Dec 22, 2005
Life-Like Proto2000 HO Scale Conrail SW1200 . . . . Robert S. Waller
Though discontinued many years ago, these models often appear on eBay and at train shows for fairly low prices. As a result, this article has remained relevant for those purchasing these models second-hand, which is why it remains here at the CRCyc all these years later.
During the 1990's, Life-Like began their Proto2000 line of HO locomotives. They were a vast improvement over the company's original locomotive models. They were also a vast improvement over locomotive models from other companies, especially Athearn. Within a few years, however, the rest of the industry caught up to Life-Like. Athearn began their Genesis line, and Atlas greatly improved their models as well.
It was during this time that Life-Like introduced their vastly-overproduced Proto2000 SW1200, allowing modelers to purchase the locomotives at drastically reduced prices just so dealers could clear their shelves of the extra stock that Life-Like forced on them. As for Life-Like and their SW1200 model, much has changed since 1999. Life-Like discontinued their SW1200 in HO, along with other models. In 2005, Walthers purchased Life-Like, throwing into doubt the entire Life-Like range.
The Model: Life-Like released their Conrail version in two different road numbers. I purchased the predecorated CR 9344. You can view the model still in its unmodified form and original packaging at the right. Unfortunately, 9344 wasn't the best unit to choose. I will need to make several modifications if I want the model to appear as it did in the 1990's. I will need to plate-over some cab windows, cut-down the exhaust stacks, and remove the foot boards. If you are modeling early-Conrail, you can run the model as-is.
Trucks: All Life-Like Proto2000 SW1200's and SW900's come with journal boxes on the trucks instead of roller bearings. Due to the trucks plastic and construction, there isn't any way to replace the journals with the proper roller bearing detail parts needed for a 1990's version. I am not sure when these locomotives had their trucks changed to roller bearings.
Exhaust Stacks: At one point the stacks of 9344 were lowered. Using photos of actual SW1200's from the 1990's, cut down the exhaust stacks with a razor saw. File them, sand them smooth, and then touch-up the paint. Make sure to paint the inside of the stacks black.
Cab: The two front cab windows directly over the hood will need to be 'plated over' using thin sheet styrene cut to the outline of the windows, though slightly overlapping the windows. Paint these blue to match the color of the model. According to some articles I've read, Accu-Paint is supposed to match Life-Like's paint fairly closely.
The air horn can be kept or replaced with a better horn using Custom Finishing's (#247-219) RS-25 Leslie Single Chime with a scratchbuilt cover. Also, glue a Details Associates (#229-1803 plastic or 229-101803 brass) Sinclair radio antenna to the roof slightly off-center to the left. Attach wind deflectors to each side of the cab side windows from Details Associates (#229-2312), Overland (#9327), or Utah Pacific (#755-77), painting the metal trim blue.
Cab shades had been applied to this unit, but they had been removed at one point. You can either model it with shades, using those so-so parts supplied with the kit, or replace them with a variety manufacturers' shade kits. You can eliminate the shades, leaving behind only the gutter into which they fit, which is not supplied with the model.
On the rear of the cab, which isn't pictured here, plate over the conductor's side lower window using the method you chose for the other cab windows. Life-Like paints out this window, though it is recessed instead of raised. The choice is yours to leave it or change it. Using the photo as a guide, paint the handrails blue.
The pre-formed handrails Life-Like provides are slightly wrong for the Conrail units. This is hard to describe in words. Replacing these end rails is difficult. My feeling is to leave the Life-Like rails as-is, paint them blue where needed, and move onward. As far as I know, no one makes a replacement hand rail set for this model that matches Conrail.
Access Doors: From what I can tell, all Conrail SW1200's have access doors on the cab sides, which aren't present on the Life-Like model. Since we're trying to use a predecorated model with minimal modifications, we'll have to live with this compromise. For those who would like to do some easy kitbashing while still using the predecorated body, Cannon & Company makes a thin-wall replacement cab (#191-1504) that has all the features of the Conrail cab and is designed to fit onto the Life-Like model. All that is needed is some blue paint to match the Life-Like body. Remember that the C&C cab still needs its conductor's window plated over.
Foot Boards: During the late 1970s and 1980s, American railroads began 'modernizing' their locomotives. The Life-Like SW1200 represents a pre-modernized unit. So first we need to chop off the footboards on both pilots. The gap between the footboards will then need to be plated over, using the photo as a guide. MU hoses are supplied, but can be replaced with better parts from Custom Finishing (#247-257) 3-per-bracket.
MU Stands: The MU stands Life-Like provides are horrible. Use a Detail Associates (#229-1504) Late GP/SD Double MU Stand on each end of the switcher. Attach only the bottom MU receptacle, leaving the upper receptacle empty. Paint the MU cap red and the stand blue. Add a Detail Associates (#229-6206 delrin) or Cal-Scale (#190-277) airhose to each end. Make a winterization cover for the grill out of unstartched linen stained to match the prototype color.
Fuel Tank: The fuel and air tank supplied with the kit will need to be replaced with a Custom Finishing (#247-290) Fuel Tank and Air Reservoir. This is meant to fit an Athearn SW7, so I'm not sure how it will work here. Cutting off the air tank from the Life-Like frame is a simple matter.
Bell: Finally, the bell air hose can be added using .006 brass wire from Detail Associates (#229-2501).
Conclusion: There you have it. A Conrail model that looks as good as it runs, and will surely stand-out among all those stock Life-Like switchers everyone is running around their layouts. All the modifications above should take only a few evenings, at most, to accomplish.
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