Rotary Snow Train

Rotary Snow Train

I am jumping in on a major project, my long dreamed of rotary snow train. This will consist of at least 10 items.

These will be:

Rotary CM – A Leslie Brothers style steam rotary built sometime in the mid 1920s. It will have features from D&RGW OM, OY and ON. Prototype research is located here; Rotary OM & OY – Research Notes

Rotary CM Water Car – A modified framed tank car

Engine 51 – A K27 from the Accucraft line. This the power for moving the entire train.

Engine 50 – A K27 from the Bachmann Spectrum line. This will be a dummy with the motor removed to allow free wheeling of the drivers.

Engine (currently undesignated) – A K27 from the Bachmann Spectrum line. Another dummy with the motor removed to allow free wheeling of the drivers.

Tool Car (currently undesignated) – A 30′ wood side boxcar.

Bunk Car (currently undesignated) – A modified 30′ wood side boxcar.

Cook Car (currently undesignated) – A modified 30′ wood side boxcar.

Engine-men’s Car (currently undesignated) – A modified Jackson and Sharp Combine.

Caboose 501 – A center cupola short caboose.


Rotary CM

Several years ago my friend Richard “Ski” Kozlowski designed a kit to turn a RTR wood side boxcar into a D&RGW rotary style snow plow. It closely resembles OY, especially the rotor-head. This was printed as multiple parts on a 3D printer in both 1/22.5 and 1/20.3 scale. He built the model for his RR in 1/22.5 based on a Bachmann Big Hauler boxcar and gave me the other kit.

The Idea was to produce a better looking model than the USA Trains Rotary (1/29th scale) and more affordable than the craftsman kit from Grizzly Mountain Engineering (1/20.3 scale). Modelers could cut a few holes in a RTR boxcar then attach the components with screws or glue as required. All that would be left was to modify a tender. Ski used a Delton tender in 1/24th scale for his version. I am not going to cover its construction but here is a final picture. I think it looks great.

For my build I am using a Bachmann Spectrum boxcar for the rotary unit and a tender from a 4-6-0 Big Hauler. I have run into problems immediately because I am not using the kit the way it was designed. After seeing the GME kit completed on a friends layout I must at least try to come close to it. It is a thing of beauty that only a narrow gauge nerd could love but I cannot afford it. Keep that in mind as I go through this build. It is not Ski’s kit but my own anal-tivity that causes the problems.


Here are all the components:



This is a 1/20.3 model (all be it freelanced) but the Leslie Rotaries were all built as standard gauge equipment. If you have ever been to Chama and seen OY or OM you know how large they are. Even though I am not building a model of any of the D&RGW units I still want that massive look. The kit components are also printed in 1/20.3. You can see below how this is crowding the build. Here is Greenman in comparison to the doors, shroud and boxcar.



This is where I first considered switching to scratch-building the basic body but at this point I was still trying to prove the kit design. If I knew then what I know now I would have. But onward. Time to dismantle the car and get out the razor saw. Disassembly is covered here: Rolling Stock Disassembly Instructions

After taking the car apart I marked off the window and door positions and started cutting.These are almost all inside cuts so I used the back edge of the saw to carefully make the cuts. I held it at a 45 degree angle and pulled it gently backwards drawing a small kerf of plastic out of the cut line. This is tedious but it keeps the surrounding area free of stray cuts and scrapes.

The last cut was for the I-beams that support the tension rod. All of the prototypes have the first support at the front right behind the rotor shroud. OY has the second one just behind the engineers door. OM and ON both have the second support behind the crew door.


Having the tension rod at the back made the kit fit better so I chose that placement.

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You may notice the angle on the rear of the unit. All of the rotaries have a partial enclosure to shield the fireman from falling debris and flying snow. OY has a cut out reminiscent of a passenger car. OM has the rear angled as shown. Ski’s kit comes with the two pieces to make this but I figured why cut the back off just to glue the same sort of thing back on.

Now I needed to make a decision on the frame. I had intended to use the one that came with the boxcar but then noticed that all of the rotaries sit on metal frames that extend below the wood sheathing. It was an opportunity to make up some of the missing height on the build. I knew I could not do much about the width without completely cutting the boxcar to pieces but I could effect the height. I decided on a 1″ thick piece of polystyrene for the frame. No one would see the underneath and it would give some much needed weight as well. Using the 1″ polystyrene added a 1/2″ to the cars height (the sheathing on the model comes 1/2″ below the floor). First I cut out all of the supports under the car and glued the block in place with E3K. With so much surface contact I decided screws were not needed.



For the top I glued 1/4″ polystyrene bar and then added a cover of bass wood. The odd little pieces where the door was were filled with polystyrene as well. A little sanding and I had gained a 1/4″ at the top. My project was now noticeably higher than it’s boxcar brethren. With a rounded roof it would look even taller.

I glued in the rear wall next. Some tongue and groove sheathing will be added for the inside walls and roof.

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Originally I was not going to do an interior but after looking at it and thinking how nice it would be to have interior lights and a crew I changed my mind. A did settle on a basic interior though no super detailing. The inside walls were made from matte board embossed to look like tongue and groove siding. I measured the height I needed for the walls and marked that on a piece of matte board. Then a few reference lines were added so my scribes would not lay over sideways as I moved across the section. Using a metal bar I pulled the blunt edge of a #2 flat blade screw driver across the matte board with firm pressure.

Once I had done the entire panel I cut it off and then cut lengths as needed. By holding the piece up to the inside of the wall I could mark where the window openings were needed. These were cutout using a Exact-o knife. I glued the pieces in with E3K and once dry  the edges were sanded flush.

With the inside walls done I could move back to the exterior. Time to put that “off- cut” from the end to use. I marked off sections to fill in on either side of the doors. They were carefully fitted into the openings to line up with the  grooves in the siding siding. A note for a Bachmann oddity here. The sidewalls of the Spectrum boxcar taper from thick at the bottom to narrow at the top. Because of this I had some trouble getting the boards to sit in the hole properly.

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To hide the joint I used Milliput two part epoxy filler. The wood grain was faked by dragging a razor saw along the boards. The groove was sculpted in with a small screw driver. Once dry it was lightly sanded to smooth the joint.

There was not enough of the off-cut left to fill the entire space but the access doors will cover the opening. I glued in a section of matte board to level it up.

Now I can fit the roof and set the front windows. The roof has to be removable so I can install the interior. It cannot be screwed on because the heads would show. Neither can it be glued on as I need to be able to change the batteries and get to the lights. A friction fit is needed. Details along the roof line prevent it from overlapping to the exterior side like most coaches are done. It has to have a channel inside.

I cut bows from double tempered hardboard using a quilting guide. These were taped together with one small drop of glue in the middle to keep them from shifting while sanding.


The ends are part of the removable section. They were finished to match the front and back as needed.

A quick look at how the rotor will sit.

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With cold wet weather I forecast for the next week I felt it was a good time to work details. I glued on the access doors based on OM but with the details of OY.

Altogether there are 124 rivets, 25 grab irons / steps, 5 chain anchors and 2 door knobs per side totaling 181 holes to drill. Binge watched a lot of Netflix during that time.

I was able to use most of the grab irons from the boxcar but had to make some out of steel floral stem wire. It bends sharper than brass and is much cheaper. It does not solder very well. The rivets are made from HO track spikes (atlas #2540 round heads). All most all of those had to be cut short as only the ones in the access doors could penetrate the walls. Those will be covered by the interior walkway over the cross-head. The door knobs are brass furniture tacks.

While the body is sitting upside waiting for glue to dry I made a simple set of bolsters out of polystyrene. A center line was located and did some guessing on where the trucks to sit without hitting the ash-pan or causing to much end swing. Ski had complained that his model had issues with this because the rear truck is so far forward. I am lucky to have large 20′ diameter curves so I hope I have allowed for the spacing between the rotary and tender.

Truck time. The plan called for using the boxcar trucks as is. After looking at the Fox pressed steel trucks on OY I decided I could make a pretty good facsimile. Not wanting to cut the Spectrum trucks up I pulled a set of Bachmann Big Hauler trucks out of the junk box. They are close enough in size and the Spectrum wheels sets have plenty of clearance.

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My idea is to make a cover that will look like the Fox trucks. The basic truck will be hidden behind it and none of the original geometry will change.

The ends and molded springs were cut off on the band saw while the cover plates were taped together and sanded to shape.

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The plates are designed to slide down from the top leaving the journals protruding through. The back of the journal bolts had to be cut and sanded to make room. Once in place the top and bottom edge was sanded flush. Thin styrene strips were glued along the top to make the L channel. Some square styrene stock was glued down the ends behind the plate to hide the original truck. Finally some thin strips were added below the journals.

The styrene strips were trimmed and sanded flush. After looking at the rivet pattern on the prototype I decided to go for a representative number of rivets rather than actual. I still ended up with 65 rivets, 4 bolt-heads and 2 chain anchor holes per truck.

The rivets are Atlas HO  round head track spikes #2540. All of them had to be clipped to 1/8″ so they would not protrude through the truck frame. The bolt-heads are end cuts trimmed from styrene rod. After the glue dried I sanded them down to the correct height. The anchor holes are for the chains. I plan on using small cotter keys and jewelry chain but I cannot put these on until everything is painted.

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Reassembled. I think once they are painted the trucks will look pretty good. Now the trucks could be attached until paint time.

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With the trucks screwed on I marked off the space for the ashpan and put together a simple box. It is hardly seen  but I did make the frame for a sliding door and mechanism to operate it.

The snow plow is based mostly on the one under OM. It is a angled blade with a curved section at the top. I mounted it using a piece of rod as none of the prototype linkage would be visible.

It is all styrene except the curve which is cut from a cheapy ink pen.

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View from the bottom with all the pieces in place. Still need to find a brake cylinder and connect all of the chains.

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And of course the current state of the model sitting upright.

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