Friday, February 4, 2022

“Blue Box” box car upgrades, Part 4

 Well, this has gone on long enough, as some readers might say, so I will wrap up in this conclusion of the series. I am identifying the various shortcomings of the Athearn “Blue Box” plastic 40-foot box car, and the fixes in some cases, in response to a “challenge” from a reader. In the previous installment, I dealt with the side-door problems on this car (see it at: ). 

Now, many readers who have come this far, and who know this model, will be thinking, “why not talk about grab irons, ladders, and sill steps?” Certainly it’s true that these cast-on features of the Athearn model are shortcomings. To be sure, the grabs and sill steps are  a simple problem: they are easily sliced off and replaced with metal parts. 

The ladders are tougher. Totally removing the side ladders is a bit of work, but there are good replacements. An alternative is to slice out the cast-on “rungs,” for example with a hobby-knife blade ground down to the width of the ladder stiles (upper knife, below) from a standard chisel blade, then replace the rungs with wire or styrene rod. (I’ve only done this on one car.)

But then one confronts the cast-on end ladders. Instead of the ladder stiles forming “bridges” across the “canyons” between the Dreadnaught ribs, they instead are fills in those canyons. Removing them is a long and tedious job with small files and abrasive paper. Back in the day, modelers would clean up one end, an “A” end, make a mold of it, and cast replacement ends that could receive good ladders (and good “B” end brake gear). But now this is getting to be a big project, as was the side door — on a model with almost no prototype.

Finally, there is what one modeler I know calls the “final insult.” The Athearn underbody is reversed from what it should be. The brake cylinder is on the wrong side of the center sill (see arrow below), and doesn’t “point” to the handbrake wheel, as it and its linkage should. What the heck is wrong?

It turns out that in the railroad engineering business, there is a drawing convention that underbody brake gear is drawn as though looking down through the floor. But evidently Athearn interpreted such drawings as the more usual draftsman’s view, looking at the outside of the car from beneath. Thus the mirror image. 

Below I show an Athearn car (the lower model) and an InterMountain car (above). You can readily see that the brake cylinders are on opposite sides of the center sill, though both have their pointed end to the left (the B end of both models is at left). Naturally the reservoir and valve are also on the wrong sides.And by the way, the Athearn underframe is crudely rendered and no rigging or piping is provided.

Of course one can correct this location problem, slicing off the Athearn brake gear parts and re-gluing them in the right place, but they are so crude that one really ought to replace them — and of course add some brake rigging. But as with so many parts of this model, is it really worth your time to make all these corrections? Remember (as I have already shown: ), the model has almost no prototype.

I do have a few of these “Blue Box” 40-foot models still in service, with some upgrading, but have never gone to all the lengths described in these posts, nor will I. There are several far better models to use as starting points for pre-war 40-foot box cars. 

And having made that point as clearly as I could, I will bring this series of posts to a close. But the original challenge was to discuss both the 40-foot and the 50-foot Athearn “Blue Box” cars, and I will turn to the 50-foot cars next.

Tony Thompson

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