Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hardest Kits to Put Together

InterMountain cylindrical hopper car kit: Hard
to put together (for me, at least).

There was a time, not so long ago, when model railroad rolling stock—and most locomotives—came as kits.
In most cases, there really wasn’t much to do; for cars, you just had to attach the floor and body, screw on the wheel sets, add the couplers and maybe the brake wheels. For some locomotives (e.g. Athearn Blue Box and Kato), you had to add the handrails and details.

And then there were the real kits, not just shake-the-box. These were kits where parts had to be cut from sprues, flash scraped off plastic, and things glued together.
Some kits were easy to put together; some drove you crazy.

There’s a discussion going on at the Atlas HO forum about the hardest kits to put together. A number are mentioned, but two keep popping up: Front Range/McKean center beam bulkhead flat cars and Intermountain cylindrical hoppers.
A McKean center beam car: Another
hard-to-put-together kit.

I have built both. Well, that’s not exactly true. I built a cylindrical hopper, then swore I’d never build another. I never finished the McKean center beam bulkhead flat.

The Intermountain car was just plain hard to make—lots of delicate, finicky parts. I don’t have big fingers, but I found it very hard to attach the pieces. After spending hours making the car, I calculated my time at an average hourly wage and concluded that, even at between $35 to $40 per car (Canadian), buying them all put together and ready-to-run was worth it.
(In fact, I almost never paid that much for the many cylindrical hoppers on the M & M Sub.; they could often be found on sale, or for much less used at train shows.)

As for the McKean car—well, that’s the only kit that has ever defeated me. I tried to put it together. Really, I did. But it resisted every effort. Parts were warped. Parts didn’t fit. Holes were too small, pegs were too big.
I repeatedly put it aside, thinking that one day I’d come back to it and finish it. It never happened. So, one notable day, I threw it in the garbage. I immediately felt better.
So: What’s the hardest kit you’ve ever put together? 


  1. Intermountain hoppers are a very well engineered kit; but the parts are very delicate and there are so many of them! Getting the roofwalk supports lined up takes the patience of a saint. I have arthritis, failing eyesight and a short fuse. Fortunately, I have a friend that thrives on a challenge. He has made about 15 of the kits for me. Bless him.
    The Mckean car is just poorly made. Not worth the effort. Bin is the best place for it.
    Andrew Kerr
    Sydney, Australia

  2. I agree on the McKean/Front Range Centerbeam. I only completed one, and it still has a warped floor.

    I like building the Intermountain hoppers at the lake - I take 3 or 4, and take a week to build them. Alas, finding kits in the paint schemes I need is getting harder these days. At least I can still get undec ones!

    My only nemesis has been a Sylvan CP 'Curved Side' Tank Hopper. It went into the trash about halfway through. Gotta find a brass one!!

    Ian Lisakowski

  3. I found the first run of Athearn SD-70s to be a diabolical thing to put the details on and get to run properly. Couldn't get all 12 wheels to sit on the rails! The RTR versions are a bit better, especially since they ditched the Buhler motor.
    Early Roundhouse kits with the cast metal underframe had more flash than detail!! But not difficult to dress up. In these days of everything RTR, I kinda miss kits and the challenges they presented.
    Andrew Kerr

  4. The McKean kit can be built - a bit of clamping and patience is needed. Here's one:

    I may be an outlier though - I like building stuff and have been doing it since I was a kid. 40 years and counting, and I'm not yet 45 ;)