Sunday, June 23, 2019

Improving model freight car trucks

I wrote, a few years ago, a three-part series of blog posts about trucks for model freight cars, emphasizing what often needs to be corrected in such trucks, and also wrote a full article on the topic for Model Railroad Hobbyist (the issue for September 2016); you can download that issue for free, or read it on line, at the MRH website, .
     Only the first of my three-part blog series really applies to today’s topic, but for convenience, listed below are links for all three blog posts.

     What is the prototype issue here? I show below a photo (at left) of a prototype truck, with its spring package removed and placed in the foreground. This is a typical “five-spring” package with cap plates top and bottom, held together by a center bolt. At right is an enlarged view of one of these springs, that looks like an individual spring in the spring package, but clearly can be seen to actually comprise two springs, with opposite twist. The point is that there is absolutely no way you can see “through” the springs in the prototype truck.

     At the risk of somewhat repeating what is the first of the blog posts above, and in the MRH article, let me show a single example of a so-called ”real springs” model freight car truck. I put the term in quotes because although the springs are certainly physically real, they don’t actually provide any spring action unless the model freight car weighs most of a pound, luckily a rare event in HO scale.

This is a Kadee truck, chosen simply for illustration, but should not be perceived as a criticism of Kadee, who have been gradually replacing all their “sprung” trucks with solid-sideframe trucks, which look far better.
     But what happens when we have an older truck that, for whatever reason, we would like to keep in service? There are usually two issues, one of them being the highly unrealistic open springs, and usually a second issue, very poor wheelsets, often with huge ‘pizza-cutter” flanges. Here’s an example, of an old Athearn metal truck with springs. You can see the giant flanges, too.

Even older Kadee trucks, like the one shown in the next photo above, still need to have something done about the thin springs, even though they have excellent wheelsets.
     What can be done here? Probably the most obvious thing to do is to put a view block behind the springs. They will still be far too thin, but it will be a lot less obvious. My friend Richard Hendrickson used to glue a piece of strip styrene behind the spring area, as you see on the far side of the truck in the photo below.

But this can be done even more simply. I just use a piece of black construction paper. Equally effective as a view block, and no need for painting. Also, in the “sprung” truck shown below, I have replaced the original wheelsets with Reboxx sets of appropriate axle length. Springs and wheels remain to be painted, but the black paper view block works just fine. You can see the paper on the far side of the truck.

     Making this kind of modification will help your model trucks look a lot more like the prototype. I show below a photo of workmen changing out a truck from a box car (it’s an SP photo), and all I urge you to do is just look at the truck springs. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.) Note, incidentally, that they look pretty compressed, even though not under load, so obviously they are short-travel springs. And you sure can’t see through them.

     I should emphasize here that I rarely follow the procedure just described, because I prefer to install modern trucks (Tahoe, Kadee, Rapido, etc.) in most cases. But sometimes an ancient “sprung” truck needs to be kept in service. So whenever I have to retain an old truck in use, I don’t hesitate to change out the wheelsets (if possible) and add a view block behind the springs. They then look much better, and operate better too.
Tony Thompson


  1. Thanks Tony for posting. I recently just found an old train set in my father's house that we use to set up for the holidays each year. After I get all the information on it. I may have some questions for you. Have a great day.

  2. Alas, the lowly PRR 2D-F8 50 tn freight car truck. Three manufacturers: Bowser, Intermountain (Red Caboose) and Kadee. However, Bowser (to my amazement) no longer catalogs the 2D-F8. Intermountain doesn't sell the truck, and probably won't have parts until the X29 is rerun, and Kadee hasn't done an unsprung version of it's truck. Thanks for the view block trick. I was thinking about cutting out solid springs from an old truck and plopping them in. It wouldn't be so bad if the trucks were black, but on PRR freight cars, the trucks are that bright red-oxide "Pennsy Freight Car Color."

    I hope all is well,
    - Arved

  3. What a wonderful blog! I really liked it.