Photos by the author
Having devoted so much of my model building time to diesel locomotives, my need for freight cars has grown. In the Fall of 2002 I decided to do something about it and went on a freight car building binge. With modeling interests ranging from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s the challenge I faced was daunting. Having almost no freight cars for a 1970s setting I decided to do a few former New York Central boxcars. One that I prepared is the NYC appliance boxcar featured here. When I got started it was obvious that the bar was in need of raising for my freight car fleet. It was time to reconsider what details would be applied. At the same time I re-evaluated how I was applying my paint finish, particularly the weathering. The quality of my diesels had made many of my existing freight cars obsolete.
I initiated a program of replacing older freight cars with newer, higher quality cars with better detail and finish. Why? The answer is simple...my modeling techniques have not remained static. I have continued to grow in this area and while my diesels had benefited from improved methods and materials, my freight cars had not. With all of the great new kits and pre-assembled (RTR) models now available I felt that a fleet upgrade would not pose insurmountable problems. Enough preamble. Lets get on with this freight car detailing and weathering project.
The prototype for this model is a New York Central appliance boxcar. Astride what was arguably history's greatest industrial area, the New York Central had a huge fleet of boxcars. Steel, auto, appliance, heavy and light machinery, machine tools, and other industries were served by the railroads boxcars. By the 1960s the railroad industry recognized the need for specialty freight cars and even the ubiquitous boxcar began to change with ever longer and taller configurations. The New York Central added a fleet of 60' doubledoor boxcars to serve both the auto and appliance industries. The prototype for the model featured here served the appliance industry. It was built and equipped for appliance loading. As such, it hauled washers and dryers, refrigerators and other appliances around the country. These cars roamed afar and as such should be appealing to a good many modelers targeting the late 1960s, the 1970s, and even well into the 1980s.
One setting that I like to model is Penn Central. I have several PC locomotives in need of freight cars to pull. Since the PC was the combination of the New York Central and the Pennsylvania, and later the New Haven, it operated the industry's largest fleet of freight cars. While most of the freight cars inherited from the predecessor roads were eventually repainted into PC paint, this did not happen overnight. In fact, many freight cars remained in NYC and PRR paint throughout the PC era and into Conrail! To realistically model the Penn Central means having a reasonable proportion of your fleet representing both NYC and PRR cars along with some NH rolling stock as well. To this end I prepared the model featured here as a former NYC, now PC freight car.
As you may have surmised by now, my New York Central boxcar began life as a Walthers model. In fact, it was one of the Walthers painted and pre-assembled models. Interestingly, when I first saw the model I didn't make the buy because Walthers sometimes will paint a model for a railroad that never had the models prototype. Yes, I am sometimes a "prototype snob" and want my freight cars to reasonably represent specific prototypes. So I wont buy a model just because it says New York Central on its sides! I wanted to do some investigating first. At any rate, I asked some prototype modeler buddies about the Walthers model, and they came back at me with a list of reasons why not to bother with the Walthers 60' boxcar if I want to model a NYC prototype. Not one to be easily discouraged I started looking for photos and found several of cars that were a reasonably close match for the Walthers model. Back to my "buddies" I went!
Viewed from the side, the Walthers model looks right on target for NYC cars except for the models short ladders and missing roofwalk. Even the door type and sidesill appear right. The problem is with the ends. The top most rib needs to be smaller to match the NYC car. After more thought, I became convinced that if I was to have models of this New York Central prototype the Walthers car was the best way for me to go. Please note that I said "for me." I am sure that for some folks this compromise is not acceptable. Compromise. Yes, compromise.
Like it or not we all do it. Some of us compromise more than others. Admittedly, I would rather the model match the NYC prototype, but it doesnt. I admit it, and I can live with it. The challenge is to determine what compromises will work for each of us. For me the alternative is to do without this model.
Walthers offers a 2-pack and single cars that provide the modeler with three different car numbers to work with. Yes, I had to have all three! Cast-on detail is very nice. Add-on detail is okay, but not great. Though the ladders are add-on's (applied at the factory) they are on the hefty side. The rungs are three to four times thicker than they should scale out to be. The nice thing about them is that there is no need to carve them off, thus messing up the paint job. I replaced the ladder rungs with .010 brass rod.
I altered my model to represent one of the NYC cars as it would have appeared in the mid-1970s, presumably after the roofwalk had been removed, ladders shortened, and the brakewheel lowered. Many of these cars retained their high ladders and roofwalks well into the 1970s. I plan to have my other two NYC cars represent cars with the roofwalk and high ladders. Since the Walthers model comes only with low ladders and no roofwalk, more extensive modifications will be called for, but that's another story.
My freight car "standard" calls for, at a minimum, scale roofwalk, separate ladders, scale brakewheel, scale stirrups (metal if possible), metal grabirons, air hoses and coupler cut levers, and underbody brake rigging whenever reasonable. I also make good use of the new generation of Kadee #58 and #78 near-scale couplers. Should Kadee ever offer a true scale couple I will probably add it to my list of must-include items.
Along with updating standard detail on my freight cars I also want to employ the latest in weathering methods learned over the past few years. Friend Mike Rose has really made a positive impact on the hobby with his method of applying oil paints to represent rust on freight cars. Mikes work has impressed me and changed how I weather models. Though I have changed my weathering techniques many times over my years in model railroading, I do not use oil paints. I believe that the same effects can be achieved using acrylic paints. The model featured here was weathered using MODELflex and Polly Scale acrylic paints. If you have seen Mikes fine work, and now this model, you can compare and decide for yourself which avenue will work best for you.
Lets start simple and warm up to the more difficult steps. The first order of business is to remove the trucks. Next, remove the three Phillips-head screws that hold each coupler assembly in place. This coupler draft gear swings side-to-side for tight radius curves. I have no need for this and discarded the entire coupler assemblies. Rigid-mounted Kadee #78 couplers will be used in their place (see photos). There are two posts at each end of the car for the coupler mounting screws. Clip these off flush with the underside of the floor.
Next cut the four corner stirrup steps and replace them with A-Line formed metal stirrups. De-spruing nippers work great for clipping off the cast-on stirrups flush with the bottom of the sidesills. In order to secure the metal A-Line replacements to the model, carefully drill two holes for each stirrup into the bottom of the body. To ensure a permanent bond cement each stirrup in place. I recommend using Cyanopoxy , although other cements will work. Once the cement has hardened use a small pair of needle-nose pliers to make any needed adjustments to the new stirrups.
Now its time to build the coupler installations. As stated earlier Kadee #78 scale couplers with scale draft gear were used in this model. While the prototype has extended draft gear the Kadee #78 couplers are designed to be installed in the traditional position on freight cars without cushioned draft gear.
With the coupler assemblies and the coupler mounting posts removed you can begin installation of the Kadee #78 couplers. Start by scraping any paint from the model where the couplers and frame extension (see photos) will be cemented in place. This is done to provide the strongest bond between the new items and the plastic under-floor. Using liquid styrene cement attach the Kadee #78 coupler. I fit the couplers so that only about 25 percent of the draft gear actually overlaps the floor. Obviously this is not a very secure installation and added strength is called for.
To better secure the coupler draft gear boxes and fill the void between the back of the draft gear and the bolster frame, strips of styrene are cut and fit to OVERLAP the sides of the draft gear up to the ends of the floor. Once these are secured in place I recommend using Cyanopoxy to build up between these new frame pieces for additional strength. Next cut strips of styrene to represent the frame caps and cement each in place. I have found that this arrangement provides a strong installation for the protruding coupler draft gear while at the same time it completes the underframe of the model. Replacing the factory coupler assemblies with this Kadee #78 installation probably does more to improve the appearance of the model than any other change we will make other than the application of weathering.
At this point you ought to be warmed up and ready to tackle a bit more of a challenge replacing the ladder rungs. After much experience with this step on other models I have learned many ways how not to do this! Rule #1: Do not remove the plastic ladder rungs until after the holes are drilled for the new formed-metal rungs. Rule #2: Remove only one plastic ladder rung before installing its replacement wire rung. If you do not follow these two fundamental rules, you will most likely live long enough to regret it! A simpler solution may be to remove the ladders and install replacements that have scale size rungs. I did not find any in my scrapbox or parts collection that had the proper ladder rung spacing, so I took the approach of retaining the ladder frames and replacing the rungs with metal.
Another detail that is a must with extended draft gear freight cars is the trainline air hose. I used a Details West AH-268 air hose intended for a diesel locomotive. It was secured in place using Cyanopoxy. The soft metal that Details West uses is flexible, but will break if bent too many times. So be warned and do not bend it unless you have to.
As long as you are adding the trainline air hose, you should consider fabricating the coupler cut lever. Here, the cut lever was fabricated from two pieces of .012 brass rod and held together with Cyanopoxy. A Detail Associates metal eyebolt secures each end. As you can see in the accompanying photo, I added the cut lever after the model was nearly completed. I did this by oversight and not by design. I retained the grate platform above the draft gear and also added a Kadee brakewheel.
Now for the most important aspect of this project...adding the weathering and finish to the model. To be honest with you I used to take about five minutes to weather a freight car. I would simply airbrush on grungy weathering colors and call it quits. That worked for a long time, but in recent years some mighty fine new weathering techniques have come along that put my older weathering to shame. I had to change, and change I did.
The biggest difference in my present and former weathering is the obvious realism. The second biggest difference is that while I may have weathered this model in five minutes in the past, I probably took two or three hours to weather this particular model. Both are dramatic changes. I find the improved realism well worth the added time.
While most of the weathering on this model was performed with paint brushes, the underside of the car and the trucks were airbrushed. All weathering paints used were acrylics from MODELflex and Polly Scale.
Once the underside is weathered it is time to address the sides, ends and then the roof. I like to see progress as the weathering process evolves so I do half of a side at a time. Weathering on the body of this model (including its roof) was done with two small paint brushes and several cotton swabs; an airbrush was not used. MODELflex Rail Brown and Roof Brown were the two basic colors used, although some Polly Scale Railroad Tie Brown was mixed in at times.
The most distinctive feature of the weathering on the car sides is the application of the many rust splotches. Fortunately, they are easy to apply. Using a small paintbrush and the Roof Brown paint apply dabs of paint in various size splotches and in various locations. I studied many photos of 1970s-vintage NYC boxcars (along with some Conrail-era PC boxcars) to get a feel for where to place splotches and how large or small to make them. Allow sufficient time for the splotches to dry.
Once the Roof Brown splotches have dried, use a small paintbrush dabbed in some MODELflex Rail Brown paint that has been ever so slightly diluted with water, and dab this paint directly onto a rust splotch. Then, using your finger, smear it downward. Repeat this step until the desired effect results. You can also do a little drybrushing with the Rail Brown. Once satisfied move on to another rust splotch and repeat the process.
At this time I recommend rusting the roof edge above where you have been applying rust splotches. Combinations of both Roof Brown and Rail Brown are dabbed in with a paint brush. You can use the same method that was used to streak the rust splotches to create rust streaks down the side from the roof.
Another distinctive sign of age are the long gouges in the car sides caused by the door sliding and scraping across the paint. These scrapes and gouges are recreated on the model in much the same way as are the rust splotches. Dab on Roof Brown, then streak with Rail Brown.
Before continuing on to the door itself one last step needs to be taken with the side panels. A very light wash of Polly Scale Railroad Tie Brown is applied to the side panels then wiped off with cotton swabs dipped in Badger brush cleaning fluid. This gives a general dirty tone to the model.
The doors and door tracks are brush painted using the same basic colors and application method. Again, studying the prototype is the best guide for coming up with a realistic appearance.
The roof is probably the most visible part of the model for most folks. If you have a high layout the roof of a freight car may not be so noticeable. I studied photos of several boxcars with galvanized roofs before starting. I have long felt that if given sufficient photography I can paint or model most anything within reason. This model is no exception. I looked at prototype photos and painted the roof as if it were my artists canvas. Not much else that I can say other than telling you that MODELflex Roof Brown was applied with a small paint brush to get the dark areas and the rest of the rust is MODELflex Rail Brown.
The process was continued until the entire body was weathered. Personally, I think that this may be the finest weathering job that I have done to date. That's a big plus for me as I felt that some other folks had gotten the edge on me when it comes to freight car weathering. I think that I am now back in the hunt.