Upgrading Model Power Heavyweight Passenger Cars

Last week I wrote about the steam shuttle to Many Lost Ways National Park.

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I built this train a few years ago, before MicroTrains and Walthers introduced their very nice heavyweight passenger cars. My options at the time were brass car sides or these units from Model Power.

The Model Power cars have serviceable carbodies, but the lettering, running gear and couplers left a lot to be desired.

Bodywork and Paint

The most noticeable drawback to the carbodies was the lack of any steps. I remedied that by cutting the entire platforms from the ends of a couple of cheap cabooses I bought from the junk bin at my local hobby shop. With some careful filing, I was able to neatly fit these beneath the vestibules on both ends of the parlor car and the passenger end of the combine.

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On the baggage end of the combine, I cut bits of ladder from an old bridge kit and glued them in place as stirrup steps.

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The car ends had poorly molded brakewheels next to the diaphragms. I removed these with a sharp hobby knife and filed the area smooth.

Next I thoroughly cleaned the models and sprayed them Bomber Tan. After the paint dried, I lettered the cars for the Four Corners, one of the predecessor roads to the FCFL.

I brushpainted the diaphragms and other details, then lightly weathered the cars with weathering powders.

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Interiors

I removed the plastic interior inserts with molded seats and sprayed them dark red. I then added a handful of passenger figures, trimming their legs and torsos to fit as needed.

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I made a paper template of the window openings and used it to cut strips of manilla file folders for window shades. I glued these to the inside of the window glazing.

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Running Gear

I discarded the Model Power trucks and replaced them with MicroTrains trucks.

The trucks came with plastic inserts that fit neatly in the factory truck-mounting holes. The inserts are pressed in from above, and the mounting pin is pressed in from below, holding the truck in place.

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The trucks come with couplers that are supposed to be mounted on a tab with a long slot in it. A small screw is supposed to go through the slot, making the coupler adjustable. I wanted the cars to couple more closely, so I trimmed the tab about 1/16″ and glued the couplers in place with CA. This works for my short train, which doesn’t put much stress on the couplers.

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Close coupling!

I’ve since acquired a couple of the newer, higher quality heavyweights – I’m proud that these look pretty good alongside them.

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ModelStory: Attitude Adjustment

“That was the last day I took pride in my job,” Russ Herefeldt says, setting down his coffee. “After that it was just punching a clock.”

A bold disclosure to make to the guy who runs the railroad, but the burly man with the salt-and-pepper beard sits across from me and folds his arms, unapologetic.

I’ll miss that.

He’s retiring after 43 years, and our little breakfast together is a standard parting gift.

(“Gift heck,” he snorts. “I earned it.”)

Indeed.

Russ started with The Five Lakes Railway in 1970, 23 years old and unsure what to do with his bachelor’s of fine arts. He started washing rolling stock, learned to weld and torch, and worked his way up to retire as foreman of the Milwaukee car shop.

The day he lost pride in his job was in 2001.

See, Russ is an artist by calling and a repairer of railcars by necessity. He’s produced a respectable body of work in oils and plans to split retirement between family and canvas.

Not that he didn’t love his job. Russ is the kind of guy who sees the art in a job well done, and can look at something as utilitarian as a boxcar and appreciate it as a thing of beauty.

So it was a big deal for him when, in 2000, management asked him to sit on a committee designing the look of the 80200 series boxcars.

It merged his work with his passion, and should have defined his career.

He worked with the advertising department, produced sketches and life-sized mockups, and even rode the company jet to a meeting with a consultant in Los Angeles. He felt valued and excited to be part of something visible and important for the company.

The pinnacle, he says, was the day the committee presented their recommendation to the board. He wore his only suit and sat in the large, cherry-paneled boardroom.

“We brought beautiful mockups of our design,” he recalls as we leave the restaurant and amble across the yard toward the shop. “It was simple and I think elegant, and after all the meeting and consulting and revisions, looked a lot like my initial vision. It was very satisfying.”

The design – his design – started with a color he mixed up called “Inland Sea.” To the left of the door was the railroad name and tagline, and to the right a blue silhouette of the Great Lakes. A patch of Four Corners blue on the end was a nod to the cooperative arrangement the two roads shared at the time.

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“…After all the meeting and consulting and revisions, it looked a lot like my initial vision. It was very satisfying.”

Russ even did two paintings to show the board: a portrait of a single unit, and a landscape showing a railyard with rows and rows of Inland Sea equipment.

He says he almost teared up when they approved the project. It meant his color and his design would become the face of the railroad, seen nationwide.

It was a heady day for a kid who started out washing freight cars.

Now Russ stands by one of his boxcars and shakes his woolly head.

“Four,” he says, holding up calloused fingers. “We managed to get four of them through the shop before they pulled the plug.”

In the shaky times after 9/11, the Four Corners and the Five Lakes decided to solidify their cooperative relationship. Russ admits the merger was the right thing – people kept good jobs, the health insurance was cheaper – but his vision of rows and rows of Inland Sea freight cars was not to be.

“After only the fourth car, they told me to just make them legal,” he laments. “Get reporting marks and data on them and move them out. We had a couple dozen cars in primer, waiting for paint and lettering.”

Coupled to the gorgeous Inland Sea car is another from the 80200 series, it’s drab, mud-colored primer decorated only by those reporting marks and data.

But right of the door, dingy from a decade in the sun, is a silhouette of the Great Lakes.

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“In forty-three years, that was my one act of insubordination.”

“In forty-three years, that was my one act of insubordination,” Russ smirks. “We used up the vinyl graphics we had in the shop. My last thumb in the eye of change.”

There are a half-dozen boxcars still out there with Russ’ unauthorized artwork on them. He hates seeing them – says they remind him of his powerlessness, of being just another cog in the machine.

Russ always wanted to be recognized as an artist, and that recognition may not be far off. He has some leads on galleries willing to show his paintings. There’s talk of some commission work.

But he won’t let himself get excited.

“I’ve heard things like that before,” he says.

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.

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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.

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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.)

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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The Useful Art of Colorful Names

Today I’m wearing a T-shirt from our local short track where The Conductor and I like to watch the Sunday night races in the summer. It’s bright orange, and my wife reluctantly acknowledges I look good in it.

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Bright Orange doesn’t effectively describe the color, and that has me thinking about the paint scheme on the FCFL. The power is orange and blue with silver, maroon, green and yellow accents. The maker of the paints we use calls them “competition orange” and … wait for it … “blue.”

That won’t cut it. Union Pacific locos are yellow and gray but the company calls them “Armour Yellow” and – I love this – “Harbor Mist.” Or how about the Great Northern? You can’t help but dream of Montana and crossing the Cascades when you see rolling stock sporting “Glacier Green” and “Big Sky Blue.”

So I’m calling the FCFL’s colors “Desert Lightning Blue” and “Lakeshore Sunrise,” and the turquoise rolling stock “Inland Sea.”

But why stop there?

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FCFL 5630, wearing “Desert Lightning” and “Lakeshore Sunrise” paint spots a covered hopper decked out in “Inland Sea.”

The world is what we make it, folks, and there’s much to be said for good branding.

The winner of the office chili cook-off was a so-so recipe with ground turkey, but the guy took home the trophy because he called it “Turkey Two-Bean Tango.”

Half a can of soda in a plastic cup is “Complimentary In-Flight Beverage Service.”

I’m usually pretty intolerant of such baloney. The best things in life outshine their names: Quarter-Pounder with Cheese. Monday Night Football.

But on this autumn Monday with the gray (or is it Harbor Mist?) of winter marching steadily toward us, couldn’t we all use a little creative packaging?

At the very least, it’s a fun excercise:

Sweeping away the cobwebs around the house? You are an “Arachnid Domicile Relocation Engineer.”

Staff meeting at 10? Call it a “Gathering of Serfs for the Pleasure of the Lord of the Manor.” Bonus points for telling your boss.

Branding our model railroads adds a layer of depth and realism. Rebranding the dreary helps us laugh it away.