It’s a hobby of course, and people engage with it (or at least, they should) in the way that gives them the most satisfaction. But I find it interesting that so many freight car enthusiasts pay so much attention to accurately modelling the underside of a car.
I’m really impressed by the work that people do below the frame – and I’m pleased when the owner flips over a car to show me the fine details. But I know we don’t see most of it when we’re running trains on a layout. And I’ll admit that while I have built freight cars from kits – including resin kits – it’s not the part of the hobby that raises steam for me. So when I’m building cars for the layout, I tend to leave off details that one isn’t going to see. It’s rare to find the train air line running through the sills on my models, although I do add the valves, hoses, and glad hands at the ends, since they’re so visible.
At the same time, those who sweat the small details belowdecks often gloss over what we do see: The roof. They’ll take the one-piece cast resin or plastic running board – a piece that often includes the lateral running boards too – glue it in place and be done with it.
I don’t always upgrade running boards, but when a model deserves it I like to put some extra effort into them. And I like using wood to model wood running boards, since nothing takes stain quite like the real thing.
Therefore, when I asked Pierre Oliver to build three of Andy Malette‘s S scale CNR eight-hatch refrigerator cars for me, I told him to leave off the resin running boards. I’d add them myself.
Many cars on the CNR had an unusual, segmented running board – and looking at prototype photos I realized this style of running board was found on the eight-hatch refrigerator cars. They’re pretty easy to spot, even from ground level, since each carline (roof rib) is topped by an upside-down T-shaped piece of metal which provides support for adjacent segments of running board. As the wood wears, these even start to sit a little proud of the surface – which must’ve made them a great tripping hazard.
The refrigerator car required a different approach. The roof on this model is built from two halves, and the cast running board saddles do not line up precisely during construction. In addition, a number of the saddles were damaged when the castings were removed from the mould. I would not be able to add individual supports to the saddles. Instead, I would have to build a new running board as a unit.
I started by selecting appropriate materials. I decided I could build a subframe out of styrene strips designed to lie directly below the three rows of wood that form the running board. I would use styrene strip, laid on edge and glued to these three long strips, to represent the T-shaped supports. I would then measure, cut and glue the wood segments on top.
The photo below shows the styrene parts, assembled and ready for wood. I used two of the kit running boards determine the spacing of the styrene strips – which are actually narrower than the wood I will glue to them, so they will disappear under the finished running board. Note that at the ends, I cut the long styrene supports shorter than the last pieces of wood. I did this so that the styrene would remain hidden under the finished running board. The kit running boards also supplied the correct spacing for the “T” supports. I’ve cut the cross pieces longer than needed, and glued them in place.
To finish the running board, I distressed a length of strip wood, then measured for each section, cut wood, and used thick CA to carefully glue the pieces in place between the styrene crosspieces. Here’s a photo of the finished running board, viewed from underneath:
As the lead photo for this post illustrates, I also used wood for the lateral running boards. I measured these from the kit’s resin castings, and used thin brass bar to create the supports. At this point, the car is ready for L-shaped grab irons on top of the lateral running boards, then it’s off to the paint shop where some careful airbrushing and weathering will blend everything together.