Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Improving a freight car, Part 3

 This series of posts is about describing my process for modifying or upgrading a conventional kit for a freight car to match the desired prototype (within reason) and to make the car meet my layout standards. The beginning of the work was described in the preceding post (see it at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2022/01/improving-freight-car-part-2.html ). 

(Before continuing, I can’t resist mentioning today's date, 2-22-22, a rare kind of date in any century.)

The step following the preceding post was to prepare to add all the detail parts to the car body. I always clear all the attachment holes with a #75 drill, just to make sure they are fully open. Most parts, of course, simply fit where they should fit, and no more needs be said.

This particular kit has a few extra challenges, though. The kit is made to accept a long handrail across the mid-height of the car ends, but the Southern Pacific and T&NO Class B-50-26 cars that are my prototype had no such handrail. I simply cut short lengths of the kit’s handrail, glued them into the holes provided, and cut them off flush with the surface. Biggest advantage of this method: same color material.

When all detail parts were attached to sides and ends, I glued on the replacement doors with canopy glue. Since they had been filed down in height to fit, this was a matter of just placing the doors on the car. 

I left the roof till last. I like being able to hold the body by the insides at the top while adding detail parts. Now I added the roof, and then the Kadee running board with canopy glue. The car is then ready for a coat of flat finish, followed by weathering.

Before leaving car construction, I want to mention two detail parts I very deliberately do not include. One is uncoupling levers. I know from extensive experience that these are magnets for getting snagged in operating sessions. I still have a number of freight cars with these levers, and eventually they become bent out of shape by an errant sleeve or hand, and get removed rather than replaced. Yes, of course they belong on a freight car, and if I were building a contest model, of course I would include them. But not on an operating layout.

The other detail part I deliberately exclude is the air hose and bracket. I fully realize that there are good options for sturdy versions of this part. But these too get snagged in operating sessions, and can interfere with coupler manipulation during a session. After witnessing a few such problems, I decided not to install them any longer, and have removed them for several cars. Just like the uncoupling lever, it’s a compromise for operation.

The model you see in the photo above was next given its flat finish, and then weathered with acrylic washes, in two steps: first, to weather the roof, during which the model is held by the sides; then, when that’s dry, the sides and ends, during which the model is held by the roof and underbody. 

This car is lettered as only a few years old, so I didn’t heavily weather it; but the photo below shows how much duller the body color, and the white lettering, can become, with weathering like this. Compare the photo immediately above.

Finally, I turned to the finishing steps. These involve route cards and chalk markings (for background, see: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/11/chalk-marks-and-route-cards.html ). Actual route cards are around 4 inches square, or rectangular. I simply use very small squares or rectangles of paper, white, yellow, manila, etc. and attach with canopy glue. This photo shows the size (different model, of course). On most cars, they go on the route card board.

I also added repack stencils to this model. To do this, I add a paint square over the right-hand truck, black or boxcar red, and add repack stencil decals from Sunshine or Speedwitch. Finally, I use Prismacolor art pencils, sharpened to a good point, to make chalk markings. Here’s the finished result:

So these are the various steps I would pursue to “improve” or upgrade a typical kit for a freight car, to meet my layout standards. As mentioned, these are not “model contest standards,” just operating layout standards.

Tony Thompson

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