Thursday, September 14, 2017

Building the Owl Mountain flat car

The announcement of this new HO scale kit for a “Harriman” flat car, very numerous in the Southern Pacific freight car fleet, was posted recently (you can read my introduction to the kit at: ). Having said all those introductory things, I now want to describe building the kit.
     To begin, I want to repeat my general approach in describing kit building. When steps are simple and straightforward, there is certainly no need for me even to mention them. Only if something in the instructions is hard to understand, or if I deviate from or work beyond the instructions, do I see any need for comments. So this post does not constitute a step-by-step kit build, just a kind of “highlights as I saw them.”
     Step 1 in the instructions is to prepare the deck. I like styrene flat car decks, because they are much easier to distress and age in a convincing way, and there is no enormous, out-of-scale grain of “real wood” to hide. I cut some gouges and scrapes with the corners of an X-acto chisel blade, then roughened the entire surface with 60-grit abrasive paper. Here is how it looked; you may wish to click on the image to enlarge it.

Although by the time I model, 1953, cars like this were decades old, the deck probably would not be as old. Flat car decks took a real beating in service, and were replaced whenever sufficiently decrepit. For a car like this, one could model anything from nearly new, to falling apart, or anything in between, and still be reasonably “correct.”
     After Step 1, assembling the basic parts (instruction Steps 2 through 9) is very simple and straightforward. The first time I had any challenge was in Step 10, attaching the beautiful little brass castings of the distinctive Harriman roping staples. The pins that are supposed to fit into holes in the side sill are tapered, not cylindrical, and it took some judicious filing of those pins to get them to fit. Alternatively, a person could simply drill the reception holes a little larger. Do check that the parts fit flush against the side sill, and nestle into the side sill notch at the attachment location.

Note the center and end sills are gray on my model. I received a gray test shot of this sprue but the production kits have this sprue in boxcar red.
     The next step might make some modelers quail, bending your own grab irons. But don’t feel that way. The kit supplies a little bending jig for this purpose, and it works fine. If you have any problems installing the grabs, you might wish to drill the holes a little larger; and if inserting small wires into small holes in a dark material is challenging, use a stronger light. Also, the kit instructions specify the height of the grab iron to be the thickness of an X-act blade, and you should recognize that on the side grabs, this means the height outside the stake pocket. Otherwise, of course, an HO scale brakeman couldn’t use the grab iron.
     With all grab irons installed, I went ahead with the brake system details, steps 12 to 17. These went smoothly, and upon completion, here is the underbody appearance. The white styrene is the 0.010-inch shim.

After this point, I only need to add coupler box lids and the very nice sill steps, before doing the painting. Simply putting the car on its back, as you see above, one automatically “masks” the top of the deck, and can quickly airbrush boxcar red onto the underbody. I intend to make the deck boards look like SP’s typical untreated wood, suitably weathered from use. Certainly as late as 1960, SP definitely did not use creosoted wood for flat car decks. Pressure-treated wood, yes; creosoted, no.
     Upon completion of painting the underbody and sides, I gave the sides a coat of clear gloss for decal application. The kit instructions contain an excellent lettering diagram, particularly helpful with a car like this one, with most lettering quite small. As a person who enjoys applying decals, I found this straightforward, but some may find it a little fussy. Still, it all works, and looks good. The decals were protected with clear flat, then the car was weathered with my usual method using acrylic tube paints, a mix of primarily Neutral Gray, Black, and a little Burnt Umber. This is intended to represent a well-used deck (for more on flat car decks, you may wish to read this post: ). This Owl Mountain deck was made more gray and less brown than a newer deck would be.
     Here is the completed kit, with trucks and couplers installed, and the brake staff added in the final step (as the kit instructions recommend). I installed Reboxx wheels in the kit trucks. You can see I numbered the car as SP 43419, Class F-50-12.

     On balance, I think this is a great kit. It goes together very well, and the accomplished design becomes evident as you assemble the parts. And as I stated in my introductory post, it is a much-needed kit, particularly for SP modelers, but also for anyone modeling up to the end of the Transition Era, with lumber loads. (Owl Mountain has announced a load kit just for this model.) Carrying those loads, and many other typical flat car loads, these cars went everywhere in the country. You do need this car!
Tony Thompson