Slide Show Sunday: SV-4 at Worcester

New York Central bay window caboose 21630 brings up the rear of Flexi-Van hotshot SV-4 at Worcester, MA on 4/30/67. NYC 21630 was from Lot 827, built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1952 and rebuilt and renumbered from series NYC 20298-20497 during 1963-65. Tangent has just completed a second run of this car in HO scale, with a revised shade of Century Green.

SV-4 was the Selkirk-Boston section and carried trailers in addition to Flexi-Van containers. While NYC was widely known for its innovative container system, it began TOFC service in 1962 and joined Trailer Train in 1964 with TOFC spreading across the system. Clearance issues close to the city prevented piggyback service into Boston until 1966. Scanned from the original Tom Murray Kodachrome slide, my collection.


Photo File Friday: 405 entering Worcester from Boston

New York Central Alco RS3 #5527 passes through the former Interlocking #26 at the east end of the Worcester Yard on November 5, 1967 (unknown photographer, author’s collection, scan of Agfachrome transparency. Worcester Stamped Metal never had a sidetrack – the Worcester Consolidated Street Railway used to run between the B&A and the building. The real hidden story here revolves around NYC simplifying infrastructure to cut costs.

In the mid-1950s, facing rising costs and declining traffic, NYC announced a plan to single-track much of the system and install Centralized Traffic Control (CTC), this included the Boston & Albany. The railroad postponed that project while traffic projections were reassessed as the traffic decline showed signs of stopping, possibly due to the growth in automotive and intermodal traffic. In the meantime, NYC took other methods to reduce their plant. Here at milepost 43.2, Tower 26 has been demolished and the interlocking reduced from five crossovers to just one plus a spring switch at the entrance to the yard, protected by a single aspect dwarf signal. The spring switch let eastbound freights exit the yard without having to stop and reset the switch once clear. It was one of only two places on the mainline that had them at this time, the other being both ends of the single-track crossing of the NY State Thruway in East Chatham, NY. Westbounds meeting a stop signal at the home signal (seen just past the end of the train) had instructions to call Tower 28 for instructions immediately. Eventually, NYC and Penn Central would reduce the main to a series of CTC islands like this, controlled remotely from just a few towers.

In the mid-1980s Conrail finally single-tracked the B&A. Since then, double track has been going back in and may stretch continuously for 150 miles from Boston to Pittsfield in a few years if the plan to increase passenger service beyond Worcester comes to pass.


Photo File Friday: Wreck Train at North Grafton

NYC 5203 leads a wreck train westbound through North Grafton, MA on October 30, 1966. Scanned from Agfachrome slide, photographer unknown, author’s collection.

I thought this would make a neat project if I ever get enough rolling stock built to start looking for oddball projects to work on. Several pieces of equipment in this train would be off-the-shelf models (bay window caboose, 52′ gon) or easy kit conversions (wheel flats, possibly the coach at the end), while others would be more involved. The crane was X-13, from a group of four 250-ton cranes built by Industrial Brownhoist. Options here would be limited to old Athearn and Bachmann models to use as a base. Some additional research is definitely in order…maybe someday.


Photo File Friday: SV-3 leaving Worcester

Tom Murray photo, author’s collection

Boston to Selkirk Flexi-Van hotshot SV-3 accelerates west out of Worcester, MA behind four General Electric U-Boats led by #2555 on August 27, 1966. Crompton & Knowles’ loom works are to the left. Weedgrown sidetracks to traditional industries standing empty while intermodal traffic surged were a sign of the times. SV-3 was carded for a night-time departure from Boston for most of the 1960s, so daylight photos of this job are hard to come by.


Photo File Friday: #405 at Jamesville, MA

Penn Central train 405 westbound at Jamesville, MA 7/27/69. Tom Murray photo, author’s collection.

One thing I do a couple times a week is to search E-Bay for 1960s Boston & Albany images. Often times I’ll just grab a screen shot of the picture, but if it something I think I may want for a future publication or this blog I’ll throw a bid in. Persistence pays off and a few times a year I’ll find something really useful. This is one of those finds and is a good example of how a below-average photo can be priceless to prototype research.

This is a picture of train #405, the westbound Boston to Albany run. This was a train that was heavily photographed due to its predictable daytime schedule. The photo is a little fuzzy and weather dreary; a magazine editor would throw it in the trash. The vantage point though is the James Street bridge – a place I’ve never found another photo taken from and it gives us a look at a whole bunch of details that are front and center on my layout. It is also the first period color photo I’ve found of the area.

Starting with color, we can confirm what the three-deckers to the upper left looked like. Some are still in the same shingles today. Further down is the Graham Street bridge. Black was the standard color of the overhead truss bridges on the B&A, but this one appears to be dull silver. Silver was certainly used on other bridges on the B&A and I have seen other trusses in this color during this period. This saves a mistake and will help set the layout in the 1960s. We also get a glimpse of G.F. Wright’s factory complex in the distance, while the brick colors were obvious, the photo confirms the gray color of the window panels. The different shades of gray on the ballast of the different tracks are even informative.

A close up reveals more details.

For details, we get a great look at the hardware that controls the switches including a pipe-connected hand throw crossover – standard engineering on the NYC for double track lines with Automatic Block Signals. Up on the hillside just before the bridge, it looks like the garage is filling in the land behind their building, implying that it was graded differently in 1965. Other details like the flanger sign, signals, and speed board are useful as well.

The lessons here are to really dig into you photo material and don’t stop looking for new material – you never know when you may come across an imperfect image that only you will appreciate.


Happy Labor Day

Jamesville Switcher March 1956, Jack Leonard Photo, Collection of Barb Hudson, used with permission.

Happy Labor Day folks. I’ve obviously taken an extended break from this blog. Long story short, a merger accompanied by an uncertain situation at work ate up my consciousness in the spring into the summer. Once that was finally settled, we were into the heart of the summer and I wasn’t into doing anything with models or research. Apart from attending the NERPM meet I’ve not done anything related to model railroading since March. I’m ready to start working again though, so regular posts will resume shortly.

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.