Saturday, April 6, 2024

New York Central USRA Design Automobile Cars


Fayetteville, NC, Oct 12, 1952, Col. Chet McCoid photo, Bob's Photo

In 1922-1923, the Michigan Central added 4,000 automobile cars based heavily upon the USRA-design steel box cars that were the de facto standard box car of the NYC System from the 20s into the 50s. They had the same rather diminutive inside height (for an auto car) of 8'7". They were delivered in three groups: NYC Lots 440-B from Standard Steel (Hammond, IN, car nos. 96000-97999,) 464-B from American Car & Foundry (St. Louis, car nos. 98000-99499,) and 465-B from Standard Steel (Hammond, IN, car nos. 95000-95499.) They had auxiliary doors with a door opening of 10 feet. They were eventually renumbered into NYC reporting marks, series 189300-190999, 145400-146999, and 194000-195498.) Most (if not all) of the cars were built with Camel-Gilroy doors, like those shown on NYC 189735, above, and some cars, like NYC 189735, shown above, had their auxiliary doors sealed, making them into box cars. NYC 146479, shown below, had Youngstown doors and also received a replacement Murphy rectangular panel roof.

Fayetteville, NC, Oct 22, 1951, Col. Chet McCoid photo, Bob's Photo

Between 1930 and 1932, The NYC increased the height of many of these cars by adding plate steel sections at the top of the sides and raising the roof. An indeterminate number also received replacement Murphy rectangular panel roofs, as well, although photos show that many continued on with the Solidsteel roofs (lacking raised panels.) The raised roof cars were eventually assigned to series 194000-195498.

Charles Winters Collection

Paul Dunn photo, R. J. Burg

These three prototype images (above and below) illustrate how the cars appeared after the modifications. Note the Solidsteel roof and two extra Murphy end corrugations on the car shown below. 

crop of "Milwaukee Road, general view of part of Galewood Yard, Chicago," Jack Delano photo, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, call number LC-USW36-619

Years ago, I built a Westerfield kit to replicate one of the cars that continued on with its original 8'7" inside height, as shown above. While Broadway Limited released a specific version of the NYC System's USRA design box cars, Westerfield is still the only way to model many variants (including the most numerous varieties.) 

Sunshine Models also produced a kit to replicate the raised roof variants. These went out of production with the death of Martin Lofton. However, Yarmouth Model Works has resuscitated this model, with one-piece body casting.

I was fortunate to have one of the Sunshine kits in my stash and decided to start building it. As it's a flat kit, one has to assemble the sides and ends and then add the roof and floor to complete the basic assembly. I did all that, following my usual process, the most important part of which is to true up the sides first (equal length and square edges... it's been awhile since I have detailed that process, so I will post about that in the next couple weeks, with commensurate detail.) The biggest hurdle, as shown in the photos above, was that the lines of the peaks of the ends did not match that of the roof. To overcome that, I finessed things into place. My approach was to glue [ACC] the roof to one half of the top of the ends and also one side. You can see in the photo of the end of the car, how the roof is attached at the left, but the right portion is raised (not yet glued.) I let the half that was glued dry thoroughly and also augmented the joint with some 0.125" square styrene on the interior of the body where the side and roof abut. I then repeated this process for the other side. This resulted in a clean and strong assembly with the underside of the roof matching the peaks of the ends. I will continue this build in a future installment.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Rock Island USRA 40-ton Box Cars and Rebuilds


As-built, but upgraded with AB-schedule brakes, ca. 1947-1948

The Rock Island received a rather large allocation of 2,500 USRA Specification 1003-B forty-ton, double sheathed box cars. They came from several builders and were assigned to the series 155000-157499. The Rock Island rebuilt two blocks of 400 of these cars in their Armourdale (1936) and Blue Island (1940) shops, creating all-steel cars assigned to the 134000-134799 series. The underframes, ends, and Andrews trucks were retained, although the ends were augmented with small 'blank" sections to increase the height, resulting in a 5/5/blank/5 Murphy configuration (from bottom to top.) New sides from Youngstown Steel and Murphy rectangular panel roofs were applied. They also received Youngstown doors with early Camel Roller Lift fixtures, AB schedule air brakes and power hand brakes. Interestingly, the Rock Island actually continued to operate a greater number of "un-rebuilt" cars than were rebuilt. 

Note that the Rock Island also received some secondhand rebuilt CNW USRA box cars, but those are not the subject of this post.

ca. 1949, courtesy of the late Bill Welch; other info not known by me

This photo illustrates some of the features, including steel sides of eight, irregularly spaced panels, Youngstown doors, AB brakes (with all three main components on the same side of the center sills,) and Andrews trucks. Note the retention of grab irons instead of ladders. These Rock Island cars had the recessed side sills typical of steel-sided cars rebuilt from wood or composite cars.

Ogden, Utah, May 30, 1959, Will Whittaker photo

In the 1950s, the Rock Island sold cars to the Ft. Dodge, Des Moines and Southern, with very little change in appearance, except the diamond emblem and reporting marks.

Why am I posting about this? Well, over the past several weeks I have been working on one of the Sunshine Models kits for these prototypes. There are a few details that I am opting to change as part of my build. They include:

  • add rivets to exposed angle at end of car sides (more on this in subsequent posts; see photo below)
  • the kit's doors have later-style Camel Roller Lift fixtures. I am going to replace this detail with an early-style hardware
  • Grabs will be created by bending 0.008" wire
  • Running boards will be scratchbuilt from strip styrene to achieve a gap between the boards
  • I will use a Universal power hand brake and wheel to more closely match the prototype
  • Decals to be printed from my own artwork (the Sunshine lettering used a generic sans serif font for the majority of the stenciled data that is a poor match for the Rock Island's lettering)
Progress to this point has involved assembly of the major body parts and little else. I can report one issue that I encountered: the rectangular-shaped underside of the kit's resin roof casting was too long to easily fit into the car body. Instead of what would have been a fairly tedious process of removing resin material from the underside of the roof casting, I put the resin roof casting aside to use on a project where it fits into a car body and instead used a far more easily modified styrene part. The photos below illustrate the removal of material to facilitate a good fit, showing both modified and unmodified IMWX/Red Caboose parts. More details to follow in subsequent posts...

The visible "end" of the side that is nested in the angle formed by the side and end had rivets on the prototype. These will be simulated with decal rivets on the model. Also, note the "blank" end panel added to the rebuilds, as noted in the text above

Friday, March 29, 2024

Valley Forge RPM 2024


Fred Lass had an extensive display of his steam modeling, including this C&O K-2 cobbled together from Mantua, Cary, and Bachmann components (photo below is also of the same loco)

This past weekend, I attended the Valley Forge RPM in Malvern, Pennsylvania. It was the best one in my memory and it was also the largest, with over 300 attendees. I managed to absorb more clinics than I usually do, and they were all top notch. I particularly enjoyed the presentations by Todd Hermann (LNE Catausqua branch layout,) Bill Schneider (NYO&W layout,) and Matt Herman of 3D Central (3D printing.) There were also an incredible number of fine models in the display room. I photographed a bunch that happened to catch my eye. They are presented herein. Enjoy! P.S. next year's meet will be RPM East in western Pennsylvania, as these unaffiliated events run biannually - the Valley Forge RPM (Philadelphia area) in even years and RPM East (Greensburg/Pittsburgh area) in odd years.

Jerry Dembeck displayed several models, including this Armour reefer built from a Sunshine kit

Shannon Crabtree weathered this Intermountain RF&P box car

Thomas Smapes (spelling?) Sr. had several fine pieces of Western Maryland O scale brass that he had built

Gary Stroh displayed mainy fine weathered subjects, such as this Southern covered hopper from Athearn

Mark Kerlick repped the western PA crew with many models, including this E-L from Walthers, with full-length handrails and spark arrestors

There were many cars with interesting loads, such as this modified well car with axles and wheels shipped by CP-KCS as modeled by John Brown

Bob Stetser showed off a PC 70-ton AAR flat (Protowest kit, he thinks... and I agree) with containers from Shapeways as well as scratchbuilt fraiming and Tichy bulkheads plus decals from the scrap bin

Tom Devenny always has some nicely weathered models to display. One of this year's is GTW 50-foot AAR box car from a P2K kit

This Soo caboose is based on an Athearn blue box car with plated-over windows, Microscale decals, nice weathering, and other details, by Lou Papineau

Jamie Isett displayed this big modern diesel... I confess I don't even know what JRIX and several searches yielded no results. I just thought it looked impressive

This amazing Conrail caboose is the work of Aaron Heaney

Bill Chapin displayed a model of the New Canaan station, based upon the Branchline kit with scratchbuilt platforms, roof trim, and chimneys as well as many replacement windows of correct size

Yet another station... this model of the NYO&W Middletown, NY station and headquarters was built by Jim Dalburg (back in 1968!) Oh... he also built the train

This O&W gon is the work of Bill Schneider. It was drawn by Bill and 3D printed. The decals are his work, too.

This nicely detailed Atlas Southern B23-7 was heavily detailed by Sherm Everlof

Andrew Coniers scratchbuilt this impressive model of Fabian Coal on the Reading Co.'s Newtown branch.

Billy Dale brought an impressive roster of completed freight cars, including this F&C covered hopper of a Lackawanna prototype

Chuck Davis presented a clinic aboput modeling steam and had many finsihed models on display, plus this in-progress steamer

Thomas Richards had an impressive display of 3D printed Soo Line "Wheat Line" North Dakota
 depots. They are exquisite!

Ron Giordani stripped a BLI heavy Mike of all details, then built out a Wooten firebox and added a "gazillion" brass parts to create this stunning CNJ model

Eric Hansmann had his usual display of numerous 1920s-era freight cars, including this Westerfield model of a Pennsy X23 box car

Butch Eyler always brings along a large number of expertly weathered cars. This is one example

Dennis Lippert also had a TON of freight cars on display, including this AC&Y combination door PS-1

Steve Holzheimer also showed some love for the AC&Y with his model of an S-2 purchased secondhand from the Nickel Plate

Allen Underkofler used a laser to cut the pieces to make this PRR tool house 

Alan Mende had many CNJ models to show off, including this E-2 class 0-8-0, based upon a Mantua Alco 0-8-0 with details removed, frame modified to accept 55" drivers, and new details from Lee Town, CalScale, and Precision Scale added to create a stunning replica. The tender is from an NWSL USRA 0-6-0

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Early Pennsylvania Railroad Welded Box & Automobile Cars


The file for the clinic I presented at the latest Hindsight 20/20 Virtual RPM, "Early Pennsylvania Railroad Welded Box & Automobile Cars" can be accessed via this link. The next Hindsight will be in December. You can stay up to date by joining the Hindsight group at

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Roof Paint Failure


crop of "general view of part of Galewood Yard, Chicago, Ill.," [Milwaukee Road,] April, 1943, Jack Delano photo, FSA-OWI Collection, Library of Congress, Call number LC-USW36-619

Roof paint failure (peeling, flaking paint on galvanized roof sheets) is one of those parts of freight car weathering that has taken off in recent years. For my purposes (and those of this blog) I am referring to this phenomenon as it occurred to roofs on freight cars of the 'teens through the 50s, realizing that the effects of weather, etc. on more modern cars is a different subject in many ways. The first thing that I want to emphasize very strongly is that I have looked at lots and lots of period photos where roofs are visible and can report one important fact: paint failure was not universal and, in fact, was not terribly common. Granted, in a yard shot, you can discern the effect on one or two cars out of scores of cars, but it is not evident on every car or even anything approaching a majority. So, if the subject of weathering already causes you angst, I suggest you move along to other facets of weathering and lose no sleep. What am I looking to accomplish in this post is to share some examples of what the prototype effect looked like to aid your efforts, should you choose to model this effect. I recently tried one method that I covered in the final installment on my model of the New Haven 1937 AAR box car.

John Golden has done some incredible work in this area using the "salt" technique, and it is really the standard to which I am working, albeit while stumbling through. many techniques and growing pains along the path. You can read John's excellent blog via this link. He also shared his paint failure techniques here (link.) Charlie Duckworth has also produced some quite credible results. His work can be found on the Steam Era Freight Car list at or on facebook. Military modelers use various chipping and masking techniques (using hair spray and rubber cement among other things) to represent paint removal by scuffing and wear, although many of the same principles translate to roof paint failure. Good luck!

Utah Rails web site

This image shows some subtle effects on a Rio Grande 12-panel box car. To me, it is a good illustration of what I want to achieve on a few cars... the presence of paint failure, but not a completely degraded surface

Buffalo, New York, NYCSHS Collection, courtesy of Joe Collias

This re-roofed New York Central USRA-design box car demonstrates that some times a small amount of failure is all that is needed when weathering

cropped from Neg no. 45882, Spencer, North Carolina, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville

The roof on this SP single sheathed car from the B-50-13 & -14 family displays a nice mix of failure and weathering that would be a good prototype to emulate

cropped from Neg no. 50862, Newark, New Jersey, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville

While this image is a very tiny snippet (it was all that was included in the overall yard shot,) it does provide a good look at the shape of paint failure in the center of a roof panel

Missouri Pacific freight house, St. Louis, May, 1946, Joe Collias Collection

This is an extreme example, an it's on a more vintage 36-foot double sheathed Boston & Albany car. Note the variety as some panels show very little failure and others are 75-80% devoid of paint

Columbus, Georgia, crop of image no. CG-2590, Central of Georgia Railway Historical Society

I like this image as it's another that illustrates how eve na small amount of paint failure can be quite realistic

Los Angeles, Morris Abowitz

Color images are always a great tool for weathering. Again, note the randomness of the failure on some panels, but not others on these two roofs

crop if image from Kheel Center for Labor Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University

This image is the one I will use to guide my efforts when I build my Resin Car Works kit of this prototype. I will continue to share my efforts here so stay tuned (you can receive updates by following this blog by adding your email address using the box at the top of the page)