Dedicated to the S Gauge American Flyer Trains of A. C. Gilbert! header image 1

Merry Christmas From!

December 23rd, 2017 · No Comments

As we celebrate this Christmas season there is nothing like an Erector Set or American Flyer Train to bring back our childhood memories. This set builds the Ferris Wheel, and many other models. The one that I opened Christmas morning 1955 was like this, but only built the airplane ride. This set has never been played with, and was an eBay purchase. The lady I bought it from said she got it from a man who said that as a child he had been intimidated by the large number of parts, so never took them loose. When I was a kid in the 1950s, you could go in a hobby shop, mine was called “The Hobby Hub” in Lansing Michigan. There while you were looking over the American Flyer Trains, you would see all these Erector Sets, sitting in a glass display cabinet, parts all in order. My set was ravaged a hour or so after I got up Christmas morning, and probably all the inserts hit the trash along with the wrapping paper. The next year I got my first AF freight set, but this year the Erector Set was my first Gilbert toy. Great Memories!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Chuck Harrington

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American Flyer Railcar Loads Part 3 by Ben Swope

November 12th, 2015 · No Comments

For this final installment we will be loading a Tootsie Toy road grader. Other brands of road graders, other construction machinery or even military loads could also use this method. I happen to have a Tootsie Toy grader on hand and liked the way it looked sitting on a flatcar (granted, it is a bit oversized). Besides any shortcomings, this is something the guys at American Flyer could have done.

I found the grader’s wheel spacing was too wide to properly sit on a common AF plastic body flatcar. So an extended platform is required to contain the wheels. This platform will double as the grader’s wheel chocks and keep it secure to the car as it travels over your pike.

My platform was made from simple 0.10” brass sheet stock, obtained at a local hobby shop (K&S was the brand used and was easy to find). Two platforms were required, one for the front tires, and one slightly larger for the two-axle set of rear wheels of the grader.

Utilizing the factory molded holes and slots in the flatcar deck, I located three pairs of slots that the platforms could key into to keep the load centered and contained to the car. The engineering of the platform’s dimensions took these slots into consideration.

The length of the platform (front to back direction of the machine) was dictated by the size of the grader’s tires. The extreme outer edges of the wheel tread was the length of the platform. If the wheel is ¾ inch in diameter, make the platform length ¾ inch.

The width was made 1/4 inch wider than the outsides of the tires mounted on the grader’s axles (the width being the side to side direction of the machine). This extra width allows for the 1/8 inch on each side to be folded upwards to contain the wheels in a side to side motion.

Once this was done, make two cuts with shears near the four corners of the platform, and bend the brass upwards to form wheel chocks, limiting the wheels front-back motion. Soldered these chocks to the folded sides, making sort of a shallow pan the axle assemblies snugly sets into.

Once these steps were done, place the platforms with the road grader inserted atop the flatcar. Locate the molded slots in the flatcar deck were best to install downward tabs to key the platforms to the car.

The tabs created for the front axle were small pieces of brass angle stock. Dropping one leg of the brass angle through the platform slot leaves the bottom surface of the platform flat to sit on the flatcar without teetering.

The four rear platform tabs were simply cut and bent from the platform’s flat base, keying into two other pairs of flatcar slots.

After being satisfied with the assembly and fit of the load and to the flatcar, de-bur all the platform’s sharp edges with a file and sandpaper and wash with hot water and soap. Once dry, I painted it black. The black color paint matches the flatcar and allows the platform to disappear under the machine’s black wheels and yellow painted load.

Tootsie Toy road graders are a bit wide, but railroads haul high & wide loads quite often – so this is still a prototypical load. However if replicating this or other wide loads, you’ll want to check for proper clearance with your load for close clearances on your curved tracks, through tunnel portals and past the AF turnout switch housings.

This has been the third and final part of the AF Railcar Load series. I hope that you have enjoyed it.

Ben Swope

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American Flyer Railcar Loads Part 2 by Ben Swope

September 30th, 2015 · No Comments

In this second installment on creating American Flyer railcar loads, we will be loading some S scale farm tractors. Farm machinery loaded on flatcars was, and still is, a common way to transport these colorful machines long distances.

Several models of inexpensive S scale die cast tractors are available from Ertl. I bought mine at a local Tractor Supply Company (TSC) store. There are several models to choose from, they cover several eras, making it easy to find a model to match either the classic 1950’s era of American Flyer, or if you prefer a more modern era.

Start with by placing the tractors of your choice on the flatcar, deciding how many and the way they will fit the car deck. The tractors I chose were a “tricycle” type, having a narrow spacing of the front tires. Tractors of this type were frequently loaded nested at an angle to fit as many on the flatcar deck as possible. Though I only used four tractors, I still loaded them at an angle for the nested look.

We will be using sheet brass as a tray to contain these tractors aboard an AF flatcars. The car I chose for my tractor load was a die cast flatcar, but the same methods allow for placement on an AF plastic bodied flat.

The tractors get placed on a tray made of sheet brass, and will have attached tabs or keys, to drop into slots in the flatcar deck to secure the load. I used a brass sheet thickness I had on hand for this project; .015”, or 26 gauge. Choose a thickness that allows you to easily bend angles along two edges.

Using the tractors as a guide, I determined how long to make each tray (with my two tractors sitting nested side by side). The width is determined by the flatcar width or just wide enough to comfortably fit your tractors in the way you wish to load them, plus the added width of the folded up edges to contain the tractors.

Bend the side edges up to give you about 1/8-inch lip. This does two things, it contains the tractors and it adds strength to the tray. Next decide where on the flatcar to place the tray(s) and where to key the tray to slots within the flatcar deck. I used a pencil to mark the location through the underside of the flatcar deck slot while holding everything in alignment.

Once the location for the tray to flatcar key is determined, cut a slot from the underside in the tray with a Dremel tool using a reinforced cutting disk (use care and eye protection). Next, cut some brass angles to length matching the slot in the flatcar deck and the slots cut in the tray. Clean, flux and solder the angles through the top of the tray positioned where the tray is snug in the slots and so the tray rests flat onto the deck.

Next, I used 3/32-inch brass tubing soldered to the tray in a vertical position (as posts) and set the rear hitch of the tractor over the tubing. Doing so, it’s easy to load, unload, and swap-out tractors (say from green to red tractors).

The final thing to do is to de-bur all the edges and corners, clean and paint the tray(s). I chose a black color, as AF would have done if the fellows at Gilbert would have done this same project.

Ben Swope

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American Flyer Railcar Loads by Ben Swope

August 15th, 2015 · No Comments

From the first day an American Flyer train set was unpacked, perhaps on a Christmas morning, flat cars and gondolas were subject to having custom loads inserted. Likely loads inserted by children, were perhaps toy cars, marbles or maybe army men. Basically, anything small enough to fit in or on the car, and handy enough to represent a railroad car load, at least in a kid’s mind. As an adult, our sense of scale and practicability rule out the child-like loads of marbles and army men to more sophisticated tastes of better scaled loads and something more in tune to what a railroad might actually haul. In this short series we’ll be looking at a few loads I have created, and how they were placed onto AF cars in a manner American Flyer would have done from the factory. These loads may not be totally true 3/16” scale or use prototype railroad securement methods. The guys at American Flyer took liberties with scale and securement to engineer “play value” into these loads – my aim was to follow their lead. In this first installment we be looking at three simple loads, all using American Flyer items in a different way to create believable “American Flyer” car loads.

First is a simple gondola car load. This load could be called either a scrap metal load or a work train car load. This load consists of retired AF cross ties gleaned from old track sections. Simply pry open the tabs that hold the rails in place, remove the rails and the fiber insulation the cross-tie, and flatten out the tabs. The car shown has about 20 ties in it. This number of ties does not make the car too heavy, fills it to the top, and can be loaded or off-loaded with a crane magnet.

If you are a collector of AF items, you are bound to have retired rail cars or accessories that are kept for their parts. This next car is a flatcar loaded with a crane boom assembly. These booms were widely used through the AF line for early wrecking cranes, the magnetic crane and even used on an early station platform. Having an extra crane boon in my parts bin, I placed on a flatcar and noticed this could have been something American Flyer could have easily done from the factory. To secure the boom to the flatcar (here using a die cast car) I cut strips of sheet tin to the match the width of the flatcar floor slots (about 3/16”), bending the strips around the boom and threaded the ends through the floor slots. Once satisfied the load would be securely attached to the car, I cut the strips to length and folded ends tightly to the underside of the car.

The third load in this installment started with an auction purchase of a bunch of AF items. In the box purchased was a 25515 U.S.A.F. flatcar. Missing was the motorized rocket sled, but the bracket to hold the sled was in-place. Acquiring a rocket sled could be costly, so a search for something appropriate for an Air Force flatcar was on. The brackets have slots intended to hold the rocket sled’s axles (likely the same bracket to hold trailers for the 24550 Monon piggyback flatcar), and will readily hold other axles.

Painting a pair of American Flyer piggyback trailers to U.S.A.F. was considered. But a more likely load of Air Force Jeeps would be more believable. I had two Tootsie Toy on hand, and these seem to fit the bracket well. The bracket was left unmodified, including the tall tab at one end (that nestles nicely in the Jeep’s engine compartment area), as someday I may locate a rocket sled.
The Jeeps shown will be painted or replaced with others (with matching wheels), perhaps painted with Air Force blue color. Tootsie Toy (and others) have made over the years all sorts of armed forces wheeled pieces that may fit this car even better.

But, for the purpose of this article, you can see what can be done with a little thought, little money, and a bit of imagination.

Ben Swope

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AF Steam Engine Tester by Ben Swope

May 7th, 2015 · No Comments

Many American Flyer S Gauge hobbyists enjoy restoring their vintage equipment. For me, restoring these old worn items back into their original operating condition has always been one of my favorite parts of the hobby. Let’s look at a homemade tool used to assist servicing American Flyer steam engines, and how with a little effort and a few simple parts, you can construct your own.

Several drawings, both in-print and on-line, have shown the standard 4-wire connection of AF steam engine’s rear of cab electrical jack panel; where to place a jumper wire on the panel, and where to apply the power leads when the engine is not connected to the tender and its reversing “E-unit”.

One on-line resource Port Lines displays some very nice wire schematics of the standard 4-wire and the 5-wire engine/tender connections, along with the other 2-wire type tender connections; each noting the jack panel wire locations leading to the various connections on the engine drive motor, smoke and headlight connections, and the tender and reverser wire connection points.

After a search for information on how to create a four or five-wire steam engine test wire harness; one that attached directly to the engine’s jack panel, none could be found. So I created on my own.

Ben’s Test Wire Harness for American Flyer Steam Engines

The accompanying drawings show first, a 4-wire test lead utilizing a simple double-pole-double-throw (DPDT), center-off toggle switch to create a forward/off/reverse option.

Switch “A”: The motor direction switch, being a double-pole double-throw, center-off switch. This switch performs the same function as the tender mounted reverser.

The next drawing adds a second DPDT switch to the circuit, making it switchable from a four to five-wire engine/tender wiring design. An optional on/off switch may be used to make a connection to the smoke unit and headlight for engines with the 5th tender wire connection.

Switch “A”: The motor direction switch, being a double-pole double-throw, center-off switch. This switch performs the same function as the tender mounted reverser.

Switch “B”: Also a double-pole double-throw; used to compensate for the difference in the 4-wire to 5-wire connections to the motor brushes/field coil.

Switch “C”: Optional single-pole on/off switch; connecting the smoke unit/headlight to the power source through the direction switch.

The four wires to the jack panel were soldered to a salvaged male plug off an unused tender chassis.

The 5th wire for the smoke/headlight connection may be connected to the engine by using a small covered alligator clip or similar device. On my engines, this 5th wire connection typically is converted from a factory soldered connection to a homemade 1/16-inch jack plug and socket using brass tubing; thus for servicing, the tender can be easily and totally disconnected from the steam engine.

This wire harness assembly will allow you to leave the test leads attached during servicing work. And it comes in handy when the engine is turned upside down, as an attached tender’s reverser will not work in this inverted position.

In all, this is a rather simple electrical circuit (if I can figure it out – it’s got to be simple), with all of the components coming out of my parts box. I used colored wire, but any color of flexible light-gauge stranded wire would work. I found the color and polarity of the two power lead wires doesn’t matter if you’re using AC current.

To keep things neat and flexible in use, I braded the wires from the switches to the male plug, and slipped on a bit of heat-shrink tubing before soldering the final wires into place, but tape could do the same. The toggle switches used were of the tiny sub-miniature type. These toggle switches were small enough to mount all three into an old style empty AF control box; and would be handy if you wanted to mount the control box to your workbench.

This harness, by isolating the tender from the engine, may aid in diagnosing an electrical problem. For example, if the engine runs fine on the harness, and not when connected to the tender, obviously the tender has an issue.

Also, do not attempt to operate a 4-wire engine on the 5-wire switch setting (or visa-versa), as the resulting electrical short may damage the engine or power source. Labeling your switches will help avoid this situation.

The bit of work to assemble this test wire harness assembly may save time and hassle on your next steam engine service work. And best of all, it cost just a few dollars to make.

Ben Swope

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New Old Paper Posted in Catalog Section!

April 27th, 2015 · No Comments

It is not real often anymore that I find new content for the catalog section, but thanks to Larry E. Long I have posted some new old Gilbert paper “Dealer Tips Booklet D1834“. These are high quality scans so I hope you enjoy them!


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MyFlyerTrains Welcomes Ben Swope

April 11th, 2015 · No Comments

I would like to welcome guest author Ben Swope to Ben wrote this great article on kitbashing an American Flyer 761 Semiphore. I hope you enjoy it!


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Making a AF Dwarf Signal by Ben Swope

April 11th, 2015 · No Comments

As intending to signal a large single track loop for multiple train operation, I wanted to keep the layout pure American Flyer, so the obvious choice is to use AF’s # 761 semaphores. To keep the six signaled controlled blocks at an even length, one signal is required to be placed in a long hidden section under benchwork. Here the overhead restriction would be too low for these tall semaphore signals, standing 9-inches tall with the blade in the “clear” position.

The solution to this problem came in the form of a train show junk box find, were a # 761 semaphore was purchased so cheaply, experiments could be made without concern if the signal was destroyed in the process. However the first attempt at modification resulted in such a success, I thought other AF enthusiasts would be interested, and perhaps offer another signal option for use on your own pike.

This junk box purchased operate quite well, though it was not in perfect appearance, and had a few parts missing. This made it a good candidate to convert to a dwarf signal, yet once modified would operate identical to standard versions.

Start the modification by removing the semaphore blade, ladder, bulb socket, finial from atop the mast, and the coil & blade activation rod assembly from the base. At this point all you’ll have is the base casting, the signal head casting, both connected only by the hollow mast tube.

Using a small punch and hammer, carefully drive the mast tube out of the base from inside of the base casting. Work the punch around the tube’s end to avoid cocking the tube within the casting, as damage the base structure may result.

Once removed, measure and mark the mast tube 1-inch from the bottom of the signal head and cut the mast tube off squarely (I used a common hacksaw). De-burr and true-up the ragged cut to prepare resetting it back into the base casting. If done correctly, a few taps on the top of the signal head (using a block of wood to protect the signal head casting from the hammer blows) will set the mast back into the base casting. If necessary, some glue may be used to secure this connection. Ensure the signal head is located in its original orientation to the base.

This process should make the now exposed distance from the mast tube of the base structure to the bottom of the signal head about ¾-inch. This is about as short you’d want to allow for easy removal/insertion of the bulb and socket assembly.

Next is the activation rod modification (the rod that rides inside the tube). Place the coil and activation rod assembly back into the base and fasten with the original screws. Of course, this rod will now extend far out the top of the mast and signal head at this point. Push and pull the rod to its extreme motions while sighting through the signal head. Observe the rod’s end movements though this crescent shaped hole and mark its end strokes with a small felt-tip marker.

Remove the coil and rod assembly again. Note the marks on the rod and find the middle of the extreme motion marks. Remark this point with a different color marker (or score with a file, etc.), and replace the assembly to check the center marked point prior to drilling. Pear again in the signal head hole to double check its location as being the best point to drill a new hole for the signal blade pin hole and thus rotate the signal blade correctly.

Once satisfied of the location, remove the coil/rod assembly once more and drill a new hole sized for the pin that rotates the blade and de-burr. Follow this by cutting the rod to length just above the newly drilled hole and de-burr.

For my dwarf signal, I chose to shorten the signal blade as well; removing about ¼-inch off the fish-tailed end. At this point, it’s your choice to make this cut flush, recreate a fish-tail end or simply not shorten the blade.

Lastly, I chose not to replace the finial atop the signal head (as with a shortened signal blade, it looked too “busy”). I instead modified an old AF freight car truck rivet, and with contact cement, placed it in the same hole the filial once was, acting as a button cap to keep dust out.

This signal, once reduced in height, looks to have been an item Gilbert would have produced and advertised as a working dwarf signal, perhaps used in conjunction with power switches at the end of a passing siding, branch line junction or yard lead.

This entire modification took about two hours to figure out and perform. With these simple instructions, your time may be less. If you choose to do the same, your efforts will yield an interesting new addition to the many American Flyer accessories on your layout.

Ben Swope

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Trains Hit the Floor – Oh the Humanity!

February 16th, 2015 · No Comments

Last Saturday a good friend was due to visit, and was bringing his grandchildren to see my American Flyer Trains run. I have to admit I have not run any trains recently so I needed to get the tracks clean. Some years ago at the York Train Show I made an impulse purchase, a Trackman S-2000 cleaning car. For a lot of years this car has been faithfully shining up my rails, even in the hard to get places like tunnels. For those unfamiliar with this product, it basically drags a piece of scotchbrite around the track. It really does a good job, and I have gotten used to having and using it.

I hooked the cleaning car up to an E grade 293 engine, and started the construct around the track. I watched it approach a standard Gilbert switch, and to my horror the engine fell over, and it and the cleaning car went 3 foot to ceramic tile flooring. I have no idea why it happened, the switch was all the way in position, and the train crossed the switch in the direction that would not normally cause derailments. The 293 suffered a broken pilot wheel, and the front driver and axle are damaged. I will have to find good used parts to make these repairs, not too big of problem, and there doesn’t seem to be any significant cosmetic damage to the engine.

The larger problem for me, is the track cleaner car which has a broken truck. The side broke off, and maybe it can be glued, but probably not. The truck is unlike anything I have on any of my other rolling stock, so I am not sure what my next step is. I could use some help if anyone knows who makes the Trackman S-2000 cars. I searched the Internet and emailed one vendor who replied to me “Sorry sold out and backordered”, nothing else. I am not sure if that reply was for an entire cleaning car, or just the truck I was trying to purchase. I can’t seem to locate the manufacturer’s website. If anyone knows who the manufacturer of the Trackman Cleaning cars is or where parts can be purchased, I would be very grateful for the information!

The story of the train hitting the floor takes me back to Christmas day 1955, when I got my first American Flyer Train, with an Atlantic engine. It was set up for me in the basement on a 4×8 green painted sheet of plywood, complete with 2 switches. I ran my train over the switch, which was in the wrong position. The engine went to the concrete floor, and the plastic shell broke off. My father used some Duco cement to glue it back together, and I was running again, until I sent the train to the floor a 2nd time. The cement came out again, and I am pacing the floor waiting for it to dry so I can play with my new train that had gone from mint condition to Fair in one fall! While the cement was setting, my father cut two strips of wood that he fastened along side the switches, so if the train derailed, it stayed on the table. The fix worked, as I tried to send the train to the floor later that day, but it just tipped over, but stayed on the table. From then on, if my childhood switches were mounted near the edge of a table, they always had that strip of wood next to them. Maybe I should add that strip of wood to my current layout!

One Last Note: As some of you have noticed, Stumpy has taken a well deserved break from his kitbashing articles. We look forward to having him back in the future!


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Stumpy’s Station – “Ten Wheeler Project” Part 4

December 5th, 2014 · No Comments

With the boiler shell/cab construction complete, we need to add a tender before running the loco through the paint shop. Probably the best tender to use to back date this engine to the “Turn of the Century” look would be the American Flyer “Franklin” tender. About the only thing you need to do with one of these is to add a coal pile in the opening left when you remove the wood pile. Many locos of the Nineteenth Century had short, low sided tenders, somewhat like the common 4-4-0 tenders. However, Franklin tenders are often hard to find.
The next “oldest looking” American Flyer tender is the one from the 0-8-0 switcher. You might want to remove the back up light, as these didn’t become common until the Twenties, but it’s not really necessary because your Ten Wheeler could have been “upgraded” during it’s years on your railroad. But again, these are hard to come by.
Next in line to give and old look are tenders from some of the cheaper Marx steamers or Lionel “027” steam locos. Look for the ones with the squared coal bunker like the Flyer 0-8-0 tender. Lower cost Marx and Lionel engines had these and they are cheap when you find them. Often you can just buy the shell, which is all you really want anyway.
This shell can be fitted to the Pacific or Casey Jones tender frame by cutting the tender chassis in half and shortening it to fit under the shell. As an alternative, you can make a floor/chassis out of plastic or wood and use American Models or S-Helper/MTH tender trucks and coupler. Just remember the tender weight must be used on any tender for good tracking and to help with electrical pick up.
The last alternative for a tender in the more modern American Flyer common plastic tender. This could be used as is to represent a later tender use dto give the Ten Wheeler added range. (This WAS done as water towers were removed toward the end of steam operations, and some small locomotives pulled tenders as long as the locomotive!) You could also back date the common tender by cutting off the fuel bunker above the main body, adding a deck of plastic sheet and building a coal box on top (it would be made to look like the 0-8-0 tender, only longer.) Shortening the tender would back date the look as well.
In the case of my Ten Wheeler, I used the Marx tender already on hand from the “Prairie Dog”.

Once you have the tender ready that you want to use, it’s time to make up a drawbar to connect the Ten Wheeler locomotive to it’s tender. I’ve had good success using craft sticks for drawbars. They are remarkably durable in use, electrically insulated, cheap, and easy to work.
Since there is no trailing truck to work around, making a drawbar is very straightforward and simple. Measure the distance between the trailing truck screw and the front screw/rivet hole of the tender drawbar. Mark where your screw holes have to go on the craft stick to connect the trailing truck screw and the rivet/bolt hole in the tender or tender drawbar, depending on which tender you’re using.
Because the craft stick wood is very hard, drill the holes and THEN cut the craft stick beyond them. This eliminates any splitting of the wood that some times happens by drilling too close to the end of a stick. Use a file to round off the ends of the new drawbar and paint it black. Test fit and you’re ready to “couple up!”
The final step is to test run the finished loco and work out any problems. Once everything is working correctly, the locomotive and tender go to your paint shop. Even though I started with the “Prairie Dog,” I sanded and primered the loco again. Then I painted the boiler and cab black. The cab roof and tender rear deck were painted boxcar red.
The smokebox and firebox were painted silver to represent a fresh coat of graphite. (Graphite was used on areas not covered by asbestos and jacketing where the high heat would burn paint off quickly.)
The bell and parts of the safety valves were painted gold to represent brass, and so were the handrails on the boiler and the grab irons on either side of the cab. As was popular in the old days, I painted the window frames of the cab red. Finally white stripes were painted on the bottom edge of the cow catcher and along the running boards of the boiler.
As is the “policy” on my railroad, a number was decaled on each side of the tender, but no other markings applied. Then the engine and tender got a coat of Testor’s Gloss Cote to give them a nice shine, as if right out of the shop. Last but not least, and engineer was placed in the cab.

The Ten Wheeler is a sharp reminder of the long past glory days of steam railroading.

Stumpy Stone

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