A good offering for a truck not commonly seen
By Craig Bisgeier
Recently, Alkem Scale Models has come out with a new line of early-period HO scale models appropriate from 1860 to 1890. The first release in their line is a wood-beam truck which would be seen on railcars a early as 1860 and might still be seen on older cars even in the 1890’s. The design comes from a drawing in one of John White’s books on early American freight cars. They are designed to work with the BTS civil-war era boxcar model but should work under any early period car.
Other wood-beam trucks have been available before in cast metal from Central Valley and BC Models, but are hard to find today and sometimes were not always of great quality. These new trucks by Alkem are laser-cut from thin plywood and like any laser-cut craftsman kit they require some assembly. But I believe any modeler with intermediate skills and standard tools (hobby knife, white or yellow glue, tweezers) and some patience would have no problems. The detail level, considering this was done with a laser, is quite good.
Alkem uses two different thicknesses of plywood to make up the truck; the bolster and sideframes are cut from a thicker sheet, the bearings and journal covers from a thinner one. A set of brake beams is also included that attach to the “B” end truck (in most cases, cars that used trucks like these only had brakes on one truck). A neat touch is that the journals in the truck accept small cylindrical nylon bearing inserts that come with the kit. These inserts make these trucks run smoothly like any other plastic truck.
Assembly is straightforward and simple. Remove the parts from the plywood sheets with a sharp hobby knife. Follow the directions to assemble the trucks, using a sparing amount of glue to attach the bearings and journal covers to the sideframes. Let them dry, then insert the nylon bearings into the sideframes. Glue the sideframes to the bolster. The parts on my trucks mated squarely, keeping all the parts in line with no need to adjust them once assembled. When the glue joints are all dry, paint the trucks a dark gray color. Then drybrush a rusty color over the metal bearing plates and journal covers to bring out the details.
These trucks have a very authentic wrap-around frame and should work perfectly on display models using the link and pin coupler pockets included in the truck kit. However, if you intend to install these trucks on a working model with automatic couplers, you will likely have to cut part of the truck frame away where it interferes with the Kadee coupler box. This will not weaken the truck appreciably. I suggest waiting until the whole truck is assembled and the glue dry before trimming the frame, because the frame helps align everything during assembly.
The kit does not include wheelsets but Branchline 33” code 88 wheelsets will work well, the truck was designed to fit them. Alkem says an improved appearance can be had by trimming the bolster a bit narrower to accommodate a metal wheelset with a shorter axle, Reboxx makes code 88 wheelsets in many axle lengths. This is a good idea, as the truck can look a bit wide and splayed if the wheelset axles are long. Alkem says you don’t even need to use the nylon inserts, which can help you narrow the truck even farther.
The only criticism I have is that the trucks are designed to be mounted with a very thin wood screw (0-80), which I did not have handy. The truck bolster is cut too narrow to enlarge the hole to fit a 2-56 screw, so I had to wait a week after mail-ordering a package of Kadee 0-80 wood screws to mount the trucks on my cars. They aren’t too easy to find (and not cheap either), but most shops that stock Kadee parts should be able to get them for you. I don’t think it would be difficult for Alkem to make a small design change and widen the bolster enough to enlarge the kingpin hole and use a standard 2-56 screw.
I heartily endorse these trucks for anyone modeling in HO scale in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. They run great and look really distinctive on older, smaller cars and will improve the appearance of those cars as well. These trucks may also be useful to folks modeling on On30. The cost is about $8 a pair, which is not bad for a specialized truck model (Central Valley and BC Models trucks cost much more, when you can find them). You can see more on these trucks and order them at www.alkemscalemodels.com.
For purposes of full disclosure, Bernie Kempinski of Alkem Scale Models has been a friend of mine for many years, and I encouraged him to start this line of nineteenth century railcars in HO scale. He is a very talented individual with great skills in modeling, photography and now laser-cut kit design. That said; I have tried to be as honest as possible in the above review.