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.



MODELING: Mid-Century Composite Wood-Sheathed Boxcar 3.0

This post will bring you up to date on my Nothern Pacific boxcar build.  My focus was to complete some of basic aspects of the model.  I have added couplers, trucks, mounting platforms for the AB brake system.   The couplers are Protocraft working Type-E and the trucks are Barber S-1 50-ton trucks (PC-211P).


The basic underframe is composed of styrene with four cross  ties and two cross bearers.  The cross ties were cut from 1/8″ Evergreen channel strips.   The cross bearers are cut from .020″ sheet styrene.  The caps on the cross bearers were cut from .015″ styrene and will get Archer decal rivets once the detailing is complete.  I will prime the underframe using Tamiya fine spray primer that is available to in a rattle-can.

There are three mounting points needed. The control valve will be supported by a platform that spans between the side sill and stringer.   The brake cylinder will attach to a bracket that extends from the center sill.


The sides have a 1-1/2″ angle along the bottom edge.  I used a 1/32″ Plastrut styrene angle for the detail.   The angle is held in place with small bolts.  I decided to use a MacLeod Western N-50 7/8″ square head nut and bolt.

It is a bit tricky to drill the angle without kinking the styrene piece.   I used a two-flute drill bit to start holes in the strip.  I decided to bond the angle to the car side.  Once it was set, I proceeded to drill the holes.  The initial starter hole was a .0125″ size.

The angles are attached using a 1/32″ as a guide for mounting it 1 -1/2″ above the bottom of the side.

I just received my new urethane doors in the mail today.  The door is taller than a standard Intermountain Youngstown door.  Intermountain undersized their  door so that the lower door track could be molded on the sidesill.  If you look at a picture of an AAR 1937 boxcar you will see the track is lower on the sidesill.  I was fortune that the NP car has 6/7/6 rib design.  Most 10′ interior height doors are 6/6/6 with wider panels between the sets.

The in-service shot was obtained from the NPRHA.

That all for this update.  More  of this build will appear shortly.  Stay tuned.


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MODELING: Lee Turner’s Technique

Recently, Lee Turner shared a technique had developed for creating a dramatic of the aging of metal and wood.  Dissimilar materials respond differently to environmental factors.  Wood versus metal produces different patinas that create an interesting appearance.  Lee has been working on this approach to create this appearance.

An involved painting project like this needs some color photos to work from. That way you see what the end goal looks like and you can try different techniques to achieve it. if you keep working the paint in small layers it is possible. Here is an image from a book that shows what the inspiration was. Since the build of this old resin car wasn’t perfect it was an excellent candidate for experimental techniques to lure the eye away from the less than perfect areas
After completing construction of the car it was primed with Tamiya Fine Surface Primer in a spray can to give a solid base for the work to come. After the primer dried a dark rusty brown was sprayed over all metallic parts of the carbody not paying any attention to keeping it off the wood siding. It was sealed for future weathering with Krylon Clear Flat.
For coloring the wood a range of red and earth tone colors were chosen from the craft paint aisle at Michael’s Craft store along with some plastic six pot trays. Four red shades and two earth tone colors were put in the tray with a drop of “wet water” to keep them from drying out. Individual siding boards were painted one at a time mixing the shades of browns and reds for each board. The craft paints are a little transparent but the dark brown overspray gave even more variety to the individual boards. Remember, except for partial board repairs the boards run from end sheet to door post so the color should stay consistent for each. The side door was done in the same fashion just with wood colors as if a different species of wood shed all the paint off.
 The lettering was faded by using 800 grit sandpaper to fade the decals while on the carrier sheet. The decal is then covered with Microscale Liquid decal film to hold it together. This makes them very fragile and they must be handled carefully After applications of setting solution a dark brown wash was applied to the lettering and blended so that the white wasn’t so bright. A fine tip brush and all the base colors fixed any areas that didn’t look right.
A light blue gray was drybrushed over all metal components to get an old rust look where it actually starts to look bluish gray from sky reflection.
Here are a couple shots of an Intermountain USRA composite gondola. The same treatment was applied to this model.
One thing that has amazed me about Lee is his ability to visualize the color and effect and apply it to the model.  His photography always has little surprises.  A lot can be learned by studying his methods.   Lee has been very generous in sharing his work and his techniques used to create the look.
Thank you again for making us a better modeler.