I want a small fleet of covered hoppers for my Mill Road cameo and I have a set of drawings in my Car Builders Cyclopedia for a Pullman Standard 100-ton covered hopper. I have a commercial version of this car and looked it over again with fresh eyes. As expected there are a number of areas that need attention but the kicker is this car is made from die cast aluminum and an especially hard and thick plastic. Grinding away the unwanted details is a miserable task that I don’t have the proper tools or patience for. For that reason alone scratchbuilding is the simpler route.
Building three of these cars feels manageable so I dove in with predictable results, as mistakes piled up quickly between the first two models. In a rare moment of clarity and sounder judgment, I decided to forget about making a finished model out of these and take the opportunity to look more deeply at why these mistakes were happening.
The geometry and compound angles in the discharge chutes tested my skills and I re-cut new pieces several times before reaching the point you see in the photos. Even then I still wound up with discrepancies between the first and second car. Yes, it’s discouraging but I’m slowly learning to welcome mistakes like this. Digging into them is where the improvements I want to see in my modeling are born.
An accurate layout is critical and since I’m doing multiple cars, I decided to make brass templates for the key pieces, rather than measure and lay them out individually. I spent the better part of an entire work session making two templates from 0.032” brass and feel the effort will pay for itself in the long run. Stepping back like this is not a waste of time. I’m not on any kind of schedule with this build and understand that accuracy and quality don’t come overnight. I’m doing my best to focus on the process instead of the outcome.
A model maker’s miniature table saw is a tool I’ve had my eye on for a long time. It would ease the work of making accurate cuts, especially in thicker material like 0.080” or 0.100” styrene. However, no tool is a panacea for sloppy workmanship. I want to sharpen my hand and observation skills and make good use of the tools I do have. This means cutting parts a bit oversized and truing up the edges to final dimension by hand or with my drill press and a milling bit. What I’m saying here is that there are many ways to get an accurate result. A shop full of dedicated tools is nice but a little ingenuity also goes a long way.
I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of this build. In fact I’ll share very little from this point on, because I want to simply enjoy the work. Not every project has to be fodder for the blog and speaking frankly, I’m happiest when I can just play around at the bench and try random ideas. Whether they work or not is irrelevant. I learn something from each attempt and that’s reason enough for me.