Rolling Your Own Colorful Freight Car Sides

Rolling Your Own Colorful Freight Car Sides

by George B. Riley/photos by the author

There was a time in the not-too-distant past where you could go down to their local hobby shop and purchase kits with pre-printed cardstock sides that represented a legion of colorful billboard reefers and boxcars. These consisted of a built-up basswood core over which scribed basswood ends, roofs and printed sides were attached. Die-cast and stamped metal detail parts rounded out the assembly. Carefully assembled and painted, these kits produced credible models.

Nowadays, one can easily make their own custom decorated car sides on their home computer using a downloadable PDF file, one of the common drawing or editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator and a home inkjet printer. The core for these home printed sides can be an existing production model such as one of Bachmann’s On30 refrigerator or boxcars. Or you could just as easily use a core built using old school milled roof stock and basswood, detailed with a wide range of injection molded aftermarket details parts.

To this end we are offering a series of fully illustrated fictional billboard reefer sides in addition to a series of plain, unlettered sides that can have text and graphics added by the user. These can be downloaded here. This artwork is obviously intended for non-commercial personal use. The sides are sized to fit either a Bachmann On30 refrigerator or On30 boxcar as well as a scratchbuilt wood or plastic core. You’ll need the free Adobe Reader software to view and print these files.

Refrigerator Car Sides (PDF)

Refrigerator Car Sides, No Ladder (PDF)

Refrigerator Car Sides, No Ladder, Blank (PDF)

Preparing the Core

If the Bachmann On30 car is to be used, begin by removing the roof and underframe. The roof can be easily pried off by inserting a hobby knife blade near either end. The underframe will separate when the two kingpin screws holding the trucks are removed.

Next, scrape off the side ladders and door hinges using a hobby knife with a #17 chisel blade or a single edged razor blade. The door closer bars can be removed by cutting through the mounting pins. Remove the side stirrup steps from the back of each side by pushing the mounting pins from the rear of the body. When all of the separate parts have been removed and the molded on details scrapped off, sand the car sides smooth. In addition, any end lettering should be sanded smooth. At this point holes were drilled to position the Grandt Line side ladders (#65 B&SR 4 Rung Ladders)

With the sides prepared, paint the ends and roof the desired color. Also, paint the additional detail parts such as the side ladders, door hardware and steps at this time. Common colors for roofs and ends on refrigerator cars varied between a wide variety of oxide reds, to dark brown and black. Our example had flat black from an aerosol spray can applied to the core and details.

Printing out the Sides

The PDF for unlettered sides/no ladders was downloaded from the web site and text was added using the provided tools available with the document. The PDF can also be modified with addition text and graphics using any of the drawing or editing software.

The lettered sides were now printed on 32 lb. light cardstock on an inkjet printer. This product is available in the stationary section of most office supply outlets. The prints were allowed to dry completely before being trimmed to fit the car side. When satisfied with the fit, color the white edges with a black marker. Similarly, any color matching the roof and end color can be used on the edges. The printed sides were then coated with clear fixative to seal the cardstock and stabilize the color.

Affixing the Sides

After checking the fit, a coat of contact cement was brushed onto one side of the car body and one of the printed sides. Both were allowed to set for about fifteen minutes before the printed side was added to the car and pressed down. Two things to remember when using contact cement: firstly, contact cement is highly flammable and very volatile, so always use in a well ventilated area away from open flame. Secondly, contact cement grabs very quickly, so make certain that the parts being glued are lined up in advance. You will not get a second chance.

Finishing the Model

With the sides in place, the holes for the ladders and stirrup steps were opened up with an awl and the Grandt Line ladders and steps removed earlier were added to the car. If the hinges and closure bars were carefully removed when prepping the body, these can now be placed over the printed door hinges and bars. If not, Grandt Line #10 narrow gauge door hardware can be painted and glued in place or the side can be left as is.

Finally, reattach the underframe and trucks, clip on the roof and install the brake staff. The end result will be a unique piece of rolling stock that was easily made up in a couple of hours. If you decide to build a custom car or two send us photographs. You might just see you car in an upcoming edition of the Annual or on our web site.

2017 On30 AnnualThis article appeared in the 2017 On30 Annual. Purchase your copy today!

This article was posted on: May 8, 2017