Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Improving Blue Box Covered Hopper With Tichy Details

Today's entry is about a improving cheap cars again. Because it is satisfying to take mundane objects and transcend their inherent limitations.

For decades, modeller’s have removed cast on details on countless freight cars and replaced them with wire grabirons. It is a “passage obligé”, some tedious action most prototype-oriented modellers will deal with to some extent. Some will simply abandon, others will do it only when they feel it matters and the rest will simply purchase higher end models to put an end to their misery.

Typical Athearn Blue Box end cage.

Why we do it is obvious and while it does make sense when dealing with a few select models, it becomes a senseless endeavour when dealing with a fleet of vintage or lower budget cars. In my case, I built a fleet of covered hoppers over the years by assembling a rolling stock from various manufacturers and quality. Inevitably, you end up with beautiful state of the art models coupled with crude approximations from the Blue Box era, or worst, trainset origin. What can you do? Well, there is some hope.

Typical Athearn Blue Box end cage.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of removing all molded on grabirons from hoppers then drilling dozens of holes with a #78 drill bit then gluing an equal amount of wire detail parts. I recall doing it on a cheap Model Power cylindrical hopper back in my high school day and what an experience it was! However, it generally pays off by giving a better sense of scale and creating the impression the car is an assembly of components rather than a blob of plastic.

While it yields nice results, it is not only time consuming but also requires a lot of precision. Indeed, if one grab is not aligned, the end result is ruined. Also, drilling tiny holes on flimsy structural members isn’t always the greatest idea, particularly when two perpendicular grabirons are at the same level. We find tricks to deal with that, but it is still a tedious and risky process. No wonder some people simply replace the end cages with new photo-etched ones... Depending your end goal, this can be a truly pertinent answer, but in the case of Hedley-Junction, this is a little bit overkill.

Grabirons made of styrene stripes are decent, but not under close inspection.

No wonder a few years ago, I decided to take a shortcut and simply cut the plastic grabirons, file done their remnants and replace them with thin styrene stripes. Some people do use 0.010" diameter styrene rod for much more realistic results. Let's be honest, it certainly saves a lot of time and do look good from afar. However, upon closer inspection, the illusion fades away and your model does indeed still looks crude compared to a better model. I know, it gets on my nerve when operating.

Tichy ladder rungs definitely improve the cage end

But there is a better solution that takes away this shortcoming: Tichy styrene 18” ladder rungs. These ladder rungs are even easier to apply than styrene stripes, while providing better details including bolt castings on both ends. Certainly, this part is only good when dealing with straight grabirons, but yet provides an efficient way to improve average-looking models. I even think the bolt details look better than the usual wire option. When painted, the Tichy ladder rungs blend together seamlessly with the model and create a homogeneous aspect you don’t get with wire. It feels like a finely manufactured end cage such as Intermountain cars.

Still looking good under closer scrutiny, only subtle paint retouches needed.
So, at the end of the day, when prototypically-correct and relevant to the model, Tichy ladder rungs not only provide a more compelling look to end cages, but are also much easier and faster to install, requiring less tricky preparation work. It is a sensible way to improve old blue box kits to better standard while keeping sanity. The results are convincing given the context and final goal.

Now, do I wish to go the next step and upgrade my covered hopper roofwalks with photo-etched parts? Well, these parts are not cheap at all and ones must take into account that factor, particularly when the metal parts have almost more value than the kit itself!