Sunday, October 25, 2015

Adding Weight to an Intermountain 60ft Flatcar

About 8 years ago, I acquired on a whim an undecorated Intermountain 60' flat car at a the local hobby shop. The car looked good and I decided to paint it in a hypothetic modern QRL&PCo paint scheme. Unfortunately, the car quickly was retired from operation due to poor tracking.


In fact, Intermountain 60' flatcar is notoriously known for its feather-like weight. The car is very nice, but weights no more than 1.1 oz...

Many ways were deviced by modelers to enhance the car's running. The easiest way is to add loads onto the car. Makes for an attractive solution but I'm not too eager to have permanently fixed loads on a car supposed to simulate real operation. For a switching layout, having the opportunity to run the car empty is crucial.

Thus, the other way is  to simply add weight below the wood deck. Filling the empty space under with lead shots is probably the most efficient way, unfortunately, I don't have accept to such product. I thought I could use sand glued with diluted white glue in the same manner as ballast. The idea would work with most flat cars. However, the Intermountain deck isn't 100% sealed and I feared white glue would find it's way on the deck and ruin the model.

The only remaining option was to use lead wheel weights. No particularly the easiest way out there, but feasible. To do so, I removed some internal bracings and details to make more room. I was careful to keep all the details that could be seen from the side. Lead weights required some trimming to fit the space.

After this invisible surgery, the car now weights a honest 3.9 oz. compared to the initial anemic 1.1 oz. For such a car, NMRA would recommend 5 oz., but there's a limit to what you can do. If I had other lead supplies, I could have stuffed about 1 more ounce under the car.

Now, the fun start as this car will be repainted as a CN car to fit our fleet.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Toward more balanced operations

Last Thursday, we gathered at the club but didn't built anything. For once, only operation mattered. To be honest, it's been many years since we purely played with the trains and that's good to be doing it again without worrying about anything else.

Except bad electrical contacts caused by dirty rails (we did a lot of work recently), things went smoothly.

A M420 spotted at Donohue

I operated Limoilou switcher doing ajob at Ciment St-Laurent. It took be a full hour to work things out at the cement plant. Spotting a bunch of boxcars and hoppers under a structure may seems simple, but it quickly ends up as a real chore.

Jérôme decided to try his new idea about operation which is to split the Clermont-bound train in two distinctive trains: one serving only the paper mill and another one serving Clermont's other customers (team track) and Dominion Textile. He only run the newsprint train, but so far the experiment proved to be much more interesting. Since the train was under 12 cars, it didn't clog Clermont's siding, making the operations less tiresome yet interesting.

Next time, we will operate the other freight train and see what it's worth. As Jérôme cleverly pointed out, the layout is quite small, with very little customers and trackwork, but he never gets tired of operating it. I think he nailed it: this is fun because we know what we do. Every single car in the train as a story, a place to be spotted, a real commodity to haul and a destination. At this point, we are so familiar with our concept that using timetable and switchlist is almost a redundant matter. I guess it would be good for outsiders, but to us, it means very little thing.

At the end, we reverted back to 1975 and run the passenger railiner up to Clermont.

Finally, we unwrapped True Line's infamous U-2-g steam locomotive and coupled a couple of Rapido CN coaches to make up an excursion train as was common back in the 70s. Unfortunately, this locomotive doesn't run and need some serious repairs to make it serviceable again. To be noted, CNR #6060 did pull an excursion train from Montréal to La Malbaie in 1976. With Rapido's announce to produce a 606X locomotive in 2020, who knows what could happen!

Making models by mistake: JM Huber covered hoppers

A few weeks ago, I acquired a set of Islington Station decals to letter a JM Huber ACF hopper. After some research, it was evident I needed a 3-bay hopper which I didn't have. Working on a budget, I was not willing to buy a new rail car thus decided to kitbash the hopper.

My victim was an old Athearn BB kit I custom painted as a CN hopper many years ago. It was among my first experimentation with decals and thus the job was quite rough. Lots of silvering and insufficient decal sealing spelled a disaster when I weathered it. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Anyway, stripped the paint from the shell and cut a bay and reduced the lenght of the car. Great care was taken to smooth down the seam as it would be ugly on a welded car. At some point, I decided to add the welded seams visible on the car. To do so, I put two stripes of Tamiya masking take leaving a 0.5mm gap. Then, using gel CA glue, I filled the gap. After a few minutes, before the glue was hard, I pulled off the tape, leaving a nice raised seam.

I took my decals and did a quick fit test. No!!! The car was now to short! Unusable.

Not discouraged, I decided to conitnue my researches and found out ACF covered hoppers came in all sort of lenght, capacity and building details. The JM Huber decals would be perfect for Accurail 3-Bay hopper, which is more modern. Anyway, let's be honest at this point, you'll find out the pneumatic discharge bays are wrong for most ACFX hoppers. I'll leave with that at this point.

My kitbashed 3-bay hopper could be suitable for a generic ACFX car, particularly a 3560 cuft car. A nice picture of car #63626 was sufficient to help me make my own custom decals for the project.

At this point, I also decided to use my other Athearn intact ACF hopper and paint it as a generic ACFX car. I only took a liberty by adding a small mention on each car: "Leased to JM Huber Corp.". I didn't strip the second shell, only removing easily the pad-printed lettering using a fine wet sandpaper and solvaset. This trick often does wonder to remove lettering without damaging the original paint.

I didn't find it suitable to improve the car details, except replacing the stirrups with A-Line metal ones. Cars were then painted with True Line CN Grey #11 which is a nice generic warm gray. Paint was thinned with Future floor finish to get a nice glossy surface ready for decaling.

Weathering was done by using various thin color filters airbrushed over the entire shells. Buff, dark brown and India ink with alcohol were used. The final weathering is weathering powders (white, dark earth and light gray). I try to achieve the look of a cars in service but not rusted. As a kid, those ACF center flow hoppers always looked in good shape and relatively clean. I'm quite happy with the results and we now have two new car to haul kaolin to the paper mill.

Now, I hope I'll find an Accurail ACF hopper some day at decent price to use my set of JM Huber decals.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Upgrading Montmorency Falls

I've bee nquite sick over the week and didn't post anything even if some progress occurred. I kitbashed an ACF covered hopper, started decalling the RS18, partially painted the M420 and ordered a bunch of TCS KA2 KeepAlives to equip the fleet.

But, the most interesting progress is the mock up of Montmorency I did with Jérôme last week end. We also operated it and I'm pleased to say it works better than I thought. We were a little bit afraid switching a spur hidden by a massive structure would be a hindrance, but the fear was for nothing, really.

Two weeks ago, I ventured in Montmorency to survey the ruins, get their dimensions on paper and shoot as much photos I could. I knew from experience the area is infested with poison ivy thus I wore long clothes and rubber boots. Unfortunately, it seems I was uncareful once at home as some sap found its way on my clothes. Well, I managed to restrain the infection to a single small blister on one finger when the dreaded symptoms appeared. Oh the joy!

Anyway, that didn't stop me from applying the newly gathered data to the layout. I must admit I was greatly pleased to find out we could reproduce the scene WITHOUT selective compression. What you will see on the layout is the real thing. Only the track curvature is a little bit sharper.

So let's see the results:

Here what the layout did look like before any work was truly done.

A few minutes later, after cutting a new riverbed real work resumed. Some wood pieces are used to mock up the concrete and stone retaining walls in that area.

On the other side, we started to create a believeable Dominion Textile plant using already built structures. Care was taken so that track spacing is exactly as per prototype.

Atlas Middlesex factory isn't a perfect fit for Dominion Textile, so we used Walthers modular walls instead. For the final model, Walthers' Front Street Warehouse would be the best bet with a lot of kitbashing.

Here's the same scene on the prototype with the old station:

Montmorency Falls, late 50s (credits:

 Later, using scrap foam blocks, we made a rough mock up of the cliff and small falls:

This bridge crosses a small stream created by the water escaping the old water pipe diverting Montmorency River water to the old power plant.

Some pictures taken from behind Dominion Textile:

I particularly like this since you feel like you are part of the layout itself. A real life photo can be seen in Thomas Grumley's book about Quebec Railway Light & Power - Montmorency Division (published by Bytown Railway Society).

Finally, the huge parking lot with the new grade crossing. The station will probably be pushed further right near the tunnel entrance to better fit the prototype. The area will be quite forested with young trees about 30 years old.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Kitbashing a British-American Oil Tank Car - Part 4

We are now near the end with this project. After decalling and dullcoting, the tank car is ready to be weathered. I'm quite satisfied with the final result considering I had no accept to any relevant color pictures. At best, this is an educated guess, but it looks quite convincing.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Poor Man's MLW M420 Kitbash - Part 3

The M420 project is moving along nicely. The more I work on this project, the more I think it won't look as clumsy as I thought it would. This is a excellent source of motivation and I'll try my best to make this locomotive as close to prototype as possible without losing my sanity.

Over the last few days, I mainly worked on the cab. Getting rid of the cab fillets wasn't an easy task. A first coat of Magic Sculpt putty was used to add material on every nose corners. When dry, I sanded it down to get a nice square corners. But the job wasn't perfect and glazing putty was used to finish the job.

Many people will think my cab details are wrongly located. Be aware that when you look at dozen pictures of M420, you quickly find out there is no consistency in horn placement and similar details. As they were shopped, things moved around. The prototype I follow is unit #2520 as it looked in the early 1980s. The horn is placed on the bell support at this time. Since this is a poor man's kitbash, I didn't want to buy new brass castings, some I altered them until they were close enough to prototype. The bell support was grinded and the horn pin was shortened and fastened directly on the bell by drilling a small hole to secure it mechanically.

When detailing was complete, it was time to spray the model with automotive sandable primer. This primer act as a finishing putty. Really helpful to spot defects and fill small scratches. The cab required a second coat of glazing putty and when I was satisfied, I primed the cab with white primer. Many modellers use grey primer because it covers nicely and evenly different material. However, painting CN orange over gray primer never gives good results. The orange look darker and less brilliant.

BTW, I'll have to cut away to weight from the C424 frame because I want a see through cab. For this reason, self-adhesive lead weights were installed on the cab sides. They will provide a support for mini railroader figures later.

Next step is to prime and finish the long hood in the same manner. To be noted, I ordered a new Atlas C424 running board. More on that later, but fully scratchbuilding that thing wasn't very effective from a structural and economic standpoint.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

CN 40ft Insulated Boxcar - Part 6

Another completed project. 40ft boxcars were becoming scarce in the mid-80s. The fleet was getting older and rarely repainted. Those boxcars are thus representing cars nearing the end of their revenue life. Once again, the weathering was done with acrylic, oil paint and weathering powder. Using various technics is the best way to bring depth to weathering, be it a clean looking model or a rust bucket. Dirt splashes from wheels, grease, rust and washed down dirt by rain are not the same and have different texture.

The first car definitely has seen better day. It's not in bad shape, but over 25 years of dirt and UV ray attacks darkened the paint job. It's a matter of a few year before this one meet the torch.

The second car is in better shape thus quite heavily weathered by the messy handly of bagged cement. Though repainted sometime in the 60s, rust spots are starting their job at eating the paint.

Building this small fleet of 4 insulated boxcars was quite fun. I've learned once again about interesting prototypes, their history and how they moved freight accross the country. The project was varied including a simple detailing job (Maple Leaf car), a quite straightforward rebuilding program (Wet Noodle car) and an ambitious rebuilding program (50ft boxcars). That's the nice thing about this hobby!

 Oh! And I also weathered the old Train Miniature CN OSB boxcar. Not my best wood boxcar weathering job, but that should do the job for this orphaned car in company service.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Kitbashing Bachmann 50ft Boxcars - Part 3

Final chapter of this project. I weathered both boxcar recently using various mix of acrylic paints to fade the color, oil paint washes and weathering powder.

The first car was heavily weathered according to a prototype picture. Cement is a messy commodity to transport and if you look at cement cars - whatever their type - they aren't looking pristine.

On the other hand, the second car is less battered down and represent a boxcar that was repainted quite recently. I like to vary the degree of weathering from car to car. It really brings life into a freight consist.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Poor Man's MLW M420 Kitbash - Part 2

I worked all week end on my M420 after stripping the paint.  16 hours of work later, the project reached a interesting point.

The broken resin cab required good restoration work. After gluing it together, I had to modify the front cab door (round corners), modify the battery box doors under the cab and realign the side windows. New sunshade rails were made out of Plastruct styrene C-channel altered in a L-shape. Other noticeable modification including getting rid of the round fillets on the nose with Magic Sculpt Putty. This is an EMD design. MLW cabs didn’t have fancy like fillet, all corners were square giving a particular brutish feel about this particular locomotive. Sand hatches were also scavenged from an Atlas Trainmain RS32 shell (previously scavenged for my RS18 project).

Remaining things to do on the cab include framing the window, adding the all-weather cab extension, a bell, a horn and headlight. Some detailing must be added to the battery boxes too. And, I’ll need to drill holes for classification lights.

The body shell required a fair amount of surgery. Beyond repair parts were removed, including a butched set of grille and the rear louvers. New doors are paper cuts and new louvers are aluminium foil embossed on an Athearn GP9 shell. The rear louvers were made by scribbing styrene sheets with a dull hobby knife blade. The relief was they cleaned with a round blade to give them a slated look. Later, I layered thin styrene sheet details to make the frame, hinges and latches. So far, so good! I was sure it would end up as a mess.

For the roof, I decided to keep my sculpted wood plank in place. I added scratchbuilt lift rings, a new styrene stacks and ventilation trap (don’t know the real name of that platform sitting in the middle of the roof). Finally, cab steps cut from the RS32 shell were glued on each side of the body.

There’s still a few details to address on the body shell, including filling the number boards area, but it is mostly completed.

The real big challenge starts now. M420 running boards are kind of unique. There’s a lot of similarity with a RS11 frame, but the comparison stops there. I’ll probably have to kitbash, even scratchbuilt entirely this part. Once finished, the new frame will be permanently glued to the body shell. Finally, the cab, painted and detailed, will be screwed in place from beneath. Then, I’ll probably add scratchbuilt brass handrails. There’s very little alternative about the stanchions. It will be the last ordeal. The one against which I lost the battle the first time I built this kitbash 14 years ago. This time, there’s no turning back.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Poor Man's MLW M420 Kitbash - Part 1

Last Thursday, Jérôme and I discussed a lot about the iconic MLW M420 locomotive, which was a staple on Murray Bay back in the 80s until 1993. I was basically telling him that it was the very first locomotive I saw in real life and that it made an enduring impact.

Meanwhile, we powered up a nice Atlas C424 equipped with sound. The locomotive performed very well and the LokSound decoder is a marvelous piece oftypical Alco weird engine sounds. The discussion continued as I told Jérôme I built a M420 out of a C424 shell back in my late teenage years. It wasn't accurate, but most distinctive features were done as correctly as I could, including the cab and ends.

As you can suppose, it wasn't long before Jérôme and I started to say IF we only had to run a few locomotives on the layout, it would be M420s. Thus we stepped on a slippery slope...

A few minutes later, I was discussing using the brand new Atlas C424 chassis to power a kitbashed M420. Then, I started to see if I could get such locomotives at a good price. In the end, it would cost a lot for a foobie. Almost as much as buying outright a correct Kaslo Shop shells plus suiting frame and motor.

But not all hopes were lost... If I could find my old kitbash, restore it and merge it with the sound-equipped M420, that would be a zero dollar working M420 for the layout. Not the most prototypical unit out there, but still better than nothing.

In fact, our idea is simple. Make a working kitbash so the industry will announce a RTR model a few weeks or months later. Who didn't work on a special prototype just to find out a manufacturer decided to make it broadly available later. We are gonna take advantage of this insidious model railroading law to force some businessmen out there to open their eyes to the truth!

They say there's nothing more frightening than a desperate man... let's revisit my original kitbash which I dug out from a box of unused rolling stock.

This particular bash as quite an history. It was built based on a 1974 Model Railroad Craftman issue publishing M420 drawings. Back in 2001, I graduated and entered college. I was still a optimist man then and didn't know life would throw a monkey wrench into things I thought were never-changing. A few month earlier - during 2000 Christmas vacation - I started to build my first realistic layout on a 4' x 4' plywood sheet. The track plan was a folded eight figure, but scenery was quite good: ballasted track, realistic plaster road and all structures were scratchbuilt (I still own most of them and I'm impressed how I could be dedicated back then). Most were real structures from my area. I had a lot of fun building this layout .For the first time, it looked like those attractive Model Railroader and Model Railroad Model Craftsman covers I loved.

One day,  between classes, I went to a local hobby shop located nearby the college with a good friend of mine. There was an Atlas/Kato C424 on the shelves at discounted price. Full of ideas, I told my friend: "you know, I'm sure I could turn this out into something else". I checked out at the counter... and bought also a resin wide cab. I was only a matter of time before I started to bash during Spring break.

Quickly, I came up with a somewhat believeable model. It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't bad at all. The Atlas ran fine. But since the Atlas plastic stanchions didn't fit the new cab, I kind of never finished the model thought it did pull a few trains. That was my best running locomotive.

May 3rd or 13th 2001 could be the day I painted the model.

Later, this project was forgotten and, about 5 years ago, I decided to rebuilt the original C424 since the kitbash was no more to my level. Most brass detail parts had already been scavenged for other projects. I bought a new C424 shell and rebuild everything. But I kept the older shell... just in case.

Now let's look at this first kitbash of mine.

Back then, I only used CA glue and didn't know about styrene solvent-based glue. It made a mess. I was also not familiar with putty and didn't use it. I would fill gaps with glue as best as I could and leave it dry. I didn't use files, sand paper. My trusty #11 blade was used to cut, scrap, etc. I used a large metal saw to cut the shell and used a sanding machine to finish details here and there. If my memories as right, I was also starting to experiment with my Dremel tool. Finally, I didn't have an airbrush, so everything was handpainted as smooth as I could. On this particular project, my cab didn't turn out well as I found out painting Floquil CN orange was both impractical and highly toxic.

Styrene sheet was rare in my junk box, so many scratchbuilt details were made out of soft wood sealed with CA glue. Honestly, theses parts are far to be bad. If I would have used a file or sand paper, they would have been quite neat. Custom made grabirons were made out of staples (you read me well, staples!). Piping was done using fine brass wire. When I needed particular castings, I would cut parts from the junkbox and build up something suitable. My Zero Weigth Transfer (ZWT) truck prototype is a testimony to that.

Finally, my last material of choice was kitchen grade aluminium foil. I would emboss louvers and thread plate in it by rubbing the foil on other shells with correct details I wanted to reproduce. I was clumsy, but I still see relevance in that technic.

It's crazy to think the model was almost completed when I gave up on it. As I previously said, I didn't know I would be caught in the most crazy storm I ever saw in a matter of months. It wouldn't be until 2007 that I would come back to model railroading when things would settle down again.

All in all, I still like what I did with the C424. The cab was almost right, the rear end was as prototypical as I could, wood diesel tanks were doing the job and the new hood top sculpted out of a wooden venitian store even mermerized people at my local hobby shop. Should I stress than in the late 90s and early 2000s, I was the only teenage boy in Quebec City area doing kitbashing and scratchbuilding. Store owners were always enthusiastic to give me tricks and encourage me to continue on that way... which I did. Even if the project "failed" in the end, I learned a lot from it. For the first time, I knew I had the skills to do what pros did in magazines and books. Nowadays, at least 50% of my rolling stock and locomotives are bashed in a way of another. It is now a normal thing to do and no more a chore.

So now, you probably can hear the mantra in my head (and which Jérôme heard all night long on Thursday's evening) : "M420, M420, M420, M420..."

Let's start restoring that junked model into a shining and hardworking MLW M420!