I remember when I was a kid and you could pick up the best rolling stock on the market for $10-20. Of course that was 20 years ago and there has been some inflation to add to that… Currently for a mid range car you are looking at about $20 and something really good 30 and up depending on type and features.

This can add up very quickly if you are trying to build out a fleet of rolling stock to populate a layout!

Used gold

This is why much of the model railroading community frequents flea markets, swap meets and general train shows you can usually pick up a lot of used stock on the cheap and easily repurpose it into your layout.

Horn hooked devils

Horn hook refers to the old cheap style couplers that were more common up until 20 years ago. They are terrible for any type of operation as they aren’t easy to uncouple plus they are ugly and this is where we get to my point. Horn hook cars are usually significantly cheaper to pick up, between $1-$5 because in most cases they aren’t prototypical, have cheap paint jobs etc… However there are diamonds in the rough that are worth conversion.

Chessie 40ft conversion

As we all know I collect Chessie System, almost all my train posts revolve around it in some manner. I was browsing the used section of Just Train Crazy and came across a blue 40ft Chessie Box car for $3 with the horn hook couplers. I immediately picked it up with the plans to convert it.


Box car : $3
Kadee Couplers: $2 ($1 per coupler)
Metal Wheels: $4 ($1 per axle)

Total for car: $9

So it may not be as pretty as a $30 RTR but for filling your fleet not everything should be perfect anyways


  • Remove trucks
  • Locate centre on the body (most cars have an area marked)
  • Remove Hornhook coupler (I save these for the kids trains)
  • Remove Coupler box from truck (I use an old worn rail nipper for this, very sharp still)
  • Glue plastic thin shim on body where new coupler box will go
  • Glue Coupler box to shim/body
  • Prop the coupler up so that it doesn’t lose position while glue sets
  • Replace plastic wheels with metal
  • Put trucks back on car
  • Check Coupler against a coupler gauge

Now in some cases like with this car the trucks sit close to the body and this may reduce the angles they can take as the wheels would touch the coupler box. In this case the min turn radius this car can handle is 18″ but that isn’t a problem for me. A different brand I did the same conversion to had no issue with the wheels and handled down to 15″.

For the price of the car I won’t complain much.

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