THE BACHMANN BOBBER BASH
My introduction to large scale modeling
By Carl Spirito
I AM NEW to "large scale" modeling. I worked for many years in On3 and On2 where scale and gauge accuracy are "everything". So, after a lot of deliberation, I settled on 1:20.3 (15mm=1 foot) scale on 45mm gauge track as the best compromise between scale fidelity and the use of existing commercial parts. Since I like to model tiny narrow gauge equipment, many of the smaller "G" scale locomotives, such as Bachmann and LGB Porters, seemed just right to use as locos in the slightly larger 1:20 scale.
Then I decided upon some guiding principles:
1. Try to capture the charm of diminutive, run-down, backwoods industrial narrow gauge railroads without following any particular prototype.
2. Use commercial wheels, trucks, couplers, and locomotive mechanisms to kitbash and scratchbuild a variety of freelance equipment and follow general prototype practices.
3. Insist my models be consistent in scale, size, and appearance but try to avoid nitpicking myself too much.
4. Build all equipment to be as sturdy and weatherproof as possible and avoid fragile details and delicate mechanisms. I eventually want an outdoor layout but, for now, I have settled on an indoor test track so I may watch my trains run.
My wife is an avid gardener. She has encouraged outdoor railroading so we finally may enjoy a joint hobby. Last Christmas she gave me a Bachmann bobber caboose.
I immediately disassembled it (it's easy). Then I created my own scale rule (when will somebody produce one?), made some measurements, and compared the Bachmann's dimensions to those of several prototype narrow gauge cabooses. All it needed to be a convincing 1:20.3 scale bobber was a little height.
I constantly resisted the urge to go completely finescale as I listed the easiest changes to provide the look and feel I wanted: a caricature of a typical narrow gauge caboose. The alterations included adding height to the body, cupola, platform railings, and brake staffs and adding a few details for "character". I replaced the wheels with Gary Raymond metal wheelsets and the gigantic Bachmann couplers with body mounted Kadee« couplers.
I began with the cupola because it was easiest to modify. Two plastic tabs hold it to the roof. If you remove the tabs, you may rest the cupola on the very edge of its hole in the roof instead of setting it into the hole. That will add about six scale inches to its height. I recommend painting it and glazing the windows before gluing it in place.
The body requires more work. My solution was to cut off the body's mounting tabs and add a scale six inch high styrene strip around its base. I laminated two .040-inch thick sheets to match the body's .080-inch thickness. Then I built up new body mounting tabs from the same .040-inch strips. The result was a closer to scale roof height of ten feet above the rails and a door height of six feet.
But the alteration also required some cosmetic work. I added Grandt Line nut-bolt-washer castings at regular intervals to the strip around the body. That suggests it is metal instead of wood. It also avoids the need to match the car's scribed siding or to hide the joints. The side strips will blend right in after you paint the car.
The end doors present the biggest problem because their sills are now six inches off the platform. I tried two solutions. The easiest was to scrape off all lower door detail (sills, frame, raised panels) and rebuild the missing parts with strip styrene. After you fill the gaps, sand everything smooth, and paint the door, it will look fine.
The more involved method was to cut out the door completely, including the new bottom strip. Then I extended the raised door frame with strip styrene, built up a whole new door from .040-inch thick styrene sheet and strips, and glued the new door into the frame. If you want it partially open, you'll have to cut off the center floor tab and add a few new floorboards to fill the gap. Use the photos as guides.
THE END HARDWARE
The platform hardware looks very short when you place the taller body on the frame. What is more, the ladders no longer reach the frame and dangle from the roof. The simplest solution is to lengthen the ladders and brake staffs with brass or plastic tubing. I used brass. First, though, I covered the existing handrail holes on the end sills with a .015-inch thick strip of styrene, drilled new holes, and glued the piece in place. Then I bent the new hardware pieces to shape, cut them to fit, and glued them into the holes in the end sills. I made the new railings about three scale feet tall to match the height of the handrails on the end walls and added a horizontal rod halfway up. I also added bits of small wire for brakewheel holders and chain attachments.
Yes, I realize my approach falls short of perfect fidelity and the rod diameter is oversize but it matches the other handrails and looks acceptable after painting.
I mounted the Kadee couplers by cutting a notch in the frame and support structure at the height the manufacturer recommends. I added a wooden buffer block to the end sill to allow the couplers to stick out farther. Then I used CA to glue the coupler draft gear boxes in position.
I formed a new, thinner smokejack top from .015-inch thick styrene and added braces and guy wires from the scrapbox. I also added chain between the end rails and clear styrene "glass" in the windows (after painting). If you want to go farther, you might also add marker lamps and whatever else you may think of.
I spray painted the body and cupola caboose red, then hand painted the window frames a flat dark green. I airbrushed the roofwalks and end platform floorboards with Floquil Concrete and, when it had dried thoroughly, washed on a stain so the result would resemble weathered wood. Numbers and lettering are Woodland Scenics dry transfers and I modified them to look like the stencils many small, isolated, poor narrow gauge lines used. I lightly airbrushed the caboose with Floquil Mud and Grimy Black. That blended everything together. I applied a final overspray of Testor's Dullcote for protection.
Looking at the resulting model, I think I captured just the appearance I wanted. It's a short bobber caboose with plenty of overhang, a narrow track gauge, and sufficient height to prevent my 1:20.3 scale figures from bumping their heads.
With more work, I could have added scale diameter handrails and ladders, moved the cupola to one end of the body, altered the windows and their locations, and even built a new, non-tapered cupola. I might even have added a veneer of scribed siding to hide the body strips. But for now I'll leave that to my friends in the smaller scales. I think I like my bobber just as it is: A fun and easy-to-build model with plenty of character.