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This review appeared in O Gauge Railroading Magazine, August, 1998. Reproduced with permission of The Myron J. Biggar Group.

ACF 33,000 Gallon Tank Car
Atlas O Continues to Innovate

Product Review by Barry Lewis

Atlas O ACF 33,000-gallon tank car: plastic freight car with internal weight; die-cast metal sprung trucks and couplers; supplied ready for 3-rail operation but convertible to 2-rail with optional retrofit kit (wheelsets and couplers); minimum curve 054 (but see text below); length 16"; weight 1 pound, 6 ounces; available road names include Suburban Propane, Union Texas Petroleum, Pyrofax Gas, Royster, Technical Propellants, and ACFX; retail price $52.95; 2-rail retrofit kit $12.95; manufactured in China by Atlas O LLC, 603 Sweetland Ave, Hillside NJ 07205; phone 908-687-9590, fax 908-687-6282; web site:

At Atlas O, the new kid on the O gauge block, the motto seems to be "Whatever we do, let’s not make it ordinary." This second offering in Atlas’ line of freight cars is both longer and more detailed than most of what we’re used to seeing in 3-rail freight trains.

The prototype for this car is a 33,000-gallon tank car built by American Car and Foundry (ACF) in the mid-1960s to haul liquefied petroleum gas or anhydrous ammonia. Many can still be found in service today. As opposed to older tank cars in which the tank rides on a metal frame, these cars are a modern "frameless" type. The tank itself forms the main structure, and the trucks an couplers are fastened to short frames at each end.

In order to squeeze the maximum load capacity from the allowable car height and width, the builders designed a two-diameter tanks often referred to as a "whalebelly." The tank is small in diameter over the trucks and expands to a larger diameter between them. In case you’re wondering, the "dome" on this car is properly called a pressure manway.

When initially built between 1963 and 1969, whalebellies were often decorated flamboyantly with company logos. More recently, however, public relations concerns about cars carrying potentially dangerous cargos have led to subdued paint schemes. Although similar tankers were produced by at least three other builders, the ACF cars had the most complex and interesting end ladders – which made them a great choice for Atlas to model. By the end of the sixties, car building technology had moved on to even more modern straight tank designs, and production of whalebellies had ended.

These long, slim 64’ cars stand out in any freight train, especially in O gauge where most model cars are the standard 40’ and 50’ lengths. As with its earlier covered hopper (reviewed) in Run 160, August 1998), Atlas has done an incredible job of modeling the see-through metal walkways on top of these cars. In addition, the distinctive handrails on top of the walkways are beautifully reproduced. And although they’re very delicate-looking, the handrails are molded in a flexible plastic that bounces back into shape when accidentally bent.

End platforms and ladders also exhibit fine detail, including separately applied grab irons. Perhaps the only compromise in this car is the underframe brake piping, which is molded into the tank rather than being separate parts. All in all, Atlas has again given us a car with nearly the same level of detail as a brass model at a fraction of the cost.

In painting and lettering, Atlas is also pushing the envelope. Paint is flawlessly applied, and even the smallest lettering is crisp and readable (bring your magnifier!). Most impressive is the presence of lettering often omitted on models: on the tank ends, various end frame members, and even on the brake air reservoir (small round tank under the middle of the car) on some road names. Atlas has also supplied decals for the diamond-shaped hazard placards required on most tank cars: red for liquefied gas and green for ammonia.

Trucks are the same 100-ton roller bearing-type as on the Atlas hopper reviewed in Run 160. They roll freely, and the couplers stay coupled, even when the car is at the head of a heavy train.

We ran two tankers at the head of an 11-car train of metal 72’ passenger cars and experienced no accidental uncouplings.

The car also rides prototypically low on its trucks, in contrast to many 3-rail cars which ride high to enable the coupler to swing under the car on tight curves. The tradeoff, however, is that this car is not designed for standard O31 curves and switches. In our tests, the inboard car wheels scraped the underbody on O42 curves, so I’ve listed the next size up, O54, as the minimum radius.

However, some trimming of the end frame members where the wheels scrape them will allow the car to negotiate O42 curves. Since the trimmed area is under the car in an area painted black and hidden by the trucks, no one will notice, especially if you touch up the area with a dab of black paint.

The car is weighted to 1 pound, 6 ounces, just 2 ounces more than the Atlas hopper. I’d have preferred to have had the tanker just a bit heavier than the shorter cars. However, it did track beautifully in our tests, both forward and backward at the head of a heavy train, sandwiched between the locomotive and 11 metal passenger cars.

In sum, if you’re modeling a freight operation in any era from the ‘60s to today and you have wide enough curves, you’ll probably find these cars hard to resist. The prototype is attractive and out-of-the-ordinary, and Atlas’ model offers a phenomenal level of detail and decoration, as well as smooth, reliable running, at a reasonable price.

Prototype information for this review was gleaned from articles by David Casdorph and James Kincaid in the May 1997 issue of Mainline Modeler.

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