Christopher Brimley updated April 8, 2011


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  • Modeling Cowl-Length REA Delivery Trucks

    by V.S. Roseman

    Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 42

    As mentioned in the introduction last month, Railway Express used 90-day license trucks to supplement their fleet during busy times of the year. This resulted in some very old, but still serviceable, trucks being used long after they would have normally disappeared from the roads. This is why the HO scale 1929 Model T from Jordan Models can be used on layouts representing time periods up through the 1950s.

    Updating the model with a newer prototype front end can extend the Jordan kits usefulness even further. Retaining many of the Jordan kits nice styrene parts, it is possible to do easy updates of the model by using the Jordan box body and adding a cowl the fenders, grille and hood of a newer car or light truck (about the size of a pickup or panel truck). While there could have been some 29 Fords running about after World War Two, 1939 and 1950 models would have been more common.

    In building a cowl length truck, the chassis, grille and hood, can be quite difficult to build, while the rest of the truck is just a box body that can easily be built of ordinary plastic strip and sheet. I have found several chassis that are very close to the appearance and sizes of those used by REA. While I have only made the minimum number of changes to these in order to make easy-to-replicate models, you could take more time and change out the wheels, tires and any other details you feel would provide a more accurate model.

    Carefully remove the cowl of your model by cutting with a fine-cut saw. Dress the end with a file and sandpaper until you have it neat and square.
    Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 43

    Updating the Jordan HO 1929 REA Ford

    Jordans 1929 Model T truck is a very nice model of a 129" or 130" chassis Ford AA truck, which would have been used between that year and as late as the mid 1950s. By the 50s, however, I am sure that these were seen mostly during the Christmas delivery season. To modernize this vehicle I used a cowl from a Williams Brothers plastic model. There are several cars and pickup trucks that are suitable for this project. Not all prototype manufacturers used the same styling on their cars and trucks, but the 40 Ford sedans were very similar to Ford panel trucks and REA trucks. Ford may have used the same forms to make the trucks that were used for the cars, or perhaps they were just very similar.

    I built my models using the entire Jordan chassis with the original front fenders trimmed down to fit inside of the new front end, but you may wish to cut these away completely or to use the chassis from the more modern vehicle, adding the Jordan body to it. Once the chassis has been glued to the body floor and all of the underframe detailing, including the wheel hubs (and wheels if you want to do that before adding the body), has had time to dry and set up, the body can be assembled. The cowl of the Williams 1940 Ford sedan kit was carefully cut off the clear body of that kit. (You can do this conversion with any front end that will fit; I will go into this later.) While plastic models are the easiest to glue together, the various metal models can be used too. An extra fine saw was used to remove the cowl. Either the X-Acto #39 or the Zona #35050 extra fine razor saws with 52 teeth per inch are suitable for very fine work of this type.

    From the top of the hood cut horizontally into the body for a short way, then saw down from the roof to cut off a chunk of the cabin. In this case the cut was about the middle of the front door windows. Photo by the author With the upper parts thus removed it is easy to make the vertical cut just behind the forward door line. Leave some extra material in the event your saw cut is not absolutely vertical. The edge can then be dressed with sanding film to get a fine finish that will make a good fit to the front of the box body. Once the cowl is sanded square and flat it can be fitted to the chassis of the Jordan model. In the case of the vehicles I built, I cut little by little to fit the new hood over the old fenders I have retained these as they function as wheel wells, which provide a very realistic appearance on these models. Test fit the cowl carefully before gluing it to the body. Once in place set the whole vehicle aside to permit the glue to set up. (Modern styrene chemical linking cements such as Ambroid Pro-Weld or Tenax dry almost instantly and provide a good deal of strength quickly but still take a while to harden fully.)

    While I retained the Jordan chassis in these conversions (because I like the Jordan wheels) it would also be possible to make use of the chassis from the other model you are using, mounting the Jordan body on that frame. The problem with this is the wheels of cars are likely to be too small for this application, and it might prove more of a problem than it is worth to try to fit the Jordan wheels. In any case, you can assemble the Jordan brake drums to the backs of the Jordan wheels and when dry, carefully drill these from their backsides to accommodate any sized axle you like on any kind of chassis if you are not using Jordans floor and chassis.

    I have not even begun to exploit the variety of models that are usable for building REA trucks of this type. Trucks of this type were built at least up through about 1955. After this time, Metro, Step-Side and other step vans (bread trucks) were used, probably because they were cheaper than having even large quantities of custom bodies constructed.

    1940 Ford front end from the Williams Brothers coupe kit ready to be assembled to the Jordan REA truck body.
    Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 44

    Cowl Length Trucks In Other Scales

    To build trucks like this in your favorite scale, you could start with the best model truck chassis and cowl you can get for your time period, and build the body out of sheet plastic. For S and O scales, as well as 1/32, 1/25 and 1/24, there are now many plastic kits and die-cast light trucks you could start with to build your REA model truck. I have indicated the prototype dimensions for both a large and a small custom body built for Railway Express, so you have a choice. Generally, the smaller body would have been used on a sedan delivery or essentially, a regular car chassis, often stretched to a 134 " wheelbase. The larger body would have been on a heavy pickup chassis with this same wheelbase. One change you may want to make to your model would be to add double rear tires as they are more common than single rear tires. I have found examples of both, but used the less common single tires on my 1/35 scale Chevrolet. Spare wheels and tires for many types of cars and trucks are available in hobby retailers specializing in plastic kits.

    1/35 Chevrolet Truck

    Tamiyas Long Range Desert Group Chevrolet was used as a starting point for my model. The design of this truck was frozen during WW2 and remained unchanged until 1947 when a whole new line of trucks was introduced. Tamiya kit number 35092 represents a Canadian Chevy 2x4 of the type built for the British Army and used in North Africa. This truck can be adapted to build a cowl-length REA truck quite easily. (The expression 2x4 means two of the trucks four wheels are powered, a conventional truck drive.)

    The models chassis was lengthened to extend the models scale 124" wheelbase to match the prototypes 129". This was easy to do by just splicing in some .100 x .188 strips to overlap the original frame. If you wish you could also rebuild the frame pieces by laying in matching strip plastic, but this does not normally show.

    Cut off the universal shaft between the couplings and drill out the coupling parts to accept a piece of .040 rod. I prefer styrene rod, but you could also use brass or steel wire. Cut a length of rod to fit the universals and slide it in. I suggest gluing the shaft in place even if it is long enough that it is not likely to slide out.

    For those who have never built a Jordan truck, the parts shown are typical of the tiny fine pieces included with all Jordan kits. The best way to build Jordan equipment is to snip the parts from the sprues with a sprue cutter.
    Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 45

    Cut down the riser tabs molded onto the kits frame girders aft of the drivers compartment (under the truck bed) to accept the floor of your models body. Cut the sides from sheet styrene I used .030 sheet for the walls with .040 sheet for the inner roof. The upper roof with its distinctive shape is made up of .100 x .250 strips standing on their short edges. This was mounted on the inner roof, which sat directly on top of the walls of the body. Two crosspieces were added for extra strength. This was then topped with a second piece of .040 sheet styrene to form the outer roof. Drill a few small holes in the lower roof to provide ventilation to ensure that the styrene cement can evaporate. Not doing so can cause the glue to continue softening the plastic and ruining your roof with sinkholes...or worse. The rounded roof edges were formed by filing the edges, then sanding them with finer and finer grades of sandpaper.

    To glue styrene sheets together, I suggest either just gluing around the edge or using contact cement as recommended by the manufacturer. Flooding sheets of styrene with liquid cement to bond them will nearly always warp the plastic sheets as they do not dry evenly. DAP is the current manufacturer of Weldwood contact cement, which uses strong solvents. Elmers brand seems to be a bit less smelly, and a very mild solvent is used in Ambroids contact cement. Any of these should create strong bonds that in my opinion will be superior than using solvent styrene cement to glue sheets face to face.

    How close to scale is correct? I found the 1/72 large Isuzu truck (center) from Hasegawa and thought it could pass for a smaller S scale (1/64) truck. The model has a body adapted to the chassis according to the steps in the article. The heavy Mack Bulldog truck at left is a nominal S scale truck at about 1/60. The Johnny Lightning Model A Ford chassis with REA body at right scales out to 1/64 or very close.
    Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 46

    Scribe the lines for the rear doors, paint the body, cowl and frame and then join the assemblies for a finished model. I cut the roof slightly longer than required, and then I test fit the body to the chassis. At that time I glued the front panel of the body, with the windshield in place, to the roof. Then I trimmed off the excess.

    The Desert Rat kit comes with a grille that represents one that has been partially removed by the military for better air flow in the desert. I filled the two largest gaps with .040 square styrene strips. If you demand an accurate grille, all of the slats need to be replaced because the spacing and width of the grille strips used appear different from photos of commercial Chevrolet trucks of this era. I dont think my easier treatment detracts from the validity of the truck. If this 1/35 model is not accurate enough for your large-scale railroad, there are also some 1/32 military and civilian vehicle models for most time periods.

    For civilian use, you might want to replace the military wheels of the Tamiya kit with the more common Budd wheels (with two to five holes) from another kit or from accessory sets that some aftermarket companies make available. A pair of very delicately formed turn signals (that look much like they were rigged up at a supply depot) are included in the kit, but for most of the run of this body style (from 1941 through 1947) the turn indicator signals were a pair of tiny lamps mounted in a streamlined fairing directly above the headlamps. Just add a strip of .040 square strip to the top of the headlamp moldings and file these down at the back to simulate the taper of the real ones. The body of the lamps and the signals are the same as the fenders (green or black as you wish). The front can be painted with a dot of silver to represent the lamp.

    While test fitting the body I noticed that the truck is set up for right-hand drive. British Army issue would have this feature even though the trucks were built in Canada. I filed off the dials of the dashboard and switched the steering column over to the left side. You can detail the dashboard with speedometer and ammeter (and any other dials you like). Decals for these are also available as aftermarket accessories in various scales.

    Some REA trucks had only a single seat instead of the bench seat included in the kit. I cut both ends down and glued them together to shorten the seat. I sawed off the base of the seat beyond the side of the new shortened seat, filing all other detail flat.

    I completed the body with lengthwise exterior ribs that I believe were used as both stiffeners and as buffers to reduce damage in the event the truck were rubbed by another vehicle. These were made from strip styrene with the edges slightly rounded with sandpaper.

    The poster frames on the body sides can be done in several ways. I currently print my posters on heavy glossy photo paper, and I usually edge these with a red marker to represent the metal frame. You could also use .030 x .100 strip styrene for the frame and paint it red. I am looking for photos of this era truck that show the dimensional markers (lamps and reflectors) so I can add these later.

    An S Scale REA Truck

    I cut away the body of a Johnny Lightning Ford Model A Woody station wagon and adapted one of my sheet plastic REA-type bodies as per the article. I used Wiking HO wheels and tires for large trucks, which scaled out correctly for trucks of this type that often served until the 1950s.
    Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 47

    As one of my closest friends is the driving force of an S scale train manufacturer, I felt needed to build an S-scale REA truck. There are a number of 1/64 Johnny Lightning and similar die-cast models suitable for use as the front end and chassis for a truck like this one. I built the first truck from a Johnny Lightning Ford Woody station wagon because the cabin could be replaced easily with a new REA body I would build. I replaced the racing slicks with heavy truck tires and wheels from the HO Wiking wheel assortment, which is available from time to time at hobby retailers. Any similar large HO truck wheels would do. The prototype REA truck for which I have measurements is a 1929 Ford AA. It has a wheelbase of approximately 129". The Johnny Lightning Ford Model A Woody has a wheelbase of about 100 " , but there is no easy way to extend this. Instead of trying to lengthen the chassis, I made the body 30" shorter. While Railway Express probably had trucks of this type, I would recommend that you find a car or truck with a 129"130" wheelbase, or one with a chassis that is easier to extend than this one. A plastic chassis extension could be built for this model, but I am a bit skeptical about the fact that the radiator is set so far back between the fenders.

    I built a second truck utilizing the Hasegawa Isuzu Japanese Army truck with fuel tank body. The overall truck was just about the correct size for S scale. While Railway Express never used any Isuzu trucks, this model shows that the Isuzu had the same styling as the 1934 Ford, which REA did use. This model, which I am using for a 1/64-scale truck, actually represents a somewhat larger vehicle in 1/72 scale. The Isuzus 35" tires in 1/72 scale become 31" in 1/64, so I filed down the rather coarse wheel treads and wrapped the outer edge of the tires with .020 x .060 strip styrene. This brought them very close to the correct 33" diameter for S scale. The chassis length is 137" in 1/72 scale, but only 122" in 1/64, so you can extend it using Evergreen or Plastruct styrene strip stock to the needed 129".

    Begin your 34 Ford REA conversion by cutting the cab off the cowl. This is essentially the same operation as for the 1/35 scale Chevrolet. The only other change I made on this model was to drill out the sides of the grille and mount the headlamps on the sides of the grille shell instead of on the fenders as supplied. If calculations like this make your head spin, stick to the die-cast 1/64 trucks and work with conversions that are nominally in the correct scale.

    "Scale" Trucks?

    Although I like the variations in the many different kinds of trucks operated by Railway Express, the various sizes of prototype chassis and bodies used for trucks that look essentially the same (i.e., 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton and one-ton capacities) make a group of trucks at a loading platform look like toys that are out of scale with each other!

    I hate to use trick photos, but this one suggested itself when I looked through my viewfinder. I wanted to show that the kitbash resembles a recognized prototypical model. The truck on the left is the 1/64 Johnny Lightning die-cast model, while on the right is the HO scale Jordan kit of a very similar mid-30s Model AA REA truck.
    Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 48

    Painting Your REA Truck

    For the truck color, I like to use Tamiya Japan Navy Green acrylic paint mixed with up to an equal amount of Tamiya Flat Green. The best color for typical layout lighting, however, is Tamiya Flat Green by itself. Tamiya Flat Red is a good bright red color that simulates the REA color nicely. If you dont want such a new looking truck, you could add a couple of drops of any brown color, such as their Hull Red or any gray color to tone down the red. The green color varied over the years, and it ended up as apple green in the 1960s, with the big red X emblem. I do not know of any of these older trucks getting painted in those colors, but they might have been painted this way too.

    Lettering Your REA Truck

    Decorating and finishing your trucks can be something of a challenge as I dont know of any lettering you can use that is completely correct. The correct lettering is a Roman typeface (with serifs) in gold with red shading. In O scale and larger this is easy to see, but in HO it will usually not show up. The easiest way, in my opinion, is to use decal letters in matching red and tan (or imitation gold or bronze metallic gold). Space out the red letters to spell RAILWAY EXPRESS on all sides of the box body, then once dry, overcoat lightly and add gold or tan lettering slightly above and to the left of each letter to create the shaded effect.

    To do shaded computer lettering in gold and red I suggest blowing up the view or image as large as you can and add the red shading to your gold lettering in your drawing program. Otherwise, you will just have to make do, or photograph a sign that has the right lettering, scan it into your computer and use that. For more readable lettering, use tan or buff as an imitation gold, which will be more readable than metallic or bronze gold colors.

    In HO scale, the Jordan truck comes with a very nice set of decals with billboard ads for the sides of the truck, plus the main lettering you need. Unfortunately, the lettering is white and the wrong style. A possible fix would be to tint the decal with a tan or orange permanent marker. This should be done after the decals have been applied and allowed to dry. The fact that the lettering is not exactly the correct style does not really show in such small letters. If you do a careful job you will have a fine looking truck.

    You can get lettering in several other ways too. Dry transfers and decals for Railway Express refrigerator cars are available in many scales. By using decals for a smaller scale than your truck, you should be able to use the lettering. REA heralds of various sizes are available in Microscale sign sets and on sticker sheets.

    It is also possible to use your computer printer (inkjet) to make your own lettering and emblems for your REA trucks either by scanning artwork to create computer files, or by using your word processing program. Many inkjet color inks are not completely lightfast and may fade over the years. You can use the Krylon UV Resistant spray to overspray your lettering. Another way to get more longevity from your lettering (we are now talking years, not months) is to put the UV reduction plastic tubes that fit around fluorescent lamps. If you use incandescent lighting in your train room, fading usually is not a problem.

    Truck markings were fairly standard, with two red diamonds per side, one fore and one aft of the billboard, but some had the diamonds below the poster as on the Jordan truck. Heralds were usually about 12" across the two corners, or about 8" on a side (heralds on bigger trucks may have been larger). Some trucks had a single diamond ahead of the billboard (especially after the adoption of the X herald in the 1960s). The back of the truck usually had a diamond on each of the two doors. I believe that the roll-up doors were left in plain metal (aluminum color) and some may have had either a sticker or decal with the red diamond and/or Railway Express name spelled out. The front of the body above the windshield had a REA sign, usually just Railway Express spelled out. Below the billboard on either side would be the words Railway Express (and sometimes this would be repeated on the back doors).

    The truck billboards were several sizes, and I just made mine to resemble photos of real trucks I have seen. Generally, there was a red surround about 2" wide around the billboard. This was the metal frame that held the posters themselves. Billboards for your truck are available in most scales from many sources. Microscale has several decal sets with suitable signs, and other model train companies have period billboards that can be framed in red and mounted on your trucks.

    Three Ford REA trucks in HO scale. The leftmost truck is the original Jordan model while the two on the right have Williams Brothers front ends to modernize the trucks to resemble 1940 and 39 prototypes.
    Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 49 Model Railroading - December 2003 - Page 50

    A frequent question is whether or not REA put the same poster on both sides of a truck. New York City Transit Advertising and Transit Displays Incorporated both have huge poster operations here in New York City that function much like the advertising bureau of Railway Express. These companies install and remove posters on the subway trains and stations as well as in the airports, bus terminals and other transportation facilities on a monthly basis. I have seen how the workers begin with a pile of presorted posters so that identical signs are not put up next to each other. The effect is random, and it seems likely that REA mounted posters similarly. I am fairly certain that they did not match posters on both sides of a truck, but rather sorted them so every advertiser would get full coverage across the truck fleet.

    The REA truck measurements I used came from a circa 1929 Ford cowl-length body REA truck I found at a car show many years ago. I was unable to contact the owners and have not been able to locate the truck since that time.

    For those interested in building vehicles, the series American Car Spotters and American Truck Spotters by Tad Burness may prove of value. These are a group of books made up from scrapbooks showing ads for all types of American cars and trucks of the various eras. I hesitate to try to name individual volumes as these have changed over the years with the updating and reprinting of the series, and while some of these books may be out of print at any particular time, they have been reprinted and older ones can sometimes be found through, eBay and sometimes by Borders or Barnes and Noble. Nearly all of the photos of REA trucks that I used as references were train photos that happened to have a truck in some portion the photo. Until more pictures of these trucks become available this will have to do.


    A couple of fellows in the Seattle area have been restoring a 1950s-era REA truck and have shown it on the internet, but I have lost my information about their efforts. If anyone knows their website, or can put me in touch with them, please contact me through MRG.

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