Old Muley’s Roundhouse

Life, photography and philosophy at 1:87 scale…

Building the Kaslo Shops SDL39

The EMD SDL39 was a 6-axle diesel locomotive that was specifically built for the Milwaukee Road as lightweight road switcher. Only 10 of these engines were ever built, and with such a limited run it seemed unlikely that we’d ever see a mass produced HO scale model. For a long time the only way to add one to your roster was to either plunk down big bucks for an OMI brass model, or scratch build one from SD45 and GP38-2 parts. When Kaslo Shops announced this model a few years back, we Wisconsin Central/Soo Line/Milwaukee Road fans were about as excited as we could be. This model was a challenge to build and took awhile.

The one-piece, cast resin shell as delivered in the summer of 2007. Overall the casting is rather nice with no noticeable bubbles or defects on the surface.

The detail parts were delivered with considerable flash left over from the molding process. I found the resin was soft enough that it cleaned up nicely with a sharp x-acto knife.

Stanchions, grills, fans and other small detail parts were photo-etched in either stainless steel or phosphor bronze. The window and number boards were laser etched out of clear plastic.

After cleaning up the flash on the hood I attached the pilots and the blower housing.

The SDL39 had these unique side frames that were typically used on EMD export engines. After cleaning them up I substituted Athearn brake cylinders for the resin ones that were supplied.

The basic chassis as supplied by Kaslo Shops. As you can see it’s very simple and exceedingly lightweight. I think the supplied motor and circuit board are Bowser/Stewart components.

I ordered my engine with a LokSound decoder which I hardwired in.

A close up of the short hood details. Probably my biggest complaint about the shell is the thickness of the cab walls, but that’s expected with resin.

A close up of the long hood details. The intake screens are made from multiple layers of etched stainless steel.

While cleaning up the radiator fans, I ended up crushing them. When resin is cast thin, it can be very brittle. Fortunately aftermarket fans were readily available.

In this 3/4 shot, you can see the weed-cutter plow which is another aftermarket part. A lot of the cast resin parts ended up being too delicate and easily broke during assembly.

The backside of the truck frames had to have pockets drilled our to provide clearance for the drive axles.

A test fit of the chassis and the body.

Most of the resin detail parts were tossed out and replaced with metal aftermarket ones. The firecracker antenna, horn, bell and MU hoses all add visual interest.

At this point, most of the detail parts were installed and the model was ready for some preliminary painting. Unfortunately it looks a lot better than it runs.

Fresh from the paint shop with a coat of primer.

Another post-primer shot. I had forgotten to add the jack pads prior to painting, so they are still shiny bronze.

After a few days of drying, I’ve shot the model with Badger Modelflex Wisconsin Central maroon. I’ve also had good luck with Polyscale and Scalecoat paints as well.

The Wisconsin Central has a very simple paint scheme. Here the model is just after I’ve finished painting the chassis, side frames and pilots black.

A close-up of the short hood. One thing the really stood out at this point is the lack of depth in the frame.

A detail shot of the rear. I’ve installed a few of the grab irons that won’t interfere with decal placement on the rear of the long hood.

My initial solution to the lack of frame depth was a few strategically placed styrene “L” beams and some styrene shims.

the decals went on easily and really start bringing the engine to life. The added styrene strips help make the frame look a little beefier.

On the rear of the fuel tank the oil retention tank is visible. Grab irons and cut levers add more detail.

While the engine looks good, it runs horribly. One of the big problems is the depth of the gear housing. You can see in this comparison with an Atlas GP38-2 just how low it sits relative to the track.

The original Kaslo trucks ride so low that it actually hits the rails when crossing a turnout. If anything was reliable, it was the frequency of derailments when the engine tried to traverse a switch.

To Kaslo’s credit, they did send me replacement trucks, but they did little to improve performance. Instead I decided to cannibalize a Kato C44-9W for a DIY custom drive train.

Here I’ve removed the C44-9W sideframes to get to the business part of the truck. The conversion would have been easier with an SD45, but I didn’t want to sacrifice one of those.

Here are the two trucks, sans side frames. the distance between the SDL39 center axle and the inboard/outboard axles are 6’ 7.5” and 5’ 6.5” respectively.

After removing the Kato axles, I sliced off the brake shoes since these parts were cast on the Kaslo side frames. In retrospect, I probably could have saved these and removed the cast ones.

Since the outboard axle needs to be moved toward the center, I had to do some trimming of the housing. The red sections show the parts to be removed.

The electrical contacts also need to be shortened up to accommodate the new axle spacing. the red section will be cut away and the parts soldered back together.

The gear housings are all trimmed up and ready for the next steps.

The donated C44-9W side frames clearly won’t work on an SDL39, but there are a few parts we will need.

The small mounting pins need to be cut away from the rest of the side frames and then sanded down.

Something goofy- SDL39 dimensioned trucks on a C44-9W chassis.

In this side-by-side comparison, you can see the similarities between the old Kaslo truck and converted Kato truck. This conversion will allow me to use the Kato drive components and chassis.

Two SDL39 chassis. The original Kaslo version and my “super stretched” Kato. The next stop is the machine shop to slice-n-dice the Kato frame to get it to the right dimensions.

The Kaslo side frames, Kato electrical contacts and Kato mounting pins come together to form the complete package.

The trucks are set to go. Test runs have gone as expected; in spite of being chopped and shortened, they still run like a Kato. I didn’t rework the gears to the outboard axle, so it’s just along for the ride.

While the chassis was in the machine shop, I decided to finish up detailing the shell.

A close up of the short hood. I still need to install the number boards and window glazing, but that will probably be the last step.

The supplied Kaslo handrails actually sat a scale 6” too high, so I substituted them with some from Smokey Valley. The took a bit of work, but I really like them.

Miracles happen! After nearly 5 years (really) I finally got my frame back from the machinist. On the bottom is the original frame, in the middle are the parts I’ll be using and the rest will be discarded.

With a bit of super glue and some styrene supports, the three halves of the frame come together.

While I was at it, I decided to go ahead and rebuild the fuel tank from some leftover parts.

Here is the new chassis along with the original one. So far everything seems to be working well.

The new frame along with the motor. I attached the motor to the chassis with epoxy, so it’s not going anywhere.

I couldn’t wait to test fit the body on the frame. Everything fits well and looks good. Next up are some lights, the decoder and some final paint.

DONE! Nearly 6 years later the final touches have been put on my SDL39 and it’s ready to go to work. While it is a lightweight engine, it runs great.