About The Steam Era Freightcars Blog

This blog discusses all aspects of North American freight cars of the steam era, from the dawn of railroading through 1960.
It is intended to support the efforts of model railroaders who wish to produce the most prototypically accurate freight cars possible.
Prototype modelers are encouraged to participate in this blog. Please consider sending photos of prototypes and your efforts to model them, reviews of kits, books and other products, “articles” about your modeling efforts – with or without photos. The nature of blogging means the material can be "real time," and in-process models can be shared. These are not only welcomed, but appreciated as we all love to see a model develop over time.
Also welcome is information about upcoming prototype meets, shows, and other events.
Information submitted for this blog is considered gratis. Also, all submissions must include your name and contact email.
For more information or to submit information email steamfreightcar@gmail.com.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

"You don't want to rush these things ...."

 It's been far too long since I've posted on this blog (although I do a better job keeping my Central Vermont blog up to date). 

I truly hope everyone has had a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. I also sincerely hope your personal situation has been such that you've been able to spend time on trivial items like model railroading!

After having my car living in the driveway for going on a year, I took advantage of the unseasonably warm waether this weekend to (finally) clear out the garage - at least the point where both cars would fit. 

Most of the stuff was, as I suspected, items we no longer need or simply junk. They have now all found their way to the appropriate places - which means they're no longer taking up space better suited for my car! 

I did come across one plastic tote that had, among other things, several brown Westerfield boxes. After we moved out of the old house and into the temporary apartment I'd ordered several Westerfield kits as part of the November sale. (As an aside, this years sale is going on until the end of November. You can find details on the Westerfield website <HERE>). Naturally, I figured these were those kits. 

But when I got these cars into the house I noticed one of the labels had a "BUILT" notation on them. 

Sharp-eyed readers will note this is the old school Westerfield resin. Back in my Navy shipboard days I'd pick up a few Westerfield (or very early F&C) kits and bring them to build on the ship. I got a fair number of them built - especially when I was assigned to a fleet oiler. The one thing I couldn't do is paint these on the ship - so I built them and painted them when I got home. 

I'm fairly certain this is one of those cars. That would mean I started it in 1990 or 91... and it's still not finished. Thirty years from start to completion of a model - a new personal best!

The model survived its long slumber remarkably intact. One of the running board supports is gone, and the brake wheel is lost to the ages. Otherwise, it looks pretty good. It has trucks which means I must have done something with it off the ship at some point - I learned the hard way not to put trucks on the models I built on the ship - after finding a Westerfield H21 "rekitted" on the deck of the stateroom after a bouncy night of Cape Hatteras! 

I'd made note of which Floquil paint I was going to use on this model, but that doesn't do me much good. Anyone have a suggestion for a currently available paint (preferably Vallejo) that would work for this car? 

Of course, if pressed I can claim I was waiting for a better decal set to come along.

After all, you don't want to rush these things!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Crowd Funding HO scale models

The traditional method of producing an injection-molded model of a typical freight car goes something like this - 
1. A prototype is identified (usually through suggestions from dealers and/or hobbyists) as a likely "good" project by a manufacturer.
2. Inquiries are made, usually to unpaid "consultants" - most often hobbyists themselves - to obtain the information, drawings, and photos needed to develop a list of components such as doors, ends, roofs and the like, as well as paint schemes. 
3. At some point the economic reality of producing the model rears its ugly head, and it becomes obvious it's impractical to produce each possible version of the "basic" car - especially in an initial run. Most often, the goal is to recoup the R&D costs with the first run - perhaps with a small amount of profit, with the real money to follow with subsequent runs.
The cost, and time, to develop the tooling is the Achilles heal in the process. Of course, unique and low production models have been, and are continuing to be made in resin. But in the case of a factory assembled, decorated injection molded car the tooling cost can easily reach $250,000.00. Some cost even more. And on top of the tooling cost you still have a per unit manufacturing costs. For the manufacturer the risk for many otherwise appealing prototypes is too great to justify the expense. So choices are made. Often those choices mean we as modelers don't get all the models we want. 
Some manufacturers get around these limitations by producing generic cars, others use a business model that limits the model to only those details and paint schemes that are accurate. The vast majority seem to fall somewhere between the two extremes. They'll produce an accurate model for one railroad, for example, but paint and letter that same model for other railroads. Each of these "others" reflect varying degrees of accuracy. 

Crowd-sourcing a boxcar?
The folks at Prototype Junction are attempting an approach that has worked in other hobbies, primarily gaming, with some success. They are starting a crowd-funded approach to produce a model of an AT&SF Bx-11 & 12 series boxcar. It turns out other roads, including the C&O, CGW, L&N and Pere Marquette, had similar cars (with different details or components). I won't dwell on the specifics, since you can find a rather detailed set of parameters for this project HERE. 

How this works
If you're unfamiliar with crowd-funding - here's how it works. Someone establishes a project with a funding goal and time limit to achieve that goal. Each contribution (called a pledge) is a small percentage of the total dollar value of the goal (in this case the money needed to get the tooling cut, the parts molded, assembled, decorated, and packaged). 
The link above for outlines the various pledge (funding) levels. Your card is charged at that moment you make the reservation. The money goes to no further than indiegogo, into what amounts to an escrow account. In the event the total project funding isn't reached, the project is canceled and you get your money refunded.  
If the funding goal is reached (in this case $250,000.00) then the money will go to Prototype Junction and they will proceed to produce the model. Ideally, in about a year you'll get your finished model(s). 

Some thoughts
I think this is an interesting approach to getting models produced. I think where it would work the best would be with higher dollar value, truly esoteric and unusual prototypes (MofW equipment leaps to mind, or the ever popular "battleship gun flats." Truly odd things like that. Frankly, I'm not certain a boxcar, of any flavor, is truly esoteric enough to garner enough pledges to push a project like this over the finish line. 
And for any project, this really represents a considerable change in the way model railroad production has always worked. The manufacturers have taken all the risk to this point. I don't know of any who require prepayment for something like a boxcar model. This approach is asking the modeler to take on the (admittedly relatively small dollar amount) risk - and wait for the model to be produced. 
I will say this - I have no doubt about Randy's integrity and desire to get this project off the ground and deliver a nicely detailed model to the folks who step up and sponsor this project. 
If you've ever wanted to get a somewhat unusual model produced in injection molded plastic, factory assembled and decorated (although kits, and parts are also options here) this is an interesting approach. I wish Prototype Junction the best of luck!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Mystery Solved?

While "Standard Gauge" really means that a freight car from anywhere in North America can show up anyplace on the continent, there's still some unusual findings lurking if you study a particular railroad long enough. 
Take my pet prototype. I'd never bet on seeing an L&N drop-bottom gondola hauling coal in a Connecticut, or not one, but two 50-foot SFRD reefers in a train in Massachusetts. But I have. 
In a previous blog post I mentioned a boxcar that showed up in a photo of an otherwise nondescript CV freight. I've explored several seemingly plausible identities for this car, only to be foiled by one detail or another. 
Ted Culotta recently posted his thoughts on this car on his blog:


I'm curious to see if anyone comes up with any evidence disputing his findings. And if he's correct, as I think he is, this is not only an unusual car, it's a one-of-a-kind. Just my luck. 
Now to figure out how to model it. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Central Vermont 41,000-series boxcars - notes

Considering their relatively small numbers, these cars seem to come up on the Steam Era Freight Car List with surprising regularity. They reared their heads again a month or so ago on that list. My response with a couple of tidbits about modeling these cars may prevent you having to dig through the archives at groups.io and help with your models of these cars. 
These cars were in service for a very long time – through the late 1960s, but they really didn’t change in appearance all that much over the decades.
For perhaps more detail than anyone wants on these cars, I’d refer you to the following:

  • Ed Beaudette did an article in MR (August 2001 I recall) that included prototype drawings of the CV/GTW 1-1/2 door as built cars (CV's 41000-series).
  • There were a set of drawings in Mainline Modeler sometime in the late 1980s – in that case they were shown as listed as GTW cars, with no mention of the Central Vermont.
  • The best reference for these cars is Steve Horsley’s article (which is part of an outstanding ongoing series on CV freight cars) in Volume 24, Issue #4 f the CVRHS “Ambassador.” I’d highly recommend checking that issue out.

Over the years I’ve built a dozen or so more of the Steam Shack/Funaro resin kits. A couple of things to note on the F&C kit include:  

  • The end door casting kind of just hangs above the roofline and doesn’t really capture the beefy look of the prototype on the B end of the car. See this photo of the door end, and compare with the F&C model to see what I mean:

  • My F&C kits (like me, they’re old!) came with regular ladders – some of the newer F&C kits come with Tichy “Canadian” ladders – neither of these are correct. The CV cars had an integrated sill step (basically the “stirrup” is welded to the ladder styles, not the car side), but the shape of the step on the Tichy ladder isn’t correct.
  • Compare the side ladder and stirrup in this photo of a 44000 series car with the Tichy part to see what I mean:

  • The cars had wood running boards through most of their service lives. It’s possible a few of them may have received steel running boards, but I’ve never seen any photo evidence of such. I have seen some of these cars with steel brake platforms.

Now we get to the issue with these kits that comes up whenever we discuss them – the trucks.
The cars rode on cast steel ARA U-section trucks with spring planks and Barber lateral motion bolsters equipped with six springs per side frame--a style called "increased spring capacity trucks" by several manufacturers.
The MR article reference above states the ECW 9074 70-ton "Bettendorf" trucks are closest. That’s a typo – it should be 9064 (I started editing the article, but had left the MR staff before it was published and a couple of minor, but annoying errors, such as this one, crept into the copy.) 
I got the reference to those trucks after extensive back and forth with Richard Hendrickson – and though those ECW trucks might look the closest, I’ve never bothered using them, or even trying to find a set since the operating qualities of ECW trucks are marginal at best.  
For many years I used good-ole' Kadee "Bettendorf" trucks under these cars. Starting several years ago I substituted Tahoe Model Works 50-ton Dalman 2-Level trucks. While certainly not an exact match they roll well, and at least have a large number of visible springs when viewed from the side.  
As a side note, my first item published in a “real” model railroad magazine was a review of this kit (marketed by Steam Shack but produced by Steve Funaro). Just for fun, here’s a photo of that model – warts and all - including its completely incorrect Kadee "Bettendorf" trucks! - on Paul Dolkos’ former B&M White Mountain Division: 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

L&N Rebuilt boxcar

Sunshine Models Louisville & Nashville rebuilt 40-foot boxcar - ready for a trip to the paint booth. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

More detail to add to the Speedwitch Ann Arbor boxcar

Here's some details for the exterior of the Speedwitch Ann Arbor single sheathed boxcars that aren't included in the kit: 

Taken at Enosburg Falls, Vermont, circa 1942. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Time to call in Columbo?

Date (approx.) 1945-1950, Photographer unknown. Courtesy Bob's Photos
The lead photo in this post is one of a series of shots showing a single Central Vermont freight. To date, I've managed to identify all the cars in this train, and have completed or started models of all of them with one exception. 
The pedigree of the car to the far right of the photo above has proven remarkably stubborn to uncover (it's shown in a cropped shot below). 
I'd love to be able to identify this particular car. At one point thought I had. At this point I'm open to any and all suggestions and thoughts as to what it might be. 

Here's what I do know:

  • Based on the other cars, and some clues on the locomotives (there are two the road engine and the helper shown above cut in to the train) we know this photo was taken just after WWII (sometime between 1946-1950 or so). The end is certainly a flat plate end on the car in question - with what looks like a roof recessed slightly from the end. 
  • The reporting marks look like they start with an "L."
  • Lettering is clearly serif (ie., "Railroad Roman")
  • Car number appears to be 5 digits - first number has a strong vertical element - perhaps a "1", "4", or even a "7".
  • I thought at first the reporting marks were "L & N", but couldn't locate any L&N cars that matched the other spotting features shown. 

I thought at one point it may be an Louisiana & Arkansas 1932 ARA car, since the ends certainly look like they would be a match to those cars. I was thrilled to learn Atlas even did a factory-decorated L&A 1932 ARA boxcar and was equally thrilled when I managed to locate one for sale at a hobby shop in Wisconsin. The car was shortly winging its way to the Old Dominion. I should have know things were going too well as not much time elapsed before Ted Culotta rained on my parade when he pointed out the car in the photo doesn't have a tabbed side sill like the L&A prototypes. Ted continued "I have this photo, too, and tried my best to determine the provenance of the car, but came up empty looking at my L&A and KCS freight car photos. I am stumped, but I'll keep digging..."
Perhaps the first initial isn't an "L" at all - but Ted and I have both done high-res enlargements of this photo and it certainly looks like an "L" with a space and another single letter. 
I fully admit it's some sort of obsessive behavior to be trying to identify an otherwise nondescript boxcar from more than a half century ago. But that's prototype modeling....
Thought I'd throw it out on the table here and see what the collective believes this car might be. 
Two questions: 
1. Anyone want an Atlas L&A 1932 ARA boxcar?  I apparently have one I don't need...
2. Is it time to call in this guy?