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.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

L&N Rebuilt Boxcar


Yet another half started freight car project that I've dug out of the box and completed. This is a Sunshine Models L&N rebuilt boxcar with Murphy ends, Sunshine Kit #64.11. I likely replaced the bracket grabs, ladder, and brake wheel that came in the kit with other after market parts. I did use some bits and pieces of Speedwitch's L&N boxcar decals (which are not specifically made for this car) to complement the kit decals. The carman's chalk marks are a combination of various Sunshine decals. It obviously still needs a little running weathering. That's the basic description of thing, but there's really a little more background to why I built this particular car. 

Back when Sunshine Models hosted the Naperville RPM meets, Martin Lofton, the owner of Sunshine Models, often asked me to do an ongoing hands-on display showing people how to build these resin cars.. One "perk" for doing this was I'd often get early access to the coveted Sunshine "sale room" before it opened for the other attendees. In this case he'd sent me the kit before the meet so I could get some of the basic assembly work done beforehand. I'm not sure I would have chosen this car on my own, since I haven't seen an L&N boxcar, let alone a pre war rebuild, in a photo on my prototype. 

What really pushed this one to the top of the "finish it" pile was the passing of my good friend Bill Welch. Bill's first modeling love was the railroads of the Southeastern U. S., which he often called "Y'All Railroads." I'd gotten to know him on the prototype modeling "circuit" - and always appreciated a chance to visit with him. When I moved to the DC area Bill still lived here, and he organized several informal prototype modeling "show and tell" get togethers. Very small, very informal, and great fun. 

Bill had sent me an email in late 2019 asking for my help in designing a small switching layout. We went back and forth on that a few times, and then several months passed. It was sometime last summer he wrote to tell me of his cancer diagnosis. By November he was gone. 

I realize it's been a few months since Bill passed away, but I figured what better tribute to a friend than to finally finish up this Y'all road boxcar. 

It seemed doubly appropriate since the very last email I received from Bill was a response to my question - "What color should I paint this thing?" 

He recommended Badger's Light Tuscan Oxide Red. I don't really like Badger's paints after some truly miserable experiences with them early on. But Bill seemed adamant about this brand and color so that's the paint I used. 

Perhaps they've improved the paint somehow? 

Or perhaps Bill was looking over my shoulder? 

In any event, if you don't like the model take it up with me. But if you don't like the color, you'll have to discuss that with Bill. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Shaking off the (figurative) Rust

It's been quite a while since I've worked on a freight car - any freight car. I mean several years since I touched a freight car model. 

So with the layout infrastructure (benchwork, track, and wiring) completed I decided to take a break from moving forward on scenery and structures (I am working on a large structure kit, some details of which you can see HERE) to shake the rust off my freight car modeling skills and maybe get a  couple more cars out of their boxes and onto the track. 

I started by digging these two resin cars (both of which had been assembled a while back - one of them more than 25 years ago!) into the spray booth for a coat of primer. 

Then I found these three True-Line CN boxcars that I had dullcoated before we moved from the old house and played around with weathering them. 

At this point I've added a basic streaking of Burnt Umber and Black oil paints. 

Just for fun, and to try something a little different, I tried to duplicate the look of failed paint on the roof of one car. 
I used an unscientific combination of Vallejo Silver and Gunmetal Gray. Was just a little vivid at first, but a wash of Vallejo Medium Gray wash helped blend everything. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Richford Branch Extra - Coming and Going - and notes on a side trip to Maine


This pair of Stan Bolton images, that I am sharing courtesy of Stan's good friend George Corey, show a pair of Central Vermont Consolidations (#s 465 and 466) working the daily local through Sheldon Junction, Vt., on an obviously "chilly" February 23, 1957. 

A few of the cars are fairly easy to identify (Click on the images to enlarge). 

I'll go first - the lead car in the second image is a Central Vermont 40,000-series boxcar. Typically one of these cars was used to handle LCL on the Richford job. 

A side note:

Almost exactly two years to the day before this image was taken, no. 466 and her sister no. 471 were both sent to the Grand Trunk (NEL). No. 466 made exactly one trip - actually less than one trip - when she experienced mechanical problems on an Island Pond to Portland, ME extra and was promptly returned to the CV.  

No 471 faired much better than her sister on her assignment to Maine. She remained on the GT (NEL) through the end of August 1955 where she made 24 mainline trips, primarily on wayfreights. She even made a half dozen or so trips hauling passenger train no. 16, and spent 36 days as the Lewiston branch engine. 

Obviously the St. Albans shop crew fixed whatever ailed no. 466 and she's steaming pretty well in these shots.  

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 stiles, 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: