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American Orient Express Models

American Orient Express Cars

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This was one of the first major projects that my brother and I had taken.  We owned a set of Aristocraft Rio Grande smoothsides, and decided we would like to make a set of AOE smoothsides.  To do this we took undecorated cars and gutted them.  This meant taking out all the wiring and removing the windows. We then cut out the new window arrangement with a Dremel tool and filled in the parts of the windows that were no longer needed with Bondo. It worked well.  We then sprayed them with a metal primer before airbrushing the cars.  The colors we chose to use were Tamiya blue, Tamiya yellow, and Poly Scale CSX tan. We made the cars in two batches. We made the dining, observation, and sleeping car first, followed by the dome car. This was done mostly because we had to wait for the AOE to get their cars refurbished and named so we could make it as accurate as possible.


Here are the cars after painting


We also lowered the cars. In the first picture, it shows the new bolster on the left with the old on the right. The next picture shows the rubber diaphragms that we added to the end.  Because we lowered the body of the car, we had to cut down the equipment underneath.  We then glued the brackets back on the equipment box and re-applied them.  We also added Aristocraft ball bearing inserts to the side frames. It reduces the drag so much that I can pull 7 smoothsides easily with an FA engine up some steep grades.


Here is the first batch of cars after the lettering was put on.  We did all the lettering on our computer and printed them out on inkjet decal film.  We also had to add all the roof details to the cars along with the many grab railings. The green plastic windows that came with the car did not look good, so we replaced them with black ones.

We decided that the sleeping car would be Berlin, dining car would be Zurich, observation car would be New York, and the dome would be New Orleans.

To make the dome we did the same steps as before. We had to make the dome as there was not one on the market to change. It was first made out of styrene plastic and some parts of metal.  These cars are aluminum, and when the sun heated them up it melted the dome.  The next time it was made out of wood and metal. The windows were made from painted pop cans because they already had the curve we needed and we knew they wouldn't melt. We have not had that problem again.


Here are the finished cars on our layout.

Just as a side note: Due to the metal primer we used, it is making the paint crack over a year later. During the summer of 2004 we will be stripping them back down to bare metal and starting over again.


This section is about the re-building of the AOE cars.  From the way that the new cars have turned out, I would say that the best thing to do is to forget about the way I did it before.  I am leaving it on-line just so people know that that may have not been the best way after all.  Here is a little background on the project.  I made the first cars just about 2 years ago.  After about a year and a half, I noticed that the paint started to crack.  I asked a few people about it, and no one could find the cause, so I started from scratch.  I will break up each car into sections for the rest of this report.  My brother and I first started out with the Zurich car. 

We dismantled the car and then needed to strip the paint off of it.  We first went and popped out all the windows and then applied a paint stripper from Home Depot.  Just as a note, this stuff is highly toxic and will burn if it comes in contact with skin. Below are pictures of the car in the process of the paint coming off.  The paint will bubble up and then just wipe it off.  Do not use this stuff on non-plated plastics as it will eat away at it.


Here is the car back after it was stripped back at the plain aluminum.

We then backed all the places where the windows needed filled in with sheet metal epoxied to the car.  The next step was to fill in the windows.  We decided to use fiberglass reinforced BONDO.  This stuff works great.  It becomes hard as a rock in just about an hour, but is sandable in about 15 minutes.  I found it takes about 5 coats to make it look good.  I also found these foam blocks that have sandpaper attached to them.  They are the  perfect size to fit between the two raised sections above and below the windows.  The best part is that you can wash off the BONDO dust and it will still work; unlike regular sandpaper.  The blocks also only sand the high spots and give a smooth transition between BONDO and metal.  Next I sprayed the car with BONDO Easy Finish Primer.  This stuff is sandable and I can only find it at ACE hardware stores.  I used about 6 cans on 3 cars.  This will fill any low spots that are missing.  The pictures below are of the car in the finished primer stage.

The next step was to put on the roof details.  My brother does all that for me.  He also put in all the vents that I later smoothed into the roof line with BONDO and lots of primer.  Almost all the roof detail is styrene plastic, but there is wood and metal on this roof also.

Right here I am going to switch over to the Berlin.  The process was the same, so this section will just be pictures.


So you may notice that the right picture above has a greenish color to it.  This was a sealer that I was told to use. I was told to use it because it would keep any reaction from happening between the primer and the paint because the paint store was unsure if there would be a reaction between the two.   I went to put on my first coat of paint and it crackled.  I then had the "pleasure" of sanding all of the first coat of paint off with wet sand paper.  I determined that it was the primer making the reaction and then covered over that with the BONDO primer.  This sealed the sealer in, and then I had no problems, except for a 2 day setback.  I painted the Berlin first, so I will show the painting steps with the pictures of this car.  I decided that I did not want to go through all this work again, so I decided on using automotive paint.  This paint is VERY expensive.  To buy the yellow, tan, blue, and gray, was almost $200!  This was mostly because I had to buy a minimum of a pint because it was computer color matched to my specifications.  They also put it into aerosol cans for me.  I used an Acrylic Lacquer paint and it worked great.  I first painted the tan on without any taping of the car.  The next step was for it to dry for at least 6 hours.  It will be dry to the touch in about 30 minutes, but it doesn't feel hard for about 6 hours. The picture of tan is below.

The next step was to paint the blue.  I needed to tape off the tan first.  I found what they call Fine Line tape.  It is about $10 a roll, but it works great!  It is plastic, not paper, and won't bend that well.  It was also the perfect width for my stripes.  I used plain masking tape for between the fine line tapes.  The picture is below.

I taped a rag to the back side of the car in order to not get blue on the tan on the other side.  I also lined the back of the windows with tape in order to prevent spray through.  Below is a picture of the blue done.

I also had to put stripe along the roof line just below the roof detail.  I used the fine line tape the right width to keep the blue I already sprayed.  Then I sprayed the gray.  The last color was the yellow.  This was for the pinstripes and it took forever to lay out the tape.  The tape job is shown below with the pictures of the car done with paint.


Here are the pictures of the same steps for the Zurich.

Then there was just the decals to put on.  For this time building the car, I wanted to do it right.  Last time I made the decals with a blue background to try to blend in.  This time I had Stan Cedarleaf make those decals for me with his Alps printer.  They turned out great and you would have never know that they were a decal.  You can find out about his custom decals at: Custom Decals I still made the clear decals on my computer though.  I then put them on.  These decals were again water slide decals.  I put an automotive clear coat over top of all the decals.  It worked ok over my decals, but great over Stan's.  I think this is because his were thinner.  I found that you do need to let the decal dry at least 15 minutes, or the clear coat will eat into the decal because it is still too soft.  They still look OK, but not as good as they could.  I had it happen to me on one side.  Here are some pictures of the finished cars below re-assembled.  This time we also drilled through the bodies for the metal handrails so they would not keep breaking off like they did last time. Below are the pictures of the finished cars and me with the cars in my layout.  I finished them the night before they were needed to be entered.



The whole point of me doing these was for them to be entered into the national convention model contest.  I had 4 cars to do, but because of time with trying to get my layout on tour, I ran out of time and only got 2 done.  I did get most of the observation done, but it sat on a side track with a ladder for the convention.  I will do it and the dome over christmas break.  Below is the picture of it on the model contest table.

My brother and I won First Place in the contest and the pictures of it are below at the convention center.  There are also other close up pictures of the cars at my house.


Watch for more pictures of the other cars later.