Trackgang 88 seat railcar review and construction tips

NZ120 88 seat railcar kit; the construction odyssey.

In which our hero sets sail into uncharted waters, faces terrible peril and horrific dangers, all without leaving the modeling desk.

NZ120 88 seat railcar kit; the construction odyssey.

In which our hero sets sail into uncharted waters, faces terrible peril and horrific dangers, all without leaving the modeling desk.

Mmmmm, coming home to a package at the door is soooo good. However, it did come with a special warning and possible construction hold up.

Inside was a collection of quite crisp looking castings, and a set of quite eclectic instructions. It says to read them first, but I don’t think its going to help. Pat, you were a good man, but I’m starting to wonder about whether english was your first language….


The first job involved making a start on the powered bogie. The kit is unpowered and requires a ‘donor’ to move it. The instructions are merrily vague on this point and suggest a Farish motor bogie or Life like GP-XX mechanism, without really going much further than that. Mine came care of the GP30 bogies I brought a while ago for my Ew project (which died before it even made it to the workbench in its first incarnation). The plan was to thin the plastic frames down and then glue the pewter frames on the outside. However this would have made the bogies about 2mm too wide (note to self; I wonder if theres any way to exorcise the finescale modeler who seems to be lurking in the back of my head!). The answer lay in how Mr Atlas put the bogies together. The pickups collect from bearing cups holding the pinpoints on the outside of the wheels, and as long as the central plastic pillar is intact, the metal pickups will hold the wheels in place.


Then it was just a case of removing enough metal from the rear of the pweter sideframe and gluing it on. Most of the metal has to come out of the center section to allow for whats left of the plastic retainer.


Theres always something that comes up straight away. The bogie side frames looked a bit long to the inner finescaler, so I compared them to the plan. Hmmm, way too long. Maybe the plan isn’t that crash hot as the wheel base is 8′ rather than 7’6′. A hunt and 3 different plans later and its correct. The length of the bogie side frames is between 31 and 33mm depending on which plan you use. The actual length? 36mm. Cunningly, I decide to removed 1/2 the material between the outer spring hanger and the end of the side frame, which looks about right to me ( and was the only place I could remove any length without major surgery)


Having delt with the bogie sideframe issue for the time being,

The motor is an open frame Tenshedo jobby sold by Robin Knight as a spare for an OO or 12mm SPUD unit ( in retrospect I think that there might be an N scale version). The Atlas worm gear was mounted onto the motor shaft and the whole motor was the jacked up to the correct height so that the worm and drive gear just meshed nicely without being too tight. The motor case is 18mm long which will just fit into the baggage compartment with minimal intrusion into the passenger cabin (in retrospect I’m not sure why I bothered worrying about it).

Car Bodies

With the bogies assembled I then turned to the car bodies for a change of pace. I again struggled with what the instructions were trying to tell me and so I just went ahead and put it together. Here’s was my first real complaint. The No 1 end ( with the baggage and engine) at the top went together fine. The No 2 end at the bottom was a different story.


While it was the right width at the end, the floor didn’t fit particularly well (to the point of almost dropping through). However the measurements were all the same for the bits for each car, so I’m buggered if I know what was going on. My suggestion at this point (and for the new owners) might be to provide the internal partitions as this would assist greatly in the initial assembly. At the moment the first step is to solder the sides to the one end, then use the roof to line everything up. this is just a wee bit hinky when its on the bench, and the extra bracing would make it much more user friendly.

I then glued the ends on the the 2 bodies. Its not as easy as it looks. The instructions on how to put the detail parts on the ends, which you have to do before putting the rest together, are at the back of the instructions (unlike the front where thye should be) and the lower marker lights have to be left out until after the unit is painted and the decals applied. I then ran into another problem. Did I want lights or not? If I decided to have lights (and the Da’s don’t, which would be a horrible thing to contemplate putting them in) then I would have to buy some clear plastic rod to fit in the holes that I still had to drill. There were also problems with the skirts at the bottom (not square) and the pilot holes for the MU cables were too far over to the right (which is covered in the instructions by ‘start drilling leaning slightly to the left, then slowly straighten up,). I Know Pat was always saying, ‘if you are going to do it, do it right’ but I started to see a stack of wee problems that could have been easily solved at the masters stage before it went into production.


I had a go at re-aligning the holes for the MU cables leading to the one on the left being in the wrong spot. I was trying to follow the instructions on how to relocate the pre-marked hole, but it all went horribly wrong, and I had to drill the hole out to 1.5mm to try to get enough space to push the casting over far enough to not look too out of place. I’ve since had it pointed out that I could have filled the hole with low melt solder and then re drilled the hole. Isn’t hindsight marvelous.



I then moved back to the underframe. First up I glued the precut brass sheets to the whitemetal frames to give then a bit of stiffness.


next up was something I really feared; the undergubbins. To approach this I came up with a planPlan A involved couring the Railfan articles and several other books, yielding exactly zero good pictures of the collection of shapes under the skirt. A plan ‘B’ was then conceived. It basically started by the assembly of all the bits I could identify onto the underframe with reference to the instructions. Thus, on went the engine, the fuel tanks, the radiators, the exhaust pipes and some wee cylinder bits that I have no idea about but which fit in the holes, and a part that looks like a tank of some sort mysteriously labeled ‘AR’.

(For a really big tip at this point , PAINT ALL THE SUB ASSEMBLIES BLACK BEFORE GLUING THEM TO THE UNDERFRAME. Sorry about the yelling, but this is not in the instructions, and I’ve discovered that theres some areas that are extremely hard to get to with a paintbrush. Make sure that the black gets into all the nooks and crannys and that you have complete coverage of all the bits.)

Other Bits

This then left a collection of other bits that Pats back to front plan and assembly figures make no sense of. I finally managed to sort out just exactly where the hell everything went (or a reasonable approximation). The photos will mean more than me trying to describe it.


Subassembly ‘D’. The tab from the wee generator type thingy fits into the slot at the bottom.

Subassembly ‘O’. Same here, only up the other way.

It then became quite obvious where they fitted. ‘O’ fits on the non-detailed side of the engine, and ‘D’ sits next to it. In retrospect it was not actually that hard, but the bad exploded view and instructions didn’t help, and it takes a fool to leap in where angels fear to tread.

There were a few spare parts left over that I could not work out where the fitted in, and some mention of brass strip which didn’t make much sense to me either. The researching of underframes also revealed that there was some pipework running across the non radiator side of indeterminent purpose. I used some brass wire to make a look alike version. Its


I then gave into impulse and placed the bits together to get the first ‘complete’ shot.

Well, it looks like the real thing, and I must admit I was quite stoked to get this far. However there was still a ways to go. I then had to venture back to the mechanism to get that all sorted out. Fortunately I had come up with a cunning plan in the shower (its where I do all my best thinking) to attach the bogies. The gears were removed and the gear towers cut off flush with the inner bogie chassis. A piece of 6mm wide brass had the holes drilled and then the bolts (care of Dick Smith electronics) were soldered into place. The holes in the underframe were enlarged and then everything was assembled. The center bogie required 2 bolts the correct distance apart, and a bit of filing to get to fit in the gap in the GP-30 bogie.

In retrospect I think it was the right decision to use the Gp30 bogies instead of those supplied in the kit. It has power pickup on all wheels, and they roll ‘spurbly’.

The powered bogie was still unattached at this point, but I came up with a basic plan to achieve this. I built a brass frame on the chassis, and also one on the bogie, then just screwed the 2 together and used some washers to get the height correct.


I had to remove a bit of metal removal to get the whole thing round corners. Again in retrospect I should have mounted the motor horizontally, but then I may have had clearance issues with the sides. The lethal spaghetti was also bit of a challenge; mostly finding bits of wire that were flexible enough to pass between the 2 cars. Some insulating on the connections to the bogies was also required. Judging from the wiring I think that the detailed interior might be out.


At this point I placed it gingerly onto the test track and cranked on the volts. Away it went, and round my 15” radius test curve. However, it would only do this one way, so I had to do a bit more filing. Who cares, it runs dammit!


With the chassis seen to for the time being, it came time to finish up the top prior to getting the paints out. While I’m not sure if the pictures show it particularly well, I was not convinced that there was enough curve in the top or sides, and there was not much metal left in the roof after the filing I had already done. Still, it passed the 2′ test, and others that have looked at it say it looks really good. Maybe I’m just too critical of my own work.


At this point I drilled out all the holes and attached the roof ventilators etc. I used a straight edge to make sure that they all sat on the roof parrallel to each other.



I think I approach painting colours on models differently to possibly everyone else, mainly because I spent a good 10 years painting a variety of wargaming figures, both historical and fantasy. This requires a completely different set of techniques and an appreciation of light and shadow. Shades are built up with several coats (as it was in real life). We also have to take into account that there is a scale effect that at its simplest states that to appear correct on a scale model a colour should be a bit lighter than the correct shade to appear correct to the mk 1 eyeball.


The railcar is going to be whatever red was the right one (Midland, Carnation etc), which means looking at old photo’s to see just what is the correct looking shade. The good news is that there does not appear to be an exact correct shade. I’ve been looking at colour photo’s of 1960’s expresses and due to aging and the fact the steam engines are dirty beasts, no two are exactly the same, and the cleanest red appears to be (to my eye) very close to Humbrol gloss 19 signal red ( Its ok, I’ve just put on the tin helmet and am hunkering down behind a large rock to await the incoming fire from the finescale police). Then we get to the cunning bit.


If we have a look at 1431 and 1410, they are both painted in signal red as the base colour. I have then used a wash to bring out the recessed detail. This consists on a Tamiya acrylic colour X19 smoke, which is a transparent colour. as its a bit strong I dilute it 1:1 with water, and a small drop of detergent. When painted on this flows into the cracks and low spots and creates shadows where the eye expects them to be. To get a more workworn look just use 3-4 coats, and concentrate around the vents and exhausts. This is a very basic description of how it works, and I’ll elaborate in the next few pages

The bodies were sprayed with an etched spray primer ( in this case ‘White Knight Rust Guard’ from mitre 10). Any grey will do, but make sure that its a non-ferrous one (ie for aluminium etc) otherwise it won’t stick. Then it was time for the red.


After 2 coats we get to this shade. While this is drying ( and Humbrol gloss paint should be left for 6 hours or so) attention turns to the underframe. The underframe of any piece of NZR rolling stock is dark, dirty and dusty, and the 88 seaters were no exception. To get the right sort of colour build up we are going to work in layers moving from the darkest colour to the lightest. This means starting with black, and moving through the shades of brown.

Now we get into one of the most useful painting tricks that a modeler can have. Its called dry brushing, and most of you will have at least heard of it. For those of you who haven’t, Here is a (very) short description. You will need a sizable brush that has lost its point and is quite soft, something that you would normally use to paint large areas I I seem to have a stack of brushes that have lost their points)

Dip it into the paint of a lighter shade to that of your base coat. and then wipe on a paper towel until almost all of the paint is removed. Then move to the area that you want to highlight. Move the brush from side top side with it just brushing across the surface. you should see a slow buildup of lighter paint on the high points of the area you are painting. Try not to overdo this as it can wind up looking a bit cartoonish. I also use this technique to give rolling stock a dusty weather beaten appearance, but I’ll cover that at some point in the not too distant future.
For a first pass we will make it a bit easier, as we want a reasonably heavy coat of dark brown on the more exposed areas. I have used vallejo 147 leather brown, but humbrol 98 chocolate is also a good choice. Dip the brush nto the paint and then give it a quick wipe on the paper towel so that most of the panit is removed. Then brush on fairly heavily as we want a good coverage. In the photo we can see the difference between the treated left side and the plain right side.

Then I have used a light drybrush with Vallejo 124 Iraqi sand. The brush needs to have nearly all the colour taken out of it. Again the drybrushed side is on the left.

As you can see the drybrushing brings out the raised detail tricking the eye into seeing what it expects to see.


We have saved the hardest job for last, and its also a make or break one. The decal stripes. After consulting the instruction sheet, which BTW has no mention of decals anywhere (so at least was quick), I consulted a stack of pictures, and tried to sort out in my head how to do this.

The decals come on a sheet that has a layer of carrier film the whole way across. This means that the decals must be cut out carefully and as close to the edge as you can manage. This however does preclude the application of the previously mentioned dark wash, as it picks out the edge of the decal film and you get a nice black line in the middle of a patch of red which just looks like crap. I also discovered that the nose stripes are about 1/2mm thinner than the side stripes. I found this the hard way after cutting the first set to length. The solution was to have them meet at a corner of a door frame (on the outside edge as shown). I then cut the excess back later when it was dry.

The main problem was getting everything on and parallel to the edges. I made some small pencil marks 6mm from the bottom edge which I judged from photo’s to be about right. I also made sure that the stripes at least lined up between the cars.

The decals in the kit come with 3 numbers. Rm109 (Christchurch based), 125 (Auckland based) and 131 (Auckland based). I went gone with 125 as its at least possible that it would have passed through the region I intend to model

At this point there was a bit of an accident. I decided to paint a layer of gloss varnish over the decals before subjecting everything to the final weathering wash. I came back 30 minutes later to find….


The varnish had attacked the ink used to make the decals in the first place. It was worse on the corners, but there were also some patches in the middle of the stripes as well. As an added bonus the black diving lines had leached out in places. After a bit of a think, and a few beers, I accepted the fact that I could only fix the most obvious ones, and that my chances of sweeping the trophy’s at the convention next year had gone from being marginally more than nil (by a few decimal points), to less than my being elected the next pope. Fortunately the colour I was using for the roof (Humbrol metalic 56 Aluminium) was a very close match to the silver on the stripes. To get the black interior lines back in, I first painted the worst areas flat black.


I then painted the stripes back in to get back to this, which is good enough from 2 feet I think.


I’ll just comment here that I do all my painting (lines etc) freehand, but thats only because I’ve had 30 odd years of practice and I can paint reasonably straight lines. I’d love to know what other options were available for things like this as eventually my eyesite is going to give out and I’ll have to start modeling in G scale or something with all the other oldies.


At this point I added in the Conecting Diaphram between the 2 ends,. I made this from a piece of plastic that I had shapped. This was smaller than the gaps provided, but at normal viewing distances its virtually unnoticable.


I added the windows by cutting out bits of transparent plastic from some source or other (I think a plastic cover from my thesis) and painted the back with my transparent black colour to make them a bit darker. This has worked after about 4 coats of paint, and might need one or 2 more.
I did consider doing about those wires hanging lose inside. However its not even obvious at normal viewing angles. I had also decided not to worry about interior detail.




So, is it done? Its one of those skill that one really needs to develop. The one that says "sod off, little voices at the back of my head, the damn thing is finished!" Indeed its the law of diminishing returns where the effort required to continue adding details is offset by the fact that you are now really getting into the realms of nit picking (My departed friend Jack Watsons reply was "well, when you build your model of this I guess it will be perfect won’t it").


Just a few we jobs to get there. I attached the dummy couplers (unlike the real thing, mine won’t break down between stations). The kit has a large gap for the couplers to swivel which in real life was not there. I filled the hole from behind with a piece of plastic, and cut the coupler head off and just glued in onto the front with araldite. I also added the Mu cables to the front, and in a fit of pseudo finescaleness, made the tap handles at the top from 5 amp fuse wire soldered on the ends. Finally, the headlights were drilled out so it at least looked like something might shine out of it, even if I’m not going to fit headlights (they are just one more thing to go wrong I find).

So thats it, I think its done. It took 5 weeks and was only been so short because I had a fair idea about how I was going to solve any wee problems that might come up.



So, now I guess its review/comments time. Its been a mostly trouble free build compared to some things I’ve seen over the years. the ‘Instructions’ are an interesting assistant (if a somewhat bizarre foreign speaking one with a penchante for stray body parts)rather than a blueprint. I think the best thing is that it does look good while you are building it, which I find is one of the big hurdles to kit completion. No matter how good the actual kit is, if it looks like a dog while its going together then it tends to stay in the box longer, rather than sit out on the workbench, daring you to just do one little bit more. Its not a simple kit to put together, and I would definitely not recommend it to a beginner, but for those of you with a reasonable/moderate amount of skill, or if you are a member of a club and can get assistance from others, it is achievable, and it builds into a pleasing replica of the prototype.

I guess the biggest complement is that I’d buy another one and I don’t think I would do too much different from the first.

2 Replies to “Trackgang 88 seat railcar review and construction tips”

  1. Railcar Review

    Just wondering why you chose to mount the motor onto the drive bogie and not use the normal bogie mounting with the motor on the chassis.

    My QR1800 class railcar uses a Lifelike GP38 chassis with the chassis cut in half so that the normal bogie swivelling and pickup arrangement is still used.  Perhaps the Atlas version has a different construction?  (Next time I have mine apart I’ll take a photo.)

    Otherwise it is a great looking model.



  2. I did the mech they way I did

    I did the mech they way I did as I had the Atlas GPXX bogies purchased as spares from another project that died. Thus I didn’t actually have any other bits to use. Mine picks up on all wheels and has virtually no friction.

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