MODELING: Another Rock Island Fowler Boxcar

The Rock Island Fowler clone boxcars have been featured in three different postings on my blog.  The first story appeared on October 25,2019 that described modifications done to the original Rio Grande Fowler kit produced by San Juan Car Company.   The November 18 showing the car painted and decaled.  The last story appeared on December 11.

Now fast forward to a car built by Robert Leners that did not use the San Juan kit.  He scratchbuilt this Fowler clone using the traditional methods of individual siding boards assembled to recreate the prototype construction.  Robert picked the last version of the Rock Island Fowler car built for the railroad.  The car was built in 1927 featured a 4/5 Dreadnaught end and a Youngstown steel door.  The roof was a Murphy radial design.   The railroad car diagram is shown below.


There are published drawings for the original Fowler clone ordered by the Rock Island.  The undeframe is essentially the same for all three of the car configurations.  Robert used the kit underframe as a guide in constructing a new one.  One could reuse the kit underframe but building a new one is what Robert wanted to do.

Reusing the rest of the kit is not really worth the effort.  The car requires a new roof, steel door and Dreadnaught ends.  The diagonal straps on the car side are different on the steel end cars.  Robert went ahead and built new sides using scale-sized ( 5-1/8″ wide) boards along with exterior posts made from .010″ styrene strips and Evergreen .060″ angle shapes.

The sides show the amount of work Robert invested in applying a ton of Grandt Line #9 nut and bolt castings.  The prototype cars held the siding in-place using stove bolts with nuts applied on the outside of the steel post.  The boards were not riveted to the frame since periodic maintenance would call for the replacement the wood boards.  Rivets were used to assemble the “steel” parts together.   Robert used .025″ Tichy plastic rivets on the car.  These details show up on this restored NP boxcar.

You may have noticed the Dreadnaught end has a vertical seam in it.  The end was cuto off of an Intermountain boxcar kit.  The car had to be narrowed to match the correct car width.

Robert took a no-compromise approach to this build.  This called for a scratchbuilt door.  This might look like a lot of work butit goes very quickly using Evergreen and Plastruct styrene shapes.

The car starts to really pop when primer is applied.

Robert is a master at his craft.  His work is crisp and flawless.

Paint and decals are done.  Robert has a few more touches to apply before the book is closed.  I couldn’t wait for the final touches so I decided to go ahead and post the material.

Thank you for sharing your work with us.


MODELING: Bluebirds

Take one exquiste Key Alco PA-1 set and hand it to Lee Turner and you end up with a true masterpiece of American Railroad history.   The railroad acquired 10 of these brutish passenger locomotives from American Locomotive Company (ALCO) in 1947.   They were numbered in the 180-189 series and classified AP-20a.   They acquired the name of bluebird somewhere along the way. Not sure if it was railfans or railroaders who coined the nickname but it it descriptive.   These 2000 hp units took over from the roads Hudson and Pacific passenger locomotives on all principal passenger trains for well over a decade.   Professor George Hilton afforded the honor as “honorary steam locomotive”.  If you have seen one you can understand how one might bestow the title on a “diesel”.  I have watched Santa Fe and Southern Pacific PAs depart and leave a black cloud of smoke in their wake. Lots of noise and smoke marked their operation.

I have seen NKP PAs in Buffalo when I was a kid.  They were dirty.  The gray sides showed dirt readily.   Lee has captured the patina found the real machines.  Key captured the look and feel of these locomotives.  It is hard to tell that they aren’t real photos.

Lee added a touch of character to PA 189 with the tape added under the steam generator hatch.  It appears that they were recently serviced.  The hatch even has a chalk mark with the unit number added.   Lee is an Alco man as was his dad.  It is good that he treats them with great respect.

All I can say is WOW!  This is wonderful stuff.   Thank you so much Lee.


MODELING: Shelter-in-Place

We are all dealing with the need to stay indoor or a safe distance from others when outside.  COVID 19 has turned our lives upside down.   Our hobby offers an opportunity to focus on something enjoyable like railroad modeling.

I set up shop on my kitchen table to stay close to family.  My move is only temporary pending surgery on my other eye.  With only one corrected eye, my depth perception has suffered. I have decided to keep building some things even with this limitation.  My second surgery was postponed to mid-May (hopefully).

My little project is a simple storage shed with drop siding.  I used a plan for a section car shed.  It is a simple building that gives me confidence on my next building,

I didn’t detail the interior completely since part of it won’t show on installed on the layout.   I used Evergreen drop or novelty siding.  The sheet is .040″ thick which is double the actual board thickness.  I compensated for the added thichness by using a 2″ x 3″ rather than a normal 2″ x 4″ boards.

My next building will be the Pleasanton gas station I showed recently.


I was churning through my files and found a couple shot taken of Lee Turner of models he built.  It turned out to be two boxcars that I did patterns years ago.

This car project was created out of an attempt to do a PRR X31 boxcar.  I made an assumption that the roof was like the X31b double door which is flush with the side.  It turned out that it wasn’t but I realized the N&W had a roof like what I built.

Here is an older model also produced by Chooch in their Ultra Scale II line.  I have always loved these Soo Line sawtooth boxcar.  Lee did a super job on the model complete with an old paper door seal.  Lee uses Zig Zag brand cigarette paper to make the seal.   Notice the subtle shading applied to the individual boards.

I am amazed at how many models Lee has created over time.  Thank you for sharing.




MODELING: Adding Character to a Model

Start out with an interesting freight car like a ventilated boxcar and add a signature touch to a very nice model will create character. That is what Lee Turner has done to a RY Models brass imported model.  Ventilated boxcars were created to ship perishable fruit and vegitables to market.  They were seen on American railroads from the earliest days up until the 1950s.  Nearly all of these cars were owned by railroads that operated in the southern US.

Lee took a step further than just finishing the model by adding a load of melons. They made from white peppercorns. He fabricating crates and affixing product labels to creates a credible load that is visually appealing.

You can see the subtle effects of weathering washes applied to the car.

As always, I am grateful to Lee for sharing his work with us.  Thank you for all the material you have contributed over the years.

Lee Turner has decided to retire from professional model work.  He has decided to devote to his time to his own modeling projects.  Lee’s contribution will be sorely missed by all of us.  Seeing his work has been a huge inspiration to me and to many others.  I think he has redefined the art of weathering to new level.  Lee has shown us new materials and techniques adapted from from other modeling fields.

Enjoy your retirement!



MODELING: A Beauty from Jim Zwernemann

Each year Jim Zwernemann tries to build a new model to take to the O Scale March Meet in Chicago. This year is no exception.  He has created a truly unique freight car with some novel techniques.  As always Jim uses styrene to build the model.  The prototype was owned by Anheuser-Busch and carried the markings of St. Louis Refrigerator Car Company (SLRX). The company was a wholely owned subsidiary of the brewery.  Its function was to haul bottled beer from the company’s brewery to distributors around the country. The car was bunkerless meaning it didn’t have ice hatches and bunkers for ice.  The beer was kept cool by spreading crushed ice on top of the beer cases.  The cars had a drain system in the floor to void the melted ice.  The cars were built by and maintained the SLRX.

The car had truss rods and steel centersills.  Later cars had steel underframes without the truss rods.   Jim used a single photograph, ORER dimensions and a drawing of a similar car to build the car.  He has a proven skill for developing credible models with minimal data.   Many of us procrastinate building a model because we are lacking data or a part of something.  I am the worst at creating barriers from doing or finishing projects.

The base color is Tamiya white primer that comes in a rattle can.  The finish was applied in a series of thin coats.  Jim bought a set of Tichy decals for the project.   He found out in a test of the decal that they do not conform to an irregular surface.  He tried many different decal solvents but no luck.  The late Ron Sebastian had told Jim to use Tamiya extra strength solvent.  It didn’t work the way he thought it should. Jim called Tichy only to find out that their decals are not suitable for application irregular surfaces such as wood siding or riveted surfaces.   Well that is a big problem when you build the car and don’t have the lettering to finish.  The solution turned out to be simple. A neighbor scanned the decal sheet and printed a new decal using a laser printer on thin decal film.   Well the finished decal application is fantastic.  Several companies do offer custom decals using laser printers.  Keep in mind that the artwork is the intellectual property of the original producer.  Private use is ok as in Jim’s case.

The roof on this model is unique in way Jim constructed the surface using the foil from the tops of wine bottles.  It is a soft metal that was flatened out and formed over the roof edge.  Jim wanted to add nail head impressions on the roof edge.  This detail is often overlooked in models.

Jim used a combination of Model Masters acrylic paint and a Vallejo wash for weathering.  His technique the same as Lee Turner uses for subtle filtering on light colored surfaced.  The product used is Vallejo Dark Brown Wash (76.514).  It is a better color to apply over light colors like white and yellow.  The wash creates a subtle shading to the individual boards and hardware.

I want to thank Jim Zwernemann for sharing his latest project.


MODELING: The Missing Link

The General Electric U-50 was delivered to the Union Pacific on recycled running gear.  So this was the step between the steam Bull Moose and the U-50 is a series of gas turbines that GE built for the UP in 1952. The original series of turbines were the source of the U-50 running gear.  Movement away from steam took a while on the UP but ultimately the turbines were an interlude before the diesel completly took over.

Lee Turner supplied these beautiful images of his modeling work.  A client asked him to do his magic on the gas turbine model imported by Overland Models.  The UP had two styles of this revolutionary application of the jet engines that provided horsepower to generate electricty for propulsion.  The railroad owned 25 of the 4,500 horsepower in two different car bodies. The veranda style with an open side was the focus of his work.

I remember seeing these locomotives in Cheyenne in the early 1960s.  They were dirty and noisy.  Running on the mainline they created a trail of black haze that could be seen at a distance.

As always, I am  so pleased the Lee has shared his work with us.



MODELING: Old Gas Stations

Service stations were a fixture in every small town and along the highway.  Yes, today we have gas stations with little to no service provided.   Since I model in the 1950s my focus will be on stations that were in operation during this period.

If you do a search on Google you will find a wide array of photos of past and present gas stations.  My search is constrained by geographical bounds which will further define the brands of gasoline sold.   In my era there were still a lot of individual companies selling and making gasoline.

I will share with you some of my favorites before I get to the model and construction.  Hopefully one or more of the photos inspires you to build something.


The Associated Oil Company was a refiner and marketer of gasoline products.   They merged with Tidewater Oil and marketed under the brand of Flying A.   The company operated a sizeable fleet of tank cars well into the 1950s.   This particular building was a typical design found in California and Washington.  It was made of metal with faceted walls in the rear that form a half circle.

The gas pumps are the original hand pump style.  The Back Shop offered a very nice model of this style in brass.  Wiseman Model Services  still offer the kit but with white metal casting.  Berkshire Valley Models is a good source for gas pumps, oil racks and other bits and pieces for a gas station in 1/4″ scale.

This Association station is the History Park in Kelley Park San Jose (CA) has this building on display along with other historic structures from the area.  They have over 32 old structures to visit.  It is worth the visit.   Be mindful that San Jose traffic can be challenging during the week at peak hours.

Here is an excellent example of an early metal and glass service station.  It was located in San Francisco.  I puchased the photo years ago in an antique store.  There wasn’t any date to fix the time period.

Mike O’Connell created a wonderful kit for a period service station years ago.  The kit was and is a benchmark for detail and appeal.   I remember building the kit nearlyt 40 years ago.   Warner Clark built the model shown below.   All of the details provided with the original kit are still available from Berkshire Valley Models.

I like the metal construction of these period structures but I am leaning towards a wood or stucco building.  The old Shell station located in Pleasanton, CA  is a strong candidate.   The stucco and mission tile roof has a ton of charm.

Another aspect of service stations would be which style pump you choose.  The pump can help define the era.   While some of the old style pumps hung around into the 1960s, they were replaced with a more modern design that didn’t require the attendant to hand pump the gas out of the underground tanks.



This was a very early type gas pump that can still be found in museums and private collections.  The glass top was calibrated to show the number of gallons available to transfer to your auto.  There is a lever on the side that is used to pump the gas up to the glass vessel.   Simple and effective that was impervous to modern day power outages.  Maybe would could use this in California.  The photo was taken in Plymouth, CA near one of the many wine producing regions in the state.




A more modern pump is like this one Jim Zwernmann captured in Texas.  The glass globe was illuminated along with the display panel.   This would create an attractive feature for your structure.   Jim is a connoissuer of old pumps having a few in his collection.





The Texaco pump has lots of brand markings.  This pump was made by Tokheim which was one of the largest supplier of this equipment to the retail fuel dispensers.











I have a few more designs to show you before the selection and construction starts.   So stay tuned for the next installment.