Sunday, February 13, 2022

The “Blue Box” 50-foot box cars

I now want to turn to the other half of the original challenge about the Athearn “Blue Box” models: the 50-foot cars. Athearn made two of these in that day: a single-door car and a double-door car. (Until 1954, all double-door box cars were defined by the AAR as “automobile” cars, regardless of what cargo they carried or how they might be assigned.)  This post is about the double-door cars.

For the 40-foot box cars, the introduction of the 1937 AAR standard box car design meant that most cars produced were built to that standard, though of course there were exceptions. But before World War II, there was no AAR standard for 50-foot cars. That’s relevant because here again, Athearn modeled their 50-foot box cars with sharp-cornered Dreadnaught ends, a pre-1939 characteristic.

Just as many railroads badly needed new box cars in the late 1930s, thus purchasing great numbers of the 1937 AAR 40-foot design, so did they need 50-foot cars. But the lack of a standard meant that many versions of an all-steel 50-foot car were built. Inside heights ranged from 10 feet (like the 40-foot car), to 10 ft., 4 in. and 10 ft., 6 in. Door openings varied from 10 to 16 feet. Each railroad chose how it wanted to “stretch” the 1937 40-foot design.

Southern Pacific, to choose one example, built 10 ft., 4-in IH cars with 4/5 ends, as you see in the photo below (General American photo). They chose to “stretch” the 1937 40-foot design by using the same side sheets, but with four to the left of the double door, and six to the right (let’s call this s “4-6” side sheet pattern). A number of other roads did the same.

But some railroads felt that more side posts would stiffen the car body, and thus used narrower side sheets, and more of them. For example, Union Pacific built 50-ft. cars with 4 sheets to the left of the double doors, and 7 to the right (a “4-7” pattern), with the added complication of Alternate Center Riveting.  There were also 3-7 and 5-7 patterns built before World War II. 

In 1942, there was finally an AAR standard design for a 50-foot double-door box car. It had 10-ft., 6-in. inside height and a 5-8 side-sheet pattern of equal-size sheets. Some railroads built these after the war.

Why do I mention side sheets? Because the Athearn 50-ft. double-door car has an unusual 4-7 pattern, with not all side sheets the same width. You can see it below on this model. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

This kind of 4-7 pattern was built by some railroads after World War II, but the Athearn model has a 1937–1939 type of 5/5 end. This means, as far as I know, that the Athearn model, as literally interpreted, has no prototype. Richard Hendrickson used to say that he did not know of one either, but was not certain. If a reader of this blog knows of one, please let me know.

The model I show above, incidentally, is obviously a stand-in, as both its end rib pattern and side-sheet pattern do not match the prototype photo. Note also in the prototype photo above that the SP cars did not have the long under-door stiffener of the Athearn model. 

Nevertheless, as with the “Blue Box” 40-foot car, we can upgrade the appearance, even for stand-in cars like the one above. Replacement of the running board and brake wheel come first, as I’ve mentioned (see the post about that at: ). Either steel-grid running boards (from Kadee or etched metal) or wood running boards are easy replacements; many pre-war cars got steel running boards after World War II.

Further, just as with the 40-foot car, a new brake wheel and an improved brake step are useful upgrades that help disguise the “Blue Box” origin of the model.

Lastly, I will mention the side doors. The ledge that serves as a bottom door guide is not quite as wide as on the 40-ft car, but nevertheless can be sliced in half, and the notorious “claws” removed.

In addition, the comments made previously about cast-on ladders, sill steps and grab irons certainly apply, along with the problem of the mirror-image underbody brake gear, as described in the final post about the 40-foot “Blue Box” models (see that post at: ).

So yes, the 50-foot double-door box car has limitations as a model, along with an unusual combination of side sheet and end rib patterns, but certainly can serve as a stand-in, especially for what I call “mainline” use, meaning only seen in passing trains. But its inaccuracies and limitations mean it is not a good starting point for  a serious  model.

Tony Thompson

No comments:

Post a Comment