Upgrading PRS boxcars for CNR prototypes

A reader asked for some more details about the upgrades I do to boxcar kits from Pacific Rail Shops to make them more accurate for CNR prototypes. I am not an expert on freight car detailing so all mistakes are my own – and I may offend those who are when I say I can live with the mistakes / omissions / etc.

An excellent source for information about accurately modelling equipment is Steam Era Freight Cars. If you look at only one thing on that site, I recommend the feature by Ted Culotta that shows out to properly model AB brake systems. It’s available as a PDF and every serious modeller should download it and keep it near the workbench. In addition to the web site, there’s the wonderful Steam Era Freight Cars Yahoo Group – full of smart people who can answer serious questions and point members to sources.

So with that out of the way, here’s what I do on my CNR boxcars. Whether you do the same is up to you…

I start with the Pacific Rail Shops kit for the 1937 AAR 40 Foot Boxcar. The ones I have are all factory-painted for the CNR, but the colour is too brown and I’ll have to repaint after adding all the details anyway, so pretty much any prototype would do. I don’t bother stripping the paint and lettering, since the paint I use – CN Red #11 (Mineral Brown) from the CNR Historical Association – covers really well and sticks to just about anything. In any case, I’ll be lettering over top of the original lettering.

End Details:
CNR (PRS) Boxcar Details photo BoxcarDetails-01_zpsac6e037a.jpg

The 8 Rung Ladders are by S Scale America (Part SSA400) from Des Plaines Hobbies. Each kit includes four ladders – two for ends, two for sides. They’re designed to fit in the same holes as the ladders in the kit.

The running board supports, brass brake platform, L-shaped grab iron with eyebolt and cut lever with mounting bracket are part of the Boxcar Detail Set (BC01) from Andy Malette at MLW Services. Andy’s kit includes brass wire to form cut levers and grab irons, plus a thorough set of instructions for installation of these parts.

I provide my own wood for running boards. I have found that HO scale 2″ x 8″ strips work really well – they add up to the correct width on the long running boards, and seven pieces on the lateral running boards work out about right too. The kits include plastic running boards which are easy to measure from when upgrading with real wood.

Side Details:
CNR (PRS) Boxcar Details photo BoxcarDetails-02_zps15611087.jpg

There’s a grab on the door that I like to carve off and replace with a piece of wire. This photo also shows the cut lever bracket, which is part of Andy’s BC01 kit and mounts to the ladder.

Andy provides a couple of spare eyebolts in his kit. I use one of these, and a spare cut lever bracket, to mount the release rod for the air brake system. (The release rod is detailed in the Ted Culotta article referenced above.)

Underside Details:
CNR (PRS) Boxcar Details photo BoxcarDetails-03_zpsbff30e20.jpg

This is another look at the release rod for the air brake system.

Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing offers several S scale decal sets for CN equipment. Al does not have a web site but here’s a full list of Black Cat decals – scroll down for the S scale offerings. For these cars, the 10′-0″ inside height sets are appropriate.

When finished, the cars will look similar to this one, which is already in service on my layout. Note the difference in paint colour!
Finished CNR steel boxcar photo CNR-487747-Finished.jpg

More CNR boxcars on the way

On a small, steam-era Canadian branchline like the one I’m modelling, home road boxcars would represent a lot of the traffic. The CNR (or, CPR for those so inclined) was a continent-spanning system so a lot of domestic traffic would have been handled by a single carrier. Goods from across Ontario (and, indeed, from across Canada) would have been loaded into home road house cars and transported to the people and businesses in Port Rowan.

Of course, foreign road cars appeared on the branch. I have photos that show this – even, a photo of a Southern Pacific boxcar being used as the LCL car on The Daily Effort. But to convey the sense that this is Canadian railroading – as opposed to a branch in the United States, where not even the biggest railroads spanned the country – it’s important to have a large fleet of home road boxcars.

Fortunately, a few months ago I did some (iron)horse-trading with a friend who was interested in some stuff in my collection that was not in 1:64, and I acquired five more of the Pacific Rail Shops kits for 1937 AAR 40′ steel boxcars – the same ones I used to model these two:
CN Boxcars in S photo CN-Boxcars-01.jpg

This week, I started working on my new additions.

As with these earlier cars, I’m upgrading the five new cars with detailing kits from Andy Malette at MLW Services plus some parts from BTS, eight rung ladders from S Scale America (Des Plaines Hobbies) and a scratch-built running board. Here’s a photo that shows the modifications I did on one of my earlier cars:
CN 484036 photo CN484036-01.jpg

Three of the new kits have been built, but it’s easy enough to remove US-style ladders, the plastic running board, and other details I am upgrading. In fact, it’s speeding up the process. The other two cars are still in kit form, so I’ll tackle them last.

No photos yet – but if I do it right they’ll look just like the models shown above, so there’s not much need for fresh images. I’ve finished detailing the first of five kits and will do all of them before putting them through the paint shop in a batch. I have a mix of appropriate decals from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing and correct paint from the Canadian National Railways Historical Association, so I’m ready to go.

The new cars will give The Home Team solid representation on my layout. They’ll also force operators – including me – to pay close attention to reporting marks, to make sure the right boxcar goes to the right customer.

Lunch and Locals :: A visit from Andy

My friend Andy Malette visited yesterday, for pub lunch and an operating session.
Andy and reefers photo AndyKits_zpsdb018739.jpg
(Andy’s always a happy guy, and a great promoter of S scale. He’s also a manufacturer, responsible for the two CNR combines on my layout and three CNR eight-hatch refrigerator cars yet to be built. Click on Andy’s smiling face to visit his web site.)

Andy has seen my layout several times, but yesterday was his first opportunity to actually run a train.

Things went really well, although one of my recently-finished 460000 series CNR boxcars derailed in St. Williams:
CNR-461000-0 photo CNR-461000-03_zps8eb52a6a.jpg
Embarrassing, but not surprising given that it had recently come off the bench and I had not had an opportunity to test it on the layout. I made note of the problem and afterwards I adjusted the truck screw, which ought to do the trick. I guess I’ll find out in future sessions, right?

(One of the many advantages of a modest layout such as the one I’ve built is that it’s easy to keep on top of maintenance issues such as wonky wheel sets.)

It was also Andy’s first exposure to the Lenz DCC system – he uses NCE at home, and Digitrax when he participates in exhibitions with the S Scale Workshop. My choice of Lenz once again proved wise as it’s very intuitive to use and Andy was impressed by the ergonomics of the throttles. (I wish I could take credit for the decision, but I chose Lenz because that’s what my friends were using when I was first exposed to DCC.)

Andy – who runs MLW Services – also brought along some decals and details to help me finish some CNR boxcars, including the CNR double-door boxcar that’s currently on my bench:
CNR Double Door Box - Sills and Doors photo CNR-DD-Box-SidesDoors_zps77605234.jpg

Unfortunately, we ran out of time about halfway through the operating session – we were able to get a local freight to Port Rowan and start the switching before Andy had to leave. I finished the run myself – but that’s fine: Andy will just have to come over another time, soon!

Progress on the CNR Double Door boxcar

CNR Double Door Box - Sills and Doors photo CNR-DD-Box-SidesDoors_zps77605234.jpg

I’ve been making lots of progress over the past couple of weeks – including on my CNR double-door boxcar project. As the photo shows, I’ve started working on the Superior Six Panel Doors. I’m scratch-building these from styrene sheet and strip, with rivets from Archer Transfers. This is my first experience with Archer’s product and I’m really, really impressed. (I ordered directly from Archer and service was excellent, too – so check them out. Archer offers four sizes/styles of rivets for S scalers – I bought one sheet of each.)

The doors are ready for detailing – tack boards, latching mechanisms, etc. I’ll do this work before gluing them in place.

As the photo also shows, I’ve replaced the side sills on my PRS donor car with longer sills made from styrene strip. I will add appropriate rivets to the sills – again using Archer’s product.

This has turned into quite a project, which prompts two observations:

1 – I’m glad I only want / need to do one of these cars for my layout!

2 – I expect the S scale resin kit to appear about one week after I finish my model – because that’s how it works!

On the subject of boxcar surgery, my friend Andy Malette points out that I should carve away the lower side extensions and the poling pockets in the corners. That’ll be a bigger job so I’ll decide whether I can do that neatly enough to be happy with the end result. And, before I install the doors, I will have to extend the upper and lower tracks to accommodate these monster doors: There’s no point in having a 15-foot opening if the doors can’t be slid all the way out of the way, right?

At that point, this will become a “normal” kit again – with the surgery giving away to the usual process of adding details such as ladders, roof walks, brake rigging and so on. I’m looking forward to the return to normalcy!

Three new CNR boxcars (461000-463999)

A while ago, I wrote about the possibility of using S Helper Service single sheathed boxcars as stand-in models for CNR cars in the 461000-463999 series:
CNR 461000 series - model and prototype photo CNR-461000-01_zps98abb6e4.jpg
(Click on the image to read that post, which includes more background on the project)

Well, over the past week or so, I did minor modifications to three such models in my possession, followed by a quick paint and lettering job. The result is three new home-road house cars for my layout:
CNR-461000-Fleet photo CNR-461000-02_zps221177b3.jpg

The modifications were straightforward. I stared by adding styrene ribs to the centre of each panel to create the Hutchins Dry Lading Roof:
CNR-461000-0 photo CNR-461000-03_zps8eb52a6a.jpg

This is the most visible of the modifications, since roofs are what we see when we’re operating on a layout.

But I also recognized that a key feature of these cars is the fish-belly frame sills. The models, as purchased, did not have these. I fixed that with some styrene strip, measuring off another S scale car that does have a fish belly. The great thing is, the new sills would be painted black and be, well, underneath the cars – so I was more concerned with getting the silhouette right than with counting the rivets. I used a nibbling tool to cut notches to fit around the existing brake rigging, glued the new sills in place, and after a coat of paint, they provide the correct profile when viewing the cars at track level:
CNR-461000-Sills photo CNR-461000-04_zpsbfeb3ea6.jpg

(While working on the frames, I also cut away the cast-on stirrup steps and replaced them with brass bar, which I bent using a Grab-Handler from Mission Models – a great tool, by the way!)

I’m pleased with how this project turned out. The three cars were quick to modify and I was able to obtain appropriate lettering from the Black Cat Decals line. While some discrepancies remain between model and prototype, they’re minor and I can live with them – especially since I now have three more CNR cars on the layout. Already, they’ve made operating sessions more challenging since I cannot simply remember that “the Maine Central boxcar goes to the mill” – I have to pay more attention to the reporting marks.

These cars are a compromise – but a reasonable one. That’s S for you…

CNR 461000-463999 (or, “S” is for “Stand-in”)

CNR 461000 series - model and prototype photo CNR-461000-01_zps98abb6e4.jpg

The reality of S scale is that the selection is not what it is in HO, or even O. And while I hope to scratch-build some rolling stock at some point, I have too many other projects on the go (for the hobby and that non-hobby time called “life”) to tackle a freight car right now.

That said, I’m thinking about ways to boost the Canadian content on my layout. And as the lead photo shows, I’ve found a suitable stand-in model for a CNR car that will be little more than a paint-and-decal project.

Volume two of the Canadian Rail Car Pictorial series includes a photo of CNR 461244. This is a 40 foot, single sheathed, steel frame boxcar – part of a series of 3,000 built in1921 by Canadian Car and Foundry for the Grand Trunk Railway. These cars were originally for auto service, but outgrew their usefulness by the early 1930s and were rebuilt with a six-foot wide door. The cars lasted into the 1970s.

The model in the lead photo is a ready to run single sheathed car from S Helper Service. I have three of these in my collection, all painted for U.S. railroads.

Comparing the prototype and model, there are a few obvious discrepancies:

First, the prototype has a fishbelly frame – while the model does not. However, that should be relatively easy to correct: I can cut and shape a pair of styrene strips, notch them for the brake rigging, paint them black and glue them in place on the model’s centre sills. Not perfect, but they should look just fine when placed on the layout.

Second, the roof is almost correct: It’s a Hutchins roof, with the correct number of flat panels between the ribs. According to the book, the prototype has a narrow rib down the centre of each flat panel. (Here’s an example on a Proto:48 boxcar built by Jim Zwerneman.) This would be relatively easy to fix on the model with some styrene strip.

Third, the prototype features a 7/8 Murphy end, while the model has a 5/5/5 arrangement of ribs. There’s not much I can do about that without resorting to major surgery, at which point I may as well scratch-build (and if I’m doing that, I’d look at the CNR’s 1929 standard design, like this O Scale offering from Sylvan Scale Models. However, the ends are not a glaring issue – they’re not, say, 4/5 Dreadnought Ends – so I can live with the discrepancy if it lets me put some more Canadian National equipment on the rails.

The horizontal brace on the door is higher on the model than on the prototype. Again, not a deal-breaker. I may even be able to carve off the brace and add a new one, lower down.

That’s the bad news. Here’s some of the good news:

The sides are correct, with the right number and configuration of bracing. Even the corner braces are present.

The ladders are correctly made from grab irons on sides and ends.

The model car needs a stirrup step added to each end, under the ladder. That’s easy to do and I would want to replace the plastic stirrups on the sides anyway.

The finished cars will boost my CNR fleet even as they add variety – a nice intermediate design between the Fowler cars and the all-steel cars. They’ll help me get rid of some American equipment (which, while nice, would have been rare on my branch). And they won’t take that much time or effort to finish so I can fit them into my task list.

I think they’ll also force crews to pay more attention to reporting marks, since operating sessions will require more than “putting the Maine Central boxcar over there”.

I’ve written to Al Ferguson at Black Cat Decals to determine whether appropriate lettering is available in S.

Beyond this project, I have a number of other CNR boxcars to build:

I have a half-dozen Pacific Rail Shops boxcar kits to build and detail, which will join two already on the layout – including this one:
Finished CNR steel boxcar photo CNR-487747-Finished.jpg

I have another kit or two for Ridgehill Scale Models Fowler boxcars to join this one on the layout:
CNR Fowler Boxcar photo CN408756-01.jpg

And there’s the CNR double-door boxcar project…
New Ends for a CN Boxcar photo CN-DD-Box-NewEnds.jpg

… which is currently on hiatus because, frankly, I’m not in the mood to scratch-build the doors and I have other projects I’d rather tackle at this time.

I’ve decided that it’s really nice when S Scale gives me a bit of a break…

Freight car mix

S Scale Freight Cars photo FreightCar-SectionHeader_zpse5a91f24.jpg

A reader wrote this week to ask a question about my freight car mix. It’s a good question, so I thought I’d share the answer here as well as responding directly.

The reader commented…

Do you plan to deploy more CNR box cars in due course? The overriding impression from the photos in Ian Wilson‘s books of Allendale and Palmerston is that the great majority of freight cars were box cars, and almost all of those were plain ol’ CNR (probably about half-and-half AAR steel (PRS) and single-sheathed (Ridgehill/scratchbuild) by the mid-fifties). Are you sure about that yellow TH&B one (there were only ever two of their USRA ones that colour) and the ATSF rebuilt car must be a bit a stretch for a southern Ontario branch line by that time…

Those are very good observations. (Thanks for taking the time to write!)

Yes, I’m planning on adding more CNR boxcars. In fact, I have five or six kits from Pacific Rail Shops, and at least one other Ridgehill kit for a Fowler car in my collection.
But, they’re kits. The Fowlers are resin, so a fair bit of work. The PRS are injection moulded, but need modification to better represent CNR prototypes. In addition, I want to model a variety of CNR cars, which will require kitbashing the PRS cars.
CN 1937 AAR boxcar (A end) photo CN-487265-02.jpg

I have started a CNR double-door boxcar, which I’ve written about on this blog. But the project is stalled until I find the time to build some new doors:
New Ends for a CN Boxcar photo CN-DD-Box-NewEnds.jpg

My goal is to have CNR represent 80 percent of the cars on the layout, at any one time. The off-road cars will make rare appearances – maybe one on the layout at any time – to add a bit of variety.

Yes, the TH&B yellow double-sheathed car and the ATSF boxcar are a bit of a stretch. But not as much as the Central of Georgia ventilated car or the B&O wagon-top covered hopper!

Having said all of that, my focus right now is on the layout – not equipment. So I have a number of ready to run cars (like the boxcars mentioned above) that give me sufficient rolling stock to run trains. At some point I’ll turn my attention to the PRS kits and get another half-dozen CNR boxcars on the layout. It’ll make a big difference!

CNR double-door boxcar: Which series?

I recently had a question about a CNR double door boxcar about which I’ve posted previously.

In crafting my response, I found this photo online of the class of car I’m modelling.

How I picked this particular series of boxcars to model points to one of the challenges of working in S scale.

According the Volume Two of the Canadian Rail Car Pictorial (available at most fine hobby shops), there are four series of CNR 40-foot, 10′-6″ high, double-door, steel boxcars. The Pacific Rail Shops boxcar is not right for any of these series – it needs modification.

I picked the 590500-590999 series (which features a diagonal panel roof, 4/4 Improved Dreadnaught Ends, and Superior six-panel doors) for my model because it will require the least amount of work to model accurately. Here’s why:

– The PRS car has the right side doors and roof for the 589000-589499 series, but the ends are 4/4 Improved Dreadnaught Ends. There’s an appropriate resin casting for the “B” end, but the “A” end on this car has Youngstown end doors in a Camel frame – and a casting for that is not available.

– The PRS car has the right side doors for the 589500-590499 series, but the prototypes have NSC-2 ends, which are not available in S scale. I’m not sure about the roof.

– The PRS car is completely wrong for the 592307-592411 series, which had welded sides, diagonal panel roofs, 4/4 Improved Dreadnaught Ends and Superior five-panel doors.

– The series I’m modelling has the correct sides. That’s about it. I’ve removed the ends and replaced them with 4/4 ID Ends – resin castings I obtained through Andy Malette at MLW Services. This series does not have the end doors, so both the “B” and “A” castings are correct. I also have a resin casting for a diagonal panel roof – again obtained through Andy.

I will have to scratch-build the doors, but Superior six-panel doors are relatively straightforward compared to other styles – and certainly a lot easier than scratch-building ends or a roof.

The dreaded dreadnaughts

New Ends for a CN Boxcar photo CN-DD-Box-NewEnds.jpg

I’m working on my CN 10’6″ 40-foot double-door boxcar, which I introduced in an earlier posting.

The first step was to cut away the 5/5 Dreadnaught Ends on the Pacific Rail Shops car and replace them with resin castings for 4/4 Improved Dreadnaught Ends by Andy Malette of MLW Services.

I remember regularly seeing features and clinics on doing this type of surgery on HO cars back in the 1980s and early 1990s, before the resin revolution made a lot of this type of kit bashing work unnecessary. It’s still necessary in some cases, but in many other cases it’s possible to find an HO resin kit with the correct ends already cast.

But not so in S.

I’ve never done this kind of surgery on a freight car and I was a little nervous about attempting it. I didn’t need to be. Some patient work with a razor saw, a few passes with a file, and some gluing (suitably braced inside the corners) and the job is done.

I did need to file the inside of the peaks of the resin ends to allow the roof to drop into place, since I lost a saw-kerf of body side length from each end of the car, but this was pretty straightforward too.

This car will add some variety to my growing boxcar fleet.