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What's the big deal with brass?

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What's the big deal with brass?
Posted by sparkyjay31 on Saturday, October 17, 2009 4:29 PM
Why go and get a brass engine? Are they so much better than plastic that it's really worth more than double to cost? I'm not slamming brass here. I just would like to know what drives you toward brass. Is it all in the detailing? Are they better runners? More specific to your roadname? Any or all of the above? Jay
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Posted by swoodnj on Saturday, October 17, 2009 4:43 PM
Well, this may wind up being an interesting topic! For me my brass purchases were to acquire locos that were not "mainstream" and were not likely to be done in plastic. And, there was a time that brass was much better detailed, including roadname specific details. But the way plastic models are going the need (for me) to look toward brass is lessening, if not gone completely. We're seeing some locos in plastic we never would have dreamed of 10 years ago, and we're getting them nicely detailed. As far as running qualities brass isn't always that great a runner, I've got a couple of real duds that I wound up repowering.
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Posted by ARTHILL on Saturday, October 17, 2009 5:08 PM

1. There are dozens of engines you cannot get any other way.

2. They are much better detailed. Even the newest plastic and die cast are only " almost as nice".

3. I don't think they are better runners these days and after you put sound and a DCC decoder in them, they are not easier.

But ther are still the only way to get some great steam models.

If you think you have it right, your standards are too low. my photos http://s12.photobucket.com/albums/a235/ARTHILL/ Art
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Posted by tgindy on Saturday, October 17, 2009 8:34 PM

Anybody remember those brass Pacific Fast Mail advertisements in Model Railroader?  ...many of which were made with "lost wax" molds, imported from Pacific-Rim countries?  ...always expensive and with good reason?  The detail was astonishing whether seen in a photograph or in person.

Conemaugh Road & Traction circa 1956

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Posted by dti406 on Saturday, October 17, 2009 8:56 PM

To me certain brass manufacturers engines will outlast any of the plastic ones and they will pull more without resorting to traction tires, along with railroad specific details.

If you want I will compare my Key NYC J3a details against the MTH one any day and the Key locomotive will be better.

Rick

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Posted by twhite on Saturday, October 17, 2009 9:51 PM

Sparkyjay: 

Good question, one that seems to be more frequently asked these days, what with the high-quality detailing of some of the newer plastic steamers. 

In my case, except for two locomotives, it's the only way I can get steam for the railroad that I model--the Rio Grande standard gauge.   The two non-brass Rio Grande locos that I have are the Proto2000 USRA 2-8-8-2 Rio Grande L-107 clone, and while it is a beautiful locomotive,  a smooth runner and exquisitely detailed, it doesn't have near the pulling power of my Oriental Limited brass model of the same locomotive.  However, it's a great 'helper' locomotive (which was basically what the prototype was used for) and looks GREAT!  

The other non-brass Rio Grande loco is the L-97 4-6-6-4 which is an almost exact copy of the Union Pacific Challenger.  Rio Grande was assigned these locos late in WWII, didn't like them at all and sold them as fast as they could.  Mine's a very powerful Genesis loco, but unforunately, since my MR is DC, and the loco is dual-mode DC/DCC, I can't run it with any of my other locos, so it sees very limited usage on my railroad (somewhat like the use the prototypes saw on the real Rio Grande, LOL!). 

However, since those are the only two non-brass Rio Grande prototypes, and the Rio Grande is my favorite railroad, it's pretty necessary that I go brass for the other prototypes.   Over the years, I've collected a fairly large (around 50) brass Rio Grande prototypes.  Some of them have run magnificently straight out of the box, others have had to be worked on a bit, ALL of them occasionally take some 'tinkering' if they've been run a lot (what the heck, so did the prototypes!).   Just about all of them have been re-weighted or re-balanced at one time or another, and just about all of them are capable of handling almost as many cars as their various prototypes.  Traction tires are non-existant on my MR, I don't even know what they look like. 

I accept the detailing on brass as a matter of course.  Some of my locos are much more detailed than others, but that's part of the 'growth' of the brass industry over the years--more and better detailing.  Some of my older brass locos look a little 'bare' compared to my newer locos--and I've cured that with castings from Cal-Scale and PSC to a great degree, but I also use the '3-foot' rule--if it looks presentable from that distance, and runs well and pulls what it's supposed to, then I'm a Happy Camper. 

It's been said that older brass was built to run and newer brass is built to 'look at', but I think that's a fallacy.  Actually, most of my older brass has been re-motored and in some cases re-geared, and most of my newer brass runs very smoothly (occasionally with a little work).   My newest brass locomotive, a PSC Rio Grande F-81 2-10-2 has been absolutely flawless since the day I unwrapped it and put it on the tracks.  I'd match it any day of the week for control, smoothness and power against anything currently available from BLI or MTH. 

So, to sum it up:  Brass will get you the locos that you can't get from contemporary plastic.  Not everyone that likes road-specific steam models UP, PRR or N&W.  

Brass often takes more work, but is very forgiving--and simpler-- to work with.  And it's one Heck of a lot easier to get into than current plastic locos if you need to do any motor or gear tuning. 

Brass can be re-weighted and re-balanced quite easily.  Try and find room in the current plastic boilers for additional weight--it's all taken up with electronic geegaws. 

Brass mechanisms are almost indestructable.  I've never had a split gear in any of my brass locos, and some of them date from the 1960's. 

Negative:  

Brass, because of its left-right pickup between loco and tender does not always take kindly to DCC without additional wiring.   I'm DC, so this is a non-issue.  But for DCC users used to all-wheel pickup, this can sometimes be a detriment to conversion.   

New Brass is EXPENSIVE!!!   But---you can find used brass at many hobby shops that feature a large selection, for often less than the price of a new plastic steamer.  It might have to do with the economy, but a lot of older brass 'collections' are appearing on the market at very reasonable prices. 

Brass takes 'tinkering'.  It comes with the territory, so to speak.  But brass owners like myself automatically take that into consideration.  We really, for the most part, don't mind the 'tinkering', because the result is usually a very fine running, fine looking locomotive. 

Most brass is built to much tighter tolerances than current plastic.  A brass Articulated isn't going to go around an 18" curve, simply because brass is 'prototypically' articulated--only the front set of drivers swings.  In fact, many non-articulated long wheel-based brass locos won't accept anything less than a 30" radius.   Example:  I have several older brass articulateds that can squeeze around a 24" radius if called upon--with a FEARSOME boiler overhang--, yet I have several 4-8-2, 4-8-4 and 2-10-2 brass non-articulateds that DEMAND at least a 30" radius.   The MTH UP 4-12-2 will, I understand, traverse a 22" radius with ease.  A brass version of the same model requires something closer to a 42" radius.  

So in conclusion, I would say that if you're DCC, have a MR with relatively tight radii and are modeling a prototype that is fairly well represented steamwise with the current locos from BLI, MTH, Proto or Spectrum, go for it.  They're all pretty nifty locos. 

But if you're like me and have chosen one of the railroads in a 'niche' category where the only way you can go is brass--well, then, you go for it and adjust. 

And believe me, I've never regretted the adjustment.  Not one bit.  You can't get this puppy in plastic, but in brass--oboy, does she do the job!

Tom Smile

 

 

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Posted by markpierce on Saturday, October 17, 2009 10:06 PM

Tom has provided a cogent response.  Lucky for you all, because I thought the question was rather naive....Perhaps I've been in this hobby too long.

Mark

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Posted by richg1998 on Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:12 PM

Brass has always been about beautiful detail. Running characteristics were another story. Years ago they were DC controlled if ever run at all.

I was very naive about brass many years ago. I was invited to see a layout at a modelers home. The HO scale layout was awesome. I saw a freight train that had great looking detailed rolling stock pulled by an unpainted brass locomotive. I made the big mistake of asking why the loco could not be painted a nice color. I was almost asked to leave because of an insulting question. His attention to prototype detail ended at painting brass. You never ask why it is not painted I was told. I was never invited back.

Rich

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Posted by onequiknova on Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:13 PM

Todays high quality plastic deisels, with all their etched metal parts and prototype specific details, beat brass IMO. There are things that just can't be done in brass as well as it can in plastic. Things like the nose contours of an F unit or the EMD knuckle buster door handles for example. The only way I would buy a brass deisel would be if it wasn't available in a quality plastic model.

  Brass steam on the other hand is fanominal and still beats anything that has been brought out in plastic or die cast. Besides the fact that for someone like me who likes CB&Q steam , brass is the only option.

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Posted by climaxpwr on Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:23 PM

Rich, then that guy was a Snobbish brass owner to act that way.  Its been said the guys that leave brass in its unpainted state, do so that others will know they can afford brass.   I usualy have 1 or two engines I leave in thier natural state, they do look pretty that way.  But most get painted, either by me or my custom painter into thier proper road name.  To me a finely painted and weathered brass engine is as beautifull as the unpainted one.  Espicaly if it runs smooth, has a nice working headlight and pulls well.   From a newbie to the brass world, that question wouldnt be insulting, but a chance to explain why I might choose to leave the model in that state.  Not to be an arrogant *** about it.  Brass is a love it or hate it relationship.   One must be either deep pocketed to buy it and pay someone else to get it to run good and maybe paint it.  Or your a tinker like myself and others and take immese joy in watching a smooth running brass engine that you spent many hours tuning, balancing and weighting to run and pull well.  The wonderfull comments that follow from fellow modelers are another side benefit.    Mike

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Posted by tomikawaTT on Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:29 PM

Given my prototype, and the time I was gathering my roster, I had two basic choices; brass and fugheddaboudit.  Since I couldn't run a railroad with 'fugheddaboudit,' I bought brass:

  • In Japan.
  • In kit form.
  • Mostly from manufacturers working out of storefronts and hobby shops the size of my living room.

Several decades later, some (but not all) of the manufacturers are producing and selling slightly better kits (can motors instead of open-frame) at five times the price in Yen (and, if I want one, 20 times the price I once paid, plus shipping and customs.)  A very few have been offered in plastic - they aren't quite as well detailed and don't have the weight of their older brethren.

Once locomotives are painted, weathered and placed in service, who knows, or cares, what material they're made of?  My only concern is whether that D51 class mike can clear the upgrade before #11 is scheduled to use it.

Chuck (Modeling Central Japan in September, 1964 - with brass, Zamac and, gasp! steel locomotives) 

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Posted by dirtyd79 on Sunday, October 18, 2009 12:27 AM

Like others have said in some cases it's pretty much the only way to acquire some models that will probably never see the light of day as plastic kits. This is usually true of obscure roadnames or engines and freight cars that were either one off or only owned by one railroad.  Also for a long time brass imports were much better detailed and usually more closely resembled specific prototype models than plastic kits. 

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Posted by markpierce on Sunday, October 18, 2009 12:42 AM

dirtyd79

Like others have said in some cases it's pretty much the only way to acquire some models that will probably never see the light of day as plastic kits. This is usually true of obscure roadnames or engines and freight cars that were either one off or only owned by one railroad. 

Since steam locomotives have little in common if one really looks into it, the handful of available non-brass locomotives covers maybe one-thousandths-of-a-percent of the prototype.  So, it isn't the obscure that isn't modeled in non-brass, but virtually all steam isn't modeled in non-brass.

Mark

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Posted by shayfan84325 on Sunday, October 18, 2009 1:41 AM

I like the way brass looks.  Granted, today's plastic models are darned good, but there are still a few tip-offs that they are plastic.  That's one reason I like brass.

For me, they are also something I admired as a kid.  I was in high-school and college in the '70s and I'd look at the brass models in the hobby shop display cases and admire the models in the PFM/United/Tenshodo/NWSL ads.  I wanted them so bad I could taste it, but for me, $75 (the price at the time) for a brass shay was way out of reach; I promised myself that someday I'd own such fine models.  I'm in my 50s now, and someday has arrived.  I buy them used and do whatever repairs/upgrades are needed to make them run as good as they look.

I also enjoy tinkering.  To me, the fine-tuning that brass models typically require is part of the fun.  Simply taking a model out of the box and putting it on the track is leaving out an important part of the hobby - me.  I like to be more engaged with my models.

Regarding painting them.  I'd love to do it, but I'm not sure enough of my skills so they run bare right now.  Someday, they'll all be properly painted, lettered, and weathered.  In the meantime, I'm not insulted if someone asks why they're not painted - I'll answer them straight up - the painter is still honing his skills.

I have one model that is a display case "queen" - It's an NWSL 0-6-0 that was once owned by Linn Westcott.  I keep it like my autographed baseballs - it represents more to me than the fine model that it is; it's a connection to someone I admire.

Phil,
I'm not a rocket scientist; they are my students.

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Posted by markpierce on Sunday, October 18, 2009 2:07 AM

OK.  Can someone tell me when a non-brass HO-scale model of a Dick-Truesdale-freelance-oil-fueled version of a prototype duplex 2-8-2+2-8-0 will be available?  (Geez, they even haven't come up with a D&SL 2-6-6-0 for goodness sake!)

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Posted by aloco on Sunday, October 18, 2009 3:01 AM

I don't own any brass locos or plan to own any, but here is my take on them.

First,  I think brass is good for steam modelers because they are models of railway-specific prototypes, not the run of the mill USRA designs that many plastic locos are patterned after.   And appearance-wise, most brass steam locos I've seen generally look good.  

Second,  brass diesels are fine so long as they are made from the 1980s on up to the present day.  A lot of the stuff made from the 1970s on back looks like tinplate, and if I had the money to blow on brass I wouldn't even look at the junk made by Tenshodo, KMT, and other early manufacturers of brass diesels.

And finally, newer brass locos are obviously better in terms of performance and detail, and currently importers such as Overland Models offer locos that are nicely painted and are offered in several paint schemes for the railways they are supposed to represent.  If I were to buy a brass loco for running on a layout, I'd want something that is already painted.

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Posted by sparkyjay31 on Sunday, October 18, 2009 8:10 AM
Thank you all, especially you Tom, for your answers. ANd you too Mark for stopping your "naive" comment where you did. I use the forum as a learning tool and find most of you out there kind and ready to help the new age of modelers. Thanks again, Jay
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Posted by climaxpwr on Sunday, October 18, 2009 10:55 AM

Like shayfan, I also admired PFM ads in Model Railroader in the early 80's as a kid, then in the mid 90's as a modeler in my early 20's and poor in the pocketbook.  Espicaly the shays and mid size steam.  Eventualy I owned several shays but ended up selling them to cover bills during a long job layoff after moving to Erie PA and getting married.  Now I am rebuilding my brass engine selection. I encourage every modeler, espicaly ones into steam engines, to get atleast 1 brass model in their lifetime.  They really are an joy to own.  As far as shays go, the Bachmann one is nice, but still doesnt run as well as a PFM/United one from the 60's or 70's can with a couple minor tune ups.  With 8 wheel pickup, hard wiring the ground instead of relying on the ground thru the bolster screw and a good clean/regrease and they run better than the bachmann one.  And that is with the original open frame motor in them.  Brass once was and still is expensive, espicaly new brass today.  But a good used model is well within the reach of most modelers, but a beginning modeler that wants a brass engine should seek out the help of an experienced brass operator as to what will run good on his or her layout. Will the model go around thier curves, does it run well or does it need motor/gearbox help.  All very good questions so they will be happy with thier purchase.  At one time I was very naive about brass, had no clue what to buy.  But with the help of a good friend, I made my first purchase, I think it was a 3 truck PFM/United shay from a dealer at a show for around $300.  Which at the time was a huge purchase for me, equil to almost a years worth of normal train budget spending.  It was unpainted and stayed that way for several years as I enjoyed it and got up the nerve and ablity to paint it.  That was 10 years or so ago.  Now I seek out brass models as I enjoy them more than the new plastic/diecast stuff that is stuffed with electronics and other do dads that I could care less about.  There are never any stupid or naive questions about brass to me.  How can I help any future brass owners?     Cheers   Mike and Michele T

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Posted by CAZEPHYR on Sunday, October 18, 2009 2:25 PM

richg1998

I was very naive about brass many years ago. I was invited to see a layout at a modelers home. The HO scale layout was awesome. I saw a freight train that had great looking detailed rolling stock pulled by an unpainted brass locomotive. I made the big mistake of asking why the loco could not be painted a nice color. I was almost asked to leave because of an insulting question. His attention to prototype detail ended at painting brass. You never ask why it is not painted I was told. I was never invited back.

Rich

 

Unless the person was running a model of the CB&Q 5632 with CB&Q markings, the brass color is incorrect.   However, for a NMRA convention, they did paint the 5632 in brass color and pulled excursions back about forty years ago.  

For anyone to run the models in brass without paint is like running your plastic models in gray or black plastic since finishing them would detract from the value???

There are a few collectors that prefer brass finish, but they do not run their models or even let them see the light of day.  Lately, the new brass is not even offer without paint, since the can make more money on the model by painting the model.

 

We used to kid about the modeling the UP, which stands for un painted!   Or some of our members at that time modeled the UDECRR,  undecorated railroad.   I like to break in a brass unpainted model on a layout to see if it handles the radius or needs some modifications, but that is testing before it is painted.  Most of the larger steam KTM models built in the seventies needed some additional side play in the drivers to get around 30" radius curves without some problems. 

 CZ   

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Posted by Darth Santa Fe on Sunday, October 18, 2009 9:37 PM

aloco
Second,  brass diesels are fine so long as they are made from the 1980s on up to the present day.  A lot of the stuff made from the 1970s on back looks like tinplate, and if I had the money to blow on brass I wouldn't even look at the junk made by Tenshodo, KMT, and other early manufacturers of brass diesels.

But that's the fun part!Big Smile I'm trying to make a $50 Tenshodo GP20 into a $100 Tenshodo GP20 with excellent running characteristics. And I'm pretty close on the running part too.Big Smile The stock mechanism is surprisingly excellent. Not super quiet, but extremely smooth.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, October 18, 2009 11:43 PM

As others have already pointed out, the only way, short of scratch-building, to get a model of some locos is via brass.  This is a fairly common brass loco (with a plastic tender used for the photo):


And the same loco after a few modifications:


On the other hand, models of more common locos don't always differ too much, be they brass or plastic:


Wayne

 

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Posted by ngartshore350 on Monday, October 19, 2009 4:05 AM

As a Brass Virgin as of three weeks ago, my simple answer is the same as above.

What I wanted wasn't available in Plastic, that simple.

 Regards,

 ngartshore350

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Posted by Robt. Livingston on Monday, October 19, 2009 7:44 AM

 Here is one good reason for brass, right down to the 86" drivers:

This is a Gem model of an NYC Buchanan 4-4-0, #999.  It cost me $34.95 in 1970; it still runs with the origional open frame motor and coffee grinder gears.  But I love it. 
 

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Posted by jecorbett on Monday, October 19, 2009 10:51 AM

In addition to the advantages states, brass also has collectible appeal which is why many collectors don't paint them.

Brass has never had a fascination for me. I do own one but that was part of an estate collection I bought. I've only run it a few times. I have no idea what it is worth but might someday look into selling it. It really doesn't have a place on my layout.

Hybrids are now being offered with detailing and prototype fidelity that rivals brass but the price rivals brass as well.

It's all a matter of preference. If you want it and can afford it, then go for it.

Just myMy 2 cents

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