There are some very important things you need to know about brass models. First and foremost is regarding track work; unlike their plastic counterparts, brass models are at times very unforgiving when it comes to track work. This is especially true when it comes to the longer wheelbase and articulated locomotives. These are scale models, and they were built like the prototypes, no dual articulation for both sets of drivers here. Here are three basic rules that should be followed when it comes to brass:


Rule number 1 for Brass Steam Locomotives:

You should plan on 36” minimum radius curves if you are going to run long wheelbase and articulated locomotives

You can get away with smaller radius 28”- 30”for 4-6-4 to 2-10-0 locomotives, and you can even go down to 24” for 4-6-2 or smaller. But unless you are running Shays Climaxes, or Heslers, or real small wheel arrangements like 4-4-0, don’t even think about going below 24” radius curves. This also holds true on the turnouts. #6 is the lowest number you can get away with for the bigger locomotives, and #8 and above would look even better. You can still use #4 on siding and some yard tracks for the smaller locomotives that would prototypically navigate these rails. An 0-6-0 or a 0-8-0 would not have a problem here.  If you can’t increase the radii of your curves or your turnout sizes to number 6 or 8’s, you can modify your locomotives to some extent so they can run on the tighter radius. This is a challenging endeavor however which needs to be done by someone who is very experienced in working on brass locomotives. There is one last thing you should know. Anytime you modify a brass model, it will reduce the value of the model. Bottom line — go with the widest radius curves you can, or better yet, stick with the basic rule: 36”minimum radius curves and #6 turnouts


Rule number 2: painting unpainted models.

Most brass models built up until the 1990’s came through unpainted. This means you need to follow some very close guidelines when it comes to painting these models. The first and the easiest, but also the more expensive approach is to have a professional brass model painter do it for you. There are some really great painters out there that have been providing this service for years. However, you may need to be patient as many have a waiting list. $250 and above is the norm for a good paint job.

If you decide to paint the model yourself, you must first know how to disassemble the model and have the knowledge and experience to get it back together. A very good airbrush and compressor is needed – no canned spray paint on brass! Then you must get the right information on color and lettering

Previously most train hobby shops with experienced staff could help you with everything you needed in the way of advice, prototype information, and materials, such as the right paint and decals. Now with their decline, your best bet is to contact historical societies, and research the internet.

There is also a wealth of reference books loaded with color photos available. Good luck!


Rule number 3: Electronics-DCC and Sound

Here is the new question? What comes first, the cart or the horse? Do you paint and letter, or do you do the electronics first. The only thing I can tell you is this; no one agrees. People who do the painting always hate to disassemble a model that is already wired for DCC and sound.  And the electronics people are always worried about damaging an expensive paint job. If you do the painting and wiring yourself, it does not matter; you can always go back and touch up any little dings that may happen while you are installing the electronics. However, if you contract out your work, you need to come up with an order of the work. The best thing to do is find a painter who does both. If not, talk to the people who are doing the work for you, and find out what they are comfortable with.

In summary: don’t get scared off, Painting brass models is fun and rewarding. Once you get it down, it becomes easy, and if you are really good at it, you can even start offering your services to others. It is a safe bet that many models that have been made in the past will never be reproduced. Therefore if you want to upgrade that older locomotive to a state-of-the-art model, you are going to have to decision, will it be done by yourself or a professional.




About 12 years ago we were doing a late summer show inNorth Carolina. By Sunday the show had gotten real slow— it was dead! In our boredom of watching the tire kickers who were hemming and hawing over the price of the plastic Athearn fright car kits and the fact that even they were few in number, Denny Jelsma, of Jelsma Graphics, who hates plastic models blurted out, “Real Men Buy Brass!” This caught the attention of those of us who dared to bring brass to this show. I walked over to Denny and told him how much I liked his comment. He replied we should do hats for the Timonium show. I said “go for It. We could do it through Orange Blossom Hobbies”. So we arrived at the Fall Show bearing our new promotion, and for anyone who bought a brass locomotive we gave them a hat that said, “Real Men Buy Brass, Orange Blossom Hobbies.” Naturally, Howard Zane wanted one, and we obliged him. He wore it most of the morning and then he took it off because it was too small. Unfortunately, we did not have a big enough one to fit him. Yes, we did sell a lot of brass at that show!

— Ray Del Papa


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