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  • Modeling a New York Central Bay Window Steel Caboose

    By Jim Six
    Photos by the author unless otherwise indicated

    As a boy at trackside I saw these cabooses with the bay window open more often than not. Of course I am not talking wintertime! Also shown are the fuel filler for the stove and a breather pipe. The grabs and railings are all formed of .010 brass rod. Paint is MODELflex Illinois Central Brown diluted with Reefer White. Decals are Champ. The Kato trucks are included with the kit. Couplers are Kadee® #78 scale couplers.

    The Wright Trak New York Central bay window steel caboose kit is a high quality replica of the famous New York Central prototype caboose first delivered in 1948 for use on the railroad’s mainline trains. There were initially three prototypes for the 33' bay window cabooses that were built by Despatch Shops in 1948 as Lot 778, road numbers 20200-20202. Presumably, the NYC evaluated them in service for some months before fine-tuning the final design for the 300 production cars that would follow. The original three cars have the following external details that differ noticeably from the later-production cars:

    • A small window in the toilet area (absent in the production cars);
    • A cylindrical “Globe” type of roof vent above the toilet space (also absent in the production cars);
    • A fixed window in the bunk area, at least on the toilet-side (if not both sides) of the car (changed to a larger sliding window in the production cars); and
    • No car-routing board (present in the production cars as discussed below).

    The production cars were built in two lots: Lot 782, Despatch Shops, 1949, road numbers NYC 20203-20297 and B&A 1300-1304 (later NYC 20498-20502), 100 cars total; and Lot 827, St. Louis Car, 1952, road numbers 20298-20497, 200 cars total. All cars had coal/wood stoves with a typical covered smoke jack on the car roof (this was located toward what was designated the B end of the car). Interior illumination was by kerosene or oil lamps. The cars were painted freight car red/brown and had the white NYC oval (no black background) on each side. The white initials (B&A or NYC) and road number on each side beneath the cupola were in the sans serif style. Some later in-service photos show subtle lettering variations, most commonly a capital C or W (in white Roman lettering of all things) below the road number.

    The cars in the two lots were taken to be identical by the NYC, and many modelers have long accepted this. However, a close examination of 18 black-and-white photos (eight of Lot 782 and ten of Lot 827) showed some subtle variations. The later Lot 827 cars had smoke jacks that were noticeably taller than the earlier Lot 782 cars. Both lots have wood car-routing boards located on the bottom edge of the frame on each left side, just above the truck centerline. However, the later Lot 827 cars have an additional routing board located on the side just below and to the left of the bay window. The later Lot 827 cars have a very prominent drip strip over the bay window and down each side. This detail is missing entirely on the earlier Lot 782 cars as built, although at least one car had a similar (but not identical) drip strip installed later.


    Apparently the 33' bay window cabooses (including all three Lot 778 prototypes) underwent a significant reworking during the early 1960s, possibly starting as early as 1963. This took place at the time many cabooses on the Central were assigned to pool service instead of “belonging to a particular conductor.” Lettering on the rebuilt cars indicates that this work was done under “Program (or Project) 343.”

    The following changes were made that are noticeable on the cars’ exteriors based on examination of 28 photos in my possession:

    1. Oil heat was added; the fuel-oil tank fill and vent(?) pipes are very noticeable just below and to the right of the bay window (i.e., toward the A end) on the “stove” side of the car (in an area formerly occupied by bunks).
    2. Contrary to what I thought based on memory, the old smoke jacks (short or tall) were retained in all cases although some of the earlier Lot 782 cars may have received taller smoke jacks as replacements for damaged originals.
    3. Electric lighting was added which resulted in an underbody battery box located on the side opposite the smoke jack/fuel pipes, just to the left of the bay window (toward the A end). A body mounted, belt driven generator was used in all but one case. Battery charging receptacles were added to the underbody on each side toward the A end of the car.
    4. The earlier Lot 782 cars and even the Lot 778 prototypes received the drip strips above and around the bay window. The fixed windows on the slanted side of each bay window received windshield wipers (presumably driven by electric motors).
    5. Three Globe roof vents were installed on the side opposite the smoke jack/fuel pipes. One was located over the toilet area.
    6. Built-in electric markers were added, essentially in the same location as the original brackets used for kerosene markers.
    7. An external water fill was added, which suggests that an internal water tank was added for drinking water if not a flush toilet. This filler appears as a downward- pointing trumpet on the outer edge of the underbody on each side toward the B end of the car.
    8. Most cars received a radio and a roof-mounted, firecracker-style antenna that was located on the smoke jack/fuel-fill side just above the left edge of the bay window.
    9. It appears the later Lot 827 cars lost the extra car-routing board on the side. Conversely, the Lot 778 prototypes gained the routing board on the frame side.
    10. The cars were renumbered into the 21500-21798 series in no apparent order. 11) The cars were painted in Century (“jade”) green, which (almost?) everyone agrees bore no resemblance to either Pullman or Pacemaker Greens.


    Tools — Assembly is typical of today’s better rolling stock kits. You will need the following: CA cement, tweezers, an .015 drill bit with either a pin vise or motor tool, small screw driver and a hobby knife fit with a #11 blade. It is also recommended that an adhesive such as Cyanopoxy be used to secure the roofwalk, ladders and all delrin parts.

    Begin by removing the flash from the window openings in the body. A #11 blade in your hobby knife will work well. Remove flash from the outer perimeter of the bays and test fit into the openings in the body sides. Secure using CA cement carefully applied from the inside of the body. Once the bays are secured, then trim the flash from the window openings.

    Note that there were two basic combinations of roof fixtures on these NYC cabooses. Generally, during the “brown era” there was only one smoke jack. In the “green years” not only was there the smoke jack, but also three vents on the opposite side of the roof. You need to decide real soon if you will be modeling the early brown or the later green caboose since the color will now dictate detail. Using the locator dimples on the underside of the roof, drill holes through from the underside for the smoke jack and any vents to be installed.

    After the smoke jack and vent holes have been drilled, fit the roof and cement it in place. Do NOT cement the floor in place. You will need access to the inside of the body as assembly progresses. Remove the roofwalk platform support pieces from the detail sets. Cement them in place at the roof ends. Position the roofwalk. There are two brackets beneath the roofwalk at each end that will hit against the end sills of the roof. Mark with a pencil and drill holes for the tabs at the bottom end of each of these brackets. Installation of the roofwalk is straightforward if you are using Cyanopoxy. Use de-spruing nippers to clip off the mounting tabs from the bottom of the roofwalk. Using the 3-step process as described in the Cyanopoxy instructions, apply a dab of adhesive on each roofwalk support brace along the center of the roof. Carefully position the roofwalk so that the overhang at each end is the same. Spray on the Cyanopoxy fixer, and the roofwalk will be secured for life. If you are not using Cyanopoxy you will have to drill mounting holes for each mounting tab on the underside of the roofwalk. Use contact cement to secure the roofwalk. Once the roofwalk is in position, fit the mounting tabs at the end of each roofwalk support into the holes you drilled for them. Use a dab of Cyanopoxy to secure them in position.

    Trim the window frames and cement them into the pockets on the inside of the body. Cut the steps from the sets of end details and trim the flash from the steps. Cement in place. Cut the end support piece [kit instructions Figure 4] from the detail sets and trim each prior to fitting in place. These one-piece items consist of the two corner posts, a top connection section that fits up under the roof end and a bottom section that has the brakewheel support post attached. Before fitting the two brakewheel stands be sure to install the included brakewheels. A mounting hole will have to be drilled for each brakewheel. With the flash removed, fit each into place and cement using CA. Holes must be drilled for attaching the end grabs and railings.

    Railings and grabs are formed from .012 brass rod (not supplied with this kit) [kit instructions Figure 6]. Use CA or Cyanopoxy to secure each in place. Dab the ends in a small puddle of cement, then press into position using tweezers. Work quickly because once the cement hardens the grab or railing will not be able to be adjusted. The ladders have to be cut to fit. Once they have been cut to size, drill holes for the ladder mounting tabs, then press-fit the ladder and secure with Cyanopoxy. Also note that an aftermarket trainline air hose has been added.

    The next step is to add weight to the topside of the floor. A very inexpensive way of adding weight is to cement pennies in place. Three layers of five pennies secured with contact cement works out very close to NMRA weight standards for a car of this size. The kit is designed to accept Kadee® #58 near-scale couplers or Kadee® #5 couplers. The assembled coupler fits right over the positioning pin under the end platforms. Cyanopoxy will permanently secure the couplers in place.

    With the body details in place it is time to paint the model. Before painting though, the model should be gently washed with warm water and dish soap and thoroughly dried. Both acrylic and solvent paints will adhere to this resin model. Apply decals after the paint has dried. Install the window glass. Clear plastic of most any kind will work. It is recommended that Testors Clear Parts Cement or a similar produce be used to secure the windows.

    The last major step is to detail the bottom of the floor section. As you can see, the well-detailed framework is cast to the floor bottom. Brake equipment is included. Cement the air reservoir, triple valve and other components in place. A battery box is included for “green era” and late “brown era” cabooses as well. Additional brake rigging can be added at the model builder’s discretion. Cement the floor in place. It is recommended that only a small drop of CA cement be used in four to six places so that, should the need arise, the floor can be “broken” free for access to the inside of the model.

    I would like to extend a very special thanks to Bernie Halloran for providing much of the prototype information included in this article. Thanks Bernie. 

    The New York Central bay window steel caboose from Wright Trak Railroad Models represents a prototype long needed by modelers of the once great Water Level Route. The model is a resin kit of one-piece body construction. Dennis Lippert photo

    The fuel-tank filler and the breather pipes are clearly visible in this angle-on view. The ladders are Kadee® as are the brakewheels and roofwalk. All are included with the kit. The Kadee #78 scale coupler with scale draft-gear box really look good. Window glass is microscope “real” glass. Unlike their first-run model the current release of this kit has etched-steel end platforms and steps along with roofwalk. These details will make a significant improvement in appearance of this already really nice looking model.

    The Wright Trak NYC caboose has all the detail features of the prototype. Before the early 1960s, when they were rebuilt and repainted green, a single vent pipe and smoke jack with bracing rods flanked the roofwalk. The model here repre- sents the first run of the kit and is fitted with Kadee® roofwalk and end ladders. The later run of the kit includes etched-steel window frames, roofwalk, end platforms and steps, and one-piece railings.

    The bay window is a separate piece that plugs into an opening in the body side. Window glass is microscope glass — very thin and very flat. The smoke jack and vent pipe are resin parts that are included in the kit. Decals are Champ.

    For locating vents and the smoke jack the roof has “pilot” holes that are part way through. Once it is decided which combination for roof fittings will be used the appropriate holes are drilled through to properly locate and mount the vents and smoke jack. Each window has a “pocket” around it for the window frames and glass to fit. This provides a realistic thin-wall appearance on the fin- ished model.

    L-shaped grab railings are located as each end of the body. Each is drilled for and secured in place using Cyanopoxy cement. This view shows how thin the body is due to the “pockets” on the inside of the body where each window is located.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Jim Six
    • Source Model Railroading
    • Publication Date July 2003

    Article Album (9 photos)

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  • Bryan Busséy
    Bryan Busséy Chris - perhaps, but it's a lot of work to scratchbuild an N scale version. I speak from experience, as I'm about halfway through three of them. TrainCat is on the verge of releasing N scale etched brass kits of this prototype.
    December 24, 2010
  • George Swalagin
    George Swalagin That's it Chris, thanks alot. I could never find that caboose. When I was younger I spent many hours in that caboose. The brakeman on the Chatham switcher lived there 5 days a week. He had a TV etc. in there. It brings back a lot of memories for me. I goi...  more
    December 24, 2010
  • Christopher Brimley
    Christopher Brimley Bryan, I am waiting for Traincat to release theirs, I cant wait. When I ran across this article, I couldn't resist because these articles by Jim Six are fantastic and this is my favorite caboose the NYC ran.
    December 24, 2010
  • Dave  Schroedle
    Dave Schroedle I have meet Jim and he is a stand up guy, he has helped me to 'step' up the ladder of custom modeling a few times. Glad to see this article again.
    January 6, 2011