by John Golden
During the transition era, the New York Central operated the second-largest freight car fleet on U.S. railroads. A well-balanced freight car fleet on any model railroad should therefore include a sizeable number of New York Central cars, whether you model the New York Central System or not. In this article, I’ll present accurate, readily-available freight car models in HO scale that are appropriate for the late steam/early diesel era, along with suggestions on detailing, painting and weathering so you may accurately model cars for your own freight car fleet.
Modeling New York Central Freight Cars
New York Central was historically one of the largest owners of freight cars through the Penn Central merger. In the 1950 Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER) for example, Central reported 132,957 freight cars of all types, second only to the Pennsylvania Railroad which reported over 193,000 cars that same year. Compare Central’s 132,000+-car fleet with other popular roads of the day—such as C&NW (45,990 cars), Union Pacific (44,687 cars), Seaboard (22,796 cars) or the often-reported Nickel Plate Road (15,300 cars)—and you will understand the importance of modeling the large NYC car fleet appropriately.
Fortunately HO scale modelers are blessed with a wide variety of accurate NYC cars from which to choose. Accurail, Atlas, Intermountain, Kadee, Tichy, and Walthers/Proto 2000 and others offer prototypical NYC models in plastic. Accurate resin craftsman kits are also offered by Sunshine Models, Funaro and Camerlengo, ProtoWest Models and WrightTrak, and Westerfield models can still be found second-hand online. To improve the accuracy of these models, use resources such as the Simmons-Boardman Car Builder’s Cyclopedias, the outstanding 23-book Railway Prototype Cyclopedia series, or obtain prototype photos from dealers such Bob’s Photos, Big Four Productions, Mike Gruber Photos and others. Photo dealers can be found at Railroad Prototype Modelers (RPM) meets and large train shows. And last, but certainly not least, join the NYCS Historical Society to learn more and obtain access to archive material. The models on the following pages are readily available on the market today, and have been upgraded with additional details, decals, or novel construction techniques to match particular prototypes. Also included are prototype photos to aid your modeling efforts.
NYC 837004, Lot 412-H
NYC 837004 is a Tichy USRA hopper currently offered by Intermountain as a factory-decorated, “ready-to-run” model. I upgraded the car with a variety of after-market parts, including A-Line No. 29000 Style A stirrups, Hi-Tech HTD 6040 air lines, Kadee No. 78 couplers, Reboxx No. 33-1-1.015 wheel sets, and hand-made uncoupling devices. I also installed an air line on the right side of the car using .020-inch wire held in place with Detail Associates No. 2206 eye bolts and covered with simulated riveted strips.
Photo 1. NYC 837004 from the Intermountain/Tichy model. Photo by Kirsten Golden.
After upgrading the details I changed the shop and repack dates using the Speedwitch No. D-107 New York Central decal set, adjusting the dates to within 30 months of my desired modeling year (1950). Then I weathered the car with Testors Russian Earth Brown and Flat Black paint, and then went back over the car with Polly Scale Light Freight Car Red paint applied with a brush. This blended the weathering and provided in a weathered, fading effect. It also blended the new decals, or detail decals as I call them, into the paint a little better.
If you’re unable to find a decorated Intermountain car for this project, Jerry Glow offers a new HO decal set at http://home.comcast.net/~jerryglow/samples/NYC_USRA_hopper.jpg. With this excellent decal set, you can use the Tichy, Accurail or MTH 55-ton USRA hopper to complete your own car.
Photo 2. NYC 837996 is a USRA 55-ton hopper from Lot 412-H, originally built for the Big Four by AC&F’s Berwick plant in 1921. The car was renumbered from Big 4 series 80250-81999. It was photographed ca. 1946, having been reweighed at Avis, PA in 9-44, and still has its original Andrews trucks. Jay Williams collection, courtesy Richard Hendrickson.
P&LE 40331, Lot 740-G
Photo 3. P&LE 40331 represents one of 6,000 Greenville-design gondolas built for NYC subsidiary Pittsburgh and Lake Erie in May, 1945. P&LE received 6,000 cars in five lots, the last of which were the 40000-40999 series, Lot 740-G, built by NYC’s Despatch Shops of East Rochester, New York. These were rugged cars with wood floors and drop ends, and served the NYC lines through the Penn Central merger and beyond. Photo by John Golden.
This model is a factory-decorated Proto 2000 52’6″ drop-end mill gondola. I replaced the plastic grab irons on the sides of the car with ladders per the prototype, using styrene strip for the stiles and Tichy TTG-3062 18-inch Ladder Rungs for the grab irons. I also added uncoupling devices, Kadee No. 58 couplers, and Reboxx No. 33-1-1.015 Code 88 wheel sets. I matched the paint using Polly Scale Light Freight Car Red.
Photo 4. This photo shows the pipe load on the false floor with the wood cribbing installed. I added one extra 2 x 4 piece of lumber to simulate a 2 x 4 that needed reinforcement. Also note the placement of the lumber and wire bands per ARA loading guidance. The false floor is painted brown to blend in with the floor when the load is installed. Photo by John Golden.
I made the pipe load using Evergreen No. 234 round tube. I cut six pieces of tube to 50 scale feet, painted them with an 80%-20% mixture of Testors Gloss Black and Testors Silver, then fixed them to a “false floor” made of scrap styrene sheet. The wood cribbing is made of scale 2 x 4 lumber; it is fixed between the pipes and on each side of the car per prototype practice. After the load was built and glued to the false floor, I secured added wire banding, which I simulated with paper strips. To make my wire bands, I first colored both sides of a piece of printer paper with a black Sharpie pen, then cut long, thin strips using a sharp X-acto blade on a piece of glass. Then I wrapped the band around the load and secured it from underneath the false floor using tape. This is a simple, easy process and produces a much better result than using miniature tape.
Photo 5. This photo shows the bottom of the load so you can see how the simulated wire bands are attached. They are simply wrapped snugly around the pipe load and then taped to the bottom of the false floor. Photo by John Golden.
Photo 6. Proto 2000 also released this Lot 791-G car decorated for NYC. Lot 791-G included 600 gondolas in series 712500-713099, delivered by Greenville in 1949. Photo by Kirsten Golden.
Photo 7. This Missouri Pacific Railroad photo shows a P&LE Greenville gondola delivering a load of box car sides. These were likely sides for 50-foot auto cars MP built at their shops at DeSoto, Missouri in 1947. Note the abundance of chalk marks on the ends of the car. Missouri Pacific photo, Ed Hawkins collection.
NYC 867399, Lot 733-H
Photo 8. NYC 867399 is a stock Kadee model and is a very accurate rendition of the NYC 867000-867999 series cars. Kirsten Golden photo.
Photo 9. Central owned many types of open hoppers, including 1,000 50-ton twin offset-side hoppers built to the 1935 ARA standard. These cars were built by Pressed Steel Co. in Lot 733-H and delivered in March 1945 and placed in series 867000-867999. NYC 867399 is the prototype for the factory-decorated Kadee model. NYCS HS photo.
My model of NYC 867399 is a right-out-of-the-box Kadee model. I applied Reboxx No. 33-2-1.015 wheel sets (the “2” is for “double insulated” wheel sets, which are required for Kadee’s all-metal trucks). I applied Speedwitch decals to simulate a new shop date and repack date, and then weathered the model lightly with Testors Dark Tan sprayed with an airbrush and brush-painted the model with Polly Scale Light Freight Car Red to bring out the highlights. The coal load is included with the model.
NYC 163671, Lot 743-B
Photo 10. Central acquired a large number of 1944 ARA-design box car with 10-foot, six-inch interior height, 4-4 Improved Dreadnaught ends, and Barber S-2 trucks in several series. This model represents a car from Lot 743-B (see Photo 11 below). The model is equipped with Improved Youngstown doors but the prototype series was delivered with pre-war Youngstown doors. John Golden photo.
Photo 11. New NYC 163000-series box cars in train, date and location unknown. NYC photo, collection of Joe Collias, courtesy Ed Hawkins. This model started out as an undecorated Branchline #1400 undecorated box car. I assembled the model per the instructions but substituted A-Line No. 29000 Style A stirrups, Reboxx No. No. 33-1-1.020 wheelsets, Kadee No. 78 couplers, hand-made uncoupling levers and a Kadee metal-grid running board. While writing this article I realized that I omitted installing roping rings on the lower side sill tabs; they are not included on the model but can be easily replicated using wire and a few Tichy rivets.
I painted the car with Scalecoat Box Car Red No. 3 and weathered it with Testors Dark Tan paint, and painted the roof with Testors Flat Black to represent car cement paint. I decaled the car using the excellent Speedwitch No. D-107 New York Central decal set. The door placard decals are from Sunshine Models. I wanted the model to appear newer than the pre-war cars in my fleet, so I gave it a May 1949 shop date and did not add chalk marks or heavy weathering.
I installed Kadee Apex running boards to this model by drilling holes through the roof and fixing the tabs from the underside of the roof by letting them with a hot screwdriver blade. Some modelers cut the tabs and glue the running boards to the roof, but this process sometimes plugs up some of the grids in the running board. Instead, I fix the tabs to a small piece of styrene and then melt them in place with a flat screwdriver blade heated in a candle. Because there’s no glue involved, the running board can flex with the roof during car construction and still stay in place.
Photo 12. The underside of the Branchline roof, showing the tabs fixed to small pieces of styrene and then melted in place. This technique is time-consuming but allows the roof to flex, and eliminates the problem of adhesives filling the holes in the running board. Photo by Kirsten Golden.
Note: Branchline parts are now available through Atlas.
Photo 13. Closeup of the underside of the Branchline roof, showing the melted tabs. No glue is used with this technique. Photo by Kirsten Golden.
NYC 751943, Lot 591-G
Photo 14. NYC 751943 represents one of 1,000 heavy, all-steel mill gondolas built for NYC in 1929 by Pressed Steel. The cars were numbered 751000-751999 and featured an all-steel body with a wood floor. The model is equipped with Accurail 50-ton ARA trucks, but those will be replaced with the new 70-ton ARA plain-bearing models recently made available by Kadee. John Golden photo.
Photo 15. NYC 324099, newly-constructed at Pressed Steel, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. Note the locks for the drop doors on the lower side sill; these were removed when the floors of the cars were rebuilt in 1942. R. L. Stoving Collection.
I finished this car per the kit’s instructions, and painted the car with Scalecoat Box Car Red No. 3 before applying the decals. I used the kit-supplied decals but substituted shop date, repack date and reweight numbers from the Speedwitch No. D-107 decal set. The paint patches were cut from Microscale Decals No. TF-13 Trim Film Brown decal sheet which I cut and applied underneath the original numbers; I then simply laid the numbers on the sheet making them appear to be newly painted. I varied the colors of the patches too—on the reweigh and shop dates I used red decal sheet and on the repack date I used black, all designed to simulate a hard-working gondola that has seen rough mill work. I weathered the car using airbrushed paint and then highlighted details with a brush, and then re-weathered the car with a slurry of Testors Dark Tan paint and Bragdon’s black powder mixed in a plastic cup. This allowed me to get a more rusted appearance on the center panels while leaving more of the original paint on the ends, simulating paint failure caused by hot steel loadings.
NYC 499684, Lot 721-F
This model was released by Intermountain in 2010 as a ready-to-run model. I wanted the car to appear relatively new, so I lightly highlighted the model with various tan and brown paint and painted the deck with Scalecoat Box Car Red No. 1. I then weathered the deck with different shades of Polly Scale freight car red, brown, gray and tan paint. I then blended the weathering by applying a light coat of Polly Scale Light Freight Car Red—which matches the factory-applied paint—over the painted deck. I also scraped away some of the paint to reveal the original wood color. I added uncoupling devices and Proto 2000 Spring Plankless trucks with Reboxx No. 33-1-1.015 wheel sets. The models came equipped with Kadee #58 couplers. The factory-applied paint is excellent, so I left it in place but changed the repack and shop stencils with decals from the Speedwitch decal set.
Photo 16. NYC 499684 is a model of a 70-ton 53’ 6″ AAR flatcar that was derived from a Greenville Car Company design. Central built 1,000 cars at Despatch Shops beginning in November, 1942, to help handle wartime traffic. This particular lot, 721-F, included cars in the 499300-499599 series. An additional 300 cars were delivered 1943 with 200 going to NYC and 100 going to NYC subsidiary Indiana Harbor Belt and the remainder were delivered in 1950. Photo by Kirsten Golden.
Photo 17. NYC Lot 721-F flat car. NYCS HS collection.
Accurate models of the NYC 70-ton 53’ 6″ AAR flatcar are also offered by Sunshine Models (see Jim Hayes’ Sunshine Models website at http://sunshinekits.com/) and ProtoWest Models (www.protowestmodels.com/). The ProtoWest kit includes two cars per kit.
NYC 628401, Lot 507-G
This model of the NYC USRA gondola clone represents an all-steel car built prior to 1928 with Murphy ends, painted in the mid-40s freight car brown scheme with black trucks. I kit bashed this model from an Intermountain USRA Composite Gondola (kit no. 41699). I removed the sides from the Intermountain car and replaced them with cast-resin sides from the Funaro and Camerlengo NYC Gondola kit (kit no. 6660 or 6601). A little shaping of the sides and ends was necessary to ensure a good fit but it was a relatively easy kit bash, and allowed me to use the crisp Intermountain kit’s detail is as many places possible.
Photo 18. NYC 628401 NYC 628401 represents one of Central’s 8,499 USRA gondola clones in series 625000-639999. NYC was assigned a large number of composite USRA cars with Murphy ends, but these the USRA clones used an all-steel, eight outside-post design that Central began to acquire in 1925. Central’s first cars were equipped with the USRA-style Murphy ends, but later series were equipped with stamped dreadnaught ends. Practically the entire fleet was rebuilt by the early 1950s with an all-new, all-steel body that featured a shallow fish belly side sill, Improved Dreadnaught ends, ARA trucks, and new AB-schedule brake gear. Photo by Kirsten Golden.
I added details per prototype photos, replacing the plastic grab irons with wire grabs from Detail Associates, and also added a Cal Scale AB brake gear set, hand-bent uncoupling devices, and Accurail ARA trucks with Reboxx No. 33-1-1.015 wheelsets. I matched the prototype’s freight car brown using Scalecoat 2 Box Car Red No. 3, and then weathered the car with Testors Russian Earth Brown and Polly Scale Light Freight Car Red.
Photo 19. NYC 66644. New York, circa 1941. Bob’s Photo.
Three versions of this car are available in HO scale from Sunshine—the original version with Murphy ends (kit no. 67.29), the original version with Dreadnaught ends (kit no. 67.30) and the late 40s rebuilt version with fish belly sides and Improved Dreadnaught ends (kit no. 67.31). In addition, models of these cars are available from Funaro and Camerlengo (kit no. 6601).
NYC 136414, Lot 717-B
This is a Westerfield model that I built this model about 12 years ago. I constructed it to the manufacturer’s specifications and then sandblasted it in a North Coast media blaster to remove any oils, glue residue, and lightly etch the surface for painting. I painted the car with a 50%-50% combination of Scalecoat Box Car Red #1 and Scalecoat Box Car Red #3, and painted the under frame and trucks Testors Flat Black. Decals are from the Westerfield kit. I applied chalk marks to this car as well; I used chalk mark decals from Sunshine Models and added additional marks using an artist’s pencil. I weathered the model to resemble a similar car seen in an early-1950s photo of a train on the AC&Y that had turned practically black with coal dust and soot. I used Testors Dark Tan to provide a light brown appearance, then various blacks and browns to provide highlights, then added chalk mark decals, hand-drawn chalk marks, and routing cards from the Sunshine placards set.
Photo 20. NYC 136414 is a model of a 1916-design all-steel box car. Central owned thousands of cars to this design in multiple lots and the cars appeared in a wide number of number series. Many were modified or rebuilt during the pre- and post-WWII era. This car is similar to the thousands of USRA all-steel box cars Central built during the same period. Photo by Kirsten Golden.
I am sincerely grateful to Ed Hawkins and Dr. Richard Hendrickson for their assistance preparing this article, and also to Rick Stoving and Noel Whittlefield for use of photographs from the NYCS Historical Society collection.