ann arbor/dti/nw/mls cabooses

The Ann Arbor had approximately 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. As discussed on some of the other pages, you could also find these cabooses on the DT&I, N&W, and Ann Arbor subsidiary Manistique & Lake Superior.

This page provides step-by-step instructions to show how I convert a standard steel-sided Micro-Trains caboose into a reasonable representation of these unique Ann Arbor units.

The first step is to start with a donor caboose. Cover your eyes, purists and collectors, because we're about to destroy a lot of original Micro-Trains classics! The picture below shows a green Pepsi unit and a black US Military unit, which have minimal markings to be removed. My preference, however, is to find the white Popsicle cabooses, as it tends to be easier to remove the paint and the white body seems to take the gray primer better. In any case, you can usually find these for around $10 on eBay.

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 old logos with nail polish remover and gentle scrubbing with Q-Tips. 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 taped these templates to Evergreen N-Scale car siding and traced around the template with an X-Acto knife. I then used the knife to carve out the windows.

Cut two small squares of styrene to fill the side window on the car body and glue into place with Testor's liquid cement. Then cut two narrow strips to form a support for the new cupola sides. To assure everything is symmetrical, 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 properly positioned. I marked the center of each cupola end and then bent the styrene gently to  achieve a slight "crown" in the cupola. I then did the same for the top piece. This ensures that there is a sleek, gentle curve in the material, thereby replicating the streamlined look.

Once the sides and top of the new cupola are in place, I use Testors body putty to fill in the seams at each corner and along the top of the roofline where the new cupola end pieces meet the roof. When the putty cures, I use a combination of a sharp X-Acto and a fine emery board to shape and sand the cupola into its final form. You don't have to be perfect with this step, because once the caboose is primed and painted any small imperfections will be easily covered - but it does pay dividends if you are able to wield a fine touch and round off and smooth all the edges of the cupola! 

You will see in the picture above, on the left side of the cutting board, a number of small styrene strips. These are individual pieces of N Scale siding that have been chopped off of the main piece that was used to create the cupola ends and sides.  The purpose of these small strips is to make window frames/mullions for the side windows on the cupola. If you look closely in the finished model photos on the right, you will note bottom and top rails, along with side frames for each window. These are custom cut and glued into place on the side cupola pieces prior to adding the pieces to the caboose body... trust me, it is much easier to build these when they are lying flat!

After the new cupola is assembled and shaped, a coat of flat gray primer is applied. You will want to make sure to also shoot the inside of the caboose body, otherwise some of the original body color may try to sneak an appearance, such as the Popsicle roof peeking out from inside the cupola of my DT&I unit #112 as shown below - one of my first efforts where I forgot about priming the inside!

When re-assembling the caboose, the front roofwalk should be flipped over and you will cut it directly down the center of the rear mounting post. This will then fit neatly back into place. The rear roofwalk should be held into place, marked, and then cut to size so that it fits snug up against the new end wall of the cupola. 

Paint and decals are at the discretion of the user, but I found great success with Model Master caboose red for the car bodies and Testors aluminum for the roof and roofwalks on the Ann Arbor and DT&I units. For the Ferry-in-Fog schemes, I used Model Master Huggar Orange. Most of my decals came from SoliDesign and Micro-Scale, although I did create and print some myself, and I did get my N&W decals from the N&W Historical Society.

Over the years I have made a lot of these cabooses, learning a little bit more each time, and standardizing some of the pieces and processes. I also recently added DCC interior lighting and marker lights, courtesy of Streamlined Backshop Services. Pretty neat! 

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