Gondola Abuse 101

I recently posted my process for making quick and easy scrap metal loads. The loads are ragged and rusty, and need equally distressed gondolas to haul them. Here’s how I add years of abuse to my gondolas – in under two hours:

This one started with an Atlas 52′ Thrall gondola.

unknown

After removing the trucks, I carefully pressed a hot soldering pencil to the inside of the car walls, between each of the ribs. (This should be done in a well-ventilated area.) It takes a little practice to do enough melting without doing too much. Here’s a short clip of the “melting” process:

This process leaves a stringy mess inside the gondola and a few holes in the sides.

melted even closerup

I cleaned up the inside using a Dremel tool with a burr bit. (Wear safety glasses and a dust mask whenever you use a high-speed rotary tool.)

dremeldeburred

Next I used a pallet knife to apply a thick layer of Squadron White Putty inside the car.

putty

The putty fills any holes that were melted in the car sides and leaves a smooth(er) surface inside the car. I don’t want the surface to be too smooth, however. We are going for a rough, abused look.

w putty

After the putty dried (about 30 minutes) I returned with my Dremel tool to knock down any severe angles on the outside of the car, sculpting the melted mounds into more realistic looking bulges and dents. I used caution not to obliterate the ribs, but a few gouges in them adds to the effect.

closeup dremeled

When I was satisfied with the look of the car sides, it was time for paint.

At this point you could spray the car with a coat of a new color. In this case, I wanted to preserve the data and other markings. Plus, I’m a huge fan of patch-outs. So, I brushed flat black over the areas I roughed up with the Dremel. Where the BNSF reporting marks and road number were, I carefully brushed a square of dark green. I gave the entire inside of the car a coat of flat black.with patch

Floors of gondolas are usually covered with enough dirt that it’s not uncommon for weeds to sprout. I glued some brown fine ground foam randomly to the floor, adding a few sprigs of green ground foam here and there for weeds. I also added a few scale boards. Any other debris will look fine, just make sure there’s still room for a load to sit flat.

interior

I was not happy with the Atlas trucks, so I replaced them with my standby Micro-Trains 100-ton roller bearing trucks and 36-inch Fox Valley Models metal wheelsets. I weathered the sideframes with powders and painted the wheels rail brown.

Finally, I applied FCFL reporting marks and road number decals, then did some quick weathering with the the techniques I described here.

Loaded with scrap, FCFL 791905 is ready to haul!

finished gon

Would this one-of-a-kind gondola look good on your layout? Like FCFL Railway on Facebook by December 15, 2013 and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win it!

UPDATE – December 2013 – Congratulations to Justin Cesar of West Pueblo, CO, USA for winning the gondola drawing!

Realistic Scrap Metal Loads – Quick and Easy!

herbst1

These gondolas were loaded with realistic looking metal scrap in about 20 minutes each plus drying time.

Scrap metal loads are lively things – jagged fingers of rust pointing this way and that over the sides of battered gondolas, swaying in the wind and jostling with the bumps.

The cast resin loads on the market don’t cut it. Here’s how I made my own, for cheap, and in only about 20 minutes apiece (plus drying time).

I started by making a base plate of styrene to fit the bottom of a gondola. For 50-foot gons that is 3-11/6″ x 9/16″, for the longer 52-foot mill jobs extend it to 3-13/16″ with the same width.

base

The best way to simulate scrap is to use scrap. Every modeler has a collection of styrene odds and ends, and this is a great way to use them up. I looked for structural elements, like the struts from an old fueling platform kit, corrugated sheet, and anything else that looked like scrap metal. I cut these into random shapes, and made sure to “shred” some pieces into curly fingers with a scissors.

I used CA to glue my scrap to the base, starting with the most boring pieces first. I then built up a few layers of scrap pieces at random, jumbly angles.

early details

As the pile took shape, I added smaller pieces with more detail. I drilled some 1/8 and 1/16 holes in sheet styrene and cut them out. I also used some of my wife’s scrapbooking punches to make more interesting shapes – like a ladybug. Once I cut them up, the intricate shapes looked like scrap from CNC machines. Finally, I added a few pieces of very thin styrene that I was able to crinkle like discarded sheetmetal.

details

When I was satisfied with the content of the load, I test fit it in a gondola. Then I secured it with tape to a wood block and carried it to the garage for paint.

My technique for painting rusty metal is to use a can of flat black and a can of red metal primer, and spray the piece with both at the same time. For the scrap loads, I made sure to cover every angle and really soak the piece to obscure any white.

paint cans

When the rust/black paint dried, I came back with a fine brush and gave the crinkled sheetmetal pieces a coat of silver.

silver highlights

When the silver dried, I gave the whole load a heavy spray of dullcoat. This is key to the final rusty finish. Once the dullcoat was dry, I gave the piece a liberal wash with my diluted alcohol ink solution that I described in this post. The alcohol reacts with the dullcoat to develop a hazy, rusty finish when dry.

finished

And that’s that. Another time I’ll describe how I make my gondolas look abused. For now, I’ve got scrap to haul.

w loco

Rolling Reminders of the Salt of the Earth

We lost my wife’s grandfather earlier this year, in addition to my mom, which leaves some pretty big holes and has us ready to kiss 2013 goodbye. One silver lining, though, is that I had these remarkable people in my life, and they’ve inspired some satisfying modeling projects.

Grandpa Ray was salt-of-the-earth. He was the third generation to live on the family farm, but he supported his ten (yes TEN) children driving a truck. The farming he did gentleman style – a huge garden, some fruit trees, and for several years he even grew our family’s Christmas trees. It wasn’t his job, it was his way of life. He tended that land on Highway 310 for eighty-nine years.

This winter I will add a switching district to the layout, and one of the core industries will be Grandpa Ray’s Produce.

cars

These large boxcars will haul produce and canned goods from Grandpa Ray’s facilities to markets across the nation.

The fictional company borrows a lot from JR Simplot Company, an Idaho-based foodservice giant. The late Mr. Simplot, from what I can gather, would have been a kindred spirit to Grandpa Ray. He was a no-nonsense farmboy who valued hard work and, like Ray, refused to let age slow him down.

I have always been drawn to the Simplot insulated boxcars. These are mammoth pieces of equipment with the name “Simplot” big and red on the side.

(I suspect “Simplot” was sometimes a difficult name to carry around. It’s easy to denegrate, calling to mind “simple,” and the “plot” reminds you he came from the farm – or sounds like “plop.” I can’t imagine elementary school kids of any generation politely letting it go. So when he became successful, I like to think he wanted all those kids to know about it. The marketing people brought him a sketch of the cars and he shook his head. “No. Bigger.”)

I used to see Simplot cars from my office window, but we’ve relocated so I don’t get to look at the trains as much. Fortunately you can see one here.

On to the models.

interior bracing

Styrene strips stabilize and level the carbodies.

Carbodies:

A friend from the railroad club gave me a pair of 65-foot boxcar kits that rival the gigantic Simplot variety. They were old Roundhouse kits, I think.

The molding was a little sloppy, so I did a lot of filing and trimming. There were also a couple spots where bubbles left voids in the casting. I filled these with Squadron White Putty.

The underframes fit poorly, so I installed some strips of styrene at the base of the carbodies to make them ride level and fit securely.

The kits came with stirrup steps of the MicroTrains variety that snap into a goove in the underframe. However, the underframes lacked the appropriate machining to accomodate these. I cut off the steps and glued them to the carbodies directly. They’re good enough, though not perfect.

Finally, the models were molded with a wheel mechanism for securing the doors, but did not come with matching wheels. I remedied that with a set of HO-scale brakewheels that look about perfect.

door detail

HO-scale brakewheels are a fine replacement for the missing door-securing wheels.

Once I had the carbodies to my liking, I cleaned them thoroughly, then sprayed them reefer white. I set them aside to dry for several days.

Decals:

The “Grandpa Ray’s” herald and the other markings were made with Word, including “NEW 10-2013” marks to set the cars, and the layout, in the present day. The bushel of apples is clip art. I made several duplicates of each decal, expecting to ruin some in the application.

I printed the decals using my inkjet printer and let them dry for 24 hours before spraying them with Testor’s decal bonder. I let that dry for another 48 hours.

I applied my homemade decals like I do any others: I soak them in room-temperature water, and while they soak I brush a layer of MicroScale MicroSol Decal Setting Solution onto the model where the decal will go. I then apply the decal, and put another layer of MicroSol over the top.

MicroSol can make larger decals wrinkle up. They almost always dry beautifully flat, conforming to the finest molded details.

The homemade decals wrinkled up quite a bit more than storebought decals. I was able to get them to lay flat with careful strokes from a dry brush. However, in some cases, they folded over too badly to be saved and I had to go to the backups. (Thank goodness for the backups.)

Warning and instruction markings culled from storebought decal sheets rounded out the lettering.

Running gear:

The kits did not come with trucks, so I installed MicroTrains 100-ton roller bearing trucks with medium extension couplers. I added Fox Valley Models 36-inch metal wheelsets, which I painted rail brown. These models represent brand new rolling stock, so I did not weather the carbodies or the trucks. I carefully painted the bearing caps light blue to appear factory-fresh.

end detail

Unweathered MicroTrains trucks with the bearing caps painted blue give the models a factory-fresh feel. The bushel of apples is a clip-art image printed on clear decal paper.

Complete Fleet:

I have four other mechanical refrigerator cars that will join the Grandpa Ray’s fleet, carrying RAYX reporting marks and numbered 310 – (1 through 6). One of these wears reefer white and the decaling shown above. The others are patch-outs – Grandpa Ray would rather they get to work than hang around getting dressed up.

patchouts

A trio of second-hand mechanical reefers will simply be stenciled with RAYX reporting marks. Grandpa Ray would rather they get to work than hang around getting dressed up.

Nice Caboose…

If you’re describing something that brings up the rear, you call it a caboose, right? And if your wife looks good in those new jeans, you might (carefully) tell her you like her caboose. It’s a useful term, universally understood.

So when’s the last time you saw one?

The FCFL is a modern railroad, and like it or not my trains are caboose-less.

If you’re not familiar with railroads, since the mid-1980s the ends of trains in North America have largely been marked by “end of train devices” instead of cabooses. These are electronic boxes usually strapped to the trailing coupler of the last car to monitor the train – the pressure in the air brake lines – and send information by radio to the crew in the locomotive up front.

End of train devices usually also have a flashing red light to visibly mark the end of the train, leading to their other name, “flashing rear end devices,” or FREDs. Folks who miss cabooses – especially those who used to make a living riding in cabooses doing the work now done by FREDs – substitute a more derisive word for “flashing.”

I only vaguely remember cabooses, seeing them as a boy and occasionally waving to crews aboard them from the back seat at grade crossings. Most of my railfanning days are post-caboose, so I don’t miss them all that badly.

But now and again, I get a hankerin’ for the old days. Plus, I’m planning to add a switching district, and my crews will be doing a lot of shunting and a good bit of waiting around.

I think most railroads today use old cabooses simply as “riding platforms,” where crews doing a lot of switching and backing can stand on the platforms rather than hang on garbage-man style to the sides of the cars. I don’t like that idea. A whole glorious caboose, welded shut with only the porches put to use? No. The crews that will handle the Flagstaff turn are going to ride in style. A mobile office, with bunks and seats in the cupola and a pot of coffee brewing (though it is 2013 – maybe one of those Keurig things?).

This project started with an Atlas Norfolk & Western caboose, $12.50 at my favorite hobby shop. I would have preferred a more modern “wide vision” caboose, but those are more pricey and I figured I could bring this one up to date.

I disassembled the model and discarded the roofwalks, ladders and friction bearing trucks. I used Squadron White Putty to fill the ladder and roofwalk mounting holes, then painted everything Competition Orange. Once that dried, I painted the ends of the carbody and ends of the cupola blue. The roof got a coat of silver before I added safety stripes on the ends and the other decals, then weathered the whole thing with alcohol ink washes and some weathering powders. New running gear is a set of Micro-Trains 70-ton roller-bearing trucks and 33-inch Fox Valley Models metal wheels.

fcfl14

FCFL Caboose #14 waits for its next assignment at Salvation Point yard. The model is from Atlas, custom paint, decals and weathering, upgraded with MicroTrains trucks and Fox Valley Models metal wheelsets.

Old No. 14 here might not get much use. Only when I’m in the mood, and only then to show the way on long push moves during switching. But I think it looks pretty good just sitting in the yard.

Plus, my kids will know what a caboose is.