Sunday, July 21, 2019

Brake Levers

When I begin freight car underbody detail work I first mount the major brake components: brake cylinder, air brake reservoir, and control valve.  Prior to mounting, I drill holes in the major components to receive piping if needed.  Next I mount the brake levers, defined in the 1949-1951 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia ( Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp., 1949) as “a general term designating the levers used as part of the Foundation Brake Gear” which also includes the brake rods, etc..  A detailed description of the foundation brake gear with diagrams can be found in Freight Car Underbody Detail  paper by Gene Green.  Typically on a freight car underbody there are two brake levers:  cylinder lever (live) and the floating lever ( dead, fulcrum).  The brake levers are supported by brake lever hangers (brackets, lever carriers or guides) attached to the underframe.

Brake levers and hangers diagram from
Freight Car Underbody Detail by Gene Green
(click or tap on any image to enlarge) 

Brake levers and hangers on model.

When you mount the brake levers you need to decide whether to model them in the brakes released or brakes applied position.   I normally mount them in the released position.  For brake lever hangers I use straight grab irons, Tichy Train Group (Tichy), #3021, 18” straight type or I bend them from Tichy, #1106, .0125" diameter  phosphor bronze wire (PBW) or Detail Associates, #2504 .012" diameter brass wire.  Sometimes I use plastic straight grab irons for the brake lever hangers.

Brake levers and hangers diagram from
Freight Car Underbody Detail by Gene Green

Brake lever hangers are plastic grab irons.

When I first began doing freight car underbody work I quickly eliminated the various plastic and resin brake levers for various reasons.   Soon the brake levers I used were only from two manufactures: Tichy and Cal-Scale.  The Cal-Scale levers have holes molded in them into which wire brake rods having a tiny ninety degree bend on the end are installed.  Tichy brake levers have molded clevises with slots into which the brake rods are installed.  My preferred choice was Cal-Scale.  The Tichy  and Cal-Scale levers are available in the AB sets, Tichy, #3013 and Cal-Scale, #190-283.  The Cal-Scale brake levers only are available in Cal-Set, # 190-494.

The AB style brake sets with brake levers.

Cal-Scale brake levers.

In one of Ted Culotta’s “Essential Freight Cars” series in Model Railroad Craftsman he stated he made brake levers from strip styrene, 1" x 8" for the cylinder lever and 1" x 6" for the floating lever.  I decided making the brake levers from styrene was a fast and economical way to have and make brake levers I needed.  To make the brake levers I decided I first had to make a pattern.  I could have used actual dimensions to make the pattern; however,  since I really liked the Cal-Scale brake brake levers I used them to make a pattern via tracing on cardboard.

Brake levers dimensions diagram from
Freight Car Underbody Detail by Gene Green

Brake lever pattern  made using
 Cal-Scale brake levers

After the pattern was made, I cut blanks  3’ 6” from Evergreen #8108, 1" x 8” strip styrene for the cylinder lever and 2’ 6”, #8106, 1" x 6” strip styrene  styrene for the floating lever using a NorthWest Short Line chopper.  Each type was placed in a storage bag until needed.

Styrene blanks for brake lever types
 cut and placed in package

When I need a brake lever, I pull a blank of proper size cut styrene for a cylinder lever and floating  lever out of the bag they are stored in.  I place the blank on the brake lever pattern to draw a pencil line on the blank at the middle line location.  Next I use a single edge razor blade to cut a minuscule slice off the styrene blank from the edge of blank from the pencil line to just inside the end of it creating four slightly angled sides.  And, again the single-edge razor blade is used to cut off the corners on both the ends.  An emery board is used to round each end after cutting off the corners to complete the brake lever.

With the blank positioned on the pattern
 draw the middle line on the blank with a pencil.
(the hard to see blank is below the pencil point in the above photo)

Cutting a very tiny amount off an edge on the blank.

Brake lever cutting complete.

In Ted Culotta’s Essential Freight Car series that ran in Railroad Model Craftsman, he used Tichy Turnbuckles, #8021, to represent the  clevis used to attach a prototype brake rod to brake levers rather than drilling holes in brake levers to accept the ninety degree bend in a wire brake rod.  He felt installing the brake rods with turnbuckles representing the clevis  provided a more realistic look.  After seeing the article photos showing the brake rods attached with the Tichy turnbuckles and liking the realistic look I began using this method.

Tichy turnbuckles used to attach brake rods to brake levers.

I also went back to some freight car models with installed brake rods using the ninety degree bend at the end of a brake rod to attach it the brake lever and created a clevis over the inserted wire using MEK Goop.

Clevis to attach brake rod to brake lever is made with MEK Goop.

After I began making the brake levers I use from Evergreen strip styrene, Yarmouth Model Works (YMW) came out with photo etched brass brake levers without holes, similar in appearance  to the ones I was making.   A good looking brake lever that I now have in the parts box for freight car underbody detailing.

Yarmouth Model Works photo etched brake levers.

Yarmouth Model Works photo etched brass brake levers
installed on a resin freight car underbody.

If your freight car underbody detailing includes adding brake levers I am guessing you have used one of the above described brake levers; however, you may not have tried making your own.   Above, I have attempted to describe the method I use to make my own brake levers.   If you have not tried to make your own brake levers I hope you will give it a try.

A completed freight car underbody detailing.

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

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