Sunday, May 26, 2019

Rebuilding WSM-KTM GS-4 (Part 1) - History

So, again I've not posted in a while.  Feeling a bit nostalgic and I've decided to post about one of my projects which has been on the shelf again for a couple of years.

-- 'What is it?' you may ask.

Well, it's my very first brass steam engine model.

-- 'Why's it back on the shelf?'

The model has seen well over 30 years of nearly continuous running and good service on several layouts and operated for untold hundreds of hours and miles of operation.  In this post I'll go over the engine's long history and how it's coming back for its first major mechanical overhaul.

A sister to my 4457, SP 4450 owned by another club member,  showing the original paint work which my engine had in the 1980s when I bought it.

Origins of My WSM GS-4

Around 1985 or so, my parents made me a deal to help buy my first brass engine, a factory new Westside Models - KTM built GS-4.   It was put on lay-away for about 6 months at the local hobby shop while I stored up 100% of my allowance to be able to afford 1/3 of the engine's price!  The engine was painted in Daylight as postwar #4457.  A beautiful engine, and much superior to the Bachmann GS-4 that it seems all SP modelers of the 1970s and 1980s must have had to start with.  The WSM 4457 model engine ran for over 10 years on my childhood home layouts without problems.  In 1996 I joined La Mesa Model Railroad Club in San Diego's Balboa Park.  The 4457 followed me, running at the club for many years.

Early Mechanical Record

Over the first 15 years of service life, I took the engine apart about once a year to check lubrication and keep my mechanical skills up.  During the early-mid 1990s I had both main eccentric pins come unsoldered.  This was pretty easily repaired with a soldering iron carefully applied to the outside of the eccentric crank on the pin.  Around 1997 one of the solder joints on the yoke failed, and that took a more skilled repairman to resolder it.  Thankfully one of the guys at the local hobby shop did that work for me and I was able to watch!

A New Dress and a New Brain

SP 4439 with an extra passenger train running as No 52 (probably the last section) March 17, 1957. - Brian Black Collection

By 2000 the plating on the drivers had been run off the treads.  Also the skirting was starting to 'pop' off after years of operation, handling, and disassembly/reassembly.  The club was also going to DCC so duplicate engine numbers were being corrected within the membership's pool of engines.  With the DCC installation the model also received a new can motor.

As a result, SP #4457 was already owned by another member, I removed the skirting and repainted my WSM/KTM engine as the 4438, in black as I had some reference photographs for that engine.  This repainting job was "ok", but is not up to my current standards.  MicroScale's incorrect 'White' SP Steam Decals were used on it.  Basically my 'patch' paint job was that of what a 18-20 year old could do without an airbrush.

Major Overhaul Time

Around 2014 I removed the 4438 from service after it's 15 year old decoder failed to keep the smoke in the wires.  The engine's performance was dropping from the driver plating being completely worn out.  So a more through rebuild of the 4438 was due.

Also another member arrived with SP 4438 in the 'half-Daylight' scheme modeling the engine immediately after the real one was deskirted, but before all the Daylight red and orange paint was painted over.

Here's the other club member's replacement 4438 with the deskirted Daylight scheme.

The arrival of the another 4438 at the club was a main factor in prompting my 4438 to be returned home for redetailing and repairs.  At this point my 4457/4438 was about 30 years old, and had seen continuous service for basically that entire time.  The current rebuild will include redetailing and replacing the long broken blowdown mufflers and some level of repainting of the engine.

SP 4438 after 30+ years of a hard working life.  Still so much left in her!

A club member offered to replate the drivers, but in the end offered to swap another set of fresh drivers from another WSM/KTM model, and replate my drivers at his leisure.  During this driver swap, he looked over the mechanical condition of the engine and noted how little wear the rods, crankpin holes, and gear tower had.  Only the driver tread plating was worn out.  Once the drivers were replaced, the forecast for this model is 'many more years of excellent service!'

Status of 4438 Rebuild in 2019

SP 4438, pre-second rebuild - Right Side.  New unpainted drivers installed.

Currently the 4438 is waiting for some stripping and repainting.  I'm debating if I want to strip all the
way down and paint again.  Another option, because of the over-painting that I did previously, I could see if I could selectively remove the over paint and do a 'half-Daylight' also.  If that fails, then I could do the complete strip and repaint.

SP 4438, pre-second rebuild - Left Side.  New unpainted drivers installed.

The first repainting I did of the 4457 to 4438 involved using MicroScale's Heavy Steam decal set from the late 1990s.  My current plan is to use the much superior artwork of the San Juan Decals during my repainting of the 4438 into its next incarnation.

In Closing

I hope that this post will encourage those of you with older, well worn but still mechanically sound models to look at reconditioning them for a new life, possibly changing numbers, repainting, redetailing, etc.  I'm also writing this to encourage and document that well maintained brass models from manufactures such as United, early PFM, Max Gray/KTM, Balboa/KTM, and WSM/KTM can and do make excellent long lived running models.  These last three, all KTM built, but imported and improved over the years by the three successive importers.

SP 4434 and a sister, probably 4459, depart Bakersfield with No.52 during November 2017 TT/TO Operating Session at LMRC.

Hopefully, at some point soon, I'll be able to return to working on the 4438 in 'my spare time' or maybe overlapping during similar paint work on other projects.  I will certainly enjoy having not only a good GS-4 for running may various passenger trains, but this project is made more special because it's my original "first brass engine" coming back in-service!

Jason Hill

Related Articles:

Modeling the Owl (Part1) - Post-WW2 to Korea

Modeling the Owl (Part2) - Korea to 1960

MTH Daylight Passenger Cars - Reviews and Modifications

Modeling SP' Road Switchers (Part 1) - Light Steam Engines