Monday, April 25, 2016

Upgrading a simple freight car kit

I received an interesting challenge in an email a few months ago, and the idea has been rattling around in the back of my mind ever since. The writer said that it was all very well for me to describe projects with resin cars or extensive modifications to other kits, but how about if I were to take something really simple (he mentioned Accurail) and build it with some upgrades? That’s a blog post he would enjoy reading, he said. So I finally decided to shut up those rattling sounds in the back of my mind, and took a look at my stash of kits.
     I had an Accurail kit for one of their steel refrigerator cars with a sliding (plug) door, which happens to have been decorated by 5th Avenue Car Shops for National Car Company. (You can see the 5th Ave. line at this link: .) That sounded like a good prospect for this job. The box end is all the info I have about this decorated kit (the rest of the box lid is standard Accurail graphics).

     With any freight car, I start with the roof. Most model layouts give us an overhead view of the freight cars, and mine is no exception, so the roof really needs to look good. The Accurail car has a molded styrene running board, not a terrible representation of a steel grid, but hardly in the appearance league of an etched metal board. Moreover, the roof has no corner grab irons, so I decided to add those too, using Tichy no. 3028 irons and Detail Associates eye bolts (part SY 2206). But omitting the kit running board leaves holes in the roof. I fill these with the attachment pins of the kit running board, seen here prior to touching up with silver paint. I also painted the roof corner grabs at this time, as they too have to be silver.

     The kit includes a full-length metal weight, which has just the right amount of weight, but can interfere with screws used to attach trucks or coupler boxes. (I greatly dislike the Accurail peg attachment for trucks, which seems to either be too frictional, restricting truck rotation, or gets loose and falls out. Either result is not okay.) But if I shorten the weight to clear bolster screw locations, I would eliminate some weight. Answer? Shorten it, then glue the removed part on top (I use canopy glue for this, excellent for dissimilar materials).

You can see a little excess glue here, but it will of course be inside the car.
     Before going further, I should emphasize that although I am modifying or upgrading some aspects of this kit, its overall quality is really very high. Like almost all Accurail products, the parts are superbly engineered and go together beautifully. Some prototype details may be simplified or omitted, but the overall dimensions and appearance are excellent. My project here is go beyond that and improve the model even further.
     I mentioned the addition of corner grab irons on the roof. I also decided to add wire grab irons at the left of each car side. The molded-on side grab irons are easily removed with a chisel-blade hobby knife, and holes drilled for new parts (I use Westerfield grab irons, part no. 1198). They were touched up with Reefer Yellow. The etched-metal running board I used as a replacement for the kit part is from Plano (their no. 197), and the set also includes an etched metal brake step, which I also installed. Both these metal grid parts were attached with canopy glue.
     Another area of concern with any kit like this is the sill steps. I want them to be reasonably durable, reasonably prototypical in cross-section, and correct in appearance. This kit provides a wide, double-rung step for the location under the car door. The prototype, however, did not have those, as can be seen below. The photo shows a simpler, narrower step under the door. I modeled this with an A-Line Style A step. (You can click to enlarge.)

     The photo above was provided by Fruit Growers Express expert Bill Welch, and shows the first car, MNX 1915, of 100 cars built in 1952 by Fruit Growers for their subsidiary, National Car Company, and numbered 1915–2014. These were, incidentally, meat cars, equipped with meat rails and classed as AAR RSM type.
     The photo above shows black door hardware, ladders and grab irons, but only this car was so painted, for the builder photo. Photos of cars built the previous year, and of other cars in the 1915–2014 group, show all this hardware as body color, which is how the model is decorated. Here’s a 1951 MNX photo that shows the yellow hardware, courtesy of Bill Welch.

     With detail parts installed or upgraded, I installed my standard couplers, Kadee “scale head” size, in this case the no. 158 whisker couplers, and Reboxx wheelsets with 0.088-inch-wide treads, in the Accurail truck frames. I have summarized my freight car standards in a previous post (you can see that post at: ).
     The completed car was lightly weathered (it would be only a year old in my modeling year), primarily in making the light-colored roof look grimy, and looked like the photo below. You can just see the replacement step under the door.

     This car will form an addition to my fleet of meat cars, which bring packing house products (PHP) to the wholesale grocer on my layout.
Tony Thompson


  1. Great cars to work in. Meat hooks would not be included after the car(s) was/were cleaned. Mty's would be sent to Burlington, IA for potato loading. NP cars with the three section swing doors were also good.

  2. You have made this car into a very nice model Tony. My
    problem is that my cut-off date of Dec. 1948 is four years earlier than yours. I note that the photo of #1916 indicates is was built in 6-1952 while that including #1900 shows it to have been built in 10-1951
    so the order certainly wasn't being hurried? Were any similar cars built in early 1948 or 1947? I'm not sure when National Car began to use the plug style door but
    would certainly add one ir two such cars to my small fleet of meat reefers if the car can be prototypically justified.
    Thanks for any advice you can offer.

  3. Don, there were two separate orders, MNX 1800-1914, and 1915-2014. The first group was indeed built in 1951, as you point out, and the second group in 1952. I am not aware of similar MNX cars earlier, but there may have been FGE, WFE, or BRE cars of that style earlier. Bill Welch would know.
    Tony Thompson

  4. Tony, excellent work, I have one of these that I have been conjugating on so glad I can now see how it's done.