Freight Car Friday #71 – CN 557417 Model

CN 557417 is a 52′ inside length combination plug + sliding door boxcar built in the mid 1970s for lumber and forest products service. It’s part of a large group of such cars (740 cars built in three orders between 1973-1974), but its paint job is one of a kind.

This car was one of 4 boxcars painted by CN in 1984 as a promotion for the upcoming 1986 World’s Fair in Vancouver, BC, branded as “Expo86” by the event organizers. Each car was painted in a similar black and white scheme with 4 diagonal coloured stripes, although each of the 4 cars was in a different colour.

The four cars to be painted this way were:

CN 557417 – blue stripes (52′ combo-door boxcar)

CN 557420 – purple stripes (52′ combo-door boxcar)

CNIS 417093 – green stripes (52′ single-door boxcar)

CNIS 417225 – orange stripes (52′ single-door boxcar)

Also painted in the Expo86 scheme was SD40-2 5334 with multi-coloured stripes (yellow, green, blue and purple).

The model was built using a Kaslo Shops resin kit for a CN 52′ combo door boxcar which matches the prototype and painted and lettered using a decal set from Highball Graphics (this set appears to be now discontinued). This was a challenging paint job, requiring a lot of masking (including diagonal masking to paint the stripes) over the raised details of the car doors.

Since I’m modeling 1985, the car’s paint job is still pretty fresh so the car just received a clear coat and will remain un-weathered. Eventually the car will see service on my future layout hauling lumber, plywood and other forest products from mills on the CN beyond Hearst westbound via Oba or south to the United States via Sault Ste. Marie. It’ll be an eye-catching change from the regular CN brown boxcars hauling paper and lumber out of the north.

Freight Car Friday #70 – GBW 8077 Model

This car started out as an Athearn RTR boxcar factory decorated for the Providence & Worcester Railroad which I picked up “used”/new in box at a train show about a year ago specifically with this patch job in mind. It was weathered, patched and re-stencilled following a 1989 photo on I have a certain fondness for shortline boxcars and patched out reporting marks of cars in second-hand ownership and I’ve been working on collecting a few appropriate cars from nearby US connections that can fit in to my area and era. These ex-PW cars, as well as other cars from the New Orleans Public Belt (NOPB), East Camden & Highland (EACH) and Wabash Valley (WVRC) Railroads, were acquired by the Green Bay & Western in the early 1980s.

Weathering was done in a few layers/stages. The body was given a general airbrush grime coat (with particular concentration along the lower edges and some vertical “wheel spray” patterns on the car ends) and the rust effects on the door were hand painted with acrylics and a fine-tipped brush. The original reporting marks were painted out with some SOO red I had on hand and new reporting marks and numbers added with Microscale stencil alphabet decals. A bit of work with pan pastels blended the rusty areas, added some streaking off the ends of the door tracks, and added light surface rust to the galvanized steel roof. A final coat of Flat Haze sealed the decals and pastel effects and slightly dulled and faded the body colour.

Freight Car Friday # 69 – ONT 6051

While today’s Freight Car Friday subject isn’t an AC car, nor taken anywhere near the ACR, it is definitely related.

This shot courtesy of an antique show find by Keith MacCauley shows an almost brand-new Ontario Northland triple hopper # 6051. 72 of these cars numbered ONT 6000-6071 were built by National Steel Car in 1971 for use carrying iron ore from Adams Mine near Dane, ON to steel mills in Pennsylvania. Canadian National, Ontario Northland, and New York Central/Penn Central provided cars into a pool for this service, with many of the PC’s portion coming from the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo and Canada Southern Railways (although that’s clearly an actual PC car coupled at left in this photo). Given the freshness of the ONT car, the date is almost certainly summer 1971. We haven’t identified the location, but it’s likely somewhere in the States.

In the late 1970s this service ended, and these cars were disposed of by the Ontario Northland, with the Algoma Central picking up thirty of these cars in 1978. They would run for several years in original numbers with just the reporting marks patched out, and then in the mid 1980s these cars were renumbered from their 6000 series numbers to the 8600-8629 series.

Freight Car Friday #68 – CGTX 71506 Model

CGTX 71506 is the first addition to my (hopeful) fleet of tank cars for sulphuric acid service. Sulphuric acid is a common industrial chemical and a by-product of ore smelting operations. I’ve posted prototype photos in previous “Freight Car Friday” themed posts of acid cars running over the former ACR, likely from the operations at Timmins, ON or Rouyn-Noranda, QC via the Ontario Northland Railway through Hearst.

This model is a Tangent Scale Models car which was purchased as an undecorated/lettered but assembled and painted (black) model. The model represents a General American Transportation 8000 gallon car for acid service built in the late 1940s, but is very similar (identical in size and overall profile with only minor detail differences that you’d only notice if doing a direct side by side comparison of the model and prototype photo) to several older CGTX cars as well, so I was able to use it as a nice stand in. I’m unsure of the exact original build date of the CGTX cars but they would be from the same period – late 1940s-early 1950s and with railroad cars having about a 40-year lifespan, it’s plausible to be running out its last miles in the mid 1980s.

I didn’t actually change any details but just lettered the car following a late 1970s prototype photo with an old Herald King CGTX tank car decal set, with some additional detail lettering and COTS, ACI and U-1 decals to bring it up to a 1980s appearance from various Microscale sheets. With a little bit of in-service weathering, this car’s appearance will be completed and it will be ready to haul loads of acid from the smelters to industrial users in the central/mid-west USA.

Dating via the Details: General Car Design

Here we must necessarily deal with generalities rather than specifics, but even if you’re not too particular about making sure every car is totally appropriate for a specific year, you can help create the impression of a general time frame by at least choosing appropriate rolling stock. To get fully accurate by era equipment, research on the specific car(s) on an individual or series basis would be required, to determine if the specific railroad paint scheme is era-appropriate (e.g. a 1970s car but with a 1990s repaint), or if a particular car or series hadn’t been sold off (or conversely, acquired from a secondhand source) by a certain date, or whether a model is even accurate in the first place for a particular railway, but this should at least give an “at a glance” view of the evolution of the North American freight car fleet, although by necessity not every detail can be covered.

Car Designs and Sizes

Some interesting dates for the introduction of certain types of cars:

1948 – mechanical refrigerators placed in service by FGE

1955 – Airslide covered hopper introduced

1959 – 85′ flatcars with kingpins (TOFC) introduced

1960 – trilevel autoracks introduced

1963 – first prototype 86′ boxcars for auto parts service built

1967 – Thrall introduces all door boxcar

1973 – first enclosed trilevel autoracks

60 and 86 foot “high cube” boxcars were built for specialized services (primarily auto parts – especially bulky steel body panels from centralized stamping plants to assembly plants) in the 1960s and 1970s.

AAR “Clearance Plates” are clearance diagrams that show the maximum external dimensions for railway equipment in order to stay within standard clearances. Larger standard “plates” have been added over the years:

1948 – Plate B adopted, max height 15’1″

1963 – Plate C adopted, max. height 15’6″

1974 – Plate E adopted, max. height 15’9″

1974 – Plate G adopted, max. height 17’0″

1975 – Plate H adopted, max. height 20’2″

(Of course the clearance plate is full cross-sectional profile, not just a max. height, so a long flatcar or gondola can be plate C despite being less than 10′ overall height – the outline of the common NMRA standards gauge is basically the Plate H clearance diagram.)

Most 50′ boxcars built up to the early 1970s fit the Plate B clearance (although a lot of Plate C cars were built in the 1960s – especially Canadian newsprint service boxcars). By the mid 1970s Plate C was standard and Plate B boxcars were essentially no longer built. (While early RailBox cars were Plate B, the common picture people have of the standard “RailBox” style boxcar is a late 1970s exterior-post construction Plate C boxcar.) As of the 2000s, pretty much all new boxcar construction (and yes, new boxcars are still being built by the thousands every year) are 100-ton 50′ single door or 60′ double door Plate G high-cube designs.

Service Life

Much of the information above deals with the introduction of car types and designs; but an individual car can last in service for decades.

For cars built before July 1974, service life in interchange service is limited to 40 years.

For cars built after July 1974 service life in interchange service is 50 years, although this can be extended to 65 years with a rebuild or mechanical certification (some groups of TTX autorack flatcars have received a blanket certification for 65 years service).


The earliest freight cars were built entirely from wood. Sometime around 1910 car builders started moving to steel under frames (but still using wood or mostly wood bodies) for most types of freight cars such as boxcars, flatcars, etc. Most hopper and tank cars were all-steel construction by this point however.

By 1928 wooden main sill underframes were banned from interchange. Truss rod reinforced underframes (new or retrofitted) were still legal until 1940 when all wood underframes were outlawed from interchange service in favour of all-steel underframes.