Freight Car Rescue

Remember my HO-scale freight car buying spree last year? That project is moving forward, so I’ve been taking some time to whip those cars into shape. I’m relieved to discover that upgrading old HO cars is no more difficult than working on N scale cars. Actually, it’s a little easier.

Mainly, it’s a matter of couplers and weight. Couplers have been easy: pry out the old horn-hooks, pop a Kadee #5 into the box. The hardest part is adding washers to the truck bolsters to raise the carbody for proper coupler height. Unlike N scale, body-mounted couplers are the norm, and they seem to hang a little low on most cars without some shimming. Naturally, Kadee makes truck-spacer washers just for this, so the fix isn’t difficult.

Weight? The process is exactly the same as for N scale. The NMRA’s Recommended Practice 20.1 is your guide. Some cars, particularly the cheap ones, come light. My practice with the N scale cars is to get the weight up past 75% of the recommendation. If a car behaves badly in trains, I’ll add more weight to get it all the way to 100%. Usually this isn’t necessary. I had an Athearn covered hopper run poorly at a show last fall—turns out a previous owner had over-weighted it. I pulled ¼ oz. out, which brought it to just below recommendation, and the trouble disappeared.

For the HO cars, I’m hot-gluing 16d common nails inside to bring car weights up to about 3½ oz. or so, which seems close enough. They’ll be running on a layout with no grades, sharp curves, or trains more than five cars long.

The rolling characteristics of these cars are all over the map: some sail right along, others have a considerable amount of drag. I’m not going to do anything about that, unless it proves to be a problem in operation.

There are some minor cosmetic issue, things like missing brake wheels and broken stirrups. I took care not to get any cars with major problems. I may work on the details later. Or not.

The track for this project is laid down now, and I added the uncoupling magnets the other day. So far, things seem to be behaving just fine.