The History of HIGHLINERS

After his N&G Railway Signal Company's successful fiber optic searchlight signals first appeared in 1976 and then followed with clear insulator equipped telegraph poles and by both upper and lower quadrant semaphore kits,  Paul Lubliner set out to produce an ultra-accurate H0 Scale plastic model kit the most famous U.S. diesel of all time, the EMD F Unit.  It was to be a first in model railroading, one with a dead-accurate rendering of the famed Art-Deco "Bull-Dog" nose found on EMD F Units.  Also and another first in model railroading, a kit that would be able to be assembled into a great many variations of the F series, all the  F2, F3's, F7's and F9, with all of their associated and various sub categories.  With all these seemingly innumerable choices, building one was guaranteed to be a good deal of fun.  And it is!

As with the N&G line of absolute H0 Scale signals, the goal of extreme accuracy was again decided upon.  Scale accuracy such that a well assembled and painted model when also well photographed might possibly be mistaken for the real thing.

Initially, the B Unit's all steel tooling was started with the intention of producing a relatively inexpensive flat kit, one where the modeler would cement together the car-body ends to the differing F Unit’s sides, and several types of roof details, dynamics or not and type, fans etc. 

However, after much time, money and effort was expended it was determined that a one piece shell was a significantly better solution to reach this goal as this approach produces a much stronger model and as an added benefit, requires no critical aligning of components during assembly.  A one piece shell would permit the modeler's focus to enjoyably be on the choices of variations and components and not with the potentially difficult task of accurately aligning the sides ends and roof.

So a complex and costly four slide mold base as is required for the manufacture of a one piece shell was developed along with an all new approach to the concept of properly dealing with the seemingly innumerable variations of F Units.  Separate and highly detailed component inserts, such as roof top dynamic brake hatches, fan types, a choice of pilots and number boards etc., almost anything and everything as per the prototype. This concept alone would permit the greatest variety of permutations and combinations accurately and easily representing every prototype ever made, even including those prototype engines that were modified during the course of their service lives. 

This concept of interchangeable components was to cover every aspect of the F Series designs and ultra accurate tooling was hand engraved  into "S7 tool steel", then heat-treated to Rockwell 52-54 on the “C Scale” for an extreme life with lasting durability.  The number of tools and mold cavities for the all these high tolerance and interchangeable components found in the Highliners F Series A & B Unit kits works out to actually be the equivalent of between 6 and 9 complete discrete diesel locomotive shells. A FULL product line.  This explains the relatively long development time of this hand-made product line, a fact not entirely realized by a great many!

The many hundreds of needed Micro-Grain Tungsten Carbide cutters used for this engraving work were again, hand-generated with the use of industrial diamond grit wheels. All cutters were hand ground to our own designs permitting details so fine much of it exceeds the fineness found on many N Scale models.  Many dozens of cutters all the way down to .003” in diameter, the same diameter as a human hair were needed and produced.  These were required for many types of extremely fine details as well as a great many scale “screw heads” running along the many side panel battens. All had to be flawlessly replicated. If you sight down the length of a Highliners A or B Unit shell, you will also see these batten screws ever so slightly wandering up and down and deliberately so, just as was found on the prototype from new.  We are not aware of this subtle and most realistic nuance on any other model.  It truly adds a little "something" when our models are viewed as enlarged photographs.

This level of detail was deliberately incorporated and is a key element of the convincing nature of the Highliners products. It would have been far easier to have made these rows of screw heads entirely uniform with simple milling machine “knob turning” or  by the current CNC practice. Costly templates and the Engraving Artist’s favorite tool: the 3D Pantograph Milling Machine were used instead.

Further, when you examine the photos of the models presented here, you will notice with such ancillaries as the “Winterization Hatch” (fitted over the rear-most fan on the roof of some units) there is a convincing appearance of thin prototype sheet metal on it’s edge corners and with its flush fitting top screen, while the absolutely to scale fan frame surrounds appear as the aluminum castings of the prototype, complete with scale bolt heads.  Even the roof top panels feature flat bolt heads that were radially engraved with the roof's contour, meaning the flat tops of the scale diameter simulated bolts are parallel with the roof’s top radius.  Again to our knowledge, this seemingly minor detail (in reality, not at all minor when they were physically located by eye and engraved by hand) has not been applied to any other F Series model, regardless of scale.  On the A Units, the carbody side louvers correctly match the prototype’s shape, contours and dimensions, including the later inset vertical style with their punched-in construction, with their correct and to-scale count,  have the prototypical slightly radiused edges inwards from the panel sides.

But of course the single most significant F Unit component of all is the signature Art Deco and most famous EMD Bull Dog Nose.  On the prototype, this assemblage of a welded together series of stamped sheet steel panels, was essentially grafted to the end of a round top box car, one with an internal truss design for strength.  It's varying carbody length (FP's and E units too) and side apertures and details depended on the version being produced at La Grange, or up in Canada.

It is known, but perhaps not well enough known, that after the introduction of the Highliners/Athearn Genesis F Units,  just about all of the many F and even E Units produced were actually and  illicitly copied from the Highliners A Unit shell's nose contours.  Why re-invent the wheel, when it costs money.  After all imitation is the highest form of flattery, isn't it? These copies were done by optically 3D scanning an original Highliners shell featuring the correct in-house generated nose contours and blends.  Those original contours were a very expensive and painstaking effort, that of re-creating those contours exactly as found on the prototypes. But those copied noses are never quite as good as the original Highliners (take a really good look for yourself especially at the blends between sweeping curves) as simplification in 3D CAD is far less costly and also quicker to produce.

In 1988, the finished B Unit mold was test-molded in Polystyrene with the immediate result  that although beautifully detailed, every single one of the H0 scale 2 inch thick carbody drop step's bottom rung invariably cracked as the mold opened.  The solution was simple, rather than increase these steps to an oversized cross section, why not instead of Polystyrene, use Lustran ABS? This was the hands down and superior choice replacement material.  All Highliners products have been manufactured from this significantly stronger but far more expensive material right from the start.  Every one of  our B (and A) Unit kits was produced in this material, even when first introduced to the market in late 1989. 

QUALITY has always been the true goal at HIGHLINERS and it still is, now quickly coming up on three decades of production from that very first B Unit “test shot”.  Along with a few new yet to be seen smaller add-on products, (grab iron sets, pressure cast epoxy-ceramic fan grill forming dies) we will be introducing an important new adjunct to the Highliners F Unit line.  Early engineering prototypes may be seen in this product listing’s images,  see if you can spot it.

In H0 Scale, there really is only one Highliners.  And if you really look, everything else does pale by comparison.  If you never have, kindly build some for yourself, we guarantee you'll enjoy it!

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