RSS Feed for This PostCurrent Article

Building the C&DR’s steel-sided coal gondolas

From Bob Hayden
Sun, 13 Apr 1997

To the Mail Car:

Looking for a project? You might want to build some simple (but good-looking) HOn2-1/2 coal gons for your layout. This material will eventually appear as an article in MR, the Gazette, or the 2-foot Quarterly, with photos and drawings to make it easier to understand, but I thought some of you might want to get started with the text-only version. Two of the gons show up fairly well in the photo on page 63 of “303 Tips for Detailing Model Railroad Scenery and Structures” (Kalmbach, 1995), and several more are visible in the “Great Model Railroads — 1991″ story on the C&DR.

Building the C&DR’s steel-sided coal gondolas

These cars were inspired by the low-side coal cars owned by the Kennebec Central. The KC cars had swing-out sides to help with unloading (but there was still a lot of shoveling involved). The other roads used stake-side gondolas on flat cars to deliver coal, which was loaded and unloaded with shovels.

The idea is that the C&DR, like the KC, hauls a lot of coal. After wearing out a few dozen gondolas with wood frames, decks, and sides, the super decides to try steel replacements. It’s still shovel in, shovel out, but the cars don’t need as much maintenance and they promise to last a lot longer than the old wood ones.

So far, the C&DR has 15 of these low-side gondolas, all numbered in the 450-, 460-, and 470-series. They scale 25′ long over the coupler faces, and although nothing on the Maine roads looked exactly like them, a string of them looks convincing, or “right.”

Since we’re not constrained by an exact prototype, we can have some fun! The main ingredient is a Bachmann No. 53-1036 N scale 42′ steel gondola. These aren’t particularly expensive to begin with, and the last one I bought cost $1.88 in a toy store. Since you need only the sides, you could also rummage through the trade-in bins at your hobby shop. All of the other ingredients are easy to find.

Best of all, the conversion is easy, so easy that it makes sense to build at least three at a time. I’d suggest you start by building a couple of loaded cars, since the load covers the splicing and the conversion is super easy: Just saw the car down the middle, add a .040″ styrene splice on the top of the floor, and continue on from there. (I even use the Bachmann molded load as the base for a real-coal load!)

Building empties is slightly more challenging, since the thickness of the floor needs to be kept to a minimum. Here’s a step-by-step procedure for the empties; those of you building loads and pick and choose the steps you need to perform.

  1. Disassemble the Bachmann gondola (any road name will do!) by carefully prying it apart. For an empty, all you need to keep is the main body shell molding. Strip the paint and lettering off with your favorite stripper. I’ve found denatured alcohol does a pretty good job of softening up the Bachmann paint; Chameleon brand hobby paint stripper is even better. Scrub with an old toothbrush until all but the last traces of the original color are gone.
  2. Carefully cut and saw the sides away from the ends and floor. What we want is a flat side that we can glue to a new metal floor, so cut away the floor and ends roughly, then sand the cutoff areas flat on the back of the sides.
  3. Shim the recessed lower edge of each side with .015″ or .020″ styrene. Let dry, then sand to bring the side to uniform thickness.
  4. Assemble a pair of Grandt Line No. 5146 trucks with Portland Products (Northwest Short Line) replacement wheelsets, and a pair of Micro Trains No. 1025 couplers.
  5. Cut a rectangle of K&S 1/16″ x 3/4″ brass bar 3.060″ (22′-2-1/2″) long. Square off the ends with a large file. This will be the floor and frame of the car.
  6. Mark the centerline of the floor, and measure in .050″ from each end. Drill and tap 00-90 to mount Micro Trains No. 1025 coupler. Measure in a scale 3′-5″ from each end and drill and tap 0-80 for truck mounting.
  7. Super glue a length of .030″ x .080″ evergreen styrene to each side edge of the brass floor. Trim and sand flush.
  8. Carefully chisel, scrape, and sand away the hand grab, ladder, and stirrup details on the Bachmann sides with brand-new X-acto No. 11 and No. 17 blades. Don’t worry if you obliterate a few rivets; they won’t be missed.
  9. Glue a spacer strip of Evergreen HO 4 x 8 to the bottom edge of each side. Make it the same length as the brass floor.
  10. Cut end panels from .030″ styrene sheet, the same width as the floor (including the plastic spacer strips). Make them a scale 3′ high (.401″), or a little taller, so we can sand them to precise height after assembling the car.
  11. Cement the floor to the sides, on top of the 4 x 8 spacer strips. The styrene strips on the edges of the floor allow you to do this with liquid plastic cement, which gives you time to align and square everything. When the plastic cement has dried, reinforce the joints with super glue.
  12. Add the end panels between the sides. Here again, start with liquid plastic cement, then add super glue. When dry, sand the top edge of the ends flush with the sides. The car should look like a gondola now.
  13. Cut sub-bolsters from Evergreen .080″ x .10″ x .734″ long. Cement them centered over each 0-80 hole, with the .10″ surface against the floor.
  14. Drill No. 56 through the sub-bolster from the top, and tap (again from the top) 0-80.
  15. Make a .015″ washer or spacer and cement it to the bottom of the bolster. It should be about a scale foot across.
  16. Cut slots in the ends to accept the couplers.
  17. Mount the couplers and trucks and test the coupler height with the Kadee standards gauge. Shim the trucks to bring the couplers to the right height. Test run the car(s) for a while. This step usually takes me the rest of the evening.
  18. Cut six pieces of Plastruct 1/16″ I-beam or channel stock a scale 5′-10-1/2″ long for horizontal end bracing. Round the ends of each strip slightly as you look down on it.
  19. Remove the trucks and couplers and cement three of the Plastruct strips to each end, one flush with the bottom, one flush with the top, and one centered between them.
  20. Trim away the Plastruct strip where it interferes with the coupler mounting. Reinstall the couplers and box them in with styrene spacers behind the draft gear lip. I use a piece of .030″ x .080″ 2′-2″ long and notched to fit around the coupler box. I also add a 2′-6″ long strip of Evergreen HO 2 x 6 across the bottom of the end of the car.
  21. Weight the car to your standards. On my cars this requires a thin lead sheet on the bottom of the car between the trucks. For most HOn2-1/2 layouts, the brass floor probably provides all the weight you need.
  22. Gently sand the top edges of the car against very fine sandpaper on a sanding block, then cement strips of Evergreen HO 1 x 6 all around the top edge, flush with the inside and with a protruding lip on the outside.
  23. When the 1 x 6 strip has dried thoroughly, sand the top edge flush, and round the corners slightly as seen from above.
  24. Install Grandt Line No. 5130 stirrups at each corner, on the sides. Drill No. 80 holes and install a Westerfield No. 1198 18″ straight grabiron over each stirrup. (You can make these from wire, too.) The grab should be about 1′-7″ below the top edge of the side. Super glue the grab from inside the car, set the glue with accelerator, then sand the inside flush.
  25. OPTIONAL. Use a light soldering iron or woodburning tool to gently warm and distort some of the side panels between the vertical braces. I’ve only done this to one or two of the 15 cars I’ve built. Done subtly, this banging can disguise less-than perfect removal of the grabs and ladders and add some character, but it’s awfully easy to overdo.
  26. Add underbody brake detail. I use only the brake cylinder and reservoir (cut apart, per two-foot practice), since that’s all you can see.
  27. Make a brake platform on the end toward which the brake cylinder is pointing. Cut a 1′-11″ length of Evergreen HO 1 x 8, clip the corners at 45 degrees, and glue to the top edge of the end. Add a Grandt ratchet and pawl casting, and drill for the brakestaff.
  28. Make up a brakestaff with a Cal Scale No. 90-289 brass brakewheel and Detail Associates .015″ brass wire. Soldering is the only way to go with these; it’s extra work, but the resulting assembly is so strong it’s nearly impossible to break out on the layout.
  29. Add the brakewheel and a retainer valve on a wire pipe to the end of the car. I use a Detail Associates lift ring to fasten the bottom end of the brakestaff to the car.
  30. Make a false floor of .005 styrene sheet to fit the inside the car. I’ve added embossed rivet detail on the back of this with pounce wheels, but to tell you the truth it doesn’t show up very well. Cement the false floor to the inside of the car with a thin application of 5-minute epoxy.
  31. Paint and decal. My cars are boxcar red with white lettering. I cut a rectangular hole the size of the car interior out of sheet of scrap cardstock, then use it as a mask to airbrush the interior grimy black.
  32. Weather the car — coal cars get dirty! — and glue a few grains of coal and coal dust into the corners to indicate what the car carries when it’s full. After all, few empties are really, 100 percent, empty.
  33. Now hook ‘em up and run ‘em.

Sincerely yours, Bob Hayden

You must be logged in to post a comment.