No. 173: The Rapido Pennsylvania Railroad X31 Model

It has been a very busy year at home and at work, and I’ve only been able to post three times on the blog. since January 1st. My last post was last week after a good railfan trip; the last modeling post was more than 60 days ago. Here’s a catch up.

Despite the lack of modeling and railfanning I was able to take the family on a few trips. Covid restrictions here are 99.9% history and everybody’s traveling again. I took the family to Eindhoven, Netherlands in late February for a long weekend–that was beautiful–and in March I took my youngest daughter to Andalusia, the region on the southern coast of Spain, for a week-long father-daughter getaway. We went there for hiking, sun and fun. There wasn’t much sun, but we went on a few epic hikes and had a great time together.

Below. During our trip to Spain, my daughter and I visited Gibraltar. Here’s a snap from near the top of the rock, with the channel between Gibraltar and Morocco in the distance.

We also hiked a trail in the mountains northeast of Malaga formerly known as “the most dangerous hike in the world”–the Caminito Del Rey. Part of the trail is seen below. The trail was rebuilt in 2015 and it is perfectly safe now, but it is still pretty scary.

Okay, enough of that boring stuff. On to modeling!

The New X31s

By now, most of you prototype modelers have seen Rapido’s new X31 cars. They’re outstanding models. I recall 15 years ago or so, the guys on the old Steam Era Freight Cars list on Yahoo Groups saying “We need a 21st-Century model of the X31!” Thanks to Bill Schneider and the guys at Rapido, we’ve finally got it.

My first two cars came in the mail in February. The Pros: I’m impressed with the overall appearance, paint color, lettering, running boards, fine details, ladders, wire grabs and sill steps. Brake gear is good, not great, but good. The Cons: The coupler boxes are ghastly (I understand they’ve gotta meet NMRA standards, but there’s gotta be a better to to replicate draft gear) and trucks (in the era of Tahoe Model Works, these are just plain bad). Bottom Line: They look great and are layout ready.

Below. The Prototype, circa April, 1937. Courtesy Bill Lane.

I upgraded my models starting with the auto car first. I replaced the couplers with Kadee #78s (and cut off those pesky trip pins) and replaced the trucks with Bowser PRR coil-elliptical trucks with Kadee semi-scale wheelsets. I painted the trucks with ScaleCoat 2 Oxide Red–that’s a really close match for the factory paint. That was it.

I started the weathering process by airbrushing the model with a few coats of clear Testors Dullcote. When that was dry I added a drops of Scalecoat Oxide Red to the Dullcote and mixed it up nicely–making a semi-opaque flat–then sprayed the car again to provide a flat overall finish using something close to the original color. Here’s a view of the opaque below.

Finally I airbrushed the underframe and lower side sills with a medium brown color to simulate some dirt build-up, and then added some car-knocker’s chalk marks with an artist’s pencil. Lately I’ve been using a white pencil for newer chalk marks and a medium gray pencil for older marks, and I like the effect. Finally I finished up with a little highlighting with various dark colors applied with a paintbrush. I sprayed on one more very light coat of the opaque mixture and called it complete. The placard is from Microscale.

Next I finished my single-door X31. Here’s the car right outta the box:

To prevent the cars from looking alike, I decided to heavily weather the single door car like the X31 in the photo below. Charlie Duckworth sent this image to the Proto Layouts list, which was originally taken by Joe Collias in St. Louis in the late 40s. I like the roof weathering and the contrast between the running boards. Check out the PRR T-1 on the right!

To begin, I replaced trucks and couplers as I did with PRR 69402 above, and then gave the model a few light coats of Dullcote.

Next I slowly applied AIM Weathering Powders–Rust and Dark Brown–to the roof. I applied the powders panel-by-panel and took my time. The Dullcote layer gave the powder something to stick to. I worked the powders in with the brush, toothbrushes and soft files. I found that a soft, thin flexible file works great to take off some of the powder and give a streaking effect. When I was happy with the appearance I applies Dullcoat to seal it, and then painted the individual running boards with tan, medium gray and oxide and then lightly sanded the colors in to blend them together. I wanted a stark contrast between the running boards and roof, and I think I got the effect alright.

On the sides, I slowly streaked the same AIM powder mix on the side sand ends. I used wet 0000-grade steel wool to work off some of the powder to get the look I wanted. I wanted the weathering to gather at the top and the bottom. I sanded a little harder on the lettering to weather the letters in to the background. Those details really pop with a little bit of weathering.

I applied and re-applied the chalk several times on the sides to get the look I wanted. Finally I added some chalk marks and sealed it for good with a last shot of Dullcote. I used a dark brown/dark mud mix on the underframe and added AIM Delta Dirt on the lower ends–a favorite weathering color. I think this model turned out pretty well and I’m eager to try it again.

Incidentally, here’s a Bowser car I built and painted in the late 1990s. It was photographed in 2001. The Bowser cars are still nice models and the price is right. I’ve got a repack stencil on the left side of the car, and black trucks. I must’ve finished five or six of these just like it.

Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Rapido’s X31s. An X32 series would be nice–the 50-foot cars–and an X31F–the jeep carriers–would be nice too!

Three-Way Switch

Two weeks ago I drove up to Frankfurt, and on the way I stopped in Darmstadt, a small city right south of Frankfurt. There’s a lot to see there, including this–a three-way switch on a heavily-used industrial track that spins off the freight yard north of the city.

I’ve only ever seen two types of three way switches: 1) The symmetrical type, where tracks diverge on either side symmetrically on each side of the straight track, and 2) The asymmetrical, where a track diverges in one direction and another second track diverges 10-15 feet forward in the opposite direction.

This one in Darmstadt is different still. See below. In this arrangement, we have a straight leg with two tracks diverging in the same direction. It’s not quite a three way. I’d almost call it a compound turnout. Still, it has a Cool Factor of 10.0.

Here is a closer view of all three frogs.

Below. A view of the linkage on the second switch. It is brick-lined. I’ve never seen that anywhere else. This is motivation enough for a scratchbuilding challenge.

I haven’t seen too many of these in the U.S. In fact I can only remember seeing one–the famous three-way stub switch leading to the old engine house on the Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad in Aberdeen, N.C. I did find one online recently, on the Flickr Milwaukee Road Project site–this one on the loop track in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin (see it at lower center where the road crosses?):

While on the subject of track, I did about three hours of railfanning this morning in nearby Mannheim. I stared at this turnout near Waldorf for 20 minutes. It looks like a double-slip, but on closer inspection I’m not so sure. It looks like another compound switch of some type. Whatever it’s called, it’s a work or art!

It was a good day of railfanning and I’ll write more about it sometime. The next post will cover a few National Car Company cars I just completed. Enjoy your weekend! -John G

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s