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This review is from Model Railroad News, Vol. 7, Issue 12, December 2001. Reprinted with permission of Lamplight Publishing.

ATLAS O’ FREIGHT CAR SPECTRUM

by David Otte

Articulated Auto Carrier

Retail price:  $114.95, 3 rail; $121.95, 2-rail

40’ Wood Reefer

Retail price:  $59.95, 3-rail $62.95, 2-rail

From their Steam Era Classics series to the most modern freight equipment of today, Atlas O is filling the freight car spectrum for the O gauge modeler. The 40’ Wood Reefer was the first release in the new Steam Era Classics series and has been made available in an assortment of colorful roadnames:  Erie, Santa Fe, Baby Ruth, Borden’s, Edelweiss, Grand Union, Ralston Purina, A&P, Kraft, Merchant’s Dispatch, Blatz Beer, IGA Food Stores, and undecorated. The ready-to-run billboard reefer is obtainable in both 2-rail and 3-rail versions. At the other end of the spectrum is one of the latest cars to show up on the tracks today – the Articulated Autorack. It is being produced in both 2-rail and 3-rail for TTX, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and undecorated. Four roadnumbers are available for each roadname.

THE REFRIGERATOR CAR

At one time, American consumers depended on the railroad refrigerator car to supply them with fresh produce, meat, milk, and other necessary food staples. Economically speaking, the refrigerator car was the vital link for farmers and the market place. At their peak use in the 1930s, there were more than 180,000 refrigerator cars in use.

The majority of these cars belonged to private lines, with about one third being owned by the railroads themselves. Many private car operators, like the Northern Refrigerator Car Company, lettered cars for their bigger customers whose volume of business was rewarded with free advertisement in the form of painted billboards on the refrigerator car sides. This brings us to the basic theme behind Atlas O’s Wood Reefer. Their O scale model is based on a 40’ car built by Pullman for the Northern Refrigerator Car Company in 1930.

The model measures approximately 10” over the carbody ends and features exquisite molded-on and separately applied details. The plastic body features excellent scale sized wood grain with plastic ladders, brake wheel, coupler lift bars, and roofwalk, all expertly applied. There are also metal handgrabs, a die cast metal floor, and plastic underbody details showing the fish belly style underframe and full brake gear.

The neatest features, however, are the opening roof top ice hatches and operating doors. Their hinges and latches are fully functional, yet their scale appearance does not cause them to be too delicate to work with. Atlas O has even created a die cast metal, 40-ton Bettendof style sprung truck for the car to ride on. The 3-rail version includes die cast metal couplers, and the 2-rail version features body mounted scale knuckle couplers and wheel sets.

If nothing else grabs you about these cars than the plethora of colorful paint jobs will. Atlas O never ceases to amaze me in the area of car decoration! The Baby Ruth reefer I sampled is gorgeous and flawless in execution. Not only are the yellow lettering and stripes fully opaque, their thin black outline is crisp and consistent around every curve. The paint was not applied too thick as the wood grain can be clearly seen through all the paint layers.

THE AUTORACK

While the refrigerator car was a vital part of America’s economy in the last century, another important development was being made as well – the automobile. American’s love their cars and the railroads were intertwined in the automobile’s history from the start.

The earliest ways to transporting automobiles from the factory to the rest of the country by rail used existing freight cars like boxcars, gondolas, and flat cars. It wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s that the multi-level autorack came into being. Both bi-level and tri-level autoracks came into use utilizing up to 89’ long flat cars. Eventually, concerns for protecting the automobiles from the elements prompted the railroads to attach side protection panels or screens to the outside of the cars. Subsequently, the top and ends were eventually covered as well. Thus the modern enclosed autorack was born.

Thrall Car Company has taken the modern auto rack one step further by designing a 140’ long bi-level articulated car with the versatility of handling any sport utility vehicle, light truck, van, or automobile. Two sections share a common truck with the area between the units enclosed by a flexible diaphragm bellows. Automobiles can be loaded over the articulated joint for the most efficient loading patterns. It is fully compatible with current bi-level autoracks and is completely enclosed with roof, doors and a new screening that helps control contamination or unlawful entry.

Atlas O has, once again, captured this prototype down to the last nut, bolt, and washer. Their highly detailed autorack measures about 35” in length and features two plastic car bodies with die cast metal floors connected by an adjustable simulated diaphragm.

Like their wood reefer, Atlas O has done an outstanding job of recreating accurately all the important details of the real car by way of both molded-on and applied details. The roof displays the proper rib pattern as does the sides with its simulated screen openings, although they are not see-through. Separately applied metal grab irons are located at various places over the car body and there is a ratchet style brake stand on the side end of the B unit. Full brake gear is visible on the underside as well.

The model rides atop three pairs of sprung, die cast metal, 70-ton roller bearing trucks. The highlight of this model, though, is Atlas O’s rendering of the SealSafe Radial End Doors. These are properly hinged so they rotate back into the sides giving way to the model’s interior decks. The doors even have a latching system to hold them in a closed position.

Decoration of our sample is every bit as good as that of the O scale reefer. Comparing the model to prototype photos of an actual Union Pacific operated car, I found that all the various car data text, lettering, and logos were located correctly, fully readable, and accurate. The overall paint application was smooth and void of any noticeable blemishes.

OPERATION

Both of our review samples were 3-rail versions. The reefer was tested straight out of the box and operated mid-train in a consist of assorted brand freight cars. The couplers and wheel sets functioned as they were advertised and there were no glitches. Its’ minimum operating radius is O27.

The autorack, on the other hand, does require a little assembly before it can be placed on the track. Atlas O’s articulated car is designed to run on three different curvatures: O42, O54, and O63 (or greater). Their unique design consists of a separate diaphragm unit that has the center truck attached to it. At the pivot point of the truck there are two metal tabs, which are to be connected to the underside of each car section. The tabs each have three pre-drilled holes reflecting positions for the three curvature settings. A small Phillips screwdriver is all that is needed to assemble the two halves to the diaphragm. Since our test track utilizes O54 curves, I assembled and tested the car in this manner. The Atlas O model negotiated through the layout without incident, even when traveling through S-shaped curves. Atlas O really thought this one through!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Whether you model the steam era or the current day realm of railroading, Atlas O has something for every O gauge modeler. They are seriously working on closing the gap in available O scale freight car models. I highly recommend these cars to my follow O gaugers, and I offer a word of warning to their competition: Atlas O has not only pulled ahead of the pack, but is in the lead by several yards!

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