Saturday, March 23, 2019


When building a freight car I add safety appliances to match the prototype.  The term “Safety Appliance” includes ladders.   The 1949-1951 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia (Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1949) defines ladder as, “Bars of wood or iron attached to the side or end of a freight car or caboose so as to form steps by which persons may climb to and from the top of the car.  The individual bars , whether of wood or iron, and whether round or square are termed ladder rounds.   They are sometimes fastened at their ends to ladder side rails.”  The Freight Car Design Manual for Model Railroaders (Wm. K. Walthers, 1949) states, “ Four ladders are required on all house cars.  These are located as follows: One on each side of the car, not more than 8” from right end of car and one on each end, not more than 8” from the left side of the car.”  It goes on to state, “ Ladder threads (rungs), if made of wood shall be at least 1 1/2” x 2” cross- section and if steel, a minimum of 5/8” in diameter.  Minimum length of tread; for side ladders, 16” for the end ladders, 14”.  The maximum spacing between treads, 19” and a minimum space (clearance) between side of car and ladder of 2” (preferably 2 1/2”).”  And, “The top of the ladder tread shall be located not less than 12” nor more than 18” from the roof at eaves.  The maximum distance from the bottom tread of side ladder to the top tread of sill step shall be 21”.  And, “End ladder treads shall be spaced to coincide with treads on the side ladders, a variation of 2” being allowed.”
Having described above some of the standards detail for ladders, I want  to show you the various ways I make ladders for my freight cars if commercial ladders can not be used.    On plastic fright cars we buy the ladders may be molded on.   If a car with molded on ladders matches a prototype or is a good stand-in, I will usually remove the molded on ladder rungs leaving the stiles.  I carve off the molded on rungs with a custom ground number 17 Xacto blade mounted in a Xacto #5 handle or the micro knife handle with surgical blades available from Micro-Mark.

Knives with blades for carving off molded on ladder rungs.
(click or tap on this or any photo to enlarge)

A closeup of the blades.

Car with molded on grab irons carved off.

After rungs are removed and final cleanup is done, missing board grooves are scribed in with a scriber made from a dental pick.  The back of a Xacto #11 blade could be used for a scriber.

A properly sharpen scriber will produce a  curled chip.

Next, holes are drilled with a #80 or #79 drill along the stiles where rung fasteners if present or not are located.  For new rungs, if tread length is 18”, I use Tichy Train Group (Tichy) #3021, 18” straight type grab irons for the rungs.  If the rungs are not 18”, I bend straight grab irons ( see “grab irons” under “Labels”) from Tichy #1101, .010” or #1106, .0125” diameter phosphor bronze wire (PBW) or Detail Associates #2503, .010” or #2504, .0125” diameter brass to install.

Car with custom bent grab irons installed.

The same ladder method I described above  for plastic cars is common on resin cars so no carving is necessary.  Normally, resin models have the stiles cast on the car body or ladders to be installed are provided in the kit.

Ladder stiles are part of cast side ready for rungs to be added.

At times I decide I do not want to use wire rungs.  Instead, I will use Plastruct styrene round rod #90850, .010” or #90849, .015” to cut new rungs and glue them onto the existing stiles.

Train-Miniature box car ladder rungs made with
 Plastruct #90850, .010" styrene round rod.

View from higher angle of same Train-Miniature box car
with rungs made with Plastruct #90850, .010" styrene round rod.

On plastic or resin car bodies that require ladders that come in the kit to be installed, I will use them unless I am aware of better ladders.  I have bought kits that should have had them in the kit ; however, they were missing resulting in scratch building them since none of the commercial available ladders I had in inventory matched.  One such case was a Red Caboose X29 kit purchased at an estate sale.  My method to scratch build the ladders was as follows.

I used a spare ladder to make the ladder pattern on a 3 x 5 card.  I taped the pattern to the underside of a piece of window glass.  I cut the stiles from Evergreen #8202, 2 x 2” strip styrene and taped them to the top of the  window glass on the pattern.  Rungs were cut from Plastruct #90849, .015” styrene round to match rung size needed on ladder and glued them to the styles using the pattern below for location.

Ladder pattern taped to back of glass.

Ladder stiles taped to glass on top of pattern.

Ladder rungs glued to stiles.

Nipper held at 45 degree angle to cut rungs to proper length.

Ladder is ready to install.  Note ladder mounts installed
on box car for mounting ladder.

Finished ladder installed on box car.

On plastic or resin car kits another option is etched brass ladders made by Yarmouth Models Works.  Different ladder types are available.  The photo-etched ladders do require assembly.   The ladder stiles have to be cut from frets, bent to create a stile into which wire rungs are inserted.   I have purchased a Small Shop bender to bend the stiles that are inserted into a jig made from styrene to hold them in position for the wire rungs to be inserted.

Small shop bending tool and jigs I made for ladder assembly.

Brass photo etched ladders installed on "B" end of resin car.

Finished brass ladders on side of resin car.

A step by step article with photos written by Nelson Moyer on building the Yarmouth Model Works ladders appears on the Resin Car Works website blog.  You can read his article at:

Not all ladders on freight cars have ladders consisting of stiles and rungs.  The ladders on older freight cars had ladders consisting only of the rungs.

Ladder consisting of drop grab irons installed on resin car.

Box car with both a grab iron ladder and a grab iron ladder with stiles.

I hope one of the above methods will help you to make your own ladders for your freight cars or encourage you to do so when necessary.  The methods above work for me and I hope you can make them work for you.

Thank You for taking time to read my blog.  You can share a comment in the section below if you choose to do so.  Please share the blog link with other model railroaders.
Lester Breuer

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Private Name Home Road SS Box Car 1536

I have completed a private name home road single-sheathed box car 1536 to add to my Minneapolis & Northland Railroad Company (M&N) home road freight car fleet.  The box car was a 1950 rebuild special run car produced by Accurail in 2013 for the Soo Line Historical & Technical Society.  The car I found was a foot taller than the Wisconsin Central prototype and had a Hutchins rather than a diagonal panel roof.  I decided not to attempt to make the necessary changes to match the prototype.  Instead, I decided to turn the car into a home road car for my private name Minneapolis & Northland Railroad Company to bring the current home road roster to 95 cars.

Car finished and ready for weathering.
(click or tap on any image to enlarge)

I began the conversion on the under body.  I tapped the coupler pockets and bolsters for 2-56 screws.  I installed Kadee #148 whisker couplers, coupler pocket covers and Accurail trucks with InterMountain 33” metal wheels with 2-56 screws.  I weighted the car to 3.8 ounces with the kit weight and electrical outlet box punchouts.  The under body was inserted and glued into the car body.

I continued the under body work making a new center sill made using Evergreen #136, .030 x .125” strip styrene and Evergreen #8104 1 x 4” strip styrene for flanges and installing it to replace the fishbelly underframe (supplied by Accurail) used on the car when built.  Next, the kit brake components were drilled for piping and installed.  The remaining details followed: 

- brake levers made from Evergreen #8108, 1 x 8” and #8106, 1 x 6” strip styrene
- brake lever hangers bent using Detail Associates #2503, .010” diameter brass wire
- slack adjuster, scrap styrene with #80 holes drilled in it
- brake rods, Tichy Train Group (Tichy) #1106, .0125” dia. phosphor bronze wire (PBW)
- turnbuckles to attach brake rods, Tichy #8102
- chain, A-Line #29219
- brake pipes from air reservoir to control valve, Detail Associates #2503, .010” diameter         brass wire
- brake cylinder pipe to control valve, Tichy #1106, .0125” diameter PBW
- train line, .018” diameter flora wire
- dirt collector, casting made in M&N shops with MEK tee to connect to train line

Under body with details installed.

With under body complete, I  continued the conversion by removing the Soo Line lettering including road name, reporting marks and herald with a scratch brush with fiberglass bristles (more information available under "Labels" and "scratch brush" on side bar).  Next I carved off molded on grab irons, ladder rungs, door handles and cut off molded on sill steps.  Holes for wire grab irons and ladder rungs were drilled with a #80 drill bit.  Any areas that required paint touch up were hand painted with Vallejo Model Color #70.982 Cavalry Brown, an excellent match to the Accurail applied paint.

Car body before Soo Line lettering removed.

Car body is painted and ready for side details.

Once touch up paint was dry I added grab irons on sides and ends fabricated from Tichy Train Group (Tichy) #1101, .010” diameter phosphor bronze wire (PBW).  One exception, the grab irons on the end sills had Tichy #3015, 18” drop grab irons installed.  Door handles were bent from Tichy #1101, .010” diameter PBW using a Xuron wire bending pliers.  A-Line #29000, style A, sill steps were installed.

Side details have been added.

On the “B” end, the brake step (platform) had the slant mount cut off prior to install.  Brake step brackets were made from Evergreen #8102, 1 x 2” strip styrene with MEK Goop used to make the bracket fasteners.  A parts box retainer valve install was followed by install of a retainer line and two brackets fabricated from Tichy #1101, .010” diameter PBW.  The  closed molded on brake shaft step was opened with a drill and broach.  Now, the brake shaft, Tichy #1102, .015” diameter PBW, brackets, Tichy #1101, .010” diameter PBW  and kit brake wheel were installed.  Finally, an uncoupling lever, Tichy #1106, .0125” diameter PBW and eye bolt brackets bent from Tichy #1100, .010” diameter PBW were installed here and on the “A” end.

The "B" end details have been added.

Roof work was next.  The running boards were milled from .040” to .020” to gain proper thickness.  I did the milling of the running boards with a Dremel #199 bit mounted in a Dremel tool mounted in a Dremel drill press stand.  Molded on corner grab irons on the latitudinal running boards were carved off.  New corner grab irons were bent from Tichy #1100, .010” diameter PBW.

Running boards being milled to proper thickness.

Roof after milled running boards installed
and Pan Pastel weathering applied.

Now the car was moved to the paint shop.  I hand painted the trucks with Vallejo Model Air #71.055, Black Gray RLM 66 and the under body added details with Vallejo Model Color #70.982, Cavalry Brown.  Once dry, I sprayed the car body Model Master 4638, Gloss Clear Acryl for a decal base.  Champ Private Name decals used for lettering and my old style herald, printed on an Alps printer, were applied with Microscale  Micro Set and Micro Sol. Once dry, a final application of Walthers Solvaset was used.  After drying overnight, car body was sprayed with Vallejo #70.520, Matt Varnish Finish to protect decals and provide a dull finish for weathering.

After letting the car sit to let paint day for a several days, the car was weathered with Pan Pastels using sponges for general coverage and micro brushes for areas such as areas in-between ladder rungs.   I used the following colors:  Burnt Sienna, 740.5 was applied to sides, ends and roof, Red Iron Oxide, 380.3 was used with micro brush to fade lettering, Paynes Grey Ex. Dark, 840.1 applied very lightly with sponge on sides, ends and roof, and Neutral Grey, 820.5 lightly on trucks.  I do not use any product to protect the weathering.   I have found no need to do it as weathered cars have held up well to handling in operation on my Minneapolis & Northland Company Railroad.  Once I was satisfied with the weathering, I created a car card  for M&N 1536 to place it in service.  

Weathered car sitting in  Minneapolis Chestnut Street Yard

Weathered car sitting in  Minneapolis Chestnut Street Yard

I would encourage everyone to have a private name railroad even if you model a specific prototype.  The private name railroad allows you to have the cars that you like; however, are not prototype or stand ins.  A good use for the "foobie" that was purchased.  

Thank You for taking time to read my blog.  You can share a comment in the section below if you choose to do so.  Please share the blog link with other model railroaders.
Lester Breuer

Friday, March 1, 2019

Scratch Brush

The scratch brush is a tool  I have had in the tool drawer for many years.  I purchased my first scratch brush from a local tool shop present at a local train show.  The scratch brush I like best is the Eurotool  brush made in Germany.  The scratch brush has a plastic handle shaped like a pencil with a knob on the end to  control movement of bristles inside.  A scratch brush is available with fiberglass, brass or stainless steel bristles.  The scratch brush bristles feed out and retract from inside the brush handle when turning the end knob, similar to that of controlling the lead in a mechanical pencil.  And, like a mechanical pencil, refills can be purchased for the scratch brush.  The scratch brush with fiberglass bristles comes in the regular size and is also available in a ultra micro size.  Each type is useful to to a model railroader.

Scratch brush from front to back: fiberglass, brass, and stainless steel bristles.
(click or tap on photos to enlarge)

All scratch brush bristle types are useful for removing dirt and rust from parts.  The scratch brushes with brass and stainless steel bristles are useful for removing oxidation, paint or gunk from the side of a rail for soldering track feeders as well as other track work.  I have used the scratch brush with brass bristles for removing gunk on freight car and locomotive wheel sets. The scratch brush with fiberglass bristles is especially useful for removing the lettering from freight cars.

I had used the regular scratch brush with fiberglass bristles for many freight car projects to remove lettering such as changing a car number without harming the paint.  And, I used it to remove all or most of the lettering to later apply lettering of my choosing.  The removal requires a light touch and patience.  It may take many strokes across the lettering in all directions to get it removed.  And, even with a light touch there may be paint touch up.

As you remove the lettering a dust containing microscopic fiberglass particles will form.  I remove the dust with a cotton swab dampened with Walthers Solvaset .  A wet piece of paper towel could also be used to remove the dust.  To contain the dust that is formed, I lay the car from which the lettering is being removed on a paper towel.  When I have lettering removal finished,  I throw the paper towel which will have caught any fiberglass particles that did not get removed with the wet cotton swab in the trash.

Regular size scratch brush with fiberglass bristles.

Majority of original lettering removed
with scratch brush with fiberglass bristles.

When discussing the removal of lettering from freight cars with George Toman, he asked if I had ever used the ultra micro fiberglass scratch brush.  He thought it would be easier to use to remove the lettering.  I said I had not; however, I would obtain one to give it a try.  I am always open to trying new tools that may make my build or upgrade of freight cars easier. After I purchased and used the ultra micro fiberglass scratch brush I find I it is easier to remove freight car lettering as it is easier to control removal, especially when I am removing small lettering.  Again,  a light touch is required when moving the brush fiberglass bristles across the lettering to be removed.

Soo Line lettering to be removed with fiberglass scratch brush.

Lettering removed with  ultra micro scratch brush with fiberglass bristles.

I purchased my ultra micro fiberglass scratch brush from Micro-Mark.  If you have not used a scratch brush and would like to give one a try, the various types are available from Micro-Mark.

Thank You for taking time to read my blog.  You can share a comment in the section below if you choose to do so.  Please share the blog link with other model railroaders.
Lester Breuer