Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Upgrading old models -- Athearn reefers, Part 3

In the previous posts of this thread, I discussed why I wanted to modify some old Athearn refrigerator car models to upgrade them to represent classes R-40-14 and -20 (at: ), and then the beginning of the project, with the changes to car sides and roofs. That second post can be viewed at: .
     The key point in this upgrade is the replacement car ends. My new ends are cast resin ones originally created for Westrail kits by Richard Hendrickson, and they are W-corner-post ends which are sized to fit the width of the Athearn reefer body. Because they do not have cast-on ladders, they also look better when fully detailed with free-standing ladders and other parts. Once the underside of the car roof is shaved off, the ends fit neatly in place. Here is a view of one of these resin ends.

These are just the right width to fit onto the Athearn car body, as you can see in this view (the roof has already been glued in place).

When I attach the end, a little putty may be needed along the top of the end to fit against the roof. But first all detail parts are added to the ends, then they are painted while still separate from the body—again, no masking!
    The detailing of these ends is straightforward, but it may be worth mentioning that the end ladders should match the rung spacing of the side ladders. The InterMountain refrigerator car ladders are very close (neither Red Caboose nor Tichy nor InterMountain box car ladders will work). I also used the placard boards and brake steps from the InterMountain 1937 AAR box car detail set (part 40700-59). Hand brake parts were specific to the particular class modeled. The second half of the 1000-car order for Class R-40-14 used Equipco brakes (first half Klasing); the second half of the 1000-car order for R-40-20 cars used Ajax brakes (first half Ureco).
     Here are an A and B end, with all details added and ready for airbrushing with boxcar red.

     Another point about the Athearn models, which many ignore but which is easily corrected, is the mirror image arrangement of brake gear. Athearn evidently misinterpreted the conventional mechanical drawing of the car underbody, drawn as though looking down through the underframe from above, as being a view from below the car. This puts the brake hardware on the wrong side of the longitudinal center line. At a minimum, it is easy to cut the Athearn parts away and simply glue them in their proper locations. Or better parts could be installed in their place. Adding brake rodding or piping would be an additional refinement. Here is one of my cars, as corrected (I used a styrene pad to support the cylinder). I simply rearranged the Athearn parts. Paint will be touched up.

     The paint and lettering schemes for these models have enough complications to justify description in a future post, and as part of that, I will attempt to address also the general topic of PFE paint schemes at particular eras. But readers should be aware that a much fuller presentation of these paint schemes is in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, by Thompson, Church and Jones, 2nd edition, Signature Press, 2000).
Tony Thompson


  1. It's a shame these ends are no longer available. Searching on the Internet for Westrail kits, I came across a supplier of railroad equipment for 12" to the foot railroad companies! I guess they liked Mr. Hendrickson's company's name.

  2. RIchard Hendrickson's Westrail has been out of business almost 20 years, so no surprise it's invisible on the web. Exploration is being done to see whether the molds for these car ends might be available for additional castings. I will post later as to what happens.
    Tony Thompson

  3. I have now learned that the Details West part 1001, a pair of W-corner-post ends, does fit the Athearn reefer body. This should serve equally as well as the Westrail ends for anyone wishing to pursue the PFE R-40-14 or -20 models.
    Tony Thompson

    1. Tony, it does fit, but the ribs and darts don't wrap around the edges like they do on the Westrail ends. The edges on the DW 1001 ends are rounded, but the ribs & darts end short of the rounded portion.
      Tom Madden

  4. Thanks for the info, Tom. There is an effort underway to see if Richard Hendrickson's molds for the Westrail parts can be furnished to someone who will cast parts for distribution. The casting and distribution will have to be independent of Richard, who does not want to get back into the business.
    Tony Thompson