Christopher Brimley updated October 30, 2010


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  • Troop Sleeper Kitbash


    Being a modeler of the transition era New York Central (NYCRR) and loving head end cars on passenger trains, I needed express cars. On the NYCRR, many styles of head end equipment was used, from milk cars to multiple styles of baggage cars. But a very common sight was the express boxcars that were converted from troop sleepers. Realizing that most of the equipment the NYCRR used would need to be scratch built or kitbashed, and having no experience in this field, I felt this would be one of the easier ones to begin with.


    During World War II, there was a sudden influx of troops being moved within the United States. The fleet of passenger equipment existing before the war was not enough to handle the load. So in late 1943, the Pullman company was contracted to build 2,400 troop sleepers to help ease the traffic. They were based on a 50'3" boxcar design, large doors were added on the sides for easy loading and unloading, and doors in the ends for movement between cars. The cars were equipped with Allied Full Cushion high speed trucks, which were later discovered to be derailment prone and were banned for use.

    The sleepers unfortunately came too late in the war but were still used by the military up to 1947. After their short life and light amount of usage, multiple railroads such as the New York Central, New Haven, Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Monon, Rock Island, Rio Grande, Burlington, and many more snatched up the war surplus sleepers. Each railroad had different uses for the sleepers, many were used for Maintenance of Way work train crews. Some were converted to cabooses, steam generator cars, and the Railway Express Agency converted some to reefers, but the bulk became express boxcars.

    Each railroad had either contracted with companies to convert the sleepers, or handled it all in their own shops. Because of this, each railroad had their own style of car, the differences primarily being the doors on the sides. Many simply added a standard 6' boxcar door to the outside, but some were an interior sliding door that are common on baggage cars. The NYCRR had many of both styles. Among adding the doors on the sides, the doors on the ends of the cars were welded shut and all windows and vents were removed or plated over. Most of the converted cars lasted into the late 1960s and up to Amtrak's inception. Supposedly, some are still floating around on the Alaska Railroad and a few have been preserved by some museums.

    Conversion in N Scale

    As usual for HO Scale modelers, Walthers makes a variety of express box cars, but for us N Scalers, we are out of luck. Fortunately, Micro-Trains makes the troop sleepers. Much like the railroads did in the late 194's, I was going to have to convert a troop sleeper into my express boxcar. I knew for about a year that I wanted to convert the sleeper, but I continually put it off because I had never kitbashed any form of rolling stock before. Through diving in, I found kitbashing to be quite enjoyable.

    Prep Work

    I searched around for the best price I could find on any road name of a Micro-Trains troop sleeper. You can find them for good prices if you look hard enough (make sure it is a sleeper, not a kitchen car). I found a D&RGW silver MoW sleeper and got right to work on it. First, I striped off all parts that are not needed or are not part of the shell. The shell comes off of the under-frame easily by slightly flexing the shell out on one of the sides, with a small flat-head screw driver. Next, I removed the window glazing on the interior. It isn't glued in, so it comes out easily. The last parts to be removed are frames on the ends of the shell, again these come off easily.

    Stripping the Shell

    This step, more than most, had me worried because whenever you bring up stripping paint off of plastic, everyone pulls out their horror storyies of what went wrong. After asking a few guys and getting a few answers, I decided on using a very simple product made by a company I know and trust... Polly Scale. It is called ELO (Easy Lift Off), and all you do is brush on a good coat, let it sit for a few minutes, and work the paint off with a toothbrush. In a few spots I had to do more than one coat and it didn't effect the plastic; all of the fine rivet detail survived just fine.


    I started by removing the vents on the top of the roof. At first, I used a hobby knife to cut them off, but I knew the risk of slipping and cutting into the shell was too great. So, I tried using a pair of flush cutters to remove them. This worked out well and only required a little touch-up with a file. Removing the vents left a hole, so these had to be filled with Squadron Green Putty. I also patched the holes left in the ends where the doors are that were removed prior to stripping the shell. After the putty had ample time to dry, I filed it down until flush with the shell. If needed, touch up some of the patched spots with a little more putty and then file when dry.

    Build a Door Opening

    Like I had stated before, the doors are the biggest difference between different railroads express boxcars. I decided to challenge myself and go with the interior style door on my first conversion. I will go with the external boxcar door on my next car. Also, depending on what railroad you model, the doors size and style can vary wildly, so do your research.

    Looking at photos of the prototype, the door was laid out half way through panel seven and all through panels eight and nine. Also, I noticed that there wasn't half a window in panel seven; the entire panel was replaced, so I needed to remove all of seven, eight, and nine. The sill below the doors needed some modification, so I decided to remove it, as well. I started off by scribing away with my hobby knife, but this proved to be unpredictable and too slow. I then tried with my razor saw to cut the panels out, this worked much better, but the cut was a little rough, nothing a little filing couldn't solve. Cutting across the top of the panels was a little difficult, however with care and patience it went smoothly.

    I first went to work on rebuilding the panel or basically widening panel six. I glued in a piece of .040x .080" strip styrene that was cut to the length of the panel and only the panel because I needed to rebuild the sill that was cut out. I glued this piece in and then filled the remaining gaps with putty. Across the top of the opening, there is a piece that is inset a little more than the rest of the body. For this, I cut a piece of .020x .125" strip to the width and then glued into place.

    Next, I moved on to the sill. It is built by simply layering different sizes of strip styrene. First, I cut a small piece of .020x .030" strip to go under the reconstructed panel. I cut it a little long and glued into place. After the glue set up, I trimmed it flush to the right side of panel six. I then cut a piece of .030x .040" strip to the length of the entire opening to finish of the reconstruction of the door. Remember to repeat these steps on the opposite side of the shell. Now to begin on construction of the sill, I first added a layer of .015x .020" strip cut to the width of the opening. Next, I added a strip of .010x .030", then a strip of .020x .040" on end, and lastly some .015x .060" all cut to the same length to finish off the sill.

    Plating Over Windows

    I spent a good amount of time devising a good method to plate over the window openings. My first idea was to simply leave the factory-installed windows in and just paint over them, but I knew I would have gaps around each window. I kept coming back to just using styrene to accomplish this task in the similar way the railroads did. There were two issues with this method; first, I didn't want to loose the rivet detailing around the windows. Second, the strip styrene starts at .010" thick and it looked awful, and there wasn't an exact width that matched the openings in either direction.

    Fortunately on the kit, there is a little lip between the openings and the rivet detail. If I could cut something to the exact width and height, it would sit very nicely. So, I decided to try .005" thick sheet styrene and cut it to the exact size of strip that I needed (.175"). After I cut the strip, I then figured out the length I needed (.200) and cut the plates out on my Chopper. I tried the first plate out and it was a perfect fit, so I added a little plastic cement and fixed it into place as with all the remaining large windows. For all of the smaller openings I used the same method with great success. For the medium-sized windows, I cut the sheet into .130x .145 plates, for the small windows across the top, I cut the sheet to .040x .086" and glued them all in with the plastic cement. On the ends of the car, there are windows on the doors and these simply had a plate welded over the top. So, I cut a little piece of the .005" sheet to cover the window and glued it in.

    Build a Door

    As I had stated above, each railroads conversions were slightly different. On the NYCRR, the interior sliding door was a solid door without windows. Some railroads had one or three windows. Because of this, the doors were simple to make and only required making a notch for the recessed handle. I cut the door out of .040" sheet styrene. The only reason I went this thick was because of the recessed handle. The piece for the door didn't need to be too exact but the height was fairly close because if it sat too low, you wouldn't be able to get the shell back onto the under frame. I notched out a little opening that sat about in the middle of the side of the door. The notch was about .040x .080". To make the handle, I took some .010" brass wire and bent it into an angled C shape. I then glued it into a few holes I drilled in a small piece of styrene and glued it into place on the door. Next, I glued the door in, again making sure it wasn't sitting too low.

    Last Details

    Next, I went through and carefully shaved off all of the molded on grab irons on the shell with a chisel blade on my hobby knife. I then went through and replaced them with .010" brass wire that was bent and glued into holes that I drilled with my pin vise.

    The stirrups on the sides had to be moved to the far right edge of the door. On the kit, they are snapped into place, but to get them into the correct position, they need to be glued to the insides of the shell. The last item to be done was switch the trucks out from the included Allied Full Cushion to the Micro Trains Andrews trucks (1057-1).

    Paint & Decals

    The express boxcars on the New York Central came in a variety of colors, depending on their era. Some were in the famous two-tone grey, a solid dark grey, pacemaker green, and black. For this version, I decided to go with pacemaker green. Doing a little research, I discovered that this color was similar to the more common Pullman Green, so I decided to use Polly Scales version of this (414284). I thoroughly cleaned the shell and gave it a good coat of the Pullman Green paint. Unfortunately, it felt a little too yellow to me. However, I decided to move forward and correct the color a little with a few washes after the decals were applied.

    Next, I applied a good coat of Glosscote to the entire car to give the decals a good surface to bond to. I used Microscale Decals set New York Central Head-End Passenger Cars (60-933) for all of the decals. While this is a very close match to the prototype, the lettering is just a little too small. On future builds, I will make sure to have custom decals made, but for my first piece of rolling stock, they will pass. After the decals were added according to the prototype, I sprayed on a coat of Dullcote and then added a few light washes of darker green paint to move it closer to the appropriate color and to age the car. I then sprayed the wheels, trucks, couplers, and under frame with Polly Scale Railroad Tie Brown (414329).


    While the car has its flaws, I am proud of it. Not only is it my first kitbashed piece of rolling stock, it is the first that I have painted and decaled myself. I had buckets of fun building it and look forward to building more. While this may not be an ideal project for everyone, I recommend finding that piece of rolling stock that isn't factory supplied that you want and going out and making one for yourself.

    Further Modeling Reference

    After I had finished this build and was writing this article, I was contacted by an amazing modeler named Bryan Busséy. He shared with me his personal website showcasing his work. He has done two of the same conversions I had done, but for the New Haven Railroad and using different methods. Not only do they look fantastic, they were used for an article in the January/February 2005 issue of N Scale Railroading magazine. You can see his versions under the topic for Model Railroading, they will both be found under Passenger Equipment  Also, be sure to check at more of his fantastic work.

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  • Jerry LaBoda
    Jerry LaBoda I didn't know it until today but the entire group of NYC express cars were returned to leasor Chicago Freight Car Leasing in 1961-1962 and in turn leased the cars to Railway Express Agency once their Allied trucks were swapped for A3 Ride Control trucks, ...  more
    February 27, 2011
  • Jerry LaBoda
    Jerry LaBoda Oops... the KCS cars were express reefers, not the NYC cars, and carried the Chicago Freight Car Leasing report marks of CRDX. Sorry about that.
    February 27, 2011
  • Jerry LaBoda
    Jerry LaBoda C&O had a large fleet of these cars in MofW service and Wabash, Monon, Chicago & Eastern Illinois and Cotton Belt (but apparently not SP) also had them. DRGW and KCS both apparently converted one car each as Dynamometer cars.
    March 5, 2011
  • Aaron C.
    Aaron C. These cars aren't too difficult to convert to Z scale couplers, if you're interested in the conversion.
    January 20, 2013