Sunday, May 10, 2020

Yet more “freight car guy” stuff

I explained the background to the term “freight car guy” in an earlier post, along with some personal history to go with it (you can view that post at this link: ). I followed that post with some specifics about Model Die Casting “old time” refrigerator cars I refinished for Bill Kaufman’s 1944 layout (see that one at: ).
     In the present post, I take up two more refinishing projects for Bill, who. as I explained in the previous post, is not himself very deeply concerned with freight car accuracy, but is pleased to have “better” cars in his fleet. And I am one of those helping to do that.
     The first project is about what for many readers will be a familiar model, the old Athearn “Blue Box” wood-sheathed refrigerator car, in this case decorated as a Pacific Fruit Express car owned by Western Pacific. Here is a photo of Bill’s car as it was.

There were indeed PFE cars owned by and marked for Western Pacific, but this model is seriously bogus for several reasons. First, it has a steel roof and ends, which none of the WP cars operated by PFE ever did. Second, its sides are yellow, something WP as well as PFE reefers actually did have prior to 1929, but after that date, like all PFE cars, they became light orange. So the car sides need to be PFE orange, and then completely relettered.
     By the way, minor points, but the WP scheme can’t be saved in any case; WP’s PFE cars never had a herald with a colored feather, as this model has. And the car number, 36302, corresponds to PFE Class R-30-13, an entirely different car body, and has nothing to do with WP’s actual car numbers in PFE service, which occupied a 50000 series. Lastly, the model exhibits one of my own pet peeves, the unpainted “tab” above the door, which should be the color of the car side. As I said, bogus in many ways.
     I began the upgrade by disassembling the car and giving the sides a light coat of gray primer. This is not only a good base for PFE orange but reduces the contrast of any lettering on the original car surface. The side “tab” at the roof center was likewise masked and sprayed light gray. Once that was dry, I airbrushed both parts with Star Brand “S.P. / P.F.E. Daylight Orange” (STR-27), which is a good match for PFE Light Orange and SP Daylight Orange (identical color chips).

     Meanwhile, I examined the car ends. The Athearn ends for this reefer are Improved Dreadnaught ends, typical of post-1944 practice, thus not suitable for Bill’s layout. What could be done with them? The simplest visual fix is to remove the narrow “intermediate” ribs between the large ribs, thus making the end resemble a previous-style Dreadnaught end. Below you see, at left, the original end with its intermediate ribs. At right, I am using a curved “riffler” file to grind out that intermediate rib. This is only cosmetic, because the major ribs still are not the right shape, but it’s an improvement.

     So what am I aiming to make this car into, to serve in 1944? It can be a stand-in for one of PFE’s very numerous 60000-series rebuilds, which had steel roof and ends. In particular, if numbered as an early Class R-40-19, it fits 1944 and can keep its (admittedly clunky) steel running board. I went ahead and lettered the car that way with Microscale set 87-414, following the superb PFE lettering information by Dick Harley in the SP Historical & Technical Society book, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide (SPH&TS, Upland, CA, 2016).
     The last step was to brush-paint the side hardware and side sill black. This sounds fussy but in fact only takes about 10 minutes. Here is the UP or right side. It’s still an Athearn reefer, but looks far more credible than what Bill started with.

     The other car is an old Train Miniature (TM) single-sheathed box car, which is a model based on the ARA standard design of 1924. Among the things it could become, as a stand-in, is a version of the SP Class B-50-16. This was a modified ARA 1924 design, though six inches taller, and had a Dreadnought end not too different than the TM model. Again, as a stand-in, not terrible.
     I cut off the door claws, added wire grab irons, and discarded the inferior running board casting, replacing it with stripwood segments and cast plastic lateral boards. Trucks were changed to T-section, like these cars originally had. When the B-50-16 cars received AB brakes in the 1940s, many also received vertical-wheel geared hand brakes, and that is how the TM model is made.
     That only left the lettering. Microscale set 87-911 (revised in 2007) for SP single-sheathed box cars was my source for car initials and numbers, Then further light weathering was added to an already weathered car.

     This has been, again, an interesting challenge to recognize “freight car correctness” for 1944 instead of my own modeling era of the early 1950s, and to paint and letter accordingly. The two models produced are certainly stand-ins, but much closer to reality than the models they are replacing. I think it’s a step forward.
Tony Thompson

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