Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Upgrading a Bachmann 40' Quad Hopper

My attempt to convert an IHC 40’ quad hopper into a CNR prototype was quite successful in terms of getting a sturdy car for operation with a fairly convincing paint scheme. Most people just doesn’t know or bother about the fact it should be a triple bay hopper... But let’s skip the rivet-counting on that one.
After this success story, I tried to do the same with my good old 40’ Bachmann CN “wet noodle” quad hopper. A little bit less successful. Details are thicker and Bachmann lettering is completely off the track. The result isn’t half bad, but not fitting the layout era. Then, a friend of our club gave us a box full of Bachmann train sets. Among them, 3 other CN hoppers were waiting a conversion and luckily, I had enough decals on hand to letter this fleet.

CNR Prototype Triple Bay Hopper,, Gord Hilderman (2011)

The prototype is a CN set of hoppers built by ECC in 1944 (serie 324500-324999) and in 1948 (serie 325000-325499). These triple bay hoppers were still in service in the 1980’s. When I numbered my IHC quad hopper, I made the mistake to use a number from the 323000 serie, which was built in 1958. The heavy weathering doesn’t suit either a car from the future! I preserved the car data from the Bachmann cars to save some decals (you don’t want to waste good stuff on toy train). The built date is 1948, which is a good approximation for the car I want to reproduce. Also, these cars were originally numbered 110XXX or something like that back in 1957. So, my numbers aren’t good at all for the layout era. However, I don’t mind to much about this... call it the modeller license (in fact, I don’t have enough “1” numbers in the lettering sheet to do all the cars).

Up: Bachmann hopper, Down: Lionel hopper (not original trucks)

How bad is the model? It's bad, real bad... Trucks are plain wrong, details seem to have been sculpted with a potato peeling knife and... there's hope. But you have to face the fact, Bachmann tooling is worst than IHC. It's worst than a HO Lionel car and I'm talking about the crap they issued under their name back in the 60's. Anyway, modeler's life is all about bring the best from the worst pieces of crap sold by unscrupulous manufacturers.

Up: Lionel with well defined grab irons, Down: Bachmann "low profile" details.

Conversion started with removing the ugly Bachmann talgo trucks. Since these cars were made in the 1990’s, isn’t not the cheap snap trucks from the past, but screw-mounted trucks. I’ll reuse the screw. Then, the underframe was filed flat and shimmed with  1.5 styrene sheet to accommodate a Kadee coupler box.

Underframe modified to accept Kadee couple box.

Bachmann truck pivots are quite large, so I trimmed them with an X-Acto until an Accurail Bettendorf truck could swivel freely. This complete the physical modifications to upgrade the rolling quality of a Bachmann car, quite simple. I like it that way.

Large original truck pivot.
Trimmed truck pivot to fit Accurail trucks.
Most factory-painted lettering was removed – excluding the car data – with 95% rubbing alcohol. Bachmann lettering is made of a cheap white gloss paint that peel off easily with alcohol. No need to soak the car, the paint lift up after a few seconds and you can rub it off with a paper towel soaked with alcohol.

Lettering removing process with 95% rubbing alcohol.

Previously weathered car is stripped from its lettering.
Car data was masked with painter masking tape and the hoppers received a coat of Krylon Brown primer. This color match almost exactly CNR Red 11 and there’s almost no difference with the original Bachmann color. This primer is my favourite color for CNR cars. Cost and time efficient and can be turn into many different shade when weathered properly. Trucks were also primed brown as CNR practice from the old days.

Hoppers primed with Krylon spray can, car data preserved.

Learning from past mistakes, I brushed a diluted coat of Future (Pledge) acrylic floor finish before applying the decals. Decals come from a CN “wet noodle” sheet published by Microscale for car from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. This sheet is quite strange. First of all, I’ve never seen the blue wet noodle logo on any car, even mechanical reefers. Call this an artistic license or a rip off. My LHS, Microscale and people wandering on Internet never answered my question. Honestly, if anyone knows what car used this lettering, let me know: I’ll build a fleet of them with the remaining decals in my drawers! Anyway, this sheet have a strange looking set of “Canadian National” written in a odd block (gothic) font with assorted reporting marks. Again, I have no idea where they come from, but with no real use for them, they can be an acceptable stand-in for older cars. CNR triple bay hoppers seems to be lettered with a font very similar to Century Gothic (a truly classic font often used by railway during the 40’s and 50’s).

CN Freight decals sheet,, 2011

“Canadian National” letters had to be separated to get the exact spacing shown on the prototype. This step is very time consuming has you can guess. It also gives concern about letter alignment, but one get used to it after a few tries. To accelerate the decaling process, I work according to a production chain: all cars receive their lettering in this very order: “Canadian”, then “National”, then “C.N.” and finally the car number. To keep oneself minded, I think it is essential to set small goals to achieve. This way, the task is easier to handle and successfully completing small objectives gives you a feeling of going somewhere.

I use a ruler to check out letters alignment.
Lettering completed (except number).
Completed cars compared with IHC hopper (upper).

When the lettering process is finish, each car received a coat of Testor Dullcote (1260) flat varnish. It seals the decals and give a nice flat finish that hold well the weathering powders.

Weathering is done by airbrushing several highly diluted coat of Citadel Chaos Black (in 70% isopropyl alcohol). Masks are used to simulate renumbering and repainting jobs done by the railway. I spray a final coat of Dullcote to get rid of unwanted whitening effects caused by alcohol reacting with the flat finish.

Finished car with weathering

Oil paint and mineral spirit is used to highly some details and get running rust effect. They are effective to weather trucks and make them look greasy. Pastel chalk is finally applied to dust and build up dirt spot on the lower car body and trucks.

And now, they are ready to be put in revenue and receive their coal loads.

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