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