Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Small modeling project: NYC drop-center flat

Some time back, Walthers had one of their 90-ton depressed-center flat cars on sale, lettered for New York Central. Since I remembered that this model of a cast-steel car was quite close to an actual NYC car, I sprang for it. Now modelers have always loved unusual cars like drop-center flats, but they were actually pretty rare on the prototype. In fact, the only one I owned before this was an ancient white-metal Devore car, still backshopped in need of serious upgrade. Probably this NYC car will represent the only FD (AAR code for depressed-center flats) in my fleet.
     But I was also aware that the Walthers car, with its roller-bearing trucks, needed a truck change to represent the steam-era NYC car. As it happens, Eastern Car Works catalogs a truck which is very close, their “Commonwealth High Capacity” 90-ton truck, stock number 9063. As it also happened, my local hobby shop had these in stock, so with that purchase, I was on the road to making this model closer to “correct.” These trucks can also be purchased readily on line.
     This is the stock model, with the stock shiny wheelsets obviously uncorrected.

The car number and NYC Lot Number are all right, so trucks are the main concern. I know some modelers don’t like Eastern Car Works (ECW) trucks, because you have to glue the sideframes to the bolsters, but with generous amounts of styrene cement, the parts really weld together and make a solid truck. The parts have well-designed alignment bosses, so gluing should result in a square truck. I always glue one sideframe to the bolster and let the joint attain full strength overnight, then do the second sideframe the next day.
     The best-fitting Reboxx 0.088-inch wheelsets for the ECW trucks were the 1.010-inch axle length. Comparing the original Walthers truck with this ECW 90-ton truck shows how different they are, with the Walthers truck (left) having not only a longer wheelbase but also 36-inch wheels. Those characteristics may well be correct for the trucks on later-era drop-center flat cars, but they are not at all right for this 1941-built NYC flat car. The photo below compares the two model trucks.

There are those who view the “correct truck syndrome” in freight car modeling as overly picky, but in this case it should be evident that the truck on the right is far closer to the prototype I want to model. Here is a portion of a prototype photo of NYC 499056, from the Joe Collias collection, showing the trucks clearly:

The ECW truck can be seen to be very similar to this prototype.
     The only further work required was the use of spacers to raise the car body above the trucks, since the ECW and Walthers trucks do not have the same bolster height. I added the height by gluing squares of 0.020-inch styrene sheet, with corners cut off to make crude octagons, to the top of the truck bolster (thus making the “spacer” part of the truck). I then drilled out the center hole and enlarged it with a round jeweler’s file to match the original bolster hole. With that done, here is the truck:

     Then reattaching the trucks to the car body completes this project. Of course the car needs weathering and a load, but those are different subjects. The assembled model looked like this:

The appearance of the trucks can be compared to the prototype photo.
     There might be an alternative approach, to raise the coupler boxes in the car body, so that the body (like the prototype) sits as low on the trucks as possible. But the cast metal body of the Walthers model makes this challenging, and the coupler box is already practically flush with the top surface of the car. Another possible approach would be to use Kadee offset-shank couplers, but adjusting bolster height seemed to me the easiest procedure.
     I chose to post this project not because of its great importance but because it shows one kind of adjustment sometimes needed in changing trucks on freight cars. This can be a small but essential part of creating a more nearly correct model.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony,

    Great piece, though looking through various photos of these cars, I'd say most of the steam/transition-era depressed centre flats ran on 28" wheels (rather than 33") which makes a further worthwhile improvement to the appearance.

    I fitted the Kadee 28" wheelsets to my ECW model and had to further raise the body on the trucks. Like you, I added the additional spacers to the truck bolsters.

    Alan Monk,
    Reading, UK

  2. Thanks, Alan. I agree with you that 28-inch wheels were common, obviously to help reduce car height, and if you look at the prototype photo (above) that I included of this NYC car, I think it can be interpreted as having smaller wheels than 33 inches also. Your suggested means of correcting the truck sounds like it would work fine. At some point in going to smaller and smaller wheels, of course, the car body ceases to ride right above the truck sideframes, as the prototype does, so Walthers producing the car with its cast-in coupler pockets makes it unreasonable to fix the wheel size, below some value of diameter (which I don't know). I decided to live with 33 inches so as not to have to worry about that aspect.
    Tony Thompson