The HO scale Kawasaki Single End Light Rail Transit Vehicle, series 9000 - 9111, from IHP!

The Trolleyville Times Staff

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), still reeling from the loss of many PCC cars in the 1975 Woodland Car Barn fire, finally accepted delivery in 1981 of 112 single-ended vehicles for service on the five subway-surface trolley lines; Route 10, Lancaster Avenue; Route 11, Woodland Avenue; Route 13, Chester Avenue; Route 34, Baltimore Avenue and Route 36, Elmwood Avenue. They also accepted 29 similar for double-ended vehicles for the suburban Sharon Hill & Media lines. Except for brief periods of service on Route 15, Gerard avenue, these cars have faithfully served these five routes for almost 30 years. They had bottom steps only 10 inches from the top of the railhead, improving by two inches over the PCC cars they replaced. The transit agency distributed a brochure in May 1980 to the public showing the benefits of the new cars, comparing them to the newest PCC cars and even showing the track plan of the recently opened Elmwood facility that would house most of the new cars. Although initially called Light Rail Transit (LRT) vehicles to distinguish them from the articulated vehicles then beginning to proliferate around the United States, the term Light Rail Vehicle, originally applied only to articulated vehicles, was broadened to include them. As far as we know, all 112 of these durable cars are still in service. These may be the last modern rail vehicles designed in-house by a transit agency and that fact alone may account for their unqualified success!

Car 9038 at Elmwood Depot in Phase II Scheme

This review is a collaboration of three staff reporters as each one has in-depth knowledge of one of the kit versions. A sample of the first version was purchased by George Huckaby in 1997 and has seen many modifications. Our example of the second version was obtained by John McWhirter in 2007 and it too had an extensive modification made to the IHP provided floor. Our example of the current version was purchased by Jonathan Werner at the 2009 East Penn Meet. The shop facilities of John McWhirter and the test track of the Southern California Traction Club along with the input and assistance of many club members also contributed to this review.

The current version is the third version of this car produced by Imperial Hobby Productions (IHP). The first version of this LRV vehicle was produced in 1997 as kit 87102. This unpowered kit came with a resin floor made for the Bachmann PCC trolley mechanism. The shell, while somewhat dimensionally correct, had numerous errors not immediately discernible until compared with photos of the prototype. An unfinished 87102 kit is shown below left. A finished model of the kit is shown below right. Our model was upgraded with a Custom Traxx 125148 floor with Bowser mechanism, specifically designed for this version of the model. It also has an A-line 20040 flywheel and an HT-P2 trolley pole. The unit even has a Train Control Systems M4 decoder. This unit contains the very first Bowser 125100 power truck issued to Custom Traxx for testing in 1999. That same truck is still functioning in this car. Our car has been equipped with an operating headlight, roof lights, back-up lights and emergency beacon and, mainly due to the durability of the Bowser drive, has been running on the modules of the Southern California Traction Club for over ten years. This car was originally acquired assembled, painted and lettered but powered with a Bachmann PCC drive.

The second version of this car was offered in 2005 as kit 87120. This kit featured a drastically improved shell and a metal floor made of the Bowser 125100 traction mechanism. Among the many areas of improvement were a correct operator's window and the elimination of the excessive recess of both doors. The kit came with a complete set of instructions, containing some crude sketches, and was available in powered, unpowered and ready-to-run versions. But a trolley catcher was neither molded on the body nor was a separate part provided. We had to make our own to complete this model. Our finished version of this car is shown below right. This car has a Bowser 125100 mechanism mounted on a drastically modified IHP metal floor, an A-line 20040 flywheel kit and a Fairfield trolley pole. The unit also has a Train Control Systems M4 decoder. This car, shown in the two photographs below, wears the current Phase III scheme and has also been equipped with an operating headlight, roof lights, back-up lights and emergency beacon. It has been running on the SCTC modules for over two years. The decals used were from both Bob Dietrich and Custom Traxx. This version of the kit was reviewed in the October 2007 Trolleyville Times.

This review is of the current version recently released as kit #87154. Our kit is shown below right, as received. It was only available as an unpowered, unpainted kit at the time of purchase. The kit currently contains the shell, all roof details, rear trolley catcher, wheel covers, track brake assemblies and mounts, brass rod for a trolley pole hook, and window glass. This kit, like all IHP trolley kits reviewed this summer, contains a lightweight resin floor, which is a giant step backwards for those who like to operate these cars under overhead wire and around sharp curves.
Immediately upon opening the box, we encountered the same deception noted in the SHRT and IT PCC kits. The windows, door and floor openings are filled with flash in the kit and that is not the case with the shells pictured below left on the IHP web site.

The shell in the 87154 kit is very similar to the improved shell in the 87120 kit with very minor changes except for the floor mounts. IHP has changed to the pedestal mounts pioneered on their Kansas City and Pittsburgh PCC kits and used in both the previously reviewed Shaker Heights and Illinois Terminal PCC kits. We took length and width measurements and found the shell to be slightly oversize but hardly noticeable. Our shell measured 50' 9" versus the prototype 50.0'. The width of our shell was 105" versus the prototype 102". Other than these measurements, there are no other issues with it. The floor, cast in resin, bears some similarity to the poorly engineered metal floor supplied with the 87120 kit. Having experienced the weakness and warping of IHP resin floors in the two previous kits reviewed, and major dimensional problems with the floor in the 87120 Kawasaki LRV kit, we temporarily installed the Bowser power and trailing trucks to ensure that the trucks were in the correct locations before we attempted to "stiffen" this floor. We did notice at this time that this floor was about .2" thick, which might eliminate the warping/flexing problems noted with the 0.125" thick floors in the SHRT and IT PCC cars. Although not very noticeable when the floor was installed in the shell, the truck center-to-center distance on this floor measured at 24' 3" instead of the prototype 25.0'. The assembly of the power mechanism was stopped until we decided to either adapt one of the old Custom Traxx 125148 floors or modify another of the floors supplied with the 87120 kit for this car. Both of those floors replicate the prototype 25.0' truck center-to-center wheelbase. We were leaning toward reworking the latter floor since that floor will provide 3.4 ounces of sorely needed weight and we had already reworked this 871201 floor for our 87120 kit two years ago. As far as the club was concerned, using a very light resin floor with the wrong center-to-center truck wheelbase was not appropriate for operation. But when we started to fit the 125148 shell into the 87154 shell, we initially thought that with a few very simple modifications, this floor could be adapted to this shell.

The 125148 floor, available only from Custom Traxx, is a story in frustration. This floor was developed for the 87102 shell when it was impossible to get any response from IHP whether they would ever provide a floor for that kit that used the then new but improved Bowser traction mechanism. So the 125148 floor was created with absolutely no knowledge that IHP would abandon the 87102 kit and replace it with the 87120 kit. Our 87102 kit contained the first Bowser 125100 power truck given to us in 1999. We had fabricated a plastic floor for the car that would handle the 125100 power and trailing trucks and we were using this car to determine the reliability of the Bowser unit. We had encountered similar problems due to insufficient weight in this car and wished to have a heavier floor. Without any response to numerous queries, Custom Traxx and Bowser designed, developed and produced this aluminum floor only to discover that the 87102 shell had been discontinued and that the 125148 floor could not be easily adapted for use with the improved 87120 shell. IHP had provided a metal floor, part 871201, with the 87120 shell that had more than its share of issues. We first considered modifying another IHP 871201 floor to the 87154 shell since that pewter floor was heavier. But when we started to fit the 125148 floor to the 87154 shell, it was obvious that the time for this largely unused floor may have finally arrived. of course, Custom Traxx had a few of these readily available!

Historically, the floor issued with the 87102 kit was never used since it was designed for the Bachmann mechanism. Since the 125148 floor was designed for that shell, it fit perfectly. It was a snap fit and no screws were required. The .019" thick aluminum floor did not solve the weight problem so you will note that in the top photo at right, the floor has been augmented with 3.5 ounces of weight, two of which are under the floor between the trucks. There was another 0.5 ounces of weight inside the car under the roof. But the 125148 floor, made of aluminum was rigid and did not flex or warp at all. Ours is still running great after over ten years.

The center right photo shows the 871201 floor provided with the 87120 kit. For the issues that accompanied this floor see our review in the October 2007 Trolleyville Times. An additional problem not mentioned in that review but would have to be again overcome if we used this floor is the Bowser 1264 bolster. This bolster is designed with two mounts that are to be .7463" apart. The mounts provided on both of the 871201 floors in our possession exceeded that dimension forcing the following modification to the bolster shown by the red arrows.

We must mention at this time that we did completely assemble a complete Bowser power unit on the resin floor provided and shown above. We observed a unit running at the IHP table at the 2009 East Penn Meet, so this floor can be made to work. Of course, we had already decided against using the resin floor supplied with the 87154 kit, shown above left, because of the error in the truck center-to-center wheelbase, the inability to add sufficient weight and the warping problem experienced with IHP resin floors in both the Shaker Heights and Illinois Terminal PCC kits. As you can see in the next photo, the many under floor stiffeners and simulated equipment boxes make adding at least two ounces impractical. Also to get this floor to traverse six inch radius curves would require enlargement of the large hole in the floor intended for the power truck. This procedure is described in the Trolleyville Schoolhouse. This would certainly weaken this already weak floor. This is another reason why we prefer metal floors, especially for cars using the Bowser mechanism.

The initial modifications needed to use the Custom Traxx 125148 floor were surprisingly simple. They have been added to the instructions supplied with the 125148 mechanism with floor. Basically the rear lip of the floor is removed, shortening the floor by about .095 inch. The floor is then inserted in the 87154 shell rear end first and a small amount of material is removed from the front of the floor to allow the floor to snugly fit inside the shell. The pedestal mounts in the 87154 shell line up with the large positioning holes in the floor. We drilled out the pedestal mounts with a #50 drill and tapped both holes for 2-56 screws. We fastened the floor to the shell through the existing holes using hex head 20-56 screws and selected washers. If there are sufficient modelers with these 87154 shells that would be interested in this floor, it could be redesigned for the 87154 shell. The red arrows in the below photos show an unmodified floor and the green arrows show a modified floor.

Then we compared the width of the floors. We noted that the resin floor provided by IHP was 1.09" (95 scale inches) and the 125148 floor was 1.14" (99 scale inches). Although the 125148 floor would very snugly fit into the shell, it forced the bottom of the shell to over 108" wide. Knowing that the prototype vehicle is 102" wide, we decided to remove .025" from both sides of the floor, making the width of both floors the same. Since we had the capability and had become somewhat knowledgeable with the milling machine, we returned to John McWhirter's workshop and using both the milling machine and a belt sander, as pictured below, we eliminated the the .025" from each side, making our floor the same width as the IHP provided floor. Our LRV model now measured 102" wide at the belt rail and the bottom according to the plans.

The chassis now fit into the shell and when the width was measured, the width of the car was 102", exactly as desired. The next photo shows the floor snugly fitted into the 87154 shell prior to having any auxiliary weight added. We then installed the A-line 20040 flywheel kit and fitted 2.5 ounces of weight under the floor between the trucks and by that time, our car now weighed 7.1 ounces. We were finally on our way!
As you can see from the same photo, we were fortunate in that the registry holes in the shell almost perfectly lined up with the pedestal mounts in the 87154 shell. The front hole was better aligned than the rear. So we decided to use some brass to make two plates to use as large washers at both ends of the floor. We would also be installing the dummy couplers into these plates.
Custom Traxx had plenty of .016" thick brass in .75" strips used for securing the tongues on ORR turnouts. We obtain a section and cut two pieces to the shape of the ends. We secured them with ACC and began to drill two holes in the correct locations for our chassis mounting screws. Since we had already made arrangements to fasten the chassis to the shell with 2-56 hex head screws, we drilled the two mounting holes with a #43 drill. We then drilled and tapped two additional holes with a #50 drill and 2-56 tap for the screws to hold the folded dummy couplers. The left photo shows the chassis before insertion into the shell and the right photo shows the floor snugly mounted in the shell. We measured the bottom step at 10" above the railhead as per prototype. We were sufficiently impressed with this technique that we retroactively applied these brass end treatments to the 125148 floor used in SEPTA 9038. We attached the dummy couplers in the same manner. We would eventually refer to the Trolleyville Schoolhouse for improving the turning radius and apply that to the aluminum floor.

Our next step was to hook up the trolley pole and test this mechanism on the club test track. Before we did this we decided to add the truck sideframes to the Bowser trucks. Here we found an improvement over the second version of the kit. IHP has revised their LRV track brake sideframe by splitting it into two pieces. The first piece is the Bowser Truck Mount and the second piece is the Truck Sideframe. The Bowser Truck Mount is applied to the truck over the two mounting lugs as shown by the red arrows. The second part is then cemented using ACC to the first piece, permitting the modeler to effect correct alignment. We also were able to thin the truck sideframe casting somewhat to bring the track brake more in line with the wheels and the rail head. We also recommend that these items be painted prior to installation, which we did not do and wish that we did!

Unfortunately, this is another instance where the lack of explicit instructions leave the users "on-their-own". While the Bowser truck adapter snugly fits over the lugs on the Bowser power and trailing truck, the lugs are longer than the adaptor. If not trimmed to be flush with the adapter, the modeler will have a frustrating time trying to adhere the truck sideframe to the mount. As mentioned on our recent reviews of IHP kits, the instructions provided, shown extreme right, leave a lot to be desired in both content and professional level. We did, however, use these sideframes and mounts on our model.

Because the exterior of the SCTC clubhouse was being painted on the day we wanted to run tests, we initially tested the mechanism on the city streetcar line still located in John McWhirter's living room and the unit negotiated all the curves including our "killer" 5.75" radius curve. We subsequently tested the mechanism on the club test track and it certified at 33 scale miles per hour at 7 volts and .1 amp.

So it was time to install the lights and our decoder. For this car we would install a Train Control Systems M4 w/BEMF. This model LRV would have the two front headlights, the subway (roof) headlight, the emergency beacon and the rear headlight all functioning in this car. Our first task was to install our printed circuit strips, install the lamps or LEDs for the lights, wire in our decoder, mask all and paint the interior. After assembling three IHP kits this summer, we decided that it might have been better to wait until after we airbrushed the inside with Floquil Weathered Black before we removed the flash from the windows and doors. We would still have to touch up the black edges abound he windows anyway but the masking of the window and door openings would be eliminated.

We then drilled out the holes for the two headlights, the subway (roof) headlight and the rear back-up headlight with a #55 drill, being that we will be using Miniatronics 18-001-10, 1.5 volt, 15mA, 1.2 mm diameter bulbs in all four applications.

Note: When drilling the holes for the subway (roof) headlight) and the rear headlight, you initially drill horizontally but must quickly angle your drill about 30 degrees below horizontal due to the thickness of the roof. If you do not angle the drill down, you will just keep drilling into the thickness of the roof. Angling the drill downward will allow the wires from the bulb to exit below the roof and be attached to the appropriate printed circuit strip. Also angle the drill sufficiently so that the drill exits the roof prior to the pedestals for mounting the floor.

Using our resistor substitution box, we chose 470 ohm resistors to place in series with the roof (subway) headlight and rear light and 220 ohm resistors to install in series with the two headlights which are installed in parallel. To keep the light from glowing sideways trough the plastic shell, each light is shrouded with a length of black shrink tubing. The holes in the shell are then enlarged with a #49 drill and the light bulbs, now encased in shrink tubing, have a dab of moveable glue placed on the tubing. After the glue has set, the bulb is inserted in the appropriate hole in the shell. As soon as we had installed the parallel headlights, we tested the unit in the DC mode and all operated correctly. The car was then taken to the club test track and certified at 34 scale miles per hour.

As soon as we decided on the final number for the unit, 9094, the unit was placed in the programming track for initial set-up. As we have done with our previous Kawasaki LRVs, the two headlights are controlled by FL(f) [CV49=0] and the rear light are controlled by FL(r) [CV50=16], both default values. But the subway (roof) light, decoder output 3 is controlled by F1 and since this light is independent of direction, CV51 was set to 32. [CV51=32]. The beacon light is a problem since it is output 4 and would be normally controlled by F2. But on our Digitrax Zephyr, F2 is a momentary button, so the beacon was remapped from F2 to F3 [CV36=16] and the beacon effect was selected [CV52=38].
We completed the installations of the emergency beacon by installing a 430 ohm resistor in series with another of the Miniatronics 18-001-10, 1.5 volt, 15mA, 1.2 mm diameter lamps. We made our own beacon for this Light Rail Vehicle by using a piece of 2mm brass tubing inserted into the shell vertically, flush with the top surface and long enough to completely cover the lamp we use for this effect. The beacon itself is a lens that we have taken from a Detail Associates FL2902 Flasher-'Stratolite'. The lens is just attached to the top of the tubing with ACC. The bulb itself is inserted into the tube and held in place with a moveable glue such as Woodland Scenics Accent Glue.

The major exterior difference between the 87154 shell in this kit and the previous 87120 shell is the use of tinted window inserts. These inserts are extremely tinted, far in excess of any prototype tinting. But it really hides any drive train inside. The front windshield is also supplied with this extreme tint. We noted at the time that according to the instructions provided with the kit, there were a few windows missing so IHP was notified of this problem on August 10th. We got an immediate reply on the next day stating that they were unaware of any other window shortage problems with the 87154 kit, but promised to send them. As of press date, we had received nothing.
So it was time to begin painting our shell. The interior was airbrushed with Floquil 17, Weathered Black and the Exterior with Scalecoat 11, Reefer White. The roof area was also masked and painted with Weathered Black prior to installing the roof hardware. The roof hardware, except for the large air conditioning unit was also airbrushed with a silver (aluminum) paint while still on the sprue, with touch-up to be applied later. We obtained a set of the SEPTA Phase III scheme decals from Bob Dietrich of the East Penn Traction Club and a CT-9040 destination sign set from Custom Traxx. We signed this car for Route 15, since this car was in service on Route 15 in May 2007 during a fan trip. It took us the better part of a day to apply decals to this car since it requires seven sets of very small two inch numbers to be placed on the vehicle one or two digits at a time in addition to the letterboard stripes and heralds. Then we turned out attention to the windows. About half of the windows that we tried fit perfectly in their assigned window openings. The rest needed a little sanding prior to fitting them. Most of the windows had a smooth finish on the exterior but some of them had blemishes in them that were not removable. We ended up spraying all of the windows with Testors's Dullcote to reduce the visibility of these blemishes as much as possible. For securing the window to the shell, we used the Testors' Cement specified in the instructions but had difficulty in getting the windows to stay in place. We finally resorted to our stand-by CA4000. We placed a small drop on each vertical side of the window opening on the shell and then eased the shell carefully into the opening until it was in the correct position. We still had not obtained replacements for the missing door and window inserts when we started testing the car on the SCTC City Streetcar line. The jury is still out on these window inserts with opinions from the club members ranging from acceptable to awful. But the unanimous opinion is that they are way too dark. It is hard to get any light though them and we have serious doubts if the prototype windshield would have been tinted at all, let alone that dark. Come to think of it, we also had not received replacement windows for the Shaker Heights car, due weeks ago, so promptness in delivering promised items does not seem to be a current IHP standard.

The instructions provided with the kit, although slightly improved from those supplied with the Illinois Terminal PCC kit, again do not indicate possible sources for the trolley poles, Bowser 125100 units or decals required to complete this kit. Although some painting instructions are supplied, they are incomplete. The same level of crude drawings occupy most of the space on the single page instruction sheet. A company that advertises as " of the leaders in the model traction/transit market...." surely should be capable of providing some color photos of the prototype. These Kawasaki cars have been remarkable performers for over 25 years and since they are currently operating local vehicles and data is rather easy to obtain, why not use this opportunity to tell the kit buyer a little about them.

All three versions of the 1981 Kawasaki Light Rail Vehicle are shown in the above photo on the SCTC City Streetcar Line. In the foreground is the original car 9038 (1997 kit 87102). Passing car 87102 is car 9011 (2005 kit 87120) and in the background just turning right is car 9094 (2009 kit 87154). The latter two cars were painted and lettered by Custom Traxx. All three cars are equipped with Train Control Systems decoders nd have operation headlights, subway(roof) headlight, rear back-up lamp and operating rotating beacon lights. Another view of the same three cars is shown in the next photo.


We should state up front that we examine traction models and kits for their ability to run adequately on overhead wire and to negotiate city type tight curves with radii between 6" and 9". The SCTC test track has curves of 12", 9" and 6" radius. Sufficient weight is a critical factor in passing these tests. The current group of IHP kits are sorely lacking in the weight area. After reviewing three recent IHP HO scale releases, the Shaker Heights 71-95 series Pullman PCC (87153), the Illinois Terminal PCC (87169) and the latest version of the SEPTA Kawasaki LRV (87154), it appears that IHP seems is now capable of producing credible body shells. They also provide a rewarding and educational experience resulting from assembling, correcting, painting, revising, lettering and improving their kits and then finally getting them to operate successfully. IHP will tell anyone who wants to listen (or read) that they work very long hours and work alone. They are so busy that we should not be disappointed if we can not get them to answer the phone. However, we found out recently that all this hard work and business may preclude them from test assembling some or all of their kits before they are offered for sale to the public. No one person, no matter what their capabilities, can ensure that all the pertinent details of a kit are not missed, even if the prototype is practically in your own back yard, so assembling an IHP kit turns out to be the traction modelers version of "Where's Waldo". There is usually an error or an omission somewhere so the challenge is to find it as early as possible before you assemble it or paint it. If you are a true scale modeler, you will know much more about the prototype that you are building when you complete the kit. The fact that little, if any, prototype information is supplied with the kit forces the kit builder to take the time and trouble to acquire this information elsewhere. But get it, you should, because that is the only way that you will result in an accurate model of a prototype. During our search for prototype data, we learned that there were PCC cars built for both Shaker Heights and Detroit with longer than the standard 22' 9" truck center-to-center wheelbases. Up to this point, we had believed that the Pacific Electric's thirty cars were the only ones. In another case, because what we thought was a trolley catcher was missing from the shell, we found out that this car actually had retrievers. And as we have previously reported on more than one occasion, more complete and professionally prepared assembly instructions should be included.

Your modeling skills will usually be challenged from the get-go with an IHP kit. Right out of the box, you will have to learn how to carefully remove flash from window and door openings. If you don't, you will find out how bad you are when you begin to paint the model. You will learn how to correctly drill and tap holes. We even had to learn how to mill out considerable amounts of material from the roof of the IHP Illinois Terminal PCC kit to get the bottom step of the car to sit 12" above the railhead. Because of the lightweight and flexible floors provided with some of these kits, we know precisely how much weight we need for successful operation under wire and around curves. The worst problem is that some of these problems are not apparent until you try to finish (paint and decal) the kit or operate the kit on a model traction layout under wire. The bottom line is to check everything before you start. This saves frustration at the end. We avoided a lot of grief with the approach that we took with this third version of the Kawasaki LRV. In this case if we had assumed that the third time would be a charm, we would have been frustrated again when we started to run the car.

Here's a novel idea, IHP states prominently on their web site that they are supporters of the East Penn Traction Club, so why don't they make arrangements to have their kits tested on the EPTC modules, prior to offering them for sale? Most of the problems reported in our reviews, going all the way back to the trolley poles on the PCC-II, and the floor on the 87120 kit and more recently the assembly problems with the Illinois Terminal PCC were so obvious that they would have surfaced quickly during even the most cursory reviews. Many vendors, Bowser and Custom Traxx included, have used the Southern California Traction Club Test (SCTC) track to test many items and an incredible number of problems have been nipped in the bud. Several issues with the soon-to-be-available Bowser PCC were uncovered prior to production and the SCTC would be willing to work with any supplier to test any HO scale traction product. Their test track is set up for testing HO scale traction products, both two-rail and under overhead wire.

These kits required much more work than we expected to complete them and even more to get them right, but when we were done, we hope that we were better modelers for it!

Trolleyville Times Comment:

The Times decided two years ago to focus on reviewing HO scale resin bodied traction kits as with the emergence of the Bowser traction power unit, they are the best chance for modelers to acquire models of specific PCC cars, LRVs and subway-elevated cars that they desired. We wanted to let our readers know exactly what they could expect when they bought any kit that we reviewed. In one case, the supplier of our reviewed kit complemented our review. In another case, the supplier became hostile, nasty and childish but admitted everything that we said was true. So we stand on putting the actual facts before you. If you disagree with anything you read in any review and have different information or experiences, please let us know. We will be happy to report your experiences!