MEMORIAL: James Hickey

I was saddened to read that James Hickey had passed away.  He was an acquaintance who I met through Jim Zwernemann and Bruce Blalock.  I had admired his work for years and exchanged emails with him from time to time. It was my thought we should do something to recognize his passing.  I asked Jim Zwernemann to write about his good friend.

One of the master craftsmen of our time passed away April 12, 2018.  James “Jim” Hickey was a lifelong resident of the Austin, Texas area and developed his incredible model building skills beginning in HO scale in the late 1950’s.  He moved to 1/4″ scale during the early 80’s when the P48 movement began.
Jim’s interpretation of a Rock Island Whitcomb. Jim converted the model to P48, detailed it and did his magic with finishing 
Jim’s modeling projects included On30, On3 and traction but the majority of his work was done in P48 standard gauge.  He didn’t limit his work to any era or railroad but the 50’s and early 60’s seemed to be his favorite timeframe and the Southern Pacific was his favorite railroad.  Most of his models were constructed from styrene but he was a skilled brass builder as well.  Most of his locomotives were first generation diesels which used kits from P&D, Red Caboose or Weaver or various brass imports as the starting point.  He scratchbuilt numerous freight cars and structures.  All of his models had one thing in common-they were exquisite representations of specific prototypes.
Jim had the innate ability to capture the feel of the prototype with his detailing, painting and weathering skills.  He was not pleased with the selection of available decals in O scale so he started a small decal business called Protocals in 1989.  Some of these can still be found at O scale meets today.  He purchased an ALPS printer and began making his own custom decals.
Jim was also a world traveler.  He took trips to Central and South America, Europe, Asia and other locations to photograph railroads at work.  He especially liked traveling to Mexico and built a number of wonderful locomotives, cars and structures based on Mexican prototypes.
I would like to thank Jim Zwernemann for his remembrance of his good friend.  As you can see in these photos provided by Jim Zwernemann, his friend had many interest in railroading and showed his true modeling prowess in each one.
So long

MODELING: Rio Grande Automobile Boxcar Completion

I started to build this Rio Grande freight car in January 8, 2017 blog post.  Over the past sixteen months, I have described my approach to scratchbuilding this interesting 50 foot car in styrene.   My source of information was a set of drawings obtained from the Everette DeGolyer Library at SMU.  Along the way, I was able to collect a number of photos to supplement the drawings.

The prototype had several interesting features like the reverse Dreadnaught ends and radial roofs.   The wood siding is a false tongue and groove 5.125″ wide boards.   It took a while to figure out how to create the type of siding.  My rendition is slightly off but I was able to catch the look of the prototype.   The cars wore a mixture of standard 3.25 t&g siding and the wider 5.125″.

The car had 50-foot deep fishbelly underframe.  Cars built in the teens and 20’s were overbuilt with stout underframes that easily outlasted the body.  These cars were built in 1927 by Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company. There were two lots with the first series in 1926 (61200-61399) and the second a year later (61400-61699).  Rails Unlimited has produced a kit for the first series. These cars had Murphy ends and a door and half configuration. These cars stayed around until the early 1960s.

The car was painted with Star Brands STR-01 D&RGW Freight Car Red. I like to glossy finish for decal application.  The decals are Protocraft.   The set provides numbers and data for the earlier series of cars.   I had to do a little cut and insert to come up with a suitable number.

Once the decals are set, I shot Star Brand clear gloss to seal the decals and give a good surface for the start of weathering.  I like to apply Vallejo black wash  over the whole body.  Do the sides and roof and ends one at a time.  The next step is to use Mean Green cleaner  that is applied with a cosmetic/makeup sponge sparingly to remove most of the black wash. The remaining black is left in the “nooks” like scribe line, rivets and steel strips.  Use very little cleaner on the sponge.  Next I applied a flat lacquer finish sealing the acrylic weathering.

The next step was to apply a dust or dirt color to the body.  I used Ammo MIG Oil Brusher paint.  The oil paint is dabbed on scrap plastic and applied with Mineral Spirits as the vehicle.  Go light with this wash.  It quickly changes the body color with just a little oil paint.  The oil paint will not disturb the acrylic wash previously applied  If you apply too much you can use the mineral spirits on a brush or towel to remove the “dirt color”.  The oil takes a while to dry even with Japan Drier added.   My last step is to use a thin wash of black to add a “pop” to the details.

The above photo shows what happens when too much oil paint was applied.  It was not the look I wanted so cleaning was necessary.


Well, it is done.  On to the next project.   Hope you enjoyed the build.


MODELING: Old Hopper from Lee Turner

: Lee Turner is a very busy guy working on client models. He has managed to find time to do something for himself.

As you may know, Lee is a real fan of the old Lehigh Valley.  His dad working in Sayre, PA at their major shop.  Lee built this USRA twin hopper and lettered for the Susquehanna & New York.  The S&NY disappeared in 1942 with small part of it acquired  by the Lehigh Valley.

The hopper is an updated Intermountain kit.  Lee replaced the grab irons and sill steps with brass parts.  The rusty and sooty interior is fantastic. Lee has captured the look of an old car that has seen a lot of use.

Thank you Lee for the contribution of this material.


MODELING/NEW PRODUCTS: Latest Lee Turner Project and a New Kit

Lee Turner just sent several photos and description below.

Here is a Westside Models heavy duty 16 wheel flat car. Cut levers and air hoses were added. It was painted and lettered to match one of three PRR F34 class flat cars , note the Dahlman two level heavy duty trucks with a short five foot wheel base. The load was supplied by the owner who had bought these resin cast “scooper things” at an estate sale of a O-scale steel mill modeler. They were painted with a dark gray and then sponge painted with a light gray which gave a good base simulating mill scale. A quick wash of modelers crack (Vallejo dark brown wash) gave definition to the structure of the object. Bits of sponge were used a again to apply Vallejo dark rust, red leather and light yellow rust. Some Winsor & Newton tube oil burnt sienna was used to bring all the rust tones together in the heavily rusted interior portions. Lastly a very thin coat of burnt umber was judiciously sprayed on the edges and seams. The Mesta Machine placards were done on the computer and printed  on photo paper. The deck of the flat was prepared with Evergreen styrene angle for this load and excess angle and strip was glued around the deck to simulate dunnage from previous loads. Simulated fresh welds and chalk marking from the layout of angle iron bracing was the final touch to load and cars.
  As a side note Mesta Machinery was a real company who made the huge machines used in steel making like presses and shears. IF you google image search “Mesta Machine” you will find many shots of various PRR heavy duty flats and loads along with the products they manufactured.
 Lee’s work is incredible.  I would have never thought of adding chalk marks on the deck.  Thank you for the inspiration.

Rails Unlimited has released a several new urethane kits that are available as a flat or with pre-assembled bodies.  They sent several photos of their Rock Island stock car kit.  It is a classic design that was rebuilt from Fowler clone boxcar.  The Rock Island ran these cars for a long time well into the diesel era.

The patterns and the pilot model were done by Jeff MacDonald. I understand the production kits were cast by Westerfield.   The castings look very nice based upon a photo sent by Ross Dando.



Mike Cougill is a skilled modeler with a strong sense of seeing the scale and features of a model or scene.  I found the picture shown below on how to create an effective scene that creates interest and draws the person into the work.  You should check out Mike’s work at OST Publications.


Thanks for stopping by



Smoky Mountain Model Works (SMMW) has finally released their urethane kit for an AAR 70-ton flat car.   The wait was worth it. Jim King crafted a very highly detailed model of a common prototype.  The kit is composed of urethane castings for the body deck and details.  The master was created using 3D CAD and printed by a high resolution printer.  The resulting model was molded and cast in urethane.  The castings are beautiful and amazing with deep undercuts and details on the exterior and even inside the sidesill.

The frame is very accurately rendered.  SMMW didn’t miss anything when it comes to capturing the prototype.

SMMW provides a steel bar for weight.  It will be less than nine ounces without trucks. I might suggest adding additional weight in centersill.

The deck is textured to look like wood and steel over the body bolsters.  The stake pockets are accurately shaped and well formed.

The prototype used 70-ton trucks which are now available from Protocraft in several flavors.   Protocraft has a range of decals for this kit.  You won’t need to dig into your old stash of Champ or Walthers decals.

This one of the finest urethane kit I have seen.  It is on a par with Jon Cagle’s kits.  Hopefully, this will be the first of many kits from this company.

And now a little Zwernemann to finish out the posting.

Jim Zwernemann crafted these two attractive freight cars.  The West India Fruit reefer was built from a Chooch Ultrascale FGEX kit.  Jim had to reduce the side height to match the prototype.  W.I.F. got their cars from Fruit Growers Express so it was a good starting point.  By the way, Jim mastered the original kit for Chooch Enterprises.

The FW&D boxcar was built from an old Atlas (Roco) X43 boxcar.  The Roco model is a 10′ 6″ interior height car with diagonal panel roof and an improved Dreadnaught ends.  Jim added details and built new Superior doors.

Thanks for stopping by,


MODELING: Lee Turner on Distressing Freight Car Roofs

A friend asked if I had some magic approach to weathering freight car roofs.  In particular, he was interested in failure of the paint and car cement on galvanized roofs.

The picture above was taken in 1936 shown a string of 36′ boxcars with major failure of roof paint.

I reached out to Lee Turner on how he does it.  He sent me an email with his approach to creating this effect.  The following text and pictures are from Lee.

I’ll start with a near complete failure. Mask and paint the entire roof, spray with the galvanized color (mixing instructions below) Take some of the leftover mix and add a couple drops of black, just enough to make a slightly darker shade. Take an irregular hunk of sponge foam (like brass is packed in) and dip  it in the darker shade, wipe most of the paint off like you were dry brushing and then lightly tap the foam on the roof being careful to turn the sponge and vary the pressure. This gives the roof the mottled appearance of exposed galvanized metal. The next step is to brush a dark gray along the rib seams and around the roof ribs being very random, mother nature doesn’t like regimented weathering. Also don’t cover anything completely leave plenty of open spaces. Then go back with a very slightly darker shade of the sides and randomly paint splotches of remaining paint on the roof ribs and under the running board and even some along the eaves  anywhere there is an edge, fold or seam. Use a fine brush. Usually for a complete paint failure it could take 15 or more years on the prototype in which time the rest of the car may have been repainted so you can spray just a little body color overspray around the perimeter of the roof.

  For just some light peeling I would take the galvanized mixture and a fine tooth brush and freehand paint chips starting in the center of panels over the roof which should be painted body color. With a thin dark paint, airbrush along each rib  to give the impression that the car cement is starting to bleed though.

The galvanized color is half model master gull gray and half Testors Model master acrylic “steel’. Galvanized steel should be a light gray with just a hint of metallic.

  A final word on painting random patterns. Your mind will want to organize as you go along so its a good idea to do this while watching TV  or something else to draw your mind away from the task at hand.
Thank you Lee for adding to our understanding of weathering railroad equipment.
There are a few other techniques that can used for creating a similar effect.  I was talking to Jim Zwernemann today and he reminded me of a technique that he has used.  Apply rubber cement to the roof in dabs before applying the top coat. Remove the rubber cement by rubbing the area with your finger.   I used hair spray to distress the roof of this venerable Chooch kit.
Rock salt can be applied to a slightly dampened roof.  Apply top coat and then rub to remove the rock salt.
You can use Vallejo chipping fluid applied before the final color.  Lee demonstrated this technique very well on this MTH three-rail plow.
In the near term, I will compile a list of weathering techniques that Lee Turner has been kind enough to share with us.  I am amazed  at the number of postings that Lee has provided us.
Thanks for stopping by,