Rescuing Old Kits

A while back I wrote a blog post on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum about resurrecting old rolling stock kits developed in the ‘80s, back when the hobby finally began to move past the ‘blue-box’ era. Over the course of that decade, companies like Robin’s Rails, McKean, C&BT, Front Range and Innovative Model Works had sprung up to challenge Athearn and MDC. This was a big leap forward for HO modellers; as these kits were based on specific prototypes, were well researched, and offered a core model with all details applied separately.

Since those times we’ve moved into a model railway world of ready-to-run (RTR) pre-assembled models of exquisite quality. New manufacturers like Tangent, ExactRail, Scale Trains and Moloco (just to name a few) now offer 1:87 rolling stock replicas that truly are museum-quality models. However for those who crave the days when we used to build our models, and paid less than $10 for a freight car in the process, there is something to be said for resurrecting these old kits.

My latest example is this old McKean 40ft PS-1 boxcar painted for the Louisville & Nashville RR.

Louisville-Nashville-40-PS-1-Box-Car-No

A good friend and fellow WRMC member had this kit for sale amongst a pile of surplus model train stuff at a previous Kitchener Train Show. It went through two shows without anyone showing interest. What struck me was its 1960s paint scheme, a relative minority in a model railroad world where the popularity of the ‘40s-‘50s transition era dominates how manufacturers paint their products. However it was dismissed at the time due to it being a southeastern US boxcar, which I assumed would be a rare traffic event over the CP Sudbury Division in the 1970s.

My thoughts changed recently in my continuing efforts to update the club’s traffic/waybill system. It turns out the southeast US offers northern Ontario a lot more than just orange juice and kaolin. Using the OPSIG Industry Database I’ve found a long list of products that one could see routed through the Sudbury Division which are mainly supplied by the southern states. Cotton, rice, peanuts, casting sand and even mining equipment are just a few of the commodities that were uncovered over a couple of hours of research and coffee consumption. So it turns out the WRMRC had been neglecting a traffic source, and  this L&N boxcar was resurrected from the flea market table.

This photo shows it fresh from the ‘grunge factory’ (a.k.a. – the spray booth) after all paint, extra decals and final weathering had been applied; along with one of the prototype photos used to aid in its kitbashing.

L&Nbox_paintshop

As described in the MRH blog, you pretty much have to throw away all the kit-supplied detail parts. I used better ones which are stuffed away in my surplus parts boxes. The underbody was completely gutted, and replaced with Intermountain underbody details – yes, they sell their detail parts separately. The brake detail on the ‘B’ end was fabricated from brass wire, a brake wheel and housing I had lying around, a bit of photo-etched roofwalk material, and a couple of staples I re-bent to hold the brake platform. Likewise I used staples as stirrups to replace the crude ones supplied by McKean.

It should also be noted I used the internet to research these cars, in order to find as many prototype photos as possible. Turns out the L&N 11xxx-12xxx series cars were 1960s rebuilds, with DF loaders, moveable bulkheads and other features added for specified commodities. However with more modern 50-foot cars being purchased, I’m certain that by the 1970s these cars were already relegated back to general service by the L&N.

Though it took a few evenings worth of kit-bashing and research, these efforts are what make the hobby rewarding for me. As the price of RTR models continue to climb, I hope more modellers come to discover these old kits from the ‘80s. There is real value to be found here, and you don’t need to dig too deep to uncover them at any train show.

 

Napanee Industries CP Flatcars

Tips for improving the Wheels of Time model

CP 315122

CP 315122 is a Wheels Of Time flatcar model with new decals added to represent an early ’70s CP Rail repaint, identified by the black capacity data lettering. The ACI label and 2-panel COTS stencil also set the era.

Flatcars are probably the most under-appreciated pieces of rolling stock in the world of railway modelling. Due to their being, well, ‘flat’, they appear very simple and lack the visual impact of a boxcar or covered hopper. But they are actually among the most specialized cars around, possibly second only to tank cars. This under-appreciation is likely why we still need more flatcar variety in model production. Fortunately the various manufactures are helping and have released a number of great new models over the past few years; the ExactRail 53ft GSC, Tangent 60ft GSC and Intermountain 70ton AAR cars just to name three.

Now we can add Wheels of Time to this list with their arrival on the HO scene. The company is not new; they’ve been producing fine quality N-gauge products for a number of years now. However they recently branched into HO scale with a 70ton Gunderson flatcar in both standard and bulkhead versions.

These Wheel of Time flatcars are excellent models. They come with metal grab irons, coupler lift bars, air hoses and #58 Kadee couplers housed in scale draft gear (nice touch). Additionally they come with ASF ride-control trucks equipped with free-rolling metal wheel sets.

This model is a boon for modern modellers (‘70s to present) in general, and a pretty big deal for us on the CP Rail Sudbury Division. Though it is a US prototype car and CP never purchased any Gunderson flats, the model does bear a very strong resemblance to the Napanee Industries 61ft flatcar.

CP 315097

CP 315097 – a Napanee car still wearing its as-delivered basic black scheme at Campbellville, ON on 28 March 2008. Photo by Chris vanderHeide – courtesy canadianfreightcargallery.ca

CP purchased 135 of these cars from Napanee Industries in 1967, numbered CP 315000-315134. All were delivered in the then current black scheme utilizing a larger font for the reporting marks and road name.  However, somewhat surprisingly, close to half the fleet was repainted into CP Rail Action Red by the mid ‘80s, allowing modellers more paint variety. The fleet is still in service today with only a few cars retired, though delivery-black cars are few and far between.

cp 315025

CP 315025 – Though missing an ACI label and sporting a more modern tri-panel COTS stencil, this is an example of an early 1970s repaint as identified by its black (barely legible) capacity data. Photo taken in Woodstock ON by David Graham on 25 March 2007 – courtesy canadianfreightcargallery.ca

The dimensions and details of the WOT model are very close to the Napanee car. The overall length of the model measures one (1) scale foot longer than the prototype, which comes to a little over 3 real millimeters. This a minor discrepancy; for more importantly the deck style, fishbelly profile and the flange running along the bottom of the car all match up well against the prototype. For the rivet-counters among us, the more serious inaccuracies between the two are in the stake pockets.

To begin, there are 18 side pockets on the Napanee car versus 19 on the Gunderson / WOT model. I personally consider this a minor issue, because with that many of them who really has the time to stop and count during an operating session?

The more significant difference is the Napanee car has 8 end-pockets (4 per end) where as the Gunderson / WOT model has none. This is not easy to spot as most photographers shoot these cars trackside, but from any elevated photo you can see these end-pockets. One simple way to simulate these would be to use decals. These pockets appear as little more than small black squares on the deck, and unless you stare down at one on a 90 degree angle, a decal would be a clever way to represent these.

Regardless of the inaccuracies, this is a most welcome car for CP modellers. As new accurate rolling stock models keep being released for Canadian modellers, flatcars were a glaring omission. Hopefully this model is a beginning towards rectifying the situation.

Flat001

This is an unmodified model straight from the box. A few extra decals, weathering, and most especially a repainted deck will make this car really stand out.

Though out of the box these cars look great, with some work you can transform these into stand out models. One can begin by adding additional decals, as I find the models a bit Spartan lettering-wise. That, and our club models the ‘70s decade, so adding ACI labels and appropriate era COTS stencils are musts.

Extra lettering helps, but the biggest improvements comes from re-painting the deck and weathering the car. Wheels of Time painted their decks a greenish brown colour, whereas the lumber weathers to gray on any prototype car I’ve seen. This deck is molded in place, so replacing with laser-cut lumber is not an option.

Flat002

CP 315014 is a factory lettered car with extra decals added. The deck has been hand painted with PollyScale ‘New Gravel Gray’ before weathering is applied.

I begin by hand painting the deck with PollyScale ‘New Gravel Gray’, though any light gray will do. Paint evenly brushing from side-to-side, and continue from one end of the car to the other. If you brush lightly and carefully, you can avoid getting paint on the metal ends of the deck. If you accidentally do, thanks to the deck being raised it’s easy enough to touch these up with Action Red afterwards. Testors has discontinued PollyScale brand paints recently, which is unfortunate as it was almost as wonderful for brush painting as it was for airbrushing. Without thinning and despite taking any extra care, the paint dries flat with no brush strokes. In this case, brush strokes could actually help give the deck a wood grain look. Regardless, with PollyScale’s demise, I recommend any decent acrylic paint for this.

Flat003

Deck weathering on CP 315014 has begun utilizing AIM weathering powders.

After painting, I go over the deck with AIM weathering powders using three colours; grimy black, dark earth, and dark rust. Vary the powders board by board and have fun mixing. You end up with a very convincing deck in no time, and the powders really help the details stand out. The convenience of weathering powders is you can wash them off with water if you don’t like the result, and then try again.

Flat004

Mixing different coloured powders adds realism towards achieving the weathered lumber look.

I finish by weathering the body of the car itself, again mainly with the powders. Here one can use rust colours running down the car to mimic oxidization, and extra dirt where it naturally collects around the trucks. I highly recommend studying real flatcar photos to replicate these patterns.

Next I airbrush some grime on the underbody of the car, and most importantly spray the trucks in order to weather them. The best weathering jobs are thoroughly unconvincing if the trucks are left Delrin-plastic black with shiny metal wheels. Finally I airbrush the entire car with a clear flat coat in order to protect the weathering and extra decals.

Flat005

Weathering the deck really brings out the detail. Click to enlarge.

The first few finished Napanee flatcars have entered revenue service on the WRMRC layout; hauling steel slabs, gas pipelines, farm equipment and numerous other lading across the Sudbury Division. Future additions will see some of these models repainted into the basic black delivery scheme.

We wish Wheels Of Time great success with this car, and we thank them for helping out Canadian modellers.

Got Slag?

An event of some significance for our club layout occurred recently when a trio of Atlas ballast hoppers were grimed-up and weathered over the course of a regular Wednesday work night. While that may not seem particularly significant, after all I paint and weather equipment at the club’s spraybooth all the time, it did signal a big change in the ever-evolving rolling stock fleet of the CP Sudbury Division. These were the final models of a new fleet of slag hoppers to roll out of our shops, and they will replace our old MDC cars that had been in service with the club for over 20 years.

The complete fleet of 16 recently added Atlas ballast hoppers, all weathered and ready to begin hauling slag over the CP Sudbury Division.

Another view of the fleet of new ballast cars entering service on the Sudbury Division.

The MDC-Roundhouse hoppers are crude by today’s standards – the molds were produced in the 1970s and it shows. Not just the thickly molded grab irons and lack of interior details, the worst part of the model was how low the hopper body sat and how shallow that made the unloading bays below. They are almost undetectable. (If someone knows of a prototype car that MDC patterned this after, please post photos/info here in the comments section.) However this was the only longitudinal-bay hopper model available when our club began modelling the CP Sudbury Division, so we assembled a small fleet of MDC models due to lack of alternatives.

Side by side comparison of the Atlas model (left) with the old MDC car (right). Coupled together, it is easy to see why the old Roundhouse models are being retired.

The longitudinal bay ballast hopper is an important car for the ‘70s CP Sudbury Division, all thanks to INCO and the CPR’s maintenance-of-way needs. The byproduct of copper/nickel refining (actually all forms of ore smelting and refining) is called slag; it’s the resulting rock waste you get once all useful minerals have been striped away. INCO has mountains of ugly slag piles growing all around the Sudbury area. And our two big transcon railways, both running through the Sudbury Basin and always on the lookout for cheap solutions to their maintenance needs, began using this crushed slag to ballast their right-of-ways. Take a look at any CP or CN photographs from the ‘60s to the ‘90s. If the tracks are ballasted with a very dark brownish-black rock, that’s Sudbury slag.

The prototype car, CP 360946 see here within a string of longitudinal-bay ballast hoppers in Calgary AB on 21 Oct 1977 – Andy J. Broscoe photo from canadianfreightcargallery.ca

Slag ballast is the reason why these longitudinal-bay hoppers are so important to our layout operations. Strings of these cars were everywhere in the Sudbury area, all to supply ballast system-wide for CP Rail.

So what happened to slag ballast? Well there were two problems with using slag; one that was immediately known, and the other that the Ministry of Environment figured out decades later.

Slag being refined rock was very brittle, and breaks apart relatively easily. This meant CP and CN had to continually re-ballast as the slag was pulverized into mud over time under the weight of heavy freight trains. That was not a big deal as slag, being a waste product, was pretty inexpensive.

CP 360548 was lettered with a combination of C-D-S dry transfers along with Microscale and Highball decals from various sets I had lying around. Outside weathering is a combination of oil paints, weathering powders and some airbrushing – mainly just a quick coat of “grunge” to dirty up the bottom of the car.

The other problem is much more serious. It seems the bedrock of the Sudbury basin contains a trace of naturally occurring mercury. That is not a big deal, provided the rock is undisturbed. Slag, however, is rock that has been disturbed quite a lot. Testing showed mercury was leaching into local water tables from the slag ballast, and so it began to be phased out over time. The situation was worst in the Prairies, where slag ballast was first banned back in the ‘80s. Southern Ontario, with its deeper water tables and lots of limestone, was a safer environment and continued to see slag used until the mid ‘90s.

Our new slag hopper fleet is made up of Atlas’ wonderful model of the ACF-built Hart Ballast Car. These were released about 10 years ago, but our delay in making the switch was due to the Atlas model not being a prefect match for the prototype CP slag hoppers. The actual hoppers, numbered within the CP 360000 to 361277 series, were all built between 1949-53. Though three different manufacturers built them (Eastern Car mostly for the CPR, though Canadian Car & Foundry and NSC produced them too) the visual differences between them are slight.

Weathering the inside of a ballast car is a very different process than for coal hoppers. Coal is acidic, and the hoppers that carry it become a rusty mess inside. Ballast does not corrode the interior, rather it bangs and scrapes the hopper bottoms to polished metal. To capture the look I first airbrushed the interiors with Model Master flat aluminum, then oversprayed the top with grunge (a combination of black, browns and greens to simulate dirt). I finish with Pan Pastels to simulate the rust and dirt that does take hold, and seal all the weathering work with Tamiya flat coat.

There are two visual differences between the real thing and the Atlas model, the first being the top end panels of the hoppers having a notch in them (where the end ladders meet up). The prototype cars feature straight beveled end panels. The other difference is seen in the hopper bays, which are longer and of a different design than the actual CP hoppers.

CP 360413 is lightly weathered, as the CP Rail paint scheme was only a few years old in our club’s modelling era, so it would be a recently repainted car. Weathering was done with Pan Pastels and some airbrushed “grunge” along the bottom of the car.

Despite our hope that maybe, one day, a perfect Canadian ballast car might appear on the market, we decided that the old MDC-Roundhouse cars really needed an upgrade. The influx of amazing new, super-detailed models that have been populating the Sudbury Division layout were really making the old ballast cars look out of place. And the Atlas model is well done, not only from its crisply detailed molding, wire grabirons, nice brake and end details; but this model also featured a fully-detailed interior complete with L-brackets and rivet-detail. The hopper bay doors actually open too, though since we operate these models with live loads we highly recommend our operators DO NOT open them when transporting slag.

Though not 100% perfect, these Atlas models are a very good stand in and they will begin hauling slag on the Sudbury Division starting with our first operating session of the 2016-17 season this September 10th.