Sunday, November 13, 2016

Choosing a model car fleet, Part 14: more on tank cars

I provided a full discussion of my model car fleet objectives and choices in a summary post, which lists all the original ten posts; it can be found at: . The present post is an extension of the earlier post on the tank car part of the fleet, which was in the list just cited (the tank car post is at this link: ). That post does give a good summary of my goals and needs for tank cars in my operating scheme.
     The purpose of the present post is to show examples of some of the cars in use, which is conspicuously missing from that previous post. I will begin with oil companies. For any part of the country, the descendants of the Standard Oil trust, broken up in 1911, continued to use the services of the former tank car segment of that trust, Union Tank Line, reporting mark UTLX. I have a Standard of California bulk oil dealer on my layout, so I use those cars too. (The dealership itself was shown in this previous post: .) Here is one of the models (InterMountain) I have in that service. The distinctive yellow lettering used by UTL stands out.

The car’s placards show that it is an empty car.
     As I have often mentioned, one can also take advantage of oil company cars to emphasize the region being modeled, by choosing oil companies of the region. A good Western example is Union Oil, for which I also have a dealer on my layout. The tank car is an InterMountain model, and the dealership is derived from an old Chooch kit.

     The two cars shown above are AAR Type TM cars, ICC Class 103, which is a suitable “general service” tank car and widely used for petroleum products and less-dangerous chemicals. For more on the AAR and ICC classifications, see my article in Model Railroad Hobbyist in the issue for February 2016 (you can download any issue of MRH for free at any time from their website, ).
     Another relatively simple tank car type is designed to carry cargoes which must be prevented from leaking, such as acids. These cars have no bottom outlet and are AAR Type TA (the “A” originally stood for “acid.” but now means any car without bottom outlet). Their domes have different kinds of safety outlets and are arranged so the cargo can be pumped out of the car instead of unloading through a bottom outlet by gravity. Tangent Scale Models recently offered excellent examples of welded cars like this. One of the ones in service on my layout is shown below. It carries an “acid” placard, indicating it is loaded.

     More challenging or more dangerous cargoes may be handled in insulated tank cars or high-pressure tank cars, sometimes known as “chemical” tank cars (though in fact chemicals are merely handled in the cars which are suitable to carry them). Modelers are understandably fond of “chemical” tank cars, many of which indeed have attractive paint schemes. But a great majority of such cars were in fact black or gray. Here is an example, an ICC 104 insulated and jacketed car, SHPX 4007, doubtless leased to a shipper needing to ship in such a car, but whose emblem has not been painted on the car. That might mean the car is in pool service, or that the shipper doesn’t feel the need to advertise. The model is an Overland brass car.

     But as I said, some of these cars did indeed have colorful paint schemes and, sometimes, billboard lettering to boot. One example is this ICC 105A chlorine car, an Atlas model. It does have a platform around its valve bonnet (not an expansion dome, on a high-pressure car like this), but the presence or absence of platforms has nothing to do with whether the car is a “chemical” car or not. Installation of a platform was among the many choices open to a buyer of tank cars, and it was entirely up to them if they needed or wanted a platform.

I should also reiterate my comments, included in several previous posts, about how oversize is the Athearn valve bonnet and platform on their “chemical” tank car (for example: ). As has been stated by me and others, the Athearn bonnet and platform are close to S scale, not HO scale, and are even slightly oversize for S scale. Here is a view of the correctly-sized bonnet and platform on the Atlas car just shown, compared to a stock Athearn model behind it.

     I emphasized in my two Model Railroad Hobbyist articles on tank cars (the February 2016 one mentioned above, which was about the prototype, and the March 2016 article, which covered modeling of tank cars), that understanding the prototype classes and their use is essential if these cars are to be modeled accurately. I have tried to follow that advice with the tank cars in use on my layout.
Tony Thompson


  1. Might be old news to some but I just saw a Trainfest announcement of a new Tangent 8000-gallon radial-course tank car. Very nicely done. UTLX, Staley, Deep Rock and a few others for starters, with more to come.

  2. I have very much enjoyed the tank car blog posts. The new Tangent model is easily as nice as, if not nicer than, their previous acid tank car model. Now, on to a question: Do you have a preferred source for placard signage? I've seen the Microscale sheet and will try it, but experience tells me you might have knowledge of something else I would like as well or better. Alan Houtz

  3. Interesting you should ask about placards, Alan, as I am finishing a post about just that. I make my own placards, and will repeat the info in the upcoming post.
    Tony Thompson