Christopher Brimley updated September 7, 2011


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  • Adding a Fire Train To Your On30 Consist

    by Larry Puckett

    Photos by the author

    The trucks for the tank car are a little bit more complex than those for the fire car due to the addition of the brake beams on each end. Note how the metal strap between the sideframes drops down on one end this is to provide adequate clearance for the coupler draft gear.
    Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 36

    Logging camps, lumber mills and mining camps were often endangered by the ever present threat of forest fires. Logging operations in particular created large amounts or flammable debris the sparks from camp fires, lightning, steam-powered donkey engines and locomotives could easily ignite this material. Many rural towns in the forested areas of the country were often threatened by the specter of these forest fires. These small towns, typically of frame construction, had little chance of surviving a major blaze, and it was not unusual for the local railroad to provide evacuation trains to remove residents and their possessions. Even the railroads that operated in forested terrain were not immune from fire damage, and consequently counted fire equipment among their rolling stock.

    Probably the most important pieces of this equipment were the fire cars. These cars usually consisted of tank cars fitted with pumps that were run off the train steam or air lines. Fire cars could be quickly moved to the scene of a fire, and with their long hoses, they were very effective at dowsing fires near the right of way. When the water in the fire car was used up, the pumps could be operated in reverse and used to refill the tank from a nearby stream or pond. Some railroads even paired tank cars with their fire cars to increase the water supply. Shop crews built many fire cars from an old tank car or a tank mounted on a flatcar, a pump, hoses and some lumber. Consequently they had very individual appearances.

    In September 2004, Foothill Model Works (FMW, released a generic fire car in both On3 and On30. This car follows the typical pattern for home-built fire cars a flatcar with a tank mounted on it, an air-powered pump, elevated working platform, hose reel and toolbox. The car and tank are cast-resin components, and the details consist of a large selection of cast metal and plastic parts. In spite of the apparent complexity of this kit, I found it reasonably easy to put together. FMW also has a 24' tank car among their inventory, which was designed primarily as a water car, so it fits nicely with the fire car.

    Should you decide to build both these cars, I suggest you begin with the tank car. Although the tank car has a much more complex air-operated brake system compared to the fire car with its simple mechanical brake system, it is an easier project overall. By starting with the simpler project youll be ready to take on the complexity of building the various air and water lines and associated plumbing for the fire car. Since most of these details arent visible, you could leave the more complex underbody plumbing off the tank car and just install the visible components such as the truss rods. However my feeling is that you paid for it so you might as well enjoy the challenge of giving it the Full Monty. Also, youll get a lot of enjoyment from flipping the car over on its back and showing off all those neat details to the admiring eyes of your friends.

    Tank Car

    The brake cylinder is the central component of the underbody details get it correctly aligned and everything else will go a lot easier. Note how the "T" connector off the train line provides air to the brake cylinder.
    Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 37

    Lets begin with the tank car. First, let me say that theres no need for me to take you step-by-step through the construction process. Instead, just follow the logical sequence of steps provided in the instructions that come with the kit, which is exactly what I did. I began by removing all the flash (which is minimal), then sanded the components flat, and finally gave them all a good going over with soap, water and a good abrasive cleanser. While these components dried, I put the trucks together using Ambroid liquid styrene cement. Once the trucks had hardened I added the brake beams be careful handling them as there are some fragile sections that can easily be broken.

    The biggest chore in preparing the frame and deck is drilling all the holes. Just be patient and follow the steps the drill bits will cut through the resin very quickly. Once these were all completed I proceeded to glue the deck to the frame using thick CA cement this sets slow enough to allow time for positioning the deck. Next I added the train line and the needle beams, again using the slow-setting CA cement. With these preliminaries out of the way it was time to attack the brake gear.

    The brake gear on this model looks overwhelming, however if you take it step by step, it really becomes easy. Getting the brake cylinder installed in just the right position is critical since the alignment of other components depends on it. I glued the three mounting brackets to the bottom of the brake cylinder first, then glued this assembly to the frame beams, making sure that the pushrod end lined up with the cutout in the needle beam. I made quick work of the "T" connection between the air line and the brake cylinder, and then installed the air line on the opposite side of the brake cylinder that goes to the retainer on the B end.

    The B end of the fire car is less complex that the tank car. Mounting the brake staff through the wooden beam makes it a much easier installation.
    Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 38 Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 39

    Next I moved on to adding the brake rigging. FMWs measurements for the various brake rods make this process go quickly. The only time-consuming part is preparing the clevises - its all too easy to cut too deep when separating them from the sprue. Once the brake rigging is completed you can add the truss rods and the air-hose castings. With all these components installed I added the brake retainer, brake staff and associated components.

    Turning to the tank casting itself, I installed the short dome, drilled holes in the dimples provided and installed a wire handle. After that I drilled holes for the handrail stanchions and installed them and the handrail.

    At this point the major components are done, and its time to paint them. Since I painted both the tank car and the fire car the same way, Ill go over that after covering the fire car. Once the paint had dried and hardened, I applied the decals. When doing this make sure you place the decals so they wont be directly under the tank bands. Also, ream out the holes you previously drilled in the deck for the tank band cables - it is almost impossible to do this once the tank is glued in place. The final steps are to install the couplers and the trucks.

    Fire Car

    Moving on to the fire car I went through the same preparations as on the tank car and also built the trucks. After drilling all the holes required in the deck and frame I installed the brake rigging, needle beams, body bolsters, truss rods and stirrup steps. On the deck I installed the train air line and the brake staff and its components. At this point the deck and frame were ready for paint.

    On the tank I installed the handrail stanchions and rail as well as a wire handle on the dome. One end of the tank has a cast opening for the spigot and pipe to the water pump the hole in this needs to be drilled out to receive the tank spigot casting. Finally I added the hose hanger and NBW casting through it.

    The last major component to be built was the platform for the top of the tank. Its a pretty straightforward job to glue the supports to the bottom of the platform casting and then add the tool and nozzle storage box. At this point I painted the major components as Ill describe in a moment. After painting, add the decals making sure they will not end up under the tank bands. Once again, check the predrilled holes to make sure none were filled with paint.

    Looking down on the platform you can see the arrangement of the hose spool and if you look real close, the supports for the ladder.
    Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 40 Model Railroading - November 2004 - Page 41

    Now its time to glue the tank to the deck and the platform to the tank. With these major components glued together I started adding the water pump and its plumbing. Make sure you paint the pump casting before installing it since it will be very hard to do so afterwards without messing up the pump plank. I also suggest you paint the individual sections of pipe as you install them since it is difficult to get to some after the other plumbing is installed. Following the instructions I built and installed the hose reel and its hose and connected it to the water pump using the plumbing casting provided. I then added the ladders, air hoses and the couplers.


    Okay, lets talk about how I painted these two models. First, I spray painted the underside of each car and its sides and ends using Light Tuscan Oxide Red (all paints mentioned are MODELflex). Next I covered the center of each tank mounting area with masking tape and sprayed the decks, platform and trucks with random areas of Earth, Milwaukee Brown and Reefer Gray. To blend all these colors together I oversprayed them with a light coat of Wabash Gray. Once all these had dried, I hand applied a wash of india ink diluted 10:1 with alcohol. This mixture settles into all the little nooks, crannies and crevices and gives a nicely weathered look. In areas where the ink pigment went on too dark or blotchy, I used a paintbrush wet with alcohol to even it out. I have found this method much easier to control than using diluted acrylic paint. I used some sprays of reefer gray to weather the trucks and applied some rust to the trucks and couplers by drybrushing with Milwaukee Brown. I then applied my homemade Virginia & Mt. Airy decals and went over both cars with coats of Dullcote.


    Like all of the Foothill Model Works kits I have seen, these build into a couple of really beautiful cars. The castings are crisp, accurate, and have very little flash. The fire car is a real eye catcher with all its interesting details and piping. In addition to occupying a special place in a main yard or being stored on a siding, I plan to include it in work trains, and during fire season to include it on local runs to the log camps.

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