CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Monday, May 25, 2020

Scratchbuilding a B&M Milk Car - Part 5 (End & Roof Details)


The ends are a collection of parts from various sources. The grab irons are formed from stainless steel wire. The brake wheel from Kadee (#2045), and the platform and support brackets are from a Details West (#2012) set. The brakewheel "chain" hanging down is from the Tichy brake casting set. White styrene rod and brackets run vertically. Some additional wire which runs from the brake wheel to the bottom finishes it off. Ladders are from Plano Model Products (#12121). The black horizontal walkway platforms at the bottom are pieces of an Athearn blue box caboose roofwalk. Precision Scale Co. air hose castings (#39117), as well as the Bowser / Cal Scale train line hoses (#275), hang out from the bottom. 

The roof had a row of rivets that went all along the perimeter. It also had ribs that went crosswise between every raised roof panel. Those I had laid out with green marker but had forgotten to install. In my haste to add rivets to everything, I mistakenly applied rows of rivets along every green line. Realizing my error, I then had to remove them all which turned out to be easy. I then installed the ribs, one side at a time until the glue cured, and then bent them over and secured the other side. I used wooden toothpicks to hold them down (so I wouldn't leave fingerprints on the soft styrene.) In a couple of minutes, the job was done.

After that, the edges of the ribs were trimmed to final length and I installed rivets around the perimeter of the roof.  I used 5/8" rivet heads, with a 2.75" spacing, to go all the way around. At this point I was piecing together parts of rows and the process itself went quickly but I had to make sure everything lined up along the length of the car. There was a bit of joy in the process as I knew the car was almost complete. It was during this time that I accidentally scrapped off some of the rivets, so after doing repairs I gave the entire car a light spray of Testors Glosscote. I was hesitant to do this as I didn't wash the body first, but with the rivet decals it is impossible to wash it anyway without them floating away. I don't know how this will affect the final finish.

The roofwalks themselves are beautiful etched metal products from Plano Model Products (#194.) There are various styles available and it was easy to find what I needed. They don't come with the support brackets, (though they are available separately), so instead I took some Evergreen #264 c-channel and sliced it into thin pieces. These were then further cut down in height and glued down the center of the car. When cured, I used a file lightly along the top to bring them all into the same plane. I then superglued the roofwalk down, using a variety of metal support brackets to hold down each joint. I could only do a couple at a time. In the future, I will invest in some super glue instant activator.

The only other detailing left to be done is to modify the trucks to add additional springing. After that, the car is off to the paint shop. Decals are on order, so it won't be long now.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Scratchbuilding a B&M Milk Car - Part 4 (Rivets & Grab Irons)

Here is what $36 of tiny rivets looks like (minus a couple)
For such a smooth looking car, there sure are a lot of rivets on it. When I built some cars in G scale I used cut-down HO scale track pins, but that wouldn't work here. Nor would embossing the styrene with a pounce wheel. I have no idea how modelers go by 20 years ago, but now there are cool resin details such as those by Archer Fine Transfers (MicroMark makes similar items) representing everything from rivets to weld seam lines to louvers. I ordered their HO scale rivet starter set #AR88087, and then their #AR88026 sets. They don't give you a lot, but between the two of them I had a lot of options. $18 for all this seemed expensive, but they were excellent quality.

The perimeter rivets installed.
I watched a handy Youtube instructional video which recommended cutting them into strips, brushing them with water, and laying them in place. I cut them into strips with scissors, held onto the end and dunked it into the water while holding it, then waited 30 seconds and applied them. It worked great. Of course, a steady hand was essential as were a good pair of eyes. I tried to use tweezers in the beginning like shown in the video but I found my finger worked better because if they slid off the sheet onto my finger I could see them and finagle them into position. If they bent over on the tweezers I had to write them off and start again.

Adding the horizontal rows of 3.25"-spaced rivets.
I first applied the horizontal row of rivets on the top and bottom of the car, working on only one side. I didn't want to bump them out of position while applying the vertical rows of rivets, so those had to wait the horizontal ones had fused to the car body. I only had about 1/3 of the car done by the end of the first night, so I had to wait a week for the full set to arrive. It took another hour to get the rest of the first side's vertical rows in place, and then they too were Microsol'ed. Then I cut and pasted bits to do the door details and other areas. It really was an enjoyable process, and aside from the fact that these things were so darn tiny it was almost fun! Certainly it was more fun than figuring out Plan B.
This side has 2.75" spacing (and 3.25" spacing on a
piece of decal for comparison)

Even with my micrometer it was impossible to measure the exact rivet spacing on the drawing for all areas. Plus, the drawings showed some that were faded out because no draftsman could really draw them to scale and have them seen. I could have tried to extrapolate that information from the few pictures I had, but come on... it is a model. And I doubt that anyone at the judging can do a better job than me at figuring it out. Thus, I used the rivets I thought worked and looked best but I might had put a 5/8" diameter one where a 7/8" should go, and the spacing of 3.75" where 3.25" would be prototypical. So sue me! Complicating matters, I didn't have enough of the 3.25" spacing for the second side so the entire thing was done with 3.75" spacing. You will never know the sides are different because they are so tiny!

The door areas were an interesting bit of cut and paste work. If you refer back to the prototype photo on my previous post you will see that what I did is a simplification of the prototype. Even with actual rivet decals, to try and cram them together into the prototype's pattern would result in a big clunky mess. In HO scale you have to draw the line somewhere, and this is where mine is. Admittedly, I am more concerned that once the car is primed and painted the rivet details will just disappear altogether. If that happens I will scream. Anyway, the picture to the right is a closeup of the car, and in real layout viewing distances it looks pretty good. It still looks naked without the grab irons though.

I am one of those "visual" people. For the handrails and grab irons, I needed to see exactly where they went in the prototype pictures to fully understand how to make them. Using pictures, and one of the photocopies of the plans that I had, I used a red pen to circle every place I had to install a handrail. I also measured them right off the plans (which were photocopied to ensure 100% reproduction) and wrote down length and height of them as needed. I also do all my measurements in millimeters, which are convenient. The 0.015" diameter stainless steel wire I use is pretty resilient to accidental bumps, but nevertheless I first drilled all the holes on all for sides and then bent up and attached the wire.

The ends not only had grab irons but also the brake wheel, the cross-over platform for the brakemen to use between the cars, and some other interesting things. I will work on them next, reserving the roof for last because once the roof is done the car can't be turned over without risk of breaking off details. Then, the corner stirrups and final underside details will go be added and the car will enter the paint shop.

And now for some boring bookkeeping. The notes below are just so I can remember what I used where in the future:

▪ Sides #1 & #2 - upper / lower horizontal rows: 5/8" diameter; 2.75" spacing.
▪ Side #1 - Vertical rows: 5/8" diameter, 3.25" spacing.
▪ Side #1 - Vertical rows at ends: 5/8" diameter, alternate center spacing.
▪ Side #2 - Vertical rows: 5/8" diameter, 2.75" spacing.
▪ Side #2 - Vertical rows at ends: 5/8" diameter, alternate center spacing.
▪ Side Doors: 5/8" diameter, alternate center spacing.
▪ Ends - Horizontal rows: 5/8" diameter, 3.25" spacing.
▪ Roof - Perimeter:  5/8" diameter, 2.75" spacing.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

BAGRS live steam locomotive (Gauge 1) - Part. 4

Boiler with new white cladding (hidden) and old yellow
insulation material that came with the kit.
This steam locomotive project had been neglected for quite some time. I reached the point in its construction (nearly the end, sadly) when four factors conspired together to shut the whole project down. First, the boiler kit came with yellow insulating material that needed to be wrapped around the boiler. Then, it had to be held in place while wooden board cladding (provided in the kit) were wrapped around it. Then, brass straps had to be placed around the boards and the whole thing secured with screws and nuts. With tape it was manageable, but after three attempts (don't ask) the yellow insulation was shreds and the bolts were superglued to the nuts. So, I pouted and let it sit for six months until I thought to call Jason Kovak at The Train Department who had replacement ceramic insulation sale that would work great. That was 6 months ago. But, by that time the garden railroading season was over so I did nothing.

Paint it all black, darken the brass, or leave it alone?
Second, I wasn't sure if I wanted to paint the everything (boiler cladding, gear assembly, brackets) black or leave them wood, or perhaps chemically darken all the metal. I purchased some Brass Black which would work well but I would need to completely disassemble and clean (with lacquer thinner) the parts for the blackening agent to work properly. The all-black look would really make it appear like a Welsh quarry engine, but I wasn't sure if the paint would hold up on the brass without flaking, and that wood did look a bit nice. The decision weighed heavy on my mind and involved a bit of work, so until I figured out what I wanted to do I did nothing.

Original buffer jig on left, temporary replacement on right.
Third, I needed to mount the couplers onto the ends of the frame but I misplaced my jig that I use to mark the holes. I use this fixture on all my rolling stock, and didn't want this to be in consistent with my other cars. I actually use two different standards for my equipment. Originally, I mounted dual-buffers on all my cars which were made from jumbo thumbtacks painted black with silver ends, and they passed as faux standard gauge cars. Then, I converted some to single center-buffer cars which is more narrow gaug-ish, and the height was based on what Roundhouse used (25mm above rail height). Being lazy, until I could find that fixture I did nothing.

Finally, around this time my new 7.25" gauge battery engine and bulkhead flatcar kits needed to be assembled and they took priority over all other train projects, so for that and the reasons above I shelved this engine. Until recently, when more time became available.

To start, I wrapped the wooden boiler cladding with blue tape to keep it together, and then used my Dremel to cut through the bolts holding the brass bands. After that, the old yellow beat-up insulation was replaced with some nice new white stuff. The process was reversed for the wood cladding and brass banding, and within five minutes the project was done. Next, having found my coupler alignment jigs whilst cleaning the basement it was another five minute job to mark the two holes, drill them out, and mount the buffers. Because there wasn't enough clearance room behind the buffers for the retaining nut, I drilled undersize and screwed the buffers tight into the wood.

Wanting to do something fun, I worked on adding a coal load to the bunker. To do this, I used my usual method of mixing real coal with two-party epoxy into a sludge, and then scooping it where I wanted it. I didn't have any "g scale" coal handy, so I took some full size Arcade & Attica Railroad coal chunks and broke them up outside in a ziplock bag with a hammer. Then, by placing it between two sturdy paper plates I could sift out it to a certain size by shifting the gap between the plates. The coal dries shiny from the epoxy which is okay, but if you sift some fine coal over the wet epoxied coal and let it all set you can then shake off the excess and have a nice, realistic matte coal pile. At least I think so.

Then I connected up the tubing and was ready to go. First, I filled the copper storage cup with two tablespoons of Sterno, and oiled everything all around. The boiler received 100 milliliters of distilled water, and the displacement lubricator got some steam cylinder oil. All told, it only took about 5 minutes to prepare. The engine was set up on blocks (that were glued to the base, just for extra security) and lit up. After 7 minutes I rotated the flywheel and after some sputtering and help with the flywheel it took off. Or, at least it ran. The cylinder exhaust shot straight forward and made a real mess of the white cardboard I had set up to prevent just such a thing! But, at least it worked on the first try.

After 13 minutes of running it slowed down and stopped. After it all cooled, I drained the boiler and found about 20 milliliters of water left, as well as a collection of black, teal, and bronze colored flakes. Residue from soldering the boiler, most likely. I noticed two problems that I wanted to fix. First, the cylinder in-port barb was loose so I repaired it with Loctite 680 per advice here. (Even though it ran fine with it loose). The other change that was needed was to figure out how to stop that oily mess from exhausting out of the cylinder. I drilled a hole in the deck and routed some exhaust tubing down through it to the track.

I then ran the engine again, filling it up with a little less water, and it ran for about 17 minutes after coming up to temperature. I think the parts are starting to bed in and I was even more pleased with its performance. The exhaust worked well though it flooded the wood below with water. I attempted to test it on a circle of cheap tinplate Bachmann G scale track outside but it didn't like the tight radius (and, perhaps, the gauge was pinched or wide in points due to the inferior track) leading to lots of bumping and derailing... and even tipping over! But, it is fast enough to be amusing. So, success! No, it isn't a Roundhouse Lady Anne, but it is something...

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

D&H MOW boxcar #35622

D&H #35622 in Albany, NY (August 1984)
I bought this slide recently because there were several neat things about it. I collect D&H MOW slides from the 1980s and have a lot showing their coaches, combines, cranes, and gondolas in the "blue dip scheme", which were done in the late 1970s and by 1984 were pretty faded. But, I haven't seen this boxcar before. Note patched over numbers are a darker, more recent, blue color. It's a 40' car and I have no models of any because I have never seen a 40' car in a 1984-era picture. Yet, here is one in Albany, NY that would be quite appropriate for my layout. Interestingly, it isn't rusted very much but just faded. Usually all old boxcars from this period were rusted quite a lot from the snow and rain, but not this one. I wonder why?

Regardless, it is an interesting image and perhaps I will build a model of it someday to sit on my of my yard tracks.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Scratchbuilding a B&M Milk Car - Part 3 (plug doors and roof)

Photo: Warren Dodgson (September 1994)
At the onset of this project there were three challenges that I knew I would face: the ends, the plug doors, and the roof. I wanted to strive for maximum scratchbuilding points (because I know other areas will be lacking and cost me points) so I reached out Bob Hamm: MMR, friend, and former director of the NMRA MMR program. He advised to scratchbuild everything so I took his advice to heart. Having built the ends which were in a previous post, I next moved on to the doors. Thankfully, again George Dutka and his friend Warren Dodgson came to the rescue and both had useful pictures of the door. I had never really considered how a plug door boxcar worked before but after studying the picture to the right it all started to make sense. There were also a bunch of interesting mini-challenges to the project. For example, much of what makes the door so neat is also practically impossible to make in HO scale without purchasing etched castings. The hinges with their bolt detail, the steel channel diagonal support pieces, the intricate upper and lower connectors between the vertical bars and the door support wheels...oy!

But, at least I was building it in HO scale, where many of those details would be lost. I couldn't locate a suitable commercial source of the c-channel for the door tracks, so I cut down some that was oversize into two pieces and then attached those L-shaped pieces at the top and bottom. Wheels were thin slices of styrene rod, joined with tiny pieces of styrene strip. By chance, I had some 0.020" rod that worked perfectly for the vertical supports. The cross braces and hinges are more slices of thin styrene. The underside of the door track is studded with tiny bits of styrene. And, the locking mechanism is a fabrication round and square styrene parts. It isn't perfect, it is the best I could do.

It was at this time that I realized I had painted myself into a corner. More accurately, into a boxcar. When I built large scale freight cars I always attached the roof to the body first, and then mated them with the frame. That way, the roof could be secured properly and also bracing underneath was a breeze. Here, I forgot the wisdom of that until it was too late. So, now I had a dilemma of trying to add a complex roof to the edges of the body without sagging or huge gaps. First, I added some intermediate bracing cut at the same pitch as the ends. I used a steel ruler to make sure that all the braces were in alignment before the glue cured. A couple of passes with a file after corrected any errors.

Then, I laid out the roof on some 0.020" thick styrene I had. From the drawings I had, I then used three colors of markers to indicate where the roof ribs and panels would get aligned. The prototype has a opposite-facing pattern and I was concerned I would mess them up part way. Green lines indicate where ribs will go. I hoped to bend the roof down the middle gentle and attach it as one piece but that didn't work and it split into two pieces, so each was was glued individually. Then, all the joints except the centerline one were filled with Testor's while modeling putty, sometimes thinned with MEK.

The roof panels had to be as close to identical as possible, and I needed a lot of them (over twenty). Luckily, I had some 0.020" thick styrene strips the exact width necessary so it was just a process of cutting each one to length and then profile. Easier said then done. My NWSL chopper came in handy for the easy first part. Then, I lined them all up against the straight edge and taped the the ends. After some measuring and marking with a pen, I had a pile of pieces that needed to be trimmed to shape. I used my favorite tool, the Xacto #18 wide chisel blade, to get the job done. It went quickly while listening to a movie, a good strategy for dealing with tedious tasks.

Then, one by one the roof panels were attached. First I lined up the wider end and glued it down, leaving the thinner end handing in the air. I also skipped every-other panel to start so that my clumsy fingers didn't bump them while the glue was curing. After that, the thinner ends were glued by bending them down gently and holding it in position with the sides of a wooden toothpick (which prevented leaving prints in the soft styrene). One side was completed and left to cure, then the other side was done. You may notice that it is balanced on some wooden dowels, which are actually glued to the board. Those, and the markings on the board, allow me to support the car by its underside without damaging any of the delicate brake detail underneath.

I have Archer rivet decals in the mail, and there are plenty of grab irons to work on next.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Scratchbuilding Flatcars - Part 5 (BN decals & load)

I was searching the internet a while ago for an interesting flatcar to model and decided to do a green Burlington Northern one. I came across a Tangent Scale Models advertisement for BN #610196 flatcar with "crooked lettering." My guess is that the BN stencils for the lettering were just a little too wide to fit between the flatcar stake pockets and instead of modifying the stencil the car workers just tilted it a little bit to make everything fit. It looks a bit silly, but I liked it. I also appreciated that it didn't have a lot of extra lettering on the sides. So, even though my car is based on a Thrall-built car and this was a General Steel Castings I went with it anyway. The car was decaled in much the same way as my other car, but this time I intentionally made it look like the picture which meant things weren't on the level (see what I did there?). In fact, I think I over-compensated for the slant. Oops!

Since this car looked to be in good shape I thought a stack of steel plates would be a good choice. The nearly-clean green body, the stained wooden deck boards, the rusty steel plates, the shiny black tie-down straps, and the bright white-wood stake pocket chocks and separation boards would make for a visually contrasting load. I had built some steel plate loads in the past, but the March 2016 issue of Model Railroader contained an article by M.R. Snell that jogged my memory. I cut pieces of  0.060" thick styrene into several lengths (three of one size, and a smaller one for the top for variety) and then sprayed them with flat gray primer. Then, they were dusted with Rustoleum camouflage paint to give some tooth as well as a base rust coat. Then, multiple layers of drybrushed brown and orange were added to indicate a patina of rust that was developing on the untreated "steel" plates.

For the wood which separated the steel plates to allow for forklifts to be able to move it, as well as banding to go under it, I used some more of the Mt. Albert wooden ties I had lying around. I split with with my knife into the sizes I wanted and then attached them with superglue gel to the bottom of the styrene plates. Then, piece by piece I built up the load using more wood and glue. For the banding that goes around the load, I had two choices. To mimic heavy-duty cloth strapping I have used slices of masking tape painted a dirty yellow, but for blued steel banding I used strips of black electrical tape. You can't trust the adhesive alone, so I superglued the ends under the load.

My lettering is "too" slanted. Oh well.
The deck was lightly weathered with oil paint washes, but I didn't want it to look beat up. The steel load was glued to the deck and then additional banding was added through the stake pockets. Chopped wood was installed in other stake pockets to prevent the load from shifting completely off the car due to rough handling. After that, I glued on the delicate brake wheel and shaft and the car was complete!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Flashback: Mechanicville Yard

(November 26, 1984)
There are a couple of interesting things going on in the rail yard, and despite being about 6 months out of my modeling window I still could glean useful information. The train, for instance, is five engines long and consists of three builders: EMD, EMD, Alco, GE, and I thing EMD. What is that GE engine anyway? I wonder if it was a former D&H U23-B painted in B&M blue (unlikely), or a former blue-dip D&H engine (like #2316). Was it one of the Conrail U-boats that the D&H acquired? And why is the USDOT inspection coach in the yard? Was Guilford receiving federal grant funds some project near here? Hmmmm...

(August 14, 2012)
And here is the same yard, from about the same perspective, nearly 30 years later. While the yard was at one time nearly ripped out, a new yard was reinstalled nearby as a container terminal. That being said, though, the glory years of Mechanicville Yard are long gone. Here, instead of row after row of tracks, ballast, weeds, dirt, old switch lists, and other railroad junk are instead just now fields of green. The grass grows where once hundreds of freight cars would be sorted out into new trains and engines would get serviced. But, some things still remain. Trains led by engines of mixed builders and various railroads (that don't belong in New England!) still roll through the area, and some of them still make you wonder Hmmmm.....

Monday, April 27, 2020

Scratchbuilding Flatcars - Part 4 (Conrail decals & load)


I mentioned it in my last flatcar post, but one of my two cars will be Conrail #716019 based on this picture I found online. The prototype isn't the same: my car is based on a Thrall built flatcar and the picture is of something else. But, I liked its beat up appearance and it seemed as good as any. Once again Ricky at Modern Rail Decals came through for me with some decal sets custom made for my cars. They went on super easy and were strong enough for someone with my "delicate touch" to hamfist into position. After the car was done up, all of the decals were sealed with Dullcote and it was ready for a load and some weathering.

Photo by Jonathan Fischer, used with permission
I knew I wanted to try and get as many merit points as I could, so adding a scratchbuilt load seemed natural. The Conrail flatcar was supposed to represent a beat up car so carrying a brand new load just wouldn't make much sense. Something like MOW equipment, wheels, scrap rail, or ties seemed more appropriate. While searching the internet, I found a fantastic picture of an Alaska Railroad flatcar with a load of used railroad ties. The ties are just mounded on the car, and some look like they are ready to tumble off! Additionally, the "end restraints" look to be nothing more than steel square tubing and chain. All of it would require scratchbuilding. The kicker was that I had a huge bag of HO scale wooden ties on my shelf with no purpose.

Lots of ties (vertical) with horizontal tape masking
everywhere except where I want the rust pain to show.
The ties, from Mt. Albert Scale Lumber, were purchased through Fast Tracks... the same company that makes those neat track jigs. I think I bought them while laying track to slide under rail joiners, but discovered that they are much thicker than plastic flextrack ties (they scaled out to 7" x 9" x 8.5' which is correct for many railroad ties) and were more work to sand down than the plastic ones. They are only sold in bags of 1000, so I had about 998 left! They were stained in a very dark ink/alcohol wash for 24 hours and then left to dry. The photo showed that the ties were definitely used because there were rust stains where either the rail itself or tie plates had been. This looked to be a fun detail to replicate, so I used some scrap balsa wood and poster board to make a "tie plate weathering jig."

The load was built up on a base of clear 0.010" styrene, which is thin and yet allows the load to be removed. The first layer of ties were superglued to the base and subsequent layers were built up with white glue. I placed each tie by hand. Finally, a light sprinkling of real dirt, ballast, and green foam were applied and then shaken off. I probably could have used another 100 or so ties but I threw out the stain first so I can't make more. I also fabricated some support brackets similar to the prototype picture using C-channel and square strip styrene. The flatcar deck was then heavily weathered with additional oil stains.

Ignore the diagonal shading under the stake pockets!
Finally, everything was put together. The Kadee couplers and Accurail trucks were attached with 2-56 screws into holes I had drilled before the wood decking went on. I replaced the terrible looking wire "glad hands" at the ends with Precision Scale Co. castings, which look much better. The brake wheel and shaft were installed on the end of the car. The load was secured to the deck with thick superglue gel, and then the tie retraining brackets were strung up with some 45 links-per-inch chain I bought from Crescent Locomotive Works and secured with superglue into the stake pockets. Everything was given a final coat of Dullcote and then I was able to call the car finished.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Weathering British Rail coaches


Since "The Great British Train Show" in Toronto has unfortunately but necessarily been cancelled, I am posting about a replacement British-themed project I was working recently. At the December "Great Train Extravaganza" show in Albany I picked up four British Railway OO gauge coaches for $6 each. They are old Lima brand models and the detailing is a bit dated. I remember seeing Lima advertisements in Model Railroader in the late 1980s and early 1990s for their British and especially African Railway trains. Even though the coaches' detailing is a bit crude, I had some money in my pocket to burn and so these four cars came home with me.

After doing a little digging online, I found out that they were models of cars that were from the late 1960s and early 1970s in Britain. Having only a few other British models in my collection, and with nothing that matched, I was essentially starting from scratch. I took them apart (not very easy as they had lots of internal tabs... which I cut or ground away to prevent future problems) and then surveyed what I had. They came with basic interior moldings, and the roof also contains clear glass sides which slip into the car's four walls to provide the window glass. I marked the inside of each car, its matching roof, and interior to allow me to get them back together in their proper configuration later.

The wheels were metal, which was nice, but the flanges were huge. I turned down one set on my belt sander and decided it was too much work to do the rest. Intermountain 36" metal wheels were too small for these cars (which are 1:76 scale, and the prototype wheels are larger than 36" anyway, meaning I needed much larger wheelsets). I planned to get them at the G.B.T.S. but its cancellation forced me to Plan B which was a company in the U.K. called Peter's Spares, who also have a handy EBay store. They fit perfectly in three sets of trucks, but in one set they were tight. Dimension wise they checked out okay, so two of my trucks must be slightly warped.

The car trucks were sprayed flat black and then drybrushed with brown acrylic paint. This goes on bright but it dries to a nice dull color that looks like both dirt and rust. The wheelsets were also given this same color on all surfaces. Then, I removed the roof/window pieces and lightly drybrushed the sides of the coaches with the same color brown. The black ends were given a heavier treatment, especially around the diaphragm and buffers. After that, I applied a black oil paint wash to the sides. The roofs on all the coaches were spray painted with a dark gray color and then given an alcohol & ink wash. Then, everything was Dullcoted.

The interiors need to be repainted too, as that yellow is really garish. The white bathroom windows (I think?) are scratched up and also could use a repaint. Then, I will add some figures and that will be that. Now, I just need a diesel to pull them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Amtrak Heritage Unit #712


Amtrak has a soft spot in my heart. I have fond memories of my parents and grandparents bringing me to the train station. And, I think that the Phase III scheme with its equal spacing of the red, white and blue stripes always looked the best. But, in 1994 the new Phase IV scheme with dark blue and white pinstripes was unveiled and that slowly marked the end of the Phase III scheme. So, imagine my delight when Amtrak joined the Heritage Unit bandwagon. In 2016 it was announced that all locomotives on the "Empire State Express" service would be repainted in a modified Phase III scheme. I had seen a couple but never got a picture of one until recently when I went trainspotting in Amsterdam, NY. This shot shows #712 slowing for the station only a couple hundred yards ahead. While not the best shot, I will take it! Now I can cross it off the bucket list.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Suspended Ceiling at last!

Still need more lights on the closer side of the layout
One of my dreams came true this past week as I finally had a suspended ceiling installed in my basement. I had been planning this since we moved in and obtained several quotes, but no contractor that I talked to really understood what I was trying to do. One wanted to sell me a full basement conversion, another couple heard what I wanted and decided the job was too small for their troubles. One guy really bought in that I just wanted a simple, clean ceiling and took the time to explore the problems in my basement that might cause him some trouble. We agreed to only put it up a ceiling in three-quarters of the basement, as the other quarter had too many low-hanging utility pipes.

The basement after 2 solid days of painting it all blue.
After coming to terms last fall, I had to wait until recently to get it done because of scheduling, funding, and other things. But, with the recent pandemic going on I reached out to him to see if he wanted to move up the job. Since I was home all day anyway, I didn't need to take off time for it. He readily agreed, and so last week he came over with his crew to put it up. There were of course problems, like not having a square wall in the place, plus the stores were all sold out of commercial grade ceiling tiles. But, we got through it. And he seemed somewhat impressed by my train layout (as much as is completed so far.) I could hear him talking with the other guys about his grandfather's layout.

The basement on closing day. I inspected here first.
The lights are great. The contractor selected recessed LED lights which are great for a couple of reasons. First, they are cheap and will last a long time (and supposedly save the earth because they use less energy). Second, they are adjustable in terms of what Kelvin level (light color) you want. And, LEDs won't fade your scenery like other types of lights. The brand we used is Utiilitech (#1500765) and the colors are 2700k, 3000k, 4000k, 5000k, and 6500k. After some experimentation and a lot of previous research online, I went with 3000k. They are nice and warm and sunny, and any more into the 4000k range looked too blue to me. Having blue walls might have amplified that. I think 3500k would be perfect, but oh well.

The basement during the Open House.
I am glad I did the ceiling now and held off on the scenery. Boy, it was really filthy up there and even after covering up the layout with protective paper and such I still had to do a lot of vacuuming. For those who decide to do it after a layout is installed I say that they are crazy! And speaking of crazy, what is with the weird pictures? The first is obviously how the layout looks now. It still needs things like backdrops, scenery, and a proper fascia. They will all come in time, now that I have the ceiling installed.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Scratchbuilding Flatcars - Part 3 (painting & wood decking)

I don't own an airbrush, so to paint the cars I needed to use rattle cans. I also wanted to avoid the paint found at the big box stores as it usually comes out much too thick, and the nozzles are terrible (except for the Krylon ones). One flatcar was going to be done in Burlington Northern green, and the other in Conrail brown. Both choices are throwbacks to two railroads that I have always been fascinated with. Had a hobby store been open, I could have wandered in and easily picked out the right cans of spray paint. But, they aren't, so I relied on a non-local (80 minutes round trip) hobby store to choose them for me and leave them hidden outside for me to pick up. The Tamiya paint he chose (TS-1 "Red Brown and TS-35 "Park Green" are pretty close).

After using primer on the underside to hide all my ink markings, I painted the cars with multiple light coats. I didn't bother to heavily paint the top deck side because it would be hidden with board. But, I couldn't help but notice that on the underside even after priming and painting the cars some of my Sharpie markings were still visible. They should disappear during the weathering treatments I plan to apply, but it is still a bit concerning. Also, at this time I noticed that the thin styrene deck had warped so I sanded it flat. As you can see, some areas were worse than others. I then resprayed the tops, even though it will all be hidden under the decking.

The flatcars looked pretty naked without their decking. For these cars though I wanted to use real wood. I looked into purchasing HO scale 2x12" boards from suppliers and cutting them down to length myself but then I ran into an EBay posting from "Crescent Locomotive Works" who sells laser cut wooden boards in various lengths. He didn't have the side I needed off hand, but we worked out a deal for him to custom cut them for me. It cost only about $7 for enough boards for two cars, and each end cut is perfectly square. That is a bargain to me. They were stained in a "dark" ink wash (1 pint of rubbing alcohol, 2 teaspoons ink) using a recipe I likely stole from Dave Frary.

The boards were divided into five batches and added to the alcohol at staggered times, such that the first group was in the stain for 12 hours and the last batch was only in for 4 hours. Then they were all left to dry overnight on some paper. They really looked pretty similar in color and I was a bit disappointed. On my shelf is a can of dark Minwax stain left over from my handlaying days, so I considered pulling it out to further color the ties. But, in the end I just used what I had made. As you can see from the car, there actually is a bit of a difference in the color of the wood. Not so much as to be obnoxious, but enough that it looks pretty realistic.

As mentioned above, the flatcar tops were not perfectly flat. In fact, on the Conrail model especially it was nothing close to flat. That thin styrene buckled quite a bit. Since I am modeling the Conrail car as an older car in MOW service a bit of ruff and tumble is a good thing. Perhaps planned? And, I wanted the deck boards to be a bit more worn down and rough than those on the BN car. Even still, I had trouble getting the boards to come close to lying flat on the deck and had to result to clamps. So, the procedure went like this: lay down a bead of Loctite Gel Superglue, apply two boards, and clamp with clothespins for 20 minutes. Working from home, it was easy. Had I only had evenings to do it, though, it would have been utterly frustrating.

Also, I had to notch the boards around the stake pockets. It wasn't terrible difficult, especially with a chisel-blade knife, but more than once I laid down the superglue only to discover I had forgotten to notch the boards. It took a few minutes for the glue to set, so I could easily pull the board up and cut away the offending areas. The Conrail flatcar will need a bit more weathering of everything, including the deck, and I might try and scratch up the wood a bit to represent a dragged load. But, in the end, I am really pleased with how the cars came out.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Scratchbuilding a B&M Milk Car - Part 2 (car body & brakes)

I think that it is important to learn new skills and grow as a modeler. With each new freight car I am scratchbuilding I am trying to develop new techniques and push myself. With my O scale caboose, it was just taking the first steps on something small and simple. The HO scale flatcars had more complicated frame and brake gear components and the parts were smaller. Here, there are three distinct areas that are going to be difficult to replicate and thus pose interesting challenges. First, the plug doors on the sides. Second, the ends. And finally, the roof. And despite there being commercial castings for all three elements I decided I would scratchbuild each.

The body is a simple box made from 0.040" thick styrene. After going in on a group purchase with some friends, I also have a large amount of thicker styrene sheets in my inventory but this seemed a good choice for the car. Following the plan, I laid out the sides and ends. It is also important at this phase to compare my measurements to the floor I already built, because if it was over or undersize then some adjustments might need to be made. Thankfully, I will still spot on. The corners of the cars were braced with styrene rod, as was the bottom. I left off top bracing at this time because I still need to figure out how I am going to build and attach the roof and I don't want anything to limit my options yet.

I should point out at this time that I didn't plan to start working on the body. I wanted to push forward with the frame and add the brake details and other things first. However, despite my best efforts to brace the inside of the frame to my dismay I discovered that it was still bowing too. I don't understand this phenomenon at all, but I couldn't let the floor continue to bend. So, I jumped ahead with building the carbody so that it would act as a straightener for the frame. After holding it securely all over and letting the joints fully cure, I also made sure to go ahead and add three interior bracing walls to support the middle of the sides of the car.

At this time I took measurements and I laid out all of the vertical lines which would later receive rivets, most likely via decals. There will be a lot of rivets to add! I also marked out the doors. A small machinist's square was pretty helpful. I need some better pictures of the door and sliding doorway hardware and guides before I can build them, so I am deferring them to later. Again, it would have been awesome had the museum still had this car out for display as I could have taken a million pictures and perhaps some measurements. As it is, there is only one known car to exist and as I later discovered even the brass models got some details wrong.

Picture by George Dutka (2015)
The ends came next. From some research I did I discovered that the ends are the "Dreadnaught" style ends. The term was supposed to conjure up images of Battleships and such, with the implication that the ends of the cars would as tough and strong as those ships. Maybe. Anyway, there are various styles of Dreadnaught ends (check out the Oct. 2014 Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine for an excellent article) and my car had ends similar to those found on express reefer cars. While referring to the brass models available I noticed that they weren't correct. They showed partial ribs on the ends between the main ribs where there should actually be just straight lines, which is prototypical for the double-door series car but not the single door cars. However, George Dutka came to the rescue and sent me some pictures which he also kindly allowed me to repost here... thanks George! Some interesting points are the rounded over corners, the grooves in the corners which form a squiggly pattern (technical term), and the intermediate ribs or bulges or whatever they are in between the six full size ribs. Modeling it will be a challenge.

I initially considered purchasing commercial end castings and modifying them to match the prototype but was counseled by another MMR that this would not be a good decision. It would be better to make them myself. The ends started off as pieces of 0.020" styrene. I didn't want to fabricate the ends directly on the car because if I messed up I would need to shave and sand down the carbody itself. Instead, I wanted something I could glue one later once I had them how I wanted them. I laid out the locations of the horizontal ribs and also the prominent row of rivets. Again, I used a square to make sure everything lined up correctly.

Each of the ribs is a piece of styrene that I essentially divided into thirds lengthwise. Then, the outer thirds were chopped with my chisel blade until the profile was of a really squat octagon. The ends don't actually come to a point but they are very close thereto. Then, each piece was glued onto the car end pieces with MEK. After the solvent had evaporated and cured, I looked over what I had done and was pretty pleased with the results. At this moment, I pushed all the chips to the center of the table and went all in. I was concerned that the ends might warp, so I glued the ends to the carbody structure and made sure that it was securely attached.

Once that was done, I took a large flat file and removed material from all five ribs so that they tapered down in thickness as it reached the edge of the car. I did this with both ends and then I took small needle files and went between the ribs horizontally to knock down the sharp edges. My goal was to smooth over the pieces enough to look like a stamping. Finally, I took my files and rounded over and then notched the corners to match prototype pictures. Then, I added smaller pieces of styrene 0.020" rod between the ribs, as well as a plate on the bottom. The dust and chips were cleared and I flooded everything with MEK with a brush and that actually melted and fused it all together.

Unlike my O scale caboose which might just sit on a display shelf, I planned to run this car on my layout from time to time (even though by 1984 it was likely falling apart in real life) so I wanted to put weight inside it where it would be hidden. I build a couple of boxes from some scrap styrene I had to hold lead shot. I weighed 3 ounces of the stuff and mixed it up with some two-ton epoxy (the longer it takes to set, the stronger it is and the more I like it) and then poured it into the boxes. They were secured to the braces that run along the floor but don't touch the floor or the walls directly. That way, if I have to drill holes for wires or grabs or whatever I won't have to drill through epoxy/lead.

The above was spread out over a couple of days and by then the the Tichy brake castings set (#3013) arrived. Only a few of the pieces matched what I needed, but it gave me a start. The rest, including the tanks and brackets, were fabricated from styrene tube and channel stock. The connecting lines were bent from 0.015" brass and 0.020" styrene rod. I did the best I could based on the drawing, but the good thing is that once it is all painted black it will likely disappear in the shadows. I also built up the truck bolster area to provided greater clearance for the trucks to rotate. I may need to adjust the coupler box height as well.

From this point on, the car is a bit fragile and difficult to put right-side up. I may build a simple cradle to hold it. Next step: either the roof or the doors.