Empire Belt RR ALcos

Empire Belt RR ALcos
Custom Painted FA / FB Units

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ertle Gondolas upgraded

Greeting All,

Last blog entry we looked at an old Roundhouse shake the box kit CB&Q 50' exterior braced double door auto boxcar. We covered the build and some easy upgrades. One of the things that was discussed was the relative sturdiness of the cars of this era. Yes the details were molded on but to me the cars looked great, ran well and withstood handling.

This week let's take a look at a not so well known very detailed freight car manufacturer / distributor Ertl Collectibles from the late 1990s. Ertl Collectibles introduced HO scale structures, vehicles, rolling stock and freight car loads starting around 1997. The freight cars were well detailed with separately applied grab irons, full brake rigging, knuckle couplers and weathering. Around this time I purchased two 40' low side gondolas. One in Virginian livery and the other in A.C.L livery. Out of the box the cars were beautiful. The only issue I had was I needed to trim back some of the brake linkage to accommodate the 18" radius curves I had on the first layout.

For more on Ertl read here: http://www.ho-scaletrains.net/ertlrailwaydesigns/id50.html

Fast forward fifteen plus years, two new layouts, a long distance move and the Ertl gons (or goons if you follow the KP&W) were showing their age and a lot of wear and tear. Most of the stirrups had broken off and many of the grab irons were now missing. Another issue with the gons was that they rolled like sleds. So what's a modeler to do. Ignore the issues, put em back in the box or get them to the workbench for repair. With temps in the high 90s here some time in the cool basement with a repair project was the option I chose.

First up I fabricated replacement stirrups using some standard staplers and a needle nose pliers. I popped out the original broken pieces of the original plastic stirrups and using a #78 drill bit in a pin vise enlarged the holes slightly. The new metal stirrups were installed and secured with CA.

Next I replaced the grab irons using Tichy Train Group 18" drop style metal grab irons. These were also held in place with a touch of CA. Both the grab irons and stirrups were brush painted with the appropriate color acrylic paints.

Lastly I addressed the grungy wheels and rolling issues. First I thoroughly cleaned off the wheels using 91% rubbing alcohol. With the dirt build up now gone I placed the cars on a graded section of the layout. The car rolled about three feet. I went back to the work bench, removed the trucks and popped out the wheel sets. Noticing a lot of white plastic residue on the wheel face and axles I cleaned off the wheels and the axle holes in the trucks. Then I put a small drop of light oil into each axle hole on the trucks. The wheel sets were replaced and the car tested again. To my surprise there was absolutely no measurable improvement.

I had wanted to keep the original ribbed back wheels because I thought they looked good and that's why I devoted the time to getting them clean. My next plan was to ream out the trucks a bit to see if this would help as it has on many other models. However, prior to doing that I decided to test a car with a four axle set of Intermountain 33" metal wheels. So I replaced the trucks and placed the car back on the graded section. The car free rolled over twenty feet. A seventeen foot improvement! And it sounded good doing it. So off to the local hobby shop I went and the gons were upgraded with metal wheels. Unfortunately Intermountain does not make ribbed back wheel sets so I'll keep these wheels on the gons. I might try some P-2000 ribbed back metal wheel sets but in all honesty I have not been happy lately with the quality of this product. Kadee offers 33" ribbed back metal wheel sets so that may be an option going forward. Right now I am ecstatic on how well these cars look and roll.

The bottom of the Virginian gondola. Note the wheel crud on the left and the clean wheels on the right. The A.C.L. car in the rear of the photo has had it's couplers changed as evidenced by the 2-56 screw holding the cover plate in place.

Plastic residue abounds on the wheels and axles. The new stirrups and grab irons are in and have been brush painted with acrylic paint. 2-56 screws now hold the coupler cover plate in place. 

Intermountain metal wheel sets to the left, original ribbed back plastic wheels to the right. The huge rolling improvement of the Intermountain wheel sets has lead to the replacement of the origional plastic wheels. 

1/87th Scale Sir Neal Himself along with 1/87th scale PC Ralph and some other 1/87th scale rail fans have found a nice spot to watch the testing of the gons (or goons) while also keeping an eye on out for any mainline action. 

A NYC SW8 with the with the upgraded Ertl  gondolas waits for a clear signal on track 1. This track leads to the lower level of the peninsula portion of the layout. I also use it to test the free rolling capabilities of my rolling stock and pulling power of my motive power.

A close up of the gondolas. I am glad to have them back to being good looking cars and very happy with the wheel upgrades.

The gondolas free roll test

For all intents and purposes this project is now completed. Some deck weathering is likely going forward. I'll keep my eyes open for ribbed back metal wheel sets but it's not a priority at the moment. The cars roll better than they ever had in the past. The original Ertl ribbed back wheels may end up as a gondola or flat car load in the future or find their way onto a car of the appropriate era.


  1. I wasn't familiar with Ertle before you mentioned it. Good looking cars with lots of underside detail. Definitely worth the nice restoration you described! I learn a lot about wheelsets from your posts and appreciate the information. You mentioned reaming out the trucks as an option. Do you have one of those special tools for the job or do you use a drill bit? Anyway, the gons ("goons" thanks to the autofill feature that often plagues electronic correspondence from the KP&W) look excellent!

  2. Thanks for the compliments Ralph! For reaming out the trucks I use a 1/16th" drill bit in my pin vise. I find this works very well for this and the 1/16th hole is perfect for 2-56 screws. The truck reamer is a nice looking tool but after so many years of using the pin vise with the 1/16th" bit and having good success I'll stick with it. The key if you have not done this in awhile with the pin vise is to remove a little bit at a time. Also note that the IM wheel sets usually do not require any additional truck work making them ideal replacements.

  3. Nice work on the gondolas. I assume you've put these into revenue service immediately? What industries will they service? Will they be assigned to a dedicated train? Will these cars have interchange rights? Inquiring railroads want to know!

  4. Thank You Sir Neal! Yes, the gondolas are now in revenue service. As for industries and loads I'll load em up with anything that fits and does not need to be kept dry. They'll fit in nicely at Neal's Lumber and Hardware for inbound and outbound loads like pressure treated lumber. They are interchange approved.