Some months ago a friend shared his impressions after taking his first serious look at quarter-inch scale equipment. He was surprised to learn that it didn’t seem as big as many working in HO believe. He also agreed that the level of detail in many cases is horrid compared to what he’s accustomed to. This gave him a new appreciation for many of the themes I write about here and agrees that quarter-inch scale is perfect for a smaller well designed layout. He summed up his comments by saying what a wasted opportunity the current state of the scale represents in his view.

Commercial rolling stock in this scale is what it is. On the high end, there are stunning examples in resin and imported brass. These limited run items have few compromises and represent the state of the art. Some of the mass-market stuff is well done while other examples leave you wondering why they bothered to produce it.

My most frustrating issue with mass-market rolling stock is how crude the detailing often is. With the 3-rail mentality driving these offerings, the details are often much heavier in form and cross-section than required. Admittedly, this can boil down to a matter of personal taste. Many people, regardless of their modeling scale, don’t care about such refinements as long as the wheels on the train go round and round. That’s all well and good, but I find an equal amount of joy in faithfully rendering every detail as close to scale as I can. If I can’t substantially improve the level of quality on a model, then I don’t see the point in going forward with the build.

In quarter-inch scale compromised details like these are easily seen. One has to ask where do you start or stop the modifications on a car like this? Answer: it depends on what you value in the craft and what you want from it. There is no unilateral standard that applies to everyone. Good enough is in the eye of the beholder.
I’ve started work on the end cages of the covered hopper. On full-size cars these structures are comprised of angle stock that is a quarter of an inch or less in thickness, with flanges of various widths. By contrast, on most ready-to-run cars these members often scale out to several inches thick in addition to having the wrong cross-section or being absent altogether.

I’m using 0.005” thick brass and custom bending the angle stock to the sizes I need. With the hobby shops in my immediate area, it is getting harder if not impossible to find brass structural shapes in the smaller sizes I need. The last time I ordered some online they were stuffed into the box without thought or care. I managed to straighten them out but will not order from that vendor again.

Making my own structural stock isn’t as difficult as I once imagined. With practice, I’ve successfully bent angles as small as 3×4 scale inches using flat strips cut from a larger sheet. Developing this skill gives me a sense of modeling freedom, in that I can use components of the proper dimension instead of settling for the limited selection of sizes available. I also keep the project moving forward.

I made an assembly jig that holds everything in place for soldering. I spent a good amount of time and care building this jig, knowing full well the quality of the finished assembly depends on its precision. After an initial test fit on the car body, I made a few revisions before I was completely satisfied. I think the results speak well.

In the photo above, this jig holds the pieces in place for easy soldering. Below, temporarily fitted to the car body, the delicacy of the structural members makes a world of difference to my eyes.

The assembly on the right is shown upside down, revealing the angular profile of the diagonal braces. Still to come is the draft gear and bolster, the rest of the brake gear, the corner posts and other structural members.

While some may consider the amount of effort put into this project ridiculous, I’m enjoying every minute of it, setbacks and all. Long before covid-19 rattled everyone’s cage, I made the decision to focus seriously on model building and developing my skill set. Working in P48 almost demands it if you want to fully realize the potential the scale truly offers. Recent events have proven the wisdom of that choice for me. It isn’t for everybody but I’m happier with my decision.



  1. Andreas Heckt

    Mike, I really enjoy following the progress of your work! I hope, you keep your Enthusiasmus.

    Regards from Germany

  2. mike

    Hi Andreas,

    Thanks for commenting. I’m glad the work is enjoyable for you and I appreciate your encouragement.