Friday, June 7, 2013

Fixing a C&BT Shops Santa Fe reefer

Yes, a Santa Fe reefer. Since I model SP, you may wonder why I would model one, given that SP and Santa Fe (including their refrigerator department, SFRD) competed vigorously in California. And in particular, SFRD and PFE (owned by SP and UP) did not load each other’s cars, but promptly returned them empty to the owner. This is testified to by people who worked for PFE, as well as for SP and Santa Fe. So why would I model one? Well, there is no question that PFE and SFRD cars moved on each other’s railroads, even if not loaded there; there is ample photographic evidence of that. So as a “mainline car” on my layout, a Santa Fe reefer or two is not only okay but should be present.
     Today we have an excellent InterMountain steel reefer for Santa Fe, which models SFRD rebuilt classes such as the RR-32. But Santa Fe also had a great many other rebuilt classes, so, you might ask, can they be modeled too? That’s what this post is about, though only secondarily about Santa Fe reefers as such. I’ll explain why in a moment.
     Back in the fall of 1992, C&BT Shops introduced a kit for Santa Fe rebuilt refrigerator cars. I reviewed them for Railroad Model Craftsman magazine (January 1993, p. 109), and Andy Sperandeo reviewed them for Model Railroader (January 1993, p. 52). I must confess that I was not an entirely disinterested observer, as C&BT Shops was founded and owned by a friend in Pittsburgh, Dick Schweiger. But I did identify the shortcomings in the kit, and it was intriguing to me to note that Andy Sperandeo found and corrected the exact same problems.
     And as it happened, one of the cars I reviewed was actually a discard from the C&BT Shops lettering machine, given to me by Schweiger, with different lettering on each side. Of course, for the review, that was no problem; just photograph each side separately. Having uncovered that review car recently, I decided to go ahead and complete fixing it up, with correct and period-appropriate lettering on both sides.
     On my layout, with no reversing loops, cars always present the same side to viewers unless physically reversed. I decided to use an early slogan on one side, from Microscale set 87-517, and on the other side, a post-1947 slogan, using Microscale set 87-509, for Santa Fe ice reefers in the paint schemes after the famous maps were replaced with the slogan, “Ship and Travel Santa Fe all the way.” That replacement took place in April 1947. So with the original lettering painted out on the model, I could simply replace it with decal lettering correct for my modeling period.
     I should mention that extremely complete, detailed, and authoritative information about Santa Fe ice refrigerator cars has been published by the Santa Fe Modelers Organization, a predecessor of today’s Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society, in a book. It is entitled Refrigerator Cars: Ice Bunker Cars 1884–1979, by C. Keith Jordan, Richard H. Hendrickson, John B. Moore, and A. Dean Hale, Norman, OK, 1994.
     But beyond that, this car is no particular importance of itself. I have chosen to write about it because it illustrates a problem which modelers need to recognize and be able to solve. That problem is essentially the relationship between the heights of the truck bolster and the top of the coupler box. I showed how to check this with the Kadee coupler height gauge in a previous post (see: ). On this car, the problem is more complex. The kit underframe has the coupler located wrongly, below instead of through the end sill. If the original box is removed, the top of the coupler box would be at the bottom of the car floor, and correct in height relative to the truck bolster. Here it has been removed.

The car is resting in the simple cradle I described in an earlier post (see: ).
     But simply removing the old coupler box and installing a new Kadee box on the car floor would not solve all problems. The car rides too low on the trucks, so much so that wheels will rub on the floor. This of course means that there needs to be a washer between the truck and the body bolster. That in turn requires shimming the coupler box lid trackwards below the car floor, by the same amount as the truck is offset by a washer between the body bolster and the truck. This was very briefly mentioned by me in my review of this kit, and shown in much more detail by Andy Sperandeo in his review.
     In my original modification to this car, I shimmed the two locations by 0.015 inches, which now looks to me inadequate, so I tried 0.020 inches. I used pieces of Evergreen styrene strip, 0.020 x 0.080 inches, to shim the coupler box, and 0.020 sheet to make into truck washers. This ensures that the two spacing changes are identical. The truck washers are readily created by drilling a 1/8-inch hole in the 0.020-inch styrene sheet, then cutting around the hole and filing it to a rounded shape. Here is a rough piece at left, next to a completed washer.

     But now the boss on the body bolster, intended to center the truck, would be almost lost with a spacer of 0.020 inches, so the kit boss is cut off and a new, taller one glued on, taken from a Kadee coupler box lid. Then each washer was glued to the car bolster. In the photo below, you can see the 0.020-inch styrene shims on both the coupler location and the bolster; the truck is already installed at the far end. Edges of the shims, and the screw head, have been painted black.

     The later rebuilds, such as the Class RR-27 car I chose, did not retain their original Andrews trucks when rebuilt, but instead were given new ASF cast-steel trucks. Athearn plastic trucks are an approximation to the ASF design. Another issue with the C&BT Shops car is the prominent hatch rests, which are not only brittle and vulnerable atop the hatches, but are a pretty thick section. I replaced them with pieces fashioned from flat brass wire. Here are two prepainted ones. They are about 1/4-inch long in their long direction, with that extended flat leg to provide a secure gluing surface.

     I also added an A-Line step under each door, as the prototype had. Then with addition of a slogan correct for this rebuild class, from Microscale set 87-517, the car was complete. I then weathered it with my usual process using acrylic washes. (For a brief summary of the materials used, see: .)

     Compared to today’s InterMountain Santa Fe reefer model, this car is not worth the work to correct it, and I would not have undertaken it, had I not already done most of it in past years. I do think it illustrates the process of correctly relating coupler box height to bolster height. This SFRD car will be primarily a mainline car on my layout, as I said at the top of this post, and as such is an essential part of the variety of freight cars in passing freight trains.
Tony Thompson


  1. Nice work, Tony.

    On a "mainline" train on your layout, I presume that this this car just be run in a general freight block, as it would not be carrying goods or require icing?

  2. Thank you. Yes, as with any "mainline" car, it is a "through" car, whether loaded or empty, and simply passes by on the main line, eastward or westward. I don't have mainline icing facilities on the layout, only a small ice deck to serve cars for the branch line. In other words, mainline trains would not be iced on my layout. But the fact that it is a Santa Fe car would not preclude its being iced if needed.
    Tony Thompson

  3. Thanks Tony - i picked up a few of the kits at a swap meet for a great price. Now they will enter service in good shape.
    Thanks for the tips.
    Jeff K

  4. Thanks for pointing out the aspects of this kit that need attention. I have a couple of these kits.

    1. Tony,
      As always, your articles inform us as to how to improve our models in both appearance and operation. With a few CB&T cars in my stash I will put this information to good use. Thank you.
      I also wanted to share with you a conversation I had with my father before his passing that relates to the sharing of reefers between the ATSF and PFE. As it happened, my maternal grandfather was the PFE clerk in Bakersfield, working for the SP from before 1920 until his death about 1948. My father began working for the ATSF as a student switchman about 1940, and quickly promoted to yard master before being drafted into the army in 1944, After the war he returned to his job in Bakersfield, but by the early '50s he was transferred to San Berdo and promoted to Train Master. Family connections being what they were, my grandfather (clerk for PFE) would ask my father (YM-ATSF) to borrow reefers during certain rushes. Now my father had tremendous respect for my Grandfather, they often would socialized and play cards together. And my father mentioned the ATSF in the valley mostly used their cars for potato harvest, perhaps the two roads had different seasonal needs. But my father clearly opined that whenever the SP would borrow cars, they would always be sent clean from the ATSF, but when returned, they would always be filthy and in need of repair. Just something about how the two railroads operated, which explains why as a modeler I've always been more intrigued by the filthy, run down nature of the SP. In the early 1980's I use to hang out a lot in the yard in SLO, watching the old SD9 billowing smoke as they fired them up to run as helpers up and down Cuesta. Good memories! Anyway, thought you might enjoy the story. I just regret that I didn't record my father's stories when the opportunity was available. Happy train running!
      Scott Baxter