Building Etched Boxcar Ladders

In recent years, as I have become a more prototype focused modeller, I have been collecting kits that are now getting built for my layout. I have also been very lucky to get to know some of the amazing modellers in southern Ontario who are like minded, and who produce kits and parts who I can both buy from, but ask questions for when I run into problems. I currently have a growing collection of Pierre Oliver’s Yarmouth Model Works kits partially built on my workbench, and there are more coming my way in the future! There are currently 4 partly built boxcar kits in varying states of advancement, and one tank car kit I really need to get a start on in the collection. As with all things as you grow and advance in the hobby, you run into new challenges and things to learn. Pierre’s kits are the first ones I have built with etched brass ladders instead of plastic that are just ready to glue on. That means, a whole bunch of new challenges.

Work in progress and tools for making etched brass boxcar ladders in HO Scale.

I had, to be perfectly blunt been dreading building these ladders. I had bought “The Small Shop” photo etch bending tool last year, and its been amazing for a lot of the etched parts on resin freight cars I’d have mangled before. That said, I was dreading building the ladders, as the instructions were to make a styrene spacer with a specific size to hold the folded stiles apart while you put in the rungs. Then, obviously in response to other builders comments, back in December Pierre announced he was now selling a laser cut jig for his ladders. I had a bunch of parts ordered and I was waiting on some back-ordered stuff arriving, and I got a pleasant surprise last week when my order showed up unannounced with a boxcar kit and a bunch of detail parts, and the ladder jig!

I went out now that stores are open again, and got the right sized bolt and wingnut to hold the jig together, and this past weekend, I built my first four etched ladders for a West India Fruit American Car & Foundry (ACF) 40′ Box Car kit. I did still find it fiddly, and I managed a couple of times to CA parts to the jig, but each ladder got a bit better than the one before, and with 3 more cars worth of ladders in hand, and more kits inevitably on the way, I will get plenty of practice. For now, I am using CA as I know (ish) what I am doing. Long term, these will be an improve my soldering skills project to actually solder the rungs in, but to make sure I can keep these cars inching along on the workbench, glue it is.

I won’t win any awards (if such a thing existed) for building scale ladders, but they look good to me and I am proud that I can say I built them! The missing rungs are so I can drill into the carside and install longer legged rungs once the ladders are mounted to make them stronger and less likely to break off.

I’m not quite ready to install the ladders on this kit yet, but having the jig made me switch up my order of building as I wanted to have that feeling of achievement from building the ladders. Now I am motivated to get going with the underbody details and the rest of this car so I can install the ladders, then move onto the other kits so I can build the ladders for them too. Everything adds to everything to make me a better modeller. The same applies to anyone. If you’d told me 5 years ago I’d be starting to feel even remotely comfortable about working with tiny photoetched parts, I’d have laughed at you, yet here we are and I’m looking forward to the next batch of ladders and them being even better looking!

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