CP Rail F7B 4459 – Highliners B-unit build



CP 4459 was one of a 4-unit group of F7B’s built by GMD London (Ontario) for Canadian Pacific in early 1953, one of many locomotive purchases from GMD during CP’s dieselization of mainline operations in the 1950’s, an one of many F-units that would populate their roster. This group was numbered 4459-4462, mixed in with other B-units from various builders in the CP 4400-series. They were later phase F7B’s without end roof overhangs, equipped with later 48″ dynamic brake fans, and vertical slit grills that differed from the rest of CP’s previous F-unit orders (this style was only found on the later CP and Ontario Northland F-unit purchases, including CP’s subsequent orders of FP7’s 4099-4103 and its 1400/1900-series FP9/F9B’s the following year). Some digging of early CP records show this group of F7B’s was likely not delivered with steam generators and never equipped with them.

4459-4462 were based out of Alyth AB and spent most of their lives in service out west, operating with CLC’s and other GMD units in BC and AB, and some later going on to operate in hump service after CP purged the last 3 “Train Masters” from the Alyth hump in the mid-70’s and replaced them with GP9-F7B-GP9 (or GP7) sets.

After CP retired its F-unit fleet in the early 80’s, 4459 escaped the torch and went on display at a railway museum in High River. At present time, 4459 is currently stored at the WCRA in Squamish BC (hopefully one day it can be restored and join FP7’s 4069 and 1404 in a nice A-B-A set). 4459 also did assist duties for former CPR Royal Hudson when it toured Canada in the late 70’s, painted maroon and black and offering diesel assist power along with F7B 4438 (it’s the second unit here: http://www.railpictures.ca/?attachment_id=7412).

One sister unit, 4462, survived retirement in hump service, was renumbered 6800, was eventually converted into a slug, and later renumbered again to 1019 (along with F7B 4445, that became 6800/1018) . Both were retired in 1999 and sold to NRE. Eventually, “SOU” 1019 was picked up by Norfolk Southern along with two F7A’s for conversion into a second set of business train power (that didn’t pan out), before being sold to Cresson Steel for salvage/scrap, where it faces an uncertain future.

Some 4459 reference shots can be found here and here. And if you really like CP 4400-series B-units, you’ll love this link.

Project Origins:

This project began as a what-to-do-with-it when I acquired an old Highliners shell, bought back in May 2009 from Hornet Hobbies in East York. The plan was to eventually convert it into a CP unit, but due to parts and painting constraints it moved slowly. This is actually the second paint-up of it, Most of the body was eventually built up but it encountered a setback in August 2012 when, after masking the ends to spray them black, the tape used ripped off the red paint on the ends of the sides (combination of improper tape that was too sticky and possibly not enough of a primer coat), necessitating the unit to be stripped and redone. It was stripped, but sat back in its box for a few more years waiting further attention. Since I had no grills for it, there wasn’t really a rush (until one day deciding to just build it again).

The final chassis came from an old Athearn “blue box” F7A purchased back in July 2000 from the local LHS at the time: Actron Toy in the Bramalea City Centre (half-price going-out-of-business sale, before they opened under new management as Action Hobbies. Back then the CAD was still weak, so even a lowly Athearn blue-box F7A was selling for MSRP $50-55 CAD per. Most new P2K Geep releases at the time were around $100-130 CAD).

This is the old-school method one often read about in the 90’s model mags, before the abundance of highly detailed RTR models, when if you wanted a really accurate F-unit you bought a Highliners shell (still the gold standard for accurate F’s), built and detailed it up, painted it, and adapted it to a drive. The original instructions recommend either an Athearn BB F-unit chassis or Stewart (Kato-built) chassis. These days one could probably adapt an Athearn Genesis (which is based on Highliner’s shell tooling), Intermountain or Rapido chassis to fit with little effort. One could probably even start with a complete Rapido F9B and modify it into a late F7B, but that would still pose the problem of a spare Highliners shell to do something with. You’re gonna have to build that sucker into something anyway, so…


In order to get the ride height of the old Athearn blue box chassis to sit a bit more lower to match the prototype, the old frame bolsters were cut off with a Dremel and new adjustable bolsters were fabricated from brass strip, styrene spacers and screws, to allow the frame to ride lower on the trucks.

Modifications showing removal and fabrication of the the new truck bolsters. A brass strip was mounted where the old bolster was via screws, and styrene used as spacers to obtain the right ride height (with another brass strip to be added later).

New bolsters mounted on the frame, with a few pieces of styrene added so far. Some of the material from the ends of the frame was ground off to reduce truck sideframe interference, and the coupler mounts were filed down and had new holes drilled and tapped inward of the old ones.

At this time, depending on the motor and mount to be used, the motor cavity area inside the frame can be milled slightly with a Dremel to open up the inside area if the motor or mount won’t fit as intended.

One further modification needed depending on the size of the driveshafts and couplings is cutting the screw heads off the centre bolster screws or using flat-head screws, as they may interfere with the driveshaft couplings.

The coupler mounts were filed down, and shorter holes drilled and tapped at the extreme inside of the mount closest to the trucks, to reduce coupling distance between units. Kadee #153 short shank whisker semi-scale couplers were mounted in trimmed coupler boxes.

22971es-BolsterPlate.jpgThe final brass bolster plates added that will rub against the top of the truck bolster, along with trimmed coupler boxes mounted further in to reduce coupling distance between units. Kadee #153’s were later substituted for the old #5’s in the photo.

The stock Athearn motor and flywheels were chucked in favour of a spare Rapido GMD-1 motor that was lying around, with a custom styrene motor cradle scratchbuilt out of 0.040″ styrene sheet to fit the motor. A base was also scratchbuilt to fit and line up with the Athearn motor mount holes in the frame, and 2-56 screws with washers used to secure it from below.

New motor and its scratchbuilt motor mount/cradle. A thick piece of wire ensures it stays snugly in and allows for easy removal for servicing or oiling.

21856bs-Driveshafts.jpgThe motor was mated to the stock Athearn trucks with Atlas/Kato C424 couplings and shortened driveshafts. Some tight-fitting clear tube was used to join the trimmed driveshafts, that were glued in, and thin wire to ensure they don’t break free. The coupling holes also needed to be carefully enlarged to fit the Athearn worm gear shafts.

Before and after motor retrofit with motor and driveshafts in place (pre-bolster rebuilding). The Athearn trucks had extra pickup wires (grey) soldered to the metal pickup plates to bypass the old “hot frame” pickup system and improve electrical pickup.

Some final chassis mods: don’t forget to add some weight. The Athearn “super weight” found in some units can be milled to clear the top of the Highliners shell, or a more makeshift weight solution with stick-on weights can be improvised.

Wiring is fairly straightforward: either hardwire it to your decoder of choice, or run the wires to an 8-, 9- or 21-pin plug. If you build it without working end lights, even more so (no wires running from the body to chassis). As well, there’s plenty of room at either end of the shell to mount a decent-sized speaker.

Body Modifications:

The body was built up according to the basic instructions (adding 48″ DB fan hatch, later F-unit radiator fans, shaving the end roof overhangs off, rounded door opening corners, etc). The square end window glazing was installed (later masked for painting) and round porthole ends were made from 0.010″ wire bent in a circle and CA’ed over (the stock Highliners round end door window etchings were a bit lacking, and didn’t cover the small square window well). Probably the only thing not very well thought out on the otherwise excellent Highliners shell kits.

The built up body primered grey. Red fan components were from the first time the shell was painted, and had been removed prior to stripping and repainting, as they were essentially fine.

The top door lift rings at the ends were modified Details Associates parts, and the bottom coupler buffer was scratchbuilt from styrene according to photos. An MU plug was added in the recess above the door, and the kit’s stock cut lever rings glued in the ends (cut levers added later). Lift rings were bent from wire and installed (the flat etched lift rings in the kit were too thin looking).

The winterization hatch (not added until the end) was a Bowser F-unit part heightened with styrene as per the prototype (CP extended the hatches higher early in their lives), and mounted to the roof via wire pins glued in the corners that fit into small holes in the shell’s roof. I went back and removed the fan grill off the 4th radiator fan, as from photos I’ve seen of CP F-unit and Geeps the fan under the winterization hatch typically didn’t have its grill installed.

All the grabs and handrails were bent from 0.015″ steel piano wire with a small pair of needle-nose pliers, test fitted, and removed to be installed later (to be installed and painted after the body painting and decal work was done). I redrilled the holes for the 4 pairs of medium-height handrails at the corner ends of the body a bit wider than the kit’s “drill dimples” were, as they seemed a bit narrow on the kit compared to the prototype. One must also drill a pair of holes above those corner handrails for the extra horizontal grab iron CP had there on most of its cowl units. Detail Associates early style F-unit sand hatches (3003) were used, as the ones from the kit had been previously borrowed for a P2K E8 project.

Painting and Final Decalling:

The model was primed grey and then painted TLT Action Red. The ends, sills and ladders were masked off and painted black. The multimarks on the sides were masked and sprayed on (according to the method posted here), before spraying a coat of clear over the whole model in preparation for decalling.

The body painted red, with black ends and underframe detail, and multimarks masked and sprayed on on the B-end (it was ALWAYS at or near the B-end on CP’s locomotives on both sides, unlike some freight car repaints). On the prototype unit they went slightly under the grills.

As the target era was the mid-1970’s, this unit was painted in the the CP Rail 5″ stripe scheme, rather than the later 8″ stripe scheme that preceded it starting in the mid-late 70’s. The lettering, numbers, white stripes on the ends and other decal bits came from Microscale sets, trimmed tight to reduce the decal film and given the bubble-pop and pat-down treatment with lots of Microsol (especially around the ribbed ends of the unit) to get a snug, filmless look. Always remember the F’s at A-end front sides, and white end MU cable instructions at the ends. CP didn’t start using the fire extinguisher logos on hood doors and such until the 8″ scheme took hold, so they were left off. Any gaps or breaks around the end rib striping were touched up with matching white paint. The ACI labels on the sides were from a small Rapido ACI freight car sheet.

Once decalling was done and the smell of Microsol non-existent on the model, everything was given a final coat of clear.

Most of the decalling finished.

The grills were installed after painting. They are Kaslo part HD-33 F7/9B Vertical Slit FARR Air Grills suitable for later CP B-units, and were tacked on intermittently with CA glue (the tab system Kaslo has mounted on the edges is fragile, and may leave the somewhat unsightly holes visible along the edges of the grills.

I initially experienced problems with them warping/buckling due to temperature changes (the stainless steel and plastic both contract at different rates with temperature changes, causing warping. My bet is the plastic contracts/expands more due to heat changes, causing the grills to buckle outward when taken into a colder environment), so I first put the shell and grills by an open window to get them both cold, then applied them to the shell whole both were still cold, tacking the grills on the body with CA intermittently applied along the grills. When they warmed up to room temperature, the grills were stretched taunt. One could use more flexible glue if they expect more frequent temperature swings (like leaving the model in an unheated layout room, or cold automobile trunk), but severe temperature changes will likely still result in some buckling issues. And gluing the whole length of them down may result in paint on the body being pulled up if they start to warp and pop.

Moving on, the handrails that had been bent from 0.015″ steel wire were installed and glued in from the inside, and painted white (note, some units had certain ones painted black, others white – always refer to prototype photos). MU hoses were added to both ends, along with cut levers bent from 0.015″ wire (leaving out the section below the coupler for ease of shell removal) and more wire bits for the door latches. The already-painted winterization hatch was added, as was a backup horn to the A-end near the top right (made from a small horn removed from a Proto 2000 switcher).

The portholes were painted silver (check photos, some units had them left red) and the kit’s round window glazing was installed. A few other bits such as painting the fuel fill detail red, adding air piping to the Athearn Blomberg B sideframe, and hand-painting the ladder step rugs white round off some of the final details.

The single “backup light” at each end was scratchbuilt from a spare parts sprue, with short bits of melted fibre-optic tubing as the lenses and some styrene for the mount. A small SMD LED was mounted inside, wired into the shell with thin magnet wire. Two brass wires glued into holes in the styrene provided the mounts, and the magnet wire was run into another small hole and wired to the chassis with removable plugs inside.


The finished unit was then taken outside for photos in the sun and to work on its tan lines (Canadians can be Vitamin D deficient in the winter due to shorter days and lack of sunlight exposure):

Ready for humping cuts of cars at Alyth with some Geeps, or hailing mainline freight with some SD40-2’s or C-Liners.

The fine Kaslo stainless steel etched grills leave little to the imagination as to what’s behind them. Units freshly painted had the area behind the grills all red (one or two had it painted sliver), but over time filth and grime built up behind it and blended the panels with the open areas of the carbody.


As it was a cold day, there was some minor grill warping when the unit got cold (there was a good 20 degree temperature difference between inside and outside), but the grills settled back down when the model was brought back inside and warmed up to normal room temperature, with no repairs required. Because the grills were tacked down intermittently with glue, they could expand outwards slightly if needed, rather than being glued on the entire length and risking popping off and possibly damaging the paint if/when any warping due to temperature changes occurs.

Final Foto: CP ran B-units with everything, new and old. Here’s a pair of GP9’s sammiching the 4459 (CP early-phase GP9’s 8492, and 8485, both custom painted in 70’s era Action Red schemes).


About mrdan8530

The power of a thousand monkeys on typewriters is all for naught without the knowledge to pen.
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2 Responses to CP Rail F7B 4459 – Highliners B-unit build

  1. Paul Lubliner says:

    Thanks for all of your excellent efforts depicted here! By the way, those porthole type end doors were entirely re-addressed with the 1999 release of the F-7 and Farr Aire (F9) filter grilles etched sets. Those sets include proper and full port hole style etched end doors with scale port hole surrounds, as well as the later style etched door frame(s) with the flat (as opposed to peaked) later prototype version’s top treatment.


    Paul Lubliner


  2. Paul Lubliner says:

    You may also be interested in hearing that HIGHLINERS has a very limited number of one piece “FP” shells with correct additional injection molded parts that may be built into any FP7 or FP9 with the absolutely correct and exclusively Canadian FP9 variations fully accommodated. These shells feature pre-cored grab iron and handrail holes. Highliners will shortly be offering preformed .011″ diameter stainless steel handrail sets suitable for these models as well as the other Highliners F Unit shells. It’s time to replace those toy-like Rapido FP body shells!


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