Four Dollars and Some Time

Posted on November 4th, 2018, by Michael Rountree

This was a little weekend project that started life as a $4.00 purchase at the recent train show, at Lakota West High School. It was obviously a cheap car even when it was first made, and most would turn aside from this train-set level of quality. But I figured that with a new paint job, replaced wheels, and other attention, I could have a new wood sheathed caboose to add to my roster. And I always love finding new caboose body styles!

The original trucks with the squared-off Rapido couplers are at top; these fit onto a pin that was molded into the underbody. So I had to shave those pins off, as they would not fit the Micro-Trains trucks, and create new bolsters. In the first shot you can see that the pin on the right has been removed, while the pin on the left is still in place. The white styrene was square stock, but I decided to make bolsters out of two layers of thinner sheet, stacked in the middle then tapered to each side. This left a triangular gap but I didn’t bother to fill under the bolster since it was all going to be black and hard to see anyways.

The printing on the sides came off easily when I took a pencil eraser and dipped it in some Pine Sol, then rubbed it off. The car was cast in the red plastic color, but it is not the right red, and had that plastic sheen, so I knew a paint job was in order.

The first coat was the red, which I did with an initial spray of a flat red color from a rattle can. Over this, I use a thinned red acrylic paint that is my actual color; the slight difference in hue between the spray and the wash lets the final coat exhibit minor fluctuations that I like to think of as pre-weathering. I also did some actual weathering in the form of a thin wash of tan, to pick out the scribed board lines.

The second coat was the black for the roof, which I masked using Tamiya yellow masking tape and then sprayed from a rattle can of black primer. I had to do minor touch up in a couple of places, but in general the Tamiya really works well. I also used the black spray for the underbody, then drilled a hole in each bolster and fit the trucks on. Normally I would replace the plastic wheels with FVM metal wheels, but I am out of .540 axles so I just kept the MT wheels.

Then it was time for decals and detailing. I added a bit of weight since I like my cars to be on the heavy side, though it’s not as critical for a caboose since it is always at the end of the train. I used a silver Sharpie to pick out the grab irons, and I used a lot of Solvaset to get the decals to snuggle into the board texture.

Final weathering was my conventional chalk-wash method, dusting the model with various powdered chalks then applying a thin wash of black acrylic over it all to set the chalk in place. After this was done, I could add the window glazing, which I did with clear acrylic gel thinned with water then touched into place from inside. It starts out white but dries clear. I also decided to add a smokestack, which I made by using some styrene rod that I think was originally meant to be a downspout for a building kit, but had ended up in my kitbash stash. I just glued together a T shape, then drilled a hole in the roof and inserted it, and glued from inside.

And here is the final product! I will be happy to have this $4 car trailing behind a train of $15 to $20 freight cars… or maybe not, since a lot of those cars are similar “rescues” of older, cheaper freight cars.

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