$2.50 Rolling Stock!!!

Never skip an opportunity to sift through the bargain bin at your local hobby shop.

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During recent visits to my train monger, I scooped up a pair of Roundhouse Apache Railway boxcars and an Atlas Burlington Northern covered hopper for the basement price of $2.50 apiece.

Out of the box, the models weren’t worth much more than that. The lettering and finish were poor and the running gear was truck-mounted Rapido couplers and ancient plastic wheels. But we can fix all that.

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Here’s the step-by-step for the hopper. The boxcars got similar treatment:

I removed the old trucks and discarded them, retaining the bolster pins. (I’ve found that older rolling stock doesn’t always accept new Micro-Trains pins.) I then gave the car a good spray of dullcoat to give the shiny finish a little tooth.

Using a toothpick dipped in burnt sienna paint, I dappled the sides and ends of the car with random rust spots. I then mixed some rust-colored weathering powder with a little rubbing alcohol to make a thin paste. With a fine brush, I drew streaks of the paste down from each rust spot.

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I then applied a wash of light rust-colored alcohol ink solution to the entire car. With careful downward strokes, I used the wash to soften the rust streaks without rubbing them out entirely.

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When the wash was dry, I patched out the Burlington Northern herald and reporting marks with dark-green paint. Some modelers suggest masking patch outs and spray painting them. I think the rounded corners and uneven edges of my brush painted patches better simulate the quick work of a guy in the car shop wielding a spray gun or roller.

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After the patches dried overnight, I added FCFL reporting marks and car number decals. I set the decals with Micro-Sol and let them dry. I then brushed a light coat of dullcoat over the decals to seal them. When that was dry, I coated the decals with my alcohol ink solution to knock down their bright white. When that dried, the dullcoat and alcohol ink had hazed up so I brushed another coat of dullcoat over the top. The several layers of dullcoat and weathering wash further enhance the spray-gun look of the patches, in my opinion.

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I outfitted the car with my standby Micro-Trains 100-ton roller bearing trucks and Fox Valley Models 36-inch metal wheelsets. I weathered the trucks with powders and painted the wheels rail brown.

There are some very beautiful, very expensive models on the market, but you can fill in your fleet nicely with pretty good, budget-friendly cars from the bargain bin.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

Weathering a Covered Hopper

Today I am going to demonstrate how I weather rolling stock. This is my down n’ dirty, quick n’ easy process that I’ve refined over the last few years – if you’re looking for a complicated, highly detailed project that involves an airbrush and an entire weekend, this ain’t it. This takes about an hour, most of which is drying time. That said, my fleet has received a lot of compliments, so maybe I’m doing something right.

Our subject today is Norfolk & Western 178134 from Intermountain. Right out of the box, it’s a pretty model. Too pretty:

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The first step is to carefully remove the trucks and set them where they will stay clean, unbroken, and be found again.

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The next step is to decide how weathered we want our car to look. According to the marks on the car, it was built in 1973. We know that the N&W merged with the Southern to become Norfolk Southern in 1982. Since I model present day, that means we have about 30 years of abuse to replicate. So, we don’t just want the car to look dirty – we need to distress the lettering and add some rust.

I use a sanding block to knock the lettering down. Go slowly and check every few strokes until you get to the look you want. If you intend to use the original reporting marks, which I do in this case, tread lightly on the numbers. It is also important at this stage to run the sanding block in between all of the ribs on the side of the car, even the “blanks” where there aren’t any letters. This will rough up the surface and help our weathering solutions “streak” more effectively.

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Here is the car after sanding:

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Now we apply our weathering solution. I use a mix of Adirondack brand inks and rubbing alcohol. I buy the inks at Michael’s; I think they are supposed to be used for stamping. Any alcohol-based ink will do, I suppose. I use baby food jars and mix five or six drops of ink to maybe 1/4 cup of alcohol. This takes some trial and error, and I keep a few jars with varying concentrations on hand. I also have a mix with a drop of India ink in it. I’d love to give you the exact recipe for my solutions, but I don’t have one. I just mix until it feels right.

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I use a cheap one-inch paintbrush to apply a liberal wash of the lightest solution and let it dry. I then add a wash of darker solution. While it is still wet, I experiment with holding the car upside down, or laying it on its side, so get the distribution of color I want.

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Now let’s turn our attention to the trucks. Carefully remove the wheels and set them aside. We are going to use weathering powders to add some years to the trucks and bring out the molded detail.

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The trucks and wheelsets are acetal plastic, so I hit them with a little dullcoat to give the powder something to hold on to. But first, mask the couplers and the inside of the sideframes so we retain a slick surface for the wheelset to roll in and don’t gum up the couplers.

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In a well-ventilated area, give the trucks (but not the wheels) a coat of dullcoat. I use the Testors stuff in the spray can. After the trucks dry, I use a stiff brush to dust on gray and medium earth weathing powder to the outside of the sideframes.

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A note about dullcoat: Sometimes I give the carbody a coat and sometimes I don’t. I’ve found that dullcoat put over my weathering solution makes it look too grainy. But, weathering solution or just plain rubbing alcohol, applied in a wash over dry dullcoat, produces a craized finish that nicely simulates faded paint. (You can see this effect on the GN boxcar in the “about me” section.) In the case of our N&W hopper, I gave it a coat of dullcoat and didn’t like it (too grainy!), so I applied another wash of the light weathering solution, scrubbing a little with my brush to loosen up the dried stuff.

After everything dried, I reassembled the car and turned it loose on the layout.

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Before

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After

I think the hardest thing for some people about weathering is fear. I just paid $30 for this Micro Trains boxcar, I’m not taking a sanding block to it! Well, don’t start with your $30 Micro-Trains stuff. Get a cheap car and experiment until you build some confidence. Weathered rolling stock – as well as weathered buildings, weathered track, weathered vehicles – adds a very satisfying element to any layout.