Posted by: bgtwindad | December 27, 2010

Bessie the Engineer


Bessie the Engineer

Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

For Christmas this year, my daughter asked for an N scale stock car (a.k.a. “Cattle Car”) for her stuffed cow Bessie to ride in. We picked up a nice Athearn 36 foot car at a good price, and then I got to thinking… what if it were purple (my daughter’s current favorite color) … and what if it said “Bessie” on the side?

As you can see, the results greatly pleased both the girl and the cow.

This was a real adventure in customizing rolling stock. I had to really stretch my rather beginner-level modeling skills, but I learned a lot very quickly and found that … well, it’s not so hard, really. The time pressure of getting it done before Christmas helped me to get over my trepidation about hacking up a car.

The first step was disassembling the car and stripping the old (brown) paint off. I had trouble removing the body from the floor, so I opted to paint the whole thing.

Based on some advice, I used DOT3 brake fluid. Somewhat dangerous stuff (though it’s mostly a very fine grade motor oil), I had to be careful… turns out it wasn’t such a good choice. The brake fluid did a fine job of stripping the paint, but it also ate through the softer plastic used for the undercarriage truss rods and the brake wheel. So I have some repair work to do later. Next time, I’ll try 91% isopropyl alcohol, which I hear does just as well with less risk to the plastic.

Once the paint was stripped, I had to learn to use my airbrush. A little practice with that, and I was able to successfully lay down a primer coat and paint the base purple color. I then had to let that dry overnight before taping off the sides of the car to paint the top and bottom black. The purple took two coats, but the black took on a nice faded look with only one solid coat.

The hardest part was keeping the airbrush clean between coats, and changing colors. I can see why regular painters keep multiple airbrushes set up.

Next came the decals. I hate decals. I used to do model airplanes as a kid. I hated decals then, and I still do. I’m a little better at them now, but still. The worst part is cutting the individual pieces off the sheet, then trying to grip them with tweezers and get them positioned correctly. Somehow I managed, even while distracting the girl so she wouldn’t know what I was doing (I re-decal-ed a coal hopper as a “cover” operation). I gave the car reporting mark CHFR#1234 so that I didn’t have to do the numbers as individual cut-outs.

Mostly complete!

As mentioned above, TwinGirl was thrilled with the result!

There is still some work to be done. I need to add the car information labels (capacity, weight, etc.), cover the whole thing with a clear matte finish (to seal in the labels and take off the “new paint shine”), and replace the brown trucks with black ones.

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