Central Railroad of New Jersey 1940’s Commuter Train in LEGO
This is my LEGO model of a 1940’s Central Railroad of New Jersey commuter train. This train is typical of those that made up the CNJ’s short haul commuter service in the first half of the 20th century. You may have already seen the locomotive in my recent article on Vinyl Decals, or on a recent youtube livestream. Now that the locomotive is properly decaled, I finally took some time to photograph the whole train and write this article.
The seeds for building this train were planted several years ago while on a trip to visit Steamtown National Historic Site. While there one of the locomotives that caught my attention was an odd little Canadian National engine, no. 47. Canadian National no. 47 is what is referred to as a “Suburban” locomotive. These locomotives were built for short haul service on commuter lines. The Suburban type had its tender, carrying coal and water, integrated with the main frame of the locomotive, rather than having a separate “tender” car semi-permanently coupled to the locomotive. This gave the locomotive excellent dual directional capability, handy for when there were no provisions for turn the engine around at the end of it’s run. It was not uncommon to see these engines running backwards pulling their train on a return trip.
This will be the first in a series of articles about my process of building a LEGO steam locomotive. I intend to cover a variety of topics in this series including research, the use of custom elements, aftermarket electrical devices, and building techniques. While I will focus on a specific locomotive project I am currently working on, this series will not include a full set of step-by-step instructions to that locomotive. My intention is to share some experiences and techniques that I hope people can apply to any steam locomotive project, and perhaps other types of LEGO models as well. At any rate, my designs are usually pretty fragile and don’t really lend themselves to redistribution via instructions. Instead, I will lay out my approach to building a steam locomotive and why I think it is effective. I hope that this will help people who are struggling with what I think is a particularly difficult type of model to build or, at least, be of some interest to the readers of this site.
Before starting on the layout proper, I first want to define and build my motive power and rolling stock. The actual design of the track plan, including grades, number of cars spotted, and so on, will depend upon the equipment running over it. There are a few things to consider before beginning:
Scale – Six-wide or Eight-wide? I used to build six-wide trains, but I’ve come to enjoy the detail that can be added to the larger eight-wide trains. Six-wide would make for a smaller, more portable layout, but eight-wide allows for more space for batteries and motors.
Era – Most logging operations that are modeled seem to fall into the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Choosing a specific year, or year range, will help narrow down what kind of equipment to build.
Location – What part of the world should I aim for? Eastern or western United States? Maybe another part of the world?
Here’s what I first selected:
Scale – Eight-wide. I really want to be able to add detail. This will make for a larger layout, but I think it will be worth it in the end.
Era – I’m aiming for the turn of the 20th century. This seems to be the height of logging by rail type operations, and research material for this time period is plentiful.
Location – I live in northern New England in the United States, and logging operations were plentiful around here back in the day. This also opens up research material, as I can literally step outside of my door and look at scenery that was logged by rail at one time. One of my favorite hiking trails, in fact, runs along a portion of what used to be the Lye Brook Railroad, a small logging operation run from 1914 to 1919 by the Rich Lumber Company of Manchester, Vermont.
With my basics defined, I started researching equipment. Generally, when one thinks about logging railroads, they think about small wood-fired geared steamers slowly crawling up steep grades, pulling strings of weather-worn log cars. The big three that immediately came to my mind where Shay, Climax, and Heisler.
A lot of builders put together Shay locomotives, with good reason. They look great while running! The exterior gear shafts provide some movement not seen on rod driven machines. I don’t consider myself to be a steam builder, or a Technic builder, though, so the gearing was a little off-putting for me. A Heisler, with its gear shaft underneath, might be workable, but, due to another of my other hobbies, I had Climax locomotives on my mind. In my Live Steam life, I’m working on a 1/8th scale “Clishay” locomotive. Billed as a cross between a Shay and a Climax, the Clishay screams “small logging operation”. I love the hand-built look of it, and since the gearing is pretty simple, I thought it would lend itself well to a LEGO® design. The basic layout is similar to a Class A Climax with a vertical boiler. This, then, was where I began my prototype research.
In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk about the Climax designs that I looked at, and where I am currently with the build.