Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Freight car guy stuff, Part 4

I introduced and explained the term, “freight car guy,” in an earlier post. It’s a term that arose when a member of a club I then belonged to came up to me and asked, “Are you the freight car guy?” You can read that post here: .
     More recently, I’ve been volunteering as a kind of Interim Assistant Freight Car Guy on Paul Weiss’s layout, which models Central Vermont in 1956.  As I’ve said before, my first emphasis is usually removal of anachronisms, which for this layout are particularly cars with post-1956 paint schemes, and that is ongoing. 
     But an equally important kind of anachronism is the paint scheme that could not have still existed in 1956. Any of those paint schemes should “depart” also. Two examples are shown below.

The billboard reefer lettering, though an authentic prototype paint scheme, would have been outlawed in 1934 and no longer permitted in interchange after 1937. That one can’t exist in 1956. The yellow Pennsylvania dairy scheme would have been superseded when the PRR joined Fruit Growers Express, no later than 1922, so that one also ought to go.
     One can of course scrap, give away or sell such cars. But the car bodies are fine for layout use. Why not repaint them into schemes the layout can use? I decided to do just that.
    My first step was to mask the roof and ends so that the sides could receive a coat of gray primer, primarily to cover the old lettering and color. For this kind of job, I really like and use the Tamiya masking tape, which is stretchable and works very well close to projections like the ladders on these cars. Below you see a car body, masked, and with the primer freshly applied.

It is along the critical edges where the yellow Tamiya 10-mm tape was used. To span between the Tamiya strips, I used drafting tape, which can’t match the performance of the Tamiya tape at edges, but has a low “tack” that works fine for simply covering an area.
     My practice is to let this primer coat dry a few hours in the sun, and as soon as no paint odor is apparent, to apply the next coat, which for these cars was either yellow or orange. The masking remains in place between coats. When the finish coat is applied, and masking removed, we have a car ready to letter. As shown by the two examples below, I intended to do both orange and yellow reefer sides in this project, which included five cars with the schemes you see in the topmost photo above.

     I chose several paint schemes for these re-purposed cars. Since the layout for which they are destined is very short of railroad-owned reefers, I chose to do NP, ART and PFE schemes. One reason for these choices is that they were cars that went everywhere, so those car ownerships work for layout operation; and in addition, I confess to choosing them because I already had decals.
     The Northern Pacific car I decided to do is from the 90000 series, one of the older cars in the NP fleet, and had a deep center sill, even deeper than the Accurail version. Here’s a Wilbur C. Whittaker photo of a car from this group, taken at San Francisco in July 1941. Side hardware is all black, as is the side sill, and the kickplate under the door is boxcar red. The car is probably empty, because the route card above the truck at left reads “HOME.”

This is the classic NP reefer paint scheme, in force for a number of years. But this car doesn’t have the vertical-staff handbrake of the Accurail model. This is intended as a “layout model,” something of a stand-in, rather than an exact replica, so I left the kit handbrake as it came.
     After applying decals from Microscale set 87-488, brush painting the black hardware, and moderately heavy weathering, my model looked like this. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

You may note the paint patches for the reweigh and repack stenciling, made with the homemade decal sheet of yellow described in a recent post (available at: ), with lettering also taken from the Microscale set, along with a few chalk marks and a route card above the left truck.
     This is just the first of the five cars being refinished. I will return to the other four in a future post. A project like, this, calling on resources of information and modeling techniques not necessarily needed on my own layout, is interesting and rewarding in its own way. Or, to say it more concisely, it’s fun!
Tony Thompson


  1. I have followed your blog a number of years and finally plunged into the SP, although in O scale 2 rail. The small amount of SP freight cars I have are either 1946-55 or, waiting to be lettered in this scheme as 1953 is the year I have chosen to model. A later Phase of modeling as in “the fleshing out” of yards and industries served by the SP will be a headache of 1953 correct foreign road paint schemes. I am fortunate to have some video ( YouTube also ) for the time albeit 1955. I view and review, and like I did as a child on the Coast Line, Roadnames and Car Types are identified, but written down this time for future references. Your Blog is the Education I have needed. Thanks Tony Thompson, I have no need for a dead line, as I read from an authority, a “Freight Car Guy” paved the way.

  2. Thank you Tony, this post is incredibly helpful in determining correct lettering, etc for both NP & PFE. Both are of keen interest to me, as I plan a Walla Walla Valley (NP-owned by the 50's) switching shelf layout to 'bide my time' till a proper SP layout can be constructed years down the line.
    If you have not come across these two very handy documents, the NPRHA have two very detailed presentations on NP lettering & heraldry you might find useful, along side all the other great info on their main site.