by: Frederick Boucher [ ]
Originally published on:
Steam-era 40' Wood Boxcar
"Blue Box" IntroductionFor decades Athearn "blue box" kits were a mainstay of model railroading. Athearn made dozens of different types of rolling stock and locomotives. The rolling stock models are simple and inexpensive kits. They had good detail for the era, albeit molded on. Usually the brake wheel was separate, and most box cars and hoppers had opening doors. No doors opened on cabooses or passenger cars. Many paint schemes and liveries were available, as usually was an undecorated offering.
Athearn packed these models in a sturdy two piece blue box (The hue and design varied over the years) featuring dramatic box art. The contents were only known by reading the printed label on one end of the box. While locomotives were secured with cardboard, most rolling stock was unrestrained, or buffered by wadded paper.
The simple kits usually consist of a one-piece body, a one-piece frame (usually with molded air brake details), a steel weight, plastic trucks holding plastic wheels joined with metal axles, and NMRA X2F "horn hook" couplers with stamped metal retainers. Screws are included to secure the trucks to the frame. These smaller pieces are held in a sealed paper envelope. Most other separate parts are snap-on. Cars with roofs have plastic simulated wooden or metal roof walks, as appropriate for represented prototype and era. Tank cars and locomotives have wire handrails.
Accuracy and authenticity of the prototypes is widely discussed in the model world; your humble reviewer has little expertise concerning the facts and foibles of the subject.
Athearn discontinued blue box kits in 2009. This was both welcomed and rued in the model railroad community, and much debate still surrounds Athearn's decision. The company has decided to focus on ready-to-run models; some seem to have revamped details and some have new tooling. If you like blue box kits, fear not, as vast quantities are still available.
"Box car" or "boxcar"?Well, I don't know, both spellings are widely used. However the model maker spells it, that's how I'll write it.
For a century boxcars were the primary freight car in North America. They carried almost everything from merchandise, to lumber, factory goods, grain, animals, vehicles -- anything that could get through the doors.
Boxcars of wooden construction could be single or double sheathed exteriors. Single-sheathed boxcars usually had external bracing.
Modelers see a wood box and think pre-WWI, but like the Athearn composite hopper, this is based on a c. 1937 design used by the GN and NP, and only by them. (The height and the type of ends and roof all loudly proclaim late 1930's, specifically the 10 ft. inside height of the 1937 standard.) Unfortunately, like Athearnís 1937 AAR steel box car, this suffers from the same door-claw-itis, grossly oversized door tracks and undersized door.
I took a kit, shaved off the lower door guide but left the modest scar, replaced it with a full height Superior door, and gave it a set of Tichy running boards and a black painted roof for a quick and dirty GN car. (Sunshine offers a cast-resin kit to better match these two prototypes.) NOTE: See Click here for additional images for this review below for the model referred to - Ed.
The prototypes actually were steel-truss cars with an outer layer of wood. The bottom of the trusses were exposed along the frame rail. The kit copies this, although the relief is a little shallow.There were some minor differences between the GN and NP versions, and the Athearn kit sort of straddles the two without being an exact model of either. One difference I believe was in the number of internal trusses, exposed along the side sill. . *
40' Wood BoxcarThis is the undecorated model. It is molded in dull black styrene. The surface detail is crisp. I found no visible sink holes, ejector marks, or seam lines. The doors and frames have a some flash. Over-scale stirrup steps are molded on.
This plastic boxcar kit consists of a one-piece body, a floor with no underside detail, and an underframe. A metal weight is sandwiched between the underframe and floor and secured with the screws that hold the shiny plastic trucks to the body. Onto the floor you simply snap the body. Basic board and hardware surface detail is molded onto the body exterior. The pockets into which you mount the couplers are part of the frame (Knuckle couplers will fit without modification). The couplers are secured in the pocket by stamped metal lids.
The doors are Youngstown corrugated types, the roof a Murphy rectangular panel design, covering an AAR standard underframe, riding upon 50-ton AAR cast sideframe trucks, with Dreadnaught 4/5 ends.
DetailsThis kit includes no separate air brake components such as the triple valve and cylinder. They are molded on to the frame.
All ladders, handles, grab irons, tack boards and all hardware is molded on.
The running board are similar to a Apex Tri-Lok type and snap into holes on the roof. The brake wheel is separate, too. It does not really match any Ajax, Equipco, Miner, Universal, or Champion brake wheel.
As are the doors. They have molded hasps and hangers, and slide along separate top door tracks and molded bottom ones.
AssemblyThis is simple. Attach the frame to the floor with the weight between the two parts, secured with the screws you use to attach the trucks. Then snap on the body. Add the running board, door runners, brake wheel, doors, and couplers. I used aftermarket knuckle couplers.
PaintingThe styrene takes paint well. I painted this boxcar for my Jackson Purchase & Texas Railroad. I used Polly Scale mineral brown. Various colors were used to break up the uniform color. My decals are custom printed by Don Manlick, MMR.
SummaryMany people celebrated the demise of the blue box kits. Many are sorry the are not being made anymore. Me, I like them. They do their job representing rolling stock for me. I can carve away most molded detail and use aftermarket detail parts if I want.
This looks like a steam-era boxcar. For the simplicity and detail and price, it is a reasonable model. Recommend.
*"NEB&W Guide to Athearn 40-Foot Wood Box Car Models." Rensselaer Railroad Heritage Website. http://railroad.union.rpi.edu/article.php?article=4896. 2011-04-16.
Click here for additional images for this review.