Bachmann 55-Ton Three-Truck Shay

Part  1 – Conversion

I recently converted a Bachmann 55 ton three-truck shay to RC battery operation.  I started by clipping all of the factory installed wires where they were soldered onto the circuit board under the fuel bunker.


Wires Clipped from Bachmann Circuit Board

I removed and discarded the circuit board.


Circuit Board Removed

I also removed the small circuit board with slide switches from behind the smoke box door.  I pulled out the wiring that ran from the switches through the boiler at the same time.


Wiring Inside of Smoke Box

I left all of the remaining engine wiring for re-use.  I also re-used the wiring harness and 8-pin connector that connects the engine to the water tank on the third truck.

To see how I connected into the existing Bachmann wiring, see the schematics at the end of Part 1.  I labeled the wire colors on my schematic because some of the existing factory wiring did not match the colors shown on the Bachmann schematic.

I replaced the LEDs in the headlight and reverse light with 5mm warm white LEDs.  I clipped the black and red power pick-up wires where they entered the third power truck under the water tank and reused these wires for power transmission from the battery.  The following components go inside or under the water tank above the third truck:

  • 5 Watt, 8-ohm, 3” speaker
  • 14.8 volt, 5200 maH Li-ion battery pack
  • DPDT center off toggle switch to provide RUN / OFF / CHARGE control
  • charging jack for recharging the battery pack
  • fuse holder with 3.15 Amp slow-blow fuse

The following components go inside or under the fuel bunker above the second truck:

  • Airwire G3X DCC decoder
  • Phoenix P8 decoder
  • SPDT momentary toggle switch for P8 volume control
  • SPST toggle switch for P8 power control
  • Programming jack for the P8

Battery and Speaker

Hole for Charging Jack


RUN / OFF / CHARGE Switch Mounted

P8 ON/OFF and Volume Switches

Decoders Installed

I added appropriately sized ¼ Watt dropping resistors for the lights and connected the wires from the headlight, reverse light, firebox, ashpan, cab light and smoke generator.  I programmed the Airwire G3X to control the headlight and reverse light with Rule 17.  I set E-lite #1 to flicker the firebox LEDs and E-lite #2 to flicker the ashpan LEDs.  I set E-lite #3 to power the cab light.  I tuned the CV settings on the G3X to optimize slow speed running.  I assigned the function keys for the G3 as follows:

  • F0 – headlight and reverse light ON/OFF
  • F5 – firebox flicker ON/OFF
  • F6 – ashpan flicker ON/OFF
  • F9 – cab light ON/OFF
  • F10 – smoke generator ON/OFF

I downloaded the Phoenix 55 ton shay sound set into the P8 and set the decoder for six chuffs per revolution (the chuff switch only closes three times per revolution.)  I assigned the function keys for the P8 as follows:

  • F1 – bell ON/OFF
  • F2 – whistle ON/OFF
  • F3 – coupler clank
  • F4 – grade crossing
  • F7 – volume UP
  • F8 – volume DOWN
  • F12 – start-up / shutdown

Shay Engine Schematic

Shay Water Tank Schematic

Part 2 – Painting and Finishing

The shay exited from the shop looking factory fresh and sparkling clean after receiving her R/C and battery upgrade.  The problem was – she just looked too clean to suit my tastes.

Back when I was going to college in West Virginia, I had a summer job working on an old lumber line that would eventually become the Cass Scenic Railroad.  As I remember, the terms “clean” and “shay” were contradictory and were never used in the same sentence.

It didn’t take long for the magic of acrylic paint, ink, and powdered pigments to add years of age and hard work to her appearance and make her look more like the shays that I remember.  Here are a few photos of the shay ready to go out onto the layout.

Painted and Decaled

Left Side

Right Side

Left Rear Detail


Truck Detail

Here are the basic painting and detailing steps I followed:

1.  Remove the original Bachmann truck-mounted couplers and the sill-mounted link and pin pockets.  Remove fuel bunker, bell, and stack.  Mask the windows, headlight/reverse light lenses, smoke generator element, decoder boards/wiring, and mating connector contacts.  Clean all fingerprints from surfaces with water and/or isopropyl alcohol.  Use compressed air from airbrush to dry and blow all dust from the surfaces.

2.  Lay loco on its side and spray the undercarriage with Jet Black.  When dry, spray on successive layers of transparent detail colors in a random fashion.  I used Detail Burnt Umber, Detail Yellow Ochre and Detail Sepia.  Repeat from other side.  Set loco upright and spray top, front, rear, and sides with Detail Payne’s Gray.  When dry, re-spray with Detail Smoke Black.  Using a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol, carefully remove any paint from the raised lettering on the builder’s plates and the number plate.  Spray stack and fuel bunker with Detail Payne’s Gray. When dry, re-spray with Detail Smoke Black.

3.  Place loco on rollers and run at slow speed.  While wheels are rotating, spray running gear and valve gear with layers of Detail Burnt Umber and Detail Sepia.  Let loco run until paint is dry.  Remove loco from rollers.

4.  Spray acrylic gloss finish on areas to be decaled and allow to dry.  I used some wonderful custom decals for “The Choctaw Route” provided by MLS’ own Stan Cedarleaf.  After decals are applied, wait twenty-four hours and lightly re-spray decaled areas with acrylic matte or satin finish.

5.  Apply powdered graphite or synthetic grease to moving parts of a pair of Accucraft knuckle couplers.  Spray the couplers with “shake-the-can” ruddy-brown primer.  When dry, overspray with Detail Payne’s Gray and Detail Sepia.  Open and close couplers to insure they operate properly.  Re-lubricate if needed.  Drill four holes through each end sill to match the hole pattern on the Accucraft coupler pocket.  Attach a coupler to each end sill with four ¾” long 1-72 hex-head bolts and nuts.  I used brass bolts and nuts that had been dipped into a metal blackening solution.

6.  Remove all masking tape except from windows, headlight lens, and reverse light lens.  Modify, paint, and insert crew.  I used a figure from Scale Humans for the fireboy and one from Fine Folk for the hogger.  They required just a bit of minor cosmetic surgery to fit properly inside the tight confines of the cab.  I brush-painted them with craft acrylics and applied an India ink/alcohol wash to bring out their details.

7.  Apply rust, grime, dirt, water stains, etc. to the loco frame, firebox, domes, running boards, and appliances as desired using powdered pigments and/or colored acrylic inks.   Pay special attention to simulated wood surfaces (cab floor, cab side panels, running boards, and end sills.)  I used a medium gray powdered pigment on these items.  Work the powdered pigments into the cracks and crevices with a fine brush.  Use an India ink/alcohol wash to bring out the details in the cracks.  I liberally brushed the running board flat surfaces with “dirty” isopropyl alcohol left over from cleaning the various colors from my airbrush and bottles.  This looked black as ink when wet.  When the alcohol dried, these areas were streaks of dull gray and brownish-black.  I brushed over the running boards one last time with thinned acrylic light brown paint.

8.  Re-attach fuel bunker, bell, and stack.  Add details parts that have been pre-painted (barrels, buckets, oil cans, tools, chains, rope, tool boxes, water hose, etc.).  Add pull cords from cab to bell and whistle.  Apply cinders to running boards and coal to the fuel bunker using acrylic matte medium as an adhesive.  Allow the matte medium to dry thoroughly.  It will be milky when wet, but will dry clear.

9.  Spray entire loco one last time with Detail Smoke Black to even out any distinct color variations.  Color changes between different areas should be subtle with the smoke residue more apparent on the top of the boiler, on the stack and domes, on the front and roof of the cab, and on the top of the water tank.  When dry, spray the entire loco with acrylic clear flat.  Remove masking tape from windows and headlight/reverse light lenses. Use a fine brush to apply small amounts of acrylic gloss black paint on running gear to simulate grease and oil.  Allow loco to dry thoroughly.  Lubricate loco per manufacturer’s instructions.

10.  Place loco on track.  Run.  Relax. Remember.