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  • Rebuilding an AHM Coil Car for the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie

    Pittsburgh & Lake Erie No. 42276 is a special gondola designed and used for hauling large coils of sheet steel. P&LE owned 49 such cars (Nos. 42250-42299), built in 1966 and 1967. This article shows how the author kitbashed one of these interesting cars from an AHM model.
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       Possibly the biggest single-tonnage item made by the steel companies in the United States and Canada is sheet steel. These huge rolls, known as coils, are used in the manufacture of autos and appliances. Over the years, the railroads have hauled this product in a variety of freight cars ranging from flats to gondolas. Most of the current shipments are in open-frame flatcars with removable covers, but during the 1960's a special gondola was developed with a wheel-actuated cover which folded back to allow easy loading. Once loaded, a man could crank back the cover to protect the coils. In 1966 and 1967 the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie purchased 49 of these cars numbered in the 42250-42299 series. Over the years, P&LE found a serious defect with the cars - mainly that the doors wouldn't work! As soon as they became twisted even a little bit, the mechanism would jam, rendering the car useless.

       AHM makes a beautiful model of the car as it was produced and as originally bought by P&LE. The rebuilding that P&LE did to the car is the basis for my model. Step one is to remove the roof pieces by pulling the small pins out of the inner ends of the car. At this time, remove the trucks, brake wheel stand and the levers which actuate the roof sections. You can discard all this stuff, just as P&LE did. I removed the paint from the body with brake fluid and left it to dry.

       Without the roof, the car is a bit naked and we must build a new interior from .020" plastic. (See Figure 1 for parts, sizes and quantities.) I started by gluing the ends, end reinforcements and sides together to form an open rectangle. The inner ends can then be set and the stringer glued to them. I've always found that gluing the slope sheets to the sloping edges of the inner ends was an inexacting science, so you'll need to cut and fit a little bit. In fact, I had to use a little Green Magic body putty to put things right. (See Figure 2 for the new floor con struction.) Once you're satisfied with the fit, set it aside to dry.

    This view clearly shows the gondola's rather unusual coupler pocket and end sill arrangement. First painted NYC Jade Green, P&LE has painted some of these cars to black as seen here.
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       The removal of the parts from the body leaves some holes in the car ends and platforms which I plugged with the Green Magic. P&LE welded a plate to the end to cover the holes. The ends also have prominent weld lines which I scribed in with an X-Acto blade. (Figure 3 shows the brake end of the car, complete with plate, weld lines and brake wheel centerline.) I used Cal Scale's brake wheel and Ajax set, as it is the nicest looking. P&LE also added ladders and grabirons to the sides and ends which are shown in Figure 4.

       The next step is to install the new floor in the model. Occasionally, it will drop right in, but usually you'll have to shave it down a bit. Use that old Green Magic to cover gaps.

       Couplers, trucks and brake gear complete the model. After gluing a rod into the bolster and drilling it out for a No. 2-56 screw, I mounted roller-bearing trucks made by Roundhouse. I installed Kadee couplers (with the little end tabs up) by gluing the boxes shut, cutting off the "ears" and gluing the boxes to the bottom of the cushion frame. The cars are cushioned, and as a result carry a big center-mounted shock absorber which I got from a Cal Scale Hydra-Cushion brake set. I also applied a reservoir and triple valve from Cal-Scale. You won't have to rig up any other brake gear because it's all hidden in the carbody.

       After I built the car, I found out P&LE had put wood on the slope sheets to protect the coils. I used Evergreen car siding distressed with sandpaper and razor saw to simulate this. Getting a good color match is tough, but brown followed by washes of gray and black should do the trick. Glue it in after painting.

    Originally equipped with covers to protect the sheet steel, the gons now are used open. P&LE found the covers malfunctioned easily, so they removed them from each gondola in the series. Although designed for steel coils, the cars are used for many different loads related to the steel business.
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       My car is painted NYC Jade Green with a combination of Champ and Walthers Decals. P&LE has recently painted a few in black, and these have white and gold lettering which Herald King makes in decal form. Rust is also quite common on the cars since they currently see varied service. I've seen them hauling everything from forgings to scrap, which means these distinctive cars can roam all over your model railroad.

       One or more of these cars will look great among the other gons in your fleet. P&LE has supplied the variation while AHM has supplied the model, so good luck in your cutting and fitting.

    Above and right: Detail views of P&LE No. 42267 reveal its unusual structure. The inside braces are used to help support the very heavy rolls of steel. Note the ladders on the car end wall, a feature uncommon to gondolas. These were added by the railroad, along with end grabirons.

    The author used an AHM "coil car" as the basis for his kitbashing. This view of the completed model shows the new ladders and end details. The AHM trucks were replaced with Roundhouse roller bearing types.

    Right:Since the author discarded the roof pieces as P&LE did, it was necessary for him to construct a new floor for the car. The result closely approximates that of the P&LE gon, noticeably different from the floor of a regular-service gondola.

    Below:The model is painted NYC Jade Green and lettered with a combination of Champ and Walthers decals. Other details added to the car were a Cal-Scale shock absorber, air reservoir and triple valve.
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    Article Details

    • Original Author KEVIN N. TOMASIC
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date December 1986

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