Monday, February 7, 2011

Modeling meat reefers

One part of my freight car fleet which is seriously deficient is meat refrigerator cars, and I will need a few for inbound loads to the wholesale grocer warehouse on my layout. I am in the process of modifying some existing car bodies for this service, and also am looking forward to the release (maybe by summer) of the new Rapido meat cars. For more on these forthcoming cars and their paint schemes, visit
    In addition, there are the Atlas 36-foot reefers, which are an unusual car design with just four hinges per door instead of the usual six. Atlas has also chosen to decorate most of their offerings in the flamboyant schemes of the “billboard era,” but those schemes could not have survived past 1937 and thus, strictly speaking, cannot be operated on a 1953 layout like mine, which attempts to model its era correctly. [For a full discussion of the end of the billboard car era, see Richard H. Hendrickson and Edward S. Kaminski, Billboard Refrigerator Cars, Signature Press, 2008.] One of my projects is to replace a set of Atlas (working!) door hinges with six conventional hinges and, of course, suitably repaint and reletter.
     For my fleet, I want to model cars of the major meat packers. In the year I model, 1953, these were as follows:
Swift         4064 cars
Armour     3747 cars
Wilson      1469 cars
Cudahy     1097 cars
Rath           691 cars
Several other packer fleets are hard to research because they were embedded in the lease fleets of General American or GA’s subsidiary, Union Refrigerator. Others were simply very small, such as Morrell, with 186 cars in 1953.
     Although I’m not aware that there are good decals available for most of these, there are excellent Clover House dry transfers for all of them but Rath. I have purchased a number of Clover House sets to address the car owners listed above. You can download their catalog as a PDF at Clover House has a well-deserved reputation for emphasis on old-time car lettering, but their Private Owner section, beginning on page 43 of the catalog, does contain some 1950s meat reefer lettering. These include Armour, Cudahy, several 1930s-1950s Swift schemes (all yellow, yellow with red box, all red), and Wilson, and for more packers, URTX cars leased to Dubuque Packing and Oscar Mayer.
     Incidentally, if you’re placing an order with Clover House, don’t forget to include in your order some of their fine “graffiti” chalk markings (taken from prototype photos), as the dry transfer is an excellent way to add these markings after painting and weathering is complete. These are sets 9911-01 (white) and 9911-08 (yellow), shown on page 66 of the catalog. I highly recommend these sets. There is also a set of black markings, but such marks seem to have been rare.
     A comment on the size of the meat cars: the great majority were 37 feet long, although after World War II several of the companies did begin to add 40-foot cars to their fleets. Many of the commercially decorated model cars out there on the market, new and old, are 40-foot cars carrying the paint schemes of 37-foot cars. I prefer to avoid them unless the particular packer also had 40-foot cars (and, of course, unless the model decoration includes a car number in the 40-foot series for that fleet).
     Part of my meat car project involves the old models with one-piece plastic bodies, originally marketed by Varney, then by LifeLike (prior to the advent of Proto2000), and with molds modified in various ways over the years. Though detailing needs to be entirely upgraded, the 37-foot car body is not a bad starting point for meat cars. Here is a snapshot of one of these bodies, with the cast-on grab irons already sanded off in preparation for replacement (the sill steps also will be replaced). The model’s paint scheme, incidentally, does not correspond to any prototype I know about and will be stripped prior to painting.

     As my model projects progress, I will post photos of the modeling, with comments on the various prototypes and their paint schemes.
Tony Thompson

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