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ATSF Ga-152 Gondola with CarTopper Backhoe
Years ago, I won this MDC-Roundhouse gondola kit as a door prize at a model train event.
At the time, I had no real use for it since the model isn't really accurate for a Santa Fe car.
But I squirreled it away anyhow, just in case.
Then, one day while out railfanning, I saw a Herzog "CarTopper" in action. Weird! Cool!
I just had to have a model of one, and the idea for this project was hatched.
Later, Norscot produced a great little cast-metal backhoe model, and the rest is history.
Right: The prototype, part II -
This image by Steve Patterson
found on shows
a CarTopper transitioning
between a ATSF Ga-152
gondola (orange end) and
another gondola (66970).

There are many variations of the
CarTopper. I based my model
on images gleaned from the
internet that best showed the
"car clamps" and bucket mods.
Below: My finished model is a "close enough" representation that captures the cool weirdness of a CarTopper.
Below: CarToppers can handle ballast, or ties when fitted with a grappling claw. I decided to go with a ballast load since
it was too risky to replace the Norscot cast-metal backhoe scoop with a grappling claw. I'm not sure it's prototypical for a
Ga-152 to carry ballast when in MoW service - my research seems to indicate they usually carried ties. Modeler's license!
Right: Here are the major
elements of the model in process.
I stripped off the gondola's factory
paint and modified the ladders to
better match the prototype. I also
replaced the stirrup steps with
A-Line metal parts.

On the backhoe, I used bits from
my scrapbox to simulate the
equipment boxes and cable reel
mounted in the bucket (I matched
the Caterpillar yellow as best I
could, though admittedly it's not
perfect). I masked off the cab
windows and sprayed the
too-shiny model with dull-cote.
Here, the outriggers already
have small "car-clamps" mounted
and painted black.
Right: The full-width "car-clamps"
for the bucket and main body
were fabricated in an ad-hoc
fashion from various styrene
shapes, guided by prototype
photos. These were painted
black before ACC-gluing to
the Norscot backhoe.

The finished CarTopper fits
snuggly on the gondola so it
is quite stable, but can be
removed if necessary.
Right: The gondola was decaled
using a variety of Microscale sets.

I used the kit's horn-hook couplers
as handles while painting,
decaling, and weathering.
These were then discarded and
Kadee couplers installed.
Right: After the car was
weathered with chalks and
airbrushed paint, including the
upper part of the interior, I added
a false floor of styrene which hides
several steel weights. These
compensate for the heavy
Norscot backhoe resting up high,
thereby lowering the model's
center of gravity to keep it stable.
Arizona Rock & Mineral ballast
was then glued onto the false floor.
Right: The prototype, part I -
This image by Keith B. found
on is a
ATSF Ga-152 gondola. Note how
it has horizontal side ribs only to
the first vertical rib, whereas the
MDC-Roundhouse model has
additional horizontal ribs to the
second vertical rib. This is the
most visible, though not the only,
difference between prototype
and model.

ATSF Ga-152 gondolas were
originally black with the A-end
painted bright yellow. The
CarTopper "car clamps"
scratch off the orange and black
over-paint, resulting in the original
yellow showing through as a
network of yellow scratch marks.
I tried to reproduce this effect by
marking up my car with a yellow
artist's pencil.