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For those not familiar, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (in Chattanooga) has a handful of restored Southern Railway steam loccomotives, most notably #630 (2-8-0) and #4501 (2-8-2). When they do excursions with these engines, they generally use an external water tender, TVRM WT51. Below is a photo:


I model in HO scale, and this past Christmas I got my hands on a #4501 model. I'd really like to have the water tender to accompany it, but nobody makes a tender like this, so I think I'm going to have to scratchbuild it.

I've never scratchbuilt rolling stock before, but I've always wanted to. The only thing that scares me is painting, as I don't have an airbrush. But I'm willing to give it a shot with spray paint. The reason I'm making this thread is because I don't really know where to start with this. I don't plan on starting this project immediately, but I'd like to have it completed by late this year, so I'm going to go ahead and start planning it.

What should I make the frame out of? Should I build a wooden frame underneath, or use styrene? Obviously I'm not going to scratchbuild the trucks, so what brand should I go with for those? I want roller-bearing trucks, not friction-bearing, and I've been eyeing Tangent Scale Models trucks. Suggestions? I've also looked at Kadee trucks, since I'd really like Kadee couplers/coupler boxes on this. These look like the right trucks to me:

I've seen this water tender in person, and they keep it pretty clean. It's painted with a glossy black (you can sort of tell in that photo) and I'd really like to mimic that glossy-metal look on the model. Should I build it with styrene and use a glossy paint, or is there a way I can actually build it with metal (or maybe build it in styrene and make the outside out of metal)?

If there's anything I need to know, please educate me. I'm totally new to scratchbuilding, and I want to learn as much as possible before I jump into this.
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Whiskey Merchant
You could probably build the entire tender out of styrene. If you have never done any scratchbuilding before, you might be better off using on material for the entire build.

So far as painting goes, you could probably get away with using a rattle can, but paint in very light coats so as not to hide any rivet or other details. You could decal right over the glossy black paint and then I would apply a coat of clear gloss over the decals to seal them. Make sure you use a decal setting solution such as Solveset to get the decals to settle completely on the tender.


Do you need primer to paint styrene? If not, my local hobby shop sells spray cans meant specifically for painting plastic models. They're a little pricey, but they spray a very thin coat so they don't hide any surface details.

And would it be easier to build it out of brass or another material? I'd like it to be pretty realistic, especially the lower part of the sides (don't know what that's called, but the big load-bearing part of the frame along the outside). If it's going to be easier to do that with styrene, I'll do styrene, but if brass is easier for this, I'll do brass.

Here's another picture so you can see some of the details on the end/lower parts that I want to include. I would like to include the lights on the end because I have some spare LEDs I can hook up to a cheap 1-function DCC decoder for that.



Whiskey Merchant
The hardest details would be the rivets I think. I have worked with brass, but many years ago. You could also build it in brass, but looking at the photo above, you'll need quite a few different shapes to either find or fabricate. Priming isn't necessary on styrene if you a paint for styrene, but I would suggest washing it well with soap and water before painting it. Brass would need a primer before painting.


I would kind of like to scratchbuild it just for the fun of it, unless the general consensus is that you shouldn't scratchbuild without hundreds of dollars in tools.

"The rounded corners and rivets will be hardest to get correct unless you have the tools to properly do it." - For the rivets, I looked at getting the "decal" rivets from Micro-Mark. For the rounded corners, what tools do I need? Do I basically just heat the styrene and bend it around a cylinder? I'd like to do it myself just for the heck of it, so what tools do I need? Once I know what tools I need and what materials I need, I want to estimate the price.
I saw one on ebay one time, it was made out of a Bachmann Spectrum 2-10-0 tender. the top was sliced off and the rounded edges added with styrene.


Well-Known Member
Staff member
These Athearn Genesis trucks look to be a very good match to the ones on your prototype I have some Genesis 50' box cars with these on. The wheels have plastic axles used to join the wheels together, but the wheels are semi-scale metal, 088 tread with straight stub axles (not pointed) which pass through the truck bearings (clip in by the looks) and have the bearing caps pressed onto the ends of those stub axles i.e, they rotate with the wheels.


I'd look on ebay or at a train show for an old tender about the right length and use that as the frame. If you get a styrene one you can cut it down to the right length and truck spacing.

Jeff White
Alma, IL

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