back to the cabinetwork at the back of the truck. The cage wards off the damage that trees and brush could inflict on the vehicle when the truck is working through forested areas during a wildlands fire, and with over 120 weld points, the prototype is a real challenge to replicate! And that, my friends, is where a wooden buck comes in...
At this point I returned to work on the brush cage by adding the bars that make up the roof cage. Each was glued in place with either super glue or liquid plastic cement, but regardless I used a round file on each end of a tube to insure that any joint had full contact. Think of it in terms of grabbing an orange or a ball. If you wrap your had around either, you'll have a firm grip. But if you try to just palm the ball or orange, you will not be able to hold it as well. The same principle applies for glue joints - you want full contact, even if you are using gap-filling super glue! I also made sure that the fit was not too tight and not too loose. You want a no-stress "Goldilocks joint". Stressed joints will knock stuff out of alignment in a heartbeat, so avoid them and adjust parts by slowly test-fitting each.
The smallest diameter rods were added at this point moving joint to joint, one joint at a time. I used super-glue applied with a thin dental probe (about the diameter of a small sewing needle, which would also work in a pinch) and then cured by adding a tiny drop of accelerator. NO - DON'T SPRAY IT!! The residue will be enough to freeze glue as you apply it if you just pump spray it, plus breathing that stuff is simply terrible for your health aside from being a huge waste of material. Instead I decant the accelerator and use an old ink pen or tooth pick to apply just the tiniest amounts, one joint at a time. See the photos below. You can also see how I pinned the various parts of the cage together.
Adding details and the start of the Brush Cage
Final Paint and Assembly
Layering concept really kicks in - More details added...
With everything built and fitted together, I was able to start the painting process. On this model I opted to use Duplicolor automotive lacquer, so the primer and color coats were applied using my Grex airbrush at about 25 psi. I applied several thin coats of primer checking after each coat dried. This allowed me to catch several seams or flaws that needed to be filled or sanded. Once I had a good primer coat on the model I sprayed it with two coats of white. Lacquer is translucent, so even if I used the light gray primer, the final color coats would dry slightly darker than I wanted. Then after giving the white coats a good day or so to cure, I began spraying on the red color coats. To my chagrin, I discovered some more flaws, so I went back and filled them, resanded, and repeated the painting steps until the color coat was right, then painted everything with two coats of Duplicolor Clear.
Adding the details to the cabinetwork was next. Doors were added to the outside structure using .020 sheet plastic glued in place with medium viscosity gap-filling super glue. It's important not to use an adhesive that is a "fusing" adhesive for this. By that I mean that tube glue or liquid plastic cements which melt the plastic in order to create the glue joint should be avoided because after a while you will probably notice that if you used enough of this type of cement, the plastic veneer doors will deform in one way or another. Gap-filling super glue or an adhesive like contact cement or 5-minute epoxy are "surface binders" - they join parts together by adhering to the parts and then essentially bonding to themselves. (OK, the chemistry guys out there are probably cringing like I just dragged the needle of a record player over a classic vinyl record, but the explanation is basically sound - sorry, couldn't resist the pun!)
Once dry, I then drilled a set of holes and filed them so that I could glue rectangular slam locks into the openings. As the photos show, I created a small tool that is a slam lock on a stick so that I could easily check the opening I was filing so that I didn't file too little or too much. The photos also show how I sized a piece of brass screening for the screen that fits into the opening for the portable pump. I added strips of plastic to the screen and then used the assembly to fit the rails into the opening so that the screen would be removable just like the prototype. I also made sure the fit was pretty loose so that once everything was painted it would still slide in and out of the rails easily. I also built and installed a working tailgate at this time. I also added the hoop that would become the anchoring pint for the roof cage and bent a piece of brass rod to shape for this.
The brush cage was the most complex part of the model and one of the real delights of the project - and I'll explain more of why later. I first draw an outline of the actual size of the cab being used in the model. From this overhead view I was able to create a block of wood by cutting a 2x4 of pine into squared blocks and then glued them together to create a large wooden block that was roughly a 3 1/4 inch cube of solid wood. I then took this cube and created a "building buck" by sanding it to the right size and shape so that I could build the framework of the cage on the buck. To insure I had the bars in the right place and to help in keeping them where they needed to be while the glue was drying, I added a series of balsa strips so that the bars would fit into the gaps. At first I intended to build the entire structure on the buck, but I discovered it was far easier to use the buck to set the two largest diameter tubes in place, then remove this framework and put it on the model. To bend the rods to the appropriate shape, I used a soldering iron hooked up to a rheostat to reduce the amount of heat in the iron to the very edge of melting the plastic rod in a process called "thermoforming". (See my blog to get a more detailed description of the tools and the process).
Now, I learned a long time ago that building a complex model like this in sections or sub-assemblies that can be combined together is by far the best approach to building for several reasons. Aside from aiding in making the adjustments necessary for keeping everything square and aligned, it allows for easier painting. This also underscores my approach (and many other scratchbuilders practice this as well) of layering details. Any complex model is really only a collection of shapes and parts added one on top of another. So, in the case of this truck, the complex cage is actually three separately constructed assemblies carefully pinned together - the front cage, the roof cage, and the cabinet bars. Again, more on this later, but this approach saved my life on this project and paid itself off in spades as you will see!
More cabinet details
Most of my projects begin with a real vehicle or prototype that I then try to replicate. These are some samples of the real thing and you can click on the link below to take you to other material used to build the model.
Fellow firefighter and apparatus buff Jimmy Caristo contacted me about building a detailed replica of the brush truck that he has helped crew in New Jersey. Part of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, Jimmy and his crewmates use a specially modified Ford F-450 that has a custom built utility body with all the gear needed to fight wildfires in their region. Most of the items on the truck are either built by the NJFFS or can be purchased off the shelf, but the most impressive part of these trucks - and a feature that has developed over several decades - is the bodacious brush cage that surrounds the cab and front end of the rig. Made from three different diameters of steel tubing and rod with over 120 weld points, the brush cage in real life is very impressive. In scale, it's daunting! Replicating the cage was going to be a real act of imagineering! Add to the mix that Jimmy also wanted the model to represent a 2005 Ford F-450 for which no plastic kit or resin casting in 1/24th or 1/25th existed at the time, as well as things such as the booster reel, exposed pump, and extended bumper with a winch, and we had a humdinger of a challenge on our hands!
I solved the donor problem by locating a Maisto 1/27th scale diecast Ford F-250 pick-up in police markings. It's a very nice model and had the right look, but the model would have to be adjusted ever so slightly for the smaller scale and stripped down to the cab and chassis plate. Even the tires would have to be replaced! Below are some shots of the diecast as it was received and then as I stripped it using Ready-Strip gel.
You can read more about stripping models of any paint finish in my how-to on Ready-Strip under the How-to button on the menu bar above. Using a plastic bag keep the stripper active and prevents it from drying out.
The resin one-ton wheels were in my parts box, a purchase made nearly 20 years ago for a different project. They turned out to be perfect for this one!
When Jimmy received the model it apparently had been punted around pretty well. Below are some of the photos of the damaged caused in shipping and then the rebuilding process and refinished model. As sad as it was for it to happen, it proved one thing for sure - the buck/template concept works like gangbusters! I was able to replicate the replace the cage with a new one. Round two was even better than the first I think!
With the basic brush cage built, I decided to hold off on adding the smallest diameter rods simply because they are so delicate I was afraid I might break them while working on other parts of the truck. So I turned my attention to the winch on the front bumper and the booster tank / booster reel set-up in the rear of the truck. The winch bridge was added in front of the well in the bumper after constructing it out of pieces of strip plastic. I then built a simple cube for the booster tank and constructed what looks like a welded shelf/table that the booster reel assembly sits on. 3-D printed Jerry Cans, a water jug, and a gas can round out the complement of gear in the back plus provided some of the fittings needed to replicate the plumbing that connects the reel, pump, and booster tank all together.
"Life is a beautiful scratchbuilding project.
The key is to joyfully participate."
These show the model as it was shipped to Jimmy the first time...
CRUNCH! and Rebuild
Once the basic cabinetwork was completed I moved on to adding the details such as the fenders, running boards, protection bars, and working out the open cabinet used to house the pump. NJFFS uses an "off the shelf" set-up for their pumps and sets them in the forward cabinet on the passenger side of the rig. Instead of being hidden behind a panel or a set of doors, the portable pump sits behind a removable screen that slides vertically into a set of rails welded into the opening. This allows quick access to all the mechanicals and makes swapping the pump out super easy, but that also meant I would have to put something in there to represent the pump. These rigs also have a large extended front bumper with a tray that holds a heavy duty winch. That was added at this time as well.
The holes in the roof of the diecast cab that once held the lightbar in place were filled with some JB Weld epoxy. Once this was cured, it was filed and sanded to eliminate the holes. The metalwork was then primed with automotive lacquer primer.
Finished Model - Take 1
Finishing the brush cage
With the cab and wheels worked out the next step was to begin building the cabinetwork. This required getting a good set of photos of trucks from that time period, but it also required figuring out the actual cabinet sizes and dimensions. To do this, I fell back on a technique I wrote about in Scale Auto Enthusiast # 43 from 1986 in an article called "Photogrammetry: A Measure of Worth". The basic idea is that if you know the exact size of one dimension in a photo, using some nifty math, you can figure out all kinds of things and get a pretty accurate set of numbers to work with. Combine that with a little spreadsheet magic on the computer and you can have a set of 1-to-1 sizes and complete sets of scale dimensions in just about any scale you could dream of.
These photos show the development of the basic cabinetwork.
New Jersey Forest Service Brush Truck
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Most people don't realize it, but as populated as New Jersey is, it isn't wall-to-wall urban communities throughout the entire state. Vast tracks of my home state are still covered in farmland and forests in both the northern and southern parts of the state. Fewer still are aware that New Jersey consistently ranks among the states with the highest fuel loads on its forest floors, making the chance of large wildfires an ongoing threat similar to those we are all used to seeing in the western states like Colorado and California.
Fortunately, the New Jersey Forest Service has a long history and well established system to combat wildlands events including a type of fire truck that has been consistently and continually improved for over 50 years. Based on commercial-rated four-wheel drive pick-ups, NJSF builds it's own brush trucks along a set formula that makes the trucks durable, easy to maintain, and relative inexpensive to build and keep. They can build a complete unit for well under $50,000 each, and in this day and age, that's a steal!
The most challenging part of these trucks from a modeler's standpoint is the complex set of tubes and rods that make up the "Brush Cage" that wraps around the front of the truck and extends
Prime and Paint
I created a set of decals and printed the front call sign plate, tailgate placard, and licence plates using photo paper. The black no-slip material on the tops of the rear fenders is actually small pieces of 320 grit wet or dry sandpaper. Jimmy also wanted the model mounted on a base with a case cover, so we used one of AMT's plastic units. Once everything was all completed as seen here, we shipped it to New Jersey.