Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Southern 208 joins the roster

Here we have the finished Southern 208 running cab hop at Norfolk Junction, awaiting the permission from the Norfolk & Western dispatcher to line the swing gate against the N&W main. Left would be the N&W's line to Coeburn, the Toms Creek branch, and Norton, Va., right is the N&W to St. Paul, Va.

Although it's hard to tell, the 208 wears the correct Southern check digit it would have had, and the teeny lettering "SF" under the cab, indicating this was a former Slate Fork SD-9.

"Wait, did he say, 'Would have had'?"

Indeed I did. The Southern never had an SD-9 numbered 208. Nor did it have a 209, soon to be on the layout. The Southern's SD-9s ended at 207, and many were former Central of Georgia units.

The fictional back story is that the Slate Fork was formed by an Upper Midwest steel consortium to ensure a flow of especially high-quality metallurgical coal for its mills. When it came time to dieselize, EMD came a-knockin'. And although close neighbor Interstate RR rejected the SD model, opting for all ALCo RS-3s, Slate Fork's management did not, and EMD tacked its order for two SD-9s on to another customer's larger order.

When the Southern acquired the Slate Fork, one condition of the sale was that its crews be allowed to retain the two SD-9s. In hindsight, this was a good deal better for the Slate Fork crews, seeing as how a few years after the Southern acquired the Interstate, it moved the cream-and-orange RS-3s off the property and replaced them with aging F units. Interstate crews hated the F units on account of their poor visibility when switching. 

I weathered the 208 with a mix of Bragdon weathering powders and PanPastels. I find the latter adhere well, and the grays tend not to mute as much as the powders do when a flat fixative is applied. I prefer Dullcote.

After setting up a 28-step speed table using JMRI/Decoder Pro and adjusting the CV66 (forward trim) and CV95 (reverse trim), this unit runs nice and quiet, and smoothly.

Uh, well, to be honest ...

The 208 didn't start out well. Sure, it ran fine out of the box. But I ended up having to replace the motor, a rarity with an Atlas locomotive. In fact, this is the only Atlas motor I've ever to replace in dozens of Atlas locomotives I've owned the past 45 years. 

When I put the 208 on the layout after setting the speed tables, it would slow down in two specific places, both on curves, on the layout. I could hear no binding or clicking, so I attributed the issue to a suddenly bad decoder, perhaps not reacting to the addition load of the mechanism in a curve and adjusting the motor RPMs via BEMF.  So I popped in a new decoder -- same trouble, though.

Well, after breaking down and inspecting the mechanism for a mechanical flaw (there was none), basic troubleshooting left me with one culprit, a bad motor, and probably a bad winding. Out came the bad motor, in went a known good spare, and all was well.