NEB&W Guide to Freight Cars - Preface to the First Edition, 1990's

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Freight Car Guide Table of Contents


The following is from the 95.2 edition of our Steam Era Freight Car Guide. Over time I will rewrite it to reflect this site. Also, note that this was originally written in 1995, 7 years ago, and steam era freight car kits have exploded. And meanwhile, I have tried to expand into other eras. (And of course since then, this material have been transferred to our website, so little of the following pertains to today. However, you might like to read it from a historical viewpoint.)

The following was originally inspired by Todd Sullivan. When he, Alec Adamyk and Wayne Sittner first joined our club, we knew little about freight cars, but through their efforts, we began to learn and to appreciate rolling stock. In 1983, Sullivan wrote a series of notes about various freight car kits and what they represented. These notes were a big help in our education. We relied on these notes, for instance, when we went to train shows, to find the hidden treasures in the junk piles. Such was the AHM stock car, which even then was no longer in production.

This book contains material from our past Rensselaer Railroad Shop Shoptalks and our 1992 Rolling Stock Catalog & Buyer's Guide, as well as new material. Besides thanking Todd for his inspiration, I want to thank Paul Stoving and Horton Durfee for proofing some of this material, and Bill Stone for his encouragement. Cynthia Smith proofed the material that appeared in our Shoptalks and 1992 Catalog. Many of you have sent in corrections or additional information to material that I've written, and your help is acknowledged in the appropriate section. I have just received numerous corrections of both language and information from Bill Welch, John Horvath, Steve Wagner, Richard Hendrickson, Ed Hawkins, and Todd Sullivan (January-February 1994), but it will be awhile before I am able to incorporate all this in.

I have access to most back issues of Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, Mainline Modeler, and Railmodel Journal. My apartment is filled with piles of magazines with articles which I eventually plan to list as references. Some of the rosters, particularly the steel box cars, are just beginning to be typed in. For many of the detailing parts, I just haven't had a chance to type them all. I don't plan to have any omissions as I want this to be as complete as possible. The cars left out are either ones I haven't had a chance to type in, or ones I don't know about. Bill Welch has suggested that I include needed kits, decals, etc., which I will eventually add. I hope that manufacturers could use this information to choose future projects.

However, in these early stages of writing this, you need not tell me what I've left out, since there is a good chance that I already know. However, if you come across material in other magazines than these, including those of the various historical societies, I would be glad to hear from you.

(Historical societies, please note, it is financially impossible for most of us to belong to every society. I encourage you to make information about your road's freight cars more readily available to nonmembers. Our shop would be glad to stock this information, even if it is in the form of back issues, to help spread and share this information.)

Organization Of This Material

When I first started writing this, I meant this to be a supplement to our 1992 Rolling Stock Catalog & Buyer's Guide. It was just going to cover plastic freight car kits and other early kits, when much of the discussion was to be whether they had any prototypical merit whatsoever.

Today's craftsman-type styrene kits, such as Eastern Car Works, Detail Associates, and Tichy, present a different problem, where the modeler can trust that they are fairly accurate to some prototype, but needs to know which roads owned the prototypes and how the were lettered. However, as I went into more depth, it made more and more sense to include information about cast-resin kits. The turning point was when the supplies of our 1992 Catalog ran out.

At first, the organization of the material was general - box cars, reefers, hoppers, etc. However, as each section grew in length, it became unwieldy, so I keep subdividing the sections, such as wood box cars versus steel, and then double-sheathed versus single-sheathed, and so on, trying to keep each section of manageable size.

This type of organization, along the lines of technological development, worked well in the 1992 Catalog, but originally I was concerned that with greater length, there would be problems finding where the kits are discussed if you don't already know something about them.

After all, most modelers know that the Athearn box car is a box car, but with the sections subdivided into types of steel box cars (ARA, rebuilt, 1932, PS-Zero, 1937, 1944 and PS-1), you might never find the discussion of the Athearn box car unless you know it is a 1937-type car. Some kits are so inaccurate they don't belong anywhere.

However, then I was shown by Phil Tiburcio how to use the indexing feature on our desktop publishing program (PageMaker 4.0). If you are trying to decide what to do with a particular kit and don't know where to find it, look in the index. The indexing feature, while much faster than doing it by hand, is still quite time-consuming, so early drafts of this book will be only partially indexed, with no rhyme or reason, just as I get to it. I have concentrated on indexing the kits that are discussed in not so obvious chapters, such as the Tichy tank car under the covered hopper section. (On the web site, links are even better, and I will try to add as many as necessary.)

The sequence of car types, such as flats, then gons, twin hoppers, triple and quad hoppers, followed by ore cars, and then covered hoppers, is based on the sequence generally used by the actual Car Builders' <u>Cyclopedia</u>s in the steam era. (This sequence shifted over the years.) Within that, I've arranged any further subdivision of sections by the chronology of technology, if there is a sequence. Within that framework, kits are listed alphabetically by manufacturer. If in doubt, refer to the table of contents.

Finally the indexing feature allows a listing to car series under each railroad, and where a discussion of that series will be found. Thus if you are interested in modeling the Delaware & Hudson or the Pacific Electric, you can look up in the index where to find all references, by car series. With each car series, the AAR class designation is given, so you know where to find D&H hoppers, or PE box cars, and also the total number of cars in that series in 1949. (Yes, I eventually intend to expand the index and link to EVERY entry - I should live so long.)

I have taken the liberty of indexing our fictitious New England, Berkshire & Western, although if you look up the reference you may only find a discussion of a Rutland or D&H car series. I wanted to show that even though our road is made-up, the roster is not just a straightforward 1000 series for box car, 2000 series for hoppers, etc., as modelers do with their own lines.

Originally, in the 1994 edition, I used a change to a smaller space when I was still talking about a given kit, and the regular space when I had changed topics. When several kits are listed together without any space, the discussion is meant to apply to all of the above. However, I have eliminated this feature, as it makes it harder to write, and isn't too obvious to the reader. Instead, I have tried to use titles for changes in topics. As time goes on, and there are more kits for the same prototypes, I will be listing prototypes under roster sections, and then simply describe the kit itself under the kit section. (On this web site I am very inconsistent as to a space between paragraphs, etc.)

I have tried to be consistent for your sake, but it isn't always possible. Whenever I find myself getting carried away struggling to be consistent, I remind myself what Emerson said: "Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."

You will also notice in the early stages of this book many places where there are just listings of car series, with some fragmentary information, such as car totals, built dates, etc., but without it being a full sentence. This was information imported from my freight car table in the Paradox data base. Eventually normal English grammar will prevail.

Our Green Dot/Tan Dot System

See this section.

Remove Those Claws, Etc.

Perhaps you don't have time, or feel you lack the skills, to tackle cast-resin and even the C&BT, IMWX and Tichy plastic kits. I think it is entirely possible to assemble a reasonable roster by careful selection of just shake-the-box kits that have some degree of prototype fidelity.

However, if you are reading this, you must have some interest in better freight cars. I beg of you, if you do nothing else, take an evening and snip the door claws off the cars that have them. When I look at photos of someone's layout, no matter how detailed or spectacular, the minute I see claws I think much less of the modeling effort.

Most shake-the-box 40 foot (or 36 foot) house car kits can be improved by replacing the wood roof walks with the Tichy ones. This even can be done on pre-lettered kits, as the paint match doesn't need to be perfect.

Decaling Onto Bare Plastic

On most of the C&BT factory lettered cars, the car body itself is molded in the desired box car red, and the lettering stamped onto the bare plastic. While this gives the car a slight translucent effect as it comes from the box, it is easy to correct. Richard Hendrickson paints the inside of the car flat black, using a brush, a five-minute job. We found that the slightest bit of weathering over the car makes it indistinguishable (in our opinion) from lettering on painted bodies. With this in mind, we decided to try decaling directly onto the bare black plastic of the Athearn and Stewart hoppers. (The Walthers hoppers, as with all their Train-miniature line, come molded in a rail-brown color). We have been very pleased with the results. For one thing, this saves the time and effort to spray-paint the cars. Secondly, the bare plastic is as about a smooth a surface as you could hope for. And finally, hoppers, being among the dirtiest cars, are candidates for such extreme weathering that you can go beyond the "I can't tell if the body was painted" almost up to the "I can't tell if the car was lettered."

Trees Versus Forest

On our layout, we have eagerly snatched up at least one of each the factory-lettered versions of the Accurail single-sheathed box cars, even for the time being the AT&SF car (which is not close to any Santa Fe car), because it is such an easy way to help balance the overall fleet in terms of age and type of car. I have had several VERY long discussions with some of the leading freight car modelers over this issue, including the concern raised that we might be headed back to the days of careless freight car models.

At one point in the hobby, all 40-foot steel box cars were considered so similar that the Athearn or MDC cars would suffice to represent them all. Now we know of Improved Dreadnaught end versions, PS-1's, PS-Zeros, "Dartnaught" end versions, USRA-rebuilds, 1932 ARA types, and so on. Are we in trouble for casually accepting the Accurail car as a stand-in for all forty-foot nine-panel single-sheathed cars?

Even though any such discussion relates to subjective matters, let me address this briefly. For those of you strongly opposed, I don't want to change your views except in the area of tolerance. The following are the my feelings and the feelings of the Rensselaer club members most actively involved in working on the club fleet. This philosophy is at the heart of our "Green-Dot/Tan-Dot" standards.

While modelers can enjoy the finished scenery on their layout and ignore the areas under construction, with operations there isn't the same luxury of patience. We need to have a full complement of equipment, all with unique reporting marks, so that we can have operating sessions. This is rather like a play where you wouldn't raise the curtain if half the cast members were missing. None of the Accurail kits would meet the Green Dot standards as they come from the box, not without at least some minor modifications.

The hallmark of the 1950 steam-era fleet, as you may know, was its variety of car construction designs, box car heights, and age-spread of the equipment. After the Depression, across-the-board car design standards were becoming common, and it is the prototypes from this period that appeal the most to "shake-the-box" kit manufacturers, as they can legitimately factory-letter their kits with the most number of road names.

In terms of box cars, which were the largest component of the overall freight car fleet, the IMWX, C&BT, and McKean cars are easily built kits that meet the Green Dot standards. However, these represent circa WWII and later, while it was cars from the teens and twenties that dominated in the prototype 1950 fleet. During this earlier period before 1930, even when cars were built to de facto or official standard designs, there were many variations as to ends, roofs, doors, heights, etc. The Accurail series of single-sheathed cars attempt to handle some of these variations by offering two types of doors and two types of ends, but this only partially covers the situation.

On our layout, the number of Green Dot cars was growing, but the trains as a total aggregate were not becoming more Green Dot. We kept adding IMWX, C&BT and McKean cars in great numbers and occasionally cast-resin and Tichy cars. The question that each of you must answer for yourself is that, given a string of post-1937 box cars, is it better to add an Accurail SS car that may not be totally on the mark, or to add yet another of the same type of 1940's steel cars, a car that in and of itself is more accurate than the Accurail car. It is our contention that in our situation, adding the Accurail car makes the train more accurate and better reflects the variation seen in that era.

I have recently been bothered by the strong opinions expressed by some who were outraged that some manufacturers continue to produce styrene kits with cast-on hand-grabs, and a few, in order to survive, have recut their dies to eliminate these as separate parts. I think we are reaching the point where the interest in steam-era freight cars will support both levels of products. I am glad to see shake-the-box and craftsman kits being produced for the same prototypes, such as USRA hoppers and Pennsy round-roofs.

This helps newcomers get into steam-era modeling. I remember that when I was 16, I wanted to start converting my Lionel to O scale. I bought an All-Nation wood craftsman kit, as there was no Athearn-type kit in O available. Lionel had given me no experience in building rolling stock. The heavy cast-metal fishbelly underframe of the kit was twisted. I didn't know how to fix the problem, so instead I switched to HO. (The embossed "wood" sheathing of the reefer kit was used to wrap around an HO scale water tank.) I would hate to think that some modelers would be turned off from steam-era modeling if all they had was craftsman-type kits, even if more experienced modelers think that separate hand-holds don't represent the threshold of "craftsmanship."

How To Use This Guide

The following is intended as an overview of the many HO steam-era rolling stock kits. The following is a look at what uses the kits have. Many of these kits are no longer available, but they are included for two reasons: Often you can still find these kits at train shows. These kits also have a habit of reappearing again from a different manufacturer who has bought the original dies.

In front of each kit is the manufacturer's number and kit number, if I know it. Since this has evolved from our own catalog, we started with the Walthers' system of numbering, and have used our own manufacturer's code for those not carried by Walthers. Those are letters, rather than numbers. With the books, this has proved to be a little misleading. For example, we used a common manufacturer's code for the distributor, the source of where we would obtain the book if a customer ordered it, rather than the publisher. This will change as I get a chance to correct it.

Cast-resin kits are based on specific prototypes, and there is little attempt to spread one kit over many roadnames, some of which may be okay and some not, as is done with factory-lettered plastic kits. The main information I figure you are going to want for cast-resin kits are numbers and dates, so you can determine if such and such kit fits your era and is likely to have shown up in your area.

Many plastic kits date from before the hobby's sophistication in freight cars, so many are not representations of what they claim to be. I want to provide what information I can on which are which. On the other hand, some of the new generation of kits (Tichy, Eastern Car Works, Detail Associates, Central Valley) do not come with factory lettering or decals. With these, while the kits are very accurate and finely detailed, one can be lost as to how to letter these cars.

The new generation of plastic kits are more closely matched to real prototypes, but even so, there may be some detail differences. Therefore, in the discussion on Sunshine Models' cast-resin Bettendorf box cars, the main information is how many Southern Pacific or Pacific Electric cars there were, when they were first used (i.e., built), when they were last used, if known, and how many there were. On the other hand, while the Accurail single-sheathed box cars include an SP version, I'll try to provide more information on the prototype's details, such as roof type, overall height, etc., so you can make your own judgement as to whether this version is close enough for your layout.

Besides cast-resin and plastic kits, I've included others that may be questionable but of some value, such as stamped metal, cast-metal and occasionally wood craftsman-type kits.

Part of the value of this guide is the ability to continually update it, with frequent editions so it stays in date with new kits, articles and information. For that reason, we have published it in loose-leaf format, so that you can update one section at a time. Individual chapters were available at $0.25 a page. We are not going to sell individual pages, just chapters. I have heard a complaint about the cost of these updates, as these is over 200 pages more in this edition than in the 1994. If they were separated out (which they aren't), that would cost more than the price of the entire 1995 edition. However, why don't you just buy a few chapters at a time, as you need them.

Also, it was printed as single-sided format, so you could take it apart into the various sections and perhaps file them into your own organization scheme, or have a section sitting out on your workbench. Since the 1994 edition was published, we have had almost no demand for individual chapters, either for modelers who feel the cost for the whole book is too much at one time, or those who want to update as they go.

This edition is being published double-sided, since there seems to be little call for pages printed directly off the computer. Individual chapters will be printed single-sided. Frankly, these updates are a hassle for us, but we are trying to make this work for you without bankrupting us.

Because the laying out of photos is so time consuming, they are arranged on their own separate pages, which will change less frequently than will the text. Another reason for this relates how we are having this printed. We are publishing very small batches at a time, so that this can stay up to date. The early editions will contain fewer photos than I'd like, but that should change over time.

We can print 100 copies at a time, at the RPI photocopy center. If we print it instead, the minimum to be cost effective is a run of 500 copies. We had a total of 400 copies printed of the 1994 edition, sending 100 copies to the NMRA convention. Only 15 sold there, and we are just breaking 300 copies in total sales. For a while our own sales were brisk enough to make us think of printing this 1995 edition, but we can't afford to throw away so many left over copies. Therefore, the 1995 edition is being photocopied. This will be minor revisions and updates in each run of 100, with the major revisions held until the next edition is produced. It looks like the editions will be annual at most, with the 1996 edition, assuming there is one, ready at the beginning of the modeling season in autumn.

We had set up our Railroad Shop in the first place to provide enough income to help keep our layout open to the public. Mail orders have been a disaster economically, but many of you wanted the information we could provide. This book, and others like it about structures, scenery, operations, etc. are the result. However, we need to raise a minimum amount each year to keep functioning, and this year, 1994-'95, is the make-it or break-it year. We need help in promoting this publication. Are there only 300 modelers out there who care enough about this information? We could lower the retail price if we could significantly raise the number of sales.

I am assuming that instead of reading this from one end to another, you will jump around, looking up the kits you are interested in. Therefore some of the material is repeated under each heading. I hope you will provide feedback as time goes on as to whether this assumption and the organization meets your needs.

You have the right to make copies of this for your own use, but not to distribute them to others.

Car Totals

Whenever I indicate the number of cars, unless otherwise indicated, the figure was taken from the July 1949 Official Railway Equipment Register. Obviously, this is only possible if the cars were built before this Register went to print. Cars built after that will simply have the total number built.

This guide represents my love and interest in the era we are modeling on the Rensselaer layout. Don't even bother asking me to compile the same information for any period significantly outside that, or for that matter, any other scale than HO. I have been trying to expand this up to about 1962, and back to 1900. However, even if I was to get another Register, it would essentially double the amount of effort this takes.

As it is, I have so much information that I have found that I haven't included, not to mention the flood of new kits, parts and articles that have come along since the last publication.

However, I have found a 1932 and '58 Register, so if there is a revision after this, you will see those numbers used, too.

Preface To The 1995 Edition

It pains me as to all the information I am leaving out of this edition.

Over the last several years, there has been a lot of information that has been published on steam box cars and twin covered hoppers of the late steam-era. As a result, I have tended to concentrate on other types of cars, older box cars, flats, gons, hoppers, etc.

Some of you have complained about the cheap binder we have put on the 1994 edition. A minor reason is that you might want to re-file the material, or use your own loose-leaf notebook. The major reason is that I can't find a source that gives us a significantly better discount than any customer off the street. If we pay $4 per binder, we can't afford to add on $4 to the retail price, the economics of retail would force us to add more like $7. Any raise in price would hurt sales, but it also isn't fair to sell you something, even indirectly, that you could buy yourself at a much better price. If you use this guide a lot, I expect you would replace the binder. I have therefore tried to find the cheapest binder that would still do the job.

You should know it costs us just over four cents a page to print this. If you total the number of pages, and subtract that from the selling price, you might think we are price-gouging. However, there are many other costs that creep in, including photography, etc. that quickly eats up the proceeds. That does not, DOES NOT, cover the cost of assembling and writing this. I have been told that a standard publisher will fix a retail price at about five times the cost.

I don't have a grammar check in this software, so please excuse the problems. As long as you can understand what I am trying to say, I figure you want me to spend my time adding new information, not correcting the grammar. I do have a spell check, but it is difficult to use in a work with so many abbreviations, such as class designations and product codes.

Chris Barkan has suggested that I follow standard scientific format, such as footnotes for all the references. I am resistant to this idea for several reasons. Despite my chemistry background, I can't remember how this is done. (I wasn't a good chemist.) I also don't think most of you would appreciate this. This guide may never make the Times best-seller list, but a scientific style is too dry.

There is a major reason I don't footnote the references. In scientific literature, all material that gets published in reputable journal is first reviewed by a committee of experts. Therefore, all the material can be trusted to a high degree. In our hobby, anything can be published, even articles that brag about how the author ignored the prototype. Therefore, any reference can run the gamut from made-up to trusted. If the source was listed in the back, who would look it up as they read. (I wouldn't.)

Photo reproduction will always be a problem for such small volume publishing. I use photos to try to cover the points made in the text, but I really think that the photos referred to in such sources as the Classic Freight Cars series, Color Guides, etc., are the primary place to look .

As with the rest of this, with the index, I think I've created a monster. After all, the '49 Register is about 600 pages long, so you can consider how much the index car grow even if just limited to car nos. I really worry that at some point the computer will tell me I've exceeded the ability of the software to create the index.