Iron Range cars

Bob Hanmer sent several photos and details on a few neat projects that he recently completed. Here’s his story.

I spent last summer working on older, pre-1920 cars for service on my HO scale model railroad. The DM&IR continued to use some of these old boxcars and ore cars into 1958, the year I model. Since Dan Holbrook’s Signature Press book, “The Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Equipment: 1883-2004,” came out at the end of 2019, I was able to find information and photographs of the equipment and complete the projects.


I built a couple of 36-foot boxcars first.

These are simple kitbashes and upgrades. I changed the doors, added running board laterals, and installed an Accurail underframe to an MDC old-time boxcar.

A little bit of effort converts the model to DM&IR 5366, a 1918 car.

For a second car, I added fishbelly side sills to an Accurail car to model the 1908 DM&IR 5240.

Ore cars

A Walthers 77 ton ore car sits beside a 3d printed 50-ton ore car.

One of the most-missed pieces of DM&IR rolling stock are the 50-ton capacity ore cars. The Walther’s, MDC (Athearn), and MTH HO scale ore car models are all nominally 70-75 ton cars. The old AHM car was even larger.

I was pleasantly surprised when Todd Monroe, a friend from the Missabe Railroad Historical Society, told me he had designed a 3D printed 50-ton ore car to fit an MDC ore car underframe. He made it available at his Shapeways store. I immediately ordered one. The carbody represents a U3 class ore car which DM&IR predecessor Duluth, Missabe & Northern acquired between 1905 and 1907 from the Standard Steel Car Company.

The print arrived looking a little bare. The U3 ore car had distinctive door operating wheels at each corner of the sides. Just inboard of the frame are two more wheels that are additional parts of the door operating mechanism. I checked my stock of Campbell brass brake wheels and I had just enough to do all eight door operating wheels and the hand brake wheel.

The 3D printed car body did not include brake components. I scrounged in my junk parts box and found the brake cylinder, reservoir, and AB control valve I needed. The brake cylinder is mounted beside the hopper of the car in a very distinctive location. I used the rod from a Tichy brake set with a Kadee knuckle spring around the rod to make it reflect the prototype.

To prepare the MDC ore car underframe, I trimmed the coupler pockets back and removed the coupler post. I drilled a new hole further back and tapped it for a 2-56 screw. I did some creative carving on a Kadee coupler box cover to fit in the new location. At the four corners of the underframe, I filed indentations in the frrame for the sill steps. I followed how Accurail has slots for sill steps on several kits. It was easy to fit the Accurail sill steps into the slots on the ore car frame.

I wasn’t sure how to affix the 3D printed car body to the metal underframe. The new car body has a flat bottom like the MDC models, but lacks holes for the pins on the side of the underframe. I ended up mixing some 10-minute epoxy to glue the car body to the underframe.

To finish the upgrades, I installed Tahoe Model Works AC&F arch bar trucks.

I painted the ore car with Scalecoat I Boxcar Red, which seems to be a good match for the other Missabe ore cars on my railroad. The herald and car numbers are from a custom renumbering set I made. The weight and capacity data lines had to wait for a friend to produce those decals.

After the decals were set and dry, I airbrushed a light coat of the Boxcar Red to weather the decals. The final touches were Kadee air brake hoses and a mist of Floquil Gunmetal for the interior.

As I was finishing the 10078, I found out Todd had updated the 3D art at Shapeways. The new print included the door opening mechanism, corner steps, and brake components. Mixing a pair of 50-ton cars into my 1958 fleet is a stretch, but I just had to get one. After the normal Shapeways production and shipping time I had the new carbody.

I immediately accidentally broke the hand brake wheel off the car. The new car, 9351, was much quicker to build because the frame preparation was merely removing the carbody pins and modifying the coupler pockets. I used epoxy again to attach the carbody to the frame. Painting and lettering followed the same process as on the 10078.

Now I have two new ore cars to mix into my fleet of 70-ton cars. DM&IR reporting marks are on 99% of the cars. There are a few Duluth, Missabe & Northern cars and two 50-ton cars.

Thank you, Bob Hanmer, for sharing your interesting projects. Those 3D printed ore cars look sweet!

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5 thoughts on “Iron Range cars”

  1. Very nice article. The DSS&A purchased a number of these cars, and several of them ran until 1968 in upper Michigan.

  2. Wondering if Bob added any weight or if the cast frame had enough. I have a 3D printed CPR hopper of a similar size and am trying to figure out how best to add weight. It wasn’t designed to go on the MDC underframe…

    1. The MDC underframes are white metal and provide enough weight for good operation. For some Varney ore cars I’ve now filled the hoppers with tiny shot. I’m not sure yet if that is enough.

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