The Backwoods Grasshopper
an example of realistic weathering
by Sonny Wizelman
I came into possession of a Aster Grasshopper locomotive as a "built up kit" ready to run. The locomotive was shiny brass, copper and steel - unpainted. It always ran well, but lacked the "backwoods" look that I like.
The inspiration for the changes came out of a conversation with Rick Runyon. He drew a a rough idea for the frame and roof which got me rolling.
I began by removing the guard rail and the front and rear couplers. I made new end beams from 1/4 x 3/8 x 2-5/8" basswood and used the screws and holes (1-3/16" apart centered L/R) from the original couplers to attach the beams. Next, the link and pin couplers were added.
The 4 upright supports are 1/4" x 1/4" x 3-1/2" basswood. I attached the uprights to the floor of the locomotive with #130 cable anchors that I found at a hobby shop that sells parts for radio controlled airplanes. They already have 2 holes. I drilled a third and bent the anchors at 90° at approximately 1/3 of its length. I used the existing screws to attach them to the floor and used two 1" bolts, 2" nuts, 3.5" washer to attach the anchor to the uprights. For the front, I used the existing holes located to the inside of the uprights. For the rear, I used holes located to the rear of the uprights.
Next, I made the two side roof supports from 1/4" x 1/4" x 3-3/4" basswood. These are attached to the uprights with wood screws. The screw heads are hidden with truss rod, nut, bolt and washer castings. The two end and one center roof support are made from 1/4" x 3/8" x 2-1/4" basswood. I notched the bottom 1/8" and rounded the upper 1/4 " of the 3/8" pieces. They are attached with cyanoacrylate.
To age the wood, I first draw the teeth of an X-acto saw blade over all of the exposed surface. Then, I gouge the wood with a screw driver and a center punch for additional distressing. I use "Age It Easy" to give the wood the weathered appearance. Then, I lightly sand the pieces to get rid of the burrs, being careful to keep the grain.
The roof is made from corrugated steel stock. It is 5-5/8" x 3" with a 1" diameter hole for the smoke stack. By accident, I found that "Blacken It" rusted the steel. The roof is made from various pieces and includes a patch. I attached the pieces to each other and to the roof supports with cyanoacrylate. The six 1" bolts, 2" square nut, 3.5" washers are for looks.
Now, remove the roof structure and prepare the locomotive for painting. Since I had run the engine many times, it had a good coat of oil and dirt. I cleaned the engine with solvent being careful to clean it completely. I removed the wheels and masked the moving parts so they would not bind from painting. I painted the engine with Rust-O-leum Bar-B-Q Black, which is resistant to the heat that the engine produces. Then, I used Rust-All and Black Wash to create the "rusted" look.
To make the couplers, links, pins, bolts, truss rod nuts, coal scoop, corn liquor jug and head light look rusty, I first clean up the castings with a knife and file, paint with primer and then use Rust-All, Black Wash and Dead Flat to create the look. I painted the spittoon, water bag, conductors lamps, bucket and the inside of the head light.
Now, reassemble the wheels, reattach the roof structure, end beams and couplers. Attach the clutter parts with cyanoacrylate. I used a rail spike to secure the water bag, coal scoop and green lantern.
The final step is to brush on randomly a mixture of India ink and rubbing alcohol (approximately 30 parts alcohol to 1 part ink) this really "dirties" up the wood and metal parts. I attached the headlight by drilling a hole in the top of the light and a corresponding hole in the front end roof support. I used a brass rod to attach the light to the support.
There is a small length of chain glued into the bucket which hangs over the edge. I believe in cluttering up a scene. Life is full of clutter, and so our models should be cluttered.
Now that the engine was completed, it needed cars to pull. The train consists of a tender, crane car, water car, four ore cars and a caboose. All have Gary Raymond wheels. The cars are all made from basswood and lots of Ozark Miniature detail parts. The water tank is a PVC Pipe. All the metal parts are rusted and all the wood parts are aged, using the method I described for the locomotive.
The train was posed with the line side shed, water tower, watchman's tower, shed and farm machinery on Rick Runyon's Railway. The figures were placed so that the photos would have the feel of "a moment in time."
I want to thank Rick Runyon for his inspiration and for his help with the art direction. I also want to thank Steve Crise for his time, energy and skill in shooting these photographs.
This article originally appeared in Issue No. 43 of Steam in the Garden. Appreciation for permission to reproduce it on SouthernSteamTrains.com is expressed to Sonny Wizelman, author; and to Ron Brown, Publisher / Editor of Steam in the Garden.