I’ve spent a lot of time over the years just looking at objects, trying to understand what their characteristics are. After you’ve done this long enough, you learn what your eye is drawn to as you notice certain details again and again.
The main driver of the covered hopper project is to eliminate the overly thick proportions and cross sections that are a staple of injection molded plastic. In the case of this car, there are many such compromises such as the gross thickness of the side sheets and the exterior post flanges.
As a modeler, I simply have to do things in a certain way and I’ve made my peace with that. I can’t do less and feel satisfied with the work. I could have left the posts alone but that would have made for more compromise. In the end, it made better sense to remove everything rather than work around out-of-scale proportions.
Context Makes a Difference
This decision supports my desire for greater realism in the model. One can argue that none of this really matters. The clichés we can all recite are that you won’t see such nuances and a little weathering can hide a multitude of sins, etc. etc. If the model were N scale I would agree with such sentiments. With quarter-inch scale however, details that are inconsequential in smaller scales are readily visible and they matter to me. Each scale has a context that influences the choices involved with it. What is practical and feasible in one scale doesn’t always translate to another, yet we tend to unilaterally apply the same standard to all. In my view, the actual context of a modeling scale matters more than we think.
The text block in the photo above reveals my thinking. As you may recall, I milled away everything shown here down to bare plastic so I could cover the car in 0.005″ sheet brass for its thin cross section that is easily seen on each end. This also allowed me to correctly model other details like the weld bead shown below without having to work around out of scale elements.
Let The Subject Speak
Looking at an object is like listening with your eyes instead of your ears. There’s a visual conversation going on as you ask questions and the object reveals the answers. The more you look, and importantly, the more you put your preconceived ideas away, the more you’ll see the subject as it actually is.
To my eyes it wouldn’t be a faithful representation of a PS2CD covered hopper without the inherent delicacy in the cross sections and components seen in the full-sized car.
Learn to See Shapes
The X-posts start with a 0.125″ triangular styrene strip from Plastruct. This profile gives the basic shape for the post and only requires minor work to complete. The black coloring from a marker is only so the camera can pick out the shape more clearly.
This shop built jig has a dovetail shaped slot that matches the profile of the triangular strip stock. This slot is formed by two pieces of 0.080″ thick sheet stock with a 30 degree bevel on one edge. The 0.080″ thickness of these sheets gives the finished dimension for the thickness of the X-post. In the photo below, I feed the strip by hand through the slot and past the cutter, which is off for the photo. I keep my fingers well away from the rotating bit and the guide jig is firmly clamped to the tooling plate of the mill, so I can use both hands to feed the stock through the bit.
Please be aware that working with machinery like a vertical mill can be dangerous. I’m comfortable with the tools and methods I share here, and always wear eye and hearing protection. However, if you are inexperienced around power tools or something doesn’t feel safe to you then don’t do it! Find another way that you feel confident in using. Your personal safety in modeling like this is always your own responsibility.
(Above) Step One of the post profile is done. Normally, the flat surface from the milling operation would run for the entire length of the strip rather than the short demo section shown here.
Each end of the posts has a beveled profile. When I have to do multiple pieces with a matching profile, I like to gang them together and make a single cut when possible. After cutting the blanks to length, I made a box from scrap styrene to securely hold all 11 posts for each side of the car in place. Out of the package these strips do vary slightly in size and I had to provide extra clamping force in the middle to ensure everything stayed where I wanted it to. I made certain the ends to be cut are square to the table and cutter. Once I was satisfied with the setup, I made the cuts. I reversed the posts in the jig and repeated the process for the opposite end. Once again, the machine is off for the photo.
Although the process worked well, it wasn’t perfect and I still had a bit of clean up to do on the post ends. The results were good though and the system could be refined to produce better results.
At the top of each post a notch is required on the back side to fit around the weld bead. I felt notching the posts would be simpler and more accurate than trying to remove the bead at each post location.
Once again, I ganged all the post blanks for each side together and milled this notch in all of them at once using a #106 round head engraving bit from Dremel. I had to sneak up on the depth of the notch gradually but once I had it dialed in, making the cut was simple and quick. I’m happy with the outcome (second photo below). Once again the black marker coloring is for contrast only.
If art has taught me anything it would be that once you learn how an object actually looks your perception of it changes and so have you, in that you can’t go back to being ignorant about it. The more I study freight cars, I’m no longer willing to settle for unnecessary compromises on a model when I know how things should look and have the ability to make it right.
I’m well aware that my working methods are convoluted and often rely on advanced machine tools like the mill. I also know that there are other ways to get these results and in the next installment, I’ll describe a simpler method for cutting the bevels on the end of the posts using nothing but a jig and an X-acto knife.