Browse Articles » How-To

  • Installation of Athearn Metal Handrails

    By Paul Coats

    The most difficult part of putting an Athearn Blue Box locomotive into service is installing the metal handrails.  This same procedure can be used for Railpower and other metal handrail kits.

    You will need small needle nose pliers and also "duckbill" pliers.  Use the duckbills to press the lower ends of the stanchions into the sill.  Use the needle nose to then tighten the loop of the stanchion around the handrail.

    Sort the handrails and stanchions, observing the number and locations of the "medium" and "long" stanchions for each handrail.

    Next, assemble the stanchions onto each of the handrails, making sure the medium and long stanchions are in the proper position.  Then press the ends of the metal handrails into place.

    The handrail is still not flush and even.  For this we will use a pencil type soldering iron, 25 watts or so, let the soldering iron come up to temperature.  Clean the tip so there is no excess solder on it.  You do not want to get solder on the handrails.  Touch the soldering iron lightly against the metal handrail about 1/8" (3 - 4 mm) away from the plastic shell, and heat about 1-2 seconds, just enough to sink the handrail into the plastic.  This requires a light touch, and the first time you do this you may not do so well.  Practice on a junk shell would be good.

    Next press the ends of the stanchions into place using the duckbill pliers.  Now we are going to straighten up the stanchions and make sure they stay straight.  Line up the stanchion vertically by eye, making sure it is parallel to the door edges on the shell.  Now place your finger on top of the stanchion to hold it in place.

    Now this is the difficult part, and do this gently.  You will use the soldering iron again on the stanchions just as you did on the handrail ends.  Touch the hot soldering iron about 1/16" - 1/8" (2 - 3 mm) away from the lower end of the stanchion just long enough to sink the metal into the plastic almost flush.  Do not push so as to bury the metal into the plastic and make it ooze around the metal... just a light touch for a second or so.

    (What if you slip and melt some plastic on the shell?  Do not panic.  File the damaged area smooth, fill the gouge with Squadron "green putty", and touch up the spot with a brush and matching paint.  The loco and paint manufacturers are generally good about having the proper colors that match the prototype paint.

    Once you have all of the ends heated and sunk into place, now you want to keep the top ends of the stanchions stable on the handrail, not sliding around.  Nothing looks worse than crooked stanchions, right?  Place a piece of corrugated cardboard about 1" wide on the side of the loco along the walkway, with the loco turned on its side.  A foam-painting cradle is perfect for this, but I use an old dishtowel.  The cardboard is to protect against drips getting on the paint. 

    Using thin CA glue ("super glue") place a tiny drop on the top of each stanchion right where the handrail goes through.  Capillary action will suck the CA glue into the joint.  If the drop is too large use the edge of a paper towel to absorb the excess.  You may want to put a puddle of the CA in a bottle cap, and use a toothpick to transfer the glue.

    It usually takes CA longer to cure on metal surfaces than on other materials, so now is a good time to walk away and have a cup of coffee.  When you come back, check that all of the handrail tops are solid on the handrail, and viewing the handrail from the top, nudge it here and there to get it straight, not bowed in or out.

    Once this is done all the way around, use a small sable artist's brush to paint the handrails.  I prefer to use Floquil for the base color.

    Then use an acrylic paint (Polly S, Modelflex, etc) for white (if that is used) on the vertical grabs.  If you were to use all Floquil the white would tend to dissolve the color under it and it would look nasty.  In the case of this SP loco, the white makes a good base coat for grime, grease, and other filth.  So, finish painting the stanchions and handrails, and you are done.

    Now the handrails will withstand daily use, requiring only a little touchup painting on occasion.


    For more information, contact Paul Coats at


    Article Details

    • Original Author Paul Coats

    Article Album (15 photos)

    Share - Report
  • Christopher Brimley likes this
  • Paul Coats
    Paul Coats Thank you, guys! And thanks to Tasha for posting this article.
    December 14, 2010
  • Roger Mitchell
    Roger Mitchell VERY NICE,I really like the detail
    January 4, 2011
  • Harry Birks
    Harry Birks Thankyou u just made my day thankyou Paul
    March 31, 2011
  • Paul Coats
    Paul Coats Thank you, guys! The handrails will be firm, and stay straight for years to come. Even if they get bent in a little from handling, you can bend them back easily with no damage. Paint may rub off after years of use, but you can touch that up. What if t...  more
    March 31, 2011