As embarrassing as this photo is, it’s important to show it as a demonstration that everybody has to start somewhere. This is the first car I purchased after converting to quarter-inch scale from HO. It came with three-rail wheels and truck mounted couplers, neither of which were going to work for my purposes. I quickly learned that P48 and quarter-inch scale were going to be a different sort of beast compared to the plug and play aspects of HO. In 2005 or so, my first attempt at reconciling the crazy gap between tinplate and finescale standards is shown below.

It starts like this...

It starts like this…

Even though I had been active in the craft for a long time, rolling stock is not my forte. Track, scenery, buildings are all easier for me to grasp than the intricacies of freight car construction and locomotive mechanisms. Both feel like some form of black art that I’m not privy to. When I worked in HO, I was happy to take whatever came out of the box and didn’t worry that much about the quality of the details.

With time, my attitude changed. Today, I would discard the entire underframe along with that clunky coupler box and build a proper center sill and bolster because the compromises employed to satisfy the train-set market aren’t worth fighting. It’s far simpler to start from scratch. However, back then with limited knowledge and few tools, I cobbled together this attempt to mount finescale trucks on this joke of a car bolster. The only positive thing I can say is that the car sits at the right height above the rails.

What I want readers to understand is that this represents the beginning of a journey in scratchbuilding.

We all start someplace. Some bring prior skills and knowledge to the work right away. Others, like me, start from zero and have to learn how to crawl and then stand upright, before anything useful will result. Crawling meant trying a host of ideas; some that worked while most didn’t. In each case I learned something (mostly about frustration stemming from my hair-brained ideas).

Learning to stand upright meant doing simpler projects and details. It meant mastering basic skills like soldering and creating accurate layouts for parts. In time, I gradually improved both my understanding and craftsmanship by staying with the process, keeping notes, studying the kind of work I wanted to emulate, whatever it took to move forward.

Finished ladders

and moves to this…


...and then this.

…and on to this.

This isn’t work. No one is forcing me to do it. It isn’t too hard or a waste of precious hobby time or any of the other excuses people come up with to let themselves off the hook. Yes, it’s frustrating at times yet I keep at it because the internal desire to do the work outweighs the frustrations and that is the difference you need to understand to overcome the numerous setbacks and failures along the way.

Like the through line in a novel or the arc of a musical score, there is an arc to this work. In a culture that demands everything NOW, we’re losing this understanding. This post is really a letter in disguise to a friend who has started his own scratchbuilding journey. I know of the doubts he’s feeling about his ability. I know of the frustration he’s experiencing and I’m simply saying I’ve been there too and to keep going, keep learning, stay with the process and the rewards will come. It’s easy to get discouraged with your first efforts. They won’t be what you see in your mind’s eye or stand up to comparisons with more advanced work by others. The only comparison worth making is the one between the work you’re doing and the work you’re capable of.



  1. Simon

    Embarrassing? Not at all.
    It’s great that you share the progress you have made over the last 10 years, particularly when it is on the often hidden underside of the box car.

    Thanks for that!


  2. mike

    You’re welcome! -Mike