MODELING: Lee Turner does SP Cabooses


Pacific Limited imported the Southern Pacific C-30-1 caboose in 1/48 scale back in the 1980s.   It was probably the best rendering of this classic car of the imported SP models.  Recently, a client sent a couple of these rare models to Lee for his magic touch.   He has tried to show a recently painted car with the early 1950s lettering scheme.  The SP dropped the bar above the name in early 1950s timeframe.  At a point in time later in the decade, the railroad painted the ends Daylight Orange.   There were a few that received a bright red end paint before the orange treatment.

Lee started out with a base color of red and used a light red-brown filter to shift the tone and create a vibrant red.   The weathering is restrained to represent relatively new paint.  The SP did use black on the roofs prior to WW-II and a few cars managed to make it to the 1950s without a coat of oxide red.   Pacific Limited did a nice job on the awning brace. The railroad used that piece of hardware on three classes of wood sheathed cars.

Part of this story is about the figures used in populating these cabooses.   The old guy on the rear platforms is probably wondering where the coupler went.   The figure is an old Charles H Brommer casting that is nearly as old as Lee (exaggeration slightly).  Lee used acrylics to finish the fellows attire.

This figure started out as Hasegawa 1/48 scale figure that was reworked by Lee.

This C-30-1 was modeled after Southern Pacific of Mexico cabooses.   They apparently adopted their own painting standards by adding silver or aluminum paint to the steps.

Lee weathered the SP de M car reflecting a lack of maintenance and the effects of heat and dust on the finish.  He tried to sand the decals to give a worn look.  The effect is credible to my eye.

Here is an example of a C-30-1 trailing a long freight near Burbank.

As always, I want to thank Lee for sharing his work with us.  It is always a treat to see and share his modeling.




MODELING: NP 52′ Flat Car 1.0


Progress is being made on my latest project.   This is the start of a construction project to build a 1/48 scale model of a Northern Pacific fifty-two foot flat car.  The NP had a large number of this type of car with the following lot build dates and number:


In addition, the car was purchased for the Burlington, SP&S and Great Nothern.   Differences exist between the various Hill Lines in terms of hand brakes and lettering.


I have made some decisions on various aspects of the model construction.

  • Basic centersill and crossbears are made from .030″ styrene.  I have tried to use .020″ material but found that is not very rigid and have caused me problems in the past.
  • The centersill has been widened to increase the area for the car weight.  Flat cars are notorius for being light and having tracking problems in train service.  I noticed Jim King had done this for his 70-ton AAR flat car kit.
  • Rivets on the underframe will be Archer decal rivets.  The sidesill and endsills will have punched rivets.


I recommend you start with a copy of Railroad Model Craftsman November 2016 issue.  It has a decent scale drawing of this car.  I detected a few differences when compared to the blueprint obtained from the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Associations.  I suspected that the draftsman may have used a CB&Q or GN railroad drawing.  The RMC drawing is much easier to use given the way the railroad drawing shows only the “B” half of the car and added multiple footnotes on features used on the “A” end of the car.


I started with a full sheet of .030″ styrene and squared all sides.  I marked key breakpoints for cutting out the shape of the two girders and baseplate  I also marked the location of the crossties and crossbearers along with the bolsters.  This will aid in the assembly of the various parts in the underframe.

My little aluminum blocks are helpful when squaring up the various parts while the solvent glue sets.  I use the blue tape on the rule to keep it from sliding on the slick plastic surface.

Once the girders are cut out, it is a good idea to cut the slots for the trainline, brake levers and branch pipe (right to left).  The block is to hold a Protocraft bushing for mounting the truck.   The block is .315″ wide.  It also served a good spacer for the girders.  Mark the stryene to make sure you get the correct orientation.

Here is one of my metal blocks holding the girder upright.  The blocks were salvaged from a scrap bin at my employer.  The blocks are square on all surfaces.   They were made as spacers for an electronics rack that went into a 637 Class submarine.  End of story on the liittle blocks.

I used a little fixture to aid in the glueing operation. Crude but effective at holding the strip at a 90-degree angle.

The next step is to fabricate and install the crossbearers on the frame.  They are cut from .030″ sheet with a .030″x.080″ strip at the base.   Add slots for trainline and brake rodding as appropriate.   The shape is defined by the drawings and it must fit between the centersill base and the sidesill channels. The car is 9’3″ across the sidesills.  The centersill base is 0.50″ wide and the sidesills are built up from .030″ with a .015″ thick riveted overlay.  The sidesill is 13″ high so I made a channel shape using .25″x.030″ strip for the full length of the sill.  I built up the height with a .020″x.100″ strip attached to the bottom the top edge.  A .020″x.060″ strip was added to the bottom to create the 13″ channel.   You may think that the wall thickness is excessive but remember the car will likely weight 14-16 ounces when completed.  You don’t want a lot of flex in the sidesill.

The body bolsters were cut from .020″ sheet with a .125″x.080″ spacer to create the form  Like the crossbearer, the sides of the bolster are drawn on the styrene and cut out with a fresh single-edged razor blade.

The bolster is installed on a 14″ by 37.5″ strip cut from .030″ styrene   The 37.5″ length was determined by the width of the centersill (24″) and the sidesill base (.100″ plus .015″ for side overlay.  These dimensions produced a frame width of 9’3″ per the drawing.

The next installment will finish up the underframe and add side and endsills.




MODDELING: It’s Showtime!

After a brief pause, I am back at modeling and working on the blog.  Much to my pleasure, my friend Lee Turner primed my publishing pump with some wonderful examples of his craft.   Seeing his work always adds interest to my enjoyment of the hobby.  Hope that you feel the same way.

First off is an example on how you can turn a stock Atlas R-T-R boxcar into a beautiful and realistic model.   The car came from Atlas painted Federal Yellow (very intense) with lettering inplace.  If you are familiar with the prototype cars you know that the yellow fades badly to a pale yellow that is almost tan.    Lee managed to fade the color with a series of filters applied to the car surfaces.  Highlights around the door hardware and track really capture my eye.

Here is a shot of the prototype to show how it weathers.

This is a very credible model just with some weathering.

Natural light and a real background help create a scene that easily passes for the real thing.

As always, I am grateful to Lee for sharing his work.

So my plan was to roll out the first chapter of  a Norrthern Pacific flat car build.  A combination of circumstances has delayed the this a week or so.   I started the construction and scrapped the first couple attempts at the centersill.  I then realized that my attempt to scan and scale a builders drawing was a bust.   I used a program called Scale Print which allows you to scale a photo or drawing to one several popular scales like 1/48 and 1/32 so that it can be printed.    The program is only as good as the dimensional data that is loaded into the dialog box.   Human error strikes again.

Here is part of the Northern Pacific drawing I am using.   Drawings like this require some time to study and understand before you start wacking away at some styrene.  I didn’t do that so I generated scrap plastic and no progress.   The plan is from the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association library.

The pile on the right is scrap and one on the left is also scrap.   My fourth attempt seems to be going along ok.   The surface below the parts is a marble cheese board that was being donated to a local charity but I intercepted it.  I donated some clothing to replace the contribution.

I hope to get on with the model build this week.

Thanks for hanging around



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.