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Author Topic: Varney Dockside Switcher  (Read 76621 times)

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« on: December 09, 2009, 06:14:48 AM »

As promised, this is a new thread to document and ask questions, while I attempt to refurbish this old engine.  It was my grandfather's first engine when he started in 1947.

I have disassembled the loco:

And started cleaning.  The moving parts are soaking in rubbing alcohol to loosen all the old grime and grease.  The shell and cylinders are sitting in paint thinner.

Okay, first question:  What kind of bits to I need to drill into the pot metal.  I will be adding grabirons, holes for light wires, and anything else I can think of.  Will dremel bits work?  I saw some in the LHS.  They didn't say if they cut soft metal.  The shell actually has minute indentations to show the drilling points.  Saves me from some pretty micro-measuring.

Second question:  I have pretty good luck getting old athearn motors running well.  Is is possible to save a motor this old?

I know they're not too efficient, but for historical/sentimental reasons, it would be nice to leave the loco as original as possible.

Last question for now:

I'm thinking of painting the loco a very high gloss black (red window frames), as if it were restored for a museum, which is what the shelf is becoming.  Opinions?


« Last Edit: December 09, 2009, 06:17:12 AM by jonathan » Logged
« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2009, 07:03:27 AM »

If you are going to run it DCC, the motor would have to be upgraded. A good place to go would be here:

starting about the eighth item on this page are drill bits at a real good price
« Last Edit: December 09, 2009, 08:53:41 AM by pdlethbridge » Logged
CNE Runner

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« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2009, 09:22:37 AM »

Jonathan - Wow...that is an oldie! I had one of these little engines (and have sold a few) and can tell you they are fairly poor runners. In all fairness, to Varney, they were a product of their times...which thankfully we have advanced beyond (well, at least as far as the hobby is concerned).

With all the alterations/additions you have planned; you are obviously not going to restore this piece. In that light, I would definitely follow pdlethbridge's advice and re-motor. You might even want to consider re-gearing - thereby making this a good runner. There probably isn't much room for a decoder and I don't think I would go that route. Conversely I was told, by a fellow vendor (electronics) that a DCC decoder can be installed in almost any locomotive...the choice is yours.

If you are putting all this effort into the Dockside for your own satisfaction - go for it. If you are looking at a future investment (and, yes, you will be looking at resale some time in the future) then you are wasting your resources. When all is said and done: you will still have a post war Varney Docksider. We have sold several of these, in great condition, in the $10 to $20 range...probably a fraction of what you plan on spending.

Good luck,

"Keeping my hand on the throttle...and my eyes on the rail"

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« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2009, 09:32:45 AM »


Thanks for the start.

Yes, I am doing this for my own satisfaction.  Have no dreams of making a silk purse from a sow's ear.  Just want to make it pretty, and, if somebody asks, I want to be able to put it on a track and have it go around the loop.  That's it really.  It's just a historical/emotional connection from one generation to another.

Was surprised to see anybody (yardbird) would even make a motor that fits in this little guy.  Probably cost three times what my grandfather paid for the engine back then.

The hard part seems to be finding the metal stanchions that hold the grabirons.  I can form some thin, stiff wire if I have to.  But the search has just begun.  This is a long-term, parttime project.

Thanks again,


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« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2009, 11:07:23 AM »

Bowser has the stanchions..or at least did have them. I'm a little confused, You say you want to restore it, but you want to add detail parts. I would either restore it as sold or go all out & make a good looker & good runner.
  As far as drill bits, HSS bits will drill metal. Twist drills are only good for wood & plastic.  You may be able to use them on pot metal with a pin vise & lubrication if you take your time.  To make it a good runner you would probably have to install contact shoes or wipers made by Tomar,
  I have one that is ready to be remotored with a new gearbox from NWSL.
Bowser also has a valve gear kit that really adds a lot to this engine.
   Keep us informed about your progress...   Jerry

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« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2009, 11:35:42 AM »

Sorry, Jerry, I'm a little confused, too.

I'm leaning towards restoring the original parts as much as possible.  If that goes well, then I will probably be interested in a new motor.  Varney meant for there to be grabirons as the drill points are already in place.  That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Cheesy I'm taking poetic license by wanting to put forward and rear lights.  Can't help myself.

I'm also confused about needing a new gear box.  There are only two gears that I can see:  the worm and the gear on the forward drive wheel.  The drive gear is brass and in excellent condition from what I can tell.  They also seem to mesh well. 

As an aside, I have a B&O dockside that I received as my first loco in 1970.  In a pinch, I could steal parts from that one if I have to.  Since it was a  plastic, dimestore cheapy as well, it wouldn't break my heart to use is as a sacrificial lamb.  It still runs.



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« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2009, 12:22:40 PM »

If you are going to run it DCC, the motor would have to be upgraded. A good place to go would be here:

starting about the eighth item on this page are drill bits at a real good price

i have bought from yardbird. nice selection of train crew figures.

i just received an order from widget supply. i bought ten each of the 70 to 80 size bits. they can bend or break easily. been there, done that, have the t shirt.
Bought a second pin vise.
i use a little wd40 for lubricant when drilling metal.

in case you do not have it, below is a link to a whole bunch of varney information.
« Last Edit: December 09, 2009, 12:26:17 PM by lexon » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2009, 01:23:00 PM »

If you can get the valve gear kit from Bowser, it will add greatly to the appearance of the model.  I'm with you - go ahead and install the handrails and grabs.  Varney spotted them for that reason, so as to hold down the cost of the basic model.  I don't know if the valve gear kit includes the crosshead guides.  It looks like the holes are already there in the back of the cylinders.  There may be a tab on the back side of the crossheads to slide on the guides.  Mantua also made the handrail stanchions in turned brass. 
As for the motor, check to see if it runs by touching leads from your DC power pack to the brush clips.  Those old Pittmans were hard to kill.  If the motor is in fact bad, then I would go ahead and replace it with a can motor.  You can re-use the old worm, but you'll have to get a brass bushing (NWSL has, or had them) to adapt the worm to the smaller metric motor shaft.  It will be a lot less work than installing a whole new gear box, which will mean pulling off one of the geared drivers, pulling off the old wormgear, pressing a new gear on, then re-quartering the driver.  The can motor and the original gears should make the model a "decent" runner, which is probably all you want. 

Go here and scroll down to Class C-16 for pics of the prototypes:

Note that 2 of the locos were rebuilt without the saddle tank and a new tender.  Rivarossi once made a model of the tender version. 
Woody Elmore

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« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2009, 01:54:27 PM »

That motor looks like a Pittman DC-66; it may be an import copy. The Pittmans were fine motors. Clean the commutator with a pencil eraser. Clean the brushes as well - just wipe them off.  A real Pittman will have a wick in front of the motor for some lubrication. The meshing between motor and drive axle is important. As a poster said, the old Varney docksiders weren't known for their fine running. However, sometimes a little shimming under the motor with a piece of cardboard will help. A friend uses pieces of old bicycle tire innertubes under his motors when he can. That will help quiet the mechanism. Me? I would put a dab of silicone under the motor - that will help with noise.

I doubt that the Bowser valve gear will fit that particular engine. You should go online and look to see if they have an exploded view of their current engine.

You can get handrail stantions from Yardbird Trains, I have dealt with them and they try hard to please. They are also available from vendors on Ebay -Mantua/Tyco and Penn Line all made handrail stantions. Unfortunately, when I look at the prices asked for parts on Ebay, I realize that the items for sale are gold plated. Stick with Yardbird.

As for drills, the key word in drilling for handrails in potmetal is "slow." You might also lubricate the tip of the drill.

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« Reply #9 on: December 09, 2009, 02:01:54 PM »


The motor is a Pittman DC60, it can be made DCC compatible.
The motor will give you years of service.

To make it DCC compatible you have to remove the grounding link, found on the
top of the brush mount.  Remove the screw and link.  Discard the link (Looks like a solder lug)
Replace the screw, it is now DCC compatible.  DO NOT disassemble the motor any further.
These motors are magnetized after assembly and removing the armature will kill the magnet!

To clean the motor attach leads to it and submerge it in alcohol and run it.

After it drys apply oil to the felt wicks at both bearings and iy's readt to go.

Tim Anders

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« Reply #10 on: December 09, 2009, 02:31:56 PM »

 Shocked Submerge the motor in alcohol.... while it's running.... REALLY?! Shocked

I can do that?  Cool... that's extreme model railroading, man!

Can't wait to try it. Grin


« Last Edit: December 09, 2009, 02:40:14 PM by jonathan » Logged
Jim Banner

Enjoying electric model railroading since 1950.

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« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2009, 02:43:53 PM »

Two thumbs up for what you are doing.  Just about every year I end up restoring old MARX and Lionel trains that are being passed on from Grandfather to Grandson.  It is certainly not for the money involved - it has to be a labour of love for these old antiques, the hope that they will last a couple more generations, and the satisfaction of restoring a rusty pile of junk into somebody's pride and joy.  I usually do not repaint the trains.  These were Grandad's trains and it was the play wear, the dents and the scratches that made them uniquely his.  I do like to get them running at least as well as when they were new.

From time to time I do repaint a locomotive, mostly diecast ones.  I usually use carburetor cleaner to remove the old paint as it is made for use on similar diecasting alloys.  For some paints, lacquer thinner or straight acetone work just fine (CAUTION - the fumes are poisonous and the liquids and their vapours are flamable!!)  I usually cheat a bit with the next step - I file off any molding marks such as the parting line along the top of the boiler and bits of flash here and there.  They are usually not too obvious with the scratched up old paint but are glaringly obvious with a new paint job.  I prefer a semi-gloss finish rather than a shiny one - it more closely matches the original paint.  And I almost always bake it in the oven the next day to harden it right up.  (Remember, we are talking diecast here - DO NOT try baking plastic shells!)

Best of luck with your project, and as someone else already said, please keep us informed about your progress.

As far as running a motor submerged in alcohol, it is best to start and stop it while fully submerged.  And by alcohol, I don't think Tim meant Rum, Rye or Single Malt Scotch - probably more in the line of methanol or Isopropyl alcohol.

« Last Edit: December 09, 2009, 02:47:17 PM by Jim Banner » Logged

Growing older is mandatory but growing up is optional.

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« Reply #12 on: December 09, 2009, 03:11:45 PM »

I'm almost sure the Bowser valve gear will fit because they use the varney mold for the docksider.  The motor may draw excessive amperage if the magnet has lost some of it's magnetism. I suspect someone out there has a motor that was discarded when it was switched for a can motor.
  The purpose of a new gearbox is that it will mesh perfectly with the motor gear & you can get various ratios to allow your engine to run as slow or fast as you want.  contact NWSL...they can advise you.  It really isn't that hard to do. I just scribe a line thru the uninsulated wheel & axle to make sure you reassemble it in quarter. worked for me every time.
  Pull the uninsulated wheel only, you may mess up the insulation when you reassemble it if you mess with the insulated wheel. NWSL makes a gear puller, or you can make one as I did.  Jerry

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« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2009, 03:13:35 PM »

I can't believe all the fun I'm about to have!

I needed a good winter project.  The garage gets too cold to run trains in January and February.  The prospect of making yet another 200 trees was getting to me.

Oh, and thanks for letting me know I won't have to waste a bottle of Single Malt on my motor.  Will use the same stuff the parts are soaking in now.

Thanks Guys!




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« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2009, 04:17:46 PM »

Just as an FYI, back in the late '60's PFM brought in their version of the Docksider.  The body was also cast metal, with finer detail than the Varney model.  It did have lost wax cast brass valve gear, which was really nice.  I think the model originally listed for about $20.  I've got one in pieces on the workbench.  Was going to re-motor it with a Faulhaber micro-motor and gearhead, but I managed to burn out the motor and just haven't gotten around to doing any more with it.  Since I've been in On3 for a good while, there isn't a high priority on it right now. 
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