Friday, April 11, 2014

Using Photo-Textures to Model a Boxcar

Proudly bearing the Nature's Wonderland herald, Thunder Mesa boxcar #310 makes up part of the daily mixed heading into Rainbow Caverns. The car was built on a cut-down Bachmann frame using printed photo-textures for the walls, roof and doors.

After a successful experience using printed photo textures to build Combine 101 for Thunder Mesa (see the 2014 On30 Annual), I've turned my attention to some other rolling stock projects that could also benefit from this technique. Here's how I put together a freelanced 20' boxcar for the TMMC.

Using photo-textures of real wooden planks downloaded from, I laid out all of the parts to be printed in Adobe Photoshop, adding graphics and text, color correcting, and adding some weathering to the boards. The car was designed to be built on a Bachmann On30 freight car frame cut down for the 20' length.

Several copies of the plan were printed out on 120g HP Premium Presentation Paper using an Epson R1800 inkjet printer. Printed sheets were then laminated to 1/16" thick illustration board using 3M 45 All Purpose Spray Adhesive, then the walls cut out with a sharp #11 hobby knife. Thinner pieces like the door and top rail trim were laminated to 100 lb bristol board and then cut out. 

Before assembly, the edges of all pieces were painted a dark reddish brown, a vital step in creating a realistic looking model. The four walls, doors and top pieces were then cemented together with white glue to form the basic car.

By removing a few scale feet from just inside the bolsters, a Bachmann On30 freight car frame was cut down to the 20' length. A new deck was created by scribing plank detail into illustration board and the frame was cemented in place. Once the glue was dry, the completed under-frame was airbrushed a dirty red-brown.

Turning the frame over, a weight was cemented in place to help the car track well. This one came from an old Acurail HO freight car.

With careful measurement and assembly, the frame fits nicely within the new car body.

A roof was created using the same photo-texture laminated over illustration board process. The roof walk was salvaged from the same Bachmann On30 boxcar that lent the frame. It was painted a matching color and then blended in and weathered with colored chalks.

Grandt Line narrow gauge boxcar corner braces were added to detail the car ends.

Door guides were created with printouts from the original plan, laminated over 100 lb bristol board. The door latches are from Grandt Line.

Coupler blocks were made for each end from scale 4x6" stock and Grandt Line nut/bolt/washer castings, painted and then cemented into place.

To ensure that the stirrups and grab-irons would line up properly,  a jig was made from 100 lb bristol board, indicating the position and spacing where holes needed to be drilled in the car sides.

The grab irons and stirrup steps are white metal castings from Wiseman Model Services. The brake wheel,  stave and fittings are from a Bachmann boxcar.

When modeling with photo-textures, much of the weathering is already built-in. However, a little weathering with colored chalks is helpful for blending components together and adding details like dust, rust, grime and coal cinders. Care should be taken not to obscure too much of the printed on detail.

To finish the car, Bachmann arch-bar trucks were painted, weathered and installed, and Kadee #5 couplers were dropped into the coupler pockets. In the future, I may replace the Bachmann wheels and trucks with smaller ones from Boulder Valley Models to make the car ride lower.

More Cars to Come

With my new boxcar proudly riding the rails of the TMMC, I turned my attention to some possible future projects that will make the most of this photo-texture modeling technique. Here's a preview of some other boxcars I'll be creating for interchange traffic with the TMMC. Some of the names may be familiar.

A car paying tribute to the late, great Ward Kimball.

A boxcar to carry explosives for the Lytum & Hyde Co. out of Sparks Nevada.

John Olson's HOn3 Mescal Lines Ry. was always a great inspiration for me.

Freight bound for down-river travel via the Western River Expedition Co. will ship in this handsome car.

Final Thoughts

Photo-texture modeling is a promising technique for any number of projects that need crisp, clear graphics. Though only recently finished, I actually started the boxcar before building Combine 101 and the project was mostly an experiment to see what was possible; what the plusses and minuses of this technique might be for rolling stock. Next time around I'm sure I'll do a few things differently, like wrapping the printed textures completely around the car ends to avoid gaps and visible joints. All in all though, I'm pretty happy with how the car turned out and really enjoy watching it ride the rails on the TMMC.

Thanks for checking in, everyone. Adios for now!

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