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Discussion Starter #121
Marker Lights Boxcar

The gimmick in this kit is the box, which has a window on top that the actual sides of the car peek through (too bad you have to damage the box to get the sides out). Not sure when the kit was built but the company, Marker Lights Models resided at 5710 ½ Diversey in Chicago at the time. I checked it out on Google Maps, there’s a night club and accountant’s office there now.
This is the “USRA Boxcar”, with no serial number on the box or instructions, though there was a price tag of $4.83 hand written on the side. I guess they expected that you’d look in the window to know which one it is.
This is one of those kits that has painted sides and unpainted everything else. The bottom is about the most complicated for a boxcar I’ve ever seen. Rather than a 1/8” board there are two thick stubs at the ends and a thin floor across the center, with ‘C’ channel frame underneath. In fact, the kit has angles, ‘C’ channels, ‘U’ channels, hat sections, ‘I’ beams and even ‘Z’ channels, all from cut basswood. I recommend you use a sharp knife, these pieces are all fairly fragile, especially the I beams. The bolsters are cut across the grain and both split when I drilled out the screw holes for the trucks.
The doors are made of the same wood the sides are made of (a little thin) and the dreadnought ends are cast lead. The only plastic parts were the ladders on the ends and the brake parts, but I replaced the ladders with metal as they broke when I tried to install them. 20 grab irons, all which must be installed through holes drilled one at a time.
I did something different with the couplers, instead of cutting off the bottom of the coupler pocket hole on the ends I installed long couplers through the pocket holes and into shortened Kadee boxes. Hopefully they’ll work as well as normal installs. It just seems a shame to remove good metal.
The car was stenciled for the C.C.C. & St. L., a railroad I’d never heard of before now. The Stencils are nice enough to read. The car is Tuscan red rather than Boxcar red, but with colors being as erratic as they are you’ll probably have to just look for something similar to match.
Anyway, a fun build and about the most complicated boxcar with finished sides I’ve made so far. I do recommend these models if you can find them.
 

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Discussion Starter #122 (Edited)
Morse Productions Mine

I’m trying to add buildings to my layout to make it look like less of a football field, and after finishing a grain elevator I wanted a mine next. I have some restrictions that made shopping for a kit a little harder, namely: not plastic, steam era, on a flat. Not plastic because I can’t seem to get it to look natural after painting, and a flat so I can build it as a moveable diorama. Unfortunately there are very few kits that meet all these requirements.
I finally decided on the “Kit #H-9205- ‘HO’ Scale Vicki Jo Mine” by Morse Productions. This building is based on a bunch of mines the designer had family photos of, and is designed for places where the weather dictates all the equipment be under cover in the winter time. That means the shaft derrick most people recognize as a mine is inside a building.
This kit is made out of cardboard and paper with the siding printed on it. It isn’t just paper though, it is photo-quality paper guaranteed not to fade or discolor in a million years. The cardboard is the non-corrugated type, the instructions call it chipboard. The building is supported by 1/8” basswood strips that basically are glued in all the angles where the cardboards pieces meet. The only other piece is a blackened brass rod for the smoke stack. There are a fair few spare windows, doors and other handy pieces (probably to fill out the paper) for customizing.
The instructions are…comprehensive. 18 pages with step-by-step text instructions, pictures, diagrams, recommendations, tool listing etc. After so many kits consisting of simple line drawings and a few lines of text followed by “Make it look like the diagram” this was a refreshing change. They talk a great deal about using a sharp knife and replacing the blade regularly, I second that.
Naturally I screwed up on the first step, which is to glue the paper to the cardboard. You use spray-on adhesive to join the paper to the cardboard which means the paper is face down and you don’t see the clearly-marked half-sheet that isn’t supposed to be backed by cardboard intended to give some texture to the window and door frames. After hitting myself in the forehead and saying “D’Oh!” I copied the sheet onto cardstock with a color printer and hopefully no one will notice until the cardstock starts fading in 20 years.
The building is three basic parts: shaft house, boiler room and office (and separate privy). In each case you glue the ends to the sides then reinforce all the edges with bass wood, add cardstock window frames and move on to the next piece. After the sides are all assembled into one building the roofs go on then the stack and you are finished! The only part that required careful fitting was the little garret in the roof. That roof needed sanding and the triangular sides trimmed a bit to make it fit. Nice that painting isn’t required other than to hide the cardboard (the color they recommend is perfect).
One issue I have is that there is no way to move the ore into a coal car. The instructions say the ore cars would leave through the office door, but that won’t work if the mine is running on a flat. I ordered a lifelike coal tipple, and plan on making a covered way that would hide a conveyer leading from the end of the building to the tipple, though I haven’t fully realized the plan for that yet. I might put the building on a slight rise, just enough to make HON30 track run level to the tipple…
Also, I need to figure out how to get the track to the tipple. I think I have enough room for a turnaround, which would be nice because there is no way currently to turn trains around but means more wiring nightmares. And it would be 18” radius, a tight turn for any but the coal train. I'll put up another picture when I have it permanently settled.
An interesting kit, one I would recommend. The two-hole outhouse is a bonus. They have a similar kit (well, the same kit) in a different color and name. The company is still in business.
 

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Not bad at all! And a pleasant surprise on the kit instructions! Looks like its nice and solid, easy to move around to find the best place. Even the roof looks good! And No painting!!!! :appl:
 

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Discussion Starter #126
Update: Battleship Gondola

I looted a pair of six-wheel trucks from a Bachmann 60' tank car. Cut off couplers, mounting studs and endbraces; drill hole between the front axles, install steel wheels, cut down center sill on car, use coupler pocket as spacer and it rolls great now. Hopefully that finishes the car. (Still have to test it across #4 switches...)
 

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Discussion Starter #127 (Edited)
Life-Like Buildings

My hometown has a couple of model train shops that are basically Lionel shops. The front room is full of collectible, old or ancient O gauge three-rail Lionel trains. Sometimes I wonder if the whole purpose of the shop is to show off the owner’s Lionel collection. The back room though is dedicated to selling second-hand stuff in different gauges acquired by various means (yard and garage sales, estate liquidations, walk-ins etc.).
You walk in there and your first impression is “they actually sell this junk?” But when you start rifling through it comments float into your head like “That’s neat!”, “Who made that?”, “Is that scratchbuilt?” or my favorite “My dad had one of those!” You inevitably end up buying a bunch of stuff you didn’t know you needed and for less than you thought it should cost.
Anyway, after a foray into the train shop I came home with a sealed plastic bag containing “Life-Like Trackside Shanties Item number 1348”. The box it should have come in was missing. I put it on my work table and promptly forgot about them until a few months later when I was “cleaning” the table (putting stuff away while looking for something underneath the pile) and assembled them while waiting for glue or paint to dry on other projects.
The buildings are a Line Shack, Switchman’s Shanty and Whistle Stop. They are basic plastic slabs glued together at 90ᵒ angles in the corners on a base and roofs (sorry, no before pics). The roof on the stop is tin, the rest shingles. The plastic is about the most garish shade of red-brown I’ve seen, though the whistle stop is colored "Rotten Lemon Yellow", not an improvement. The set comes with a bunch of detritus you’d expect to see lying around these places (I didn’t put that stuff down yet).
Anyway, the instructions are one sheet, both sides and as simple as the structures. The buildings are easy to assemble and paint up nicely. I converted the whistle stop to a blacksmith but I don’t have any plans for rest other than sticking them in forgotten corners of the layout until I execute my “master plan for scenery” (basically a series of dioramas joined by disposable ground cover sheets). If you are looking for something similar these will do the trick.
 

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Discussion Starter #128
Varney Box Car

My first effort to review a Varney car was derailed because the kit was missing the instructions. This kit ‘VARNEY BOX CAR B-26 Milwaukee- “Olympian”’ came complete with everything expected except the ladders and included trucks (which were in better nick than the gondola kit, these actually roll).
The instructions are two sides of a standard piece of paper, generic for all Varney boxcars. There is about half text, half drawings in there and both the text and drawings are easy to understand and thorough.
As with most old boxcars this one starts with a wood frame roof, ends and bottom. Unlike other kits this one is completely clad in embossed, printed cardstock sheathing, even the doors. The dreadnought ends, door slides and roof ribs all come stamped into the cardstock (my kit included separate brass roof ribs as well, useful for future projects). The printing has “Copyright 1941” outside the lines which puts a date on the kit. Printing also includes all the expected side detail and the vast majority of it is legible. There are thin cardboard chunks to put under the sides and give them some support. The catwalk is aluminum, an odd choice but not an issue. Several details are provided in plastic; they are crude, incomplete and chunky, but probably cutting edge technology for 1941.
I cut out all the printed pieces except the roof (the edges are embossed into the stock) and that turned out to be a mistake as there was no overlap provided between the ends and sides. I put a 1/16”square strip of wood in the corners to fill it in, but it would have been better to fit the ends, then cut the sides out to actual length. I did that for the roof with an eye towards folding down the edge but didn’t get the part folded over the top of the car sides to sit down entirely, not pretty but I’m not sure what I could have done differently.
Underside detail is sparse, not that anyone is going to see it anyway. Grabirons and ladder steps were folded out of gardening wire (as given in the instructions) and came out pretty crude (my fault, not the kit’s). Some advice: First, measure the catwalk twice, cut once. That way you don’t end up with a two-piece catwalk with one piece exactly 1” long. Second, if you use rubber bands when gluing put a chunk of fitted wood across the bottom of the car so the bottoms of the sides don’t fold over by the force of the rubber band.
Now my final comment: The cardstock pieces of this car are very fragile. The printing is brittle and just rattling around in the box rubbed off some of the ink, leaving white streaks everywhere especially the high points of the embossing. With black cars it is easy to paint over the scars but this shade of brown is not easy to match and the white is too endemic to bother trying to cover it everywhere. I consider this issue to be so severe that I intend to avoid Varney cardstock cars in the future. I expect that when made these cars were the height of technology and the modelling art but time hasn’t been generous to this mode of construction.
 

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MDC kit
(with some substitute parts).


This car has been pictured in some of my other posts, but without any particulars.

MDC kits were generally very good. Wood parts are well scribed and nicely detailed. Plastic rivet-detail is outstanding.
But I did substitute some items for the ones supplied...
For instance, Walthers Caboose Detail parts (like wire grabs & handrails) were formed much better than the ones that came with the kit. Trussrod turnbuckles & queenposts from GrandtLine and Tichy.
Brakewheels are Kadee.
It's been lightly weathered with 'dust', but the bright lighting conceals it.
The trucks are tuned Tichy's with InterMountain wheelsets.
Kadee couplers.

RIcab1(1)~3.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter #130
Detail Associates Covered Hopper

A friend who knew I started railroading again mentioned that a local shop was liquidating a huge estate and I went over to check it out. The estate apparently belonged to a collector rather than a railroader because all the equipment looked like it had never been removed from the boxes. Most appeared to be premade cars from the 80’s and since I want to build everything I wasn’t particularly interested, but I did find one car that was a kit although still in plastic. So here is “ACF 2970 Covered Hopper #245 Northern Pacific” By Detail Associates.
According to the (very thorough and well-illustrated) instructions this kit was first offered in the 70’s by a company called Ramax. Detail Associates updated the basic kit and re-released it. The kit consists of several plastic sprues with top, bottom, sides and ends and all the extra riff raff that is hung on the body. Metal grab irons and brake piping are included, along with a really nice bent piece of wire that is supposed to be the coupler lift bar. The kit comes painted and includes instructions on how to convert Floquil (unfortunately) paints to the color used. There is a separate page explaining how to customize the kit for Northern Pacific as well as a sheet of decals.
First, I was impressed with how thick the plastic is for the body. I believe it is thicker than premade kits and I doubt it will ever break. The end frames and ladders are much more fragile and kept coming unglued because there are so few attachment points. Also, I am not sure I got the ends and sides properly attached, the ladders didn’t reach the frame. Only one other comment, there were two little plastic dots on the coupler caps that had to be removed in order for the couplers to swivel. The steps are very thin plastic and I expect they’ll break off quickly if I ride the car hard.
So an interesting kit, that unfortunately doesn’t fit under the chute on the grain elevator. Not sure what to do about that…
 

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Discussion Starter #133 (Edited)
Roundhouse Cattle Car

Before the advent of plastic you really only had a few choices for building materials: wood, tin, casting metal or cardboard. In the beginning Roundhouse chose to build out of casting metal (though the name Model Diecasting Corporation is kind of a giveaway). There are several different casting alloys used whose composition affects detail, strength, flexibility, durability etc. Not sure what Roundhouse used for their casting alloy but all the products I’ve built from Roundhouse have had good detail, strength and durability (except the cab on the Prairie with zamac rot, it stands out as the exception).
So here we have “S-105 201850 $1.65 HO 40’ Stock Car New York Central without Trucks”. The first surprise was that there were two complete kits in the box. I doubt it came with two as there is no advertising on the box, more likely a previous owner combined the two kits to save shelf space. All the parts except the truck sockets are metal in this kit. The sides are painted and lettered and include separate plates for the railroad, so the kit is generic except the plates. I’m going to make new plates for the second car for a different RR so I don’t have two with the same number.
The kit itself comes in a bunch of separate little envelopes with the different parts. The sides have an interesting dark grey coloration on the inside, I suspect the result of “Roundhouse metal primer…as it both cleanses and oxidizes the surface for best adherence.” Anyway, there is a great deal of flash on the metal including the painted parts which becomes problematic since Roundhouse Model Railroad Paint is no longer available. I used my usual MO, going to the craft store with a sample and tried to match the paint color. I got a little light but it will have to do.
If scraping flash isn’t your hobby these cars aren’t for you, there’s simply too much. Also, there are a bunch of round molding artifacts on the bottom plate but that shouldn’t worry you unless you plan on displaying the car atop a mirror. OTOH there’s a great deal of detail cast onto the parts, for example all the ladders and grab irons are already there, plus tons of bolt and nail heads.
The instructions are comprehensive and easy to follow, my kit had two extra sheets, one to show placement of the company boards and the other how to install the horn hook couplers included. The coupler pockets are too narrow for Kadee so unless you can get ahold of #4’s you may have to grind it off and install normal Kadee pockets.
The most difficult part is final assembly, there are eight separate pieces to hold all together in place while you screw in four screws. I used a rubber band but still had to fuss to line everything up.
So there you have it, a neat kit, fun to build and properly weighted right out of the box.
(Update: I forgot to check coupler height, these are way too high, gonna have to grind off the coupler pockets and install #22's anyway.)
 

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Good looking Roundhouse Cattle Car. You did a great job. I've never build any kind of rolling stock from a kit myself, but from the pictures I've seen of the finished product they seem well worth the effort. It may be just me, but they seem to capture the look and vibes of the kind of equipment that would be common sight on much older railroads that most folks don't judiciously choose to model. The mid 60's - early 70's or there about seems to be the sweet spot. That way you can run steamers and early diesels together, if that's important to a particular model railroader. It's amazing how just a sprinkling of a few example of older equipment can add a lot of interest to a layout.
 

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Nice job cleaning up all the metal flashing! I noticed that the roofs have what looks like holes for attaching ribs - were they missing or unusable? I did an old Round House tank car that had a metal chassis, my first paint job with an air brush. I was happy with how well the rivet detail showed after painting. Definitely liked the airbrush for that!
 

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Discussion Starter #136
Nice job cleaning up all the metal flashing! I noticed that the roofs have what looks like holes for attaching ribs - were they missing or unusable? I did an old Round House tank car that had a metal chassis, my first paint job with an air brush. I was happy with how well the rivet detail showed after painting. Definitely liked the airbrush for that!
Those are nail or bolt heads, they stick up not down. I have an old Athearn tank car in the to-do pile, unfortunately without instructions.
 

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Discussion Starter #137
Ideal Boxcar

My first attempt to evaluate an Ideal kit was stymied by the car missing its sides. This time however I got a complete kit: “Ideal Models HO Gauge FB-14 Pere Marquette 42’ Box Car”. Ideal Aeroplane and Supply Company was founded in 1911 and first made model airplanes (as the name implies). I couldn’t find a date when they started making railroad equipment but there were 1950’s era catalogs in HO Seeker and it looks like Ideal built HO buildings as early as 1939. The instructions were good for four different boxcars, with decent full-size drawings and short but to the point guidance.
This kit is a typical boxcar from the wood-and-cardstock era. With a wood frame (top, bottom and ends), thin wood sides (actually, they looks like Mahogany to my untrained eye) and embossed-and-printed cardstock sheets to cover all surfaces but the bottom. Oddly, the bottom wood was prepainted. Castings were soft casting metal and ladders were pressed sheet metal brass. It came with soft lead trucks, they roll well enough so we’ll see if they are still good.
Other comments: First, I was worried about the cardstock after the Varney car and this one doesn’t appear quite as fragile. It might be because the embossing isn’t as deep or complex as the other manufacturer, and I think the cardstock was better cared for in the box (wrapped in tissue paper). Second, the door channels and latch were not included in the kit. They included all kinds of other stuff, not sure why not that. I ended up raiding the scrap bin to add them. Third, the sides include some chalked-on comments which I think is a nice touch.
Overall I am happy with this kit. Were I to build another one I’d include the piping on the bottom. I’m still not sold on cardstock-clad cars and will avoid them in the future. They just feel too fragile.
 

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Discussion Starter #138
E. &B. Valley Railroad Co. Passenger Car

(Author’s note: I built this kit while taking a break midway through building the Bowser Challenger kit. You need a break halfway through that kit! I’m taking plenty of pictures and will probably put it in a separate post.)
I attended my first train show last month and all I can say is Holy Cow! You could get just about anything there. The place was packed with middle-aged fat men (just like gun shows) and large numbers of fathers with their kids (not so common at gun shows). So I joined the throng and started looking.
Already having six months’ worth of projects and too many engines I determined not to buy anything but took along a bit of money ‘just in case’. I had a list of esoteric parts I needed but sorting through the boxes of random stuff would have taken hours just to save a couple bucks from buying online. Then I found the guy who had boxes full of wood railroad car kits from companies I’d never heard of and had to buy a few. Then I found the subject kit on another guys’ table and for 10 dollars I couldn’t pass it up.
My other comments about the train show are that the display layouts were awesome, maybe when I retire I’ll join a club and build a module. The other thing is I get sensory overload easily (like, halfway through the grocery store or as soon as I walk into a loud bar) and so didn’t enjoy the second half of the show as much as the first half.
E. & B. Valley Railroad Company was apparently a husband/wife team who later morphed into Robin’s Rails. HOSeeker has a 1983 catalog from them with this car listed in various road names. This model is the “Series 1700 Pullman Standard Lightweight Coach.” Mine is “Special Limited Run Carstens #7 Newton #205-0707.” The instructions list five different railroads but this one is a special commemorative car for the Railroad Model Craftsman, “Celebrating 100 Years of Model Electric Trains”.
This kit is a bunch of plastic sprues with the pieces of the car on them. The car is painted in a special scheme that no doubt, goes with absolutely no railroad in existence. Seriously, mustard yellow and orange? The instructions are four pages with a one page introduction (could have been better used) and three pages of written instructions, photos and charts. Unfortunately the diagrams of the underside and roof detail are too small, otherwise the instructions are well-written and comprehensive, even a bit snarky at times which makes them more fun.
I was excited to have trucks to build in this kit, odd because I’ve built trucks before. Unfortunately these were extremely flimsy and easy to build cockeyed, resulting in all the wheels not sitting on the ground at the same time. Also, you were expected to adjust the coupler height by bending the frame, naturally I broke the first one and had to reinforce both with plastic strips. Overall I’d say the trucks are the weakest part of this kit. Oh yeah, as an 85’ car this one doesn’t like number 4 switches very much.
The parts to this kit are well-made, with a lot of detail on them that older wood and cardstock kits seem to hint at, like every single rivet ever attached to a passenger car. One odd thing I noticed is that the sides and ends are two different colors of plastic. It wouldn’t matter except the paint they used is a different tint based on what color the plastic is behind it.
While there was some flash it wasn’t overwhelming. The roof could have warranted a better or larger illustration but it was made considerably easy when I found pins under the vents, then checked to find dimples in the bottom of the roof as a drill guide. The underside details also were difficult to get right because the picture was so small. BTW, read all the instructions before you start gluing, otherwise the air conditioner may not end up on the side with the vents…
Anyway, I ended up leaving the roof loose in case one day I decide to put in an interior, but otherwise it’s an odd and interesting car that desperately needs…something.
 

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Discussion Starter #139
While working on the challenger I've been trying to figure out a diorama for the coal mine, I've made a bit of progress. Hopefully a good layer of ground cover will make it look better...
 

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I don't think it looks that bad as a bobber. I do think it looks better in Lehigh Valley trim, though. The dark color seems to pull everything out more. I'm not actually looking at it in my hand. So the actual presentation is still pretty subjective.
 
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