Modeling the Competition

With the completion of the warehouses, I needed some trucks to move the rail-delivered products the ‘last mile’. N-scale vehicles for my modeled year of 1948 aren’t as available as vehicles from even five years later, but I found some kits from Fine N-Scale Products that would fill the bill.

Truck kits 1

From top to bottom, the kits are FNV-313 (’38 moving van), 2 each FNV-318 (24′ trailer), and FNV-315 (’40 Ford tractor). Not shown is FNV-316 (’38 COE tractor). Except for the moving vans, the kits consist of chassis, underframe, and wheels for each model.

A note on Fine N-Scale Products: this is a small scale operation that only distributes through hobby shops. You’ll want to allow plenty of lead time for projects involving these models. It took five weeks from order to delivery for me.

Dressing the kits took about a baseball game. This included removing flash, sanding the mating surfaces flat, and generally getting the kits ready for assembly. Because there aren’t an abundance of parts, assembly is straightforward. So straightforward, in fact, that no instructions are included. Even so, care must be taken when attaching the chassis to the underframe. The two often don’t line up exactly, so you have to get as close as possible.

Clamping trailer kits

Clamping the tractor bodies also requires care, as after clean-up there are a fair amount delicate exposed parts that are easily broken off. I used CA throughout.

After the glue had dried for a couple of days, I sanded the mating lines to get a smooth surface. I also drilled out the king pin hole on the tractor fifth wheels. Again, this is N-scale, and some details, like bumpers, are easily damaged. The underside of the trailers have small air bubble cavities, and you could fill these with modeling putty. I elected not to, because the underside isn’t visible.

I spent another baseball game researching trucking lines of the 1940’s and their paint schemes. I found that most companies at the time had red tractors and aluminum trailers. There was some variation in how the wheels were painted. For painting I looped some blue painters tape onto some cardboard and put the parts on it. The cabs were painted with Testors Red, while the trailers were painted with Testors Silver, and paint was applied with a rattle can. Wheels, underframes, grilles and windows were painted Flat Black. I dry brushed Silver onto the headlights, grille frames, bumpers, hood details, and door latches. The COE tractors have diamond plate behind the cab, and that was dry brushed with Silver. The COE trucks also have marker lights over the cab, and I used Amber for those as well as the trailer marker lights.

Paiinting truck kits 1

The kits after assembly and painting:

Semi trucks after painting

The kits build up into decent models, but some things are missing. The tractors need mudflaps and mirrors, while the trailers need mudflaps, landing gear, and for the trailers not attached to a tractor, hitch pins.


I wanted three trailers as stand-alone models, and needed landing gear for them, as well as a shorter version for the towed trailers. The landing gear was fabricated from 0.032″ piano wire, as were the hitch pins. An appropriate sized drill bit in a pin vise was used to attach the parts. I checked the location of the landing gear by mounting the trailer to the tractor and seeing where they had to go to clear. A little research found that trailer landing gear of the day had two small wheels on each strut, and I used 1/16″ styrene rod for those. Mudflaps for the trailers and trucks was made from 0.015″ styrene sheet cut to size.


Mudflaps for the Ford tractors were glued to the frame behind the wheels, but the COE trucks required a different approach. There isn’t enough room behind the wheels to attach the flaps, so I took a cue from the prototype and mounted the flaps on a piece of 0.030″ x 0.040″ styrene. This assembly was then glued to the rear of the frame.

Mudflaps for COE truck

The most notable omission on the tractors was the lack of rear view mirrors. I wanted mirrors because I thought they’d add a lot to the models, and they’d cut down on accidents and fines. I also figured they’d be finicky to fabricate and mount. After a little thought, I decided to use 0.015″ wire (the smallest I could find), and a #79 drill bit to mount them.

There are a couple of ways to add mirrors to N-scale trucks. One way is to obtain a medical degree and specialize in microsurgery. If you don’t want to do that, you can try the method I used.

Truck mirror installation tools

For the Ford tractors, the vertical mirror support is 3 mm. I glued two pieces of scrap 0.060″ styrene atop each other to get a 3 mm jig. I started by cutting some wire into 10 mm sections, and making a 90-degree bend about a third of the way down with the needle nose pliers. With the L-shaped wire on the jig, I made the second bend. This created a mirror support with two horizontal members for mounting.

Using the #79 drill bit, I located mounting holes at the bottom and top of the forward end of the side window. I didn’t bother to use a straightedge to align the holes: your eye will get them close enough. The horizontal supports will likely be too long, so trim them a little at a time until the mirror support looks right. I used the hemostats to mount the supports, because the work won’t move, and it’s easier to insert. I found that cutting the lower support slightly longer than the upper support makes mounting much easier. After a mirror or two, the process is fairly easy. A very small dab of CA locks the supports in place.

Images of COE tractors from the period show most of them mounted the mirrors on angled supports attached to the doors.

The mirrors proper for the Ford’s were made from some scale 6 x 12 boards I had left over from the pier cut to size. The COE round mirrors were made from 3/64″ rod. Some Silver paint completed the installation.

Completed trucks

I looked into modeling the air lines between the tractor and trailer, but it appears that in that time the air hoses were routed under the rear deck on the tractor. Very little of the hoses are visible, so I elected not to bother. Decals and weathering will finish the project.

Lesson Learned

During assembly of the kits, I learned a couple of things:

  • Work from least delicate detail to most delicate. The mirror supports are wire, so they’re fairly robust. Even though I sanded the wheel mounting surfaces flat, there isn’t a lot of surface area for the glue to hold onto. Same with the mudflaps. I had to remount several wheels and mudflaps after mirror installation.
  • Wheels and mudflaps are probably better mounted with epoxy.
  • You’ll want to make several more detail parts than you think you’ll need. It’s easy enough, and parts WILL get lost.





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