Beyond Scale Model Railroads

Over the Hill Construction Co. builds model railroads with scale model construction equipment.

| December 2006

It takes a certain eye for detail and a good deal of patience to build working small-scale outdoor railroads. It takes plenty of labor as well. And once the railroad is built, reduced-size maintenance tasks become a big chore in a hurry. While many model railroaders rely on muscle to shape the roadbed, apply ballast and maintain their rights of way, a pair of little-locomotive enthusiasts from Kalamazoo, Mich., created an easier way.

"When the Mid-Michigan Railroad (a 1-1/5-inch scale operation located at Cornwell's Turkeyville U.S.A. near Marshall, Mich.) wanted to expand its track, we needed to haul quite a lot of material to make the grades," Mike Perigo, one of the founding partners of Over The Hill Construction Co., says with a grin. "So we decided to build a small dump truck to make it easier." That roughly 1/3-scale International Harvester truck marked the beginning of a full-sized fabricating friendship that has grown ever tighter with time. "We knew of each other in high school," says Tom Briggs, Mike's partner in fun. "But we didn't really become friends until more recently."

Today, railroad enthusiasts associated with Over The Hill Construction have several more laborsaving pieces of equipment at their disposal. Most were designed and built by the pair. "Mike has all of the ideas," Tom says. "I just machine parts for him." Mike is quick to point out that Tom is a great sounding board for his ideas as well as an important influence on the design process. Clearly the duo works well together, because they have created an entire fleet of construction tools that ease the labor of model railroad building.

Design evolution

When Mike had the idea to build a small dump truck to facilitate moving hundreds of cubic yards of fill on scale-model construction sites, he wanted the truck to be fully functional and sufficiently heavy-duty to be reliable. He also wanted it to look like a dump truck. He likes truck styles from the 1920s and 1930s, and wanted a truck with a vintage-style cab. Since Mike was planning to build that first truck around an early 1960s International Harvester Cub Cadet 100 garden tractor chassis, he decided to pattern it after a late 1920 IH model.

In its initial configuration, the IH truck was mounted on the Cub Cadet's chassis with minimal alteration. In the end, it looked okay, but much of the dump body extended beyond the rear axle, and that overhang made the truck a little light up front when loaded to its approximate 3/4 cubic yard capacity. It also put undue strain on the former garden tractor's rear axles. In time, a weld holding one of the stock Cub Cadet hub flanges to its right axle shaft broke, creating the opportunity to change the truck's design. Tom says the truck was plenty capable, but it was geared a little too high and the hand-crank dumping mechanism proved to be a time and energy drain when they had a good crew on the job.

To alleviate the axle-overloading concerns, Mike stretched the garden tractor's original frame, moving the cast iron Cub Cadet transaxle with it. That change also required fabrication of a longer driveline and remote 3-speed transmission shifter along with new brake control rods. Since the Cub Cadet's hub flange welds were the weak link in the original truck, Mike and Tom decided to remove the load from those components by fabricating a new heavy-duty steel axle with automotive-style machined spindles, hubs and tapered roller bearings. Heavy-duty trucks in the 1920s often used chain-and-sprocket final drives, so the Cub Cadet's transaxle and the truck's drive wheels were fit with 40- and 50-tooth roller-chain sprockets respectively, which also resulted in a 20 percent speed reduction once connected.