Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Adding some 40-foot flat cars

In surveying my fleet of flat cars for service on the layout, I noted that the great majority of them are 50 or more scale feet long. For my modeling year of 1953, that’s actually quite appropriate, as flat cars of that length had become pretty standard in American railroading after 1930. But not only did a fair number of older, 40-foot cars survive into the 1950s, modest numbers of them were even built new in the 1940s and 1950s to serve specific needs. My cars of 40-foot size are mostly Athearn “Blue Box” cars, suitably upgraded and re-detailed (for example, to replace the quite unusual vertical-wheel handbrake on the Athearn model).
     More modern models, of higher quality, are clearly needed in this situation. One option, of course, for a Southern Pacific modeler like me, is the recent Owl Mountain kit for a Harriman flat car. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is a superb model and a pleasure to put together (that post is at: ). The Tichy flat  car kit also makes up into a very nice model, and I have a group of those, too. But both of these are straight-side designs, and there were other kinds of flat cars than these.
     I decided to burrow into my stash of freight car kits of the “some day” variety, where I was pretty sure I had one or more Red Caboose 42-foot flat car kits. These are intended to represent the USRA flat car design, which though never built under any USRA contracts, had been adopted by the USRA standards committee as a consensus design. In the post-USRA period, a number of railroads purchased cars to this design, making it a good choice for a manufacturer to be able to offer multiple lettering schemes.
     Mention is made of this and other USRA standard designs that were not built by the USRA, in the authoritative article by James E. Lane (“USRA Freight Cars: An Experiment in Standardization,” Railroad History (The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society), No. 128, pp. 5–33, 1973). A drawing for the USRA flat car design was included in the 1919 volume of the Car Builders’ Cyclopedia, page 998. A comprehensive article about the railroads which purchased cars to this design (or very close to it) was written by Richard Hendrickson and published in Railmodel Journal (“USRA-Design 42-foot Flat Cars,” Vol. 8, No. 8, pp. 53–59, January 1997). The article includes an extensive roster of roads that owned these cars.
     Assembly of the Red Caboose kit is straightforward and I won’t describe any of the normal process. However, I did make a few detours which may be of interest. One important item is to add to the weight. The kit weight is a very thin strip of steel sheet, and adding more weight needs to be done. I will return to that in a moment.
     Shown below are two kits in progress, the one at left with underrframe being glued to the weight, the one at right with the center deck being added, both models clamped with reversed clothes pins, a type of clamp I use all the time. Note I am leaving space for additional weight by removing underbody detail.

     Weight is a significant issue with these kits if you plan to operate flat cars that are empty (thus not taking advantage of the weight of an applied load). With a fully assembled kit of this length, the NMRA recommended weight would be 4 ounces. But this kit, with its thin steel weight, is actually below 2 ounces. I added one ounce with A-Line lead weights, though these have to be cut to fit into the center of the underbody. I then added additional weight with lead sheet to bring the weight closer to 4 ounces.

Note at the left edge of the added weights that I  made a pencil line where the limit of truck swing would be. This ensured I would not put weights into that area. My added weight is just under 2 ounces, bringing me into the range of the NMRA recommended weight for this car.
     (Incidentally, lead sheet is easy to buy. My sheet of 0.062-inch thick sheet, a piece 6 x 12 inches, is from Small Parts Inc., their item no. SPB-062-B. I usually cut it with side cutters. If it isn’t quite flat, you can flatten with your fingers or use a small mallet. Likewise if a piece is too wide or too long, just hammer gently and “forge” it to the right shape. It’s very soft. And do wash your hands after handling it.)
    Another important point, at least to me, is to make the deck of the car look like it has been in use. Flat car decks are subject to extensive abuse, with spikes driven into them, holes drilled for bolted hold-downs, heavy loads or loading equipment skidded or dragged over them, and all kinds of tools used to secure loads or to release load securement. In addition, of course, a flat car deck is always out in the rain and sun and industrial dirt of the world. Most models are delivered with decks painted body color, which practically no railroad ever did, so that has to be superseded, along with distressing and weathering the “wood” represented on the deck.
     I scratch and gouge the plastic deck, drag the corner of a single-edge razor blade along some board joints to widen them, nick the ends of some boards, and use 100-grit abrasive paper, dragged parallel to the long direction of the boards, to make the surface rough. (These techniques, and more, are all described in Richard Hendrickson’s Railmodel Journal article, cited above in the fourth paragraph of the present post.) This will eventually be painted to represent well-weathered wood, bur for now, here is how it looked on one of the cars:

     The rest of car kit assembly went smoothly.I will confess it is fairly tedious placing all the stake pockets on these models, but if you take the advice in the directions, to clear out all the locating holes with a #75 drill before starting the attachments, it actually goes smoothly. I will return to some finishing points in a following post.
Tony Thompson

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