I have decided to step back from  my blog for a short time.   I find myself trying to juggle multiple activites and a limited amount of time.  Taking some time off will give me a chance to focus on a few modeling projects that are currently in limbo   I will be back.

Thank you for all you comments and interest in my blog and the material presented.

See you soon,




MODELING: FM Erie-Built Beasts

Fairbanks-Morse has produced some unique locomotives over their short period of production.  Their premier passenger locomotives were the so-called Erie-built.  The name Erie-built got its name from the fact that Fairbanks-Morse lacked the fabrication space so General Electric in Erie, Pennsylvania provided the manufacturing know-how.  Only 82 cabs and 29 booster units were built over a four year period.   The Milwaukee Road bought 14 and the Pennsylvania bought 12.  The Union Pacific sampled five of these 10-cylinder beasts. Their career  was not exceptional like many early diesels.

Prototype pictures were rare as you would expect given the small number of units.  The picture above is a model that represents the efforts of three very skilled modelers.  Norm Buckhart acquired the basic Overland imported models and sent them to Jay Criswell.  The stock drive ended up in the scrapbin and a new one was created by Jay using ball bearing gearboxes, P48 steel wheels, gear towers and universals and Faulhaber gearhead motors.  DDC and sound was added before being shipped to Lee Turner in Michigan.  Lee used a new decal set produced by Norm Buckhart under his Protocraft brand. He created all-new art to ensure accuracy.   A that point, the Maestro of Michigan mixed up the UP paint colors and applied them as the base.  Decals were applied and weathering commenced.

The end result of these three gentlemen is absolutely stunning.  You can almost hear the road of those 2000 horsepower Opposed Piston diesels roaring as they pass your vantage point.

You may gave noticed that the A-units have different heights of the carbodies and trucks.  A production change was made in 1947.  It creates an unusal profile in the three unit lashup.

Thank you Lee for sharing your and the work of Norm and Jay.


MODELING: Northern Pacific 52′ Flat Car Build

It is time to get back to the workbench and build a freight car.  This time the subject will be a car that I have tried once before but lacked lots of technical details, correct stake pockets, hand brake style and correct decals.  All of those barriers have been taken away.   Here is the model that was constructed from styrene and wood decking using a diagram published in the NPRHA magazine Mainstreeter.   I used the few photos and simple drawing which gave some dimensions to build the model.  Building models with limited information does give you a certain artist license.  Now days with the rise of the resources on the web and in print, building starts with a lot of more research.   I find that I postpone constructing a car until I amass a ton of data.  Wonder if this could be a disease called anaylsis paralysis?

Recently, the Railroad Model Craftsman published an article and plan of this car in the November 2016 issue.  That got me interested in trying my hand at this car again.  Armed with this as a starting point, I tried to search what might be available in my friends who model NP. The Northern Pacific Railroad Historical Association is one placed I searched to see what might be in their extensive archieves.  The group has been scanning lots of drawings to create a large library of technical data on the railroad. Unlike some historical societies, the NPRHA makes their information available to members.  One major historical society on the West Coast has a significant amount of data. The information seems to be hidden away from the public but available to a select few.   I was never able to get the secret decoder rink to access this data.

My first attempt at building the car used a Grandt Line stake pocket that had similar features to the prototype.   I decided that in this day and age of 3D design and printing that one could do better than that.  I approached a friend to see if he would be willing to take a shot at the part.  And while you are at it, you could do the poling pockets.

Once the design was rendered, I contracted with Terry Van Winkle and Jon Cagle to print the parts and then make a bunch using the normal resin casting route.  Stake pockets are difficult to cast in a rubber mold but Jon Cagle has the “street cred” when it comes to difficult casting jobs.  The process was not inexpensive but I wanted to do this car right.  I had Jon cast some extra parts for a few friends who had an interest in building of these cars.

So all of the pieces are  falling into place.  At about that time Norm Buckhart decided to produce a Northern Pacific flat car decal set that covered this car as well as the AAR 50-ton cars.  I have starting to fabricate underframe parts like the fishbelly center sill. Unfortunately a few projects derailed the progress but I am back on the build.   

My friend, Robert Leners, is building the same car and managed to get a significant amount of work done.  I have included pictures of Robert’s work to provide an idea of what will be next for me. 

Robert started construction with the center sill.  It is an ideal place to add weight to the car.  You will notice that this car has a lot of rivets which is typical of cars built in the pre-WWII period.  Forming the rivets is an important step in construction.  Robert used a press made by Precision Manufacturing of San Antonio.  They sold a lot of these tools but closed their doors twnety years ago or so.  The press is heavy and well made.  You used the adjustable guide to locate rivets the following in a line.  Hand pressure is used to press the rivets. 

NWSL has made a similar press and I remember buying one from England.  My go-to-presss is an old sewing machine.

Robert is building one side and then the next.  Oh yea, the frame is sitting on top of the Soo Line AAR flat car model.

The side channel is 13″ high and is impressed with rivets and holds the stake pockets.  I was able to get a laser-cut plexiglas drilling jig from Jon Cagle for this car when he cast the pockets.

He added the steel strap to the deck and the end stake pockets.

Robert has started the decking.

 I will starting to post the details of my car build.






NEW PRODUCTS: Rock Island Flat Car by Twin Star Cars

Twin Star is the creation of Ross Dando a number of years ago producing HO products.  Ross started the business up recently with the strong design to produce accurate 1/4″ scale products for his favorite railroad, the Rock Island.  His first creation is a stunning 53’6″ flat car kit.  It surpasses nearly every flat car produced in 1/48 scale.  The kit is primarily made from high quality urethane cast from patterns produced by Ross.  He entrusted the patterns to Jon Cagle who runs Southern Car & Foundry.  Jon is the go to guy when it comes to difficult jobs requiring a great deal of care and precision.   The basic patterns set this model above the field in terms of accuracy and fidelity to scale.

Ross is on the left side and Jon Cagle is in the background on the right.  The picture was taken at March Meet.

Detail like producing two different stake pocket designs that were crafted in 3D CAD and printed on a high resolution SLA printer.  The resulting parts were then cast in urethane by Jon Cagle for construction of the tooling master.

Here are two views of the flat car showing the different styles used on these cars.

A clue to the history of these Rock Island cars are the large splice plates on the sidesill.  The railroad’s shop extended two groups of shorter and older cars to produce a contemporary size for the era.  The cars would be able to handle the loads as the AAR 50-ton flat cars.

The detail is complete on the underside of the car.  The San Juan AB set provides the proper brake gear.

Ross developed this model while discovering information as he went along.  One example is the hand brake set used by the Rock Island.  The initial look pointed towards a Universal hand brake with a drop shaft.   Ross found a drawing on eBay that showed a Ureco hand brake set for this car.  This was after Terry Van Winkle had designed, printed and cast a number of sets.   Ross decided to bite the bullet and get the right brake set made.  Terry did a remarkable job of taking the drawing and converting them into a set of exquisite brass casting.  The CAD drawing shown below is the Ureco design.

Drop style hand brakes used a square staff on most designs.  Ross decided that he needed to do this.  He used a jewelers draw plate to form a square post out of round brass wire.

The hand brake is shown installed on the flat car.

Twin Star Cars will offer this hand brake set separately soon.  The Ureco hand brake was a commonly used appliance by a number of railroads.  I did find that the Northern Pacific 52′ flat cars had this style as well.

I have added the order announcement from Twin Star Cars.  Quality like this does cost more than a generic model made in China.  This kit will produce an exquisite and unique model.  I hope that Ross will produce more kits of this quality.







MODELING: AAR 50-Ton Flat by Robert Leners

During the Second World War, a standard flat car design was created under the auspises of the American Association of Railroads (AAR).  The design was for a 50-ton 53’6″ car which would be built for a large number of railroads.

The design has been offered in 1/48 scale in the form of a Pacific Limited brass import and Chooch Ultra Scale II urethane kit.  I did the patterns for this kit.

Here is the pilot model of the Chooch kit.  One of most important developments of the kit was the production of accurate plastic stake pockets.  The late Joel Berling did a nice job on capturing the feel of the this important part.

Robert Leners decided to try his hand at building one from scratch rather than using the kit.  His subject was a Soo Line prototype shown below.

Robert started by using a published plan that appeared in the defunct Main Line Modeler.  Robert Hundman did the plan.  It was likely based upon published plans of the NKP version with steel “Z” stringers.  Some of the cars were built with wood stringers just like the AAR 70-ton design.

Construction started with the center sill.   He built one side then the next.  It is a different way of modeling this car.  My approach would have started with the center sill and then add the sides and cross members.  I will try this on my next build.

Robert cut the slots for brake levers, trainline and piping for the AB system.  At this point, weight can be added to the center sill.  The car should weight more than 12 ounces which is hard to achieve given the small area of the center sill.  A load could be a significant help to achieve the minimum weight.

In this view Robert is building the brackets that support the deck overhange. As you may have noticed there are a few rivets on this model.  They were impressed one at a time.  It is time consuming but it does yield a certain degree of pleasure to know you did this.

Looks like Robert is taking a break from the build.  The stake pockets are installed and the deck is in place.  The deck boards were held in place on the prototype by plow bolts as we discussed in my recent posting.

At my suggestion, Robert used Micro Mark decal rivets to simulate the plow bolts.  In theory, this should have worked but you do have to paint and weather the deck.  The bolt heads will be a different color from the decking.  Sorry for the bad idea……….

The first coat of paint is applied to the underframe.  Too bad this side and all of its detail is not visible when the car is on your layout.

The final coat of Tru-Color Soo freight car paint was applied and Protocraft decals were added to finish the model.  Good Job!

Thank you for sharing your work with us.








MODELING: Lee Turner Models and Da Bolt

Just a reminder, O Scale West is coming to Santa Clara 23-25 May.  The host hotel is the Hyatt and the show is at the adjacent convention center.   I mention this because Lee Turner is presenting an hour tutorial on freight car loads at 8PM on Thursday the 23rd, painting clinic on Friday and freight car load clinic on Saturday.  This is an excellent opportunity to see how Lee does all these wonderful models.

Speaking of Lee, he sent a few shots of two recent projects.

Here is an interesting of two models that create a stunning model.  The flat car is the PSC AAR flat car import which Lee decked out in Erie markings.   He created a load out of a Corgi diecast PCC street car.  Looks like Boston is getting another rust bucket for their collection.

Now that is a real departure from the usual boxcars that he often does. I beieve the model is an Overland brass import that Lee painted, lettered and weathered.  He also populated the interior with chickens.   Lee assured me that the CLUCK name was legit.  I was that it was a bit of his humor shining through.  I like what he did with this unique car.

Here is a closeup of his attention to detail.  Great job!

Looks like the attendant is getting a little fresh air and some liquid fortification.    The model has lots of thought-out details such as the fire extinguisher and shovel.

Thank you Lee.

PS Lee sent me a picture of the car he was modeling.  Well, I’ll be clucked.


I have discussed running boards a number of times in my model projects.  Oh yes, some folks like the term roof walk.  Use what you want but the railroads called them running boards.  I have mentioned that the planks were held to the roof using carriage bolts.  Bruce Blalock, a retired railroader and caboose restorer, corrected me and said that they are called plow bolts.  Ok, that is my operative term going forward.

Plow bolts have  a slightly domed head with a square shank to keep them from turning in the wood parts being attached.  They were used when wood was being attached to steel supports.  It appears that wood screws were used for wood to wood attachment.

Here is Bruce’s MKT #835 caboose under restoration.  The roof and running board is rough but look closely and the bolts stickling out of the support and you will see the plow bolts.

So this is what the Hutchins roof looks like after lots of work.  The lateral running board shows plow bolts at the top and wood screws where the boards are attached to the stringer.   Steel running boards will use different hardware for sure.  I would imagine that there are example of different hardware used on cars but you probably safe using this a guideline.

This is the caboose restored in his backyard.  He donated it to a museum close by. They completed the final touches on the car.  It is a beautiful car.  I love the Sloan Yellow.



MODELING: Vignettes from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad

The M-K-T or Katy was a regional favorite of many railfans and modelers.  It had a great deal of charm with their conservative equipment and the splashes of color to enhance their visibility.

Bruce Blalock has spent some time cataloging Jim Zwernmann’s extensive collection of scratchbuilt Katy models.  Bruce made a presentation at the 2019 Katy Historical Convention in Round Rock, Texas.  Fortunately, he is sharing his photographic work of Jim’s amazing models and railroad.

The above map gives you a quick perspective of the M-K-T and the region it served.  If you focus on Austin and look to the right you will see the town of Elgin.  The town was served by the Texas and New Orleans (SP) and M-K-T.  The two lines crossed at Elgin and it was protected by a tower.

This photo above shows the Katy freight heading north crossing the T&NO.

Here is Jim Zwernemann’s 1/4″ scale rendering of the crossing and Elgin Tower.   The tower was constructed from styrene and won a first place at a March Meet in Chicago.  He has captured the feel of the building and immediate area.  Jim scratchbuilt both train order signals.  Each road had a distinctive design for which patterns were created and cast in brass.   Notice the old school rail photographer complete with a suit and Speed Graphic press camera.

The section car house is a model of the one that was at Elgin.  Jim built it from styrene and wrote it up for an article in O Scale News.  I think Jim also won an award at March Meet with this beauty.   One of the hallmark’s of a Zwernemann is the finish all done with acrylic paints.  Notice the decay in the boards.

Moving west to Austin, the Katy served the state capital via track rights on the Missouri Pacific (I-GN) and Texas & New Orleans. The railroad erected an impressive brick structure downtown with a large wooden warehouse attached.  Jim modeled the building using styrene and a printed brick material sold by Micro Mark.  Cream colored brick was common in this part of Texas.

The building is long gone from the Austin scene but remembered by longtime residents and railfans.   Scenes like this create a lot of interest for local area modelers who have visited Jim’s railroad.  I think it is fun to capture scenes and incorporate them in your railroad scene.  It certainly anchors the location in the minds of viewers.

I want to thank Bruce for sharing these images of Jim’s railroad with us.