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ann arbor motive power: alco FA2s w/sound & video!

Background: When the Ann Arbor decided to explore dieselization in the early 1940s, one of their first purchases were the Alco S-1 switchers. Pleased with the performance of these Alco products, over the next several years they ordered two RS1s and ultimately seven sets of FA2 A-unit pairs to officially retire their steam fleet by early 1952. There is an excellent chronicle of the Ann Arbor's acquisition of these locos in Bob Warrick's Morning Sun book: The Ann Arbor Railroad in Color, so I won't bore you with additional detail... but as I backdated my roster, the FA2 units had to play a role.

Life-Like Donors (old): when I told my friend Roy Cavan I was looking for old Life-Like AA units so I could operate a steam-diesel transition era of 1940-1951, he graciously offered up two of his pizza-cutter flanged, spring-drive, special-needs locomotives. He cautioned me they were noisy and rough, which was fine by me because I was only going to use the shells and put them on modern frames.

Life-Like Donors (new): There is an N-Scale library of locomotive research and a treasure trove of modeling and how-to articles at Model Railroading (, including an exact tutorial on converting older Life-Like units onto the massively improved new frames. The proprietor of the site, Mark, is exceptionally knowledgeable, and gave me very helpful conversion tips on the shell swap.    

Shells & Sound How-to:  Loosen the sides on the original Life-Like shell and the old guts will drop right out. Remove the fuel tank and wiggle the new Life-Like shell to free the new improved drivetrain. Place the shells side-by-side and note that the new shells have a circular indent that slips over nubs on the new frame. Use a Dremel tool to create new circular indents in the old shell so that they match the new frame. Transfer the rear coupler mount bracket from the new shell into the old shell. Install a Micro-Trains front coupler pocket conversion kit - it's a direct drop-in. 

N Scale Ann Arbor FA2 donor unit

old Life-Like FA2-A donor unit 

N Scale Ann Arbor FA2 with Sound

new Life-Like frame; old Life-Like shells 

N Scale Ann Arbor FA2 donor unit

new Life-Like FA2 A&B donor units 

N Scale Ann Arbor FA2 with Sound

B unit, motor removed, sound added 

N Scale Ann Arbor FA2 pair

Finished Product and Video:  I installed a DZ123 decoder in the A unit and set it up to run in reverse so that it would be shoving the dummy sound unit. The dummy sound unit is set up with the appropriate prime mover, and bell/horn that closely matches the original AA FA2 units. Both units are programmed to decoder address #52. I shot the below video on my cell phone after I had everything all configured. Enjoy! 

Ann Arbor Pennant Herald white flag
Ann Arbor Pennant Herald black flag
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