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Atlas O’s new Trainman Line: A better deal on freight cars

Review and Photos by David Otte

Sliding-door Boxcar; Plug-door Boxcar; Stock Car; Gondola; and Caboose, MSRP 3-rail: $39.95, 2-rail: $42.95

Atlas O, LLC
378 Florence Av • Hillside, NJ 07205
908-687-9590 • Fax: 908-687-6282

As one of the editors here at Model Railroad News, it is my job to observe and report on the happenings within the model railroading community. Lately, one question in particular has been popping up in discussions among model railroaders, both at the local hobby shop level and on the many Internet forums — is our hobby becoming too expensive?

Nowhere is this topic more prevalent than in O gauge. The average plastic ready-to-run O-scale freight car is starting to hit the $70 mark and diesel locomotives are hovering around $500. How did we get to these seemingly outrageous prices you ask?

Actually, we did it to ourselves. Sure the price of plastic has gone up and labor costs are always on the rise, but over the last decade, O gaugers have been demanding more accurate scale sized models embellished with separately applied details, prototypical paint schemes, digital sound, and command control. The manufacturers have been more than happy to accommodate our requests and we are certainly paying for them. Now this is all okay if your pocket book can stand it, but there are plenty of modelers out there who are new to the hobby or who are on a limited budget and can’t make this kind of investment. There must be an alternative to these higher cost models or this hobby could be doomed in the not too distant future.

Luckily, Atlas O has had the foresightedness to address this growing concern and has come up with a solution. They call it TRAINMAN. I call it the great train compromise. The Trainman product line endeavors to deliver high quality, detailed models at a much more affordable price level. How would you like O-scale freight cars that are $20 to $30 cheaper then Atlas O’s current Big O Rolling Stock, yet have the same great decoration and features for which Atlas O products are famous? Well then, just read on….

Enter Trainman

The initial Trainman offerings include a sliding-door boxcar, a plugdoor boxcar, stock car, gondola, and caboose. There are several characteristics common to all the new releases. Each has a one-piece plastic carbody shell with crisp molded-in details such as hand grabs and rivets, along with stirrup steps on the revenue service equipment. Obviously, some of these molded-in details might have been hand applied on the more expensive models, but the Trainman cars show such good relief that they do not detract from their appearance at all when placed next to any other scale sized O-gauge freight car model. However, there are still some nice add-on details present as well, and they are designed to be a bit more durable in construction than on the higher price models. These include: plastic roofwalks, ladders, brake platforms, brake wheels, and tack boards. Like their Big O Rolling Stock brethren, the Trainman cars ride on the same metal trucks and wheel sets. The 2-rail versions are equipped with Atlas  O’s Kadee compatible magnetic operating knuckle coupler, and 3-rail cars have their truck mounted die-cast metal knuckle couplers with air hose detail and provisions for conversion to the Adjust-O-Coupler System (sold separately).

Now, for those of us who have been in the hobby for a while, these freight cars bear a striking resemblance to the O-scale 2-rail cars the Atlas Company offered back in the 1970s and 1980s. While they are not from the same tooling, the new cars were patterned after these previous products, which, I might add, are currently still considered to be very nice models in their own right. I happened to have one of the older Atlas boxcars and a stock car on hand, which allowed me to do a quick comparison between the two product lines. First of all, unlike the originals, Trainman rolling stock is available for both 3-rail and 2-rail layouts. Secondly, I discovered that the Trainman cars featured different weighted underframes that still exhibit realistic details, but are slightly recessed into the underbody, allowing for greater truck and coupler swing as required for operation on 3-rail track.

The new cars also have see-through roofwalks and brake platforms as well as displaying much, much better paint and lettering applications. Furthermore, I noticed that the new stock car had wood grain detail on the horizontal car side slates that was not present on the older Atlas stock car. Finally, I found that the new models utilize die-cast metal trucks and couplers and blackened metal wheel sets, rather than the plastic truck components of the older offerings, greatly improving their overall operational weight.

At this point, having established that these are truly new models and that they have been designed with their more durable details for the budget minded operator, we can now look at the particular attributes of these Trainman cars where Atlas O has been un-compromising in their production: accurate and proficient decoration. To better see these elements, we need to take a more in-depth look at each style of car being offered. Keep in mind though, that these are by their design generic cars to a degree and not every detail will match the specific prototype railroad freight car it is supposed to represent. There are just too many variations in the real world. However, Atlas O sure gets darn close, as you will soon see.

Some Samples

The 40-foot sliding-door boxcar appears to be based on the 1944
Association of American Railroads (AAR) standard design as built by American Car & Foundry (ACF). It exhibits a diagonal roof pattern, 10-panel riveted sides, 8-foot sliding door, and early improved dreadnaught ends designated by freight car experts as R+3/4. The general scale dimensions of the Trainman boxcar match the prototype’s measurements within a 3 scale inch tolerance — a reasonable expectation for a generic model. Thousands of these boxcars were built from the late 1940s on, and wore many different roadnames. Our review sample in particular came decorated for a Pennsy car number 602111.

It is interesting to note that Atlas O just didn’t randomly choose any 40-foot boxcar of the Pennsylvania Railroad to replicate; especially a road known for their many unique and in-house built freight car designs. As usual, the manufacturer researched the PRR rosters and accurately picked a X43A class car. Numbered 60200 – 603499, these 1,500 boxcars, delivered between December 1950 and February 1951, were some of the few cars built by ACF for the Pennsy and were based on an AAR design. The model displays the as delivered paint scheme with the circle keystone as used by the PRR until early 1954. Other roadnames being offered include: Atlantic Coast Line, Burlington, Rock Island, Union Pacific, Bangor & Aroostook, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie (NYC), and Reading.

Next is the 40-foot plug-door boxcar, which shares the same dimensions plus end and roof detail as the sliding-door boxcar, but displays 10-panel welded sides and a non-functioning plug door. This style car was typically classed as an insulated boxcar with an official AAR designation of RBL, which stood for refrigerator car without ice bunkers and with load retaining devices. The use of a plug door insured a tight car seal. Usually, these cars carried perishables such as boxed dry foods or canned goods that needed some protection from extreme temperatures, but did not require refrigeration. Atlas O is offering this car decorated for American Refrigerator Transit, Cotton Belt, New York Central, PRR, Fruit Growers Express, Jersey Central, Santa Fe, and Northern Pacific. Our sample came in the striking colors of this later northwestern railroad. The Northern Pacific had 50 of these 50-ton RBLs numbered 98500 – 98549. They were built at NP’s Brainerd shops in October 1958. Atlas O has captured the NPs paint scheme very well including the famous monad herald and the cursive style “Compartmentizer” logo on the door.

In a like manner, the stock car also uses the same ends and roof as the previous two cars. As with most stock cars, this model is based on a standard 40-foot boxcar design, with steel side bracing that angle away from the 6-foot wide door (non-functioning on the model), and see-through slats, which display a nice wood grain finish. Lettering boards have been hand applied to the models where appropriate for the prototype railroad. We received two samples of this car, one lettered up for the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the other in the bright vermilion red of a Great Northern livestock service car. The D&RGW built its final 100 stock cars of its SF series, numbered 36400 –36499, in 1955, but unlike the Atlas O Trainman model, they were double deck cars. While the O-scale car does not display the second floor or split sliding door, the lettering correctly displays a small “D” next to the car number denoting this arrangement. However, the model does more closely match the GN car number 56377 of the 56325 – 56469 series. These single deck cars were rebuilt by the railroad from 45000 – 52999 series boxcars in 1959. Also available are stock cars painted up for the Chesapeake & Ohio, CP Rail, Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and Missouri Kansas Texas.

Now to the most utilitarian of freight cars — the Trainman gondola. It is based on a standard 70-ton, 52-foot 6-inch inside length car as built by ACF, but many other car builders constructed very similar appearing gons as well. These particular cars were of riveted steel
construction and outfitted with wood plank floors and would have usually been equipped with drop ends. Likewise, the O-gauge model follows these details right down to the wood grain finish on the simulated planked floor and has generally accurate scale dimensions, but lacks the cost prohibitive, functioning drop ends. An additional detail only found on this car, as well as on the sliding-door boxcar, is the molded-in trust plates on either car side, which state, “The First National Bank of The City of New York Agent,
Owner.” The gondolas are available in the colors of the Chessie System, Conrail, Lehigh Valley, Southern, Union Pacific, and, as displayed here, the Reading. This GHm class car numbered 33174 was one of 500 gondolas (33000 – 33499) built in 1951 by the Bethlehem Steel Company. The Trainman model also has a Reading re-shop date of November 1963 noted on
it. These black painted cars with the large “R E A D I N G” painted on the car sides remained in service well after the Conrail takeover of the railroad in 1976.

Finally, and most fittingly for our new Trainman consist, is the caboose. This O-gauge crummie follows the International Car Company’s standard Extended Vision caboose plans with an all welded steel constructed carbody, which first appeared in the 1950s. In addition to the Trainman details mentioned earlier, the EV caboose has a separately molded off-center cupola, addon smokejack, clear window glazing, and interior illumination that can be controlled with an ON/OFF switch located on the underside of the car — a nice little bonus at no extra charge! There are also separately applied end railings, rooftop ladder extensions, a tool box slung beneath, and the platforms and steps display steel f loor
grating detail, although it is not see through. The Trainman caboose, with its scale 30-foot 6-inch long carbody, represents just one of the many possible variations built by International Car. Depending on what the customer wanted, the builder could construct cabooses of different lengths, with various window openings, and with the cupolas centered or offset. Atlas O has once again tried to match suitable roadnames to their generic Ogauge hack where possible. Current roadnames being offered include: Chessie System, Conrail, Norfolk Southern, UP, C&O, Chicago & North Western, Cotton Belt, and Santa Fe. Our samples came decorated for 2-rail and 3- rail versions of these last two roads. The Cotton Belt purchased 45 of these cabooses from International Car in two groups, 1 – 25 in 1959 and 26 – 45 in 1963. These cars would later be classified in 1968 by the Cotton Belt’s parent company Southern Pacific as C-40-8s and C-40-9s. Our number 40 wears the later (1980s) standard SP color scheme of mineral red with Daylight orange ends rather than the as-delivered bright red paint with yellow handrails. Meanwhile, our Santa Fe waycar number 999712 represents one of 50 in the CE-8 class (numbers 999700 – 999749) built at International Car’s Kenton, Ohio shops in 1978. While the O-gauge model has roofwalks and end ladders, the real Santa Fe Extended Vision cars were built without either and, instead, had additional grab irons oriented up each side of the waycar to clean the
cupola end windows.

Overall, I can declare that there were no cost-cutting measures taken in the decoration category — that is for sure. Each of our samples not only wore a well-researched paint scheme, but also lacked any blemishes in the paint or lettering. The assorted railroad graphics were duplicated with the same precision and sharpness as can be found on Atlas O’s higher end freight cars. Bolstering this fantastic decoration is the fact that each freight car is available in two different road numbers so you can enjoy twice as many cars in
your favorite paint scheme. On the track, the cars are winners too. I checked all of our samples, both 2- rail and 3-rail, on our test layouts and am happy to report that I didn’t encounter any operational problems. The cars setup for 2-rail managed to run through minimum radius curves of 36 inches without a problem and the same went for the 3-rail cars operation on minimum O31 curves. While I found that even the 13.25 inch long gondola
maneuvered through Lionel’s traditional curves and number O22 switches as well, I must warn operators that the car does overhang these tight curves enough that it could come in contact with buildings or scenery located close to the track. Regarding car weights, only the two boxcars appeared to be weighted correctly based on their length following NMRA specifications. The gondola, stock car, and caboose were a half of an ounce or more under, but their performance on the rail did not seem to be hampered at all by this discrepancy. Finally, the wheel sets on both the 2-rail and 3-rail trucks on all of our sample cars were all free rolling and the couplers worked as advertised.

Final Thoughts

In the final analysis, we have five freight cars that are built to O-scale proportions, but on the minus side lack the number of delicate details found on higher priced rolling stock. Yet, this in turn makes them more durable for operators, another plus. Then there is also the fact that these models all share the same great diecast metal trucks and quality paint jobs of their higher end counterparts, a big plus. Further adding to the pro side of the list is Atlas O’s intention to carry an inventory of all these cars so they will always be available to your local dealer, unlike the limited quantities of the premium cars currently being produced. Last, but not least, at $39.95 to $42.95 each, you can easily purchase one and half to two times as many of the Trainman cars as you can the current scale
offerings from many of the other Ogauge manufacturers. Bottom line: these are fantastic bargains !

Trainman appears to me to be an effective means by which O gauge in particular can continue to f lourish. But wait, that’s not all. There are Trainman locomotives as well and, in an upcoming issue, we’ll present Atlas O’s f irst diesel-electric in this series — the Alco RSD 4/5.

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