Painting a fleet full of wheelsets

A couple of weeks ago I commented on trying to figure out how many freight cars I need for my layout. A commentator noted that as I swap out the wheelsets I should be painting them. They were absolutely correct. While most of my rolling stock isn’t weathered yet, the perfect time to paint wheelsets en mass was as I am going through replacing them all with fine scale ones so that everything that is on the layout for testing when trackwork is done has reliable wheels.

With that in mind, I ordered a couple of painting holders for wheels. I bought two laser cut styrene holders from Modelers Choice. They come in two sizes, for 33″ and 36″ wheels. Each holds eight wheelsets, or enough to do two cars at a time. With two, I can paint enough wheels for four freight cars in a couple of minutes. The parts are thick laser cut styrene and just slot together. They are tight and it takes a bit of fiddling to get the wheels in, but once in, they stay in place. I found that they need an elastic band wrapped around the middle after the first couple of batches to minimize the amount of paint getting onto the wheel tread that needed to then be cleaned off.

Painting a batch of wheels, in the holder, paint the backs and axles rusty, then paint the wheel faces grimy black to represent oil from the axle journal boxes (modern wheels on cars with roller bearings tend to rust, where older cars got greasy wheels from the journal oil).

Its a fairly quick process, and I was doing a batch every time I was doing some airbrushing on other projects. Once painted, the parts of the holder slide apart and let the wheels out. Its much easier getting them out than it is getting them into the holder.

I found that for the most part, the mask holder does its job and keeps paint off the tread of the wheel. Once done, a quick clean of the axle end points, and of the treads and the wheels are ready to go.

Over the course of the past couple of weeks I’ve managed to paint enough wheels for every car that’s currently on my layout, with a couple of spare sets for the pile of kits to be built in the drawer.

IMG_0581Finished batch of painted wheels.


How Much Rolling Stock for a small Layout?

While I was working away on my VIA P42 today, I was also doing a bunch of small layout tasks, making adjustments to track and benchwork, and I decided to pull out the rolling stock from my old layout that I hadn’t sold off that is appropriate for my current layout, Liberty Village in the 1950‘s (exact year/season still TBD). I have sold off most of the freight cars that aren’t useful or appropriate for my layout. That left me with 16 cars on the layout after going through the box, and two sacrificial cars I bought cheap at shows that are going to get cut in half to become part of the scenery at the backdrop, and a couple of cars still in boxes in a tub I didn’t dig out. In my project drawer I have seven kits (8 counting a flat that will probably become a Maintenance of Way car that won’t run much), and I have two freight cars on pre-order. On top of that I currently have three cabooses, which aren’t revenue and are mostly to get in the way of crews switching. So all said, I have 28 freight cars at the moment, for a layout where there are 14 potential spaces to spot them at an industry.

IMG_0180.jpgCPR “Parkdale Yard” Staging, looking rather busy with 12 freight cars, a caboose and a single locomotive.

So, the question becomes, how many cars to I actually need, and how many is the realistic maximum I can have on the layout? I don’t necessarily mind switching cars between operating sessions, and at least my current operating session vision would see a handful of cars switched by CN from one end, and CP from the other, at most maybe two runs with 3 cars in/out of the sceniced area each time.

Accounting for some of the cars that I have already in the count being irregulars (coal hoppers, gondolas, a flatcar load of tractors, tank cars, oddball boxcars that don’t actually belong), and wanting to have some variety of cars from different railroads and coming/going to different places, I probably have room for a maximum of 30 regular freight cars, and maybe 10 irregulars that show up from time to time. When I look at what the CPR Parkdale Yard staging looks like with 12 cars on it above, its already looking busy, and It has marginally more room than the CNR Dufferin Yard Staging at the other end!

IMG_0181CNR Dufferin Yard, two cabooses, two locos and a single box car. There are only two single car pocket tracks to the right instead of three two car ones at the other end of the layout.

The longest train I can run is dictated by the staging traversers length, a small locomotive and max 3 freight cars with a caboose, or 4 without. It’s unlikely many trains even this long ran in Liberty Village because of the tight curves and the nature of taking cars into and out of specific industries. This is good for lots of movements in an Ops session, but will make staging tight. The CN Yard which has four less parking spaces for freight cars than the CPR yard will definitely require me to think about how I set things up for an ops session.

Yes, I’m getting way ahead of myself thinking about operations, but it helps me focus on not buying more kits or cars that I don’t need. It was nice to have a bunch of cars out, and start pushing them around trackwork looking for faults (almost all these cars have crap plastic knockoff Kadee Couplers, and metal wheels on plastic axles, some even had nasty plastic wheels), so I was also able to start replacing wheels and couplers to hopefully have reliable operations when I can run trains!

A Saturday Afternoon Boxcar Build

While the Liberty Village layout is reasonably small, it still needs a healthy fleet of freight cars to come on and off the layout, if only so it doesn’t look the same at every operating session.  While the Ready-to-Run and Resin kits out there make some fantastic looking cars, and I have plenty of them both built and unbuilt for the layout, I’ll also need enough cars that look decent to fill sidings and such.  A few weeks ago, I was at Credit Valley Model Railroad to pick up a few things, and my friend Roger Chrysler who works there pointed out the recently arrived Accurail CPR Fowler wooden box cars.  By the 1950’s these cars would have been a bit long in the tooth, with the 33,000 the CPR owned being built between 1909 and 1915, but they were still going.

An Accurail kit. Nothing fancy.  A great cost effective way to populate a layout, or a starting point if you want to super detail it.

These cars were used in all kinds of service, but were primarily used for hauling grain in the era before covered hoppers.  On the layout, the mill building at Standard Brands would have received grains for milling for use in making their yeast cakes and other products.  Given the affordable price of these cars (under $25 Canadian) per car, I can have a fleet of 4 or 5 for the cost of 2 Ready-to-Run on resin kits, and, they go together in a couple of hours.  They need some new wheels (the cheap plastic wheels in the kits are junk), and Kadee couplers, but that will add about $5/car to the cost.  Accurail even sells a decal set by mail to re-number the cars so you can have a fleet, as they all come with the same number from the factory.

IMG_6002.JPGThe underframe and brake rigging assembled. Simple, enough detail that its there, but not super detailed or fiddly.

While I love building detailed kits, and I have a few fantastic ones from Elgin Car Shops to build for the layout, there is something to be said for a simple kit.  I like many grew up with a layout full of Athearn “Blue Box” kits, which weren’t even as detailed as this car.  They were cheap and plentiful and allowed you to populate a layout with all kinds of different cars without going broke.  While I’m in the middle of building the layout, cheap and simple projects like this to give me something to do in between big spurts of layout action as just what I need to keep me going and provide distraction when construction inevitably gets bogged down for some reason.

IMG_6007.JPGAnd a finished car, if I had wheel sets and couplers, it would be done done and ready to weather in about an hour and a half.  I’ll be picking up a few more of these, re-numbering them, then making them dirty to be the backdrop cars in my fleet.

I have a resin kit for the same kind of car, but with narrower doors, so eventually I’ll have one super detailed car and a fleet of less detailed ones.  I’ll hold off on weathering this newest project until I have them all done and can give them treatment at the same time to make them look used, but not identical.

One load of Tractors

It always feels good to “finish” a project.  I say that in quotations as there are a few spots where I’ll need to clean up some little bits of over-applied glue, and probably add a tiny bit more weathering, but I’ll do that down the road when I’m going to be painting/weathering other items as there is no point going through all the setup to do that for touchups on a car that’s going to sit in the display case for a while now until there is actually some track on the benchwork to test!

View of the flat car with all six tractors loaded up and chained down.

I’m really pleased with the effect of the chain strapping on the tractors, but it was a nightmare to get wrapped and installed. It’s one of those things that you’d think would get easier as you went along, but if anything it got harder as I was trying to not knock off the tractors already glued into place as I went.  I used A-Line 40 links per inch blackened chain, I think the effect is really good.  The chain is glued into the stake pockets on the side of the car.  Each tractor has three chains, one on each of the rear wheels, and one wrapped around the front wheel column.  The cars are blocked into place in front and behind the wheels, and though they aren’t in the pictures, I realized I’d forgotten the side blocking to keep the wheels from moving off the side of the car, which are now in place.

IMGP9338RawConv.jpgClose up view of the chains on the first two tractors while I was working on the loading.

Weathering a Flat Car

I wrote a few months back about a small project to add a load to an older Life-Like Proto 2000 flat car.  While I am not modelling the huge Massey-Harris (Massey-Ferguson) factory just to the northeast of my layout, I wanted to have a flat car with a load of new tractors on it that I could put in a consist to get in the way and be a nuisance from time to time.

IMG_5940.JPGBefore any weathering, nice plasticky shine on the 1990’s vintage model.

The car is perfectly good-looking in terms of detail, I bought it probably while I was in university or even before.  It’s maybe not as detailed as a modern RTR car, but with some weathering and a load of tractors on top, it will look just fine.  Not every piece of rolling stock needs to be super detailed and crazy to be effective.

I recently subscribed to, a paid online video site that is affiliated with Model Railroad Hobbyist, a free online magazine.  Trainmasters is a subscription service, but so far in a couple of weeks, I’ve picked up some great tips and tricks, including the weathering techniques I applied to the flat car.  I’m not affiliated, but after years of hearing about it from friends, I’m glad I finally subscribed.  The “minimalist” weathering techniques are demonstrated by Joe Fugate in the video, and an article in the magazine.

Weathering the Wheels, applying a coat of Vallejo model air earth, and then burnt sienna Pan Pastels into the damp paint.
Weathering the truck frames, shiny black plastic; a coat of Vallejo earth brown; black Pan Pastels over that when dry, and then some more burnt sienna pan pastel for rust and to pick out the details.  All sealed with a coat of Dullcote spray.

I liked the video and the technique, its simple, and mostly uses supplies I already owned.  I haven’t done a lot of weathering, and this seemed like a good opportunity to try some techniques on a car.  I wanted to weather the flat car and have it look like it’s been used a bit.  The tractors on the car for the load will be bright and shiny and new, so the car should look a bit road weary, but not ruined at the same time.

Using the Armor All Window Cleaner as thinner as recommended in the technique seemed to work well, I’ve always had trouble thinning paints and such for doing washes, but this seemed to work for me as described and demonstrated.  It’s nice to find simple techniques that I can now experiment with as I go knowing that it seems to work for me on the first attempt.

Trying to show the weathering on the side and on the deck, not my best pictures unfortunately.

I wanted the deck to look a bit more worn and beaten up.  The plastic deck didn’t look terrible, but I gave it a couple of washes with the thinned grey I used to weather the sides, and when dry, worked some black pan pastels thinly across the deck to make it look a bit dirtier and beaten up.  When sprayed with the Dullcoat, the brown shades of the original factory paint job that attempted to have different shades of grey/brown boards came through just enough to create the effect I was looking for.


The car on its own with the weathering sealed and reassembled, and with the load of factory fresh tractors sat in place to see how the look.

Next steps for this car are to start installing the tractors and the blocks/load chains to hold them in place.  A couple of nights fiddling with tiny chain and swearing are clearly in my future!

The start of a small project – a Nuisance load

As we are still unpacking and setting up our new house, I did want to do some modelling, since I haven’t touched a model since mid-April with packing for the move.  For the Liberty Village layout, because of the space, I won’t be including the very large Massey-Harris or Inglis plants.  They would generate too much bulk traffic or loads/flows that don’t make sense given the amount of space I have.  That doesn’t mean I can’t have some carloads that are coming or going from them that show up every now and then, as a “nuisance” to the operator where it was marshaled between cars that needed to come into Liberty Village and rather than shunting it in the yard, it just comes along for the ride.

IMG_5593I bought two packs of Walthers Scenemaster tractors a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure how many would fit on the flatcar. Looks like I can buy another pair and load 6 on.

The car I am using for this load is an old Life-like Proto 2000 flat car in Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo paint.  I bought four tractors (they come in 2-packs), as I wasn’t sure how many would fit, and didn’t want to have too many.  Now that I’ve got them out, I like the look of four on the car, but it almost feels underloaded.  I was looking at my friend Trevor Marshall’s post about his tractor load on his S-Scale Port Rowan layout, and he has 6 on the same length car, and the AAR (American Association of Railroads) directions from the 1940’s for loading tractors!


Painting extra detail onto the basic looking Walthers tractors to make them look more like Canadian built Massey-Harris equipment.

As I want the tractors to look like they are Massey-Harris built at the plant in Toronto, I am painting the wheels yellow, as Massey-Harris tractors had bright yellow wheels when new.  I suspect the Walthers tractors are a nominally a John Deere or International Harvester (they also come in green), so they are not an exact match for what was built-in Toronto, but with yellow wheels and some details like the exhaust picked out in silver, they will make a passable load of Massey-Harris equipment.

IMG_5598Starting to look at cutting pieces for the blocking.  This is confirming I really need to go out and buy a new strip cutter.  Mine is done for and I can’t get clean consistent and square cuts from it anymore! NorthWest Shortline Chopper 2 here I come!

This probably won’t be a project I finish quickly given the need to buy more tractors, and I can’t seem to find my fine scale chain (though I may wind up using super fine wire as it’s easier to work with than the chain is to tie them down, But it was nice to sit down at my new desk for an hour and actually work on a model again.  Who knows, maybe whenever I start preparing load cards and waybills for operation, I’ll tag this cars eventual destination as Port Rowan on Trevor’s current layout!