Monday, January 26, 2015

CN Roofless Boxcars

Back in the 60s and 70s, before dedicated freight cars were built to haul wood chips, most North American railroads modified and repurposed older cars. Anything that could hold wood chips was deemed suitable. Most famous examples were hoppers and gondolas with steel or wood extensions increase loading capacity. I remember RMC published short article in the mid-1970s about modelling Spokane Portland and Seatle Railway prototypes.

Another common practice was to simply remove a boxcar roof and, sometimes, add extension. These cars would act as a prototype for the future woodchip gondolas that were built from the early 80s onward. Ian Cranstone documented them, all numbered in the 800000 series

As you know, I tried to make a correct CN woodchip gondola last year using 3D printing. The project was quickly plagued by costs. Brace yourself, but with custom decals, couplers, trucks and other details, the car could have cost anywhere between 100$ and 200$. I need about 12 of them to serve Donahue… and with Canadian economy going down the gutter; I don’t expect this to be a wise choice to pursue this endeavour. May I say I’m seriously puzzled any “serious” Canadian company didn’t bother to reproduce those widely known cars? Seriously, most people modelling CN have a paper mill or some wood product industry.

The prototype itself is relatively simple and straightforward. But I’m not in the industry and don’t know what people really wants. No, I’m not ironic. That’s a fact, there’s a large gap between what we perceive as “needed” and what people will be willing to pay for. Manufacturers know that well and tap in that market. I’ve heard dozen of people complain there’s no RTR M420 on the market, but I’m starting to seriously think there isn’t that much demand for them.

Well… With that said, I have two options:
  1. Scratchbuild CN Woodchip gondolas
  2. Kitbash 40’ boxcars
The first option shouldn’t be that hard, but that will be another day. At this time, I have about 10 MDC 40ft boxcar shells. Some undecorated, some painted. I got them from Ebay. A seller was selling them in bulk and it was quite cheap.
CN roofless boxcars were numerous and disappeared in the early 80s when replaced by purpose-built gondolas. They come from many different car series, were modified by local shops and vary a lot in details. Many had steel extension, but they aren’t all the same height or have the same bracing pattern. Some doesn’t have them. Some had their original door welded and sliding track cut. On many cars, they replaced the original door with new plywood or steel door. These custom built doors had different hardware and varied a lot. Finally, some doors were simply closed with a steel sheet.
Ladders were kept as they were before. Sometimes, you can see yellow thingies on the car ends, but I can’t tell what they really are. Most cars didn’t have them.

Ian Cranstone collection,
Also, some older wood boxcars were also converted into woodchip cars. Using old Train Miniature old time boxcars as a starting point could yield interesting results. I'll probably try my luck some day.

Ian Cranstone collection,
Well, let’s start bashing. I’ll stress that I’m using unprototypical shells, so my models will be nothing more than magnified stand in. The goal is to build a large fleet quickly and fairly accurately at a competitive cost.

First step is to remove moulded on grab irons and ladders. This step was easier than I thought. I give serious thoughts about removing the ends ladders, but finally backed off. Removing them would require a tremendous amount of work and final results wouldn’t be very smooth. If I only built one car, I would have done it, but this isn’t advisable while bashing a dozen!

Next step was to remove the doors, then the roof. I remove the roof last because it kept the shell sturdy when removing other details. A few filing was required to remove protruding plastic to get a smooth inside surface. I took extra care to save the brake wheel housing now protruding from the car end.

The next step is to prepare the underframe. The old MDC underframe has moulded on low profile brake rigging. You don’t see them when looking at the car side. I’m not crazy about brake rigging, but I feel it is a bare minimum to have some air cylinder and apparatus protruding from the car underframe. I think I’ll use Accurail 40ft brake rigging and had cylinders and valves as needed. I used them on other project and they are a good way to add interesting detail without losing too much sanity. I don’t have any on hand, so they will probably be added in the end.

I weighted the underframe using auto adhesive wheel weights. Two strips are installed on each side. Then, the underframe is carefully snapped and cemented to the shell. The underframe will now provide the structural strength lost when removing the roof.

At some point, I thought it would be better to hide the lead weight with a styrene sheet acting as a floor. After trying it, I am positive it is better to leave the weights visible and paint them later.
So far, 5 shells are prepped and I have 5 others to do. Adding details like doors, ladders, extensions will be done later when I buy more supplies. To be honest, bashing the shells is tiresome to some point and I prefer to get rid of that step as soon as possible before venturing into the most interesting task of detailing. I’ll also need to bash another 4 cars from the layout. I’ll probably use Athearn or Accurail shells.

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