Build an Ann Arbor caboose
The following step-by-step directions are intended to serve as a narrative and visual guide for creating a distinctive N scale caboose. Any road name could be substituted, or any products can be used. There is no intended promotion of any one manufacturer, nor is this necessarily the "best" way to go about building your own caboose. As I have selected a railroad that has a very limited amount of commercially available rolling stock and motive power, I have been "forced" to solve things on my own, so here's how it was done:

Other How-To Articles
Re-number boxcars
RS1 Project
Modify a caboose
GP35 Project

Step 1: Purchase caboose
Micro-Trains caboose, purchased on eBay for $15.00 - $18.00......Why destroy a Micro-Trains collector caboose? Because if the market doesn't offer an N Scale Ann Arbor caboose, I had to make my own!

The Ann Arbor had close to 20 Wabash-style cabooses with streamlined cupolas. Most were red, some with safety stripes and heralds, some w/yellow ends, and some painted orange with the ferry-in-the-fog logo.

Step 2: Disassemble and strip
Gently and carefully remove the ladders and end-rails from the caboose body by pushing up at the base of the steps. Remove the roof walks by gently pulling straight up.

Remove the cupola by squeezing in slightly from each end toward the middle. Remove the smoke-jack by pulling straight up. I removed the Pepsi logo with an X-acto knife.
Step 3: Create new parts
I formed templates for the new cupola sides, ends and roof by trial and error, cutting pieces of paper into approximate shapes and then checking proportions by placing test pieces directly onto the caboose shell. When the pieces fit, I wrapped each template in clear tape to protect the sides and to form a more rigid material.

I drew windows onto the templates and then taped the template to sheet styrene. I used Evergreen N scale car siding, smooth side out. First I cut out the windows. Then I traced around the template with a sharp X-acto knife. The two narrow straight pieces are used to anchor the cupola sides to the car body. The thin piece of styrene was used for the window tracks on the cupola sides.
Step 4: Body preparation
Cut two small squares to fill the side window on the car body and glue into place with Testor's liquid cement. Then as mentioned in the last step, use the narrow strips to form a support for the new cupola sides. (hold the cupola pieces back to back and lightly sand or trim to ensure they match)

Make sure the supports are mounted so that they do not appear in the cupola windows. It is helpful to use the existing roof ribs of the caboose to ensure proper alignment of your new cupola. If the pieces match each other then they will have the exact same distance from the roof ribs on each side and you know they will be symmetrical.
Step 5: Add cupola ends and top
I marked the center of each cupola end and then folded the piece in half, bending the styrene and achieving a slight "crown" in the cupola. I then did the same for the top piece. This ensures that there is a sleek, gentle bend in the material, replicating the streamlined look of the Wabash-style cabins.

If you look closely at this picture  you can see that there are gaps at every corner of the cupola. This is intentional because I wanted each piece to "almost" fit so I could fill the gaps with modeling putty. The putty could then be easily shaped and sanded into the streamlined curve of the cupola body. All pieces are joined with Testor's liquid cement.
Step 6: Apply contour putty
Here you can see the smooth globs of putty that have been applied to each seam of the cupola... the window in the car body has also been puttied.

After the putty dries it can be carved down with an X-acto knife and shaped to final form with fine sandpaper. The same procedure is performed for the car body side window.
Step 7: Final Shaping
Using fine sandpaper and an X-acto knife, the caboose is taking shape right before your eyes.

click for larger image

Don't worry about screwing it up, you can always apply more putty!
Step 8: Primer
Paint the entire caboose with flat gray primer, including the inside - you don't want your new red caboose to have a glowing green interior!

That side window is slowly disappearing. As soon as the final paint and decals are applied, it will be VERY hard to even see any remaining marks.
Step 9: Final paint and reassembly
The caboose was painted with caboose red paint for the sides, and   reefer yellow for the ends. The cupola window rails were painted light gray, as were the window edges on the front and back of the cupola. The smoke-jack was painted grimy black. The lettering is dry-transfer.

#2845 - red w/yellow ends

Carefully replace the handrails and ladders back into their slots above the steps. I replaced the stock Micro-Trains wheel-sets with low profile wheels for a more prototypical look and the caboose was complete. This was the fourth caboose I've built in this manner and pictures of the other three are included below. Decals from SoliDesign were also used to letter some of these crummies.

#2832 - red w/safety stripe

#2831 - ferry in the fog scheme

#2835 - red w/compass herald

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site updated: 01/04/15