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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

San Diego Electric Railway Birney #301

Modeled from a Brass H.O. scale Ken Kidder Birney car.

I wanted to see what it would take to completely "trick out" a brass trolley model from top to bottom. With full details inside and out, a fine motor and gearing, lights, paint and decals. A streetcar that runs every bit as good as it looks.

Well let me tell you... it took a LOT! But after a year of tinkering and futzing, I think I have finally produced a trolley model I wouldn't kick under the table:

Compare to the prototype photo of SDERy #301 that I worked from.

This is what I started with. An eBay basket case birney just begging to be rebuilt.

So, in a nutshell, this is what was involved in rebuilding this little guy:

But If you want a more detailed play-by-play of its construction, here is the table of contents for this project:

Table of Contents

1. Sizing up the Ken Kidder Birney for rebuilding into SDERy #301

2. Stripping off the old paint

3. Opening up the Destination Signs

4. Drilling out the Marker Lamps

5. Opening the Windows

6. Fabricating Marker Lamp Holders

7. Sizing up the BullAnt Drive Mechanism

8. Installing the BullAnt

9. Fabricating the Seats

10. Installing the Seats

11. Painting and Detailing the Seats

12. Final Brasswork

13. Painting

14. Fabricating the Route Number Box

15. Installing the Trolley Poles

16. Disaster Strikes!

17. Wiring for Trolley Pole Reverse

18. Making the Decals

19. Applying the Decals

20. Weathering

21. Window Glass I

22. #301 Visits the Southern California Traction Club

23. Prototype SDERy Birney Survives!

24. Hold Down Hooks

25. Out Go The Lights!

26. Going DCC

27. Installing The Decoder

28. Phun With Fysics

29. Adding Weights

30. Window Glass II

31. Test Run

32. Inaugural Run

33. Short and Sweet

EDIT: The content below has since been addressed. SDERy Birney #301 is Done! Done Done! Huzzah!

It was important to me to be able to say "This Birney is DONE" without following it with "except for...". Well... as originally planned it IS done. Though I wasn't able to follow through on the side window glass yet. But I am hard pressed to see any evidence of glass in the prototype photo. I can see glass in transom over the windows, but not in the windows themselves.

Additionally, I have been talking with George Huckaby of the Southern California Traction Club about this model and he had some ideas for improving it.

One would be to build new pole hold down hooks so that the poles are horizontal when down, as opposed to pointing downward as they are now. Pointing down = bad, horizontal = good. This would also improve the electrical connection between the pole and the hook.

George has also talked me into the possibility of adding a DCC decoder to this model. I thought the Birney would be too small for a decoder, but the TCS M1 decoder is looking like a really good candidate. Its for N scale that can also work in H.O.! It will also solve the lights not lighting issue!

So for the most part, SDERy Birney #301 is DONE! But look for improvements in the future.

And there you have it. What it takes to build one "tricked out trolley". Yessir! One tricked out trolley!


  1. Hi David,

    Done is good! What are you thinking of making next?

    Dan S.
    Corte Madera, Ca.

  2. I'm thinking something not so small!!!