AMB NCNG Switcher - 1:20.3 SCALE DIESEL
Manufacturer: American Model Builders, Inc., 1420 Hanley Industrial Court, St. Louis, MO 63144. Price: Urethane plastic and metal locomotive kit number 817 (powered) $139.95 suggested list; number 818 (non-powered) $99.95 suggested list. Please include $3.50 shipping and handling.
THE NEVADA COUNTY Narrow Gauge, or "Never Come Never Go" as the locals called it, was a Northern California shortline running from Colfax to Grass Valley. The three foot line began operation in 1876 and the scrappers tore it up in 1943. All NCNG locomotives ran on steam until 1935, when management added a Plymouth diesel switcher to the roster. In 1936, they added a secondhand Whitcomb gasoline switcher, the prototype for the American Model Builders model.
AMB's ad for the model first caught my eye in the April/May issue of Outdoor Railroader. I recalled photos of the diminutive prototype in Gerald M. Best's Nevada County Narrow Gauge so I pulled out my tattered copy and, there on pages 123 and 194, were photos of the Whitcomb. She looked wonderful with her adornment of cables, sheaves, grease, and the bell from an old steam engine.
I am a sucker for a number of things in the world of Gauge One, among them little gas mechanical switchers. AMB's Whitcomb model suits me perfectly and they offer it in three versions: a powered kit, an unpowered kit (for modelers wanting, for example, to add their own mechanisms or install a Northwest Shortline drive), and a special-order custom built and painted version. As Ed Cass' drawing on page X indicates, the prototype came in three sizes. As a result, the model can represent a 10 tonner (on 42 inch gauge) in 1:24 scale, an 8 tonner (on meter gauge) in 1:22.5 scale, or a 7 tonner (on 3 foot gauge) in 1:20.3 scale. The NCNG engine was the latter. As the drawing points out, in 1928, 42 inch gauge Whitcomb engines had outside frames.
The model weighs 1 pound 6 ounces. It measures 7.75 actual inches long by 3.93 inches across the mainframe by 5 inches high from the railhead to the top of the cab. Comparing those dimensions with Mr. Cass' drawing, I found the model is actually very close to 1:18 scale. That is because the Delton motor block sets the wheelbase at 2.5 inches (the prototype's wheelbase is 46 inches). The same ratio works when you compare the prototype's 91 inch height, 54 inch mainframe width, and 59 inch cab width to those of the model.
All the above dimensions come from the drawing. I do question some of its dimensions, though: The profile of the mainframe in all the photographs I have seen look quite different from those in the drawing. That is one place where the model more strongly resembles the prototype photos than the drawing.
Now on to assembling the kit.
It comprises 14 main urethane castings. Most require a little filing or sanding to true up the mating surfaces. [The sample we received at OR required us actually to cut one frame side casting since it was about 1/8-inch longer than the other. AMB's owner, John Hitzeman, says his people now have corrected such problems.-Ed.] I did the work quickly on a belt sander, but could just as well have done it with 100 grit sandpaper on a smooth, flat surface. I used CA (superglue) to bond together the pieces. But be sure to test fit each piece since, once the glue sets, it bonds the urethane very strongly.
The instructions are very complete and well illustrated, even down to the installation of the extra accessory details in the kit. Those details consist of a radiator grill guard, sand dome, two headlight shells with lenses, exhaust stack with rain cover, and even a toolbox.
The model takes only a few hours to assemble, depending on how much detail you want to add. The quality of the castings is very good and the leaf springs, hood hinges, louvers, and latches all stand out crisply. The kit also includes clear acrylic window material, laser cut to exact size. You must furnish your own couplers but Kadee« 830 draft gear boxes drop right in. Parts for installing link-and-pin couplers are available separately.
The self-contained power unit is Delton's number 5200, the same as their "Doozie" railbus uses. The motor block has a smooth running five pole motor driving the combination of a steel worm and plastic worm gear. The ratio is 20:1. Right from the box, the slow speed control and overall performance were very good and improved as the loco ran in. Top speed is far beyond the actual locomotive's 11.9 miles per hour. Coil spring-loaded brushes at the back of each wheel pick up the power.
Wheel measurements are as follows: Tread diameter 1.080 inches; tread width .170-inch; flange depth .095-inch; and flange thickness .080-inch. The wheelset back-to-back distance is a little tight at 1.550 inches. The popular recognized standard is 40mm or 1.575 inches. The discrepancy is easy to correct by applying a twisting motion while pulling the wheels outward to the correct measurement. A dab of CA outside the axle center should help hold the wheels in place.
The AMB Whitcomb's pulling power is almost amazing. In actual tests at six volts, it easily pulled a train of ten cars of various manufacture. (That is far more than the real locomotive would have pulled.) When I added an eleventh car, the wheels slipped. A few ounces of weight added traction and stopped the slipping.
The model also lends itself to battery power since under the hood is just enough room for a set of four AA batteries. I used rechargeable Nicads and added a toggle switch for forward and reverse with center off. I also installed a small jack for recharging. The four cells provide six volts for a realistic speed with a duration of over 30 minutes. To complete the model, I found a Buddy L "Bittie Buddies" tractor at a local toy store. It had an idling engine sound unit and a headlight. For only $6.95 I now have a sound system running off another pair of AA batteries hiding under the cab. The sound unit and speaker are behind the front coupler mount.
I spray painted my model yellow but preliminary research suggests the NCNG engine was actually dark green.
Despite the deviation from common scale measurements, I think American Model Builders' Whitcomb diesel switcher is a winner. It runs well and captures the look and overall impression of the prototype. I hate to admit it, but the locomotive also is cute. With a suggested retail price of $139.95, it is hard to pass up.-Gary Broeder