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 MODEL RAILROAD NEWS – November 2003

 Review by David Otte

 Freight Cars
USRA Single Sheathed Boxcar
MSRP:  $49.95 (3-rail), $52.95 (2-rail)

89-foot 4-inche Intermodal Flatcar
MSRP:  $69.95 (3-rail), $74.95 (2-rail)

 36-foot Wood Refrigerator Car
MSRP:  $59.95 (3-rail), $62.95 (2-rail)

 Steel Rebuilt Boxcar
MSRP:  $49.95 (3-rail), $54.95 (2-rail)

 Atlas O, LLC
378 Florence Avenue
Hillside, NJ  07205

 The car builder shops have been very busy at the Hillside, New Jersey plant of Atlas O. In the past year they have greatly broadened the variety of freight cars that O gauge modelers have to choose from.  Our roundup review touches on only four of these newer releases and lists the roadnames the cars have been decorated for at the time this article was written. As Atlas O is adding new roadnames and roadnumbers to their product line all the time, check out their web sits at for the most up to date releases.

 Specifically, we will be taking a brief look at three Steam Era Classics cars as well as a more modern era piece – all set up for 3-rail track. The USRA Single Sheathed boxcar, the Steel Rebuilt boxcar of USRA heritage, the 36-foot Meatpackers Reefer, and the 89-foot 4-inch Intermodal flatcar have several things in common despite their being from different railroad timelines. First, all of the cars have a similar construction with die cast floors or chassis, and plastic or metal add-on detail parts. This assortment of cars rides on die cast metal trucks which feature metal wheels and axles, real coil springs, and brake shoe details. Mounted to the 3-rail trucks are die cast metal operating knuckle couplers and plastic air hoses (2-rail versions receive Kadee style boy mounted couplers and scale wheel sets). The cars also display complete underbody details such the center sill and floor framing, plus full brake gear with cylinders, air reservoir tanks, valves, and linkage are visible.

 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, the cars general dimensions appear to be accurate when compared to published drawings of these subjects. A has been the case with past Atlas O rolling stock, all measurements recording within my usual level of tolerance of plus or minus 1 scale inch.

 Besides these freight cars being true to 1/48 scale, they also have another one of Atlas O’s notable attributes – outstanding decoration. I could find no flaws in the application of paint or graphics on our samples. They are simply examples of some of the best paint jobs in the industry! Also, the paint schemes all appear to follow their respective prototype road’s paint and lettering practices.

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

 The USRA Boxcars

The United States Railroad Administration was formed in late 1917 to aid this country’s over taxed railroad system as they coped with the new demands a world war was placing on them. One of the biggest tasks of this new administration was to come up with standardized designs of railroad equipment that could be built quickly to boost the war efforts on the home front. The single sheathed boxcar was one of these designs and the government ordered 25, 000 of them. Although the war was over by the time the last of the boxcars were delivered, the single sheathed boxcar was a good design and many railroads copied it is the years following the war.

 Atlas O has made allowances for the as built and USRA copies by offering their version of the single sheathed car with two different steel ends as well as wood or steel side doors. Our sample represents a USRA copy built in 1923 by American Car & Foundry for the Chicago & North Western Railway. While the USRA as-built boxcars were constructed with 5-5-5 ends (three panels with five horizontal protruding ribs each), the model shows the variation with a 7-8 steel end. The C&NW car is also equipped with accurate Andrews trucks.

 The USRA boxcars lasted for many years in service with some of the wood sided cars still in Maintenance of Way service in the 1960s. However, many of the cars went through a rebuilding phase before and after the Second World War where by the ends, roof, and frame were reused, but new steel sides and doors replaced the old wooden ones. Atlas O is also offering a model representing this final stage of the USRS style boxcar.

 Our O scale steel rebuilt boxcar was decorated for the Great Northern with 7-8 steel ends, steel side door, and Bettendorf trucks. Many variations existed within the classification of steel rebuilt USRA cars, and way too numerous for a manufacturer to include all in tooling for one car. So this model is really general representation of the species and not necessarily 100% correct for every roadname. A couple of items I will point out though, are that the side walls with their four panels per each half side was typical of the rebuilt cars as is the newer AB style brake system. On the other hand, the usual spotting feature of a rebuilt USRA style car is that the new sides extend out past the side sills and this important characteristic is not modeled on the Atlas O sample. The side sills did have indication of the sill brackets, though, which on the prototype extended out from the existing side sills to the new steel walls. In particular, the GN car represents a rebuilt car as it appeared after 1960 when the railroad adopted the Glacier Green scheme with a free standing Rocky and the roadname in red slant serif.

 The single sheathed boxcar has been released in multiple roadnumbers for:  Baltimore & Ohio, Burlington, New York Central, Pennsylvania, Southern Pacific, Jersey Central, Norfolk & Western, Reading, and Western Maryland. Our C&NW model was a limited edition. The rebuilt steel boxcars are obtainable in several roadnumbers for the Chicago & Northwestern, Great Northern, New York Central, Pennsylvania, Union Pacific and a limited edition car decorated for Susquehanna. Undecorated models are also available.

 36 Foot Refrigerator Car

Another Steam Era Classic now available from Atlas O is a 36-foot wood refrigerator car commonly used in the meatpacking business and referred to as a Meat Reefer. These cars are mainly used to haul meat from the huge central slaughter houses in Chicago, Kansas City, and East St. Louis to the regional distribution houses where it was processed for delivery to the local markets. The 36-foot long wood car with bunkers at each end for ice had become the standard for meat reefers by the early 1920s. It is interesting to note that the meat reefer changed little from the turn of the century through World War II. They remained this same length as most meat packing plants were designed for 36-foot cars and meat shipments seldom required larger cars. Their main construction material remained wood rather than converting to steel due to the corrosiveness of the brine that formed in the bunkers where ice and salt were used to maintain cool temperatures. However, the truss rod underframes did give way to steel center sills eventually and modern trucks and brake gear were used as well. Meat reefers were operated by all the major meat packing companies like Swift and Company, Armour, Wilson, and Cudahy as well as through leasers such as General American Transportation Corporation, Union Refrigerator Transit Lines, National Car Company, and North American Car Company. Many of these wood cars could still be seen in use well into the 1960s.

 The Atlas O 36-foot reefer is a rendering of a common meatpackers car as built for the Cudahy Packing Company by General American Car Company in 1925. Our review sample came beautifully decorated for a car in service with the Swift Refrigerator Line specifically as it appeared during World War II. Advertising “Buy More War Bonds,” the car is quite colorful in its red, white and blue paint and large “V” for victory on the opening doors, which are complete with working hardware. Even the ice hatches on the roof have working latches and open. Equipped with KC style brake gear, vertical brake wheel staff, and Bettendorf trucks, the Atlas O meat reefer is typical for this class of car as in service during the late steam/early diesel era.

 Atlas O has released these cars in undecorated as well as decorated fro:  Cudahy, Decker, Eagle Beer, Hormel, Oscar Meyer, and Swift. The “War Bonds” issue is a limited edition.

 89 Foot 4 Inch Intermodal Flatcar

Certainly the oddball in the group, the intermodal flatcar is from the modern era of freight cars, and it is a monster. Measuring 22.375 inches long over the end sills, the Atlas O model is a scaled down version of a widely used intermodal car. Developed in the early 1960s as a piggyback trailer service was on the rise and trailers were increasing in length, the 89-foot flatcar became a staple for Trailer Train, as well as many of the large railroad companies. Built by American Car & Foundry, Bethlehem Steel Car, General American Transportation, and Pullman-Standard, many of these flatcars are still in service today. The Atlas O model is based on the ACF constructed cars as produced throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. This design features a beveled side sill, flush-deck, collapsible hitches, bridge plates, and moveable stowaway container pedestals. Trailer Train designated thee cars TTAX from 1968-1987 and then TTWX when this car series was upgraded to carry 45-foot trailers and the bridge plates were removed. Our sample carried the TTWX reporting marks and showed a built date of 1979.

 Unlike the previous mentioned Steam Era Classic Freight cars, which can negotiate O-31 diameter curves, this O gauge flatcar requires a minimum diameter of no less than 72-inches. While it is ready to run car, there are a few details that the consumer will need to add after removing it from the packaging. First of all, if you are modeling the cars as built, Atlas O has included end ramps to be attached to the flatcar chassis. This represents the time period when the loading and unloading was done by driving the trailers onto the flatcars. As overhead cranes became more popular, the ramps were discarded starting in the early 1980s. Also, there are separately applied hitches that can be positioned in several spots on the car. Since the cars are designed to carry 45-foot trailers, the Atlas O trailers will look good on the flatcar and the proper hitch locations are provided for these trailers in the instructions. Finally, four plastic end steps needed to be added. All these separately applied parts are a good press fit and no gluing is necessary. The only drawback to this accurately portrayed model is its size and modelers with small layouts will not be able to enjoy operating this rather common piece of freight equipment. Atlas O is also offering this flatcar lettered for the Great Northern, Providence & Worchester, Santa Fe, Southern and undecorated.

 Final Thoughts

As an O gauger, I used to take a ribbing from some of my associates who were “scale modelers” taunting me about my “toy trains” that ran on non-prototypical track. Well, having seen these freight cars, not to mention the handful of locomotives Atlas O has released in the last five or six years, their comments have become a bit less negative and more like “boy, I wish I had the space for an O gauge layout.” Yeah, we still run on a 3-rail track, but with products like these freight cars from Atlas O on the rails, who pays attention to the track!



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