Working on an Engine – Upside Down

1-2truckshayComes a time for every modeler when you need to perform some work, maintenance, or repairs on your engines.

Maybe you just need to lube it up after having it on the shelf all winter, maybe you are going to do some weathering or add some props or repaint something.

Maybe you need to remove something that’s gotten jammed up underneath.

For working on my engines I perch them up on a simple platform shown above. The piece of 1/2 inch plywood that the Shay is sitting on is 24 inches long and is 5 inches wide. I have some shorter ones that I use when working on smaller engines like my Climax or Annies.

The plywood is attached to a piece of 4×4 post and that in turn is attached to another small piece of plywood that is sized to set nicely in a small lazy-susan I have on my workbench. The ability to spin the loco around to different orientations is nice when painting, adding details, or making repairs. It’s nice but it does not provide access to the underside of the engine. That’s a bit trickier.

The issue I tackled recently was how to have the same functionality I was used to when the loco was upside down so I could work on the underside of the engine. There are several ways to do this that have been oft discussed on forums such as using a rolled up towel or soft blanket and putting the engine on its side, or saving the Styrofoam packaging the engine originally came in and using the top half to nest the engine in and flipping it upside down.

1a-breakabledetailsI’ve used both of those methods but each has some serious drawbacks. The biggest problem is that once you start adding details to your engine, as I have to the Shay, you have lots of little parts that tend to break off or prevent the original packaging from fitting to the engine.


Even if you’ve not added a lot of details or props there are plenty of things on the more detailed engines that want to snap off when you are working on them. This problem prompted me to come up with a better solution that was within my meager skill set. Here’s what I did.

2-leverplatformFirst, I determined that the roof of the cab was the flattest, and nearly the highest point on the engine. I cut some foam pieces (from packing materials I liberated from the dumpster at work) and placed them on the cab making sure they were thick enough to provide clearance for the steam whistle and generator exhaust that where just a touch higher than the cab roof.



Next, I placed a 1/2 inch, 24 x 5 inch strip of plywood on top of the foam on the cab and with one eye on the level, I propped up the plywood until it was level across the top. This allowed me to cut and fit more pieces of foam fitted between the engine boiler and the plywood so that the engine would be fully supported when flipped over on its back.


4-detailpiecesHere you can see that it took several pieces of foam, one glued to another to get the various support points I wanted to the proper height.




5-detailpieces2White glue was used to attach the foam to the plywood. But for gluing foam to foam I found that white glue did not stick, however, silicone worked, as well as E-6000.





So now I had a platform that I could set down on top of the shay that was level across the top and whose foam pieces fit snugly between the sand and steam domes. The smokestack I removed to make more room for the support piece of foam.


I was concerned about stability once the engine was flipped so I took two 52 inch tennis shoelaces and strung them under the engine and over the platform and cinched them down using a simple truckers knot. This knot involves a loop on one end, thread the other end through the loop and pull tight and then throw a half hitch to tie off the loose end. Not as impressive a knot as a sheep-shank but it is the handiest knot I know.


I should mention that I also added a base (as discussed earlier) made up of a piece of scrap 4×4 and another piece of plywood so I could set the whole thing on my lazy-susan.





The bottom piece of plywood is sized to just fit in the circle of the lazy-susan.




Okay, the engine is right-side up, the new platform is on top of the engine and the shoelaces are snugged up. Since I’m working alone I can’t flip it and take a picture at the same time since flipping requires two hands.

9-tiedupsidedownSuffice it say that one hand goes under the engine supporting it in the middle area and the other hand is holding the platform. A bit if effort and the engine is upside down. The final result is quite stable and provides full access to both sides and the underside of the engine. No props knocked off, no bits broken.

Let me know what you think! –TJ

(Originally posted 9/23/2011, revised 5/03/2013)

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One Response to Working on an Engine – Upside Down

  1. ThePigTailedGirl says:

    That is a really great idea!

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