Saturday, September 23, 2017

Restoring an ancient Varney car to service

I kind of like historic HO scale car kits, at least the ones that can be upgraded to be presentable models (some, of course, are hopeless). This post is about one of the salvageable kits, originally released as a wood and cardstock kit by Varney in 1947 (a full 70 years ago). Before World War II, Varney offered quite a range of cardstock kits, and this one was kit number R-19, that is, the 19th refrigerator car kit offered by them. It was near the end of the time Varney made kits of this kind; they discontinued cardstock kits about 1949. (Thanks to Denny Anspach, for help with details on the history of this kit.)
      The kit models a dry-ice car owned by the Liquid Carbonic Corporation of Chicago. These were heavily insulated for their very cold cargo, and most cars for this service had distinctive details. The Varney car was intended to represent one of 11 cars in a 1934-built car series, numbered 1000–1010. The cars were originally classified in AAR Class RC, for carbon-dioxide refrigerators, but this type of car was later moved into AAR Class L, for special car types, specifically Class LRC, for carbon-dioxide cars. And by the way, all 11 cars of this series were still in service in 1953, the year I model. Here is an AC&F builder photo.

You can see the silver color of the car, including the roof, and the slight taper of the upper half of the car sides (also visible, of course, on the ends). The volume of insulation is indicated by the fact that although the car was 44 feet long inside, it only had a cubic capacity of 703 cubic feet. Calling it a “refrigerator” is a bit of a misnomer, of course, since it only carried the refrigerant as a cargo, but it is certainly within the general characteristics of insulated house cars, like reefers and insulated box cars.
     I have seen a number of these Varney models at swap meets over the years, often badly assembled or dented from rough handling, and not attractive to try and rescue. The car sides and ends are foil-covered cardstock, and do dent easily. But eventually I found one in good shape, and decided to give it a go. The overly heavy grab irons and the sill steps made from staples were removed, along with the dummy couplers on the car. Here is the state of the car at that point.

The car is missing the side ladder below the door, and the foil on one end has separated from the underlying cardstock (easily re-glued). You may note that Varney did not deign to reproduce the side taper, an omission I can live with. The lettering scheme is a later one than the scheme in the builder photo shown above.
      I needed to clean up and repair the roof, and of course add a running board. I also added wire grab irons and Tuttle sill steps, and a ladder under the side door, with an accompanying sill step under that ladder. The as-built kit is close to weightless, so I glued some sheet lead to the floor on either side of the center sill. I also added end lettering, as well as reweigh and repack paint patches (the black rectangles below) and lettering from Sunshine data sets.

     I researched the operations of Liquid Carbonic to find out where they had plants around the country to manufacture dry ice. Their real focus was originally on “carbonic acid,” which is carbon dioxide in water, supplied under pressure to get more CO2 into solution, and used to make carbonated water for soda fountains (for a nice summary of their role here, see this: ). In fact, Liquid Carbonic manufactured complete soda fountains for years. When they started producing dry ice, they took advantage of their name recognition, and called it “carbonic ice,” as is lettered on this car. Later they got into the supply of many industrial gasses. Their main plant was in Chicago, so I decided to have my on-line shipments arrive from there. Here is one of the waybills I use.

     This was a fun project for me, bringing an ancient Varney cardstock freight car up to a level that I could use it on my layout. There are only a few cars this classical in my freight car fleet, but I am glad to have them and, what’s more, to operate them.
Tony Thompson

1 comment:

  1. I am personally very fond of "rescue" cars and have had a lot of fun over the years bringing them back to life after they were mistreated or neglected by former owners. Although few stand up to current models in accuracy, with some care they can come very close. And I admit to a bit of nostalgia for the earlier days of model railroading when these cars were state of the art. Ironically, there are some very excellent things being done with printed paper now, so everything old is new again...