The Third Level

While I was searching the web for an update on the new passenger station being built below Grand Central Terminal for trains from Long Island, I was reminded of a short science fiction story by Jack Finney titled The Third Level”. My father, an English teacher, introduced me to the story growing up.

The plot revolves around an everyman named Charlie who is nostalgic for the past. His life changes when he gets lost in the maze of tunnels in Grand Central Terminal. Since the part of the Venn diagram where science fiction and the New York Central overlap is pretty small, I thought I’d share it in the spirit of the season, read it here.

Those of us with model railroads set in the past all can relate to Charlie in some way I guess. Happy Halloween New York Central style.



Setting Goals for this Season

Since mid-June I’ve hardly even thought about model railroads, let alone do anything worth writing about. I noticed a couple weeks ago that I hadn’t even checked my railroad RSS feed for an entire month. I’ve been enjoying the summer, surviving the heat and getting deep into prototype railroad research. This has taken me on many tangents including the economics of short-haul intermodal, regional railroads of the Midwest and railway engineering. In the interest of having something to post I might try tying some of what I’ve been working on in with the B&A.

For now though, I’m going to get back on track and set my goals for the 2020-21 season. I’m listing four achievable goals:

  1. Finish the benchwork
  2. Rebuild my Thompson Wire module
  3. Finish the rural scenery from staging to the edge of Jamesville.
  4. Complete 10 resin kits/kitbashes


I’ve not been doing things in order. I got the yard up and running to start basic operations and after that I’ve done whatever I was in the mood for at that time. At this point it is time to finish up the basics starting with the other half of the benchwork. I bought the balance of the lumber yesterday, it would be nice to get the open grid framing done over the next couple of weeks.

Thompson Wire

When I built my Thompson Wire module close to 20 years ago, all I had was a railroad valuation map and photos I made from a couple field surveys. The complex has since been torn down, replaced by a CVS. Since then, I’ve obtained Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, period aerial photos and trackside photographs from the 1960s and 1980s that will allow me to build a much more realistic rendition. I started by tearing out one of the structures and am ready to scratchbuild a replacement. I have a plan to renovate the module and then transfer the scene to the layout.

Thompson Wire as it stands today. Project #1 of the rebuild is to build a new structure to go where the white wall is standing in. I may replace the DPM module structure in the background with something scratchbuilt with Tichy industrial window castings that weren’t available when I first built this scene.

Rural Scenery

I was working my way through this into the spring when I started working on car projects and then stopped modeling altogether for the summer. I should be able to pick this right back up by finishing the abutment castings and then getting right into gloop, ground cover, static grass, trees etc…

Looking down the narrow hall, the track is down and wired, after the fascia is in I will continue with scenery.

Freight Cars

I always need a few car projects to work on. Finishing this list is a stretch, but many of these just need paint and decals and many can be painted together since there are only a few colors involved. This list may change over time.

  1. LV 52′ gondola – Sunshine kit, built
  2. P&LE 50′ boxcar – scratchbash, built
  3. B&M 40′ gondola – F&C kit, built
  4. N&W 46′ gondola – Pocahontas Model Works, built
  5. P&LE 52′ gondola – Proto 2000 kitbash, needs final details
  6. NYC bay window caboose, WrightTrak, needs final details
  7. NYC 19000 plywood side caboose, American Model Builders, needs final details
  8. WAB 40′ AC&F Boxcar w/9′ Door – Branchline kitbash, just started, all parts in box
  9. T&P 50′ AC&F cushioned boxcar with double door – all parts in box
  10. CNJ 40′ AC&F welded boxcar with 7′ door – all parts in box
I’m a master at bringing freight car projects right up to the point they need paint and decals and then forgetting about them. I’m starting to gain some momentum in finishing projects, I need to build on that this year.
Three of the selected projects – WAB and MEC boxcars and P&LE gondola, I scratchbuilt the steel floor with styrene and Micro Mark rivets using plans on RR Fallen Flags website.

That should be plenty of work to keep my busy this year. Rapido’s Flexi-Flo hoppers are due soon and that is another basic weathering project to add to the list. Let Model Railroad Season begin…happy modeling!

Critical Cars

Now or Never

I’m sure most of us have one of those projects that never seems to get done (OK, maybe more than one in my case). Sitting on my shelf of started, but never finished freight car projects, has been a New York Central Lot 747-H Enterprise covered hopper. This was my first craftsman car kit, a West Shore Line model that I bought at Central Hobby Supply’s booth at the Springfield show back in the early ’90s.

The Enterprise cars were the largest group of covered hoppers on the NYC. As of October 1966 there were 1431 on the rosters of NYC, CASO, IHB, MDT and P&LE, this comprised about 1/3 of the  NYCS covered hopper roster. Lot 747-H itself contained 693 cars. The prototype Lot 747-H cars could be found hauling cement, feed, industrial sand, limestone and road salt on the B&A in the 1960s. Given the total numbers and wide usage, they are a necessary car for my fleet. At the time I was very excited to buy the car and start construction.

Alco RS3 5530 pulls the Framingham-Worcester local westbound at Cordaville, Mass. in April, 1966. It looks like a pair of Enterprise covered hoppers are in the consist, most likely for the cement distribution terminal in Westboro. Donald Haskel photo, used with permission.

Things started out well enough, but a covered hopper is a poor choice for a first resin kit. As work on the car progressed, problems started to pile up and mistakes compounded on themselves, eventually I became frustrated enough that the car was pushed to the side. A couple times over the years I’d gone back and tried to finish the project, solving some problems and discovering new ones. Each time it went back in the box and on the shelf. Over the years I’ve gotten much better with craftsman kits, but I never did finish this one. This Spring, trapped in the house with Coronavirus restrictions, I figured it was now or never to get this one done for good.

The two biggest issues I had were with the ladders and the channel ribs over the bolsters. The car sides were designed so that strip styrene was to be cemented to them to acheive the thin cross section of the channel flanges. Long story short – this didn’t work at all. Eventually I gave up, carved off what was on the car and replaced the entire channel with an Evergreen styrene channel. The single piece would be much more durable even if it was a hair too wide. In the process though, the surround rivets were filed off so they had to be replaced with resin surface decals.

The ladders were also designed to be fabricated, from strip styrene and .020″ wire. I tried to build these a couple different ways over the years and again traded off realism for durability in the end. I cut one of the stiles off of a Tichy ladder and used that instead. They angle in a bit to the center of the car but I got them together without going insane and they are solid.

I tried to upgrade the rest of the detailing on the car as I went along, but some problems couldn’t be fixed without causing irreparable damage. This included:

  • piping and detailing to the B-end
  • hatches – they should be much taller
  • .020 wire for end grab irons and hatch handles

The unpainted car showing the details I upgraded from the kit parts. This included the a Plano US Gypsum running board, hatch latch bars, channels, rivets, dust guards, towing staples and ladders.

With construction finally done, I painted the car Model Master Light Gray and decorated it using Wabash Custom Decal’s set #105. This set does one Airslide and one Lot 747-H car lettered for either P&E or NYC. Mark Vaughn has sold this decal firm, but is back in business under new ownership. As of mid-2020 these are still available.

NYC 881200 747-H 11-71

A good weathering job can hide a multitude of sins, so I put some extra effort here. Using 1970 photo of a prototype car for a guide (shown above), I started with a wash of burnt umber oil paint over most of the car. After this cured I streaked a very light gray mix down the car sides. Titanium white oil paint takes forever to dry, so this was set aside to cure for about two weeks. I came back and added the paint patches and decals for the repack, reweigh and brake test stencils. I then sealed everything with Dullcote and gave a light dusting with Pan Pastels to blend everything together.


While the craftsmanship no longer represents my best work, I am really happy with the results. The gray for the paint patches is too dark, but that was intentional to make it stand out. The Pan Pastels give it a chalky look that looks better in person than in the photo of the finished car. Time to check this one off and move on to the next project.



Operations Planning: Mid-day through trains

Preface: I have been busy working on some models and had hoped to have had photos of the finished results by now, but I greatly underestimated how long it takes titanium white oil paint to dry! So to fill the void, here is some info on train operations on the 1960’s B&A. This post is illustrated by the photography of Tad Arnold. A thank you goes out to Bob and Tad Arnold for sharing these images. Check out Bob’s website which covers over 80 years of his family’s railroad pictures. – MBC

As I move closer to being able to run full operating sessions, I need to prioritize rolling stock projects and acquisitions to round out the roster. In order to do that, I needed to nail down my operating plan. To run a full schedule of B&A trains would require about 50 locomotives and at least 250 cars. Putting together that large a fleet is a long term goal, but will take some time to accomplish. Since the focus of this layout is really about the switch job that served Jamesville, I’m going to start by just operating that train, along with the daytime through trains that it had to dodge while doing its work.

BB-1 passing Jamesville Switcher
A through freight powered by a quartet of GE U25Bs keeps the local switcher in the hole on the lead to Crompton & Knowles Loom Works in Worcester, MA.  Tad Arnold photo, courtesy of Bob Arnold, used with permission

The Lineup

I assembled a schedule from old NYC documents, mainly their Through Freight Schedules revised May 1, 1964 and Employee Timetable #18 effective October 31, 1965. A session will start with the Jamesville Switcher working industries on the #1 westbound main. While it works, the following activity will occur on the mainline. Times listed are either arrival (for eastbounds) or departure (for westbounds) from Worcester:

  • 11:11 #28 The New England States – The ‘States was a Chicago to Boston overnight passenger train and the flagship train on the B&A. As it approaches the city, it will pass the switcher working west. The westbound counterpart #27 didn’t depart Worcester until 16:24. That is after the local work should have been wrapped up, so I don’t need a second trainset or have to turn the train in the middle of the session.

New England States Worcester Tad Arnold
Train #28, the New England States, departs Worcester for Boston behind three E8A units. Tad Arnold photo, courtesy of Bob Arnold, used with permission.

  • 12:10 #405 Beeliner – This was a Boston to Albany RDC run. NYC cancelled the remaining Beeliners with the 10/31/65 timetable, but I’m extending these through 12/31. NYC was forced to put the train back on in 1967, but with conventional equipment.

Beeliner at Stone & Berg Tad Arnold
Westbound Beeliner train #405 accelerates away from Worcester, past Stone & Berg lumber. Tad Arnold photo, courtesy of Bob Arnold, used with permission.

  • 12:50 #148 Mail & Express – 148 was one of six mail trains on the B&A in 1965, but it was the only one that ran in daylight. The consist seems to have varied depending on the year, season and day of week.

#148 North Grafton Tad Arnold
Mail and express train #148 eastbound at North Grafton, MA behind an E8A-E7B duo. Tad Arnold photo, courtesy of Bob Arnold, used with permission.

Midday SW-2/WS-1 – This was the West Springfield-Worcester local turn. According to a first hand account in Robert W. Jones’ volumes on the B&A, most days SW-2 turned at East Brookfield, but when there was work at Spencer, Charlton, Rochdale and/or Webster Jct., it would run through to Worcester. None of these were busy stations, so it would run this leg perhaps a couple days a week at the most.

North Brookfield Local Tad Arnold
The W. Springfield-Worcester local shoving a boxcar to Quaboag Rubber at North Brookfield, MA. Tad Arnold photo, courtesy of Bob Arnold, used with permission.

13:30 BB-1 – This was the remnant of the New England Pacemaker, the great less-than-carload express that NYC ran in the ’40s and ’50s. It no longer bore any resemblance to those flashy trains. By 1964 BB-1 was a Boston to Buffalo through freight consisting mostly of multi-levels and auto parts empties, plus loads for Buffalo and points short of Elkhart and Indianapolis, IN.

BB-1 at Stone & Berg Tad Arnold
The empty multi-levels on the headpin help identify this train as Boston-Buffalo BB-1. Five FA-2s in an A-B-B-B-A set power this train at Heard Street in Worcester. When B&A trains drew first generation power, five units were the standard consist. Tad Arnold photo, courtesy of Bob Arnold, used with permission.

Unscheduled BV-1/BV-3 – Loads and certain empties to Elkhart, Indianapolis, Buffalo and Syracuse moved west in trains BB-1 and LS-3. The balance of the westbound cars moved on extras from Boston to Selkirk that carried the BV alpha prefix (B for Boston, V for Selkirk). These trains were dead freights of mostly free running empties, as well as all loads and empties to the D&H, Albany area and points south. These trains ran as car counts demanded, returning west with the power and crews from the previous day’s eastbounds. Since 80% of the traffic to Massachusetts was eastbound, there were plenty of empty cars to move with these jobs.

Westbound Worcester Tad Arnold
GP30 6115 heads a westbound freight making a pick up at Worcester. The balance of the train is on the main line to the left. The cement covered hoppers suggest that this train is bound for Selkirk, NY. Tad Arnold photo, courtesy of Bob Arnold, used with permission.

Lastly is BA-4, the earlier of two Dewitt-Boston train. It could make it into Worcester ahead of it’s carded 17:30 arrival time. It was scheduled for four and a half hours of work atSpringfield, a work event that could be completed much faster depending on traffic. The next issue of the freight timetable had eliminated this lengthy stop. These trains were heavy in refrigerated traffic from the west and would add a splash of color.

Eastbound at Worcester Tad Arnold
An eastbound freight led by four ALCO RS32s waits to depart the Worcester yard at Putnam Street. This is possibly the DeWitt, NY to Boston train BA-4. RS-32s were common power on the Boston-Elkhart leg of train LS-3 and cycled back to Boston on BA-2/4. Tad Arnold photo, courtesy of Bob Arnold, used with permission.


Totaling up the moves shows there are about eight trains for my eight staging tracks, a perfect fit. If more space is needed the single car Beeliner can easily be doubled up with other trains. The four scheduled trains fit into a 2:30 period. If I ran the extras in the gaps in between I could run a session in real time without a fast clock.

A summary of the equipment I need to fill out those eight trains is as follows:

  • 5 E-units
  • 3 sets of road freight power (12-13 units, mostly second generation)
  • 1 RS2/3
  • 1 Alco S unit
  • 1 RDC
  • 5 cabooses
  • 10 passenger cars
  • 10 mail & express cars
  • At least 100 freight cars

This is an achievable roster for the most part. I’ve already put together a fleet of about 40 detailed cars to service modeled industries. I’ve got most of the remaining equipment, but much of it needs detailing, sound and weathering. Digging into the specifics of the trains shows some holes that will require scratchbuilding and kitbashing projects to fill. So even building this limited fleet will keep me busy. I’ll break down the individual trains and equipment in future posts.


Traffic Research

NYC Freight Delivery Circular

I received my copy of New York Central System’s Freight Delivery Circular from Rails Unlimited this week. The circular is a directory of industries located at junction points with other railroads so agents and customers could know how to properly route cars. The directory covers all of the NYC system including the P&LE. Industries listed are those with private sidetracks who were open to reciprocal switching and the carrier that served the concern. All cities served by the NYC are included except Chicago – it was covered by a separate tariff shared by all roads entering the city. Rails Unlimited sells a 1967 copy of that one as well.


I was looking for some help to document industries along the B&A and elsewhere along the NYC to aid in studying traffic flows and creation of realistic waybills. This version is dated February 1, 1963 – about 3 years earlier than the date range I model, but definitely close enough to help.With major locations like St. Louis, Detroit, Montreal, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh covered, this guide is of use to modelers of other roads as well.

As for the B&A, 24 stations were covered, these naturally included all the busiest stations. The Boston Switching District takes up 20 pages and lists maybe 1500 industries. The biggest location not covered is probably Ludlow/Indian Orchard which is just outside the Springfield terminal area. The switching district in Worcester appears to only stretch from MP 47.7 (James Street) to MP 43.0. I would guess that 90% of the customers on the railroad are covered.

As I reviewed the document I did find some errors. Misspellings, duplicate entries and industries that had closed. I was able to find every industry along the line if it was within the switching limits. For the towns that I know best, I was able to fill in all the sidetracks and was left with some firms that had no place….invisible customers using leased space in a warehouse, freight house or team track.

To illustrate what is in the document, let’s look at my hometown of North Grafton as an example. The guide lists the following:

N Grafton Listing

  • Bathage (sp) Foundry: I had never heard of Bathage Foundry before, a web search showed that it should be Bathgate. I was able to track down a location for them at 109 Creeper Hill Road. A recent real estate transaction included plans that showed a 1952 date for construction here. This explains why it wasn’t on the 1950 track chart.
  • Grafton State Hospital had a spur to a coal trestle, the remains of which are still there (as an aside, institutions like colleges, hospitals and prisons that got coal by rail were found all over the Northeast, but I can’t recall ever seeing one of these industries modeled – MBC).
  • Gordon Coal & Oil Co.: I knew of a coal shed located on the interchange track to the Grafton & Upton on Westboro Road, its foundation is still there. I’m going to assume this was Gordon Coal & Oil.
  • Pratt Bros. had a small grain business on Waterville Street that was not rail served. It would make sense that they took deliveries through the freight house, but that wouldn’t have gotten them a listing unless they leased the building. Someone was certainly in there though, it got a fresh coat of paint in the late 1960s.
  • Washington Mills Abrasive & Co. was, and still is, served the G&U at their lower mill location. The Washington Mills listing for NYC (B) may be a typo or they may have also leased space in the freight house. Shipments to the upper mill would have required transshipment as that facility was off rail.
  • Wyman-Gordon Products Corp. built a sprawling plant on the B&A just after WWII to make non-ferrous forgings for aircraft. At least 8 spurs wound their way into the plant switched by a small Plymouth. They continue in business and remain connected to the main, but it would appear that they rarely, if ever, use rail service. The engine is still there.

N Grafton Industries
1958 USGS Topo Map of North Grafton, MA showing the locations of rail-served industries.

The fact check shows some minor errors, but all the leads turned out. All sidetracks were identified and the listing provided greater insight into who the shippers were than I had been able to get based on years of my own research. While I’ve only skimmed through this book so far, I can tell it will be a valuable addition to my research collection.


Layout Construction

Laying Track

Since our weekends are bound to the house right now, I have gotten back to work on the track. Technique-wise, I’m not breaking any new ground here, but thought I would share some of my standards and experiences.


While elevating curves on a model railroad does nothing for performance I feel it is necessary to capture the look and feel of a major main line railroad. From what I can deduce from speed tables, NYC used a maximum of 6″ elevation on the B&A. Penn Central and Conrail later reduced this the modern freight standard of 4″.

NYC 3023 Ashland MA 7 66 Haskel
A westbound NYC freight, led by GP40 3023 and 3 U25Bs at Ashland, MA in July 1966. This is a good illustration of the roadbed profile and super elevated track that I was looking to capture.

For years I had been using Campbell profile ties, but my stock ran out and I switched to 1/16″ square basswood which I like better since you can curve a single strip instead of having to use many short sections.

Super elevating with Campbell profile ties – the 1/16″ square stripwood I switched to is in the background.


Taller cars really show off the super elevated curves.

Other Prototype Engineering Standards

To represent the engineering standards of the NYC, I used N-scale cork on top of Homasote subroadbed. Again, this is a choice made to capture the look of a well engineered multi-track mainline. N-scale cork is about a scale foot tall and pretty much equals the height of prototype roadbed, plus you get the added bonus of a lower per-foot cost. The Homasote helps kill the sound of the trains on the foam scenery base and replicates the wider subroadbed when used with the correctly shaped shoulders. I’m also using a prototypical 13′ track center standard on tangent sections opposed to the traditional HO standard of 2″ (14′ 6″). Two inches is prototypical for modern railroad construction, but older eastern lines are usually narrower.


The biggest gripe people have with Micro Engineering flextrack is how hard it is to curve without getting kinks. There are a bunch of different techniques out there to deal with this issue. The most popular solution seems to involve using a template, but I have many different radii and some cosmetic spirals so I needed something else. I had seen someone suggest using an MLR track tool, but since those aren’t available any more, I decided to try a Kadee coupler height gauge. Placing this on the rails and using a little twisting force while running it back and forth over the tracks actually worked very well with a little practice.

Making adjustments prior to final installation. The ruler is held up against the track and roadbed with nails.

I made a couple of passes with the Kadee tool and then smoothed out any imperfections by laying out a steel ruler up against the ties. I then squeezed the track up against the ruler. The result was nicely flowing, kink-free trackwork.


You need a way to straighten out ME flex as well, whether you make a mistake or are looking to fine tune a tangent section. Fine tuning obviously requires a long straightedge. The easiest way to straighten out an already curved section is to whack the edge of the ties against a flat surface, like a table, a couple of times.

Here the caulk is down and the track is tacked down. The track can then be pushed up against the ruler to get it perfectly straight. The caulk and pins keep it from moving back.

Securing the Track

I secured the track using clear acrylic adhesive sealant caulk. This seems like the new standard for tracklaying, but was the first time I had used this technique. It worked perfectly. The adhesive set up quickly, but slow enough that I could go back and straighten things out first. I tacked it in place with push pins and let it dry for a few hours.

The track through this section is done now and I’ve moved on to soldering feeder wires. Next work will move to bridge abutments and scenic contours.

Traffic Research

Carload Waybill Statistics: Massachusetts Freight Flows 1965

Lead photo – Conway, PA 1966 Leroy Dozier photo, George Elwood Collection – used with permission.

At the New England/Northeast RPM Meet in June 2018 I presented a clinic covering the ICC’s 1% Waybill Sample and related Carload Waybill Statistics. At the time I promised to put my data on my blog….unfortunately it has taken me almost two years to get to that point.

For those not familiar with this resource, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) published several volumes of statistics on an annual basis. They collected 1 out of every 100 waybills terminating on a Class I railroad and tabulated the data. Their publications broke down rail shipments by commodity, weight, distance, origin and destination states, car type, revenue and other parameters. Many of the originals are now online at Hathitrust. Although I did my research in person at the Boston Public Library, the 1965 files I used can now be found here. The catalog record only lists this as the TD-1 report, but the scan actually contains a dozen separate reports.

To make a long story short, I combined the data from several publications into a master spreadsheet that covers all shipments to and from Massachusetts by commodity, car type and origin/destination state. It includes a tab for both 1963 and 1965 (each uses a different commodity system), a tab where the traffic was sorted by the lowest level STCC, as well as blank forms if someone wants to create their own file. I also included a 1965 Boston & Maine Freight Commodity Survey file. You can download this sheet here: MA 1% Data 1963, 65

This research will provide the framework for subsequent blog posts on traffic, industries, freight cars and train operations. I will describe some highlights of what I was able to extract from the data in the balance of this post.

Origin States

Although the B&A moved a small amount of traffic to the New Haven in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut, the vast majority either originated or terminated in Massachusetts. As such, focusing in on MA shipments provides a good basis for a sample of B&A carloads.

A quick and dirty way to get a good feel of the mix of roadnames of general service cars in your area is to use the “Total Carload Traffic” data in the first half of publication SS-1 and tabulate inbound shipments of all commodities combined to a given state by origin state. Here is that data, graded and put into map form. As you can see the NYC was well positioned to move most of this traffic.

MA Heat Map 1965
Heat map of origin states of shipments made to MA in 1965.

Major Commodities

Getting the top commodities by state is pretty easy too. You need to just use the second half of the SS-1 report. I also added seasonality from QC-1 (“Quarterly Comparison” – last published in 1959) and recorded state-to-state detail for each commodity from reports SS-2 to SS-7 which provide major flows (5 or more cars in the sample). To highlight what the findings from this research look like, here are the top 10 received commodities – this represents about a third of terminating carloads in MA:

Top 10 Commodities (at 5 digit STCC level) to MA 1965

  1. Carcasses (Meat) – 203 cars in sample (top states: IA 72, NE 27, MN 22, IL 21, SD 19, WI 7, CO 7)
  2. Bituminous Coal – 175 (PA 103, WV 70)
  3. All Freight Rate Shipments, including TOFC – 132 (NY 71, IL 41)
  4. Pulpboard – 129 (VA 30, SC 22, GA 21, LA 9, FL 8, AL 6, NC 5, PA 5, AR 5)
  5. Hydraulic Cement – 95 (NY 55, PA 28, other 12 – Maine withheld – Thomaston was the only origin)
  6. Prepared Feeds – 87 (VT 28, NY 19, PA 14, OH 5)
  7. Wheat Flour – 79 (NY 48, MN 9, KS 6)
  8. Automobiles – 75 (MI 54, DE 10, MD 6)
  9. Lumber – 68 (ID 15, WA 12, ME 7, CA 7, ID 5 from higher level category)
  10. Sanitary Tissues – 60 (ME 31, NY 18 of higher level category)

Car Types

The next level of detail that I added to the sheet was car type. So for each commodity, I added two sets of columns, one for total cars by type for each commodity from report TC-3 and one in which I manually split the model waybills up by car type. Car types are basic based on the first letter of the AAR car code (X – Box, R – Reefer, S – Stock, H – Hopper, G – Gondola, L – Special, F – Flatcar, T – Tank).

To differentiate flatcar shipments by general service and Trailer-on-Flat Car (TOFC/Piggyback) shipments I went line by line and moved flat totals for TOFC-type commodities (like meat) into a separate column.

Once the spreadsheet was built and the data cleaned up I started piecing together the big picture. For example by totaling the car type columns you can see what the mix of freight cars looks like for the state as in the pie chart below (excluding TOFC/COFC). This is interesting in that the mix of cars to MA is very different from the US and NYC as a whole.

Car Graph

Along with the overall car mix, you can see how commodities moved in different cars. This is usually intuitive, but for commodities that were transitioning from boxcar to covered hopper this was very valuable information.

All of the data here is based on the numbers from the report. I have not begun to increase or decrease carloads based on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the NYC vs. the B&M, NH and CV.  Nor have I added in Canadian traffic which is totally ignored in this series – with the exception of a supplement that was published for three years in the 1950s.

There are other ways to use the data in these reports to research prototype traffic and car patterns. This is definitely a resource where the more that you put into it, the more you get out. For me, I got a ton of good information out of my research and it was worth every minute.

Critical Cars

Critical Cars: General American’s G-85

Walthers’ introduction of a G-85 flatcar fills a major hole for those of us who model the 1960’s in HO scale. It’s unique design combined with the total number built make it a stand out in Sixties train consists. Prior to Walthers’ announcement of these models I had already identified them as a necessary car as they showed up in both Super Van and mail & express service. In this post I’ll review their history, how they fit into my plans, the models themselves and how I finished them.


The G-85 was introduced in 1959 as a successor to the early Clejan flatcars. The design was different from the standard channel-side flatcars in several ways. It featured an exposed center sill with decks on each side for the trailer wheels. The decks sat lower than the center sill allowing a 12′ 6″ van to fit within plate C clearances (15′ 4″ height) without requiring 28″ wheels. The design is easy to identify in old photos as there is virtually no side sill.

Nelligan 11-70 Milford, CT for Maybrook
A westbound Penn Central train at Milford, CT in November, 1970 with a cut of TOFC up front. From the headpin the consist includes a Pullman low deck PS4PB (Trailer Train class F89A), G-85, AC&F Lo-Dek Hitch Hiker (TT class F89) and another G-85. A G-85 carrying a 12′ 6″ van was no taller than a standard boxcar and enabled the New Haven to run piggyback service into New York. (Tom Nelligan photo used with permission)

The trailer hitches were located within the center sill. When collapsed they sat completely below the top of the sill allowing for container loading, making it an all-purpose car. The center sill also contained a stow away area for container pedestals. The G-85 could also be modified for Flexi-Van loading (see photos of the GATC demonstrator car page 33 of the 6/62 Railroad Model Craftsman). In fact the first Mark III Flexi-Van was actually modified SP 511216, a GATC C-85 (the Clejan/auto rack hauling version). That said, the SP experiment was a unique car as far as I can tell.

Southern Pacific C85
SP 511216 at Los Angeles, CA in 1961. This was the first Mark III flatcar.

Southern Pacific C85 July 1961 Central Headlight
The Mark IIIs were the version that replaced the hydraulic system on the car with a tractor with a hydraulic arm. This reduced weight and maintenance costs.

Overall the total production of the G85 and its successors the G85A and G89 totaled about 5000 units. About half the units were on the Trailer Train roster by 10/66 with Pacific Fruit Express, Santa Fe and Southern Pacific also having large fleets. You can also download a more detailed roster here: G-85 Roster

The G-85 on the Boston & Albany

While the NYC’s intermodal services are more remembered for its Flexi-Van container operation, it began hauling TOFC in 1962 and expanded greatly in this field after joining Trailer-Train in 1964. By the time of the Penn Central merger TOFC might have represented a third or more of their intermodal loads. As a result, GTTX cars, as well as foreign line G-85s from AT&SF, SP, SSW and PFE, could be found on B&A Super-Van trains on a regular basis.

10-66 Headlight TOFC terminal in Boston
A tractor loads a Santa Fe trailer on a G-85 at NYC’s original Boston TOFC ramp. Before acquiring a PC-70 packer at Beacon Park, NYC utilized a portable ramp located off the Sears Lead by the freight houses. Prior to the clearance project NYC handled Boston TOFC at Framingham. The G-85’s lower deck height and heavy center sill are easy to identify. (image taken from the July 1966 Central Headlight, courtesy of Terry Link, used with permission)

A higher profile use of the G-85 on the NYC was by REA Express. REA had a fleet of 55 G-85s equipped with steam and signal lines for use in passenger trains. Several of these cars were assigned to regular service between Boston, New York and Chicago on NYC mail and express trains. They stood out among the other cars in these trains and are absolutely necessary to model certain mail & express trains.

1966 M&E Ashland, MA
Eastbound Mail & Express (probably #148) at Ashland, MA June 1966 with a REX Unit-Haul G-85 trailing a Flexi-Van flat just ahead of the rider coach. Photographer unknown, scanned slide from my collection.

To handle four 20′ containers, these were equipped with the Steadman side-transfer loading system. Steadman’s system was similar in some respects to the Flexi-Van but featured rollers that allowed containers to slide off the car and was powered by a hydraulic ratchet mechanism. Long time readers of Trains may remember that John Kneiling championed the use of the Steadman system as part of his integral container train ideas. For better or worse, this was one of their only sales of their technology.

REA Express Unit Haul containers being unloaded in Chicago, IL 6-17-67 as the 20th Century Limited departs and the station switcher makes a move with an empty Flexi-Van flat. Note the REA Express truck with chassis.  (detail of Ted Ellis photo, used with permission). Steadman’s patent below illustrates how the system worked.

The Models

Walthers used the same general design as their earlier Flexi-Van models with a cast metal sill with styrene parts cemented to it. The weight of the car is 3 oz., well short of the NMRA recommended weight of 7 oz for a 12″ long car. This is to be expected since there is hardly any place to weight. Containers or trailers will add about 2 oz., so 2 oz of weight inside those is needed to get them up to spec.

Walthers has included specific details for each road name offered. These include hardware for the original piggyback version (with different nameplate arrangements for each owner), a REA side transfer container car and the later VTTX conversions.

I purchased both a Trailer Train (GTTX) and REA Express (REX) car. Detailing was generally correct and to scale. Grab irons ans stirrups are molded on. One detail overlooked was the sway chain brackets. There use on Trailer Train cars was discontinued in 10/63 so cars built after that did not have them. At that point Trailer Train was in the G85A production though so this makes this car closer to a G85A. This is hardly a big deal because the G85A was essentially the same car with a deck that was 6″ wider.

Sway Chain G85 Panza
Closeup of sway chain bracket. (TTX photo, Jim Panza collection, used with permission)

On the REX version, Walthers modeled the Steadman tie down equipment and offered specially tooled prototype containers to match. The tie down equipment is semi-operable so it can represent both loaded and empty cars. This seems to have been more trouble than it was worth as it is hard to use and doesn’t hold the containers perfectly square.

Over the trucks they included the hardware that both supported and protected the steam line. Incorrectly, they included this detail on both sides of the car, while the steam line itself was omitted.

Upgrading Details

I made a few improvements to the models. For both, I cut off the pin to the uncoupling lever and added a Hi-Tech air hose. I replaced the cast on grab on the left side of each end and added a Tangent uncoupling lever at the same time. I left the right side grab, as securing it seemed like a frustrating proposition. I also left the stirrups alone for the same reason. Since I didn’t feel like scratch building or 3D printing new sway chain brackets, I decided to model a G85A and changed the number from 300347 to 301347.

For the REX car, I made the same detail upgrades as the GTTX car. In addition, I removed the unneeded steam line brackets on the side with the brake lever (one fell off when I opened the box anyway). I added a steam line using 1/16″ styrene tube. I used a photo of an NIFX flat from Model Railroader’s Guide to Intermodal as a guide. I bent the tube by heating it over a soldering iron and then wrapped it with masking tape to represent the texture of the insulation. When the steam line was complete, I pinned it to the crossbearers with .012 wire. The tape effect worked visually, but the seams were hard to hide and will probably age poorly. Time will tell if this step was worth the trouble.


I added an ounce of lead shot to the containers at each end. This brought the car up to 7 ounces. Then I glued all of the containers in place to keep square and from shifting around.


Lastly, I added a Cal-Scale steam and signal line set to the ends, because of the low deck a standard installation wouldn’t work. I drilled two holes in the sill for the air and signal lines to the right of the coupler. To the left I cemented the steam connection directly to the uncoupling lever with CA to tack it in place and then canopy cement for a lasting grip. While this is unrealistic, the finished product has a little give to it and gets around a complicated installation while looking good enough.

Closeup of end showing uncoupling lever, grab iron, steam, signal and air lines.


These cars ran a lot of miles in high speed service and were generally covered with brake shoe dust and dirt. I first airbrushed the trucks and couplers PolyScale Railroad Tie Brown. After airbrushing the whole model with Dullcote, I gave both cars a healthy dose of Pan Pastels. I also used oil paint to represent the grease on the hitches and rollers as well as rust and oil stains on the deck of the GTTX car.

Here is the completed GTTX model on the road after weathering and detailing, with a pair of trailers – a Walthers Flexi-Van and Athearn Freuhauf reefer decorated for CGW with Don Halffield decals.


From the sound of things, these sold out quickly, making them an excellent candidate for future runs. The detail discrepancies are hardly a bother considering that these are part of the WalthersMainline series and were available from discount resellers in the $25 range. The finished models make a welcome addition to my car roster. I can cross two projects off the list that had previously been slated as scratch building projects.


  • Wilson, Jeff Model Railroader’s Guide to Intermodal, Kalmbach, 1999
  • “G-85 85′ piggyback flatcar.” Railroad Model Craftsman, June, 1962, p. 33.
  • Kneiling, John G. “How to switch from boxcars to containers without wasting money on piggyback.” Trains, Aug., 1976, p. 40.
  • Kneiling, John G. “How to run a railroad in the Northeast.” Trains, Aug., 1974, p. 20.
  • Jim Panza Powerpoint presentation: https://www.rpmconference.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/The-G85-Flatcar-Handout-PDF.pdf

Springfield Show

I made my annual pilgrimage to West Springfield for the Amherst Railway Society’s Railroad Hobby Show at the Big E on Saturday. You have to love a train show where they bring an actual operating steam engine (Monson RR #3 this year).

Four buildings, five acres, six hours and 12,000 steps later I went home happy and tired. I picked up the essentials needed to complete the area I am working on (track, Super Trees, New England Brownstone wall castings) plus a few other goodies. Most of the day I spent me time talking to friends and checking out the manufacturers’ displays. Here are a couple of tidbits that were of the most interest to me…


Flexi-Flo preproduction models were on display and looked great. Molding problems have pushed back delivery of the full production to early fall. Also on display were FA2s in cigar band and the undecorated M420 detailed for CN. Hopefully a version of the M420R will be done for you Providence & Worcester and Iowa Interstate modelers.


A Genesis version of the SD80MAC was on display. This is the one locomotive that would make me consider moving my era up to 1997. I spent quite a bit of time on Washington Hill when these units ruled the B&A, I miss the sound of those 20 cylinder EMD 710s thundering through the Berkshires.



The B&O cabooses were on display and were gorgeous. The $90 MSRP seemed a fair price. I put my vote in for a NYC bay window caboose as a future project with Dave Lehlbach. He gave me a little smirk and advised that they have a list of other cabooses to work on if this project is a success. My fingers are crossed.


Prototype Junction

These folks were there promoting their new business. They are attempting to crowdsource their funding to produce injection molded models. The first project includes about 10 different boxcar prototypes that can be made as variations of the Santa Fe Bx-11, 12 and 13. These are mostly steam era prototypes, but hopefully this enterprise will get off the ground and be a supplier of high quality niche models. Check them out here.