Kitbashing a Disney Steam Locomotive

Kitbashing a Disney steam locomotive was a fun project for Sam Towler. He modified an HO scale Life-Like locomotive into an On30 model of the Ernest S. Marsha modified 1925 Baldwin steamer that still carries passengers around Disneyland today. All photos by the author
By Sam Towler

Disneyland is one of the few places in the world where you are guaranteed to see a steam locomotive in motion the day you visit. These trains have been transporting happy guests around the park since 1955. A particular engine, the No. 4, the Ernest S. Marsh, has always interested me because of its unique look, its four-wheeled tender and the arrangement of the domes and the bell. The locomotive was originally an 0-4-0 saddle tank built by Baldwin in 1925 for the Raritan River Sand Co. The locomotive was sold to a tourist railroad called Pine Creek in 1950 and then to Disneyland in 1958. The locomotive has been restored, converted to a 2-4-0, remodeled to look like the Denver & Rio Grande Western Montezuma, and put into service in 1959. It is named after the then president of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. More than 60 years later, the locomotive is still circling the line. Read on as I walk you through the process of kitbashing a Disney steam engine.

A shiny red steam locomotive is seen in Disneyland California on a sunny day
The Ernest S. Marsh prototype is still ferrying passengers around Disneyland in Anaheim, California, nearly 95 years after it was built in 1925.

I needed a Disneyland Railroad locomotive to go on the back of my Disney themed On30 layout. I decided the Ernest S. Marsh due to its distinct appearance. Now I had to find a model to start with.

To start, I chose the HO Life-Like B&O 0-4-0 Teakettle scale. It’s a basic motor – just a metal frame, plastic shell, motor, gears and drive wheels. This makes it good for customization, as there isn’t much to get in the way or remove. Even better for this project, the drive wheels are exactly the right size and spaced correctly for the prototype.

An HO scale 0-4-0 black saddle tank locomotive is seen on a landscaped track
Although the HO scale Life-Like model has the right size wheels and spacing for this project, the original model would still require a lot of work.

Beginning of changes

Kitbashing a Disney steam locomotive from this HO scale model would unfortunately take a lot of work. I found it interesting that my model starts out as an 0-4-0 saddle tanker, just like the prototype!

First I removed the plastic shell and motor. Next, I moved the cylinders and smokebox saddle, a one-piece plastic piece, to the drive wheels. I built new styrene steam chests to cover them. Then I modified the saddle, grinding it to a more accurate height for the boiler. I wanted the top of the loco to be able to come off and attach to the frame with a screw through the saddle, so I drilled a hole in the frame to match the new saddle location.

Next comes the undercarriage. First, rather than making new sleepers, I made styrene covers that fit over the existing ones. I unscrewed the crankpins and removed the side and main connecting rods. I ground the edges of the rods to give them a straighter, cleaner look. I also had to shorten the main rods a bit, as moving the cylinders backwards caused the sleepers to hit them when the locomotive was running. I also cut out 0.010″ styrene arches to give the appearance of counterweights on the wheels.

Side view of a model locomotive chassis with white styrene modifications
Sam Towler added styrene to the frame, wheels and running gear to look like the prototype and allow the cylinders to be closer to the wheels.

Added cabin and boiler

I sanded the stock cabin floor flat, filing off the tabs that once held onto the stock shell. I made a new floor out of 0.040″ styrene sheet and drilled a hole for the flat head screw that originally held the motor but would now be used to attach the cab. I also added a 0.080″ x 0.250″ styrene strip to support the back of the boiler. I made the boiler from a 2-3/4″ section of 1/2″ (inside diameter) PVC tubing, which would protrude 1/4″ into the cabin.

The boiler would enclose the new engine. The original was too big and heavy, so I got one from a Bachmann On30 Porter. To accommodate it, I used a 1/2″ sanding drum mounted in a rotary tool to dig out a few extra millimeters of space inside the pipe. Once the motor is snug inside of the boiler, I cut a slot in the bottom directly below the worm gear Since the motor fit snugly into the pipe, there were no screws or tabs needed for the to stare.

Then I glued the boiler to the tab of the cabin floor. I wrapped the boiler in two layers of 0.010″ styrene, leaving the 7/16″ front unwrapped to give the smoke box a smaller diameter. I routed the headlight wires through the boiler and onto the engine, secured in place with a few drops of cyanoacrylate (CA) adhesive. I then soldered the wiper wires and headlight wires to the motor.

Taxi was straightforward. I built it with styrene strips and etched styrene sheet to look like wooden planks. I made the roof removable. Underneath the cabin, I detailed a combustion chamber made up of various pieces of styrene sheet and rod.

Boiler and white plastic cab added to model locomotive chassis
Sam wrapped the boiler in a sheet of styrene to give it a thicker diameter than the smoke box. A new engine was a friction fit inside. Sam built the cabin out of styrene.

Frontal changes

At the front of the locomotive, I cut out the original “cowcatcher” and filed down the bottom edges of the driver’s platform to make room for the addition of a lead truck. I salvaged the wheelset from the same Porter who donated the motor. I covered the spokes of the wheel with a .010 styrene disc to match the wheels to the solid wheels of the prototype. Since the pilot truck pivot point was where the boiler screw goes, I had to glue a bracket on the bottom of the undercarriage.

A new pilot rig was constructed from 0.040” styrene sheet, tape and tubing. I also built a more accurate driver including a draft box for a no. 5 Kadee coupler. I glued the pilot light brackets to the smoker but not to the platform, so the boiler could still come off.

The domes and stack of the original plastic shell looked like the prototype, but they weren’t the right size and the details weren’t quite right. I turned new domes and the top of the stack from a 5/8″ wood dowel. The stack barrel is a piece of 5/16″ styrene tubing.

I made a new headlight from scratch out of .040 styrene and used a bracket from an Old-Time 4-4-0 HO scale by IHC. I drilled a hole in it so that the stock motor 12V bulb could be inserted from below. The top of the decorative lighthouse was made from a scrap piece of the wooden dowel. The front of the smoke box was two layers of .040 hoops with the brass number plate from the original locomotive shell.

After ruling out a few other options because they weren’t precise enough, I built the tender frame out of styrene. The plastic axle comes from a dummy diesel locomotive. The tender tank was made from a 3/4″ block of wood and a piece of 1/8″ balsa (giving a combined height of 7/8″) with the corners Fuel and water hatches and tool boxes were made of 0.040″ sheet metal and 5/32″ tubing.

The nearly complete locomotive is seen, complete with a hand-built tender and wooden turned domes
After Sam added domes and a wooden chimney and a built-from-scratch wood and styrene tender, the locomotive was ready for detailing, painting and lettering.

Details and painting

Since many details will be easier to apply later, I prepped the engine for painting. The entire model received a coat of primer and then a few coats of Rust-Oleum Sunrise Red spray paint. After the paint dried, all the wheels were trimmed in white. The undercarriage frame, tender frame, stack top, cabin floor, running boards, couplers and pilot mounts were painted with matte black acrylic. The log boxes on the tender were painted with Testor’s 1103 red. The smoke box was painted with a medium gray and the cab roof was painted with Apple Barrel Paints Cinnamon Apple acrylic. The cab interior and doors were painted with Folk Art 408 Green. The main and side stems were painted with Testor’s 1146 Silver with a drop of the company’s standard 1149 Flat Black. Some accent areas, such as the cabin windows and the nameplate, were painted with Testor’s 1127 orange with a drop of red in it.

The large amounts of brass trim throughout the locomotive was done with strips of Avery Gold Mirror Chrome Film Tape. More details, including handrails, injection pipes, tender steps and flagpoles, were made from various pieces of styrene.

In the cabin, I created a removable “back cap”, which is a piece of PVC pipe with styrene pieces representing the cabin plumbing. This slides over the back of the motor, concealing it. A bell from the On30 Porter has been added between the domes.

Although Disney has a good reputation for having well-maintained and spotless locomotives, they tend to sport a bit of sand and soot from time to time. I applied black powder coat paint to simulate soot and grime on the cab roof and smoke box. I installed .010 clear styrene window glazing and some finishing touches like the cabin window awning and armrests.

The various graphics and decals were created in Adobe Photoshop and were printed on Office Depot “Do-it-yourself” sticker paper. With the flags on the driver and a bell rigged with .020 rod cord, my Disney steam locomotive kitbashing project was complete.

Jose P. Rogers