Critical Cars, Traffic Research

A C&O Insulated Boxcar Build

Completed model of C&O 5500, an insulated boxcar built in 1960 by the C&O shops. I modified the sill on a Branchline kit without having to do a full repaint.

Branchline Trains’ boxcar kits (not RTR) of the early 2000s remain one of the best values for models of rolling stock. I purchased this kit for maybe $10 at a train show. It was really intended to be a fleet filler, but I wound up doing a decent amount of work on it, resulting a nice car.

The prototype for this kit is an 8′ RBL with a Youngstown flush door based on a car built by General American in 1957. This basic design was purchased by many buyers, but by the early 1960s the 10′ door along with a cushioned underframe had become the preferred equipment, thus the 8′ plug door car may represent about a quarter of 50′ RBL equipment of the mid-1960s.

C&O 5613 at Lttle Rock, Ark. in the 1970s. George Elwood photo, used with permission.


In the back of my head I knew that C&O RBL and did show up fairly regularly in New England and that they had a decent sized roster of these cars but I wasn’t too sure it was a great addition. Research shows that the C&O did roster about 1100 RB, RBL and XMLI cars in 1966. Of these 248 were 50′ cars with 8′ doors, with 149 in the series 5500-5649. The most common car on the roster was a 50′ car with 10′ 6″ doors, there were close to 600. So the 5500s aren’t unusual cars, but certainly not the most common.

Insulated boxcars, like auto parts boxcars, were often part of pools of cars with other railroads for specific shippers. As a result a car from the C&O might be assigned to Miller Beer in Milwaukee and be shipped to Boston over a route of MILW-Chicago-NYC never touching the rails of its owner. Still, the origin road would have a disproportionate share of the cars in one of those pools and a large road like C&O would have most of its cars assigned to its own shippers, so let’s look at tonnage of commodities requiring insulation, but not refrigeration on the C&O to find a typical use.

By process of elimination, we can be sure that the second car of this Boston-Saxonville local turn at Natick, Mass. in the fall of 1966 is a C&O 5500 series RBL. The Saxonville Branch was home to many distribution related companies including the main Zayre distribution center – now the site of successor TJX’s headquarters. Donald Haskel photo, used with permission.

RBL Commodities on the C&O

Using the Freight Commodity Statistics we can get an idea of the top commodities originated, terminated, bridged or handled locally on many Class I railroads. Since the last year this data is available is 1963, I have to use that, but that should be close enough.

In a joint Dow, Pullman-Standard and C&O publicity photo showing a brand new PS-1 being loaded with palletized chemicals at the Dow plant in Midland, MI. Pullman-Standard Library/James Kinkaid collection, used under creative commons license.
CommodityTotal CarsTotal TonsTons FWDEst Fwd Cars
Food Products NOS in cans and packages33435104110734602311112
Soap and Cleaning Compounds321023986135891819
Malt Liquor (Beer)7162243811604571776
Beverages, NOS69343793102916
Estimated Forwarded Cars is the result of dividing forwarded tons by total tons per car (Total tons divided by total cars) – Source Freight Commodity Statistics of Class I Railroads – 1963.

This analysis clearly shows that canned and packaged food products are far and away the typical RBL type commodity originated on the C&O. Furthermore beer was not shipped to New England in volume from C&O’s territory. C&O would have had many cars in the Proctor & Gamble pool for soap shipments out of Ivorydale (Cincinnati), Ohio. According to the ICC Carload Waybill Statistics TC-3 report from 1965 though, the bulk of the soap shipments within the Official Territory were intermodal moves. This means that NYC’s Flexi-Van service from Cincinnati to Worcester and Boston would get the lion’s share of those moves. Still, I’ve found photos of P&G RBL loads at Framingham.


So if this car is going to represent a food shipment to the Boston area, what would be some typical shippers? We can make some educated guesses by first figuring out where a shipment most likely would come from. Looking at the 1965 reporting for STCCs 203 (Food) and 2099 (Food products NOS), the states served by C&O rank as follows in terms of carloads in the waybill sample:

  • Illinois (95/270 = 365)
  • Ohio (64/111 = 175)
  • Indiana (34/78 = 112)
  • Michigan (60/26 = 86)
  • Virginia (35/18 = 53)
  • West Virginia (-/7 = 7)

While Ill., Ohio and Ind. rank high, C&O’s market share in those states is small compared to other carriers. In Michigan though, the ex-Pere Marquette routes dominated the agricultural region of the state giving them a strong share. While Michigan did not show up in the 1965 State-To-State moves of 203 or 2099 products to Massachusetts, it did pop at 11 cars in the 1963 data of Food Products NOS. Some searching turned up a few large Michigan shippers on the C&O:

  • Gerber, Fremont, Mich.
  • Michigan Fruit Canners, St. Joseph, Mich
  • Dailey Pickle, Saginaw, Mich.
  • Heinz (pickles), Saginaw, Mich.
  • WR Roach, Croswell, Mich.

Additional smaller canneries operated in Western Michigan (especially the fruit growing region around Traverse City). Long story short, I can realistically operate this car on my layout.

Branchline C&O RBL Model

With the rationale behind the model established let’s look the build. I already had three Branchline RBL’s on my roster when I acquired this one. In order to differentiate this one and make it a more correct model, I modified the sill with a fishbelly profile using plans that appear to be from this car in the 1966 Car & Locomotive Cyclopedia. I spliced the new sill on and cut away part of the old sill. To blend the joint line away, I applied putty over the seam and sanded it flush. I added a few rivets where the underframe met the sill and airbrushed on a coat of Vallejo Model Golden Yellow.


While not one of the prototype cars I was modeling, I used this 1965 photo at Watertown, Mass. of a 40′ C&O PS-1 as a guide for the paint patches and weathering. Leroy Dozier photo, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.

Weathering was a bit more of a challenge on this car than my typical boxcar. Brightly painted cars are just harder for me to do a good job on, so I sought to alter my techniques on this one. To try and get something that resembled the prototype photo I tried fading the paint with a wash of pastel yellow oil paint first. I wasn’t convinced this was going to work, so I only did it on one side. This was followed by a wash of raw umber oil paint and an application of Dullcote.

I had to mask several areas before applying the Pan Pastels since the road grime tended to settle in some spots and avoid others. Rivets seemed to suck up the dust and keep it from settling on the car. Plug door cars typically accumulate road grime on the door surrounding the door posts, but not directly under them. To properly mask this area I left the door posts off the car until I was done with the Pan Pastels.

Here is the initial Pan Pastel application with the rivet strips masked.
Masking removed and Pan Pastels blended with a large soft brush.

When I removed the masking, I colored the rivets with a colored pencil and sealed all with another application of Dullcote. Final detailing and painting included patched repack, reweigh and brake test stencils, Tangent uncoupling levers, Hi-Tech air hoses and a Kadee running board. All the extra work with the weathering was worth it. As for the faded yellow effect, it worked great and I wished I had used it on both sides of the car, I will just be careful not to build the paint up on the rivets next time.

This is, by far, the nicest job I’ve done weathering a yellow or orange car to date, so I wound up building a nicely detailed and needed car, while learning some new techniques in the progress…all from a $10 purchase, you can’t ask for more out of a project than that.


11 thoughts on “A C&O Insulated Boxcar Build”

  1. Your blog is so interesting to me. I am in Rhode Island so semi-close to where you’re modeling. When I was about 7 or 8(I’m 50 now), my dad, his friend, and I went into Worcester station when it was abandoned and derelict condition. I found, and still have a NYC switch list for a lumber company in that area.


  2. OK, so I just found what I thought was a switch list, it’s not. It is the billing for a boxcar delivery to the Dowd Box Co. in Jamesville, Ma. Can not read what was in front of the word Dowd. Also found photos we took inside Worcester Station. Wow was it a mess.


    1. Thanks for the comments. Dowd was bought by Owens-Illinois and is one of the industries I am modeling. What were the details of that move? Origin Destination Date Commodity Car #? I remember the station in that condition…unbelievable transformation and now maybe the same in Detroit and Buffalo too.


      1. It is dated 2/21/62 Pro. No. 930468
        MARYLAND MILLS, MD 2/3/62
        MKT 35523(Not to sure on the last two number, they’re faded.)
        In the Number of Packages, Articles, and Marks(They are very faded)
        CLC WGT AGR
        The row under this is faded
        Can not make out the weight column
        looks like the cost was 329.97

        I can not believe this survived over 18 years on the floor of the roofless station. The pictures my dad took are dated Nov. ’78

        I’ll try to make out the faded areas and report back if I can make out anymore info on it.


  3. Other possible shippers: Campbell Soup, Napoleon, OH, Heinz at Bowling Green, OH and Fremont, OH. Google Campbell Soup location, although the tracks were pulled out in the early 1980’s! Also, Vlasic Pickle Plant, in Michigan.


    1. Thanks Jim. I am aware those were all big rail shippers, but not on the C&O proper. I may make mention of these in a follow up post the big picture of the RBL fleet/shippers. Of course, C&O would have had cars in those pools too. Campbell’s was on DT&I, Heinz on NYC (hence the two 5700 series 40′ RBs that MDT leased to them with HNZX and HRIX marks – the latter for their plant in Muscatine, IA on the Rock Island?). Dailey was purchased by Vlasic at some point,, I’ll have to dig a bit to find out about Vlasic’s 1960s facilities.


  4. BTW, really interesting BLOG. I am really enjoying reading your research and modeling. I did some research on Vlassic Pickle for you since I have an old telephone book from Campbell Soup. The plant I was thinking of was in Imlay City, MI, (middle of the thumb area). Vlassic had these other locations in the the early 1980’s, some might have been pickle stations where farmers made delivery and then the cucumbers were transferred to the bottling plants,: Bridgeport, MI, City of Industry, CA, Greenville, Miss., Memphis, MI and Millsboro, Del. Vlassic was owned by Campbell Soup in the 1980’s and there was only 1 or 2 plants left when they spun this company off to Pinnacle Foods, Cherry Hill, NJ in the 1990’s. Within the last 3 years, Pinnacle was bought out by ConAgra. Pinnacle had a number of household brands that most people would recognize.


    1. Thanks Jim, your freight car research has been a great help to me over the years. Thanks for your help on this. I found the plant in Imlay City on the GT&W main. A rail spur with four car spots and fancy mechanized dock plates…alas the switch is gone. All truck today, par for the course.


  5. For years I’ve wanted to know more about this same exact C&O RBL from Branchline Trains, and now not only do I have such information, I even have a photo of what one looked like in the 70s (my primary modeling era).

    I actually bought this car years ago (maybe 2007/2008) at a hobby shop in Florida alongside an N&W 50′ boxcar also from Branchline Trains. Because my assembly skills and tools then weren’t up to the challenge, alongside my general modeling handling/transportation at the time, the assembled kits lost pieces over time and were eventually on the chopping block for sale. After no luck in selling them, and given my increased skills combined with tools and sentimental attachment, I’ve finally decided to fix them up so I can use them in some capacity. The N&W one was used as roof weathering fodder and will be done up as near end-of-life in as-delivered paint as it did in the 80s while the C&O will be part of my 70s operating fleet).

    So far the N&W car has behaved for the most part in disassembly of what needs to be changed (ladders, brake wheel, etc.), so I’m hoping the C&O car will be as cooperative including trying to fix an issue with the plug door bars being wonky.


    1. To keep the door bars buckling I trim just a little off of the top mounting pad and remove the mounting pin on the back.


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