Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Upgrading old models

Like most people, I have a freight car fleet that includes older models, in most cases reflecting the more limited kit possibilities of the past, along with newer models. Back when there was little out there in the way of 40-foot box cars, I modified and upgraded Athearn box cars to represent lots of things that they really can’t do.
     But before I go there, let’s look at what the cars can be taken to model. Example: SP had two classes of box cars with the sharp-corner Dreadnaught ends which the Athearn car models, B-50-18 and B-50-19. Replacing the dreadfully thick Athearn running board with wood strips, and the dreadful Athearn brake wheel, and a correct height door (or at least clipping off the huge Athearn door claws) does make a more presentable model, especially if you carry on to replace molded grab irons and steps. You’ve got something that can at least represent the 2750 cars in those two classes.
     But SP had a lot more prewar 40-foot cars than those. Since the original Athearn ends are only really right for the two classes mentioned, I’ve considered replacing them with Red Caboose Dreadnaught ends, with the W-corner-post curved shape, which would also solve the appearance problem of the molded-on Athearn end ladders. One could then be creating stand-ins for classes B-50-20, -21, and -23. But they are still stand-ins. And this is important: the three classes listed comprised 5244 cars, far more than the B-50-18 and -19 cars.
     Furthermore, adding those ends, keeping in mind that one is faced with cutting the ends out of the Athearn body and fitting new ends, leads to a natural question: how worthwhile is the work to “improve” the Athearn cars this far, still with molded-on side ladders, vs. just building a Red Caboose kit (or nowadays, searching out an RTR car from RC)?
     Here’s my decision for now. I’m leaning toward the view that the old cars which stand in for those W-corner post classes really aren’t worth further work, and I plan to replace all of them with later kits, which have better details anyway. The old cars can be put on sale.
     This same reasoning will apply to older models of other car types too. As I make progress on those, I’ll post them here.
     And if photos are of interest, I can post some of those too.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony!

    I like the idea very much! I'm a follower now, and look forward to this kind of SP modeler's forum. Good idea!

    ~ Bob Zenk

  2. Hi Tony and group,

    I have come to the same conclusion that you have with regard to older rolling stock and motive power. The best place for these cars and locomotives is on ebay or something similar. Despite the ever increasing ebaypaypal fees (got to cover past and future expenses like running for governor and replacing the space shuttle program) there is always someone that has an interest in these cars. A lot of toy train folk or junior modelers are interested in them. I have been phasing out this equipment the last few months successfully. Most recently I sold a detailed ATSF waycar from an old Ambroid wood kit. I made almost enough on it to buy the new resin SP caboose in exchange.

    My "inheritance" from one uncle was a 100 or so car Athearn collection. I grouped the cars in 15-20 car groups to keep the shipping to a minimum. They all went quickly. 2 or 3 good photos helps the auctions.

  3. As a PE Modeler of the 1937 era and the Colorado Midland in 1895, the rework of the old Athearn and Roundhouse kits (they did a fairly decent job on the 2900 series box cars from a distance,the Sunshine and other cars from the prewar era caused the standard to increase and the quality is just getting better. When I look at what was considered acceptable in my college days and compare. I am glad to say I am modeler now, because the product we produce looks so much more realistic. I had my socks knocked off when I saw my Athearn Mt-4. Wow, they are doing it "right" now.

    Tom VanWormer
    Monument CO

  4. Tom makes a good point--lots of the older models look okay "from a distance." As one wag put it, "Yep, that Athearn box car sure looks like a box car from here." But standards do rise, and more important, far better models exist. I'll be offering more comments on this issue of upgrade vs. replace vs. "live with" in future posts.

  5. Tony, is there a way that we can attach photo images to our specific comments? Thanks, Paul

  6. Paul, I think there is, but I'm not very familiar yet with Google's tools. You might look at the material provided when you ask for HELP with the blog responses.


  7. I want to say "Hi" to Bob Zenk who is one of the charter members of this prestigious list. :-) Great to see him on this list and we are a much better group with him in the ranks.

    Bob of course was the HO/SP/passenger car kitbash/superdetail "Prophet" in the early days of Mainline Modeler and earlier/later in RMC. I have had the pleasure of communicating with him recently as I have been gathering information about Bill Anderson (for an article in 'Trainline'). Bill was the "mother lode" of passenger car information in the early 80's until his untimely passing in 2002. You may already know that Bob's photos of Bill's Limited Editions HO passenger cars (that Bob built and customized) graced most of the LE brochures/ads in magazines and elsewhere.

    Bill Anderson was extremely instrumental in his role as a charter SPHTS passenger car committee member and his significant contribution of photos, extensive data and enthusiasm have had a great influence on the Passenger Car series of books for the SPHTS. (It goes without saying that our 'Top Blogger' has always been on that same committee).

    Bob sent me the last materials that he had regarding LE and discussed his relationship with Bill in detail. The written material included many photos and photo negatives of these scenes. Several others (including Steve Peery) have been very gracious providing me with most of Bill's paper records for Limited Editions after I purchased the remaining company assets from Bill's widow in 2005. Most of the LE passenger car detail parts that Bill marketed in the late '70's and '80's will be available again in a very short timeframe.

    Bob, you were definitely "The Man" with your initial publication of upgrades/modifications to an SP Athearn PA locomotive in the charter issue of Mainline Modeler and for many years after that initial milestone. Your influence in these and numerous other articles in the modeling press were my first and most significant push toward Prototype Modeling, and I am very thankful about that. Your significant contributions to RPM has made the hobby much, much more rewarding for me (and I am sure for many others as well).

    Oh and before the "Bill/Wil first name" issue for Mr. Anderson comes up I want to clearly establish that the 10 +/- individuals I have interviewed that were remaining family and close personal friends/business partners of Bill's during the late '70's and '80's (and ALL of his business correspondence for LE during that period and later) always refered to W. G. Anderson as BILL Anderson, not Wil Anderson. I know that the reigning Espee List Curmudgeon, Ken Harrison (founding member and President/Director of the SPHTS, OETM, and numerous other rail organizations), whom I have the greatest respect for, is emphatic that Bill should be referred to as "Wil" (as is indicated in the SPHTS Passenger Car Series and his last articles in Mainline Modeler). Sometime in the 90's, the date of which is uncertain, Bill started calling himself "Wil" (for reasons that need not be discussed). As such and because his name still pops in a lot of modeling discussions related to LE, I feel that he is more of a "Bill" than a "Wil" to me.

    Thanks to those who have persevered this (somewhat on topic, and definitely appropopriate for SP passenger car modelers) lengthy rant.

  8. Tony,
    Good work as always. In the past you have written about how to determine what type of SP cars one should have, meaning 80% box cars, 5% something else, etc. How do you estimate how many non-SP cars should be in a train? and then, do you make any attempt to pick authentic examples of them or do you just take whatever Red Caboose/Athearn/Intermountain deal out?
    Jim Pattison

  9. Good question, Jim, and one I mean to address in a future post. My own modeling style is fairly prototypical--I wouldn't use an X29 box car body lettered for some road that never had such cars--but emphasizes that the rolling stock (and entire layout for that matter) primarily should be convincing. That means plausible at least, and in most cases, pretty good stand-ins if not spot-on reproductions. Thus a particular box car from, say Red Caboose, may or may not be a foobie, and its paint scheme may well be out of my era. Admittedly railroads of less personal interest will be less carefully vetted for exact accuracy.

    Proportions of the fleet are an important consideration, and I'm a proponent of what's known as the Gilbert-Nelson approach (because it was elaborated in some detail by Tim Gilbert and Dave Nelson). It says that free-running cars like box cars or gondolas should be represented according to proportion in the national car fleet, absent other information. I intend to complete my thoughts for a future post detailing how I'm implementing this on my layout.
    Tony Thompson