Upgrade a ready-to-run flatcar
New details, weathering, and a load enhance this HO scale car
Most of the time the inspiration for our modeling projects comes from something we see while standing trackside, reading a prototype or model railroad publication, or looking at similarly themed websites. The idea for this project was sparked by a Christmas card. Longtime railfan friend, photographer, and photo collector John C. LaRue sent me a card that included a New York Central (NYC) flatcar in the scene. After taking a closer look at the car, I thought it looked similar to the Red Caboose (now InterMountain Railway Co.) HO scale 42-foot fishbelly flatcar.
After finding the model, I began looking for better photos of the prototype. Once again John came through. He sold me a print of NYC S-496296. According to the April 1957 Official Railway Equipment Register, 245 of the 300 cars from NYC’s 496000 through 496299 series were still in service. Included in that range was No. 496049, the number on my model.
Further examination of the model revealed the car doesn’t match the prototype exactly. However, all of the key pieces were there, or there was room to install them. With some extra details, weathering, and a load, the flatcar would be a great fit for my HO scale freight car fleet.
Weathering the deck
The flatcar deck was molded in beige plastic. The color was so bright and uniform that it was the first thing a viewer would notice about the model. Uncertain if trying to removing the deck would damage the car, I decided to weather it instead.
First, I applied RustOleum Painter’s Touch 2X Flat Gray Primer spray paint (No. 249088). Full coverage of the plastic wasn’t critical.
The next day I overcoated the gray with Rust-Oleum
Painter’s Touch 2X Flat Black Primer (No. 249846). Again, complete coverage wasn’t necessary. However, I made sure the black filled in the crevices between the boards.
I then sanded the deck with 80-grit sandpaper. I attached the sandpaper to a
2 x 2-inch wood block with white glue and trimmed it to size. The block permitted careful sanding of the large, flat surface.
A light touch is key with this technique. The 80-grit sandpaper roughed up the styrene, making it appear as though it had woodgrain detail. The finished results are shown in ❶, opposite.
Sweating the details
It quickly became apparent that the stirrup steps, air hoses, and hand brake staff wouldn’t survive the handling required to complete the model. I started by using a single-edge razor blade to slice the stirrups off even with the bottom of the side sills. This left the fastener detail attached to the car sides.
Next, I used a No. 75 bit in a pin vise to drill holes, aligned with the fastener detail, in the bottom of the sill. Then I installed A-Line Type A formed-brass steps (No. 29000) with a small drop of cyanoacrylate adhesive (CA). There should be 12 to 15 inches of open space between the bottom of the sill and inside rung of the step.
The Red Caboose model lacked uncoupling levers. To add those, I first drilled a hole in both ends of the car, to the left of the draft-gear box and next to the poling pocket. I used CA to secure a Precision Scale Co. eyebolt (No. 48276) in both holes.
I then cut two pieces of .040" x .040" styrene strip, approximately .080" long, for the other end of the uncoupling lever. I used a No. 75 bit to drill a hole from end to end in the styrene.
To ensure a strong glue joint, I scraped paint off the draft-gear box cover where the styrene would be attached. I used Testor’s solvent cement to secure the styrene. Then I dry fit Tangent Scale Models uncoupling levers (No. TSM-204).
Finally, I used a chisel blade to remove the air hoses attached to the model. I drilled a hole at these locations with a No. 72 bit. Then I cut Hi-Tech rubber air hoses (No. 6038) from the sprue so the air line end had a fine point. I inserted the pointed end into the opening and pulled it through ❷. I later painted the angle cocks to match the carbody and the glad hands a rusty color.
Vertical brake staff
The vertical brake staffs used on many of today’s ready-to-run models are plastic, and the Red Caboose model was no exception. Because of the staff’s location, it’s prone to bending or breaking. That’s why I replaced it with sturdier metal components.
First, I drilled and mounted an eyebolt in the end sill. This served as the mounting location for the new brake staff. Then I trimmed off the Red Caboose hand brake details so I could cement a stirrup to the end sill, directly below the brake wheel and staff.
Next, I worked on the replacement brake wheel and staff. I purchased a pack of Precision Scale Co. brake wheels (No. 31117) and left them attached to the casting gate. I used a No. 75 bit in a pin vise to open up the centers. I cleaned up any rough spots with a fine file.
I then laid the brake wheels top down on a soft piece of scrap wood. I cut 4"-long pieces of .015" brass rod for the staffs. Using pliers, I pushed the rod through the center of each wheel and into the wood, far enough that they stood upright independently. The wire should be at a right angle to the wheel.
Next, I placed a drop of flux on each joint where wheel and rod meet, followed by a small slice of solder. Then I touched a 40W pencil soldering iron on the joint until the solder turned bright
silver and flowed evenly around the joint.
I allowed the parts to cool before pulling them out of the wood with pliers. I trimmed off as much excess rod as possible. Then I filed the top and sides of each rod flat so it looked like a bolt head. I also filed off any excess solder
from the underside of the brake wheels.
I removed the brake wheels from the runner with side cutters and cleaned up the edges with files ❸ (previous page). After trimming the rod to the correct length, I cut a short section of blackened chain and threaded it between the brake staff and stirrup. I ran the other end of the chain toward the center of the car and threaded it onto the uncoupling lever at the styrene block ❹. This creates the illusion that the chain actually goes from the vertical brake staff to the underbody brake mechanism.
Bits and pieces
Just around the corner from the brake staff, on the left side of the car, is the retainer valve. To install the Precision Scale Co. part (No. 31797), I drilled a No. 75 hole in the side of the car and secured the casting with CA ❺.
Then I drilled another hole in the side sill, directly below and as close as possible to the valve. I attached a piece of .008" phosphor bronze wire in the opening with CA.
After the CA cured, I bent the wire down and folded the end under the bottom of the sill. This suggests the retainer valve has an air supply line running to it.
The stake pockets on the model can be vulnerable to damage in an operating layout environment. I managed to lose a pocket while installing the load. Fortunately, Tichy Train Group produces stake pockets in its line of detail parts. The casting isn’t an exact match to the Red Caboose model, but the mounting pins lined up perfectly, making installation quick and easy.
As with any model where detail parts have been added, touch-up painting is necessary. In order to preserve the factory paint and lettering, I used a brush to paint almost all of the new parts brown. I left the chain black and weathered it later with assorted powders.
Getting an exact paint match is tricky, but that’s where weathering helps out. I applied two coats of Testor’s Dullcote with an airbrush. I tinted the first coat with boxcar red paint and the second with grimy black. I used blue painter’s tape to mask off the load limit, light weight, reweigh stencil, and repack data so that information would look like it was recently applied ❻ (opposite page).
The Dullcote not only tones down the car, but it gives the car’s surface some tooth. That was important when I further weathered the flatcar with Bragdon weathering powders.
My go-to colors are black, gray, and light rust, which I applied with makeup brushes. I used gray and black on the deck to soften the effects of the sandpaper weathering. I also used the colors to weather the trucks and
❻ Simple but effective. Mont applied blue painter’s tape over the weight and repack stencils on the car. The stencils under the tape will be bright white, while the rest of the data will be weathered.
couplers. [See “Weathering trucks and couplers” on the previous page.]
Adding the load
During a train show several years ago I came across an O scale drag line bucket and mast by Model Tech Studios. Though too large for a normal HO scale application, I had in mind the giant drag lines used by the southern Indiana mining companies to remove the overburden hiding coal deposits.
The full-size buckets were subject to extreme wear and abuse and had to be replaced or rebuilt fairly frequently. Therefore, I airbrushed the details with red primer to represent a bucket that Bucyrus-Erie was shipping from its central Ohio manufacturing location on the NYC to one of the strip mines on the Monon in southern Indiana ❼.
Though the load is neat, the blocking and bracing really make it stand out. I couldn’t find a reference specific to loading a bucket and mast in Section 3 of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Rules for Governing the Loading of Road Grading, Road Making and Farm Equipment Machinery on Open Top Cars. Lacking information, I placed the bucket near the center of the car deck and followed common practices used for blocking and bracing other styles of heavy implements.
Assorted sizes of HO scale dimensional lumber worked well for the blocking and bracing. First, I cut eight 4-foot-long 4 x 4s for the side stakes. I tapered the ends so I could gently drive them (four per side) into the pockets alongside the bucket.
With the bucket centered on the deck, I filled the gaps on both sides with 6 x 8s. The length isn’t important as long as the 6 x 8s touch the stakes on both sides.
In addition to lateral blocking, the bucket must also be blocked to prevent longitudinal shifting. After placing a 4 x 4 across the car floor, tight against the B end side stakes, I set 6 x 8s between the claws.
The other end of the bucket is contoured. I fabricated five blocks from 2 x 8s and 2 x 4s so they would fit against the contoured bottom of the bucket.
There’s plenty of room on the deck for the mast that goes with the bucket. Like the bucket, it must be secured for transport. I placed one end of the mast against the 4 x 4 that runs the width of the car. Then I placed seven additional 4 x 4s around the mast.
I secured all of the wood blocking to the deck with white glue ❽ (next page). The glue holds the blocking firmly, but you can slide a hobby knife under it if an error is made and the wood needs to be repositioned.
Once all of the blocking was installed and the glue had
dried, I scraped off any excess. I touched up spots damaged by the scraping with a small paintbrush and some Testor’s Dullcote.
The AAR rules also call for installation of cables or rods to help secure large implements shipped by rail. The rods are often welded to the cargo and terminate on the deck or through the stake pockets. I modeled the four rods with .012" phosphor bronze wire. I used CA to secure the wire to holes that were already in the bucket. I terminated the other end of each wire in the stake pockets. This allows them to be
pulled out with the bucket when the load is removed after delivery.
Common sense should tell you that a car with a big load and lots of blocking and bracing should be handled with care. Shoving it over a classification hump is out of the question. Many railroads placed cars requiring special handling near the front or rear of the train so crews could keep an eye on them. A further way to ensure safe handling is by affixing Do Not Hump signs to the load.
For many years I’ve successfully used Jaeger HO Products black on white Do Not Hump paper placards. Recently, I’ve gone through so many of its placard sets that it has become more practical to make my own. I mounted some on .010" thick cardboard for use with stake pocket posts. Those on copier paper are great for car side or door placards.
I attached Do Not Hump signs on three sides of the bucket with small spots of white glue. For the open side of the bucket, I attached an upright made from 4 x 4 to the existing blocking, added a brace made of scrap dimensional wood, cut the placard out, and secured it to the post with white glue ❾.
Ready for delivery
With that, New York Central 42-foot flatcar
No. 496049 is ready to join my rolling stock fleet. The new and replacement details enhance an already quality model, the load adds visual interest, and the blocking and bracing give the loaded car a prototypical appearance.
If you have a flatcar sitting in a box, get it out and start working on it. With a bit of effort, you can turn it into an attention getter.
Mont Switzer is a longtime contributor to Model Railroader magazine. He lives in Middletown, Ind.