Coal hopper details

The last blog post covered upgrading hopper brake hardware from AB to KD brake components. The example was an HO scale plastic Bowser GLa class hopper. Let’s take a look at more upgrades you can make to hopper models.

The first step is to review prototype photos and note the elements to change on the model. I’ve noted brake platform locations, hand brake hardware, sill step locations, hand holds, and grab iron shapes can vary between prototypes. Compare these with the details on the model and jot down the changes you desire.

The Bowser and Accurail hopper models have separate underframes that make it easier to change the brake hardware, as demonstrated in the last blog post. The car bodies have lots of cast-on details and some free-standing details. Decide what you want to remove to replace with new details.

Bob Karig published “Backdating two steel hoppers” in the October 2007 Model Railroader. His work inspired me to change the end posts on several Bowser hoppers to reflect the prototypes.

End posts

It was easy to remove the end post details to prep for the new parts. I used 4×4 styrene for the posts and made gussets from 0.005-inch thick styrene.

I figured out the gusset angle by using the lines on a cutting mat. They were the same width of the 4×4 so I lined up the thin styrene rectangle over the lines and cut the angle to meet the interior edge of the lines.

The gussets were attached to the posts then the assemblies were attached to the model.

New grab irons

Turning to other parts of the hopper, I mainly remove the free-standing details. Those are deeper and thicker than wire replacement parts. I use side-cutters to remove the main material then clean up with a new single-edge razor blade and dental tools. I leave the remaining cast-on grabs. They aren’t as noticeable as the free-standing details. After touching up and weathering, they will be difficult to see.

To clean up the grab iron posts, I score under the grab iron attachment rivet with the razor blade. Then from under the cast grab portion, I slowly slice the remaining portion away. The scored mark acts as a stop for the blade but it is quite easy to slice right through the rivet. Steady, gentle pressure with the razor blade does the job.

I use an awl to impress a dimple for the grab iron attachment hole under the remaining rivet and centered on the posts. I use a #79 bit in a motorized drill to bore through the posts. Check the grab iron fit as many will need an adjustment. I trim the grab iron legs then insert them into the new holes on the model, press the grab flush to the posts, then trim the legs on the backside of the posts.

I install the side grab iron detail first, then the end details. The holes in the corner posts are in the same plane. I trim the left leg of the end grabs short. They fit into the hole but can’t fit through the post as the side grab is in the way. This takes a little practice but ends up with great results.

Other hand holds

Hoppers with heavy end sills were required to have extra handholds as the sill can be used as a step. I shave off the details using the same techniques to keep rivets in place. I bend 0.0125-inch diameter wire to make new details.

In many cases, these handholds might be different length and in slightly different places compared to the details on the Bowser models. That’s what I noticed on a BR&P prototype. In the above image, a white dot on the right corner post indicates where styrene rod filled a hole for the original length of the handhold.

I cheat on the long handholds on the corners. I drill through the corner post from the side and drilled holes in the end posts before they were installed. Another hole is drilled where the slope sheet meets the side stake. I use an L-shaped wire to fit from the slope sheet, through the corner post, and into the end post.

End sill grabs

I also updated the end sill grab irons. I use a narrow dental chisel to remove the cast-on detail. Check your prototypes as these grabs can be different. Some are straight, some are drop grabs but attached to the lip of the end sill cover, and some are straight but angled downward.

I also noticed the Bowser cast-on grabs are 12-15 inches, while several prototypes seem to use 18-inch long grab irons. I bent my own short grab irons to follow the Bowser grabs on the Union Railroad hopper in the above image. I suspect this short length does not follow the Master Car Builder guidelines of the Teens. It’s another learning point as I upgrade these hoppers.

I don’t want to make this post too long as there’s more to share. Let’s take a breather and come back with the rest in the next blog post.

Thank you for visiting my blog. You can share a comment in the section below. Follow the instructions so your comment can be posted. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear. Please share the blog link with other model railroaders. To subscribe to this blog, add your email address to the function at the bottom of the right column on the main page.

7 thoughts on “Coal hopper details”

  1. Eric, I am enjoying your series on the GLas. I notice that you are using Tahoe 5’6″ wheelbase archbar trucks. You might consider substituting Bowser archbars as they have the same wheelbase and are more accurate for Pennsy equipment. Plus they’re very cheap and the detail level is excellent.

    1. Thanks for your comment, John! You are correct in regard to the Bowser arch bar trucks follow a Pennsy design and should be used under early GLa hoppers. That’s a point coming in part two. But, not all the hoppers I’m updating will be finished as Pennsy GLa cars. I’m using the Bowser model as a base to upgrade for similar hoppers built in the Teens and earlier. The Union Railroad hopper follows the prototypes that used an arch bar truck similar to the AC&F versions that Tahoe Model Works produces. – Eric H.

  2. As always very nice work! The “back dating” that you are doing really resembles the Pre-USRA twin hopper with the narrow end stiles. I say this as I’m working on some F&C, B&O N-12 class for the Lehigh Valley. I’m sure you have seen or at least heard of the presentation Chuck Davis has done on LV hoppers. Many of these same details ever so present.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Bill! I have a handful of those F&C B&O N-12 hopper kits to build, too! I forgot about Chuck Davis’ hopper presentation. I think I saw that at the 2018 Valley Forge RPM meet. – Eric H.

  3. Another interesting upgrade article. Congrats on the X-23 boxcar feature in the Winter 2021 TKM.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Greg! I hope you enjoy the second part of the coal hopper detailing adventure! – Eric H.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.