Being picky

Photo from the Westerfield Models AC&F builder photo collection

As I started an HO scale resin freight car kit, I noticed something odd about the grab irons. The drop portion of the grab iron wasn’t at a right angle to the legs of the wire detail part. When I look at a prototype photo like the one above. I see drop grab irons at right angles.

I tweaked one of the grab irons with a pair of pliers for a more satisfactory result. In the photo above, the stock grab iron with the kit is on the bottom and my improved version is above. The box car kit on the workbench has 30 drop grab irons to install. I needed to find an easier way to improve the kit parts.

I bought a tool for bending photo etch parts a couple years ago. It has been marketed as The Bug and was available through The Small Shop. I’ve used this tool to bend non-standard grab irons and thought it can be used to upgrade the drop grabs.

I slid the grab iron legs under the flat side of the tool and screwed down the clamp.

Using a small angle plate I purchased from Micro-Mark, I pressed the base against the grab iron to improve the angle.

Here’s what it looks like after unscrewing the clamp and moving it onto the tool surface. You can see the improvement compared to the earlier image.

But the proof is in the pudding, right? Here are the improved drop grab irons installed onto the resin box car kit. Not all are at a right angle to the grab iron legs, but they are much better than what I saw out of the box.

There was another issue I encountered while building this kit. Some of the grab iron wire failed and broke. I’ll admit, I bought the kit long ago but I wasn’t expecting brass wire grab irons to break. I experienced similar breakage with an even older kit as I tried to bend brass wire for brake rods. When you encounter these issues, it’s best to throw out the material and turn to your stash for replacements. Get it off of your workbench before it causes you more disappointment.

Some may think I’m being overly picky about the grab iron angle. But it didn’t look good to my eye. The extra effort was worth it as I build this model.


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18 thoughts on “Being picky”

  1. Grab irons are so important to the look of each car. It’s that separation and cast shadow that makes the difference between cast on and separate grabs. Grabs can catch your eye and draw you in so they should look right. No, it is not being picky, it’s being a good modeler. Who ever came up with .012″ for grabs knew what they were doing. I measured a real grab and it was 7/8″ diameter which works out to .010″ in HO. I made my own grabs out of .010″ wire and once everything was painted, you really couldn’t see them that well. That .002″ made all the difference.

      1. Neal, most of my wire bending experiences have been successful. I’ve only noticed breakage with wire or parts in really old kits. It’s easier to dig out new stock from my supplies than to reheat old wire in hopes the new bends will work. – Eric H.

    1. Thank you, Paul! I figure if I had to do this, then others would need to know of the improvements. We learn from each other. – Eric H.

  2. Excellent tutorial Eric. Bill Welch often mentioned that he had to bend the kit supplied grab irons to proper shape. And as you said, the proof is in the pudding and your model looks great!

    1. Thanks, Jim! I hear Bill’s voice many times while building freight car kits. We all benefited from the tips and techniques he shared. – Eric H.

  3. I often find that the bends between the horizontal and the vertical portions of commercial HO drop grabs are not 90 degrees. Also, the drop on many commercial HO drop grabs is greater than the prototype grabs.

    1. I’ve noticed these, too, Mark. I did tighten up all the 90 degree bends but then the grab would not fit properly into location on the model. So I focused on improving just the one angle. – Eric H.

  4. Great. Something else to think about! Seriously, I did wonder if the angle on the prototype grabs were canted away from the body intentionally. Looks like they were not. Thanks. Mark

    1. Mark, that can depend upon the prototype. Use photos to guide your work. I know the PRR GS steel gondolas have funky end grabs that are not 90-degrees off the car end. I suspect there are other instances. – Eric H.

    1. I was also disappointed the Bug was not available. I suspect you might find one at a train show tool vendor, or it might become available again. – Eric H.

  5. Eric, I used your suggestion but using a small machinist’s vice I have from MicroMark instead of the bending tool (which I don’t have) to hold a grab in place. It worked like a charm. I agree that bending drop grabs is worth the extra effort as it does show on a finished model. Thanks for being picky, as I have overlooked this minor deficiency for decodes in building freight cars.

    1. Good to hear you found another method, John! I hope the completed work on past cars doesn’t drive you to make wholesale changes. – Eric H.

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