Beyond Scale Model Railroads

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

| December 2006

  • MikePerigo.jpg
    When you’re excavating nice fill from a small-scale pit but it’s full of larger rocks, what can you do? Run it through a screener, such as this homemade scale model Mike Perigo and Tom Briggs built specifically for that purpose.
  • Dumptruck.jpg
    Well used, but not abused, this little red International dump truck has hauled more than its share of material for the Over The Hill Construction Co. Based on a Cub Cadet chassis, the frame has been stretched and the relocated transaxle powers a pair of chain sprockets that drive the rear wheels. The truck’s keyhole cab was fabricated using plywood and seats used in model railroading.
  • MikePerigo1.jpg
    Retired heavy equipment operator Mike Perigo is a natural with this Kubota K-008 excavator. Here he mines a gravel bank and loads it into his AB Mack scale model dump truck. The truck is capable of carrying nearly 3/4 cubic yards of material with sideboards installed, but when the gravel is moist, Mike rarely loads more than 1/3 of a cubic yard.
  • LittleFarmall.jpg
    This little Farmall F-20 was fabricated specifically to pull a self-powered finishing mower. Although the 3-1/2 hp Briggs & Stratton-powered tractor uses a Wheel Horse chassis, many parts (such as the steering gear, front bolster, radiator and cap) were made from scratch.
  • MikePerigo2.jpg
    Mike Perigo and Tom Briggs built this AB Mack wrecker for Jim Martin, owner of a heavy truck towing business. In this fabrication, the Cub Cadet transaxle was moved completely back, and dual rear wheels were mounted on its hubs.
  • ABMackwrecker.jpg
    The working end of Jim’s AB Mack wrecker includes this nicely scaled Weaver Model G Auto Crane. The rear axle isn’t really a full-floating model, although Mike and Tom created the hub’s center inserts to make it look like it is.
  • Dumping.jpg
    Dumping the International truck’s box is as easy as pulling a lever in the cab, which engages a hydraulic pump and extends the cylinder. In this early design, a cable sheaved over the top of the cylinder’s piston raises the box. Note the tailgate detail and functional gravel gate.
  • Retiredmachinist.jpg
    Retired machinist Tom Briggs is a railroad engineer at heart. Here, he pilots a hydrostatically driven engine he built on track owned by the Mid-Michigan Railroad. Tom and Mike Perigo helped prepare the surface for many of those thousands of feet of track with their mighty miniature machines.
  • BruceDannenhauer.jpg
    Bruce Dannenhauer takes a break from the railroad-building project and puts the scale Galion grader to use maintaining the gravel lane to his house. The little grader makes short work of the project and since it can go where large graders simply can’t fit, it is perfect for this kind of project.
  • MikePerigostruck.jpg
    A long time in the making, Mike Perigo’s truck-mounted Marion crane project began life with a tracked undercarriage. The fully functional piece is now mounted on this stretched Cub Cadet chassis. The clamshell shovel is useful for digging and loading, but the piece proved to be a little slow at loading trucks. A 3-1/2 hp Briggs & Stratton engine is tucked below the operator’s seat for power. The engine works the winches and the turntable gears Tom machined from scratch in his home shop.

  • MikePerigo.jpg
  • Dumptruck.jpg
  • MikePerigo1.jpg
  • LittleFarmall.jpg
  • MikePerigo2.jpg
  • ABMackwrecker.jpg
  • Dumping.jpg
  • Retiredmachinist.jpg
  • BruceDannenhauer.jpg
  • MikePerigostruck.jpg

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.