Denazification

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The engine was peeking out of a box under Paul’s table at the Batavia show as I walked past. I stopped, and gently pulled it out for a closer look. Paul looked decidedly uncomfortable. It was easy to see why.

It’s an American Flyer 316, an S gauge model of a Pennsylvania Railroad K-5 Pacific. Manufactured about 1955, beautiful die-cast shell, smoke unit, knuckle coupler, even an air-chime whistle. Nice engine, or at least it started out that way. Then somebody came along and plastered swastikas all over it. Paul picked it up with a bunch of other AF items, some similarly decorated, at an estate sale. He could offer no explanation for why someone would do this, and neither can I.

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The Nazi engine, as received.

I have a thing for American Flyer K-5s. The 312 I got for Christmas when I was ten is my all-time favorite engine. Except for the swastikas, this 316 was a nice example, and Paul was understandably eager to get it off his hands, so a deal was struck. I took it home, set up a loop of American Flyer track, and test-ran it. Damn, but it ran nice. Too bad I can’t take it anywhere in this condition, I mused. I put it on the most obscure piece of shelving I had, and let it collect dust for a decade or so.

As my wife went about her spring-cleaning rounds this month, she noticed it, and made an ultimatum: that thing has got to go. She even threatened to throw it into the trash if I didn’t get it out of her sight. Since anything sporting Nazi symbolism is indefensible, I pulled the engine off the shelf and got to work.

One of the more recent additions to my tool collection is a Badger 260 mini sandblaster. Other modellers have been using these for, among other useful tasks, blasting factory lettering off trains while leaving the paint underneath intact. Ordinary baking soda is used as the blast media for this. It seemed worth a try. It was warm out the other day, so I ran my air hose outside, and set up shop in the driveway, where a nenazifying cloud of Arm & Hammer would be tolerated.

The overpainting had been done with a brush, sloppily. Trying to blast it off without blowing through the factory lettering underneath proved tricky. I had assumed that the paint had been done with Testors enamel, or something of that ilk, impervious to denatured alcohol. I dipped a Q-tip in alcohol anyway, out of desperation, and gave it a try. To my surprise, the paint started softening. Alcohol also dissolves the factory lettering, so I wound up with areas where the lettering didn’t survive too well, but most of it came through.

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The fireman’s side, after denazification. I was pleasantly surprised that the keystones survived at all. They’d been overpainted with a thick coat of red, the swastika decals, and a clear coat.

The last thing was the eagle-and-swastika uniform insignia on the pilot, which broke off easily enough. What remained was the big gob of epoxy used to attach it. I chipped away at that with an X-Acto chisel blade, and managed to get it all off with just slight damage to the original paint.

So, the Nazi engine is history now. The swastikas are gone. I can put my freshly-recovered 316 back on the shelf, or run it on the new layout at the hobby shop, and breathe easy.

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