Paint an undecorated diesel
The following step-by-step directions are intended to serve as a narrative and visual guide for creating a custom N scale locomotive. Any road name could be substituted, or any products can be used. There is no intended promotion of any one manufacturer, nor is this necessarily the "best" way to go about building your own locomotive. As I have selected a railroad that has a very limited amount of commercially available rolling stock and motive power, I have been "forced" to solve things on my own, so here's how it was done:

Other How-To Articles
Re-number boxcars
RS1 Project
Modify a caboose
GP35 Project

Step 1: Purchase locomotive
Atlas Classic RS1, purchased on eBay for $41.00

unboxed

It may seem like an impossible task to tear apart a perfectly good Alco road-switcher, but you can do it!

Step 2: Remove shell
Gently and carefully grasp the shell at the front steps and rear steps and wiggle the body slightly until it separates from the frame.

shell removed

You will need to ease the shell up and off the frame by moving it just a little bit at a time from front to back, and then it will just pop off!
Step 3: Disassemble
Carefully remove the handrails from the cab, then lift the body off the running boards by gently squeezing the center of the shell. If you look underneath you will see four small tabs that hold the body on the running boards - try putting gentle pressure on one side of the body, then the tabs should come free.

I hope it all goes back together!

Lift the black running board treads off the frame. Pop the metal tabs off the back of the coupler housing, slide the black coupler pin out and remove the Rapido couplers. Lift the cab off the shell. Remove all clear plastic lights and windows. Voila! Disassembly is complete. Now wash all the pieces to be painted in warm soapy water, rinse and set aside to dry for 24 hours.
Step 4: Preparation
Gather your paint, brushes, sprayer, decals and tools. (Note the previously completed RS1 #21 nearby as a guide) 

half-way home1

Test everything once before you start to make sure things are sized or fitted properly. (Photo is after painting, before decals.)
Step 5: Paint & Decal
At this point the shell and all parts have been painted, Micro-Trains couplers have been installed and the handrails are re-inserted into the frame. Custom decals were made by my friends at Solidesign.

just a few more steps!

I choose to use a brush for painting... it goes reasonably fast and looks decent, and as I plan to weather these units to reflect the 30 years of hard labor they've performed, the paint job doesn't need to be perfect!

Note that decals are applied BEFORE re-assembly.

Step 6: Reassemble
Reinsert the clear plastic windows and lights in the cab, slide the cab back onto the shell. Then take the cab/shell assembly and gently slide it back onto the frame and handrails.

#20 joins #21

Carefully replace the handrails into the holes in the cab, using a pin to remove any excess paint from the holes. Slide the completed body back onto the motor chassis and you're all done!
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site updated: 01/11/12