Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A detail you can add to the Rapido box cars

I’ve written several pieces about the recent Southern Pacific box cars from Rapido Trains in HO scale. And while pointing out a few relatively minor issues with the cars, I have praised them in several contexts. There ended up being a series of four such posts, the fourth of which contains links to the previous three (see that post at: ).

But what I wanted to keep separate while dealing with much of the entire run from Rapido is a single detail that was omitted from some of the cars, and it’s one I always make use of. It’s the route card board. Now let me hasten to observe that when the SP Class B-50-15 and -16 cars were built, they had wood sheathing, thus route cards could be tacked anywhere on sides or doors.

But in the mid-1930s, SP began to steel-sheath some of the cars, by simply welding steel sheet inside the superstructure framing, and adding steel-sheathed doors. That naturally raised the issue of route card boards, and of course the prompt result was that route card boards were added to the steel doors. Here’s a photo to show that (photo by Robert McFarland, from Arnold Menke’s collection, taken at Bayshore in 1940).

In the photo above, there is a route card on the door’s board, but it may be hard to see. Here’s a detail of the photo above. in order to show just the door. The board is located at the end of a reinforcement strap on the surface of the door, with the card very typically tacked at an angle. And an incidental observation, for those who think it isn’t visible on models, the chain slack on the K brake cylinder linkage beneath the car.

Rapido chose to put route card boards on none of these models. They did have to produce both a wood door and a steel door, so I’m not sure why it was omitted from the steel door, but it was.

Incidentally, neither the size nor the shape of this route card board look like the “recommended standard” 5.5 x 9-inch design that was introduced in 1937. But as late as 1952, this was still not mandatory, and many prototype photos in the intervening years show that plenty of railroads used their own design of route card board. For more on this history, see my earlier post: .

As is visible in the photos above, the SP board on these cars is a little more square than the recommended dimensions. Of course it is extremely easy to represent any size or shape of board with a small piece of styrene strip. That is what I chose to do with my Rapido box cars that had steel doors. I simply attached the strips with canopy glue, as you see below.

The new boards can then be painted and, if need be, weathered to match the rest of the car. That was my procedure, mixing paint to get close to the weathered color of cars that had already been weathered. Then I added the usual small rectangles of paper, white or a color. Here’s an example on an Overnight-assigned car from Class B-50-16:

Many modelers will overlook or not even notice the omission of the route card boards on these models of cars with steel doors, but since I put route cards on most of my freight cars, it did jump out to me as something I needed to remedy. As shown above, it’s a very easy fix.

Tony Thompson


  1. I wasn't aware of those cars that had metal panels covering the original wood sides . . . produces an interesting looking car. Those route cars on the models really stand out, along with the chalk marks, etc.

    1. No, the original wood sides were removed and steel sheet welded to replace the wood. The part about "sheathing" refers to doors. I have a single written SP comment about the doors being steel-sheathed, but it seems more plausible to me that new steel doors were fitted.
      Tony Thompson