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  • Modeling Union Pacific TOFC Cars from a Simple Athearn Kit

    by Ted York

    Photos by the author

    With a little work, an inexpensive model flatcar can be turned into a detailed and realistic TOFC car worthy of any model railroad.
    Model Railroading - April 2005 - Page 24

    I have never wanted to tell my Santa Fe friends that I also model the Union Pacific. Being a Cajon Pass modeler, I protected my reputation with the excuse that UP trains were just accessories I had to have for the layout. Truth be known, the UP is one of the many reasons I chose to model Cajon Pass. The Union Pacific had trackage rights over the ATSF line through Cajon, presenting me with a prototype location I could use to model two of my favorite railroads.

    About 12 years ago, long before I started modeling Cajon, I decided to build some Union Pacific TOFC (trailer on flatcar) cars based on their F-50-10 flatcar. Many of those UP flats were converted for trailer service. At the time that I began the project the only option for a car was the Athearn 50' flat, so that is what I chose as a starting point. I completed most of one rail car, but never found a good trailer. That, along with a move to my current home, brought my TOFC modeling to a halt. But several months ago Classic Metal Works introduced an HO scale Aerovan trailer in their Mini Metals vehicle series. I snatched up four of their undecorated trailers, pulled out the 12- year-old UP truck decals and a couple of bottles of paint, and went to work. When I was done, the Mini Metals trailers looked so nice in their new UP paint scheme that they became the catalyst for finishing my long dormant TOFC project. I pulled out the old Athearn flatcars and went to work.

    Now there are other, more detailed, possibly more accurate flatcars on the market, but I was very happy with the results of the first car and decided to save a few bucks by using the Athearn cars I had stashed away to build three more TOFCs. These models stand as an example to beginning modelers that with a bit of effort an inexpensive model can be turned into a nice piece worthy of display on any model railroad. The car is not a 100 percent accurate model of the prototype, but it has enough detail and accuracy to suggest that the entire model is correct. In any case the project turned out to be a lot of fun and equally rewarding.

    The first thing you have to do is to cut the oversized stirrup steps off the car with a pair of plastic nippers. You must also cut the brakestand off the side of the car. This step requires you to cut a ledge in the plastic to match the ledge in the rest of the car between the deck and the stake pockets. I did that with an X-Acto #17 chisel blade, then cleaned it up with a small file. Although I did not do it on the original model, on the follow-on cars I decided to add separate grabirons. If you decide to do this, carefully trim off the molded-on grabirons with an X-Acto chisel blade, being careful not to carve off the bolt detail. Next use a pin to center punch holes for the new grabs. A #79 drill bit chucked into a Dremel motor tool (stepped down with a transformer to let it run at a slow speed) made quick work of drilling the new holes. If you dont have a motor tool, a pin vice and some finger power will work just fine. I bent grabirons out of .015 brass wire and glued them in place with thin cyanoacrylate (CA). Use the same procedure with a #76 bit to drill holes for the A-Line wire stirrup steps.

    This photo shows the items that must be trimmed from the original car in the beginning of this project. The large brakestand, oversized stirrups and moldedon grabirons have been removed.
    Model Railroading - April 2005 - Page 25

    After gluing the stirrups to the car, insert your favorite couplers. I prefer Kadee #58s so I installed the Kadee springs and #58 couplers in the pockets molded on the underbody structure. I like to uncouple cars on my layout by inserting a bamboo skewer between the knuckles, so I cut off the trip pins. Normally I screw my coupler boxes to the cars for reliability, but doing that is difficult on this car because of the metal weight underneath the box. I decided to use the metal coupler box cover included with the Athearn kit. The cover can be quite reliable by using a pair of needle-nosed pliers to crimp the metal cover over the nubs on the side of the molded coupler box.

    Assemble the Athearn underbody parts. Insert the weight into the underside of the car, place the frame over the weight, and screw in the trucks. I used a Reboxx Exxact Socket to clean out the truck frames and then replaced the plastic wheelsets with InterMountain metal wheels. I found I needed a Kadee washer between the trucks and the bolster to bring the couplers to the correct height.

    Cut two pieces of .100 channel to the length of the cars molded wood deck and cement them on the ledge just above the stake pockets, with the back of the channel against the end of the deck boards. Next, cut two lengths of .010 x .060 strip styrene to fit between the channel you just installed and cement them in the groove, two deck boards from each end. To complete this part of the project I used Plastruct .064 T-shape to simulate rail laid on the decking. Cut two pieces to fit between the .010 x .060 pieces that were just installed. Glue those about three scale feet from the channel. You are essentially dividing the deck into three equal sections length-wise. Just be sure there is enough room between the two rails for the Details West trailer hitch. Also, be careful that the rails are not so far apart that they will not fit between the trailers tires. I used Plastruct ABS channel and T-shapes on this model because that was all that was available at the time I purchased the materials for this project. Evergreen and Plastruct both have since come out with the needed shapes in styrene, thus allowing that as an option. Using styrene would enable the use of styrene cements to fasten the parts to the car.

    Here are two of the completed cars. You can see the differences in the opposite ends of the cars.
    Model Railroading - April 2005 - Page 26

    To build the ramps, first start by cutting a scale 2' 6" wide piece from a sheet of .020 sheet of styrene using the scribe and break method. (Scribe a line in the plastic with two or three passes of a scribing tool or the back of a #11 X-Acto knife blade. The plastic will break along the scribed line.) I used a NorthWest Short Line chopper to cut the strip into scale 4' long pieces. Cut strips of .020 x .060 to the same length. The strips are cemented flat onto the larger pieces about .060 from each edge. Finally I cut .010 x .060 strip into scale 4' lengths and trimmed the ends to 45 degrees. These pieces are glued on their sides to the outside edge of the small strips that were cemented on the ramp.

    Cut two pieces of .064 angle and cement it to the right side of each end of the car. Place it about .030 in from the end with the flat side facing the end of the car.

    I washed the car in preparation for painting before adding the ramp detail because I wanted to give it a good scrubbing, and I was afraid Id break off the fragile ramp detail. After the cars dry, glue the ramps to the angle iron on the deck. Cut two scale 3' long pieces out of the angle to be supports for the ramps. Glue the angle to the inside of the channel on the side of the car. Connect the support and the ramp with a piece of .010 x .040 styrene. Finally, cut a triangular gusset and glue it against the angle support at the top of the channel.

    Drill a #79 hole in each end of the car for wire eyelets to hold the uncoupling levers. I bent the levers out of .015 brass wire, inserted them through the eyelets and glued them in place with CA. To mount the brakestaff, cut some small pieces of .040 x .060 styrene and glue them onto the brake end of the car, one at the top and one at the bottom of the end sill. When the glue dries drill a #79 hole through the blocks for the brakestaff. I had some brass brake wheels in my details box. (I cant recall the source, but check either Precision Scale or Cal-Scale for the parts.) I soldered them to a piece of .015 brass wire, cut the wire to length, and inserted it thought the holes in the blocks.

    This is a good time to paint the car so that the deck can be painted before placing the hitch and chocks on. This would also be a good time to build the hitch as per the Details West instructions so that it can be painted at the same time. I also built chocks out of .010 x .125 styrene cut into scale 2' 6" lengths. Two pieces were cemented at a 90 degree angle to form the chock. As with the hitch, I decided to paint these and mount them after the floor of the railcar was painted and the trailer installed.

    Model Railroading - April 2005 - Page 27

    I recommend painting the entire car light gray. This will unify the different colors of the materials used to build the model. It will also help the final coat cover the black plastic. When the gray dries, follow with two coats of Polly Scale Oxide Red and set the cars aside to dry. The drying process can be sped up with a hairdryer. The next step in the process is to paint the deck. I used Floquil Foundation applied with a brush. I applied one to two thin coats, which gave me a nice mottled effect.

    When the paint is dry use CA to fasten the hitch to the deck with the slot facing the front of the car. Temporarily place the trailer on the car to position the chocks then glue the chocks to the deck. Remove the trailer and apply the decals. To hide the decals once they are on the car, overspray them with a gloss coat; I used Floquil Crystal Cote. To complete the process, spray the car again, this time with a dull coat, such as Floquils Flat Finish. I painted the wheels Grimy Black and lightly weathered the car using a highly diluted light tan color. I installed two Kadee air hoses, painting the hose Testors Rubber and the valve and glad hand Silver. To get the correct height on the air hoses I had to notch the end sills to a depth equal to the Kadee air hose support (about .028). Drybrush a small mount of Rust to the couplers and metal portions of the air hoses. Glue the trailer to the hitch with the wheels against the chocks. The trailer comes with two sizes of landing gear, one long enough to support the trailer when it is off the tractor and the other shortened to represent its cranked up position when traveling. I used the short version. Finally, attach chains between the truck and the car with CA. The car is now ready to be pressed into service.

    This project is a good example of how an inexpensive kit can be transformed into a credible piece of rolling stock. I once told a group of modelers that while I did not consider myself a rivet counter, if I could make them think I was a rivet counter I had succeeded. You don't always have to spend a great deal of money to have nicely detailed rolling stock. While these economical models are not perfect reproductions of the prototype, they do capture the flavor of the prototype in a realistic way. Put behind a nice looking set of Union Pacific F-units, they look really good rolling over my model railroad version of Cajon Pass!

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