NEB&W Guide to Our Green Dot/Tan Dot System

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Preface to the First Edition, 1990's
Freight Car Guide Table of Contents

To have operating sessions (and regular open houses) at the Rensselaer layout while freight car models are still being built, our club formulated a minimum set of standards that we call Green Dot. Cars not meeting those standards, but that are good enough as temporary stand-ins are called Tan-Dot. (At one time we actually put a green or tan dot on the car's waybill, but now the philosophy is ingrained and more flexible.)

Club member Geoff Hubbs devised the Green Dot/Tan Dot concept. This idea arose following Dennis Storzek's article "Five Box Car Improvements" in the April 1982 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Dennis drastically changed the appearance of an Athearn box car with fivw simple detail changes - thinner roof walk, wire stirrups, improved hand brake details, added air brake rigging, and rebuilt full-height doors with thinned door guides.

In the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, once the child points out that the king is not wearing any clothes, everyone else immediately sees the truth. The same was true for us after reading this article, in regards to the undersize door and toylike door slides. From then on, we could no longer look at a shake-the-box kit without noticing this problem. (Today's new generation of styrene kits have corrected this and just in late 2001, MDC has retooled the side of their box car for with cast-on scale doors.)

Our Green Dot standards were set low enough and practical enough for the modeling at the time that club members could meet, and yet high enough so that cars meeting the minimum standards could run with the best contest models. The concept at the time was that only Green Dot cars would be added, and the fleet of Tan Dot cars would slowly decrease as Green Dot cars replaced them. See the article on our Green Dot standards in the December 1991 issue of Model Railroader.

The standards were devised to encourage a minimum amount of work being done on each car. This was back in the days when the Athearn and MDC box cars represented the standard steam-era box car, and our standards were set up around these kits. In general, a Green Dot car should be better than a Tan Dot car, but not always. For instance, an Ambroid or other wood craftsman-type kit would be classified as Green Dot, and the newer Accurail cars would be technically Tan Dot. Actually, in my opinion, an Accurail car has better overall detailing despite the cast-on grabs than a wood craftsman kit. Any Green Dot kit, if poorly built, may not look as good as a Tan Dot kit. Separate grabs are nice, but if crudely installed, are more objectionable than cast-on ones.

It should be noted that NOTHING in these standards, either color, related to era. Yes, the car had to match the era being modeled, but the standards could have also been used for a post-steam 1970's session. One of the problems we had when we started working on a steam-era session was that the equipment the club had been working on up to the point were basically Athearn out-of-the-box kits, with minimum details changes, just paint and decal. The backbone of the neb+w fleet were the yellow plug-door box cars custom-decorated by Bev-Bel. There were a number of features that were realized to be not optimum but it was the presence of the cast-on ladders that needed to be removed along with the running boards, that sort of stopped the development of the fleet short.

For years I had been talking about the "Green-Dot" fleet, but now I want to talk about the "Tan-Dot" models.

With the arrival of the Accurail single-sheathed box cars, our concepts have modified. First of all, we noticed how many 1940's and early '50's box cars we had on the layout, the result of the easy to build CB&T, McKean, and IMWX factory-lettered plastic kits. Cars that took longer to build, with many fragile parts, generally were only brought out for operating sessions, but these were the models of the earlier, less standardized car, ones that don't lend themselves as well to mass-production demands. Yet as the numbers on the following pages show, the 1950 fleet should be mainly composed of cars from the '10's and '20's.

The Accurail single-sheath cars are the first "shake-the-box" kits representing pre-1930 cars that have been made since the freight car revolution. While the details are cast on, they are made much finer, and look better than some of the separate ones if done poorly. They made us realize that we needed to balance the fleet, especially for the open houses. We needed older cars, more wood and composite cars, and more variety in terms of heights, lengths and construction types. We needed to build Tan Dot cars. However, we have modified Tan Dot standards, reflecting the new products in the hobby that have been become available in the decade since we first starting working in earnest on freight cars.

The Tan Dot standards are now not much different than Green Dot standards, the only real difference being the grab irons, and to a lesser extent, stirrups. Cars with cast on grabs can be easily reworked to shave off the grabs and replace them with separate ones. This, however, can be time-consuming, enough so that when the car is done, it gets put away during open houses. In general, a Tan Dot car now means one that can be built quickly, the time of construction being less than the time it takes to decal the car.

For instance, in a Shoptalk, I discussed the modifications that converted the Mantua gon into a model of an Erie gon. We showed a picture of a model made by Al Wood, a green dot model. We were in a rush to build up our fleet of coal cars, so then-club president Anthony Prattico and I made a couple of more Erie gons, but without replacing the grabs and brake system. What made these Tan Dot models is that we recognize that these cars, unlike Wood's model, were a stand-in. At some point, we may remove the Tan-Dot Erie cars because we have enough Green Dot coal cars, but neither Prattico nor I will take offense.

Another thing we take into consideration is time (and cost) versus accuracy. For a car that is factory-lettered and easy to throw together, we'll accept more discrepancies. One car we accepted is the MDC gon lettered for the Erie. I don't believe the Erie had any cars quite like this, so this is a stand-in for the Mantua gons mentioned above. Both kits have 10 panels but the Mantua/Erie car is about 44 feet long and the MDC car is 40 feet long. In my opinion, the discrepancy becomes too large to warrant the effort to decal the MDC kit for the Erie, but not to simply add trucks and couplers to a pre-lettered kit. (We call something like this a "Brown-Dot" model, which is a stand-in a Tan-Dot model.)

Saying that a kit is less than Green-Dot should not automatically be taken as a put-down of its value. The MDC gon can be made into a Green-Dot model of a class of Chesapeake & Ohio gons, circa 1948. It is only a bad representation of the Erie car.

Building cars as Tan Dot models brings some projects into the realm of practicality. For instance, I had modeled a B&M and a BAR single-sheathed box car, using the MDC "truss-side" car for the sides. This took a lot of work to rework the sides, adding wood grain to disguise the deep grooves in the sheathing. As a Tan Dot car, we can live with the overly deep grooves, because it is a temporary car. In other cases, the finished car may not be as close as we want, even after a lot of work. The diagonals on the MDC car do not go all the way to the top and bottom of the side. While this makes it possible to cut down the sides to use on a lower-height car such as the B&M and BAR box car, it doesn't work as well on the original car. If I put a lot of work into the car to model a Santa Fe Bx-13, I wouldn't be able to correct this. As a Tan-Dot model, I can make a few simple changes to better model the Santa Fe car, without getting discouraged before I finish the project.

Westerfield makes a kit of the Bx-13, which it goes without saying is an accurate model. I would no more consider modeling a Green Dot model of the Bx-13 by trying to modify the MDC kit in the face of the Westerfield kit than I would make another Green-Dot model of the B&M and BAR cars in the face of the Yankee Clipper kits. Tan Dot models are another matter.

In a past issue of Shoptalk, I mentioned about our Tan Dot fleet for passenger cars. Just recently I came across an issue of Railroad Model Craftsman which contained an article about modifying an MDC Harriman-type RPO to a fairly accurate model of a Canadian Pacific RPO. Now on the D&H and Rutland, although both ran passenger service into Canada, to Montreal, there was but little mixing of either CP or CN passenger cars into the consist. Thus a CP RPO showing up on either's passenger trains, or the NEB&W's passenger trains by analogy, was plausible but not common.

We felt that buying a factory-lettered MDC CP RPO, squaring up the corners of the windows with a little file work and replacing the four-wheel trucks with six-wheel trucks was worth the effort. We would have a car that we could mix into one of our through passenger trains for a little variety. However, at this juncture, for the amount of use a CP RPO car would get, it wasn't worth the effort to take an undecorated MDC shell and rework the doors as per the RMC article. In this case, making a Tan Dot model was acceptable because of the limited use such a car would see. (PS - Chuck Haley went ahead and did a bang-up job on such a conversion anyway. But I am using this example to make a point.)