Project # 1 - Improving Aristocraft Freight Trucks To Make Them Look More Prototypically Correct!



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!)



My particular enjoyment of Model Railroading is enhanced when the models are as close to the correct scale as is practical.

For several years I have been staunchly adhering to 1/32 scale proportions on my indoor Large Scale railroad. However, recently I have fallen in love with the latest locomotive offerings in 1/29 and have begun to experiment with some of the 1/29 rolling stock to see if it can be made to appear closer to scale. Since starting to write these articles, I have had so much fun that I have converted over to 1/29 exclusively!

One of my early experiments involved making the Bettendorf trucks under the Aristo line of freight cars look more realistic and I thought some of you might enjoy learning about what I did.


Background Concepts

If you look at any pictures of full size prototype freight cars, the truck bolster sitting on the springs is never in a position at the full height of it’s travel due to the fact that even an empty car is heavy enough to compress the springs a little.

Mindful of this, I looked at the Aristo truck as shown in Image #1 and noticed that the truck bolster on this particular model was indeed being represented as at the full height of it’s travel. The truck bolster also seemed to look way too thick to me.

I decided that this was unacceptable so I disassembled the truck to take a closer look at the truck bolster. I found that the bolster could easily be modified to give the more correct compressed spring appearance. Here is how you too can do it.


My Method


Getting Started - Truck Disassembly

Disassembly is pretty straight forward. Use a small flat bladed screw driver to compress the springs so that they can be angled out of their pockets and carefully remove them and set them aside. When all the springs have been removed, you can push the truck bolster to the far bottom of it's travel in the "bettendorf" sideframe and slide it out. When finished you will have 2 wheel axlesets, 4 springs, 2 brake shoe assembly castings, 2 sideframes, and a bolster for each truck you disassemble.


Recommended Optional Extra Step - Install Aristo Roller Bearings

For those of you that may not be aware, Aristo-craft recently announced yet another improvement to their 1/29 offerings in the form of part number 29411 and now you have the truck disassembled it would be a great time to install them!

Part number 29411 is a set of 10 Roller Bearings, each with a flange, that are just the right size to replace the plastic bushings in many of their trucks. The product can be purchased for around $18.00 a set and comes with a complete set of instructions. Installation is pretty simple. Start by taking a suitably sized sheet metal screw or drywall screw and screw it partly into the plastic bushing on the inside of the truck sideframe. Once it is lodged in the bushing, a slight tug will pull the bushing out nicely. Now, simply install the new Roller Bearing in it's place. You will find that you can start it with you fingers and then use the blade of a flat screw driver to finish pressing it into it's opening. I have also found that, once started, you can invert the sideframe so that the bearing is down on the table top and, with the sideframe level to the world, press the bearing into place using the table top for leverage. The finished product should look like this. Be careful, though! I have found the flanges on these bearings to be rather delicate and you can press too hard and knock the flange right off.

I have a lot of rolling stock and converting over to these bearings is going to be quite a long term project but, believe me, its worth it! These bearings make the cars roll almost too much! Try'll like it.

To get on to the heart of this project, let's now start to work on the stock truck bolster.


Optional Extra Step If You Are Body Mounting Your Couplers

The picture shows the bolster with the truck mounted coupler tongue still attached. If you intend to mount your couplers on the body, as I do, then you will want to remove this tongue. It is a simple cut across the width and then a little dress up filing to produce a tongueless bolster.


Now on to the really visible modifications to the bolster.

Start by clamping the bolster down so that you can cut or grind material off of the top of the ends. I used a small milling machine but you could also use a small drill press, razor saw, or grinder to accomplish the same thing. I used a small end mill and cut away some of the plastic on the top of the truck bolster where the bolster goes into the truck sideframe.

This can get a little tricky because you must leave a little plastic at the back of this area, toward the center of the bolster where it fits into the sideframe, to create a shoulder. This shoulder prevents the bolster from being pushed all the way up and putting you back into the same unacceptable condition you are trying to correct. Remember that the top of the plastic in this area is the stop that determines just how high the bolster will be pushed up. I left the plastic at the back of the top untouched so that it was at it’s original thickness. This just enough plastic to prevent the bolster from being pushed up too far and corrects the appearance of the end of the bolster when it protrudes through the sideframe.

If you want to, you can stop right now and re-assemble the truck and it will look much better but I wanted to go a bit further.


Improving the Appearance of the Journal Boxes

One other thing you might try was described by Bob Uniack and Russ Reinberg in an article in the old "Outdoor Railroader" magazine back in October/November 1993 (page 40). Bob took a file and rounded the sharp corner edges on the underside of the 4 journal boxes so that they were a much smoother curve. This improved the appearance of the "bettendorf" sideframes nicely. Try it and see if you like the look.

But I needed to go even further!


Changing the Wheels Too!

The next thing I did was to look at the wheels. I found that the flanges needed to be turned down for my indoor railroad so I tried to work with the original Aristo wheels. This worked OK but I got a real breakthrough when I tried some MDC wheels instead.

The AAR molded lettering on the front face, the concave front face and the ribbed back were exactly what I was looking for so I trimmed the flanges on these as well and found them to work very nicely. By the way, I don’t like metal wheels unless electrical pick-up is required because they are too noisy and since I run my trains indoors I seldom have the problems our garden variety friends have with hot rails.


Final Assembly - The Rewards

Anyway, after all that work, the trucks looked great and I was very happy with the 1/29 scale appearance.

All my freight cars are equipped with trucks modified in this way and it makes my trains look much more realistic.

Try it and let me know if you find any additional neat ideas along the way.

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