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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Adobe Lightroom for Model Railroaders

During my clinic at the RPM in Collinsville, IL (St. Louis) this past weekend (August 12-13, 2016) I mentioned that I would post a link to the presentation file. The file can be reached by clicking here.

It bears mentioning as many times as possible that if you are viewing the file separate from the live presentation at the St. Louis RPM, there was a companion “ride along” demonstration showing Lightroom’s capabilities directly from Lightroom that is absent from the file. Without that, some material presented may not be entirely clear or may seem too simplistic. Please consider attending a future RPM to see the “Full Monty”.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Interesting tarp cover on a gondola


I have seen plenty of photos of tarped loads on flat cars, usually covering equipment. However, I can't recall seeing a gon with a tarp. I'm certainly not saying this photo is unique, but given the number of photos I have seen, this one stood out. It would make an interesting and relatively easy thing to recreate. I'm leaning towards a microfiber cloth dyed to simulate the canvas tarps of the late Steam Era. I think it's worth a try. When I do it, you'll see it here.

The gon is PRR 337254, a GRA, reweighed in March, 1950 at the Rose Lake, Illinois, eastbound shops on the Pennsy.

The subject of the photo was a New Haven I-4 Pacific in the Hartford Yards, but this is far more interesting, so I zoomed in and cropped to show all of the gon that I could. All three cars can be modeled in HO. The gon can be replicated using the Westerfield kit, the Texas & Pacific automobile car can be built using an MDC single sheathed auto car (read about how in Prototype Railroad Modeling, Volume 3) and the Pere Marquette auto car can be built from Speedwitch kit K111 (wow! two Speedwitch plugs in one sentence!)