Exactly what I try to do in O scale with the ancient junkers I can't seem to keep from buying at shows: my philosophy is to keep as much as possible of the original kit, although the cars usually get Kadee couplers and if I keep the trucks (for historical interest), usually the wheelsets get replaced with RP-25 ones, even if only Athearn plastic ones--easier to do in O scale than HO, of course.
As to sealing wood cars, I kept hearing about "lacquer-based sanding sealer" without anyone suggesting a source; finally I stumbled across Deft, which seems to do the job, and is readily available in most hardwares and paint stores. And one should ALWAYS seal the sides on wood cars, and if the sides are several pieces of scribed siding, glue reinforcements across the joins in back (ask me how I found that out--it rhymes with LaBelle).
Walter Clark's post on his Megow cement car made me smile, and his
anecdote of fortuitously noting his future father-in-law's TRAINS
magazine as a reliable bona fide that he was marrying into the right
family made me smile even more :-).
My philosophy in building-anew or restoring old or historical freight
or passenger car kits very simply is to "follow the directions". If
in the process of building a "historical" kit I feel that I want to
either add details not included, or to replace details with something
better or more accurate, I restrict myself to only those materials,
parts, or skills that a good contemporary modeler would or could have
had at the time the kit was produced (if your memory of these things
is fading, just review old MRs, RMCs, or the earlier Model Craftsman
to be re-acquainted with how- and how well- modelers once coped with
A conservation measure that I meticulous do routinely that was never
emphasized or even mentioned in the directions of these old wood and
paper kits is to carefully fill, seal, and fine-sand all wood and
paper surfaces prior to assembly (I use an ancient bottle of Testor's
Hot Fuel Proof Sanding Sealer- still available in some form, I
believe). This simple task forecloses the possibility of future
moisture-based warping, and to boot ensures a very smooth painted
If I make practical modern substitutions (usually confined to trucks
and/or couplers) that I feel are necessary for the model to be used
in the midst of more recent models, I simply bag and tag the original
parts to be kept in the model's original box- if available and usable.
A more subtle potential problem is that many of the paper sides, etc.
were printed or fabricated on board or cardstock made primarily or
exclusively of wood, rather than rag pulp. This wood pulp stock is
commonly just now coming to age for the inevitable disintegration
that is common to this type of "pulp"paper (as in old brittle
newspapers, or a common affliction of very old ORERs, RAILROAD
magazines, or Official Registers). In this case, I reinforce these
cardstock pieces with all-rag-based Strathmore paper or board (a
brand of "Bristol" board), also carefully sealed. I use white glue,
specifically Micro-Scale's brand marketed for creating windows.
In one instance where the sides of an extremely rare model (Varney's
1937 R3 GenAmer URTX reefer), to save the still intact printed
coated surface of the rapidly disintegrating sides, I actually
scraped off all the pulp backing, and replaced it with Strathmore.
Total failure was always just a mere slip away during this process,
and it was a LOT of work- but it was ultimately successful, and the
good result was gratifying.
I have several of these Megow cement cars that Walter references, one
that I built about 55 years ago, and another purchased and restored
about ten years ago . They make nice models that can be quite
presentable on the layout, even hiding in the midst of fine resin
cars. An interesting observation is that Selley (when it was an
independent Florida company) apparently used the Megow car as a
pattern to make the same car completely in cast lead-alloy (9 oz.
tare, the heaviest of all cars in my roster!).
I find these old historic models from the early days of HO scale
model railroading interesting on multiple levels, not the least of
which is to reflect upon how in effect "prototype modeling" was
interpreted by the manufacturers of those early days, and how they
translated this into something that could be adapted to a relatively
tiny scale, and be affordable and within skill range at the same
time. In these regards, IMHO, and on balance, they very often did
Denny S. Anspach, MD
No, making the presumption that the paint already present is functioning well already as
Do you seal prepainted car sides like Mainline?
an effective sealer. I do always seal the back side, however.
One of the vexing problems with a lot of the pre-painted wood car sides was that the
wood had not been either pre-sealed nor then sanded, nor the joints between the
planking cleared before painting- thus leaving a relatively rough surface and joints
clogged with tiny whiskers that nothing can be done about.
I love wood cars, and enjoy even more the challenge of building them. However, because
of the above, I am always thankful when I have unpainted sides that I can finish "ground
Mainline: I loved building these, and I still admire the silk screened sides or the early cars.
However, my ardor cooled when (among other things) I realized how oversized the cars
were, and how in so many cases the models represented cars and schemes that probably
never actually existed (and fooled everyone in the process!).
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