Critical Cars

New York Central Lot 858-B Boxcars

One car that I’ve had on my most-wanted list for a long time was one of NYC’s 40′ boxcars with Despatch ends and roof from lot 858-B. This is a fairly simple kitbash from Branchline parts, resulting in a unique car.


NYC’s Despatch Shops Inc. (DSI) built thousands of cars with their own ends and roofs between 1956 into Penn Central, but lot 858-B (numbered NYC 42000-43499) was the only lot of 40′ cars (N.B. – the last 100 cars had Improved Dreadnaught ends). Except for 25 experimental PS-1s, they were also the only 40’ers on the roster with 8′ doors. This feature made them the preferred car for assignment for appliance service. By 1966 about 2/3 of the fleet had been reassigned with new numbers. I discussed these car assignments and NYC’s appliance traffic flows in an earlier post.

NYC 87283 at Marshalltown, IA in 1966. This was assigned to Michigan Westinghouse. Oddly, it displays both Evans Spartan Loader and Evans Damage Free logos – these were competing load restraining systems. Unlike the prototype, I followed it also has correct load restraint symbols on the door. Sands photo, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.


After stripping a Branchline kit using 91% Isopropyl alcohol, I followed Seth Lakin’s excellent article in the NYCentral Modeler e-zine. Rather than double the hill and describe the work needed, I’ll just direct you here. I followed his directions pretty much exactly, although I replaced the .010″ x .020″ + .060″ x .020″ sill beam with one made of .030″ x .020″ + .040″ x .020″ to cut down on the bill of materials. Other changes were the use of Hi-Tech air hoses and Tangent uncoupling levers.

Paint & Decals

For paint, I wanted to model a car reassigned to appliance service. Some of these cars continued to wear their original red, most were painted different versions of Century Green. I wanted to model a green car, but the problem I had was the lack of a Transco SL decal. I did find a picture of a car assigned to Westinghouse in the NYC System Historical Society’s archive that only featured an NYC style SL decal similar to the one in the Microscale set so I followed that.

NYC 87175 was assigned to Whirlpool. Since it lacked Transco’s version of the SL mark, I was able to duplicate this scheme with Microscale’s decal set. Photo courtesy of New York Central System Historical Society’s archives, used with permission.

I painted the roof, ends, and body prior as subassemblies. The body was my formula of Vallejo Emerald and Blue-Green. This time I replaced some of the White with USAAF Aircraft Gray. Decals were from Microscale set 87-58. I supplemented this with CDS Set HO-165 for the “858-B”, “return to…Appliance Park, KY” and “BLT 8-56” lettering and Microscale 87-xx for the “Lift handle to open or slide door” and “adjust brakes here” lettering. This gave me a car with a Westinghouse number and a GE return to location, but I’m fine with just getting close, at least it says “appliance”! Smokebox Graphics provided the paint patch and repack/brake test stencils.


I followed the picture, which appeared to be taken in the late 1960s for the weathering. I used raw umber oil paint for a wash and added some dark rust spots. Then I darkened the rivets with a dark umber colored pencil. After a coat of Vallejo Matte Varnish, I dusted on Pan Pastels – Burnt Sienna Extra Dark (couplers), Raw Umber (ends, trucks), Raw Umber tint (sides), and Medium Gray Extra Dark (roof and ends). The running board I used was a silver one stolen from an unweathered PS-1, I painted it black and then used a scratch brush to scrape off some paint to represent one with chipping paint. Lastly, I drew on chalk marks with a colored pencil.

With that, I had a car ready to haul appliances from the Midwest to Boston. This is another project with a good rendition of Century Green, I’m starting to feel comfortable that I’ve got this mix down enough to be brave enough to paint my Tangent cabooses. Not now though, I just have a couple more cars to clear the bench and I will start sawing wood again.


Seth Lakin, “Modeling a New York Central Lot 858-B Boxcar”, NYCentral Modeler, 4th Quarter, 2014 – Link

References: Ed Hawkins, “Freight Cars of the Fifties: NYC Despatch Shops Built 50 Foot Boxcars”, Railmodel Journal, February 1999

Critical Cars

When Life Deals You Lemons…. Part 1 – Jersey Central welded 40′ boxcar

If life deals you lemons, why not go kill someone with the lemons (maybe by shoving them down his throat).

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

I purchased a pair of Branchline Trains 40′ boxcars kits at the Springfield Show a couple of years ago. They were labeled as having 8′ doors and I had a couple of projects in mind for them. When I got home I realized the box was mislabeled and they had less common 7′ doors. They were both correctly painted as Pennsylvania X43B cars, but I had one of those on my roster already, so I wanted to find something else to do with these.

A review of prototype AAR boxcars with 7′ doors was now in order to find suitable uses for these cars. I have merged the Ed Hawkins boxcar lists into a master spreadsheet of 40′ cars so this was a quick project. A summary of AAR style bodies with 7′ doors is as follows:

  • 9,515 Postwar AAR – 10′ inside height [7,915 SP, 1,500 B&O (2/3 stretched to 50′ or retired by 10/66)]
  • 7,635 Postwar AAR (5,000 PRR X43 family; 2,635 other – 1-3-4 “rolling pin” ends)
  • 6,200 PRR X29B Rebuilds
  • 1,251 Early Postwar AAR (4-4 ends, 500 NKP)
  • 1,025 Postwar AAR w/Carbuilders Ends (“Dartnot”, 500 MKT)
  • 500 Late Postwar AAR (1-3-4 “banana taper” ends, only Buffalo Creek)
  • 250 Modified 1937 (5-5 ends, only CB&Q)
PRR X43B 86243 at Marshalltown, IA 1966 – Jim Sands photo, George Elwood collection, used with permission. This car was rebuilt with a fishbelly sill and repainted in the plain keystone scheme, other rebuilds featured a fishbelly sill.

As one can see, PRR and SP dominated AAR cars with 7′ doors – about 80% and this doesn’t include 1000 PRR X37 cars! I would have loved to have done one of the SP cars, but the 10′ height is not a match for the Branchline body, so those got thrown out. So one should be PRR, perhaps kitbashing another X43B rebuilt by the PRR with one of their distinctive sills or one of the X29Bs. For the other car, I wanted to choose one of the 2635 “other” Postwar AAR cars. 

The below roster shows there isn’t a clear-cut winner here with many roads having 250-750 car fleets. Cars are listed from largest to smallest fleets:

GTW515500-5159995001949Superior – 7 panel12Welded
ERIE (EL)84501-84511101952Youngstown10Riveted
ERIE (EL)86000-864995001952Youngstown10Riveted
CNJ20500-209995001953YSD/Sup-5 panel12Welded
Postwar AAR boxcars with 7′ doors and 1-3-4 early improved dreadnaught ends, excluding PRR X43 classes.
A possible candidate was this GT&W class, seen at Lowell, MA on the B&M in July 1965. At the time I was picking a prototype, “wet noodle” decals for a 40’er looked hard to find. Leroy Dozier photo, George Elwood collection, used with permission.

Several of the riveted cars were produced by Branchline and can still be found with some work, it seemed pointless to go through the work of stripping, painting, and decaling a car I could probably find on eBay. So, after a little bit of research, I settled on the CNJ 20500-20999 series for something different. I had no CNJ boxcars on my roster, these were representative of their fleet as a whole, giving me a chance to model a welded car not otherwise available.

CNJ 20672 at Marshalltown, IA in 1967, the car features the large Stature of Liberty emblem. The first 300 cars had 5-panel Superior doors like this example and the last 200 had Youngstown. Jim Sands photo, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.

Construction was pretty much a standard kit build beyond sanding off the rivets. The equipment diagram online at Fallen Flags helped me select some details. I substituted the following parts for the kit parts:

  • Trucks – Kato ASF Ride Control
  • Couplers – Kadee #158 in their scale boxes
  • Brake Rods – .125″ Tichy phosphor bronze wire and Tichy turnbuckles for clevises
  • Air Hoses – Hi-Tech
  • Uncoupling Levers – Tangent, with Details Associates eye bolts
  • Door – Kadee 5-panel Superior with high tack boards
  • Brakewheel – Kadee Miner
  • Brake Platform – Plano Apex
  • Running Board – Kadee Apex

When the construction was done I drew the locations for the panel lines on with pencil and coated the car with Future. I then applied thin Archer Raised Panel Line decals followed by another coat of Future. I followed with a coat of Vallejo Gray Surface Primer.

Primer showed off a few blemishes but made the Archer panel seams look worth the effort.

Photos of these cars showed a wide range of paint colors from reddish oxide to chocolate brown. If any railroad would use whatever paint was on sale at the hardware store for its car shop, it was the near-bankrupt CNJ. I wound up settling for a color in the middle of the range and painted the car Model Master Oxide Red Flat and trucks, and underframe Model Master Grimy Black Flat. I applied CMR Products decal set 1367 with the large Statue of Liberty logo. Smokebox Graphics supplied repack, and reweigh stencils and corresponding paint out blanks.

A pair of clean CNJ boxcars demonstrate how body color varied. Screen shot detail from “Along the Jersey Central – 5” on YouTube. Compare these with the much redder 20672 above.

This is the first time I’ve used either decal vendor. The ink on the CMR decals is kind of thick but settled down over the panel lines nicely. The graphics were based on the Jim Sands photo I was using, still I had to borrow some decals from Microscale to finish it. The CNJ put the wheel and draft gear/coupler data that is normally found on the car ends underneath the data on the side. So I added that and some other stuff, see the photo below.

Detail of CNJ 20582. It was reweighed and repacked (and probably repainted) at CNJ’s Ashley, PA shop n August 1966. Jim Sands photo, Marshalltown, IA 1967, George Elwood collection, used with permission.

The Smokebox Graphics decals are extremely thin, so be careful. The sets combine to be very flexible though, I was able to duplicate all stencilings, except for the repack, exactly. It had weight data that matched. There are 78 pairs of data – in each of roman and gothic there are 16 pairs of 50-ton cars, 16 for 70-ton cars, and 7 for 100-ton cars. With that are 63 pairs of reweigh stations, with dates, repack, and test stencils (the last for the air reservoir or adjacent sill) and 23 lubricator stencils. It also includes extra dates, numbers and alphabets to let you make whatever you want. All the lettering is crystal clear. The paint patches come in five colors per sheet and match up with the outlines of the data. I figure I can squeeze about 50 1961-65 stencils out of this set except for the tiny dates on the repack stencils.

As I thought about how to weather the car, I decided to pay special attention to the roof. It was hard to say, but it appeared that the cars were delivered with painted roofs and had most of the paint flake off by the 1960s. Following a random prototype photo of a boxcar with 90% paint failure, I applied Vallejo Liquid Mask with a toothpick. I then gave the roof a brush coat of medium gray (Poly Scale BAR Gray) and then stippled on a light gray (PS Undercoat Light Gray) with a stiff bristle brush. After a flat coat, I applied Payne’s Gray Pan Pastels to highlight the edges. The Vallejo mask has a reputation of being hard to get off, I removed it by rubbing the roof with a ball of masking tape with the sticky side out and then rubbing the edges of the stampings with a toothpick. I had to make several balls but it got almost all of it off. The thicker you apply the mask, the better chance you have of finding it after and getting it off. I then painted the roof ribs with the body color using a spotter brush. This technique was a first for me and it came out exactly the way I wanted.

I used this Marty Bernard photo from July 1965 in Chicago as a guide for the roof.
The final results.

I weathered the rest of the car first with a wash of raw umber oil paint followed by a final coat of Vallejo Polyurethane Matte Varnish and a dusting of Pan Pastels wrapped up the first car of this series. So an accidental purchase caused me to learn how to use Archer panel lines, liquid masking, a couple new decal vendors and create an interesting car that I would have never done otherwise, that is how you make the best of a mistake. As for the second car, while I was considering a PRR X29b build I fell into a spare Red Caboose X29 underframe, which sealed the deal as it will greatly simplify the project. I’ve already fit the underframe onto the car, it should be another fun project.

Critical Cars, Uncategorized

Critical Cars: P&LE Lot 955-B (and Other Early X-Post Boxcars)

P&LE 6350 at Framingham, MA circa 1965. Note that the car has a US Gypsum or Morton running board (cars through at least 6288 used Apex) and the roof is painted Century Green, not bare galvanized steel. Leroy Dozier photo, George Elwood collection (used with permission).

In the 1960s railroads and carbuilders started to transition boxcars to an exterior post construction (X-Post). Southern (SOU/CG) and Hill Lines (NP-GN-CB&Q) were early adopters with fleets by 1963. Not to be outdone, NYC had the Despatch Shops build a prototype X-Post car, NYC 100000 in 1964. Lot 939-B was a one-off car, it featured 9 panels on each side of a 10′ Youngstown sliding door. The railroad apparently deemed this test a success and immediately began full-scale production in late 1964. These cars have been referred to by some as “X58 Clones”, but they were built concurrently with the PRR X58 and the prototype Lot 939 car predated the X58.

NYC prototype X-post box, 100000 as seen in the September 1964 issue of the Central Headlight. Note the 70-ton plain bearing A3 trucks. (NYC Historical Society Collection, used with permission).

The first cars constructed in regular production were P&LE 6000-6449, Lot 955-B. These cars had 8-panel sides, 10′ Youngstown doors, DSI roofs, and ends, and Keystone cushion underframes. This was followed by Lot 974-B in January 1966 (P&LE 6500-6899) which was almost identical and Lot 975-B in March 1966 (P&LE 6900-6999) which were built without running boards and were insulated with 10′ 6″ plug doors. DSI continued to build X-Post cars through 1970 for NYC, PC, and LV.

Lot 974-B at DeWitt Yard, East Syracuse, NY. Jim Parker photo, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.
A lot 975-B on the NYC-New Haven interchange track at Framingham, MA in 1966. Note the low haning trainline. Leroy Dozier photo, George Elwood collection, used with permission.


Building one of these cars in HO scale requires you to do it as the prototype did – by sourcing all the components from different manufacturers and putting them together in your shop. The basic combination is made up of sides from a Soo Line Historical Society boxcar (produced by Accurail), Accurail 10′ Youngstown door, DSI roof and ends from Branchline (Atlas), and a Details West cushion underframe. The sides aren’t an exact match, but it sure beats scratch building.

I’m hardly the first to attempt this build so I’ll just provide a bill of materials and post-construction photos rather than get into a long discussion about construction. One thing I should mention is that I didn’t realize until it was too late that you need to lengthen the wheelbase on the Details West underframe to 40′ 10″. As a result, my wheelbase is about a scale foot too short. That wasn’t a huge mistake and I’m not about to tear the thing apart to fix it, but it is apparent when compared to a prototype photo.

Bill of Materials

  • Sides: Soo Line Historical & Technical Society undecorated 7-post boxcar kit
  • Door: Accurail #110 10′ Youngstown
  • Ends & Details/Roof: Branchline Trains (Atlas) [may have to source from new old stock NYC 50′ kit]
  • Underframe: Details West #182 or #183 – I replaced the middle section – there are better options for this part today – a Tangent X58 Keystone underframe might be the best (95010-06).
  • Couplers – Kadee #158
  • Trucks – 70-ton Barber S2 Roller Bearing – Athearn Genesis
  • .0125″ and .020 ” wire
  • Running Board – Plano (Apex) or (US Gypsum) with Tichy corner grabs (or Kadee)
  • Crossover platform – Plano #128
  • Brake step – Plano #130
  • Brake wheel – Kadee #2025/2035/2045
  • Ladders – Detail Associates #6242
  • Uncoupling Lever – Plano #1202
  • Air Hoses – Hi Tech
  • Ladder Rungs – Tichy #3062
  • Sill Steps – A-Line Type B #29001
I didn’t do much detail on the underframe – I had no plans and you can’t see much when the car is on the track. I removed the Hydra-Cushion device leaving a blank panel. I did include what looked like a train line hanging from supports by using .020″ wire strung through long eye-bolts.


I primed the car with Vallejo Gray Surface Primer and then painted the car with a mix of Vallejo Model Color Blue Green, Emerald, and White. Model as described in my prior post here. I managed to successfully restore an old set of Microscale decals for this car, by using a couple of coats of their liquid decal film. A few decals from other sources were needed to fill in some of the blanks. I couldn’t find the end lettering in the correct font and ultimately decided the font was more important to me than the words.

Besides making a huge mistake and lettering “P&LE” in the wrong panels and then having to repaint half the car, the biggest issue I had was the cigar band. I thought a standard 48″ band would work, but it seems the NYC had a special stencil instead of a normal Scotchcal to do these over the ribs. The ‘T’ in Central sat right on the rib, but none of the red “NEW YORK; SYS – TEM” letters did. To do this right I deconstructed three cigar bands, scraped the red lettering off of the white background, layered them, and then carefully painted the gap in between where they didn’t quite meet. Solvaset was necessary to get the T to wrap around.

Detail of Cigar Band
My deconstructed cigar band. The oval is from two Microscale locomotive sets, one for CEN, RAL and one for the T; the red lettering is from the Microscale boxcar set (it is a little smaller).
Finished decal – it looks OK as long as you don’t do an extreme close-up like this!

As a less than a year-old car, I only gave it a coat of Vallejo Matte Varnish and a light dusting with Pan Pastels to finish it. This time I used a 2:1 ratio of varnish to thinner and it came out much flatter than my previous attempts.


The total US fleet of 50′ X-post boxcars was just over 8,000 50′ cars during my modeling period, led by PRR’s X58 (a partial roster of 50′ cars can be found after this paragraph, there were also 40′, 60′, and 86′ cars, plus 50′ reefers and other RBLs not part of this discussion). With the math I’m using to build my roster, this model plus my Tangent X58 should do it, but I will probably add one of the Cannon & Co. GN or NP offerings to the mix as well. Exterior post cars certainly stood out in consists of the day, so it is a good idea not to do too many even if they are a sign of the times. I have to say, this was a fun car to put together and will help contribute to a mid-1960s feel to my layout.

Post-Script: X-Post Gallery

Let’s close with a gallery of other major types of exterior post 50′ boxcars in service through the end of 1965. The first group are from the George Elwood collection, used with permission (LV, CofG Jim Sands Marshalltown, Iowa 1967-69; PRR, NP, GN, CB&Q Leroy Dozier around Mass. c. 1965; SOU PS Builders photos are from the James Kinkaid Collection of Pullman Library used under creative commons license:


RPI Green Dot Standards Revisited

A westbound Boston & Albany local passes the caboose of an eastbound through freight at the State Line Tunnel in Canaan, NY. This iconic scene is from the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society’s spectacular New England, Berkshire & Western layout currently undergoing reconstruction in Troy, NY. Photo courtesy of the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society, used with permission.

Editors Note: I had this whole post drafted and was putting the finishing touches on the model when of all the dumb luck Tony Thompson blogged about the same thing. I just want to make it clear that I’m not trying to feed off of his work.

The December 1991 issue of Model Railroader included an article by John Nehrich, titled “Upgrade Your Freight Car Fleet”. John talked about the evolution of the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society’s (RPI) club’s 1950s operating sessions, how they planned the freight car fleet and then set standards for realism and craftsmanship. This was followed by an example of how to upgrade an Athearn 40′ box to meet their “Green Dot” Standards.

This article might have had more influence on my modeling than any that I’ve ever read. John’s thoughts hit me like a bolt of lightning. The article opened my eyes to the importance of realism in freight car modeling and made upgrading shake-the-boxcars look easy. Perhaps just as important, it gave an example of how to plan a car fleet, focusing on the forest and not the trees.

As the RPI club upgraded the cars, they marked the good ones with a green dot underneath….the standards earned the “Green Dot” name. For review, RPI Green Dot standards of the time called for the following:


  • Kadee Couplers properly installed
  • metal wheels, with resistors for signal system
  • trucks and wheelsets checked for tightness and gauge


  • no fictitious roads or paint schemes (except NEB&W and connecting short lines)
  • appropriate trucks
  • no paint scheme or car type from after 1953
  • paint scheme and detailing of ends, sides, doors, roof, and so forth match the prototype as closely as possible
  • some degree of weathering
  • new stirrups to replace heavy molding
  • scale sized wood running board, or milled plastic, or etched metal running board
  • better and more delicate looking brake wheels
  • removal of claws on doors and thinner door tracks
  • uncoupling levers
  • end lettering
  • wire grab irons to replace cast-on parts
Pennsylvania 363240 is a Con-Cor (Revell) gondola with significant upgrades to make it a correct model of a G31F rebuild. Excellent decals from Middle Division and a perfect paint match in Polly Scale Italian Camo Brown also go a long way to making this car fit in with higher-end models from Proto 2000 (left) and Tangent (right)

My fleet standards

As the years passed I have periodically updated this list for my own use. The new cars that I purchase are now immediately upgraded to these specs. Older cars have been run through upgrades in batches of 20-30 cars (like prototype cars going through program work).

  • Car must represent a prototype commonly seen in the NYC in the Northeast between November 1965 and February 1966
  • Paint scheme and detailing of ends, sides, doors, roof, trucks, and so forth match the prototype as closely as possible.
  • Appropriate degree of weathering including roof, trucks, wheels & couplers using standard colors
  • Repack/Reweigh stencils where appropriate
  • Chalk marks
  • Metal wheels [I have not gone all-in on .088″ wheels yet]
  • detailed underframe (visible parts only)
  • Kadee scale-sized couplers
  • delicate looking brake wheels
  • Separate brake details (end)*
  • Separate ladders*
  • New stirrups to replace heavy molding
  • Separate grab irons to replace cast-on parts*
  • Scale sized running board (brake and crossover platforms too)

* recommended, will make exceptions for some cars with molded-on details.

National Car 2254 is an Accurail car with all of the required work done, including grab irons, air hoses, uncoupling levers, separate retainer, and brake lines a Kadee running board, correct trucks and door step. The cast on ladders remain. While Accurail often employs the “good enough” philosophy, their recent releases are based on specific prototypes and the first runs are usually done in correct schemes worthy of super-detailing. In this case Accurail offers a Fruit Growers Express reefer in a correct paint scheme, otherwise only available as an out-of-production Sunshine kit.

One interesting part of this philosophy is how just choosing the right cars and purging those that don’t fit makes such a big difference to define your time and place. When I got rid of a bunch of 1966-70 prototypes, along with paint schemes too old for the 1960s, and unicorns like PRR PS-1s (i.e. prototypical cars, but so atypical that they should be ignored) the difference was remarkable.

Athearn Boxcar Upgrade

Naturally, I also went and rebuilt some of my Athearn 40’ers following John’s article. Of course not having an airbrush at the time, I never painted them. Really only in the past few years have I gotten comfortable with custom painting and lettering. Do I even bother to finish them at this point? Even an upgraded Athearn 40′ box looks like a relic from the past, cross between a 1937 AAR box and the modified version with cast-on ladders and end brake detail.

This car got all the work suggested in the MR article, I also installed air hoses. The door is a Tichy #3055 with the top rib replaced. C&NW and CMO owned 5,166 modified 1937 40′ boxcars.

I did roll one out of the shop this month though. I needed a testbed for Vallejo’s flat finish. I decorated it for a C&NW modified 1937 boxcar, with CMO lettering on one side and C&NW on the other. I didn’t make much effort to match up the details, the CMO only had Viking roofs on their cars and both should have Apex running boards. I reasoned a good weathering job would still make this an acceptable car for through trains. I certainly wouldn’t take on this project today, but should note that if I did, I’d use a different combination of styrene strips on the upper door track to leave room for a taller door, it needs one more corrugation.

I feel this car came out good enough to keep. If I do the other three they will be for IC and SOO – two of the three roads that actually had square corner 5-5 ends (DSS&A was the third) and ATSF Bx-83 which is a decent match for the 8′ door and straight sill I added. While this project did not yield a highly prototypical model it does bear out the philosophy that proper lettering, weathering, and detailing can make a low-end car acceptable in a fleet of more detailed equipment. This is a testament to the RPI club’s forward-thinking philosophy in the 1980s.

SOO 44052 is one of the few prototypes for the Athearn 40′ boxcar. Jim Sands photograph, George Elwood collection, used with permission.
Housekeeping, Uncategorized

Pivoting Back to the Layout

I’ve been working on freight cars for the past few months for a bunch of reasons, but I will resume construction of the actual layout now that I have a major project out of the way – adding a platform for storage in the attic.

This might sound odd, but it was a political necessity. We have a Cape with a half-finished basement. With the layout, workshop, and laundry room in the other half, storage space is minimal. Needless to say, my wife has been less than enthusiastic about the idea of adding more benchwork in the laundry room.

Adding a partial floor in the attic will greatly expand our space. It means that the Christmas decorations, many of the storage bins, and other stuff accumulated downstairs will be out of my way. I had hoped this was going to be a simple project after we had a contractor put in a pull-down door in the Spring, but it turns out the house has four different sizes of rafters (!) and the insulation was a total mess.

Given how uncomfortable it gets up there due to the heat I waited until November to begin to tackle it and finished it by cashing in a vacation day and putting in 10 hours right before Christmas. I wound up laying 2 x 6 joists across the rafters, furring out the two smallest rafter sizes and notching them over the largest, leaving space for 14″ of insulation under the new platform. I had finished almost everything, but just finished screwing in the floor this weekend, so I could start moving stuff up there.

After working with those heavy beams in tight quarters with a respirator and goggles, while trying not to fall through the ceiling, layout construction is going to be a snap!


Editors note: I downloaded Grammarly last week and have been going back and fixing errors in prior posts. This promises to remove most of the annoying writing errors that kept sneaking in and prevent them from happening going forward.

The Christmas decorations away in the attic and out of my way. Now to move some more stuff up there, clean out some junk and get back to work on the layout.

Vallejo Polyurethane Varnish

Now that I’m getting good results with acrylic paints and gloss coats the last product I need to find a replacement for to get off of lacquer-based products is Dullcote. I never was able to get good results with the spray cans but airbrushing it has been great. While I use a respirator no matter what I’m spraying, the downside is that even with a spray booth vented to the outside, the fumes build up in the workshop. I don’t like to go through the hassle of using Dullcote for just one car, while at the same time too many causes a build-up of vapors, so I try to spray in batches of 4-5 cars at a time. Needless to say, that slows down my finishing process.

So for that reason, along with the desire to get rid of hazardous chemicals for me, my family, and cats I need to find a less hazardous substitute. I had read good reviews of the Vallejo Polyurethane Matte Varnish and since the shop down the street stocks it, I picked up a bottle.

Vallejo 26.651 Polyurethane Matte Varnish

The Test C&NW 84102

For a test project, I selected an Athearn Blue Box 40’er that I have had kicking around waiting for decals forever [Note: more on this car in a bit, and in my defense, I already drafted a post on this before Tony Thompson started blogging about the same thing this week!]. It is a car that I couldn’t care less if I ruined, so I finished up the decals, weathered it up, and headed for the spray booth. Vallejo recommends a 3:1 ratio of varnish to thinner, but online forums suggested 1:1, so I followed that. I sprayed on thin coats at about 18 psi. It dried fairly quickly, but I still sped it up with a hairdryer since I was anxious to see what the result would be. The resulting finish was a uniform matte as advertised.

An upgraded Blue Box Athearn 40’er was my test subject…more on this trip down memory lane later.

The next question was would it have enough tooth to hold Pan Pastels? I don’t use pastels as my main medium, usually just a light coat of dust on top, so I didn’t need it to be super “sticky”. It seemed to work well for what I needed and the pastels helped knock the matte finish down to flat. While the texture was good enough for the powders, it wasn’t quite gritty enough for my colored pencil chalk marks. I got them on, but they didn’t come out nearly as good as they usually do. The next time I spray it, I will go for a 2:1 or 3:1 to see if that results in a flatter, grittier finish. If that doesn’t work I’ll try a different colored pencil.

SOO 137196

A factory painted Soo Line (Wisconsin Central) boxcar was next.

Since the C&NW car went so fast and easy, I grabbed my just completed Soo Line boxcar. This was the car I had butchered the door gussets on, after much trial and error I did a good enough job of matching the body paint. This worked so well you can hardly tell the gussets are there at all. The results were identical to the C&NW car, no surprises.

Proof that the gussets are there, I swear I added rivets too!


I thought this was easy to spray and gave effective results. I see no reason why I won’t use the whole bottle. At the same time, it wasn’t dead flat so I’m not tossing my Dullcote just yet and plan on trying the Winsor & Newton Galeria Matt Varnish, as suggested to me by Bruce Griffin, when I run out (see Bruce’s review). The bottom line is that I don’t have a reason to avoid spraying this stuff and it will help me pick up the pace as I work through a backlog of projects to paint and weather.


Workbench Wednesday

Rolling stock continues to be released from my shop. This B&O wagontop covered hopper had been done for months, except for the stirrups which I managed to break all four of during assembly. I finally remembered to order these and wrapped up that project.

This was an impulse buy from Funaro & Camerlengo to complete of one of their two-for-one train show offers. In reality this car has almost no business being in New England and there were six other cars of theirs I should have gone for instead. Anyway, I suppose it could be hauling industrial sand from West Virginia or road salt off the original Genesee & Wyoming in New York and it came out pretty good. I weathered it based on a photo published in the B&O Modeler magazine. I wanted it to look like it was in something other than cement service as plants on the B&O did not ship to Massachusetts.

Other than that I fixed the mess I made out of the Soo Line boxcar, it and one other just need a final shot of Dullcoat, my lot 858-B car is progressing on the workbench. The big project I had hoped to have done was the lot 955-B P&LE box, but I managed to screw up decals on one side of the car. A repaint of that area with leftover paint I used didn’t quite match for some reason, so I need to repaint a wider area without it spiraling out of control. Ugh. At least the other side and the ends came out right.



On Color

A Walthers coil car I kitbashed long ago but never painted. I removed most of the walkway and replaced many cast on details with free-standing replacements. The decals are a mix from a variety of Microscale, Rail Yard Models and Mark Vaughn sets. Since these cars were unlikely to show up on the B&A until years in the future, I thought it would make a good test bed for color matching.

A hallmark of the 1960s New York Central is their jade green color scheme, known as Century Green. Painting equipment in this color can be a bit of a challenge for several reasons. First, blends of colors can be hard to get correct, a little too much one way or the other doesn’t look right. Maine Central Harvest Gold is a good example of this, as both model manufacturers and those restoring full-size equipment have repeatedly missed the mark, looking either too yellow or orange. Second, the color has a tendency to fade fast in the weather, so the color is a moving target in the real world.

Third has been the drift of our collective consciousness. Model train and model paint manufacturers have missed the mark on this color for years making it too green. Along with that, Penn Central reformulated the color into Deepwater Green, which had less blue and was darker. In my opinion, these two together have led model railroaders to misrepresent NYC’s green.

A range of renditions of Century Green surround my latest paint project NYC 752097: NYC 168521 to the left is from Branchline – the hue is right, but too dark. To the right is Atlas – a good shade/tint, but too green, the right rear is Proto 2000 too green and too light. The Walthers 60′ high-cube is actually fairly close.

With a backlog of equipment to be painted Century Green, I sought to dig a little deeper to figure out a good way to match the color. My first stop was the New York Central Historical Society’s web article on color standards. Included are formulas to match both a paint sample (Pullman-Standard Butler, PA 1965) and an actual drift card from DuPont. With this information, you can have created your own drift card by having paint matched to the color formulas.

The next piece I found was someone else who went down this road trying to match paint to restore NYC caboose 21692 for the Southern Michigan Railroad. This gentleman had claimed to have seen both the paint sample and drift card in person and was convinced that they were based on the old Munsell color system color 2.5BG 5/8. After making a direct comparison, he matched that color standard. The finished restoration matched the color better than any I have ever seen (although the graphics could use some help).

Southern Michigan Railroad’s restored NYC 21692. Courtesy of SMR’s Facebook page.

Since the results of that looked promising. I found an online color chart for 2.5 BG – but 5/8 was missing. Why? As it turns out they felt the 5/8 hue doesn’t reproduce well on a monitor. This basically confirms how hard it is to match this color. Next, I found Encolorpedia, which has analysis and paint matches for all the Munsell colors. They determined that 07937B in the hex code and a hue of 170 degrees, 91% saturation, and 30% lightness. It recommended Vallejo Model Color Light Turquoise and Model Air Jade Green were close matches (and exact matches to each other). Perhaps the Jade Green is a match, but the Turquoise is very blue and not anywhere close to matching the Jade Green, so take those match recommendations with a grain of salt.

Since the color looked different on each of my phones, desktop, and laptop, I printed a sample on my photo printer to get a color standard (the background color on the new theme for this site is 07937B for reference). The color seemed to be a good match for new NYC cars in comparison to photos. I played with a mix of Vallejo Model Color Emerald, Blue Green, and White, creating my own color chart, and decided a 1:1:1 ratio would be a good place to start. I painted a coil car and X-post boxcar. The color looked a little on the blue side, but comparisons to photos of new boxcars in the Morning Sun Color Guide to NYC Freight and Passenger Equipment Volumes 1 and 2 looked very close.

I opted to proceed with weathering of the coil car. After a wash of raw umber, the color shifted more to a green than a blue. It was still bluer than my other cars and that is what I was aiming for. Again comparing to photos in the books showed the hue to be too green or blue and the shade too light or too dark depending on the photo. In other words, it was in the range.

These two cars were painted in the same batch. The side by side comparison shows the effect of Dullcoat, artist oils and Pan Pastels on the final color. That grab iron will be repaired after decals are done.

The final test was to apply a flat finish and some Pan Pastel powders. I used Raw Umber Tint as the main weathering agent to fade it a bit more. The final result came out well enough that I’m going to go forward with decaling the P&LE boxcar over the existing paint. I thought the initial color was too blue, but if anything the final result was too green. I will probably add a bit of gray and maybe more blue to the formula on the next batch. The question now is what do I do with all of the too-green cars I have on my roster?!?!

Depending on the prototype photo the hood is either too green, blue, light, or dark – so that should be within the range of acceptable color. It is in fact, very close to the color of a fairly new car.
Critical Cars

Critical Cars: 40′ Boxcars with 9′ Doors – part 2 Wabash 91000 series

In the prior post on this topic, I provided a roster of cars built with 9′ doors and a preview of the other car I was building – a Wabash box in the 91000-91514 series. I have now completed that car, here is the full write-up of that project.

The prototype cars were built by AC&F in November 1961, putting them among the last orders of 40′ boxcars. In fact, these look like the last 40′ AAR boxcars built, as all the remaining orders for 40’ers I know of were PS-1s, mini-hi cubes, or exterior post designs [update: Jim Eager advises that MKT 5100-5199, ACF 5-68, were the last non-exterior post 40′ boxcars built – MBC]. Their 9′ doors, drop sill and roller bearing trucks certainly give them a modern look that sets them apart from cars built in the ’40s and ’50s. Many of these cars were initially dedicated to flour loading. The modern look, service assignment, and photos on the B&A all made me want to include this car on my roster.

A rain-streaked WAB 91054 on the NYC at Silver Creek, NY near Buffalo in June 1967. The stencil reads “For Flour Loading Only When Empty Return to Wabash Railroad Company Decatur, Illinois”. Photo collection of George Elwood, used with permission.


For the base car, I used an Intermountain PS-1 body with ends and a roof from Branchline (BL). I did this because I had these parts on hand. If anyone is going to consider this kitbash, do yourself a favor and start with a Branchline 50′ welded boxcar with a 9′ door. As you will see, attaching BL parts to an Intermountain body created all kinds of little problems. The only saving grace was the PS-1 welded panel lines matched up perfectly to the prototype WAB body while the BL ones don’t. While this is a minor detail, it came in extremely useful as a guide while applying decals.

The first step was to cut 5′ off of each end of the body. This was followed by adding a couple of styrene strips on the ends to serve as a surface to join the body. As it turns out the Intermountain body is just a hair too narrow for the roof ends, so I had to sand those down, losing the rivet detail in the process. This also meant that the roof wouldn’t fit in so I had to remove the two strips along each end of the underside of the roof and have it sit flat on the top of the car. To make that work I had to install a styrene sheet reinforcement to keep the sides from bowing in.


The doors that came with the Branchline car didn’t quite match the prototype. I tried to source some Kadee doors but they were proving hard to get when Tangent introduced their new 9′ YSD doors. These fit the existing door tracks great, but their geometry on the backside is designed for the Tangent body, so it left some voids. This required some sanding and styrene strips all the way around the inside perimeter to secure properly.


The next step was to install the underframe. In looking at the drawings on the N&W Historical Society (see here). I decided to use a Branchline underframe from a 50′ car. Again, I had spares from cars I had put cushion underframes on. The Branchline underframe and bolsters sit on a couple of strips that aren’t on the Intermountain car, so I had to shim these up by 0.054 (an Evergreen scale 4″ x something and .010″ together). I cut up the underframe into three pieces and spliced it back together as shown. New bosses for the trucks were needed so I drilled out holes for a 1/16″ Evergreen styrene tube. I cut these flush with the bolsters, but as it turns out I should have left them a little taller to properly fit the Tangent 50-ton roller bearing trucks. I made spacers out of thin sections of 1/16″ tube to take care of that issue. With that done I added Kadee couplers in their scale-sized boxes, shimming them down a bit.

I detailed the underframe using stock Branchline brake parts with the rods removed and replaced with phosphor bronze wire and Tichy turnbuckles for clevises. A-Line stirrups and Hi-Tech air hoses came next. With the holes on the underside of the body done, I added lead shot in puddles of white glue over each truck to bring the car up to weight.

The underframe showing the rearranged parts from the 50′ underframe and the mix of stock Branchline hardware with .012″ wire for rods and pipes. The styrene bits on the body filled in holes where I cut off a bit much. Note that was giant cat hair sticking out from the door not a scratch.

Gussets and Other Body Details

For the gussets, I aimed not to repeat the mess I created with my Soo Line car covered in a recent post, so I took a squared up side shot from Gary Roe of the Wabash Historical Society and processed it in Inkscape to scale it full size then extract measurements from it. I came up with the following plan and used it to make the parts I needed from .005″ styrene sheet. Measurements are actual inches so I could use my digital calipers to layout out the dimensions. This isn’t a perfect method but the parts came out close enough.

My left side gusset plan, to do the right one you have to subtract the area of the door track.

The remaining work involved hanging various detail parts. I used the following:

  • Grab Irons – side: Kadee bracket grabs
  • Ladders – side: Branchline 7 rung
  • Tack Boards: Branchline
  • Running Board: Kadee Apex
  • Brake Wheel: Kadee Miner
  • Brake Step: Plano
  • End details: Branchline
  • Grab Irons – bottom end: Tichy drop grabs hanging from underside of car
  • Cut lever brackets: Yarmouth Model Works
  • Cut lever: Tangent
  • Sill Steps: A-Line
The finished car on my Thompson Wire module.

Paint & Weathering

I painted the body of the car with a mix of 2 parts Vallejo Model Color Cavalry Brown and one part Dark Red, the roof with a mix of Vallejo Model Air USAAF Light Gray and Silver and trucks Poly Scale Rail Brown. I then installed the roof and running board. Decals are an old Mark Vaughn/Wabash Custom Decals set. I wound up with some silvering, which I attribute to the decals being stiff (I did have 3-4 coats of Future on). I got rid of most of it with pinholes and Solvaset, but some stayed around the decal edges. I might need to start cutting decals on the glass to keep the edges from curling up. I covered over most remaining silvering with weathering. To represent a four-year-old car I gave it a light wash of dark umber oil paint along with a light dusting of Pan Pastels along with colored pencil chalk marks.


Although I made this project a little harder than it could have been, it wasn’t all that bad. I still need to swap out the trucks to Tangent 50-ton roller bearings – they weren’t available when I ordered the doors. I’m now one car closer to being able to replicate the entire train in the photo below. I just need to do one more car after I weather the X31s I got for Christmas.

NYC local freight at North Grafton, MA January 1967: RS2 5512, ATSF modified 1937 box, NS 1937 box, D&H Pullman G31 clone gon, PRR X31A, PRR 50’er, WAB 91000, and lot 919 caboose. I’ve only got the 50’ PRR car to go, it is probably an X41c but with no model available I might use an F&C X38. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.
Traffic Research

Freight Flows: Appliances

For this Thanksgiving edition of Central Artery, here is an overview of the logistics of the machines that helped deliver and clean up today’s meal – ovens, refrigerators, and dishwashers along with their cousins – washers and dryers. This post will provide some background on the build of the NYC 858-B boxcar I’m working on.

1940s Westinghouse Ad

In the 1960s there were many finished products still moving in carload freight service. Most of these used plain boxcars but for some, a little more attention is required. Household appliances are one of these commodities.

1965 Massachusetts Data

There were 57 shipments of STCC # 363 – Household Appliances in the sample. This was comprised of 9 cars of household cooking equipment, 28 cars of refrigerators, and 20 of washers/dryers. That equates to about 6000 shipments per year to Massachusetts, about 16 per day, which was about 1.5% of inbound shipments. That doesn’t make appliances a top 20 commodity, but it clearly is significant.

Most of the inbound cars came from the Great Lakes region, with about half from Ohio (28), followed by Kentucky (12), Michigan (6), and Illinois (5). Indiana likely just missed the cut, as they had shown up in the 1963 survey and shipped plenty of cars to N.Y. and N.J. in 1965.

Carloads of Appliances to Massachusetts by origin state in 1965 1% Waybill Sample

Shippers and Origins

Westinghouse’s plant with truck and rail shipping docks in Mansfield, Ohio on the PRR Fort Wayne Route. Courtesy of

In investigating potential shippers, I could have tried to do a deep dive and find some statistics on the top-selling brands of appliances in 1965….instead I looked at where NYC assigned its lot 858-B boxcars. There were 1500 cars in lot 858-B #42000-43499 when new, but since this was the railroad’s only large class of 40’ers with 8′ doors, they equipped 915 with interior load restraint systems and assigned most to specific shippers. All but one of these special assignments was in the appliance industry. Below is a summary of their appliance assignments, along with potential loading points (not inclusive) and serving rail carriers:

  • 560 cars for Whirlpool – Marion, O. (EL north side, NYC south side); Clyde, O. (NYC-N&W); Evansville, Ind. – 3 plants (Refrigerator plant #2 NYC and 2 plants C&EI – open to NYC); St. Joseph, Mich. (NYC/C&O); St. Paul, Minn. (NP); Fort Smith, Ark. (SLSF); Rock Island, Ill.
  • 89 – Westinghouse – Columbus, O. (PRR-NYC); Mansfield, O. (PRR); Newark, O. (B&O-PRR); Edison, N.J. (PRR); Athens, Tenn.
  • 68 – General Electric – Appliance Park, Louisville, Ky. (L&N, open to NYC)
  • 62 – Philco – Philadelphia, Penn. (PRR); Connersville, Ind. (NYC)
  • 40 – Carrier – Syracuse, N.Y. (NYC)
  • 10 – Frigidaire – Dayton, O. (B&O, open to NYC)
  • 10 – Kelvinator – Detroit, Mich. (GTW and WAB/C&O both open to NYC)
  • 5 – Admiral – Chicago, Ill. (MILW, open to NYC); Galesburg, Ill. (AT&SF); Harvard, Ill. (C&NW)
  • 5 – Maytag – Newton, Iowa (RI)
  • 3 – Hotpoint – W. Milwaukee, Wis. (MILW)
  • 3 – Amana – Amana, Iowa (MILW)
  • 0 – Norge – Herrin, Ill. (IC)
A Whirlpool plant in Evansville, IN on the C&EI. Note the string of boxcars behind the fence staged for loading. Photo courtesy of Willard Library, Evansville Historic Photo Collection, used under creative commons license.

As one can see, locations, where NYC was the serving carrier naturally, had more of their equipment assigned, locations, where NYC had only reciprocal switch access, appear to be in the middle, followed by strictly offline points. Whirlpool was the top appliance manufacturer in the US and NYC served multiple plants directly, with over 500 cars assigned it is obvious that Whirlpool was the railroad’s most important appliance customer.

Receivers and Destinations on the B&A

The art deco Sears warehouse on Brookline Avenue, near Fenway Park was a major receiver of appliance carloads. The Sears private Kenmore label line of appliances was manufactured under contract by the major producers. This location was off the Highland Branch and continued to receive service after the line was converted to light rail service. Today it is known as The Landmark Center. Photo courtesy of Digital Commonwealth, used under a creative commons license.

I scanned through the Massachusetts listings in the NYC Freight Delivery Circular and uncovered several receivers of appliances. Receivers could be broken down into three groups: manufacturer-operated distribution centers, retailer warehouses with sidings, and small retailers via public delivery.

A New York Central Alco switcher works the Grand Jct. Branch at Mass. Ave. in Cambridge adjacent to the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse. Three major appliance manufacturers used this facility as their Boston area distribution center. In the foreground is MIT’s nuclear reactor – the adjacent building was once Whiting Milk – the destination for the B&A’s milk train from Barre Plains, Mass. on the Ware River Branch. Photo courtesy of Digital Commonwealth, used under a creative commons license.

With NYC having the best route from the Midwest to Boston and NYC directly serving several plants they logically had the lion’s share of the business to Boston. The locations I was able to pick out are as follows:

  • Metropolitan Storage Warehouse – used by Frigidaire, General Electric and Maytag – Cambridge (NYC)
  • Hotpoint – Brighton (NYC)
  • Westinghouse – Boston (NH, open to NYC)
  • Admiral – Boston (B&M, open to NYC)
  • Sears, Roebuck & Co. – Boston and Allston (both NYC)
  • Team Tracks
1950s Maytag Employee Magazine touting the virtues of a carload purchasing via team track delivery.


Great Northern 39739 was built by PC&F in September, 1961 with a 9′ door, cushioned underframe, roller bearings and a Car-Pac loader. It was specially equipped for the appliance trade….in this case an assignment to Maytag at Newton, IA. I missed these late model cars on my roster of 9′ door 40′ boxes. Jeff Lemke photo, used with permission.

By 1965 intermodal was an option for Midwest-Northeast shipments and had carved out about 8% of the shipments within the Official Territory. That means the other 92% was moving by boxcar, with some spot substitutions of refrigerator equipment, most likely RBLs made surplus by seasonality (refrigerators shipped in refrigerators!). By the mid-60s, the most common equipment for shipments in the East was a 40′ boxcar with 8′ or larger doors, equipped with a load restraint system. Common systems were Evans Damage Free (DF/DF-2), Transco Stage Loader (SL/SL-2) Spartan Easy Loader (SEL) and Spartan Tri Belt (STB) [corrected 11/25/21]. 19 belt DFs appear to have been preferred in appliance service. It wasn’t until the very end of the decade that the mini hi-cube 40’ers were built for this industry, and even those were for service to the West.

To confirm these conclusions, I dug into a sample of appliance shipments from Louisville, KY to Baltimore, Md., and Washington, DC from a consist of PRR train WPB-4 on 9-16-66. The consist shows 12 identifiable cars (a 13th, the SOO car, wasn’t in the ORER), all rigid underframe 40′ boxcars with 8′-14′ door openings. Of these, 10 were equipped with DF or STB loaders and two were unequipped. Only two were home-road L&N cars, none PRR. The balance were quite random cars assigned to the Appliance Park pool. Additionally, it should be noted that 12 of the cars were billed to GE’s own distribution centers and the 13th was consigned to Sears. I found it interesting that although Appliance Park was open to reciprocal switch according to the NYC Freight Delivery Circular, the PRR got these in linehaul services from the L&N at Cincinnati. Also interesting was that the following day’s WPB-4 had no appliance cars. It begs the question, did GE send shipments out in large blocks to reduce switching and thereby service and damage issues?

ATSF and L&N equipped (XML) 40′ boxcars on Horse Shoe Curve at Altoona, Penn. in 1967. I can’t say for sure these were appliance cars, but it is certainly a possibility that this is another GE block on an eastbound PRR freight. Jim Parker photo, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.


After studying the information at hand I came up with the following five origin/destination pairs for my waybills:

  • Whirlpool, Marion, O. to Sears, Roebuck & Co. Boston, Mass. via NYC direct
  • Whirlpool, St. Joseph, Mich. to Sears, Roebuck & Co. Boston, Mass. via NYC direct
  • General Electric, Louisville, Ky. to GE c/o Metro. Storage Whse., Cambridge, Mass. via LN-Cincinnati-NYC.
  • Frigidaire, Dayton, O. to Frigidaire c/o Cambridge, Mass. via NYC direct [B&O origin switch]
  • Maytag, Newton, Iowa to Maytag c/o Metro. Storage Whse., Cambridge, Mass. via RI-Chicago-NYC

This gives a couple cars to Whirlpool, 2 shipments from Ohio, plus coverage of Mich., Ky., and Iowa. I already have a RI 19-belt DF boxcar so this car now has a home. The 858-B car will do double duty for a couple of the other origins, leaving one more…perhaps a MILW or L&N box. Appliance traffic was a case where the railroads worked hard with their customers to offer tailor-maid equipment to reduce damages and keep traffic from trucks. The result is some unique equipment that helps tell the story of what the railroads were doing in the 1960s.

RI 5809 had a 17-belt Evans DF-2 loader system installed. While it is a PS-1, it is similar to the Red Caboose model I have. Jim Sands photo, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.

Happy Thanksgiving!!