Friday, July 29, 2022

Re-working an Ulrich “War Emergency” gondola

 Last March, I posted a preliminary description of the work I wanted to do to model a “War Emergency” gondola. These cars were a World War II design to use wood side sheathing to save steel for the war effort. I have a 1950s Ulrich model of such a car, that I want to recondition and upgrade for use on my layout, as I described in my first post. (To see that post, use this link: .)

My first step was to make a new floor, representing cross-wise planking. I used Evergreen V-groove sheet no. 4080, about 8 scale inch width boards. I gouged it to show wear in use, then primed it with Tamiya Fine Surface Primer, the white color. It will be painted an “aged wood” color later.

Let me note that the prototype cars, when built, had interior wood surfaces that were left unpainted, as you see in the photo below (Despatch Shops photo, via New York Central Historical Society, from the excellent Ed Hawkins article on the War Emergency gondolas in Railway Prototype Cyclopedia, No. 28 (RP Cyc Publishing, 2014). Many War Emergency gondolas received fir side sheathing and yellow pine floors, which may be the case here.

After the war, it was expected that owners of these gondolas would likely replace the wood sides and floors with steel. Many railroads did so, including NYC, over a period of years. Since the Ulrich model has wood sides, it has to represent one of the minority of NYC cars that had not yet gotten the steel replacement. By 1953, my modeling year, the Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER) shows that 111 out of 698 NYC cars had not yet become all-steel.

Returning to the model, I cleaned up the interior to receive the new styrene floor, removed the incorrectly located hand brake housing, brake cylinder, and AB valve ( as I showed in the first post, link in the first paragraph above). I relocated the valve and cylinder according to the Richard Hendrickson model I showed in the previous post. The I glued the new floor in place with canopy glue.

For the lever hand brake (see prototype photo above), I decided to approximate it for this less-than-contest-level model. I flattened the end of a length of 0.029-inch brass wire and fitted that into the old handbrake mechanism. Said part is not the Klasing mechanism, but it will do for this model. The lever is oversize because I wanted it to be visible. 

I repainted the model with Tamiya “Red Brown” paint, followed by a coat of gloss. As I mentioned in my first post (see link in first paragraph, above), I have a set of the very nice Greg Komar NYC gondola dry transfers. These are fairly old, however (Greg has been out of this business since 2013), and in my experience older dry transfers are, shall we say, imperfectly reliable, particularly small lettering.

Accordingly, I tried transferring the Komar lettering onto blank decal paper. This can then be given a protective coat of flat finish, and used like any decal. And sure enough, the smaller lettering did not transfer very well. I decided to substitute a set of Tichy decals, set 10154.

Below is the model at this point. The floor is in place, and both it and the lower interior walls need to be painted an aged wood color as the foundation for weathering. Lettering as NYC 711318 is complete, along with a reweigh date appropriate for my modeling year of 1953, and some preliminary decal graffiti. 

I decided to hand-paint the wood coloring. I used some old Model Master paint that was mixed from Roof Brown and Light Gray to make a kind of dirty medium brown. Since the “wood” parts would then be heavily repainted with acrylic tube paint (not washes), exact color didn’t matter, just not white. That interior painting was preceded by the usual acrylic washes on sides and ends.

The exposed wood parts of the model, interior side walls and floor, were painted with mostly Burnt Umber, with some admixture of Neutral Gray and Black (I used Liquitex acrylic tube paint). Some areas were marked to suggest spillage or other events in the car’s history.

Once the entire car body was weathered, I installed Kadee couplers. As I always do nowadays, I used whisker models. These are reliable and can be installed well even in coupler boxes not exactly of Kadee dimensions. 

Normally these would be the “scale head” size, no. 158, but I also have some no. 148 couplers around, the old “No. 5” standard head with whiskers, and don’t hesitate to use those. In my experience, well-installed and maintained no. 5 and no. 158 work well together.

At that point, I added the trucks. As this is a 70-ton car, I wanted to use 70-ton trucks. It’s true that they look a lot like 50-ton trucks, but the wheelbase is longer, so they very definitely are not the same. My choice was Tahoe Model Works No. 110, an ASF A-3 truck. This is a postwar truck and would not have been on the car when new, but after the war, may cars received more modern trucks like the A-3.

With all weathering done, along with a few graffiti and route cards, here is the car, ready for service.

It was fun to re-visit one of these classic Ulrich freight cars and bring it into service on my layout. I enjoy that my car fleet has a mix of the latest resin or ready-to-run styrene freight cars, along with “oldies” like this one.

Tony Thompson


  1. Hello Tony- National Scale Car offers decals for the NYC Emergency gons - set D187 -

    1. Thanks, Ted. I should have checked. But I will say, the Tichy decals went on just fine.
      Tony Thompson