Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Upgrading old models, Part 4

In three prior posts I discussed the pros and cons of upgrading old models, and showed a couple of examples of work I’ve done for such an upgrade. I introduced the subject in the first post of the thread, which can be viewed at:  http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2010/12/upgrading-old-models.html.
     In this post I present another example, this time a truly old model, an Athearn metal box car, which is well over 50 years of age. I bought it at a swap meet for a few bucks, in derelict condition, missing its running board and everything on the underbody except the center sill and cross-bearers. Side and end details were mostly intact, however, so I decided to see if the car could be resurrected.
     I will be quick to observe three things. First, older models like this do have quality compromises, and simply cannot equal modern models for detail refinement and accuracy, and I’m implicitly accepting that fact. Second, the Athearn metal cars did have some strengths, including stamped metal ladders that approach the best of today’s molded plastic ladders, and had overall dimensions and principal features which are quite good in many cases, so this is a superior model to most of its 50-year old cohort. And third, yes, nostalgia plays a role, as I remember these models from the earliest days of my involvement in the hobby, and will enjoy operating one.
     On the underbody, because I have a stash of the old Athearn metal sill steps, with their horizontal “attachment plates,” I simply added these with canopy cement (R/C-56). I also had some old white metal AB brake reservoirs and cylinders, and added those also, together with a Tichy styrene AB valve. Obsolete Northeastern wire grab irons make good brake lever retainer parts, and I used 1 x 6-inch styrene strip to fashion brake levers. Then with brass wire, the brake rigging was assembled with CA. For bolsters, I cut up one of a stash of old C&BT Shops underframes to get a pair of bolsters, and glued 2-56 brass nuts up inside them to accept 2-56 truck screws. I drilled and tapped holes through the wood car floor and Athearn metal floor pan and added Kadee No. 58 couplers.
     Here is a photo of the underframe at this point, as yet unpainted. No brake piping has been added yet. I left off one of the couplers so the state of the original floor could be seen. The tan styrene bolsters stand out at this point.

 I then painted the underframe Floquil Grimy Black.
    The other repair area was the roof. The old Athearn cast metal running board was attached through sizable holes in the roof. That running board was missing, no loss since it was an over-thick and poorly rendered part, but the holes had to be repaired.

 I used a paper punch to cut paper discs to glue into the holes, then used modeling putty to smooth the contours to match the roof. In my stash of freight car parts, I found some white metal Walthers running board saddles (part 925), to support a new running board. I attached them with R/C-56 canopy cement.
     The B end of the car also needed a little work. The brake rod was missing and the brake wheel was the original cast-metal Athearn part, a credible Ajax brake wheel for its day but oversize in diameter as well as in thickness. I replaced it with an old Walthers white metal Ajax wheel, still a quite respectable version of this part. Here is how it looked when I got it:

     I fabricated a new running board from scale 1 x 6 wood strip and attached it with canopy cement, then added some old lateral running board castings from the parts drawer. With corner grabs added, the roof work was complete.
     This Athearn model box car was originally lettered for Illinois Central, car number 30025, with a 1947 built date. That postwar date and car number go together, but the model has prewar ends, so the car ought to be renumbered into a prewar series. The IC bought several series of all-steel box cars before World War II, following the 1937 AAR car design except in having a 10' 4" inside height instead of the AAR standard at the time of 10' inside. These were in the 18000-20999 series, all with 40-ton trucks and 80,000-pound nominal capacity, and a 28000-28999 series with 50 tons nominal capacity.
     Here is the model as its sides originally looked (bolsters, underbody brake gear, trucks and couplers have been added, but the roof work hasn’t been done):

The capacity shown is 100,000 pounds, but since the pre-war cars had 80,000-pound capacity, both the car number and the capacity data need changing (along with the model’s 1947 lettering for the built date).
     I will post photos of the completed car as soon as it’s finished, but wanted to provide a post at this point to describe the initial phases of the project.
Tony Thompson


  1. Two days ago I was looking for something in my layout room and came across a bag of old kits that a friend gave me several years ago after his model railroader brother passed away. I knew it contained some Athearn kits but I had never looked to see what they actually were. I found two old metal kits - one is a green Santa Fe express boxcar and the other a black SP Overnight boxcar. The metal car sides look very nice but I have no idea how accurate either is.

  2. Jim, I don't know about the Santa Fe car (the 50-foot car, I assume) but the Overnight car is pretty good in several respects. It has the correct roof and sides. Ends, though not with enough relief, do have the correct rib pattern. The sill steps and ladders will withstand comparison with anything today.

    Shortcomings: the running board is a representation of wood, which is wrong for these cars (should be rectangular-grid steel), and the door is a pre-war style, which isn't correct. Southwest Scale Models offers the correct wide-seam door if you want to substitute, and the color is easy to match (grin). The brake wheel is oversize. Grab irons could be refined--Athearn's were pretty large diameter in those days--but now we're into minor points.

    I have upgraded three of these models for my own layout, and am happy with them. But if you want a modern version, Sunshine makes a beauty.
    Tony Thompson