Saturday, August 10, 2013

Improving the Atlas model of a USRA rebuild

Recently Atlas Model Railroad Co. came out with a new freight car, intended to represent the USRA double-sheathed box cars which were given steel sides in later years. These usually kept their original corrugated ends, and sometimes their outside metal roofs. But the steel sides enclosed a space wider than the original underframe, which was under a superstructure with framing, and thus more narrow. This is a signature feature of these rebuilds.
     For some reason, probably associated with injection molding technology, Atlas did not faithfully represent this signature feature, but made it far more shallow than it should be. I show below a prototype photo of such a rebuild to indicate how the car ought to look, with the superstructure overhanging the frame. The shadow along the bottom of the car side is the distinctive give-away. (This is a George Sisk photo from the Charles Winters collection, provided to me by Rob Evans.)

     The side sill of the Atlas box car does not come close to this appearance. But the thought occurred to me, that what we really need here is the shadow, not necessarily the actual frame depth. I decide to try an experiment. I bought one of the Atlas cars, decorated for Atlantic Coast Line, and used a black “Sharpie” permanent felt-tip marker to carefully draw in a shadow at the bottom of the side sheets.

When completed, with weathering and a route card, and photographed with overhead light, the car looked like the photo below.

In all candor, this isn’t a great solution, but in a passing train does look somewhat convincing. When a string of freight cars rolls past, few observers want to (or can) examine details like this. I will continue to operate this car as a stand-in.
     Incidentally, on the ACL these box cars were Class O-14A. The model does have the correct roof, and the correct 5-5-5 corrugated ends which were originally on these USRA box cars, making this model closer to prototype than some of the other paint schemes marketed by Atlas. So the primary shortcoming is in the side sills, which I admit is only weakly remedied by the Sharpie technique.
     I believe the better option for these side sills is the Chad Boas resin castings. I used these in my construction of the “Shake ’n’ Take” project (from a Cocoa Beach meeting) of a Kansas City Southern box car—see prototype photo above. You can see the application of them in my post about the modeling, which is at: . The car body is different, but the side sill issue is almost the same.
     The side sills can be obtained directly from Chad. He doesn’t really stock these parts, but has the masters and tells me that he will continue to sell the parts. Accordingly, it should be possible to order them at any time. His address is 30 N. 30th St., Lafayette, IN 47904, and his e-mail is <>. He charged $6 for a pair of the side sills, plus $2 shipping and handling, when I bought mine. They are really nice parts, and would be a great deal of work to duplicate from scratch.
     One point of warning, however. Chad’s side sills are for a ten-panel car, that is, five side sheets on each side of the door. As you can see above, the ACL model is an eight-panel car, with only four sheets each side of the door. It may be more trouble than it’s worth to kitbash the resin sills into the four-sheet configuration. Incidentally, don’t be misled by the Atlas web catalog, which describes their model as a ten-panel model. As far as I can tell, it is not. All cars I have seen, painted or not, have eight-panel bodies.
     Anyway, to illustrate how nice the Boas sills can look if you have a ten-panel prototype like the KCS car shown above, here is my completed KCS model. You can read about in the concluding post to my three-part series (it is at: ).

     I bought another of these Atlas rebuild cars (undecorated) when I bought the ACL car, and am going to experiment with replacing the side sills. If it works out all right, I will report in a future post. Drawing in the shadow with a Sharpie just seems a little too much like getting off lightly, in the way I think about it.
Tony Thompson

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