Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Improving LBF Hi-cube Boxcars - Part 1

LBF Hi-cube boxcars aren’t particularly well-liked by modellers and for good reasons. Back in the days, they offered a decent alternative to populate modern layouts, but the sheer lack in details, less than optimal construction and overall look has rendered them almost obsolete.

A few years ago, I acquired a few of them for a decent price, thinking it would be a wise move in the long run. It proved to be otherwise and I was left with dilemma: replace them altogether with better models or improve them a bit. In the end, I didn’t make a choice and bought other cars and decided to experiment with what I had on hand.

LBF boxcar prior to modification

At first, I thought a good weathering job would be sufficient to breathe life in LBF cars, but it didn’t really work. To be honest, the shallow plug door details are probably the most annoying features of these cars and they won’t disappear under a mask of paint and powder. From that point on, I thus decided to remove the molded on details and add separate parts.

The central issue was to salvage the paint scheme which was generally decent. Given 50ft hi-cube decals are seldom available; it was an absolute requirement to salvage the car’s factory paint. Using a curved blade, grabirons and plug door rods were carefully shaved off.

Unwanted details carefully removed

For my first experiment, I used a NOKL boxcar and working with prototype picture, it became clear the end vertical ribs weren’t prototypical. Once removed and the surface sanded down, it was time to apply new details. Tichy ladders on styrene risers were cemented at each car ends, per prototype practice. New plug door rods were modelled using suitable diameter styrene rods. Some additional details such as tackboards were also added to complete the overall appearance of the model.

New details (door tracks, rods, etc.)

Once done, the original lettering was masked off and I spray the new details with two coats of True Line Mineral Brown paint which, a rare thing in this hobby, was a perfect match to LBF factory paint. Under that coat of paint, the boxcars got a new lease on life.

Modified and repainted car awaiting weathering

While the LBF cars still aren’t the best thing in town, they are now on part with my minimal rolling standards for the layout. The plug door now looks quite good and the ladder modifications add a little bit of variety in a somewhat dull fleet of cars.

However, a big question remains. This light kitbashing only works if I can find a perfect match paint color, which means I’m not sure it will be easy to upgrade my other cars. On the other hand, maybe I’ll take bold decision and do more extensive kitbashed of LBF cars to better replicate particular prototypes.

Many will ask me why I did bother to "waste" time on these less than perfect models. Mainly because I think making the best out of what you have is still a valuable stance. I'm not a fan of instant gratification and these projects are always a good way to improve your skills. Also, since I didn't care about the LBF cars, I was less shy experimenting with them. Some were almost ruined in weathering experiments, but at least they had a purpose. Finally, I know that many people have no other choice than live with these cars due to budget but would like to make them look better.


  1. Car looks real good Mathieu. Good work.

    Jim @ the JSSX

  2. I'm actually wondering if heavy tagging of these cars, which nearly every prototype car has these days, might also be a help. The tags certainly lead the eye away from small details, and tag decals are widely available.

    1. Bruce, you've got a point. I also thought about, however, after looking at several pcitures shot in 2002 (my layout era), they were surprisingly pristine. Otherwise, they are so heavily tagged I suspect one could indeed go that route with great success. It seems the boxcar tag fever started around 2006-2007.