bob Schulze

New Member
Brass Engine.JPG
Could use your advice:

I'm sorta thinking about getting back into model trains (as an adult). I had no idea about the vastness of the hobby. After looking at a lot of train stuff I'm intrigued by these highly detailed brass steam engines.

Is this level of detail available in say a Bachman Spectrum for example or unique to brass? Why are they unpainted? Would I need to get inside them to update to modern motors etc. How hard to paint? Is brass an unneeded luxury and modern materials can equal or surpass the detail?

I'd want to go Great Northern steam as this is what I saw almost daily as a kid going to school.

Thank you,
Bob
 

Railrunner130

Well-Known Member
Not to blow off your questions, but I was in the same boat as you about six years ago. My advice is to start out with the cheap stuff and build your knowledge base/ see if there is a firm interest. You don't want to spend a lot of cash and realize you don't enjoy the hobby. To me, brass is something you work towards. Look on eBay, get some used track, a used DC power pack and a few engines/rolling stock. Then decide where you want to go from there. You can always upgrade and sell off the other stuff.
 

montanan

Whiskey Merchant
I would agree with Railrunner. Brass can get expensive, and if you are interested in the Great Northern, brass may be what you'll need if you want accurate models of GN steam as they did have some rather unique locomotives. I am a fan of the MILW and NP being that I live in Montana and grew up with these railroads and when it comes to steam, again brass is where I have to look for accurate models.

I ended up jumping the gun and ended up with a couple of brass locomotives that ended up not working out for the type of layout that I ended up with. I would suggest having a plan for what type of layout you want and start off with less expensive locomotives and work up fro there. My layout ended up being a freelance railroad that connects with both the MILW and NP so I could have power from both railroads show up on my layout.

Brass is a bit of a luxury, but if yo want highly detailed, accurate models, that is the way you may have to go. Another option is to get a generic steamer and detail it yourself. I have done that using photographs and ended up with some excellent looking locomotives.

Good luck.
 

Greg@mnrr

Section Hand
I agree with the guys' comments before me and I'll add a couple comments of my own.

Many older brass models may not perform as well as the new higher quality plastic models and the older brass models may need to be re-motored to provide the running results you want. In favor of the newer "plastic" models, they may come with DCC and sound already installed or in DC mode and changes easy to make at a later date.

I too jumped the gun and purchased an expensive "plastic" steamer that not doesn't fit my era.

As for brass verses plastic models for detail, I would venture that the higher quality plastic models will give the brass models a run for their money when it comes to the details.

Thanks.

Greg
 
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Espeefan

Well-Known Member
Brass can be a lot of fun. If you choose to go digital (DCC) you may need to re-motor. It depends on when the model was made. Many models had can motors which will be compatible with DCC decoders. If you stay with DC, this is not an issue. Models were unpainted because of the nature of the market. They can be very easy or very difficult to paint. The one you show would be very easy. New plastic models do approach, equal, and sometimes surpass brass model detail levels, but brass is more forgiving as a rule when it comes to handling. How are your mechanical skills? If you have good ones, you'll be OK. If not, be prepared to go up the learning curve. Can you use an airbrush? If not, good custom painters can be found but they aren't cheap. A paint job for that model in your pic would probably cost you in the $250.00-350.00 range if done properly. Some simply collect brass because they are works of art. I operate mine but understand the collector's philosophy. I have a few I collect myself. They need to be tuned to your layout. Larger models won't like sharp curves. You might want to check out Brasstrains.com, and maybe the brass collectors groups on Facebook and Yahoo. They have good information for beginners.
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
Beady- That's cheating...but I love it! IIRC, that's Burlington O-5 (4-8-4) #5632, that the "Q" painted gold for the 50th anniversary of the Burlington Route. That beautiful hog was used for both passenger and high-speed freight, as were all the O-5's. Sadly, #5632 was put to the torch. Her sister #5629 (IIRC) is on static display at the Colorado Railroad Museum, in Golden, Colorado. I only have one (1) brass model that my wife bought me quite a few years ago. It is unpainted, and I don't run it very much. It is a model of a Burlington 4-6-0. I don't intend to paint it, as my rationale is that it was also painted gold for the "Q"'s 50th.
 
Tell me your budget and I can tell you where to start.

Is this level of detail available in say a Bachmann Spectrum for example or unique to brass?
Both plastic and brass have various levels of detail

Why are they unpainted?
Some are factory painted

Would I need to get inside them to update to modern motors etc.
Some have fine running motors and gear trains. Most have older open-frame motors and flexible tubing connecting the drive train.

How hard to paint?
It is easy when you know how. Like everything, it is cost effective to paint your own if you have many to paint. And you have time and money to practice. One or two, I would send them out.

Is brass an unneeded luxury and modern materials can equal or surpass the detail?
Hybrid brass-and-plastic models can surpass most brass, IMO. Tooling and development is very expensive, there are not as may different engines in high quality plastic.

I'd want to go Great Northern steam as this is what I saw almost daily as a kid going to school.
You can get an idea of what is available and the prices. Lurk around eBay and various online brass shops for the models you want.

My choices:
When I got back into trains, I started with an engine that was ready to go.
Now after several years I like brass and the repair and upgrading is fun for me. I do whatever is needed including painting, drive train upgrades, installing DCC and sound, and repairing minor damage.
 

montanan

Whiskey Merchant
When it comes to painting brass locomotives, I found that it really isn't that hard. I was intimidated when I was going to paint my first one because there is usually some disassembly that has to be done to do it properly. My first one was a small one and once it was put back together after it was finished, it was very satisfying to see the finished locomotive. I ended up not only painting my own locomotives in HO scale, but also a number of O scale locomotives for a local collector.

After having a number of them under my belt, I finally painted my Z-5 Yellowstone (2-8-8-4). There was quite a bit of disassembly that had to be done on this one, but after decaling it for the Northern Pacific and watching it run I couldn't have been happier. It has sat on my shelf for a few years. I think the only reason I had bought it was because I had ridden in one with an uncle on its last duties as a helper over Bozeman Pass. Unfortunately, It's too large to use on my layout as my turntables are only 90 footers. I take it out of its box a few times a year to let it run and keep everyhting lubricated and moving freely.
 

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Could use your advice:

I'm sorta thinking about getting back into model trains (as an adult). I had no idea about the vastness of the hobby. After looking at a lot of train stuff I'm intrigued by these highly detailed brass steam engines.

Is this level of detail available in say a Bachman Spectrum for example or unique to brass?
That is not an easy question. The level of detail of 1960s era brass has been far exceeded by plastic/die cast models today. So there is a continual improvement in the detail through the years. I sold all of my brass from that era and "upgraded" to the plastic models that started coming out from companies like Broadway Limited and Proto-Heritage. Many brass models today are - in a word exquisite -. However when I consider spending the $3000 for a brass W&R model and then think I can own about 8 plastics for the same price the value proposition comes into play and I end up with the plastic ones. They still look as good or better than the brass of old, but I don't get nearly as bent out of shape when one gets wrecked during an operating session.

Why are they unpainted?
Not all are unpainted. There are many factory painted brass models. e.g The PFM "crowns" from the late 1970s through early 1980s came painted from the factory. I believe originally they were unpainted because they were already so pricey, they didn't want to add the additional $100 just for paint. One could buy the model now and paint it later. It used to be a huge industry to do "custom brass painting". More and more modern offerings are coming painted. The $100 for paint isn't as big a deal in todays dollars as it was back in the day. All my recently purchased brass has been factory painted.

Would I need to get inside them to update to modern motors etc.
Depends on how old the model is. I believe all current brass releases are coming with can, coreless, or at least 5 pole skewed armature motors. Anything before 1978 probably has old open frame motors that would have to be redone. How hard to disassemble - depends on the model.

I'd want to go Great Northern steam as this is what I saw almost daily as a kid going to school.
Great Northern favored the Belpaire fire box, as much weight on drivers as possible, and they built many of their own locos rather than just purchasing them from Baldwin, Alco, or Lima. As such, their locomotives were for the most part very unique, and many are only available in brass. In this regard brass is not a luxury it is the only show in town. This is the reason I stopped modeling the GN and switch to a road with more standard type locos. There are a few GN models out there in die cast or plastic. They had some USRA type locos (done by BLI recently), they had a couple Z6s (Northern Pacific style which were just produced by Athearn), umm umm a couple others that I can't think of off the top of my head right now.

A couple years ago BLI did a gorgeous brass model of the S2 Northern. I really wanted one of those, but once again couldn't justify the price for a RR I'm not "officially" modeling anymore.
 
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