Continuing from the last post, I decided this car would represent one near the end of its service life. Modifications include shortened ladders and a lowered brake wheel position to comply with new regulations adopted in the 1980s to eliminate running boards on freight cars.

The ladders should have been a simple choice. I had a bunch of Intermountain detail sprues, and cut the ladder stock to the appropriate lengths and glued these to the car.

Intermountain ladder stock

I admit that this choice would have been just fine for many folks. What bothered me the most was the stiles. They just looked too heavy and wide for my tastes. Accepting that notion, the rungs also look a bit thick when compared to the 3/4″ material used on the prototype. As Ben Brown pointed out in the comments last week, a good alternative would have been the ladder set from Chooch and, I think I have a set of these hiding in the basement somewhere.

However, I chose to scratchbuild my own ladder stock from brass angles and 0.015″ wire for greater accuracy in prototype dimensions. I’ve done this before and it isn’t that hard. Way back in issue #18 of O Scale Trains Magazine, Gene Deimling outlined his method, which is what I used.

Gene’s method centers on a simple jig that holds the stiles and rungs in place for soldering. I built a similar jig from scrap plywood, stripwood and sheet styrene. While Gene chose 1/32″ square stock for his ladders, I preferred 1/32″ brass angles for my stiles (below).

1/32" brass angle stock for ladder stiles.

To hold the 0.015″ brass wire rungs, lines are scribed to the correct spacing in a piece of styrene. This styrene piece fits over the stripwood jig as shown below.

Placing the rungs

There are spacers on the back of the styrene portion to bring it up flush to the level of the ladder stiles. Extra long pieces of 0.015: wire are cut and placed in the grooves. Strips of masking tape hold the wire in place during soldering. Ready for soldering

There’s no need to worry about the plastic melting from the soldering process. These pieces are very small and with flux and a properly tinned iron, only the briefest contact is required for a good solder joint. Once the rungs were soldered, I gently popped the raw ladder out of the jig and nipped off the excess wire ends. Placing it back in the jig, I cleaned up each joint with a needle file. The whole process went quickly and without too much frustration. I worked slowly and methodically for once, until I had the four ladders I needed.

Mounting them to the car body involved a bit of head scratching. I thought of making a drilling jig and soldering wire standoffs to fit the holes. I’ve also done this before but I had visions of ladders falling apart from the heat and ditched the idea. I settled on 0.060″ styrene angle stock and gel CA. I cut 0.060″ lengths of the Evergreen angle stock on my Chopper and set each ladder face up on two pieces of 0.040″ square stock, then glued the short angle pieces where they needed to be. Once everything was dry and hardened, I glued each ladder to the car body.

Finished ladders

No, they aren’t perfect but I like the end result. These ladders have the delicate appearance of the prototype yet are strong enough to withstand some careful handling. I did have one pop off afterwards, but simply glued it back in place.

I also like what I’m learning about working from prototype sources and about my own ability to tackle new skills. Gene’s method gives you a tool for building nearly any type of ladder you might require, which is the entire point of learning such skills: to develop your freedom and mastery over the hobby. More details like grab irons and brake appliances come next week.

O Scale Trains Magazine #18 with Gene’s article is available as a free download. Just click on the link below and scroll down until you find the correct issue, then click on the cover. You may want to snag issue #19 too for next week.

O Scale Trains Magazine #18 Free Download here



  1. Dunks

    Well, I must say that I like that post and find it very encouraging!

    And for several reasons:
    You have indicated before that freight car modelling is a little outside your preference if not your comfort zone, yet you have overcome this “reluctance” and made progress;
    The end result is worth the effort: finer looking and yet more robust;
    You have learned about the prototype whilst increasing your skill-set and more importantly, your confidence;
    But most importantly, this is a “retro-fit” which can be done at anytime, so anyone building freight cars does not need to hold back awaiting better ladders or the skill to make, but can plough on with whatever the manufacturer has provided, and come back to attend to detail improvements later.

    These are all good reasons for getting on with it. They also tie in nicely with Trevor Marshall’s ideas about the internet and model railways: great way to disseminate ideas and techniques, but the point is have done this, now it is up to the rest of us to log off and do it ourselves!


  2. Dunks

    Eek! I tried to put some emphasis into the end of that comment, but it went wrong…

    It should read:

    but the point is YOU have done this, now it is up to the rest of us to log off and do it ourselves!

    Missing word (which should be the only word in italics) in caps.

  3. mike

    Thanks you Simon. Sometimes one just has to forge ahead, make mistakes and tolerate work that doesn’t measure up in order to learn skills that allow for work that does measure up to your personal standards. It’s the only way and it isn’t rocket science.

    Waiting for perfection to magically appear is a fool’s excuse. Doing is the only and best path toward finding it.



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