Music Maestro - Steger & Sons Piano 40' Boxcars - 211 & 212

Discussion in 'Boxcars' started by SAFN SAAP, Apr 7, 2014.


    SAFN SAAP Member

    Hey Y'all,

    New small project. 40' boxcars from the Steger & Sons Piano Company, out of Steger, Illinois. These cars were painted blue with boxcar red ends and roof, white fascia boards on the sides. Working with two LaBelle 40' Illinois Central HO-47 kits to produce these cars. Here's some background to the company:

    The Steger Piano Company was established in 1879 by John V. Steger. In 1892 the company was incorporated as The Steger & Sons Piano Manufacturing Company. John Steger left Chicago and founded the nearby town of Steger, Illinois, in order to establish the Steger piano factory there. Steger & Sons were known for building very good pianos, and they prospered for several decades. The firm produced pianos under the brand names of Steger & Company, Mellostrello, Crest, Thompson, Singer, and Artemis. Steger & Sons continued to build pianos until about 1959.

    Steger worked at a series of different jobs and lived in various households where he noticed that the most prominent piece of household furniture was a piano. In the booming post-Civil War United States, the piano was not merely a musical instrument but a status symbol, sole purveyor of entertainment to thousands of homes. Built by a master craftsman and his apprentices, the ornate piece of decorative furniture was expensive. Thus, although in great demand, only the wealthy could afford them. Steger's dream was to make the piano affordable for everyone through mass production.

    Steger moved eventually from employee to shop owner after following his self-imposed golden rule of saving half of his earnings. In ten years he managed to accumulate nearly $4,000, which allowed him to rent a store right in the heart of Chicago's busiest district on State Street, buy some pianos, and start selling them.

    In a few years after opening his piano store, he leased larger quarters where he could assemble the instruments, thereby cutting a costly step and lowering the selling price. From there, Steger moved on to manufacturing; in 1891, he purchased twenty acres in the south suburb of Colombia Heights and built his factory--Steger and Sons Piano Manufacturing Company.

    Years before Olds and Ford had even started their assembly lines, Steger had one operating that mass-produced pianos. The factory produced 100 pianos a day, shipping them in its own blue and white fleet of railroad cars emblazoned with the Steger name. As years went by, the Steger piano enjoyed immense popularity, not only because of its low price but also its musical quality. The locally made Steger grand piano was used in the Vatican and in many European concert halls.

    Steger built not only a factory but also housing for his employees, patterning the businessman George Pullman's town of Pullman, Illinois. John Newquist built almost 500 homes for Steger employees. He also built many homes for Pullman employees. But unlike Pullman, who charged his workers higher than normal rent, Steger sold his houses on contract to his employees so that they too could realize the great American dream of home ownership.

    John Newquist's sons worked at the Steger plant. His son, Harvey, was office manager and a star pitcher for the Steger & Sons baseball team. In 1921 he married Mabel Hartmann, a concert pianist in Chicago who lived in neighboring Dyer, IN. Her piano teacher, Mrs. Brown, was a close friend of Jennie Newquist. Steger presented the newlyweds with a Steger grand piano. In 2001, that piano is still a prominent, fully operating centerpiece of the Newquist home in Scottsdale, AZ.

    Steger died in 1916 at the height of his prominence and popularity and at the pinnacle of his company's prosperity. He was spared from experiencing consumer whim-switching from the piano to the newfangled contraption, the radio. No longer the most sought after household item, demand for the mass- produced piano dwindled away. Sales plummeted, and ten years later, Steger's grand dream suffered the market place's deathblow. Steger and Sons Piano Manufacturing Company declared bankruptcy in 1926.

    I have a prototype picture, albeit not real good of the car. I'll post it up with the finished model along with pictures. I have some construction pics to post up, which I'll do later today.

    Thanks y'all!

    Building cars in the Key of "F", for FRISCO!

  2. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    Good deal. A build thread to look forward to. We may have to work out a trade and have some layout to layout car interchange. :) Hmmmm.....
    By the way, have you started running trains?
  3. yardmaster

    yardmaster Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporter

    Interesting background, Manny. How'd you like to have to load/unload those boxcars?

    I'll look forward to your well-documented progress reports!

    Best Regards,
  4. Ozarktraveler

    Ozarktraveler Member

    Fascinating... :)

    SAFN SAAP Member


    Lets start with the build thread. The Steger's were 40' boxcars, so I chose to use LaBelle's HO-47 Illinois Central as the starting point. I'm not a big fan of doing multiple kits at once, but since I only have two to do identically, it was no big deal. Here is what the kit looks like in the box. A set of instructions and a bunch of wooden parts.


    The first thing I work on it marking the underside of the floors for the truck bolsters and needlebeams. In similar manner to doing the gondola sides, I lay out blue painters tape and using a square, I place the floors, top side down, to expose the undersides. This of course is done after making sure that the floors themselves are square. If you get a LaBelle kit whose floor is arched from aged, do not worry. The end blocks will correct this issue. Once the floors are securely held by the tape, I mark the center line for the bolsters and the center lines for each of the needle-beams. The needle-beams are gauged from the center line of the floor, in this case, 3 feet each side of center, or 6 feet distance total. The needle-beams, are to be located directly under the framing beams for the car's door openings. This is to add strength and rigidity to the opening.

    DSCN4389.JPG DSCN4390.JPG DSCN4391.JPG

    Once the marking are completed, it is time to glue the end blocks, and the roof to the floor. Making sure that the end blocks are square, and that they are equal in height and width, and match the floor and roof section, the blocks are glued, clamped, and held for a minimum of 12 hours in that state. It is critical that the end blocks be completely square and flush to the floor. Any deviation, and you will have an out of square car, and it will not look right, nor will the kit go together correctly. Here is what it will look like when completely glued and set:


    Next it is time to do the end fascia for the car. This particular procedure can be tricky for the beginner but once it is learned, it is very simple to do. The rear fascia is made by a piece of wood that when glued on the end of the roof, will need to be sanded to the contour of the roof lines. I deviate from the instructions and do my fascia as such. When you build a lot of LaBelle kits, you NEVER, EVER, throw away any left over pieces you may have not used if you modified the car. They may come in handy. In my case, I have several dozen pieces of channel that LaBelle offers in the kits as steel center beams and they make perfect guides for this project. After the basic body of the car is completed, take the two center beams and place them under the lip of the outer edge of the roof and hold them there. This will create the perfect plane for you to lay the piece of wood across the end to make your fascia. It should be square and level if the roof was milled correctly. You must make sure that this is done, otherwise, you will have a crooked end fascia board, and that will look horrible!

    The piece of end fascia should be 9' 6" in length. Pre cut and check to make sure that it is proper length. A hair long, or short, will not be an issue, as you will see later on how this is dealt with. Once you've checked, apply your wood glue, and attach the piece to the end of the roof. Hold the piece of wood for a minute or two, then remove the two channel supports, and then clamp the end fascia face down against a flush surface. Be careful that you DO NOT cause the fascia to move. Use the piece of fascia wood left over to support the end block gap and you'll have a flush contact with the flat surface you are clamping to.


    It is imperative that you give at least 12 hours for the glue to set up and hold. Preferably 24 hours. Once done, remove the clamps and you will have the square wood on the end of your roof. You now need to cut and sand this piece to the contour of the roof. Here is where using a hobby saw is beneficial. Using the roof as a guide, let the saw body rest against the roof, and put the teeth of the saw blade as close to the roof as possible but NOT RESTING AT THE ROOF LINE. You do not want to cut at an angle into the fascia wood, as your cut line will slope down and you will ruin your piece. You are able to get close without damaging the roof or cutting crooked. Cut, and repeat for the other edge.

    Now you have to sand the fascia flush with the roof line. Take your time. Do not be in a hurry. Learn that a few strokes on the sand paper and then checking is the way to go. You can always take more off. You cannot put what was taken off, back on. Make sure you are doing this on a flat surface. I use a sheet of glass, as it is always perfectly flat. The key here is watching your sand paper. At first, you will see only wood shavings/dust from the fascia you glued to the roof. Keep sanding until you just start to see some dust from the main section of the roof. STOP! You've gone far enough. Tilt the roof and repeat the other edge. Be careful to distribute weight across the roof evenly so that you do not get "heavy" spots on the sanding. You want a smooth, contoured roof line, and a nice edge on the fascia end boards.

    Once finished, you may then attach your end fascia sheeting, centered on the end block, and butted up against the end fascia board. Once glued, I clamp against the glass, making sure the piece did not shift, and let it dry for at least 12 hours before continuing to work. When completed, it should look like this:


    To test to make sure you are perfect, use the roof sheathing and match it up on each side of the roof. If the two pieces come together at the center line, and there is no air gap between the roof boards and the end fascia, you did your ends correctly.

    DSCN4467.JPG DSCN4468.JPG

    Once your end fascia and sheeting is completed, using the same flat surface, lightly sand the bottom of the car, if there is any overhang of the end sheathing beyond the stringers of the floor. Sand evenly and gently until the sheathing is flush with the bottom of the stringers. Once you see dust from the floor appearing on the sand paper, you know you've done enough. STOP! Remember. A little at a time! When finished, glue on your steel center beam, placing the ends within the lines for the bolster previously drawn on the underside.


    More to come...To be continued...

    Back in a few with more...
  6. Jim James

    Jim James Staff Member Staff Member

    I can already see that these are going to be beauties. Nice write up.

    SAFN SAAP Member

    Now you have a complete sub-frame, with end fascia and sheeting. Time to drill the end of car grab iron holes. These will vary from car to car. Some go all the way to the top. Some only a few steps. Others are angled at 45* on the end of the car for the brakeman/conductor to have something to hold onto as they are reaching for the cut lever, glad hand, or something else. The Steger cars have grabs up the end of the car, and only one on the right side of the car. Don Tichy, at Tichy Train Group, makes a nice plastic jig for drilling grab irons. They are spaced at 15" between irons. This, depending on your car, may be one of those areas of compromise, as some cars have 15", while others my use 16" or 18". Don's jig has a guide bar on the back side that helps position the holes on the end edge of the car. Using Scotch's Removable Double Sided Tape, I put a piece on the underside of the jig, and position it on the car, and press down. This assists in holding the jig steady.

    You will still need to hold the jig with your hand. Do not rely on the tape to hold it as the teeth on the drill bit can catch the jig and pull it up. Using the Tamiya Drill, which I highly recommend everyone getting, simply start your holes. Once all holes are started, you can remove the jig and finish drilling them out. I do not recommend drilling the holes all the way while the jig is in place. You don't want to snag the jig and move it, nor do you want to wallow out the holes with your bit. Once drilled, you have perfectly aligned grab irons!


    Now that the holes for the grabs are drilled, it is time to do the sides of the car.

    Since the hole of the car, i.e., roof, ends, and underside are to be painted Boxcar Red, and the sides will be painted BLUE, per prototype information, The sides are going to be constructed off the car as help in facilitating the paint job. This is allow clean lines between the BCR and Blue without having to mask a lot. LaBelle gives you two large pieces of scribed sheathing per side to make up the complete side. This requires joining two sides together. You want to make sure that your joint is not only invisible, but that it ends up beneath the boxcar door, track, and hardware. This will make your car more pleasing to the eye.

    I start out by placing 2" wide painters tape down on the sheet of glass, sticky side up. After squaring one side and edge of the sheathing, I place it against the edge of the end of the car, and then mark the sheathing at the mid line drawn on the underside of the car. I then remove that piece and careful cut the sheathing with a straight edge and very sharp X-acto knife, then lightly sand to make square. Then holding that piece in place, I lay the other piece of sheathing on the other side and repeat the process. When the two cut halves are together, you should have a whole side that is flush with the ends of the car. Also make sure that when you cut your wood, that you have a represented whole board, butting up against, another represented whole board. You don't want a whole against a half board or half against a half. CHECK, CHECK, AND RECHECK THIS! THESE IMPERFECTIONS WILL SHOW! Mark the two joining sides with arrows pointing towards one another to indicate their orientation and arrows down to show which side goes to the floor of the car.

    Once you have your two pieces matched to your side, mark the inside of the car body with a pencil (A) so that you match those sides up with that side of the car. Place a ruler down on the painters tape. Then place one piece of sheathing, scribes down, flush against the ruler. The aligning the arrows, butt the other piece against the ruler and the first piece of wood, firmly, but do not do such as to buckle or break the wood. All you want is a good, tight, snug fit. Then, to glue the two halves together, find a scrap piece of wood. I like to use old pieces of scribe sheathing. Lay the wood across the joint horizontally. Try to have as much of the joint covered, without blocking the top and bottom for the floor and roof need to make contact there. You want nothing wider that the height of space between floor and roof of the body.

    Using wood glue, place the joining wood equally over the halves and put weight on it. Let it dry for a minimum 12 hours. This will insure that it is solid. When done, you will have a clean seam, no glue issues between the pieces, and a good solid piece of scribing with a strong joint.

    Repeat the process for the opposite side, marking in accordance, (B). DO NOT MISMATCH YOUR SIDES.

    DSCN4400.JPG DSCN4401.JPG DSCN4399.JPG

    Now it is time to do the roof. Stay tuned. I'll be right back.

    SAFN SAAP Member


    Once the sides are completely dry, when you place them in position, you will notice that the outer roof's fascia allowance is a veritable cliff overhang. It needs to be sanded down. This is where you use again, your flat surface, i.e., a sheet of glass, sand paper and a spacer. The spacer should be a piece of balsa 1/32" thick and about 4" wide. You can find these in the craft section of Hobby Lobby, or your local art supply store. The 1/32" Balsa is the same thickness as the scribed side sheathing. You simply place the sand paper on the glass with the Balsa on top of it. You need to have the paper visible so to sand. Lay the car on it's side, on top of the Balsa, with the roof overhang on the sand paper. The overhand should be up against the edge of the Balsa. At this point you will sand, keeping even pressure across the car side, watching the amount of dust created by the sanding, and making sure that you are not creating dust on the Balsa, as Balsa is soft and can indent easily. Let the sandpaper do the work. Stop and check frequently. You want the edge of the roof to be slightly wider than the balsa. This way, when the scribed sheathing is put in place, there is now a realistic variance between the fascia and the scribed siding, not the cliff. Repeat for the other side.


    Balsa and side sheathing:

    DSCN4489.JPG DSCN4490.JPG

    Setting up the sand paper:

    DSCN4491.JPG DSCN4492.JPG

    Gently, with even pressure, sand the roof edge, checking frequently!

    DSCN4493.JPG DSCN4494.JPG


    DSCN4495.JPG DSCN4496.JPG DSCN4399.JPG

    This is what your sand paper should look like:



    The roof on the car is both difficult and simple to do. The key factor is knowing that your roof center line is indeed center to the end of the car's width. In previous photos you see that the center line is drawn on the end fascia. With a straight edge, line the two ends up and draw a line across the roof. This is your center line. You must make sure that the line is mark to mark, dead accurate. A little off either way is no good. Keep an eraser handy. You sometimes have to do several attempts until you get the center line correctly. If you are fortunate, the center line will be on the top of the pre-formed peak of the roof. Sometimes it isn't, so you have to sand the side that is short to make it perfect. Each half of the roof should be of equal width from center to edge. Again, small, even strokes on a flat surface, constantly checking. Sand too much, and you'll ruin your roof and you basically have derailed your project. BE CAREFUL!

    Once you have gotten your center line down, it is time to glue one roof piece on at a time. The overhang on the end of the car should be no greater than 1/2 board on the scribe sheathing. The pieces are generally 1/2 board on one end, full on the other. Simply mate them up. It is important that the individual boards line up. So if the end boards are not perfectly edged, do not worry. You are going to sand anyway. Just make sure that your boards are equally across from one another. Make sure that the inside end edge of the piece of sheathing is a full board! IF NOT, use a straight edge and cut off the scrap, and then lightly sand it square and true.

    With your pencil, draw the end of the board across that half of the roof. When you remove the sheathing, you will have the area demarked that you need to apply your wood glue. Use a little and smear it over the whole area that that half of sheathing will cover. Enough that there is some glue, but not a bunch. A nice even layer. Let it sit for 15 seconds to begin setting up. Then using the guide lines, place your wood on the roof, position, and hold for a minute or two. Then immediately transfer it to your glass or flat surface, turn it upside down, and clamp it tightly against the surface, careful not to shift it. It is important to have a smooth surface across the roof with no bulges, or bubbles.

    Center-line on the edge:

    DSCN4476.JPG DSCN4477.JPG

    Center line on the roof

    DSCN4479.JPG DSCN4478.JPG

    Checking the pieces of roof sheathing. One edge 1/2 board and the other, a full board:

    DSCN4481.JPG DSCN4482.JPG

    Pairing up your boards:


    Positioning the first piece on the roof, and then drawing your end edge on the roof surface:

    DSCN4487.JPG DSCN4486.JPG DSCN4488.JPG

    Glue, position, and then clamp:


    When dry, release. You should have a close to, to even overhang, and a guide to the next three pieces. The roof is completed one half at a time. Make sure you match up both end halves and keep them together. Once completed, you'll have a great roof with a little seam down the middle, which will get hidden once the roof walk supports are installed and the roof walk is in place.


    Next is sanding the roof...

    SAFN SAAP Member

    I'll post up the sanding of the roof in the morning. I'm a lil tired. Time for bed...
  10. SteveM

    SteveM Member Supporter

    You should have been tired, building box cars singlehandedly.
    Manny, if there's any chance you could come up to Joplin for the joint meeting in October, the groups(s) would love to see some of your work.

    SAFN SAAP Member

    Sorry for the absences guys. Been sick again. Getting back into it. I finished the roofs on both cars, and now starting the undercarriage details here shortly. I will be posting up pics and continuing the story here shortly. Stay tuned.

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