Large Scale Central

Rehab of the Missile Sponges Part the First - Diesel Dan

OK, the Mik is astern of us and it is on to new projects, in particular the long-foreshadowed “Rehabilitation of the Missile Sponges!” “Missile sponge” was a Cold War era U.S. Navy term for ships that were supposed to suck up incoming missiles to allow the carriers and, for a while, the battleships, to close for the kill. Here, it refers to the three locomotives to which we gave the crew and most of their friends full access, in effect, absorbing the blows so more expensive trains could pass. Battle scarred and weary, they are ready to serve again as tools to advance our capabilities as modelers.

First up for rehab, a PIKO GE 25-tonner “Clean Machine” named Diesel Dan. Notice the detail parts:

That was a joke. There are none. The family got this for Kid-zilla when he was three. His sister gave it to him to hug goodnight, we all fumbled for the on/off switch, and he chewed off the horn. For his fifth birthday, he asked for the detail parts back, and even provided a horn that came as an extra with a PLAYMOBIL set (Future kitbasher in the making!). I’ve never bent handrails before, so that will be a new skill to master. I took possession of a good collection of grab-handle-less LGB freight cars, so that is one of the reasons Diesel Dan is the next project to get underway. Also, to avoid contact with that ON/OFF switch, I ordered G-Scale Graphics “Magnetic Critter Controller” (Magnetic Critter Control ( Someone on this forum tipped me off to this device years ago, and it intrigued me. Now I have an excuse to experiment with this control system and get better at integrating electronics into our locomotives. I offered to paint Diesel Dan to look like the full size one at the Hawaii Historical Railroad, but Kid-zilla declined. Diesel Dan will remain in stock colors and clean…for now

I know this is hardly a hard-hitting project, but I find by committing myself to the site, I commit myself to the project. I have been surprised that this little gem from PIKO has yet to appear in 'bashes on this site, so maybe this will open the door to that with “Mac-bashing,” alas, now a thing of history.



How did it get the moniker Diesel Dan? The diesel part is obvious, the Dan part not so much!

look forward to the progress on Dan’s future.

Magnetic Critter Controller is in! It will get gift wrapping and remain in the box for another week. Kid-zilla won’t know what it does, but he knows what it means! He wants to spend his birthday working on Diesel Dan. Darn my luck (

As for the name, Pete, he told me he wanted it to sound like one of the locomotives in the Rev. Awdry’s Railway Series. If I understood him correctly, he wanted his loco to have a human name like the steam engines but be true to the mechanical and industrial designations of thediesels in the original books. Most didn’t have “real” names, though, but simply went with things like “Diesel” or “Bo-Bo” or a road number.

We will get this controller wired in first, then turn to on the missing detail parts. No point in adding handrails that will get in the way as we take the body apart to wire in the controller!


Most didn’t have “real” names, though, but simply went with things like “Diesel” or “Bo-Bo” or a road number.

Hmmm . . . I guess you haven’t introduced YS to the Thomas TV series.

Can you believe Kenji? Rebecca? Duchesse? And we won’t mention the B&O and NYC express engines that “visited”.

@Pete. We’ve had some unfortunate run-ins with the new cartoons. He defaults to the book, though, which we scored for couple coins at the library.

Somebody got to open his presents today…

…which means Tonka Man (Diesel Dan’s engineer) and I have a week to find the tech manual and plot a means to jam that circuit board into Diesel Dan:

I also broke out the bag-o-parts and showed it to Kid-zilla. The horn needs a new “business end,” which I think we can craft. That will let us keep the spare PLAYMOBIL truck horn for something else. The signal bell and mount are fine, and most of the ladders seem to be in the bag and in good shape. I kept all the handrails so that I could have patterns for the shapes. I plan to replace them with wire, as I think that will stand up to life on Triple O much better.

We’ve cleared the picnic table of all other projects. Only routine incantations to resurrect our B’mann railtruck stand between Diesel Dan and his return to the rails!

Have a great week!



Kid-zilla, the 1:24 scale crew, and I finally started this project in earnest:


Four screws on the bottom allow you to remove the cab and engine compartment. Take off the cleaning shoes first to make it easier to reach the aftermost screws:

A close-up of the electronics gives an indication of how well laid out this little loco really is:

The wires have a good deal of slack, and their color codes match the manuals. The GScale Graphics card is very well labeled, too, so this should be pretty easy…when we figure out where to put the new magnetic controller card and the two magnets! There is no room under the hood, so we spent about 20 minutes trying to slide off the cab:

The cab slides along two slots, and, for want of better word, tabs engage on the bottom to hold it in place. It took some squeezing and wiggling, but we got it off:

As Kid-zilla demonstrates below, the cab floor is exactly too small to accommodate the new circuit board:

The 1:24 gang suggested we stick it vertically to what would be the instrument panel on the real thing (We got to see the real thing shunting stuff around the Hawaii Historical Railroad today, by the way (Video: The Real “Diesel Dan” Shunting Things Around the Hawaii Historical Railroad)!):

The grey exhaust stack also serves as a cable channel, and we plan to take advantage of that fact. We’ll need to file a notch in it, though, to accommodate the new wires. The plan is to lengthen the leads to the battery, run them up the pipe, and wire them to the new control card. Then, one set of wires will go back down to the stock circuit boards and off to the motor. A third set will run from the the controller card, down the stack, through hole in the deck, to the magnet controlling the auto start/stop function. The other magnet that will control on/off will fasten to the roof of the cab’s interior.

Naturally, I am entering an overtime rich environment, so this project will be on hold…again…With luck, we’ll be able to wire Diesel Dan up next week, though, and return “him” to service while we bend “his” new handrails.

Enjoy the rest of your weekends and have a great week!



I was off today, and Kid-zilla seemed a bit excited for some reason:

…for he knew today we were going to tackle Diesel Dan’s new electronics!

For those not familiar with the GScale Graphic controller, it is about idiot proof. It is well labeled, and all you have to do is find space for the board and the new wires. Even with PIKO’s clear diagrams and color-coded wires, I still got some polarities messed up. Everything on the model and this circuit board use screw terminals, so we managed. Besides tinning some wire ends, teh only new wiring was to add more length from the battery up into the cab and onto the new board. I still managed to have difficulties… The other issue was getting power flowing for testing. We braced the battery pack into Diesel Dan’s. PIKO provides ample extra wiring to make this possible. GScale Graphics has an LED to let you know power gets to that board. The board, and proof of interim success, are below:

The next issue was where to put the reed switches. One clearly would go into the cab. One for automatic station stops had to go down by the tracks. There is no clearance under the chassis, and I did not feel comfortable placing wires near rotating wheels. For those more comfortable than I modifying the base model, you might be able to mount the reed switch in the motor block itself:

There is space between the motor can and the bar connecting the cleaning pads. Again, wires and moving parts bothered me. We fixed the reed switch externally with double-sided tape and ran the wires up through the hole in the lower left of the picture above. This is where forward / off / reverse switch is. Them we fed the wires up the exhaust stack to the cab and wired it in.

We did a quick test on the lanai, where we discovered that you really need to use the start/stop reed switch before testing the station stop switch!

I think Kid-zilla’s words sum it up!

Next, Kid-zilla filed a notch to accomodate the new wires…

…we buttoned Diesel Dan up, and we were off the Triple O to test out Diesel Dan for real:

He spent the next two hours learning to use the “remote control” and setting station stops. Overall, this was a good first electronics project for me, it removes risk of breakage to the soon-to-be-made handrails by obviating the need to use the on/off switch when running, and it increased the fun value of a really great little model. On to those handrails!

Have a great weekend!


The simple pleasures. Looks like Kid-zilla will be the conductor for Diesel Dan now. (

Awesome stuff!

Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments!

Today we made the handrails. I’ve no idea what metal I bought, but it was tough to bend and unforgiving. We marked the cuts and bends using the original handrails as guides, clamped the “wire,” and bent it to shape:

In retrospect, we should’ve probably been wearing gloves and safety goggles for this step.

We did use our goggles to cut and grind the wire (picture courtesy of CINCHOUSE):

The sparks made Kid-zilla understand pretty quickly why we wore those goggles!

The wire gage was a bit bigger than the original holes. Kid-zilla is a bit young for the Dremel, but he took to the pin vise:

Where I could, I saved the bolt plates from the original handrails. I thought about cutting off the remaining ones, tapping holes, and installing them, but I have a feeling these handrails may not be as immortal as they may appear! Also, getting these rails bent and placed proved tricky, and I wasn’t confident I was going to get everything to line up. I have a feeling Diesel Dan may go to the paint and detail shop in the coming years, anyway, if Kid-zilla’s interest in the hobby continues and matures. These are details he - and I - won’t miss now but we might appreciate later.

We also had to tack down a few point here and there with CA glue as we went over Diesel Dan’s surviving detail parts. Then, we had to find a bell for the horn. Youngest Daughter gave us her bead collection, and lo! Kid-zilla found the tip of an old automatic pencil:

We cut it down, glued it on the horn mount, and voila! You can see it below in the group shot:

The buildings, incidentally, are Grandpa’s work. This year, it’ll be our job to repair and refurbish them. Also, you’ll note the reed switch stuck to the window. Trains run around the island of No’u’ea in a clockwise direction for reasons lost to history, so placing the reed switch on the starboard side made good sense. Today, Diesel Dan, fully trimmed for the first time in over a year, ran all over the railroad without losing a part, validating the reed switch’s placement.

We had one last side project. I had picked up a Lil’ Hauler hopper on the cheap after watching the discount get progressively cheaper over the last couple years. The intent was to paint it and weather the heck out of it. Instead, it became Kid-zilla’s birthday present, and he likes it just fine as as a “jelly bean car.” He knew we had to lower the coupler, so we measured, cut and installed some wood from the scrap bucket, installed some of the last of Rooster’s donated hook and loop couplers, and Diesel Dan proudly took “his” new jelly bean car out for a spin:

Kid-zilla showed Y.D. and CINCHOUSE his rehabilitated train, and CINCHOUSE apologized for not having the camera on hand to capture the look of pride on his face.

And that’s that. Were I to do this again (and were it my locomotive to begin with) I would cut out the cab floor to ease the wiring and make the windows opaque. I’d probably also find a better wire for the handrails. Diesel Dan would also sport either US Army or Hawaii Historical Railroad colors to mirror “his” cousins that once worked Oahu. I am really very, very pleased with the Magnetic Critter Controller, and I would strongly commend it to anyone else who wants small hands to operate trains without risking detail parts or remote control devices. As an aside, we almost lost the magnet today. That would’ve cost me a buck to replace. Imagine if that was a handheld throttle? In the end, it all came together to make Diesel Dan look more like a “real” model and much more fun to operate for his primary operator, which was my objective.

On to the next project!

Have a Great Week!

Eric & Kid-zilla

Well done Kid-zilla.

as a side note I would think the wire you used is known as ‘piano wire’. Often found in hobby shops but definitely a bear to work with. (

Looks great! I like the comment “we should make a video…we just did” all very exciting!

If it was piano wire, our lad will not break it…but it may break the plastic it is mounted in.

the wire you used is known as ‘piano wire’

Funny, but in the UK it is known as piano wire. Over here I have learned to ask for “music wire”. (

“Piano wire.” I’d heard of it. Now I know what it is!

Music wire, yep that is common or spring wire, high carbon steel wire. Ive made tools with 1/4" music wire.

I think I’ve made my last handrails with it, that’s for sure!

Eric Mueller said:

I think I’ve made my last handrails with it, that’s for sure!

Actually, if you grab a blowtorch and heat the part you are trying to bend, it’s much easier. (