I have said more than once in this blog that most older car kits have lots of limitations, particularly many of the Athearn “blue box” line of easily assembled freight cars. That certainly applies to the refrigerator cars, both the all-steel car (clearly modeled on the Pacific Fruit Express Class R-40-23) and the wood-side car, basically the steel car with different sides. Any of these cars requires a lot of work, which still can’t fix all the shortcomings, and so may well not be worth it by modern modeling standards. But. There can be extenuating circumstances, and this post is about one of them: paint schemes.
Back in the 1980s, Bill Metzger of Evergreen Roundhouse produced a number of custom decorated Athearn cars, including several Union Pacific box cars and some PFE R-40-23 cars. All had excellent paint schemes, featuring quite accurate lettering from high-standard artwork. I have a couple of his UP box cars in my fleet, upgraded in the usual way of Athearn box cars, with improved doors, running boards, brake wheels, grab irons and sill steps, etc.
But on the PFE side, although I own some of the kits, none had been finished. I decided to look carefully at one of them, which was actually a gift to me from Bill for help with PFE information, way, way back in 1988. The kit had been started on upgrading, so I looked to see how much work remained, and if I wanted to do it. Here is Bill’s label on the end of the blue box.
I decided to go ahead. As always, the cast-on sill steps of the Athearn body, among the most oversize and most evident features, had to be replaced with metal parts. The car sides needed placard boards; the B end needed an extended brake step and decent brake wheel; the underframe needed the usual brake gear reversal; and the roof needed a steel grid running board and complete ice hatch rebuild. But that is all pretty routine stuff for Athearn reefers. I decided to go ahead and finish the car, partly because the paint scheme does hold up by today’s standards, and also because I respect and admire the work Bill Metzger did on these models.
The only things worth pointing out, perhaps, are the Tuttle Industries sill steps at car corners, and the InterMountain plastic “double steps” under the door. The latter steps were applied to nearly all cars of PFE Class R-40-23, and are available in InterMountain’s refrigerator car detail set, part no. 40500-10.
I have described in earlier posts how almost all this work was done, so will not repeat it here. If you want to view those posts, you could start here: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/04/upgrading-old-models-athearn-reefers.html . Here is the underbody work well along, seen from the right side.
In the view above, the commodity card board has been painted, but the placard board and the route card board remain unpainted, as do all the steps.
In the car’s painted and assembled form, route cards and commodity cards have been added, as in this view of the car’s left side.
Athearn model though it is, the upgraded details raise it above its original state. It may be classified as a “mainline car,” but whatever the case, I enjoyed completing this fine piece of Bill Metzger’s work, and will be pleased to see it in service on my layout.