Friday, May 19, 2017

Building the DT&I 7000-series gon - part 2

In Part 1 about building the DT&I 7000-series gon, I covered all of the building, detailing, modifications, etc. This post discusses the finishing of the model.


The deck after application of a primer coat before additional coloring

I had a spare floor from a Proto 2000 gon kit, as I had used a laser cut wood floor in one of my Proto 2000 gons. It was a simple matter to shorten the styrene floor to fit the DT&I gon. I used 150 and 220-grit sandpaper to roughen up the surface of the deck and also to remove enough material that the grooves in the deck were less prominent, and even barely discernible in some places. When I primed the model (more on that below) I also airbrushed a thin layer of primer on the deck. Next, I airbrushed the deck with Tamiya Desert Yellow (XF-59). After allowing the deck to dry, I drybrushed the surface with Testors Model Master Flat Interior Tan. Drybrushing is a technique where a paintbrush (usually with stiff bristles) is dipped in paint and then most of the paint is removed (by rubbing on something such as a paper towel), so that when the brush is rubbed along a surface, it highlights raised details. In this instance, it created a subtle difference in hues, although it can also be used to create strong, but subtle contrast. Next, I used a stiff wire brush, working in strokes parallel to the floor boards, to blend and slightly roughen the surface. I sealed everything with Testors Dullcote. I then added various colors of PanPastels and Bragdon's powders in browns and grays, varying the application and/or intensity for different floor boards. Everything was again sealed with Testors Dullcote. Finally, I applied a dilute wash of acrylic flat black applied with a brush. This is the first time I have tried this method and, overall, I am happy with the result, although I still feel that the effect is not a muted as I would like. I will keep refining the technique and will report back with more results.



The finished model
I have a fairly standard regimen I follow for painting models. I use a Paasche Air Eraser to blast all metal and engineering plastic surfaces to improve paint adhesion on these surfaces. These include wire details, truck sideframes, wheelsets, hand brake wheel, etc. The medium I use is 220-grit aluminum oxide. After this I wash the model, trucks, etc., with liquid dishwashing detergent and a soft toothbrush. I rinse the model and allow it to thoroughly air dry. I always apply a primer coat, Tru-Color in this instance, although I have used other brands. I painted the DT&I gon with Tru-Color CB&Q Freight Car Red (TCP-240), a darker shade of freight car red with no orange hues. The truck sideframes and wheelsets were painted black. The Tru-Color paints dry to a glossy finish perfect for decaling.

I applied the decals (Speedwitch D157) with water followed by Walthers Solvaset setting solution. The bubbles and trapped air were popped and sliced followed by more Solvaset. I omitted the capacity data, reweigh location, brake test, and repack stencils until after weathering. I decided to model a car circa 1951 that had not been repainted since delivery, a period of ten years. I sealed the decals with with Testors Dullcote.

I weathered the car in stages. I started by applying Bragdon Enterprises dark rust (FF-63) powder to all surfaces. This served two purposes: it made the color of the car look slightly faded and also made the white stenciling appear slightly faded, a desired effect for a ten-year-old paint job. I also added PanPastel Raw Umber powder. I sealed the powders with Testors Dullcote followed by Testors Glosscote. I added numerous chalk markings (Speedwitch D135) followed by Testors Dullcote. Over these, I added Bragdon Grimy Gray (FF-67), again sealed with Testors Dullcote. Lastly, I applied fresh paint patches and "clean" load limit, light weight, reweigh location and date, brake test, and repack stencils. Again, these were sealed with Testors Dullcote followed by a very light application of Bragdon Grimy Gray, sealed with Testors Dullcote.
The finished model showing the floor boards

For the interior surfaces of the gon, I sprayed it black, but then covered it liberally with various shades of Bragdon rust colored powders followed by Grimy Gray. These were sealed with Testors Dullcote. I glued lead sheet to the interior cavity in the gon and then added the floor.

I applied small paper bits on the routing card boards, affixed with the Goo-MEK mixture. I added Hi-Tech Details angle cock/air hoses. I replaced the trucks and the model was ready to go. I will go back and add some debris and dunnage to the floor for added realism.

Some of these castings and decals may be ordered from the Speedwitch site.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Building the DT&I 7000-series gon... or nothing is ever as easy as it should be

Greenville Steel Car Company, Hawkins/Wider/Long Collection

Almost 15 months ago (I can’t fathom how it’s been that long) I posted an alternative means to create a DT&I gondola, using the Proto 2000 Greenville gon instead of the more commonly used Athearn gon. Interestingly, I recently came across Richard Hendrickson’s article on dating freight cars in the June, 1997 issue of RailModel Journal and he included a photo of his kitbash of a DT&I gon using the Athearn model, but mused that “today it would be easier to use a Life-Like [Proto 2000] kit”. Quite literally within hours of my post, Frank Hodina had done the hard work of cutting and re-assembling to create the DT&I gon. He sent the completed body to Tom Madden, who, in turn, copied and cast the body and ends. I created artwork for decals that I had printed and offer as Speedwitch D157.



Before discussing the model, a bit about the prototype… the Detroit, Toldeo & Ironton purchased 300 41'6" drop end mill gondolas that were obviously influenced by the Greenville-design 52'6" mill gondola that became the predominant mill gondola of the 1940s, purchased by roads including Erie, Pere Marquette, Nickel Plate, New York Central, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, DT&I, St. Louis - San Francisco, Burlington, and Western Pacific, among others (see Railway Prototype Cyclopedia, Vol. 3). The DT&I cars were placed in the series 7000-7299. In the postwar period, large numbers of the cars were assigned to auto frame loading, including fixtures to secure the frames. As built, the cars were painted mineral red, but in the postwar years, the DT&I transitioned to painting gondolas black.


My initial (mis)perception was that this would be a very easy car to complete. I decided at the outset that I would completely ignore all underframe detail, as it would not be visible with the deep sides and the car body setting low on the trucks. Honestly, that approach would still result in a very fine model. Of course, I made the mistake of looking at prototype photos and noticed that there was a lack of rivet detail where it should have been had the cars had collapsible stake pockets on the interior, meaning that the DT&I gons lacked the interior stake pockets present on the Proto 2000 (as well as the kitbashed resin) gondola. Another detail I noticed was that while the Proto 2000 side structural members had rivets at all locations, the DT&I gon had rivets at alternate locations on the flanges at either side of the structural members, above the floor line, except for the members where the interior side splice plates were located. Additionally, I noticed that the body bolsters and truck kingpins were located closer to the center of the car than on the Proto 2000 model. Finally, the DT&I gons had push pole pockets that were missing from the Proto 2000 gon. There are a few other more subtle differences highlighted herein. Note: if the car is modeled with a load, most of these differences, save the bolster/truck location, would not be visible or of the extreme nitpicking variety anyway.

I stripped the detail from the interior of the sides. I decided it would be relatively easy to add splice plates, the portion of the bulb angle at the top of the inside of the car side, and rivets at the appropriate locations. Using a Mission Models chisel tool as well as an Xacto no. 17 chisel blade, I removed all interior detail. I filled the surface defects and marks left by the chiseling with Mr. Surfacer 1200 and ACC and sanded the interior smooth by wet sanding with 320, 400, and finally, 600 grit sandpaper. The flange of the bulb angle that was attached to the top of the interior of the car sides (speaking of the prototype) was replicated with a strip of 0.005" styrene, four (4) scale inches in width. This was attached to the top edge of the interior using a mixture of 50% Goo and 50% MEK (methyl ethyl ketone). This Goo-MEK mix is my default adhesive for dissimilar materials. I keep a small jar of the mixture on my workbench and use it regularly. I applied ACC along the top edge of the side as an added adhesive, as well as a filler. While the ACC was still somewhat soft, I ran a few drops of water along the ACC and then wet sanded the surface with 320, 400, and 600 grit sandpaper (once ACC has completely dried and hardened, it sands at a dissimilar rate than resin or styrene, making it easy to remove more of one material than another, creating unrealistic variations in the surface; by sanding while the ACC is still somewhat “soft”, it is easier to uniformly remove material when sanding.) Next, again using Goo-MEK, I added 0.005” styrene strips, eight (8) scale inches wide, where the side sheets were spliced. I located these strips by holding up the casting to a strong light so I could carefully align the strips with the outside structural members. At the top of the interior of the side, these strips overlap the bulb angle. MEK helped the strips to conform, but this also caused minor buckling and pitting of the strip. I filled the surface of the strip with Mr. Surfacer (this is the reason for the gray areas present in the strip) and sanded it smooth with sandpaper. 


The rivets that I added to the interior are from Archer Surface Details. Because most of the rivets on the prototype were spaced in an alternate fashion, and I did not want to apply them one at a time, I improvised by cutting the rivet strips in a zig-zag fashion. See the attached graphic. This allowed me to mostly place the rivets in groups. The rivets along the top edge, on the bulb angle, do not alternate and were applied in several long strips. The rivets at the splice plates do not alternate, so they were applied straight from the Archer sheet. I added several applications of decal setting solution, popped all air bubbles and then brushed on a coat of Future floor wax to seal the decals. Future provides a protective barrier, is quite thin, and levels nicely even when applied with a brush.


On the exterior of the car, I made a few updates to the rivets and other details, as well. I removed the rivets from the structural members, in locations where they were absent on the prototype. I also removed the bolster and stake pocket rivets. The prototype had towing loops below the side sills, so I removed the towing loops present on the sides. New rivets were added at the appropriate locations for the bolsters, where the towing loops had been, and a couple other locations as seen on the prototype. These were all sealed with Future, as well. 


The towing loops on the bottom of the side sills were scratchbuilt. The loops are 0.012" wire, bent in a circular shape and inserted to holes drilled in the appropriate locations. The ends of the loops were simulated with 0.7 mm discs punched from 0.005" styrene. Rivets harvested from an Athearn undecorated snow plow shell were glued in the center of these discs. The discs were punched using an RP Toolz punch and die set that I will review in a separate, upcoming post on this blog.


I already made reference to the location of the bolsters in a couple places herein. That was easily the biggest surprise in this project. I did not want to engage in a complete rebuild of the underframe. Fortunately, the car sits low enough that I could just create a relocated truck mounting “pad” and add some 0.005" styrene below the side sill to simulate the outer portion of the bottom body bolster cover plates. The truck mounting “pads” are 0.020" thick styrene glued in place to align with the rivet locations on the car side. New truck holes were drilled and 3/16" 2-56 screws hold the trucks in place. The simulated ends of the body bolster cover plates are 0.005" styrene strips sixteen (16) scale inches wide, with the depth not too important. Also, note that material was removed from the adjacent crossties to ensure free truck operation.


On the left side of the car (left if looking at the B [brake] end of the car), I added the appropriate details to replicate the visible brake detail. The pressure retaining valve is part of the body casting. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the valve, as well as a hole in the car side, and added 0.008" wire to replicate the retainer pipe. I also added three rivets to represent the bracket (not visible) for the AB valve (note that these rivets were added after the in-progress photo was taken so they are only visible in the photo of the primed car body; they are highlighted with a “callout”.) The mounting plate for the hand brake was created from 0.005" styrene, fourteen (14) scale inches wide and trimmed as shown. It was glued against the flange of the frame of the end, using the Goo-MEK mixture, followed by ACC. The hand brake was replicated using a Tichy Ajax power hand brake housing, a Kadee Ajax hand wheel, and a segment of Builders in Scale chain spanning the hand brake housing and the end sill, as shown. U-shaped wire loops created from 0.010" wire were used at each end of the chain and glued into holes drilled with a no. 79 drill bit to secure the chain.


The DT&I prototypes had push pole pockets that are absent on the car body casting. I created these using 2.0 mm discs punched from 0.020" styrene. I glued the discs in place using the Goo-MEK mix and then added ACC around the perimeter of the discs. I used a no. 50 drill bit to create the round depression in the face of the push pole pockets. The uncoupling devices were fashioned by first adding 0.010" x 0.060" styrene strips below the push pole pockets on the ends. To the face of the styrene strips, I added cast resin brackets from the spare parts bin, although suitable facsimiles could be created from styrene strip and eye bolts. The devices themselves were bent from 0.012" wire.

I added several other details that are noted here, but require little additional explanation. The grab irons were created from 0.010" wire and inserted into holes drilled with a no. 79 drill bit. The sill steps are A Line steps bent to match those on the prototype and inserted into holes (no. 73 drill bit), using the details on the car body as a guide. The coupler covers are 0.020" styrene cut to fit, and secured with 1/8" 0-80 screws (the casting set comes with covers; I received my casting set before the covers were added to the "package"). I used Kadee no. 153 “short shank” scale couplers with “whisker” centering springs. Tahoe Model Works TMW-107/207 AAR double truss trucks are a match for the prototype.


Part two of this model build will be posted later this week and will include painting, decaling, weathering, floor, etc….

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Finding Kitbashing Opportunities in Freight Cars (beta release)

I presented the linked clinic at the RPM-East meet in Greensburgh, Pennsylvania, 24-25 March 2017. It is a first draft of what will be an evolving clinic over the coming year, with updated presentations at Enfield, CT (New England/Northeast RPM, 02-03 June 2017), Collinsville, IL (St. Louis RPM, 23-24 June 2017), Lisle, IL (Chicagoland RPM, 26-28 October 2017), and Cocoa Beach, FL (Prototype Rails, January 2018).

For those who saw the clinic at RPM-East, I made a couple edits to the file, although the only one you might notice is that the CNW PS-1 auto car is a more complicated beast than I initially thought. It was a taller car than standard, at an inside height of 10'8". This manifests itself in a few ways, with the biggest being the doors were one "rib" taller than the doors offered in styrene. I have already begun the work of cutting and splicing Branchline doors for the project. They'll be duped and will be available as resin parts this year. I also have ordered photos from the Haskell & Barker Collection at the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian) that illustrate the interior of the car prior to the addition of the floor boards, providing some good data points about the arrangement of the underframe, as drawings were not available from the Pullman Library at the Illinois Railway Museum.

The direction of the clinic will evolve over the year also, as I act on these projects and actually build the models that I have only hinted at in many cases. The amended file will be updated here as it is presented according to the schedule noted above. A number of these projects will be profiled as full-blown articles in Prototype Railroad Modeling, as I plan at least two volumes of the journal this year.

Without further ado, here is the link to the file:

Speedwitch Files

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A little work straightening a casting

Attempt 1 - unsuccessful!
I have been slightly grounded of late after two surgeries to repair a torn retina, plus a mild heart attack this week for my ex-mother-in-law (who’s doing very well) and lengthy dental and orthodontic appointments for my son. Some of these things have just consumed time, but the retina “thing” has affected my ability to do some of my work and my ex’s mother does a lot of the heavy lifting of getting the kids where they need to be during the week. The eye situation is kind of tough when most of what you do centers around discerning details and either writing about them or recreating them in scale!

One thing I did was to pull out a Sunshine Models PRR F30A kit to scan the side to use as part of the process of creating decal artwork. I had to clean up the main car casting (literally a casting as the prototype used a cast steel underframe with integral stake pockets and other details!) In doing so, I noticed that the portions of the car between the ends and bolsters had a noticeable droop. I did what I usually do and put the casting on a piece of glass and put it into an oven that had been preheated to 250 degrees and turned off prior to putting the glass and casting into the oven. The casting softened, as they usually do. I put the “weights” shown in the photo on the casting until it cooled* (the graphic at the bottom of the page illustrates the relative structural strength of shapes and displays while deep side sills and center sills are great at provide support to the car body or loads.) All great!

Well, when the casting cooled, I noticed that the opposite of my goal had occurred. While the ends were now flat, the center of the casting had developed a noticeable droop, making the car look sway-backed. Normally, a flat car model would have solid center sills to straighten things or I could insert a piece of square steel or brass to get things straight. However, this car is an unusual prototype and the center sills are segmented, as opposed to being two single longitudinal pieces between the bolsters, and not as solid as the side sills, meaning that depending upon them to aid in straightening the car body was an uncertain proposition. 

I reheated the casting and while it was still “soft” I used my drill bit box and one of my “weights” to try to remove the sway-back curve. I tried this several times to no avail. The casting seemed to have memory of the swayback shape. 

Attempt 2 - unsuccessful!
I resorted to something that engendered greater risk, but given that the heating and flattening method was not working, was a risk worth taking and if it failed, I could always perform the heat and flatten method to return to the previous shape. I held the center of the casting under extremely hot tap water and after I knew that the casting had become slightly pliable, I applied force with both hands to bend the casting to straighten the center portion. I then changed the water to simple cold tap water and held the casting under until it hardened. The method finally yielded the results I was seeking…. or mostly. There is still a trace of a bow on one side, but it is hardly noticeable and I am hopeful that when the deck is glued in place it will provide enough stability to pull things even more into shape.

As always, your mileage may vary.

I will be doing a full writeup on this car, although where I will post it and how is TBD.

Happy Holidays


*no, the weights do not deform the casting. If you put weight on to a relatively structurally solid piece of a casting, it shouldn’t sink or deform from the weight. Now I’m sure if you heat the casting excessively and use a lot of weight, I would be proven wrong, but I try to get things soft enough and only use enough weight to apply the proper pressure. Also, see the graphic to understand a simple property of structural integrity.

Relative structural strength

Monday, December 5, 2016

Atlas/Branchline undecorated Box Cars

P116 - Gulf, Mobile & Ohio 35200-series automobile car

I have received several inquiries regarding Branchline postwar AAR box cars kits from Atlas to be used as fodder for Speedwitch conversions. Here are some links, in no particular order or level of importance:

Atlas/Branchline Undec postwar AAR box car
HO Branchline freight car kits
Contact Atlas
Atlas Postwar AAR cars with 7' door opening - current

Also, Bill Welch provided the following:

"The stock # for the 6-ft door Undec is 20001384

Their website ordering is difficult to navigate, I think."


Customer service person is:Steve MillenbachCustomer Service ManagerAtlas Model Railroad Co908-687-0880 Ext 7147smillenbach@atlasrr.com



I believe that Steve can help with any questions about obtaining the kits.

The Speedwitch subjects that use these cars are as follows:

Parts set P108 - Erie early Postwar AAR Box Cars
P110.1 – Southern Postwar AAR Box Car Parts Set – Superior Door
P110.2 – Southern Postwar AAR Box Car Parts Set – Improved Youngstown Door

P113.1 – Louisville & Nashville Postwar AAR box car, Youngstown door


P115 - Pittsburgh & West Virginia Postwar AAR box car

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Southern gondola, part two

A long time ago, I posted about some tips to build the Speedwitch Southern gondola kit. I have done some additional work on the brake gear and want to show how I tackled things. I tend to deviate from the instructions, even on my own kits, and this car is no exception. The details follow. First, I do not have a brake arrangement for this car. I do for a similar series of Southern low-side gons built at about the same time. I used that along with prototype photos to arrive at what you see here. I cannot declare that it is 100% accurate, but it works for me.

I added the main three components: cylinder, reservoirs, and AB valve (pre-drill these first if you will be adding wire to simulate the piping). The cylinder uses a resin bracket and was attached to the face of the center sill. The AB valve was attached to a "platform" that spans the two cross members. The reservoirs were secured with brackets created from 1x4 and 1x12 strips that simulate the steel parts to which the reservoir lugs were bolted. I added nut-bolt-washer (NBW) and rivets (from an Athearn snow plow, although Archer rivets would do, as well.)

With the main components in place, I used 0.010" wire to represent the piping between the AB valve and the cylinder and reservoirs. This required some bending, fitting, and cutting to get things right, followed by securing the wire in place with ACC. I use fine, round-nose beading pliers to make these bends. With the main piping in place, I added the dirt collector to the AB valve, after first drilling it to accept the pipe from it to the train pipe. This pipe is larger, simulated with 0.015" wire, meaning the corresponding hole in the dirt collector needed to be larger. My technique is to first drill a hole with a no. 79 bit and then "open" the hole with a no. 77 bit. As I did not model the actual train pipe, the 0.015" wire runs from the dirt collector to the floor of the car, as shown.


With the piping in place, I added the brake levers and rods. The levers were created from 1x8 strip styrene, trimmed to shape using a single edge razor blade. The main lever rests in the clevis (part no. 29 on the Tichy AB brake set) extending from the cylinder. The clevis opening is actually about 0.020" wide so I always add a little .010x.030 shim at the end of the lever so that it nestles snugly into the clevis. For the bracket for the dead lever, I used a piece of leftover flat brass from an etched metal parts set. I created a u-shaped end to accept the brake lever and added two bends to allow the lever to be offset from the center sills once the bracket was glued to the face of the center sill.


With the levers in place, I added the brake rods. My technique is to add a Tichy turnbuckle to the end of a piece of 0.012" wire. One end of the turnbuckle is removed so that the resulting piece looks like a clevis. I slide these clevises over the 1x8 styrene levers and mark the wire to create bends and measure distances for cuts as I go. The turnbuckles "hold" the wire in place over the levers, allowing me to make my measurements for bends and cuts. I use a black Sharpie to mark where to bend or cut the wire. Once all the bends are made, the rods and turnbuckles are secured with ACC. Note that my brake rods are secured into the bolsters. Also, for these bends, I use a pair of beading pliers with "flat" jaws that result in sharp bends. More round, "radiused" bends look right for piping, but for the brake rod wire, a sharp bend works much better.

That's it. The next post about this car will show the finished model. The photo included here is of a finished model I built years ago, although it is the same car from the same kit. Also, a shameless plug: there are six of these kits left and once they're gone, this one will be closed out for good. So if you'd like one, navigate to the Speedwitch site and get one before they're gone.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Creating more realistic ladders in HO Scale

This guest post is courtesy of Bill Welch and highlights his love of upgrading details on freight car models...
It began innocently I thought. In 2015, I made the rounds of Cocoa Beach-Prototype Rails, Collinsville and Lisle (now the Chicagoland RPM) with a presentation entitled Xxtreme Modeling. In this presentation I spotlighted a model of one of the Tennessee Central’s (TC) steel box cars where I claim I improved several details including the InterMountain styrene ladders included in a resin kit from WrightTRAK, using Plastruct 0.010" styrene rod. (Grandt Line also makes 0.010" styrene rod but it is gray; Plastruct’s rod is white making it much easier to use for making new ladder rungs.) Then in late 2015 it became apparent that with the aid of my friend Andy Carlson, through his relationship with InterMountain (IM), I would be able to acquire more Red Caboose X29 and 1923 ARA kits. (The Red Caboose molds are now owned by InterMountain.) Given the possibility I could add to my stash of these kits, I decided I would finally build the several models I wanted based upon these kits. Meanwhile, I did much hand wringing because I realized I had not purchased any undecorated Branchline 40-foot Postwar AAR steel box car kits and was caught napping when they sold their line of freight car kits to Atlas. I wanted several of these to build for the various Ya’ll Road owners of these cars. Through friends and the Atlas website, I have been able to acquire enough kits to build the models I want and I have started working on a couple of Branchline kits (A&WP and WofA). I am also working on two Atlas 1932 ARA kits (Erie and M-I) and two InterMountain AAR 1937 Modified Kits (Southern and KO&G). So I guess that 2016 is my “Year of Styrene faux Steel" (Now clearly stretching into 2017, hah).
Photo 1
Okay enough background, now onto the subject of improving kit ladders. I have been scratchbuilding ladders now for several years when it is warranted. Especially with wood sheathed cars ladders tended to vary. This is how I became comfortable using the 0.010" styrene rod. The TC model (photo #1) was the first time I used Kadee’s very fine bracket grabs. (Yarmouth Model Works sells a drill template for these.) Once these were mounted on the car I knew the IM ladders furnished in the kit would not do with their now visually heavy ladders rungs or treads. Leaving the ladders on their sprue for stability and strength I used sprue nippers to cut off the molded-on treads (photos #2 & 3). 
Photo 2
Photo 3
I don’t remember now but I may have also used them to pinch off the bolt detail: Just as likely I used a trusty Single Edge Razor Blade (SERB) to do this. I used the SERB to cut the rod into several small sections and proceeded to glue the rod onto the stile using liquid Testors and a small brush, locating them using whatever vestige of the molded-on treads still existed. (photos #4 and 5)  
Photo 4
Photo 5
This goes pretty quickly and it is not difficult to get most of them in place at 90°. Where I miss getting them straight, it is easy to go back and wet a joint with Testors to loosen it and get it straight. I let the ladders dry overnight and then used my nippers to cut the excess rod. Once the model was painted I was very pleased with the result. (photos #6 & 7)
Photo 6 
Photo 7
Whenever possible, especially with something like steel cars of a standard design, I like to build two or more models at a time so that I can do the repetitive steps concurrently. Detailing underframes and building the brake system two-at-a-time is faster than one-at-a-time ultimately for example. This certainly applies to modifying kit ladders so I am working on several sets currently. I decided to change my approach a little bit, cutting the treads off at an angle so as to leave a little nub of styrene (photo #8). 
Photo 8
These nubs give me something to aim at when putting the bits of rod in place and also give the rod sections a small base of styrene, making a solid joint. This way some of the bolt detail on the stiles remains. The downside is that I need to cut each section of rod to the same length. Photos #9, 10 and 11 show the result on a set of B&O 7-rung ladders.
Photo 9 - the molded-on treads compared to the new 0.010" treads
Photo 10 - a completed ladder
Photo 11 - the new ladder on the model
Atlas makes things a little harder as the detail parts in their kits come cut from the sprues so I had to improvise a way to hold them steady while worked ladder for their 1932 ARA steel boxcars. Taping their ladders to metal ruler (photo #12) made it easy to hold them rigid yet the metal meant the ladder would not accidentally get glued to something. Photo #13 shows what the improved ladder looks like on the car side.
Photo 12
Photo 13

Photos #14 and 15 show a set of ladders for a Maine Central 1923 ARA boxcar with new treads in place with their mounting straps in place also. I am going to wait until I am ready to glue them in place to trim the ends and cut them from the sprue

Photo 14
Photo 15
Photos #16 and #17 show Red Caboose X29 and InterMountain AAR 1937 Modified kit ladders, respectively.
Photo 16
Photo 17
Photos #18 and #19 are Branchline Postwar AAR kit ladders in process and completed. This kind of work takes a little more time but for the present I like the result. You must decide for yourself if you like the results.
Photo 18
Photo 19