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Review by David Otte

50-Ton War Emergency Hopper, MSRP: $49.95 (3-rail), $52.95 (2-rail)
50-Foot PS-1 Double Door Boxcar, MSRP: $59.95 (3-rail), $62.95 (2-rail)
NE-6 Caboose, MSRP: $69.95 (3-rail), $74.95 (2-rail)

Atlas O, LLC
3789 Florence Avenue
Hillside, NJ 07205

The industrious little car shop at Atlas O has been at it again. The O gauge manufacturer has released more classic rolling stock for the discerning 1/48 scale modeler. This time around, Atlas O is offering models of a 50-ton War Emergency Hopper rebuilt with steel sides, the familiar 50-foot PS-1 Double Door boxcar, and a centered cupola NE-6 type caboose. As usual, these freight car models will be available ready-to-run for both 2-rail and 3-rail. While 3-rail cars will have traditional tinplate wheelsets and operating, articulated knuckle couplers, the 2-rail versions will have scale wheelsets and Kadee compatible scale-sized couplers.

Before we get into the particulars of each design, all of the Atlas O Big O Rolling Stock has several things in common. First of all, our review samples were all set up for 3-rail operation which includes die-cast metal trucks, metal tinplate wheelsets, and die-cast metal magnetic operating knuckle couplers. The trucks are accented with brake shoes and real coil springs (boxcar and hopper only, caboose trucks modeled with leaf springs), and the couplers include air hoses.

Second, all of the cars have a similar construction with die-case floors or chassis, and plastic or metal add-on detail parts such as hand grabs, ladders, and brake wheels. The cars also display complete underbody details such as the center sill and floor framing, plus full brake gear with cylinders, air reservoir tanks, valves, and linkage visible.

Third, the tooling on these cars is excellent and all the components, whether they are injection molded or die-cast, are of very high quality. Consistent with this character and under closer scrutiny, the cars’ overall dimensions appear to be accurate when compared to published drawings of these subjects.

Finally, besides theses freight cars being true to 1/48 scale, they have one of Atlas O’s most notable attributes – outstanding decoration. Flawless, smooth paint application and laser sharp graphics is how I would describe the appearance of all three freight car samples. Of course, hand in hand with decoration quality comes the responsibility of its being accurate too. Again, Atlas O is a master at research and as far as I could determine, the paint schemes our samples wore all appeared to follow their respective prototype railroad’s paint and lettering practices right down to the car data stenciling.

While all the freight cars resemble members of the well-established Atlas O family of products, each has in individual prototype making them interesting in their own right.

50-Ton War Emergence Hopper
When the war broke out with the Axis powers in late 1941, the railroads along with car builders had already been working together on setting up standard designs for rolling stock in an effort to save material usage and manpower during a war emergency. The biggest issue at hand was the steel shortage as almost all such materials were being diverted to the military.

In September of 1942, at the request of the War Production Board, the Association of American Railroad’s Car Construction Committee in collaboration with the Freight Design Committee of the American Railway Car Institute prepared seven emergency standard designs of composite open top freight cars utilizing wood to the greatest possible extent. While these cars would not be equivalent to standard steel car designs, they would provide satisfactory service for the emergency period. Furthermore, the committees felt that the cars could be strengthened by steel once the war was over.

One of these seven designs was the 50-ton two-bay hopper. The car was based on the dimensions of the standard AAR 50-ton offset-side hopper and had a 1970 cubic foot capacity level when full. The car would be constructed with a steel frame, ends, and hopper with wood sides and upper flooring. Fir and Southern Pine were the wood most commonly used with planks specified as 2-3/8 x 7-1/4 inch square edge or shiplapped. This design saved roughly two tons of metal per car! The railroads did have their choice of options though, including the type of trucks used, handbrakes, airbrake systems, brake beams, and hopper door latches. It is estimated that somewhere between 10,000 – 20,000 fifty-ton Composite Hoppers were constructed by the end of the war in 1945.

A highlight of this composite construction however, was that designers, realizing the wood cars would not last as long as all steel hoppers, made provisions in the car plans for the wood sides and floors to be replaced with steel side sheathing and floor sheets with a minimum amount of work. By the time the war was starting to wind down in early 1945, and with the American war machine geared up to such a high production level, the war production board allowed additional steel to be released for railroad use. From the late 1940s through the end of the 1950s, many railroads begin to rebuilt their war emergency two-bay hoppers with steel. These rebuilds would remain in service on many railroads well into the 1970s.

Highlighting the Atlas O rebuilt composite hopper are several features. At the top of the list is the die-cast metal body. While our other freight car subjects have plastic superstructures, the hopper is almost 100 percent metal with only the interior lining molded in plastic. Speaking of the inside of the car, it too is detailed so there is no problem running it as an empty car. Nevertheless, Atlas O does provide a plastic coal load packaged separately from the car. The hopper rides on the appropriate Bettendorf style trucks. Rounding off the list are functioning sprung hopper doors and the ability for the 9.75 inch long car to negotiate O-27 curves.

Our war emergency car came decorated in mineral brown for a GA-60 class Santa Fe car. Falling into the series 180600 – 180799, car number 180655 was built in 1943 by Pullman Standard and rebuilt with steel in the mid to late 1950s. The ATSF eventually took delivery of 400 composite hoppers during the Second World War and still had over 100 of them, albeit rebuilt with steel on their roster in the fall of 1972.

Other roadnames currently being offered include: Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Southern, Wabash, as well as an undecorated model. Each of the decorated cars will be available with four different roadnumbers.

The PS-1 Double Door Boxcar
While the War Emergency Hopper generally represents a freight car design created in the steam era, the Pullman 50-foor PS-1 boxcar is typical of general revenue freight service through the end of the Twentieth Century.

Following World War II, Pullman-Standard introduced a new standard design for boxcars labeled the PS-1. While at first this design was used to produce 40-foot cars, the increasing demand for larger boxcars caused Pullman to adapt the PS-1 design to a 50-foot boxcar. Production of the 50-foot length cars began in 1949 and would carry through to 1967. About 52,000 PS-1 types would be produced by Pullman for railroads across the United States.

The appearance and design features of the cars were fairly consistent up until 1961. Variations that did exist included optimal 8-, 9-, and 15 foot door openings as well as the type of door used: Youngstown, Superior, or Pullman Standard doors. During 1961, however, changes occurred in the production of the PS-1. The Hydroframe-60 cushion underframe was introduced which increased the overall length of the car, coupler-to-coupler, from four to six feet over the conventional underframe. Another change that was readily apparent were short ladders replacing the earlier PS-1’s grab irons on the lower left side of the cars and those that were on the lower side of each end.

The Atlas O Double Door PS-1 is expressly modeling the pre-1961 cars with the more typical welded steel sides and 15-foot door openings utilizing either Youngstown or Pullman Standard style doors depending on the prototype. Our cleanly assembled sample, decorated for the Chicago & Eastern Illinois, was correctly equipped with the later style doors as well as 50-ton, friction bearing Bettendorf style trucks (70-ton roller bearing trucks also used on models if called for by prototype). Other aspects of the O scale PS-1 include sliding doors, which allows the modeler a glimpse of the simulated, wood planked interior flooring, and a see-though etched metal roofwalk.

C&EI number 5 311 was one of 23 PS-1s (5307 – 5329) delivered in 1959. Our sample wore the as-delivered paint scheme. The C&EI would eventually roster some 162 of the 50-foot double door Pullman-built boxcars. In addition to this paint scheme and the usual undecorated offering, Atlas O is decorating cars in the colors of the Chesapeake & Ohio, New Haven, Rio Grande, and Southern with two roadnumbers available for each of thee railroads.

The only anomaly I encountered with our sample was that according to Atlas O’s web site, the 50-foot PS-1 cars are supposed to be able to negotiate O31 curves. Unfortunately, the 14-inch long sample did not roll very smoothly on our O31 test track, hanging up o the traditional diameter Lionel curves and switches. Running the cars on O42 track fared better, but they ran and looked the best on O54 curves.

The NE-6 Caboose
Trailing this short consist of new O scale rolling stock, is an all steel, center cupola caboose. Atlas O has based this model on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad’s NE-6 class cabooses. International Railway Car & Equipment Company of Kenton, Ohio built 75 of these hacks for the railroad in 1947 and 1948. This class is similar in appearance to the railroad’s older NE-5 class, but they are about a foot longer in length. The cars were constructed of welded and riveted steel, were fully insulated throughout, and wood-lined. Weighing in at 47,000 pounds, the NE-6s measured about 34 feet over the striker plates and had an 18-foot 8-inch wheelbase. Numbered C-630 to C-709, some of these New Haven crummies later saw service with the Penn Central, which took over the New Haven in 1968. Ultimately, the remnants of these cabooses would end up on mainline service under Conrail.

However, in time, many smaller roads rostered examples of the NE-6 fleet too. Checking through several caboose photo albums, I found these cabins lettered for these roads: New York, Susquehanna & Western; Pittsburgh & Lake Erie; Monongahela; Pittsburgh, Chartiers & Youghiogheny; Pittsburgh & Shawmut; and Raritan River.

Of special note is the very similar looking Nickel Plate caboose as our review sample came decorated for this prototype. Referred to as the 700 series cabooses, the Nickel Plate received their first all-steel cabooses from the Wheeling & Lake Erie who had constructed these cars at their Ironville, Ohio shops in the late 1940s and early 1951. Apparently the W&E designers liked the New Haven’s NE-6 cabins, as the 700 series are almost dead ringers for them. The most obvious difference is the placement of the side windows with the Nickel Plate’s being on the outer most riveted panels and the New Haven’s on the second and their side panels. Also, the window openings appear to be slightly different in size, the roof construction is dissimilar, and the Nickel Plate cabooses have three platform steps to the New Haven’s two steps. The two cars’ overall measurements and wheelbase length, however, are almost exactly the same.

While everything else about the Atlas O NE-6 is correct for the New Haven, they have tooled new sides with the Nickel Plate window arrangement allowing them to render these crummies as well. The Nickel Plate 700 series eventually ended up on the Norfolk & Western roster as their class C8 and C9 cars after its take over in 1964.

There are several special features that stand out on this 9.75-inch long O scale model. First, there are the swing motion trucks equipped with elliptic springs and roller bearings representative of those on the prototype supplied by the Standard Car Truck Company. Next, Atlas O has provided a full car interior for their hack including a hand-pointed conductor seated in the cupola. Even the end doors open, revealing a wooden planked style floor and light green painted interior. For the finale, Atlas O has provided three actual working miniature wall-mounted kerosene lamps in the car interior offering the ultimate visual effect for simulated nighttime operations. The lights work off of track voltage picked up through the trucks. An on-off switch is located under the carbody. The minimum diameter curve for this model is O-36.

Atlas O is offering the NE-6 in either undecorated form or decorated for several roadnames, and where appropriate, offers some cars with two different roadnumbers. Original released schemes include: New Haven, Nickel Plate, Norfolk & Western, Penn Central, Susquehanna, Raritan River, and Monongahela. Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, Clinchfield, and Morristown & Erie cabooses followed in the second release.

Final Thoughts
O gauge modelers are certainly being spoiled by this manufacturer. Not only are they giving us, nicely-crafted, well-researched, and superbly-decorated cars, Atlas O is offering an unprecedented variety of rolling stock types from both stream and diesel eras. Their commitment to 1/48 scale is inspiring. Check out their full line of Big O Rolling Stock at your local hobby shop or on the web at Tell them Model Railroad News sent you!




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