My good friend Richard Hendrickson used to say that "ready to run” or RTR models were misnamed. They should really be called “ready to correct,” because many such cars have minor compromises, compromises that the serious or committed modeler may wish to correct. This post is in the spirit of those remarks.
My model car fleet contains quite a few Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars, and they are definitely needed on my layout, because I have several active packing houses that are served by these cars. Unless practically the exact same PFE models are used in every operating session, I need to marshal more than the bare minimum of these reefers in my fleet.
I am also aware that I probably have too many cars with older PFE paint schemes, including the red-white-blue Union Pacific emblems. Although those emblems were only replaced with black-white ones after June 1950, I know from PFE painting statistics and from numerous period photos that an awful lot of PFE cars were being painted in the early 1950s, and they were receiving the new black-white UP emblems. So I need to have a fair fraction of cars with those emblems.
This being the case, you can understand why I jumped on an RTR model discovered in a recent hobby shop visit, an InterMountain Class R-40-23 car with the right black-white UP emblems, and bought it. And if it’s RTR, that’s great, because with a touch of light weathering, it can go right to work on the layout, right? Um, no. Here’s why.
Shown below is a photo of the model as it comes from the box. Right away the knowledgeable PFE modeler will notice a problem. The model has black grab irons and ladders on the car side. But all side hardware on PFE reefers had been standardized as orange in January 1948, well before the introduction of black-white UP emblems.
Obviously at least one change I had to make, then, was to paint those grabs and ladders Daylight Orange (an exact match to PFE orange). But there’s more. By the time the SP and UP emblems on the car sides had
been rearranged so that the SP emblem was toward the B or brake end of
the car on both sides (making the two sides no longer identical), as
the model is lettered, all side hardware, including side sills, had been changed to orange. So side sills need repainting too. I have gone through this reasoning process before, for a similarly decorated PFE car (my post on paint fixes is at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2016/06/pfe-lettering-after-world-war-ii.html ).
(At this point, I should mention that although most of this information can be found by digging around in the freight car chapters I wrote for the PFE book [Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000]. it is far more accessible and systematically presented in the paint and lettering descriptions prepared by Dick Harley for the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society book, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide [Dick Harley and Anthony Thompson, SPH&TS, 2016]. Unlike the PFE book, the SPH&TS book is very much oriented toward modelers’ needs, and I highly recommend it.)
So at least I need to paint the grab irons, ladders, side sills and sill steps orange, a fairly easy task with a small brush. Is that it? Well, not necessarily. In the photo above, you can see that the model’s PFE reporting marks have neither periods between the letters, nor 1-inch stripes above the initials and below the car number. The periods in the reporting marks had been removed at the same time as the side hardware was all made orange, so that is consistent. But the 1-inch stripes continued into early 1952.
I went ahead and brush-painted the grab irons, ladders, sill steps, and side sill tabs with Daylight Orange, using Star Brand paint no. STR-27, an excellent match for the InterMountain paint. In addition, the wheel faces on these RTR cars are way too shiny, so I painted the wheels dark gray (for this application, I like Tamiya no. XF-63, “German Grey”). Then I added the 1-inch black stripes, using Microscale PFE set 87-414. This set has been around for over 20 years under the same number, but was recently revised, updated and corrected with Dick Harley’s artwork, so if you have an old set with this number, I advise replacing it. Here’s the car at this point.
Light weathering is still needed, even though this paint scheme is only two years or so before my modeling year; these light-colored car sides did show the dirt. But I’ve covered weathering numerous times in multiple venues, so I won’t go farther with that here.
With these simple changes to an RTR car, making its paint and lettering accurate, I have an additional model to help serve the many perishable shippers and receivers on my layout. I look forward to seeing it in service for my next operating session.