CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

HO Roster: TOFC equipment

Growing up in the 1980s, railfanning in the Rochester area meant generally three things: (a) Conrail, (b) unit coal trains, and (c) Trailer on FlatCar (TOFC) trains. I really like the looks of TOFC equipment, even though I am not the most knowledgeable on the subject. However, along the way I have done a bit of internet research on various forums as well as picked up several books that have helped a lot.

As time went on, TOFC has faded away and Containers on FlatCars (COFC) have become the primary method of transporting goods. It is a shame, as I really don't find container trains all that interesting. Even though the containers are multiple colors and the equipment can be diverse, it just looks "the same" to me. I bet this is how railfans in the Pennsy era felt when train after train of oxide red/brown cars rolled by.

Before we moved to our new house I collected a bunch of HO scale kits, mostly boxcars and covered hoppers. However, deep down I really wanted to buy some TOFC stuff. At the time I wasn't really sure what to get, but I was cognizant of the fact that I might mistakenly buy stuff that was too modern for my 1984-era layout. Therefore, I set a couple of ground rules: (a) no 53 foot trailers, (b) no flatcars that were designed for TOFC and COFC, (c) no three or five-coupled Impack sets, and (d) no flatcars with stenciling dates after my May 1984 date. As it turns out, I did purchase one flatcar stenciled July 1984 but I doubt anyone will notice! 

Things I did focus on were 40' and 48' trailers, early yellow TTX flatcars, and Front Runners. I also only wanted kits, because I like to build them. My layout will have 24" radius curves but I knew I wouldn't be building the kits to take curves that sharp. I was building them for the fun of it. They may or may not run on my layout, but I could stage them for pictures and also run them at other people's layouts. Also, I was going to weigh them per the NMRA recommendations, including adding some in the flatcars themselves and more in the trailers. And, the trailers were going to be permanently attached to the flatcars so I had to make the joints secure and not rely on the pins and hitches alone to do so. Finally, everything was going to get weathered.

I purchased several kits from different manufacturers, including Walthers, Athearn, and Accurail. Some modeled 85 foot cars, some modeled 89 foot cars, and some were not based on a real car at all. However, it only mattered to me when it came time to mount trailers. Obviously, you cannot fit two 45' trailers on a 85 car. The people at Accurail were helpful in advising me of their models that fit my era. Their kits were also very well done, though the instructions were sometimes vague when showing exactly where the hitches should be attached to the car decks for various trailer arrangements.

While the different makes of cars had various coupler swing arrangements, the Athearn ones were really strange. A-line sells upgrade metal bolster and underframe kits for these, but I didn't want to spend $22+ on a car I only paid $10 for. So, for all my cars I body mounted the couplers after building styrene pads and tapping them for 2-56 screws. The screws stick up a little through the top of the flatcar but I hid it pretty well with paint. I would rather have solidly-attached couplers even if it means the bump on the deck. The trucks all had metal wheels installed for added weight.

The hitches all came as plastic moldings, and while some were nice (Accurail, Walthers) some were terrible (Athearn). Of course, the Athearn kits were older blue box ones and many modelers had written them off entirely as unrealistic so I knew going in that they wouldn't be perfect. I wanted to model at least one flatcar with only one trailer on it (half-empty), and at least one trailer with back-to-back trailers, and at least one with trailers "elephant style." The plastic hitches built up nice but I broke one trying to mount a trailer so I gave up on them. Instead, I used metal Details West trailer hitch castings. I selected ones that I thought looked like the plastic ones in the kits, but when it was unclear I got the larger, stronger ones. They assembled up nicely. For me, they were worth the couple extra dollars each.

Whenever I could, I hid metal shot in the underframe in areas that wouldn't be visible or foul the turning of the trucks. It wasn't easy, but the Accurail cars had a hollow centersill that I drilled open and then used a tiny funnel to fill. I weathered the cars pretty heavily, though I focused more on dirt and grime on the deck itself where the trailers would normally go.


I looked on Ebay and bought a bunch of trailer kits. Some turned out to be too early for my era, and others were "out of region" such that I ended up with a bunch of Union Pacific trailers and didn't use them all. I noticed that pictures of Front Runners frequently had Southern Pacific trailers loaded on them so I bought some specifically. A member of a train club I was in years ago had some of these and they just didn't track well, mostly because they are light. I was especially careful to put weight as low as possible in the trailer. Even still, they will likely always be at the end of the train (which is I think how the prototype railroads handled them too.

For each of the trailers, I painted the wheels, hubcaps, silver trim, mud flaps, and tail lights. I also added license plates sold by Howards Hobby, which I think I found by just doing a simple internet search. I bought A-line vinyl mud flaps but the superglue kept flaking off the vinyl and they fell off, so I replaced them with cardstock painted black.  I don't know much about real trucks so I didn't base them off of specific prototypes. I modified them until they looked "right" to me. The silver trim was sometimes spray painted (for large areas like the roof and chassis) or brush painted (for door hinge trim). I skipped it if it would be so difficult that the final result would look bad. Better to not paint it than paint it horribly.

They were weathered too, usually with black sprays from cans along the roof to represent soot from truck exhausts, and dirt along the sides. I also read online that trailers didn't really get rusty because that made them unsafe for travel over the road, so I avoided rusting them too much. To add weight to the trailers (and thus to the finished flatcars), I built boxes of styrene and filled them with metal shot and glue for weight, with the boxes long and not very tall so the weight was down low.

To attach the trailers to the cars, I followed the good advice from the people at Accurail and used Loctite Super Glue gel. Once I learned how the bottle worked, I discovered this stuff is amazing! I glued the hitch areas as well as under the trailers. To give the tires a nice flat surface for gluing (and also to look like they were being compressed from the weight of the trailer) I sanded them flat. This gave me plenty of glue surface.

I avoided certain brands of trailers, especially ConCor, because they looked too unrealistic. I really liked the Athearn and Walthers trailers, and hope to buy some more down the road (get it?). Notably missing are Conrail "Trailway" trailers, which were all over the northeast. In fact, there is one still visible just east of Fort Plain, NY, from the I-90 Thruway (MP 197.4). The Conrail lettering has faded badly over the past 10 years but it is still there. Athearn made them but I never seem to win them on Ebay... no doubt my low bids are responsible. The Boston & Maine also had trailers with their markings in the early 1980s.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

WW&F #3 coach build (part 4)

I am finally on the home stretch, which is good because my layout itself is calling me.

I did the trucks first, mainly because they looked simple. I first drilled a hole in a small scrap of styrene and threaded the mounting screw through it and then tightened it up, giving me a convenient styrene handle to hold. Everything was given a spray of flat black paint. I removed the paint from the treads with some lacquer thinner and a Q-tip (some day I play to purchase acrylic wheel painting masks which protect the treads from paint overspray). I then disassembled the trucks and removed the wheels and used a microbrush to paint the faces with brown paint. I also painted the backs of the wheels and the axles mottled brown/black paint. In my opinion, many a good picture has been spoiled by unpainted axles shining under cars. Finally, I drybrushed the sides of the trucks with brown to represent a light coating of dirt. The WW&F kept the car in good condition, but some dirt is inevitable. A spray of Dullcote sealed it all up and lightened the drybrushing, making it blend in better.

The underframe was tackled next. I didn't prime it first but instead sprayed it with several light coats of gloss black paint. There were a lot of nooks and crannies underneath and I didn't want to flood it with paint, but some areas stood out in bright red and required frequently passes with the spray can. I was hoping to find Satin black at the store, but they didn't have any. The gloss turned out a bit too shiny (duh) so I lightly sprayed over it with flat black. Then, I drybrushed it with brown and sprayed it with Dullcote. The floorboards on the vestibules were a worn wood that appeared gray, which I painted separately and and then weathered.

This is another time when I regret not taking a single detailed picture of the coach even though I knew full well I was going to build a model of it. I was just so excited to ride the train and I completely forgot. Grrrr! 

I then assembled the body to the chassis in stages, starting with the middle. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get everything lined up perfectly in one go. The frame had a slight bend to it and had I tried to straighten it I feared the superglued joints would crack. To make things easier, I "popped" the weight off the frame by flexing it and the superglue released easily. I also sanded some areas of the frame a little more to let it slip into the body easier. Then, I superglued the middle of the car and let it cure. After a while, I did one end and finally the other. Adjusting the amount of water in the glass varies the amount of pressure applied. It came out fine.

Along the way, I realized slipping in the interior in one piece would be impossible with the three upper roof braces, I was supposed to slip it in before gluing on the body but it got in the way. So, I cut my interior up into smaller bits. This is how many of my projects go... I spend so much time getting things just the way I want them and then a problem comes up and I need to back track a bit. Oh well, it is just plastic and easy to cut. How I will fit them in, as well as install window glazing, remains to be seen. But, it will happen sometime down the road and not now.

The roof was given several light coats of gray primer, which revealed some roof joints that required a little more attention. However, some more white putty and sanding cleaned that up pretty good. As to final color, there are some pictures of the car (perhaps when it was new?) with a black roof, with the clerestory portions surrounding the glass painted green to match the body. However, the coach currently has a reddish roof that is now nearly black itself from the soot of the engine. It still has the green clerestory areas around the windows.

Internet pictures show that the amount of red or black on the roof varies, perhaps because they repainted it or washed it? It also looks like it had a canvas or tar-paper covering. I don't plan to model the covering right now, but had my hacking apart and rejoining of the roof sections looked terrible I could always have hid it under that!

I looked for a can of spray paint that was close to the red color of the roof at Lowes but came up empty. So, I went to the hobby store with a postcard from the WW&F showing the coach and lo and behold there it was... a can of Testors red paint. When I initially sprayed it on it went on glossy and bright red, which was NOT what I wanted. When I checked on it the next morning though it was perfect. Perhaps it is a tad too bright right now but there will be weathering applied which will darken it and tone it down a bit. The fact that the roof was originally painted in bright red by Bachmann is a bit of irony that hasn't escaped me. It almost looks like I haven't done anything to it.

I thought the green clerestory areas would be tough to do with clean separation lines, but since it is all heavily weathered I might have been able to hide any rough edges. I bought a bottle of craft paint that matched and tried to paint the areas. I got about 1/2" in and realized I couldn't do it. No brush could get in the cracks easily, and it wasn't going on smooth. I needed to spray it. So, I washed off the paint and after it dried masked the whole roof with blue tape. Then, a couple of light passes of the green spray paint and it was done. And you know what, it came out really good! I did a little touch up of each color by spraying the paint into a paper cup and then brushing it on, but on the whole I was very pleased.

Still, it would be nice if D.R.L. offered a wooden overlay in their kits that had the clerestory cutouts which could be painted green and then glued into the Bachmann roof. Then, it was time to weather the roof. It was at this point that I started to question whether I should just leave the roof bright red. However, it looked like a Christmas train at this point and I decided to press on. I sprayed it first with a light coat of Dullcote to tone down the gloss green in the clerestory areas and also give the weathering medium some texture to stick to.

I like weathering with oil paints. I have tried alcohol/acrylic paint washes but I find that they sometimes dry blotchy, they turn the Dullcote white, the alcohol sometimes lifts the paint from the car below, and when I try and layer washes to build depth previous weathering layers wash off. So, I went with oil paints. I squeezed some black straight out of the tube onto a plastic paint dish (yogurt lid) and used a large brush dipped in odorless mineral spirits to dab it all over the roof. I then gently blew all along the roof to help distribute it. More applications of oil paint and mineral spirits helped give more even coverage.
Some areas came out better than others, but with oil paint you never know until it is dried. It matches the real coach.

Update: I printed out some pictures of the coach and realized that while it had a nearly black roof a couple of years ago, now it is mostly red with a light coating of soot. When I blindly showed some pictures of the coach to my wife and asked which she preferred more, she told me she wouldn't have noticed the difference without me poinint it out. That being said, she preferred the red one more. I did too, so I took lightly misted the roof with the red and let it dry. Then, to replicate the effects of soot I took some of my finely ground real coal and rubbed the powdery residue all along the roof. Several applications of this built up the color I wanted. (Yes, if I had black chalk I might have tried that too).

Right now, I am happy with it. There are at least eight coats of gray primer, red primer, dull coat, more red primer, and more dull coat on the roof, and I am quitting while I am ahead!

I then prepared the decals for installation. Man, those gold stripes are a real pain to install! No matter what I did, they just ended up shredding. Perhaps they are old? Also, the lettering isn't spaced right for the "full length" car so I will reach out to D.R.L. to see what they recommend. I would hate to have to cut each letter up and apply it separately. I need to sit back and think. But, I did install the car numbers, which is a small victory.

Still to do: apply decals to the car, install the clerestory "windows" back in the roof, install windows along the car, install the interior, install the end railings, and attach the couplers.