Today's Conrail gives little indication that in its infancy the railroad was little more than a collection of reject equipment from an assortment of bankrupt common carriers. First-generation diesels and aging freight cars trundling down the main lines was a common sight. In many cases locomotives and rolling stock reflected the very meaning of the words "deferred maintenance."
In the railroad scene of the 1980's the 40-foot boxcar has become all but a vanished breed. Restricted capacity and relatively small door openings have made these cars as obsolete as the twin hopper. Until about 1980, however, or during Conrail's early years, 40-foot boxcars were still in evidence in CR's bailiwick of the Northeast, a region then replete with struggling or destitute carriers. On Conrail, 50-foot exterior-post Railbox style cars sandwiched 40-foot XM boxcars, with names such as Erie Lackawanna, Reading, Lehigh Valley and Penn Central revealing the identity of the unwitting donors to the rolling museum.
The 40-foot boxcar offers the modeler of early Conrail at least two strong points in favor of its inclusion on the layout. First, the 40-foot car, owing to its shorter length, takes up less HO-scale space, meaning that more cars can be accommodated on a length of model track, which furthers the illusion of a longer train. Of course, this illusion is pertinent to modelers of any railroad, not just Conrail. The second point is that most of these cars remained in their pre-Conrail-merger schemes, and therefore their inclusion provides a convincing sense of history and timing to the model scene.
The sense of timing, however, is still contingent on the exact appearance of the cars. These cars had been through the railroad wars by the time they entered the Conrail era; the contrast in age between these and the modern cars should be made as obvious as the contrast in size. The good news is that we can readily accomplish this through weathering.
The not-so-good news is that the only HO-scale 40-foot AAR steel boxcars commercially available depict pre-World W ar II designs which have long since disappeared from the nation's railroads. We're dealing with a situation in which there are no 40-foot AAR boxcar models that are historically correct for operation on a layout depicting the modern era.
The modern 40-foot cars we refer to were distinguished by improved dreadnaught ends, diagonal panel roofs, 7-foot 9-inch doors and often straight sills. Many such cars also had welded seams. All these features vary from those of the Athearn and Model Die Casting offerings currently available. As prototype modelers become more knowledgeable and sophisticated, the question of how to easily model the more contemporary 40-foot AAR boxcars frequently arises.
Begin with an MDC No. 1250 50-foot plug door boxcar, cutting 10 scale feet from the metal underframe using a jeweler's saw. Using a razor saw, cut and remove 10 scale feet from the middle (including the door) of the one-piece body casting.
We arrive at a properly configured 40-foot body by cementing the two shell ends together. If we wish to model the car without the roof walk, fill the roof holes with short lengths of plastic sprue and cement in place. After the cement has had time to dry, file the sprue plugs to the proper shape matching the roofs contour. Remove what remains of the door tracks.
Reassemble the underframe by butting the two "end" sections and fastening the removed 10-foot center section directly over the seam; use epoxy for the splice. This provides both added strength and needed weight.
This relatively small amount of work for the kitbasher provides a nice starting point for modeling a large variet y of post-World W ar II AAR boxcars. Prototype photos will provide information necessary to add the details that are particular to different cars.
Several model manufacturers, principally including Detail Associates and Athearn, have a wide variety of boxcar door styles available in different sizes. Since a hole was not cut for a door opening in our car, the new door will be installed and fixed in the closed position. Tack boards and latches can be repositioned if needed, while essential details such as door tracks and side sills can be easily fabricated from Evergreen styrene strips.
Further detail changes can include replacing stirrup steps with ones fabricated from shim brass, cutting down ladders and lowering the brake wheel for simulating post-1970 practice, shaving away rivets and scribing seams to r epresent welded cars, adding cut-levers and fabricating brake rods and air lines.
Besides personal observation and photos, the Official Railway Equipment Register may yield valuable information, especially concerning an earlier era. Cars in a particular series may have been rebuilt or re-equipped to handle a specific lading, all variations that are a source of challenge and creative satisfaction to the prototype modeler.