Your favorite RR long gone? “Roll your own” modern diesels

Posted by Bob Keller
on Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Yes, pretty dusty from the basement. In front is an early (horn only) MTH RailKing Dash-8. Compared to the Weaver C-628 behind it, it looks like a switcher version.

Have it your way

What is a guy to do when his favorite railroad has been gone for more than half a century? I know I’m not the only one with this dilemma. And what does that train person do if they want to run modern locomotion?

First, you can hope that manufacturers take a chance, and run a vintage road name on a current locomotive or freight car design. Not impossible, but it does happen every now and then.

Second, you can hope that a railroad gets heritage fever. They might paint one or more modern locomotives in the livery of a predecessor railroad, or their own railroad from an earlier time. Now this happens more often than you’d think! But if they do it, will the model train makers follow along?

But most carriers aren’t going back to the heritage well too often, so that leaves you with option three: “Roll your own.” In other words re-decorate a modern locomotive in your favorite road name. Depending on the level of detail you’ll accept, this may be easier than you think.

Here are a mix of some of my modern locomotives in New York Central liveries. Some of these are original manufacturer releases, but the rest are repaints.


Decals are getting harder to find so you will more than likely need to find a custom decal-maker or make your own. I used a mix of commercial decals and later up with designs on my computer. I used Testors decal film to print them out on my inkjet printer.

One challenge in doing this is that most printers can’t print white, so my default was to come up with a modern-looking logo with black print. In this case a large “NYCS” and “New York Central System” on a gray locomotive.

Don’t worry though, other colors print well and you can come up with any color a logo or text your printer can generate. For example I sourced some unused beer bottle labels and fashioned decals for a Grain Belt beer boxcar and a Hudepohl-Schoenling insulted boxcar.

You might want to buy a few junk boxcars to repaint and decal to hone your technique before you try a locomotive.

As for paint, I didn’t use any exotic railroad paints – if your local hobby shop sells model kits, they should have Tamiya paints in aerosol cans.

So here are images of some of my modern NYC pieces made by MTH, Lionel, and Williams along with some I cobbled together. So if you favor a Fallen Flag line, and you’d like newer locomotive power, consider re-making their livery and create your own special locomotive fleet.

Here is an Atlas diesel in my gray NYCS livery. Behind it is a Williams U33C that came in a factory direct New York Central scheme. About a year before this was cataloged, I made a couple by re-painting some Williams Milwaukee Road engines black and using commercial decals. In front is a Williams Genesis. I used commercial decals for the lettering and cigar band logo. This is a simplified design. I tried putting lightning stripes on another Genesis and it took three sets of Alco PA stripes to get it looking right.

In back are my striped and simplified Williams Genesis locomotives. In front left is a Williams Dash-9 I converted from Chicago & North Western to NYC. To the right is another Atlas engine in my NYCS design.

In back is a modern New York Central design made by Lionel. This engine was made to run with a set of separate sale black NYC SuperLiner cars. The cars were a great idea, but no railroad would have painted them black! In front is an Norfolk Southern NYC heritage diesel by Williams by Bachmann.

In back is a Lionel SD70ACE from in the Norfolk Southern’s New York Central heritage logo. In front is an MTH RailKing (again, early horn only) SD45 home decorated with commercial decals.

I know, blasphemy to some. In my railroad history the Central expanded to the West coast and bought some Daylight engines from the Espee. The NYCS logo suggests they are still running on the Seattle extension!

In the back is the MTH Norfolk Southern NYC heritage unit and with my repainted SD45 in the rear. In front is the Lionel NS heritage unit (dummy version).

Okay, this one is over-the-top. If the New York Central ever owned a nuclear sub (to protect those car ferries) it would probably look like this!

The Grain Belt beer logo came out fairly well. If you print logos be sure to print a few extras for mistakes when applying it to a car or locomotive. I always thought the Grain Belt logo would have been a terrific railroad herald!

Rolling stock might be a challenge. My biggest concern was right-sizing the reporting information. A few times I tried it with more scale-like type but they didn’t always appear all that clearly after applying decal-softening solution. Here I opted for a larger, bold font.

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