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Making HOn30 Gondolas

April 10, 2011

Narrow Gauge Fever Pt. 2

I promised in Narrow Gauge Fever that I would eventually do a photo how-to on making HOn30 gondolas out of Bachmann N-scale ones. This idea came from an article by Bob Hayden, one of the original heroes of HOn30, on the HOn30 Home Depot. I have simplified the process to suit my own tastes and time available for kitbashing.

The gondolas to use are the basic 40′ Bachmann gondolas that come in the old-style cardboard packaging. These can usually be found for around $5 to $7 in most hobby stores, and they could be found even cheaper on eBay. The simplicity of their constructi0n is what helps make this a quick and easy conversion. I prefer the Pennsylvania roadname, as being black it is the easiest to paint over.

Step 1

Pry out the coal load. It may or may not be lightly glued, I have seen them both ways. Then, flip the gondola over and carefully use a small screwdriver or x-acto blade to pry the frame off of the body. With the body bottom-side up, cut or saw it in half. Also, trim off the stirrup steps on the four corners, as these will probably get broken off anyway during  the construction process and are out of scale.


The bodies have been removed from the frames and cut in half.

Step 2

Cut a strip of 1/32″ thick basswood that is the interior length of the body for the new floor. I build my HOn30 equipment to the full 3′ gauge width of 8′, so I make my new floors about 7.5′ wide, which is about 1″ . Scribe the basswood to simulate wood decking, and test fit. If it fits with no problems, then use super glue (CA) to glue the new floor to the halves of the old floor.

1/32" basswood cut to the new floor size is glued to the two halves.

Closeup of the finished floor installation.

Step 3

The original bodies have ribbing and details on the ends that will prevent the new ends from fitting properly. Cut off the brake wheel and larger details, then sand the ends until they are generally flush. Next, cut new ends from 3/8″ x 1/16″ basswood strips, and glue them to the ends.

New outside ends are made and glued to the original body.

Step 4

Cut new interior ends from 1/4″ x 1/32″ basswood strips, making sure to test fit. Use CA to glue them in place.

New interior ends are glued in place.

Step 5

Cut new top sills for the ends from 1/8″ x 1/16″ strips, and sand the tops of the new ends if they are not flush. Then glue the new sills in place with CA.

The tops of the ends are sanded and new sills glued in place.

I have left the interior end overlapping the interior edge of the sill so that the new sills overhang the ends slightly to add some variety.

The interior end overlaps the interior edge of the sill, creating an overhang.

Step 6

Turn the new completed bodies over and test fit the original frames. Then, glue them EXACTLY in the center of the new bodies, lined up along the centerline. Otherwise, you will have a car that leans and wobbles down the track.

At this point, I usually remove the trucks and install longer couplers from the Bachmann N-scale dummy knuckle coupler sets, so that the new longer and wider gondolas will not bump into each other and derail on tighter curves. I also have installed Rapido couplers on one end of the cars. With the operating scheme I will use on the Mustang RR, these cars will always travel in loaded and empty pairs, so the Rapido couplers double as adapters to equipment without knuckle couplers and as permanent couplings.


The original frames are glued to the center of the new bodies.

Step 7

The next step is to paint the cars and add final details. I paint mine oxide red as a reference to the Rio Grande 3′ gauge gondolas, but any drab color would work. Later on, heavy weathering will bring out the scribing in the floor again. As a final touch I drill a small hole in the end sill to fit a new HO scale brakewheel from my parts bin.

The cars are painted and new HO scale brakewheels are added.


Your new narrow gauge gondola is ready to go! This simple method allows an entire mine drag to be built in a weekend. I will probably build removable loads for them in the future, like ballast for repairing washouts along the line, or tarp-covered mine supplies.

The completed cars are pushed into a siding by Mustang #7.

Until next time, happy modeling!


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  1. LEGO Trains « Architrains

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