Weathering TH&B Slab Side Covered Hoppers

copyright Gerry Schaefer

copyright Gerry Schaefer

The term “slab side” covered hopper has always seemed a bit odd to me.  I suppose it does seem odd in the context of modern covered hoppers.  My guess is that back in 1947 it would have been necessary to describe the unique approach to constructing a covered hopper with the vertical side braces on the inside of the side sheets.  It was in ’47 that CPR built a prototype covered hopper in exactly this fashion, defying the norm and producing a car that appeared to be constructed of slabs, I guess.

CP liked the idea enough to National Steel Car in Hamilton Ontario to build 200 cars based on their prototype.  It must have caught on, because between 1950 and about 1963, similar covered hoppers were built for TH&B, CNR, and PGE, by both National Steel Car and Canadian Car & Foundry.

These cars are uniquely Canadian, and for a long time it was difficult to own a model of one, let alone a fleet of them, in HO.  There were very nice brass models of these cars imported some time in the 1980s, but they’re quite rare.  25 years ago, I tried twice to build a model of a TH&B car.  The first was a kitbash that went dreadfully wrong.  The second was an aborted scratch-building adventure.  In the 1990s, Sylvan Scale Models produced a resin kit of this car, and I bought two of them.  These kits proved so challenging to me that both of them are still in a state of partial completion at the bottom of a box somewhere in my basement.

True Line Trains came to the rescue a couple of years back, and produced a smoking nice model of this car in its most common variations.  I didn’t get around to buying any until they were nearly sold out, but I did manage to snag a few TH&B and CP cars at the 11th hour. They were immediately put into service on the WRMRC, and a couple of them were nicely weathered by my friend Ted shortly after they were put on the club layout.  

I love heavily weathered cars, so before I even paid for these, I had a vision of how they would end up.  I remember these slab side covered hoppers being very messed up, almost absurdly so.  And it just wasn’t the occasional car that was really filthy.  It seemed like every slab side covered hopper I saw was a complete mess.  I couldn’t resist going full out on these models.

I brought three of my cars home from the club, and over the past few days, I’ve had a chance to experiment with creating the base weathering of dried cement on the top and sides of the cars.  I’m using oils for this part.  I’ve been mixing a variety of greys by eye and applying them in layers.  I feel like I’ve captured the dried cement effect. Next, I’ll probably use pastels on the trucks and airbrush the slope sheets and underbody.  I don’t usually like showing my weathering work before it’s finished, but here’s a sneak-preview of both sides of the three cars I’m currently working on.  Keep in mind that they’re not finished.

IMG_0014 IMG_0015 IMG_0016 IMG_0017 IMG_0018 IMG_0019

TH&B 70 Ton Hopper #1234: Finished

This model was completed some time ago, but I was deliberating the various approaches I could take with the weathering.  I had to consider how the car was utilized while I thought about the various media that I’ve used for different effects.

I built TH&B hopper #1234 for a small pool of cars used on the WRMRC in slime service for Inco.  TH&B didn’t serve any mines on line, so they used these cars like many roads used boxcars, meaning that, stead of hauling minerals for a specific customer, they shopped around for ways to put them into service earning revenue.  Aside from hauling slime for Inco, some of the cars contributed to a pool of cars assembled by CN, TH&B, and PC.  Others were used in a variety of ways, like hauling limestone from the quarry in Dundas, or scrap steel between industries in Hamilton.  Even cars used ore service were  rotated in and out of the pool.  As a result, they didn’t weather quite the same as hoppers from a road like the Pittsburgh and Shawmut or Lehigh Valley, where the such cars were used to haul coal for the duration of their useful lifespan.

In the end, I decided to try a combination of acrylic model paint, artist oils, and chalks.  The first step in the weathering was actually in the base colour of the car.  I used Polly Scale paints, and instead of using straight black, I mixed in some Reefer White to fade the black a bit without making it look grey.  This also helps to give more depth to the details.

After the decals and flat finish were applied and cured, I brushed a rough coat of white artist oil paint on the outside and bottom of the car.  I don’t use Titanium White because I find it has a hint of blue that works nice on canvas, but isn’t so good for weathering model trains.  Once the car is covered in a thin layer of white, I use a series of four progressively softer brushes to remove the paint.  The first brush is a 1″ flat and the last brush is large and very soft fan.  This step fades the car.

After I was satisfied with the fade, I used three different mixes of light grey on different parts of the car.  In this step, I didn’t whisk quite as much of the paint away because I wanted some streaks left behind. After the grey streaks, I put a few very subtle rust patches onto the sides with Burnt Umber and Raw Umber.  For these I put tiny blobs in place with a small brush and then dissolved the blobs with mineral spirits until the edges softened up enough to look natural.

When I was satisfied with the oils, I went at the car with some Bragdon weathering chalks, mixing and blending their Dark Rail Brown, Old Tuscan, Antique Iron for the inside, and a bit of those plus their Ash colour on the outside.

I think this one is ready for the layout.


TH&B 70 Ton Hoppers Part 6 – Trucks

In his response to my previous post on this topic, Chris Mears asked about the trucks that came with the Stewart model I used for my TH&B hoppers. I’ve put together a short post in response to his question.

Because I mentioned the ill-fated attempt at using True Line trucks in my previous post, I want to expand on this first.  True Line has had their fumbles, and the masses have subsequently beaten them with suitable vigour.  I think it’s safe for us to leave that debate to the various online fora.  I’ll celebrate the fact that they’ve survived the lashings, and they continue to make a go of it.  I own a number of their models and I especially like their slab side covered hoppers.   I’m in line for a pair of their upcoming SW1200RS models, and I’m hoping for another run of their CP and CN vans and the slab sided covered hoppers.  My experience with their freight car trucks was a disappointment.  They should never have let those parts get into a package and onto store shelves.  One pack of bad trucks would be a fluke, but I bought two packages and both were unusable.  In the end, I was refunded my money, but I that’s beside the point.  It’s inconvenient for me to get to a store that has the parts I need for the hobby.  I want to support bricks and mortar stores, but when I get there and put my money down, I should not be performing quality control for any product I purchase, especially if that product carries a premium price, and is not labelled as a factory defect or second.  There; I can move on.

As I wrote in my previous post, I wanted to move the project forward.  Chris’s question was whether the Stewart sideframes are good enough to keep if the wheelsets are replaced.  Let’s go through some photos and figure this out.

Here’s a photo of a truck on the prototype car.


Next is a series of photos of the stock Stewart trucks from my models.




You’ll have to ignore the compression that took place when I took the prototype photo with a telephoto lens, and the expansion that took place when I took the model photos with my iPhone set to wide angle.  The Stewart model appears to have the correct proportions, despite these distortions.

The Stewart part is missing some finer details on the journal doors, the openings at the ends of the frame, and the insides of the bolster openings.  The lip around the opening in the truck frame is too pronounced.  The overall dimensions seem appropriate for a 70 ton truck.  The detail that bugs me the most is the area under the springs on the frame.  That looks different from the prototype.

I suspect that Stewart was aiming at representing a 70 ton capacity ASF A-3 Ride Control truck (with solid bearings, obviously).  I don’t know the origin of the trucks on the TH&B car.  Maybe they were cast by National Steel Car themselves, and are therefore going to be slightly unique from the ASF trucks.  Maybe my spotting is off.  I’m hoping someone can enlighten me on this.

Tangent Scale Models builds a much nicer model of a truck that represents the same prototype as the stock Stewart truck.  This is still not an exact match to that on the TH&B car (again, my spotting could be off).  Here’s the Tangent model (image is from their website).


There are some other quality representations of the ASF truck available in HO scale, but the photo of the Tangent model illustrates the improvement in quality that’s taken place over the past two decades.  My options, as I see them, are to equip the stock trucks with replacement wheelsets, or buy something like the Tangent trucks.  The stock trucks with replacement wheelsets will certainly work.  Whether they match the level of detail on the car the way I’ve modified it is a question I’ll wrestle with over the next while.  I’m leaning toward the Tangent truck with semi-scale metal wheels.

Thanks for the question, Chris.  What would you do?

TH&B 70 Ton Hoppers Part 5

It’s been a while since I posted about these cars.  I started this project as a way to take a break from the CP ore car assembly line.  I bounced back over to the ore car project until I got them to the point that they’re stored at the club, and now I’m back onto these cars.

In the previous post on this topic, I had sprayed both cars with Polly Scale Engine Black that I toned back a bit with some white.  When that had cured, I applied about five or six coats of Microscale Micro Gloss.  I find this product takes quite a few coats to build up a good shiny surface to take decals.  When the gloss coat was cured, I applied the superb Aberdeen Car Shops decal set  THB-8710.


After my considerable break from these cars, I managed to get the couplers attached.  I used Kadee #58 couplers in their own pockets and screwed them in place with a short 2-56 screw.  I installed Details Associates stirrup steps on all corners of both cars.  These are not exactly correct for this car because they are mounted below the frame sill, whereas the actual stirrup steps are bolted to the side.  I’ll live with these until I find the part (if it exist) and I’ll switch them over as time permits.

Last week, while I was stocking up on supplies for a number of different projects, I bought two sets of True Line trucks with metal wheels to use for these cars.  I have some True Line cars and they roll OK, so thought these would be worthy.  When I took them out of their packages this morning, I discovered that each truck had at least one wheel that was incorrectly mounted onto its axle.  That was frustrating, so they went back to the store.  Without anything else on hand, I used the trucks that were supplied with the kit.  The wheels are plastic on brass-ish axles… dodgy at best.  I might look for trucks with nicer detail, but these aren’t too bad.   I’d like to put some semi-scale wheels on these cars.  At a minimum, I’ll replace the wheelsets with a metal ones.  I kept the dodgy ones from the kit on the car for the photos.

Speaking of photos, it was a beautifully sunny afternoon, so I took them outside to get some pics in the daylight.

IMG_2156 IMG_2157

Overall, I’m pleased with the way that the cars look with all of the cast-on details replaced with finer parts.  I’ll post back here with an update once I get them weathered.

TH&B 70 Ton Hoppers Part 4

When a set of TH&B decals made by Aberdeen Car Shops grabbed my attention last summer, I decided I should extricate a pair of Stewart 70 ton hoppers from a plastic bin under the basement stairs.  With the help of Lance Brown and his archives of TH&B historical documents, I established the purpose and routing for these cars on the WRMRC.  It was time to build up the models.

Surely, someone like ExactRail or Tangent will produce a model of a 70 ton hopper that meets the current standards of detail that we’ve come to expect from ready-to-run models in 2013.  Until that time, we have to settle for the Stewart model of the same car.  The Stewart model represents and excellent overall rendition of the TH&B cars, but the cast-on grab irons leave much to be desired.  There is very little work left for the modeller bring the car up to the standards of commercially available models.   However, as crude as the details appear on this model, it provides the modeller with an economical path to amass a large fleet of hoppers.  A large layout with a hundred ExactRail hoppers would be a considerably larger investment a population of Stewart hoppers.  I doubt I would undertake these improvements if I had to build a hundred cars.  The stock Stewart car would have to suffice.

My models represent two of about four cars that will be required for slime service on the WRMRC, so I have no reservations about changing out the cast-on grab irons.  The most tedious part of this relatively easy project was the removal of the grabs.  A chisel blade and some patience rendered the car entirely denuded of a variety of cast-on detail.

A Stewart 70 ton hopper before the removal of its details.

A Stewart 70 ton hopper before the removal of its details.


The grab irons and brake wheel details need to be removed.


Here, both cars have had grab irons, stirrups, and roping anchors removed.


The overall dimensions and panel details are quite nice on the Stewart model. Oddly, they neglected to address this casting post in the centre of the hopper. A chisel blade cleans this up nicely.


The process I used to locate the holes for wire grabs was to first cut the cast-on rivets, leaving a clear location for each hole.  I’d lightly ream the location, then drill holes.  After all the drilling was finished, I removed the rest of the grab iron detail.  Once the details were removed, I used some 1200 and 1500 grit sandpaper to smooth out the areas where I’d worked.  This shows the progress at the b-end of both cars. Grab irons were custom bent for the ends. Those are 18″ grabs. The side grabs are stock Details Associates parts. Brake parts have yet to be added.


Similar to the b-end, the a-end of each car has hand-bent grabs on the ends and Details Associates parts on the sides. The various handrails on the end sills and between the end posts needed to be bent to fit.

Once the wire details were in place, the weight of the car needed to be addressed.  The car comes with two pieces of steel cut to fit under the slope sheets.  The weight of the car as it comes from Stewart is about half of what it needs to be.  One solution would be to cut new slope sheet weights out of lead to replace these steel pieces.  The lead I had on hand was too thick to double up, and the additional weight of  a single layer of lead was too minimal to make a difference. I opted to use the stock steel weights.


The car needed more weight to bring the car up to standard. The underside of each bay offers a hiding place for small bits of lead, but I also managed to insert long narrow rectangles of lead into the centre beam of the car.

Lead weight fitted into the centre beam and glued into place.

The shiny strip down the middle of the centre beam is two narrow rectangles of lead cut to fit and glued into place.

I decided that, in addition to what I added to the centre sill, I would add more weight wherever I could find space to hide it once the car was assembled.  At this point I added the brake details to the b-end of the car from Cal-Scale castings, chain, and bits of brass wire.  Because I had removed the thick platform cast for the brake wheel, I built a new platform from some walkway etching and .005 styrene.  Then I attached the brake cylinder, triple valve, and reservoir to the frame casting and ran some basic air lines.
IMG_1999I couldn’t find clear photos as proof, but I suspect that I mounted the air reservoirs incorrectly on both cars.  From the vague shadows I can see in my reference photos, it appears that the tanks are parallel to the rails instead of perpendicular as I’ve done on my cars.   The kit provides mounting tabs to build the cars as I did, and I discovered the possible error after I’d already used the tabs and added air pipe details.  I decided to leave this (possible) error.  If I get better photos of this area on the prototype cars, I’ll build the next pair of cars more accurately.  This is a trade-off I was willing to live with in order to keep some forward momentum happening with this project.

At this point, I sprayed the car with Polly Scale Engine Black with a bit of primer grey mixed in to dial back the intensity and fade the car a bit.  The corner stirrups and cut bars will be added later because these parts are fragile.  Once the decals are finished and weight is added to the hollows between the bays, I’ll add the remaining parts and weather the car.


This photo nicely depicts the level of detail that I find sufficient to improve the overall appearance of the Stewart kit. This is still not the same level of detail one finds on many kits nowadays, but I’m fine with moving on from here.

 Next time I’ll write about how I chose the numbers and paint scheme for these cars.