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.

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. 
Later that day I was thrilled when I manage to locate an Atlas 1932 L&A ARA car 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?


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Steam Era Freight Car Library

A good friend of mine who is just getting started modeling accurate freight cars recently asked which one book I'd recommend he get to help with his modeling. Of course, this is a loaded question. When I first got involved in prototype rolling stock modeling back in the mid-to late 1980s we had precious little resources to go on. Today, there’s almost an embarrassment of riches. 
Early railroad history books were primarily corporate histories and didn’t delve into any detail on rolling stock in spite of the occasional inclusion of a freight car photo in the inevitable “plates” positioned among a sea of gray text dealing with the minutia of profit and loss statements, board room machinations, and pictures of old, bearded, dead guys. 

My friend’s question took me aback – is there one, just one, book that he should start out with? I will say that after some reflection I did recommend one single book to my friend, caveated with a far more extensive list of other books that constitute “very nice to haves.” I’m happy to report he’s busy filling his bookshelves with some of these volumes!
It also sent me to my bookcase to see what books I’ve acquired, and more importantly, have actually used as reference. 
The following is by no means an exhaustive list. But it, at the very least, might initiate some discussion as inevitably your recommendations are going to differ from mine. 
What’s NOT included below are periodicals.  Yes, I have a complete set of Ted Culotta’s Essential Freight Cars series from Railroad Model Craftsman, and the vast majority of the late Richard Hendrickson’s freight car “surveys” from RailModel Journal and the like, and highly recommend them. But I’m keeping this list to books – not magazine articles. 
And while I have a couple of them in my personal library, and use them, I’m also not including primary prototype references, meaning you won’t find Car Builder’s Cyclopedias (and the Newton Gregg reprints of those volumes), and original railroad erection drawings and the like listed here. 
Before I get too much deeper into the meat of this post I’d like to call out one “book” that perhaps many readers have never encountered.  

The first book I encountered written for the prototype modeler was the NEB&W Guide to Steam-Era Freight Car Modeling & HO Scale Kits, a collection of photocopied notes (600+ pages worth) by John Nehrich.  Although it wasn’t the first time someone published a book for modelers on freight cars - Wayne Wesolowski had one out several years beforehand and Kalmbach had published a compendium of the old Dollar Car series of articles - this book was different. It wasn't limited to modeling but attempted to actually identify the prototype for the then-available freight car models. 
I’m not positive, but I believe acquired mine on a visit to RPI prior to my moving to Wisconsin to join the MR staff - which would put it sometime in the mid-1990s. I was shocked to realize I had not one - but two (one with a black cover, the other red - I suspect the latter is an older version) when I came across them when packing for our recent move. While most of the information is far out of date, and filled with a lot of John’s assumptions that didn’t always prove correct, I believe this stack of photocopied pages is worthwhile for two reasons.  
First, it offers a snapshot of prototype modeling back in the days when generic Athearn, AHM, and Model Die Casting cars far outnumbered detailed accurate rolling stock. Secondly, it did attempt to categorize freight car history as an evolutionary set of solutions to engineering problems – which enhanced my understanding of how freight cars actually evolved over time. 

Since then literally hundreds of books and thousands (tens of thousands??) of pages have been published on steam era freight cars. Rather than attempting to list them, I’d think it’s easiest to categorize them. 

Where we are today
I’d place steam era freight car books into one of the following broad categories:

  • Focus on a particular car builder or private operating company, with an emphasis on that company’s rolling stock fleet 
  • Focus on the history or evolution of one particular type or class of cars (refrigerator cars, hopper cars, etc…) 
  • Detailed history of a particular railroad’s rolling stock fleet
  • Photo surveys – essentially photos of individual cars with expanded captions. 

These categories may offer some focus for adding to your personal library. While a dedicated freight car historian will find a great deal of interest in all four categories, a dedicated Santa Fe modeler might limit their reference material to that one railroad. Likewise, someone only interested in building or weathering rolling stock might want to emphasize the last category on this list and focus on photo survey type books. 

Focus on a particular car builder or private owner
One of the best examples of a book fitting this category I can think of is Pacific Fruit Express by my fellow Model Railroad Hobbyist columnist Tony Thompson (although Tony would be the first to point out he shares the byline with Robert Church and Bruce Jones). This survey of the PFE company focuses more on the equipment and facilities and less on the financial history, which alone made it stand out at the time it was published. I can’t prove it, but believe it inspired many similar volumes. 
Edward Kaminski has written a number of books on individual freight car builders, including American Car & Foundry, Pullman-Standard, and Magor. One I highly recommend is American Car & Foundry Company, 1899-1999. This centennial history covers corporate history and product development, but emphasizes the immense variety and extent of railcar production with more than 1200 photographs, most from the files of the builder and few ever published, makes for an excellent overview of a significant builder of steam era freight cars. 
A more recent example is UTLX Steam Era Tank Cars, Steve Hile’s new book from Speedwitch Media. As the name indicates this is a definitive work on the largest tank car fleet of the Steam Era. Honestly, I haven’t dove into my copy yet but a cursory flip through the pages looks like this will be a valuable addition to the library. Tony Thompson has done a complete review of the book here

Focus on one particular type or class of cars 
I’ll offer three specific examples in this category, although there are literally dozens of others. 

Martin Robert Karig’s Coal Cars: The First Three Hundred Years, is a detailed (to say the least!) look at the evolution of coal-hauling rolling stock in both the UK and USA over three centuries. Again, an excellent overview of the evolution of the technology and freight car construction methods and materials. 

Modeling milk cars and trains was a hot topic a few years back. For model railroaders interested in milk cars I can’t think of a better single reference than Robert E. Mohowski and Carl A. Ohlson’s  The New York, Ontario & Western Railway and the Dairy Industry in Central New York State: Milk Cans, Mixed Trains, and Motor Cars. Look beyond the title to find a detailed look at the evolution of milk car design, construction, and operation from the earliest days of railroading through the end of shipping milk by rail.  

The third example I’m including is Ted Culotta’s The American Railway Association Standard Boxcar of 1932, a survey of the 1932 ARA Boxcar, including detailed roster information and photos of each of the many variants of this significant class of freight cars. 

Detailed history of a particular railroad’s rolling stock fleet
The Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society has published a number of spiral bound books dealing with specific car types (boxcars, refrigerator cars, auto cars, etc…) over the years. I include Richard Hendrickson’s Santa Fe Railway Painting and Lettering Guide among this category. 
Another obvious inclusion in this category would the series of Southern Pacific rolling stock books written by Tony Thompson. 

Photo surveys – essentially photos of individual cars with expanded captions. 
It would be difficult to not mention Morning Sun’s extensive line of color books in this summary of published freight car information. Starting in the early 1990s (again, as best as I can recall) Morning Sun started publishing an extensive series of color guides. Essentially, these are – or were – books featuring photos taken out on the line, or the equipment guides, which featured roster shots of individual cars. 
One caveat although the cars shown in the Morning Sun books may have been built in 1940, the paint scheme and photos show those cars are usually much later than as built. Also, some Morning Sun books have captions that are, to put it mildly, more accurate than others. Two books from
Morning Sun that are extremely accurate are shown here – the Northern New England and New Haven books, primarily through Steve Horsley’s extensive efforts reaching out to freight car and regional railroad experts (in truth he’s no slouch on New England rail history himself), and ensuring the photos  and captions told a comprehensive story.

I’m not sure if they constitute a book or a periodical, but no steam era freight car library can be complete without Railway Prototype Cyclopedia, published by RPCYC Publishing and (primarily) authored by Pat Wilder and Ed Hawkins. The first volume was published in 1997, and the result was a 34-volume series.  Each edition features an in-depth look – and lots and lots of photos – featuring one or more types of rolling stock. While some volumes included locomotives and passenger cars, the vast majority are transition era (and slightly earlier) freight cars. Some volumes are still available, although these are quickly disappearing off most dealer's shelves. I have seen a couple of “full sets” for sale in the secondary market but in general they are starting to command prices above their cover price.  

Getting back to the question that started this long rambling post, we come to the “one book” recommendation my friend requested. After thinking about it for a day or two I think the best single book you can get on transition era freight cars to help your modeling might very well be The Postwar Freight Car Fleet: North American Freight Car Designs From 1898 to 1947. Authored by the late Larry Kline and Ted Culotta, and published by the National Model Railroad Association, this book features photos from the Bob Charles collection. The captions are full of insightful and accurate information on each car shown. Making this even more useful and interesting is the fact that photos show a number of freight cars during a limited time period (1947-48) in one specific geographic location. 
Lots of great potential freight car projects to get someone started in accurately modeling transition era rolling stock between the covers of this single volume. And you could easily use it at a foundation to build a more detailed library as your knowledge grows and interests evolve. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Video Update #2

For those of you interested, I just posted a short (about 7 minute) video update. 
This features a quick pan of the new layout area, showing the benchwork in its current state. 
In fairness, there's very little (okay, none) freight car content in this update - but we do need something to pull those freight cars with - so perhaps the the minimum radius testing of a CV 2-8-0 and, just for fun, a 2-10-4, might be of interest. (Spoiler alert: Brass steam locomotive models are finicky curve hogs...) 
You can find it at the link here, or by clicking on the photo below. 
And if you like the video channel please consider subscribing and leaving a comment!

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Resin Freight Car Kit Assembly tips.

If your summer has been as wet as ours has been perhaps you were Googling "ark building" when you stumbled across this blog. 
In the interest of providing something useful on this blog I'll go ahead and offer a few tidbits on preparing resin kits. That's a perfect task for the summer modeling season. 
These are bits and pieces of a planned eBook on building and detailing rolling stock. While I still hope to finish that book - someday - in the meantime here's a couple of things from the cutting room floor.


Cleaning up the parts 
No matter the manufacturer, I start by cleaning the parts before assembly, and then follow up with a pre-painting touch up cleaning. 
Different manufacturers use different mold releases - some of them are really hard to clean off completely - and you won't realize it's still there until you try to paint the model and the paint either beads up or comes off in sheets. Sylvan mold release seems to be the toughest. 
I've tried warm soapy water, Goo Gone, Sylvan resin prep (which I'm pretty sure is some form of Goo gone), but one thing I've found always works pretty well is Shout. After removing the resin sheets from the tissue paper wrapping I gave each of the parts a shot of "Shout" (yes, the laundry stain pre-treat stuff) and scrub them gently with a toothbrush  before rinsing them under warm water. Then I put the parts aside to dry.

A few tools
I don't use a lot of fancy tools to build these kits, mostly a razor blade, an X-acto, some sanding sticks/files, pliers (to form wire), tweezers, a small machinists square, and starting in the last few years, an Opti-visor....
For drilling holes for grabs and brake components and the like, I prefer my drill press - but an old fashioned (but perfectly serviceable) pin vise works just as well.  Two tools that I find are really useful are shown in the photo to the right: 
The NWSL True-Sander 
Coffman right corner clamps

Removing flash
The most tedious part of building a resin freight car is cleaning up the parts.
But time and care spent on this task definitely shows on the finished model. Despite what the instructions say, I don't clean off all the parts before I start constructing the model. For one thing, I'd run out of enthusiasm before getting started, and for another I'd likely lose half the parts before getting everything together!

If there's a trick to removing the flash it's to be careful to not accidentally remove any detail that should be there. On flat kits it's quite common to find the sides or ends have some detail that needs to be preserved. A perfect example are the rivets on the side of the ends of this car - you might be tempted to sand the edge flat on your NWSL Tru-Sander - but you'd be removing the rivets and other details. The trick is to remove the flash without destroying the detail in the process.  For this, I use a razor blade held at a steep angle to scrape away the resin flash. I've found it's sometimes better to use a slightly dull razor blade for this scraping technique. A sharp, fresh blade can sometimes slice right into the resin whereas a dull blade will meet with just enough resistance that you can avoid digging into the part. 
To remove flash from openings, such as the end of this ventilated boxcar, I use a hobby knife and trim the resin flash to the edges, then use sanding sticks and/or files to true up the openings.