MODELING: Finishing Projects

It seems that finishing up model projects is the bane for most of us.  A project gets stale or the right information or part have not surfaced yet.   You started the model so now the challenge is to drive it to completion without buring yourself out on it.   Like most, I have a number of incomplete things in boxes and on shelves.  I have tried to close my eyes to new things that come along and distract me but that doesn’t work.  I do try to keep a list of incomplete projects as a reminder.  It does help guide me to at least look at the stuff an decide if it is worthy of your attention.

My efforts to build a Northern Pacific 9480 series composite boxcar is a classic case of deciding to jump into this project when a friend supplied me with a copy of the railroad’s general arranement drawing.  The car has been on my bucket list for a long time.  I missed out on the original Chooch Ultra Scale II kit done by Jim Zwernemann.  He did a nice job on the patterns.   The drawing was the catalyst to build the model.  I had been saving a few key parts for the project for years.  The Intermountain car ends were expertly removed from the body by Carl Jackson.  The body was a sample of the initial tooling done by Intermountain.  The second part was the roof.  I had modified an Intermountain Murphy raised panel roof and had it cast in urethane.   I got rid theheavy frame on the backside and the cast-on rivets.  The rivets were replaced by Archer decals.

So I am now at this point of the process. The model is complete except for the final color and decals.  The view above shows the completed underframe with a quick shot of Tamiya primer.  The AB brake parts are from San Juan Car Company and the door hardware is Chooch.  Couplers and bolster bushings are from Protocraft.

The Northern Pacific liked the additional lever and brake return spring on many of their cars.   I am not absolutely certain of the lever arrangement since I could not get a brake system drawing.  I was able to pick out the component locations from the side elevation drawing.

This is a closer view of the “B” end of the car.  The grab irons are from Chooch.  I made the sill steps from .015″ x .042″ brass strips and pinned them to the sill using Scale Hardware stainless steel rivets.   The black “B” on the center sill is a marker for me to get the underframe stuff right.  The trainline routing and placement of the brake cylinder are important when building the model.

So this model is headed off to the paint shop to be adorned in Oxide Brown, proper stencils applied and some road grime to finish.  The next report will be on the finished car.

That is all for now,


NEW PRODUCTS: ‘This the Season for Modeling

It is the end of October and modeling building may be on your horizon.  I have a few new items to temp you with.  We only have a few suppliers in our scale these days so we need to support them by purchasing their wares.



Glacier Park offers a few really nice kits for 1/4″ scale modelers.  Their original Southern Pacific G-50-23 composite gondola has been joined by two new adaptations.  The first is the G-50-22 all steel gondola and the G-50-23 extended height G-50-23 gondola.   All three kits offer an entertaining build that will result in an exquisite scale model of real prototype cars.




The much needed all-steel drop bottom gondola kit is now available.

This version is equipped with the Miner hand brake system.  The other cars come with the Klasing style hand brake.  This version of the kit is similar to many modern general service cars used by other railroads.


The price for the kits is $99.95 each and $14.95 shipping. An optional precision cut lead weight set is $9.95.  The weight is designed to fit in the centersill.  Trucks, couplers and decals are not included but can be purchased from Protocraft.

Glacier Park can be contacted via email


Ross Dando has a few more of his exquisite flat car kits available.  Don’t delay as they will go quickly.

This is a superb kit with an incredible amount of detail top and bottom.  Hope that Ross does another kit one day.


Jon Cagle has recently moved into his new building in Sanford, FL.  His building provides space for Jon’s business and several leased spaces.  He is in the process of getting back into the Southern Car & Foundry resin car kit business.  Jon has been casting for a number of suppliers in the hobby for their kit line.    His first offereing is an absolutely super kit for a 1932 ARA boxcar just about ready for release.  It will feature a one-piece body with a seperate floor.  High quality resin, etched metail parts, wood running boards and the usual details needed to outfit the brake system and such.

The kit isn’t quite ready so don’t start bugging Jon quite yet.  He (we) will announce when it will be available to order.

Well as Bugs Bunny once said:




Nearly all caboose designs have some sort of steps or ladders to allow the crew access. Making four steps can be challenging for all modelers.  It is a process that I have struggled with often.  I have built several cabooses over my hobby life. 

My process involves making a fixture to allow duplicate parts to be built.  My experience is that wood is the best material to use for steps made from styrene.

The fixture is very elegant but it is functional.  I know Ross Dando is probably shaking his head at my crude jig.  Each step has a 9″ rise which was easily made from stripwood.

I have included a portion of a drawing done by Jim Zwernemann.  It illustrates the design I am trying to model.

The prototype steps were built of steel and used safety plate for the treads.  I could have built the steps out of brass but felt more comfortable with styrene.  I have tried to  use Archer decals to represent the anti-slip surface but it doesn’t work bending over the front edge.

I decided to take another route using etched brass material.  I purchased an etched product sold by Plano Model Products

The etched sheet is very thin and easy to cut and form easily.  I attached the metal to  step tread with CA.  I think it is an effective method for create a steel step.

Photo from the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association collection.

Hope my approach will be helpful.


MODELING: Sawdust and Cuts 2.0

Construction is proceeding on my new layout.  The first two pieces were built as 24″x 72″ modules.  Well, they turned out to be a little heavier than I had imagined.  It seems that the lumber that I purchased from a big box store is at best crap.  You might be aware that there is a shortage of lumber due to a lot of reasons including a spike in home building.  The stuff sold by the big box stores is what is left in the market place.   The lack of precision in dimensions and straightness challenges one’s ability to make two or more modules of the same size.

Conventional modules cantilevered from the wall

I decided to revert back to the same construction method used on my previous layout.  I used a version of “L” girder design developed by Jim Zwernemann.

It is a pretty straight-forward to build and allows for variation of the material dimensions.  I was able to build sixteen feet of benchwork in about five hours.




“L” Girder Benchwork modeled after a Jim Zwernemann design. 

I placed a section of my old layout on the benchwork.  The planned scene will be an vignette of the Bothell, WA area.  I was able to obtain a scan of a 1947 aerial photo of the subject area showing the railroad and buildings and their relationship to each other.  The photo came from the 1947 Bothell High School Yearbook.  Rick Leach’s mom went to Bothell High and saved her book.

The aerial photos is a gold mine of useful information

The feed mill complex was the largest customer at Bothell.  The view shows the roof details of the mill.  The building on the extreme right was a shipper of rose bush plantings.  In addition there was a ramp to allow the unloading of vehicles from freight cars.  In later years, a sheet rock dealer set up shot with a metal building added to the right of the scene.

This ground level view shows the depot, coal shed, feed mill and the corner of the rose shipper. The photo was taken by the late Doug Leach.  The train was special movement. Likely that it was was some sort of high school excursion.  Normal passenger service was dropped in the 1930s.

Bothell Station Plat showing changes made around depot

The combination of the plat and aerial view provides a good sense of the postion of the major elements of the scene.  One key scaling data point is the length of the depot hip roof of 63 feet.   I was able to approximate the length of the tall mill building at 60 feet and low building at 75 feet.   The depot roof overhang is 4 feet and the platform width of 19 feet measuring from the depot wall and the railhead.  Distilling all this information down to something practical looks like this.

The depot and feed mill is in close proximity to each other.   The layout table top is 26″ wide and depot scene is planned for a 12 foot section of benchwork.

I carpeted the table top with heavy wrapping paper.  The foot print of the buildings are situated along with track.  I used some switch plans help with the planning process.  I suppose that if I were more handy with a computer I would draw it all on the screen.

This Doug Leach photos provides a late view of the depot before rebuilt eliminating the hip roof.

So that is where I am going with my new layout.  I think scene really qualifies as a Layout Design Element (LDE) a term created by  Kalmbach author Tony Koester.

Onward and upward!






MODELING: Bill Yancey’s Railroad

Bill Yancey has created a well exectured switching layout in P48.  It was built on the concept of a former Canadian Pacific branch now operated by a shortline called the Alberta Prairie Resources Railway.   This approach allows one to use of prototype structures and equipment but with the flexibility of a private road.  The layout represents a longtime effort to complete a functioning switching railroad.  Bill has managed to pack a lot of operation in a modest sized room (14′ x 20′)  in his home.

His structures are all scratchbuilt from styrene with either a plexiglas or Gator Board core.  This a sensible approach to having some unique buildings that speak to the region or area the railroad operates.  In his case, the railroad is situated in Alberta Province of Canada.  The elevator is a key fixture in the grain growing regions of western provinces.

Parked in front of the steel storage bins is a neat conversion of a 1955 Chevy 2-ton truck that Bill created out of an old Revell kit.  The grain hopper was scratchbuilt for the truck.

I like the fact that Bill spent some effort highlighting the lettering on the grill and the appropriate license plate.  Little detail that make the model pop.

Here is a better view of the truck. The lettering on the cab door is for Dando Farms.  Didn’t know Ross Dando was a farmer.

Bill has built some very nice rolling stock appropriate for his era.  The bulkhead flats are fantastic.

The rural fuel distributor adds a nice break from the lumber and grain loads carried on the branch.

Bill built this stunning Canadian Pacific depot.  It is classic design used the railroad at many locations on the transcontinential railroad.

Bill’s shortline uses an ex-BN GP-9 for its locomotive.  Challenger imported this brass model. It was used as the starting point for this beautiful model.  The GP-9 was equipped with DCC sound.  This locomotive is a perfect choice for a small operation.

I want to thank Bill for allowing me to use his layout pictures.



MODELING: Sawdust and Cuts

I am taking a break from model building and trying my hand at building benchwork. My last layout framework was built by my stepson who is a skilled carpenter (one of his many skills).   It was a sturdy structure that could have supported my automobile.  This time around it will less stout and of a different design  For one thing, it will consist of a series of modules approximately 2′ x 6′ in size.  Each module will be sheathed with plywood. My previous design was based upon “L” girder construction.  While the “L” girder is flexible it doesn’t lend itself to moving to another location. The flat top surface will have extruded styrene foam board to create ground contour.

The reason for this approach is to make some or all of the layout salvageable if in the event of a move.  It will also allow me to move each section to a lower table to work on track or even scenery. Problems with my back and neck prevent me from spending lots of time leaning over the tabletop building track.  I will also be using Right O’Way Code 125 flex track to a larger extent.   Hand layed track in some of the areas will be used. I want to get trains running  trains sooner than later.

Other changes include the addition of DCC/Sound for my locomotives. I purchased a NCE wireless system to facilitate the effects. Jimmy sent me a short video of a Glacier Park Models C-9 equipped with a TCS WOW Sound DCC with a Tang Bang speaker.  This video clinched the deal.   Unfortunately, I can post it to Word Press.

Jimmy Booth sent me this shot of the DCC receiver installed in one of his imports.  The speaker is forward of the gearbox.  The “keep alive” capacitor pack is mounted on the gearbox.

I am also looking at using Tam Valley servo/controller for turnout operation.   It is expensive but is pretty much a turnkey setup.  Jimmy Booth suggested it to me.  He is using them on his new P48 layout.


I have still be trying to make progress on the old Shell gas station.  My limited accomplishment is to settle on a color. I first painted the model with Star Brand Jersey Cream lacquer. This was an unofficial name for the yellow used on D&RGW depots in later years.  I decided that it was too intense for my taste so I dabbed on Mission Models Paint British Cream.  This color looked good compared to color photos I have seen of Shell stations in the 1950s. I like this color because it is softer to my eye.  The roof will get a terra cotta color which will be muted compared to the raw plastic of the tiles.

It seems that Norm Buckhart got tired of doing decal art and decided to play with trains.  He has several new cars that are in the train shown.  The bulkhead flats are converted Pacific Limited brass AAR 53’6″ by Errol Spangler.  He built the bulkheads from brass and also the loads.

Norm has a backroom where trains are staged for the his layout.  He is has asssembled this little train to run over a portion of his massive layout.  The locomotive is a very old Walthers cast bronze early oil electric that Jay Criswell installed a super drive inside.

So that is all for now.


OPINION: Some Odds and End

Not much progress on modeling from my workbench.  The heavy smoke and limitation of living in a repressive state has sapped my creative energy.  So much for the news from what used to be the “golden state”.   I have a few bits to write about however.

First up are two shots that Jimmy Booth sent of a vintage lumber yard in Healdsburg,CA.  The yard is a classic design with very few examples still existing in 2020.  I have always loved the multi-level storage shed and remember being in this kind of yards when I was a kid.

Jimmy intends to the build a version of this facilties on his new layout.  Can’t wait to see it.

Next up is one of my long-term bucket list is a classic General American Type-30 tank cars.  I know I have a half-built GATC Type-19 but got to have a few irons in the fire.

It looks like every other tank car but the bolsters are unique and quite different from AC&F cars like the Intermountain model.   You can see the General American bolster in this view.  The poling pockets are located on the end of the bolster.  Sadly, our scale suffers from the lack of prototype variety in tank car designs.  Between Max Gray, USH and PSC there has to be a couple gillion ACF style cars that have been imported from Asia.   It seems that 1/4″ scale modelers don’t have the luxury of multiple prototypes.  Plastic kits and RTR tank cars in HO cover ACF Type-21 and Type-27; GATC Type-17,-19 and Type-30 and STC cars by SC&F.  They have yet to see the UTLX Type-3 or a few other lesser lights.

Well, it turns out Resin Car Works released an HO kit.  I contacted Frank Hodina (owner) and he agreed to release the bolster 3D file to Shapeways in 1/48 scale.  His son did the CAD work. I bought a pair and had a number cast in resin.  I fitted the resin bolster to 1/4″ Evergreen channels.  I cut a 1/4″ square styrene block as the truck mounting point.

I tested an Intermountain tank car body on the frame.  It looks decent.  The dome on these cars were 61″ diameter rather than the 54″ found in the kit.  That is the next challenge.

Back to dreaming about my bucket list……………..


MODELING: Mid-Century Composite Wood-Sheathed Boxcar 4.0

In this edition, I will focus on detailing the car body with brass ladders, hand brake, grab irons and door details.

Here is a portion of the railroad’s car drawing for this class.  The Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association (NPRHA) prodvided this copy for non-commercial use.

The ladders for this car were built in a simple jig that holds the stiles (1/32″ square brass) and the rungs (.016″ wire).  I glued .040″ square styrene spacers to the back of the stiles using CA.  Once this was done, I bonded the ladders to the side using MEK.  The ladders are close to scale but lack the details of the Chooch Delrin ladders.  However, paint sticks better to brass compared to engineering plastics.

Next up are the drop grab irons that are located on the car ends.  I use a compass to measure the hole spacing and use to guide the bending of the brass wire.

I place a spacer underneath the the form grab iron.  Tighten the vice and remove the space to allow the grab to be bent down.

A finished grab iron.

This side view shows the ladder installed and Chooch grab irons installed on the left side.  You can also see the details added to the door.  All of this hardware was sourced from Chooch.  They have the all the good stuff needed to detail the door closing mechanism and Camel rollers on the lower track.  The door grab iron was made from a piece of .020″ brass wire.

Oh yes, there are a gillion nain hole impressions on the wood sides.  Take you time and make sure you use guidelines to keep them looking neat.

The closeup shows that I added a strip of brass underneath the lever.

So this finishes up the latest installment of this build.  I need to install the brake system and add the running boards along with sill steps.


MODELING: A Famous Train in Model Form

The golden era of luxury passenger trains is history.   Few people alive today can remember or have experienced passenger travel on a grand scale.   One great fan of famous passenger trains is Bruce Blalock.  He decided to have few beutiful cars of his favorite railroad.   Bruce is an unabashed fan of the Missouri Kansas Texas (MKT).   The Texas Special was the road’s finest passenger train. It was unique in that it was jointly operated with the Frisco.  The train ran from Saint Louis to Kansas City and points south in Texas.

The train is celebrated in the beautiful John Winfield painting of the Texas Special stopping in Austin, Texas.

Back to Bruce’s quest for his Katy models.  He turned to master builder Dan Pantera to create a masterpiece of the trains observation the Stephen Austin.

The model was built from a Kaisner extruded car body with a ICC plastic roof and end along with a bunch of details that Dan applied to the car.  Bruce did the decal artwork nearly forty years ago hoping to have models to use them on.

This is Dan Pantera’s workshop surrounded by his work.  Customer projects range from heavyweight cars to modern streamliners like the blue Nickel Plate Road cars in the foreground.   Dan built Bruce’s observation and is currently working on another car for the Texas Special.   The fellow with the frown is none other than Mike O’Connell. The gentleman standing in the background is Dick Harley. That is Jim Wolf standing in the center of the picture.

As a sidebar, the first time I met Bruce was in 1981 or so when I visited him in the Houston area.   One thing I remember me was the license plate on his car.  It spelled out Texas Special.

Thank you Bruce for sharing your beautiful model.


MODELING: Upgrading Modern Covered Hoppers

Ross Dando was kind enough to provide information on upgrading details on two Atlas O covered hoppers.   He tried to address a couple areas of the car rather than blowing the doors off with all new details.  The key to his strategy is improving a lot of cars with a reasonable investment in time.

The first upgrade to the Atlas cars was to replace the bolster/ draft gear with a new part that sets the proper height for Protocraft trucks and hold their Type-E couplers.  Ross made a pattern and had a bunch cast up in resin This is a simple but useful upgrade.  A Protocraft bolster bushing and mounting plate (PC-1081) are fitted to these parts.

Here is Ross’s pile of PS-3 4427 to upgrade.  Most have their new bolsters installed and ready for the next step.  Pullman routed the trainline down the side of the hoppers which common practice for nearly all hoppers.   Model manufacturers tend to make this detail either oversized or too fragile.  Ross guides us through the steps needed to replace the trainline and hangers with a more scale arrangement.


To start with, a length of .015″ x .042″ is formed into a loop using two different pairs of pliers.

Form the loop with round tip pliers.

Break over with a needle nose

Use a flat nose pliers to finish the crimp around the wire.

And this what you get.

So after bending up the trainline wire and the hangers you will have a pile of goodies to go to work on the big Pullman hoppers.

Here is the 100-ton car outfitted with the new trainline and bolsters

On the Atlas ACF 70-ton covered hopper is upgraded in a similar fashion.  Ross designed the bolster to fit several Atlas models.  The trainline received an upgrade just like it’s bigger brother.

I would like to thank Ross Dando for the story on his upgrades to ready-to-run Atlas covered hoppers.  He also took all of the photos as well.