Project #10 - Kitbashing Techniques For 52 Ft. Drop End Gondolas!



Last reviewed and revised June 20, 2002(When writing my articles, I have tried to be conscious of the time it takes to view them. Some modelers only have a dial-up connection to the Internet and sizeable image files imbedded in the text can slow viewing down quite a bit. To counteract this, I have kept my images hidden behind key words in the text so that you view them only when you click on those words. This also has the benefit of opening a seperate window with the image in it so that the text and the image can be viewed side by side. As a result, imbedded in this article you will find some underlined words that hyperlink you to photographic images illustrating the point being made. I have deliberately tried to keep the image files small so, necessarily, the images are pretty low resolution but I hope that they help in any case. Enjoy!)



Well, for those of you who may have read some of my earlier articles, I want to warn you that we are going in an entirely new direction with this one. We are going to do some real "kitbashing" for a change.

For those not familiar with the term "kitbashing", it means the process of creating a new model by assembling parts from two or more other commercially available models. The process, as I know it, usually involves cutting, filing and splicing two body parts together to make a longer model.

In this case we are going to create a 52 foot drop end mill gondola from two 40 foot Aristo gondola cars.

Interestingly enough, the prototype for Aristo's gondola car was actually 52 feet long. This car is a bit unique because of the inward flare at the bottom of it's sides so its is pretty easy to spot when you find a photo. I have a copy of an old Carstens book entitled "Rolling Stock Plan Book of HO and O Gauge Car Plans" (SBN911868-00-3). On page 21 of this book there is a photo of the 52 foot long car.. Great credit is due the Aristo model designers for when they decided to shorten the car, they did so by eliminating full-length panels rather than compressing the length of each panel. This decision made it possible to do the project I am about to describe and to come up with a really nice, and largely accurate model of the original car.

The tools you will need for this project will be some sharp Exacto knives, several large and small files, some fine riffler files some sandpaper of varying grits, a fine bladed hacksaw, and small screwdrivers. You will also need a 1 foot by 6 inch perfectly flat board and some Testor's liquid plastic cement.

I am going to try to describe a method for making this car that will not require any significant amount of repainting. I am lousy at painting and have developed techniques that do a pretty good job without it. Whether or not you can do this "no-paint" method will depend on the paint scheme of the cars you use to start with. Some of Aristo's original paint schemes might not lend themselves to this approach but for those that do it is essential that you start with two identically painted cars. You are looking for cars painted so that their markings are essentially on each end and the middle is pretty plain. I chose Conrail cars for two additional reasons, first because I could buy them in quantity for a great price and second, because the actual prototype for Aristo's car was unique to the Pennsy and would have ended up painted for Conrail. Why not pick a paint shceme you think will work, try it, and send me photos of the finished product. I will publish them as examples with this article the next time I review it.


Before we begin it might be appropriate to say that the techniques that I outline here could just as easily be used to produce a 65 ft. or a 72 ft. or an 80 ft. car. It all depends on how many 40 footers you want to consume in the process.

To illustrate the point, here is a photo of a 65 footer that took three 40 footers to make.


Beginning the Project.

For this project you will need two identical Aristo 40 foot gondola cars. Lets start by completely (and I do mean completely!) disassembling each car. Track through the following steps: 1. Carefully remove the brakewheel from each end of both cars. I found mine had not been glued so if I gently twisted, I could work them off without breaking the stem. If you do break one, you can recover but it's so much better if the original attachment method can be reused here. Put the brakewheels in a small holding container, like a plastic baggy, so that you don't lose them. We'll call this the small parts baggy.

2. Carefully remove the drop stirrup steps from all four corners of each car. This is best accomplished with a flat bladed screwdriver by pushing the attachment stems from the inside of the car out until they can be pulled off easily. When you have them off, put them in the small parts baggy too.

3. Invert the car and remove the trucks from the underside of the body while putting the attachment screws in your small parts baggy. Remember that now would be a good time to improve these trucks by following the process outlined in my earlier article (MODIFYING ARISTO FREIGHT CAR TRUCKS TO IMPROVE THEIR SCALE APPEARANCE).

4. Now we need to do something a little tricky. If you look very closely along the side of each gondola, you will see that three of the side ribs on each side have a little rectangular plastic plug in them. Using the tip of a sharp Exacto knife blade, very carefully pry these up and remove them. Be careful not to damage or lose them. We will be reusing them later. Put them in you small parts baggy.

5. These plugs were covering phillips cut flat headed screws that attach the sides of the car to the underfame/floor. Remove all six of these screws now and put them in your small parts baggy.

6. Lastly, you will see two very tiny phillips cut round headed screws in the upper corner of each end of the car, one through a small metal plate and the other through a hole molded into a tab in the plastic end frame near where the brakewheel was attached. Remove both of these screws and put them in your small parts baggy.

7. Now invert the car and remove the 4 small phillips cut round headed screws from the four corners of the end of each car. These screws run through a small metal plate like the one on the sides. Put the screws in the small parts baggy.

8. The end frames on both ends of each car should now come off by sliding straight away from the side. Put these parts in a different parts baggy for safe-keeping. We will call this the large parts baggy.

9. You should now find that the sides of the car are not attached to the bottom and they disassemble themselves naturally. (In other words, the darn thing should fall apart now.) In some cases you may find some glue has been used to attach the sides. If so, you should gently break the glue joint by prying from the bottom and clean up the burrs on all pieces from the pried separation. Set the car sides off to the side. We will work on them later.

10. Place the car ends, which have now fallen off, in the large parts baggy.

11. Place the car underframe/floor on your workbench and carefully pry off the brake rigging. The air reservoir should come off with no trouble but the rest of the brake rigging is glued in place and these glue joints will need to be gently broken. Put the brake rigging pieces in the large parts baggy.

12. This should no leave you with a bare underframe/floor.

13. Now go back to the end frame castings in your large parts baggy. Gently remove the lower grab irons and put them in you small parts baggy.

14. Lastly, locate the metal plates that were used as attachment points to the car underframe/floor. These plates extend through the plastic to the inside of the piece and can be pressed out from the inside, removed and placed in your small parts baggy.

Well there, you did it! What you have now is an assemblage of parts that could be described as a kit for two 40 foot long gondola cars….and we are going to bash those two into one car that is 52 scale feet long.


The Surgery Begins - The Sides.

Here is where we get into the "bashing" part of "kitbashing".

There are many ways to splice two pieces of plastic together, and the method that I use is very situation dependent. Usually I try to hide my splice lines in some hidden corner of the piece, but when that is not possible, or is too much work, I locate my splices in the middle of a flat area where they can be puttied and filed without disturbing any other detail. The method we will use for the car sides is a modified version of this second approach.

Our final joint lines on the sides of this car will be in the middle of a side rib and, if this work is done with care, no putty will be required and only touch up painting will be needed.

Start by labeling 2 of the sides you have as "A" and the other two as "B".

From now on, all my descriptions of left and right will assume that you are looking at these pieces oriented with the top of the side away from you, the bottom closest to you and the outside surface of the car up facing the ceiling.

Take the two "A" sides and locate the 5th rib from the left. This should be the long rib just inside (toward the center of the car) from where the bottom of the side starts to angle up. Locate the space between the 4th and 5th rib and cut the short end of the side off with your hacksaw blade by cutting through this space. You should cut as close to the 5th rib as you can without running the risk of slipping and cutting into the 5th rib itself. Eventually, we will be filing this piece down so that only 1/2 of the 5th rib remains.

Now take the two "B" sides and locate the 5th rib from the right. Again, this will be the long rib just inside (toward the center of the car) from where the bottom of the side starts to angle up. Locate the space between the 4th and 5th rib and cut the short end of the side off with your hacksaw by cutting through this space. You should cut as close to the 5th rib as you can without running the risk of slipping and cutting into the 5th rib itself. Eventually, we will be filing this piece down so that only 1/2 of the 5th rib remains.

You can put the short pieces you just cut off in the scrap bin. We won't need them for this project.

By now, it should be pretty clear what we are about to do. Take the long side pieces and, using a fairly coarse large file, begin to file off material from ends where you cut until the edges is perfectly straight and smooth. Remember the object of this exercise is to file these sides down until what remains includes only 1/2 of a rib. Here is an image showing the process just before completion. This rib is still a little too wide. When the "A" side and "B" side are put together the two halves should make a full rib and no more, as shown here.

This part of the project can be tedious work so let me advise that you not rush it. File for a while and then try to two pieces together. Continue filing until the width of the spliced rib is just the same as the others and until the top of the finished side is a straight line when you sight down the two pieces as you are holding them together. You don't want your car to be hump-backed or sway-backed when you finish.

A good technique for determining whether your splice joint is going to look OK when you are done is to hold the "A" and "B pieces together up to a light. Where you see light coming through, you have a gap that will be visible. You need to file around that area to remove material until no light leaks through. You also have to remember that, when the two pieces are placed together, the top of the finished piece must be straight so sight along this line frequently while you are testing fit after filing to keep that parameter under control too.

Another technique that you might find helpful is to glue a piece of fine sandpaper to a flat board and use this flat surface as a file, as it were, rubbing the edge of the piece on the sandpaper until the edges are straight and smooth.

I have been doing this kind of work for so long now that I have developed shortcuts. I have a small milling machine and I use it to trim the plastic until I get just the right fit. By setting the vise in the mill so that my cuts are correctly angled across the piece, I ensure that the top of the finished side is straight and my splice lines are as fine as they can be.

After many trial fits and frequent re-filing or sanding, you should get to the point where you are satisfied with the appearance of the splice joint, the width of the spliced rib and the straightness of the top line of the spliced piece.

Now it is time to glue the two pieces together. Spread a small amount of liquid stryrene cement, like Testors, on the filed edge of both the "A" side and the "B" side. Lay the two sides down on a flat board and bring them together so that the spliced rib glued joint looks right. I like Testors because it doesn't set up immediately and gives me a chance to adjust the positioning of the pieces until the outside surface is as smooth as I can get it and the top and bottom of the sides are properly aligned. You should only risk these adjustments for a couple of seconds before you leave the piece to set up properly. It should be safe to move in about a half an hour.

If you have filed carefully and created a really smooth, close splice, the glue will make it as strong as the rest of the plastic. It's really amazing how strong it can be. I have dropped spliced sides on the floor and watched with great anxiety as they reacted just like a piece that had been cast as one piece originally, and ended up undamaged.

You should also have noticed that, when you glued the pieces together, the glue ended up acting a bit like putty and filled in the really minor gaps in the joint. If this is taken to it's extreme, the joint will be so fine that it appears to be a casting line from the manufacturer and the paint will make such a good joint that any attempt at repainting this area would actually look worse.

Repeat the process for the second side, making sure that the two sides are exactly the same length when their respective "A and "B" parts are glued together.


The Surgery Continues - The Underframe/Floor.

Let's put the two finished sides away for now and concentrate on making a 52 foot floor.

Start by labeling one of you car floors as "A" and the other as "B".

Take the "A" floor and find the two rectangular pads with slots in them that were the receiving point for the air brake reservoir attachment tabs. We will be cutting this end off of the floor. Find the pad that is closest to the large underframe rib. This is the one we want to focus on. We will want to cut this floor all the way across just between the slot in this pad and the major rib. Remember that your object here will be to file the side edge of this rib completely flat so cut as close to the rib as you can without nicking it.

When you have finished cutting, you should have a floor section that looks like this.

Here is a photo of the cut as close as I could get it.

Now file this end down so that no trace remains of the other plastic that was attached to it. Remember, this surface must be flat and at a perfect right angle to the sides of the floor or else you finished car will have a "kink" in it.

Here is a photo of the finished piece with all the excess plastic filed off.

We will now begin to work on the "B" floor. It is very important to orient this floor correctly and cut off only the correct short end. Looking at the "A" floor you just finished, you will note that we do not have the two flat pads with the slots in them on that floor. We will need to have those two pads to attach the air brake reservoir on the final model so don't cut them off again!

Orient the "B" floor so that you are working on the opposite end from the two pads just mentioned and find the 2nd rib from the bolster. Now locate the 1st and second plank just toward the center of the car from this second rib. My pencil is pointing at the second plank in error in the photo. We will want to cut this floor all the way across through the middle of the 1st plank.

When you have finished cutting, you should have a floor section that looks like this with the two air reservoir receiving pads still in tact.

Now note that, after making the cut, you have 7 and 1/2 planks on the end of the floor we will be working on. File the plastic back to the very edge of the 7th plank on the end of this floor piece.

Now, test fit the "A" and "B" floor pieces together and work the joint down by filing off of the "B" floor until the distance across the two ribs on either side of the joint just measures 1.470 inches. Make sure to check for "light leaks" and to make sure that the sides of the floor are straight when you sight down them. After all, you don't want that kink in your car!

When you are satisfied with the fit, glue and clamp the floor halves together with liquid styrene cement. Again, after applying the cement, you have a few seconds to adjust the fit to make sure that everything is properly aligned in the vertical and horizontal dimension. You should find that we have succeeded in placing the floor joint so deeply imbedded in the detail that it will be hard to find.

Let the glue dry thoroughly.


Putting It All Back Together.

Gee, if this is your first time doing one of these projects, you probably are wondering what day it is. Let me assure you that, once you become practiced at this project, these cars can be turned out in two evenings of leisure time. It takes a lot longer to describe what you are doing than to actually do it.

Anyway, you should now have two nicely spliced car sides and a nicely spliced car floor. It' time to put them together. This and all your other parts constitute a kit for a 52 foot mill gondola. Let's put it together.

Follow these steps to reassemble your 52 foot mill gondola car:

1. Place the spliced car side on to the tabs on the side of the spliced floor. I have found that I needed to trim the ends of some of these tabs to ensure that the side fits completely over them and slide all the way up against the side of the floor. Hold the side in this relationship for now.

2. Find the large phillips cut flat headed screws that you took out of the sides earlier and screw them into their respective holes. Snug them down to hold the side firmly in place but do not strip the plastic by overturning them. It is easy to do. Now file the tips of the plugs just a bit so that they fit perfectly over the screws and puich them into place. I found that I had to remove the tabs on the back of some of them to get them to fit just right so don't be surprised if you need to as well. Put a drop of testors glue over the joints on these plugs to firmly hold them in place. When you are finished, you may even want to flow liquid glue into the underside joint between the sides and the underframe/floor.

3. Repeat the process for the other side.

4. Now place the best two Drop Ends in place by putting their hinge stubs into the recesses in the cars sides on each end.

5. Following this, pick the two best car end frames and place them over the tabs they connect to on the ends of the sides. You will need two of the tiniest phillips cut round headed screws to attach the tops of the car end frames to the sides. One screw goes through the small metal plate and the other goes through the hole in the brakewheel support tab.

6. Now I am going to recommend that you do something optional. Remember the two "T" shaped metal tabs that we pressed out of the end frames in step 14 of the disassembly. I advise that you make replacements for them out of 1/16th brass bar stock. The object of this replacement is to create a nearly identical "T" plate but with a bit longer attachment tab. This image shows the replacement beside the original.

7. When you have made the replacement "T" plates, insert them through their slots in the end frame. Note that the new longer tabs give you an opportunity to put a screw into a much better setting in the bottom of the car, one that is much less likely to strip out when the screw is tightened down.

8. Drill a #54 hole through the tab into the car underframe/floor and insert the original screws. You should find that you have improved this attachment markedly. Repeat this process for all 4 tabs.

9. Re-install the grab irons into the end frames and the stirrup steps into the corners of the sides.

10. Now lets re-attach the brake rigging. Start by pushing the air brake reservoir tabs back into their slots in the pads we left for them. Then cut the center rod on the remaining levers and rods. We will drill the ends out with a #51 drill bit and insert the end of a small brad or piece of brass wire into this hole. Now take a piece of styrene tubing the same diameter as the center rod and cut it to length to fill the gap that we created when we "stretched" the floor. Paint the finished assembly flat black and glue it back in place.

11. Re-install the trucks with the original screws.

12. Install your favorite couplers at this point but remember that this would be a great time to consider body mounting some Kadee couplers. (See my earlier article entitled "BODY MOUNTING KADEE COUPLERS TO IMPROVE SCALE APPEARANCE".)

13. Now the next to last part of finishing this car it to remove the duplicate markings on the sides. Since I am such a lousy painter, I wanted to try almost anything that would avoid me having to strip these cars. The technique I developed, while not perfect, works well enough that I can be really proud of my finished cars even without painting them. Get yourself a fine riffler file (the ones that are curved up on the ends) and a small container of water. Dip your riffler file in the water and gently rub the file over the lettering you want to remove. If you exercise great care, you will be able to file the lettering off until the base paint below it is revealed. I have done this on both of my models and it leaves an area that looks appropriately abused and makes a good first step in weathering the car.

14. Lastly, you can buy a small bottle of touch up paint (I'll let you decide which kind) and touch up any scratched areas on the car.

There! You're done! And the car should look like this.

I sincerely hope that you enjoyed this project and that the car you created brings you as much pleasure in it's use as mine brings me.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this article, please send them to me at [email protected]

Thanks for your attention.


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