Christopher Brimley updated May 26, 2011


Christopher Brimley's Tags


Browse Articles » Feature Text View Magazine View

  • Virginian Boxcars

    by Larry E. Smith, MMR

    Model photos by Mark Beaty

    AX-1 62023 after being removed from automobile service in 1956.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 24

    You sense it before you can see it or hear it. Maybe its the slight vibration of the earth below your feet, but you know something is coming. Your ears pick up the throaty sounds of the steamboat-like whistle of a steam locomotive blowing for a crossing off in the far distance. This is soon followed by the sounds of exhaust bouncing off the surrounding hills amplifying it until it becomes the noisy racket of more than one locomotive heavily working a grade. Then you see it, the massive front end of an articulated locomotive bearing down on you, its stack sending a column of thick smoke high into the air. The ground is indeed shaking as the giant locomotive with its two sets of drivers pounding the rails passes you. Then the sound is replaced by the squealing of heavily loaded hopper cars on the rails. The valley becomes quiet again as you watch the red marker lights of the caboose pass off into the distance.

    This is the vision most of us have when you mention the Virginian - large locomotives pulling long trains of hopper cars. For the most part you would be right because the railroad was built for one purpose, hauling coal from the mines to Norfolk. While this was the main source of revenue for the railroad, there were others that didn't require the use of hopper cars, such as the Ford plant in the Norfolk area. To this end, the Virginian had and maintained a small, but efficient, fleet of boxcars that over the life of the railroad never exceeded 16 classes and at the very end consisted of only four classes. While the era I model is the World War II time frame, I will also cover the last boxcars the Virginian received to expand the possibilities for the pre- and post-merger modelers.


    The least likely type of freight car that you would expect to find on the Virginian was an automobile car, yet the Virginian had a fleet of 25 cars. These were built to primarily serve the Elizabeth, VA, Ford plant. They were also built at a time when there was a great expansion of the automobile car fleet on the railroads.

    Three events occurred almost simultaneously that impacted the Virginians choice of design and the decision to purchase automobile cars. The first of these was the introduction of the PRR's X-32 boxcars. The X-32 was a 50' car with an inside height of 10' 6". It and its sister car, the X-31, a 40' version, were controversial, to say the least, as neither fit into the clearance plates of the time. The controversy arose from Pennsy's attempt to force the designs on the ARA. When the ARA rejected the PRR designs, the railroad resorted to another tactic, threatening an embargo of all railroads that didn't accept the cars in interchange service. The other eastern railroads quickly capitulated and began accepting the cars, thus making, albeit for a very short time, the X-32 as the de facto standard 50' automobile car in the East. Much to Pennsy's consternation, the car design wasn't accepted by the other railroads, except for three: N&W, DT&I and the VGN. This could be expected from the first two as they were controlled by the Pennsy, but not the Virginian.

    The second event was the development of the Evans auto loaders. The Pennsy, working very closely with the auto companies and Evans came up with the idea of how to load more automobiles into a railroad car. Until the development of the auto loaders, you could only get three automobiles in a 50' car. With the Evans loading system, you could carry five automobiles.

    In 1939 the AAR standardized stenciling, and it would have been changed on this car to a 3" wide white stripe with 2" black lettering on it that read 10' 9" (indicating inside height at center of car). Beneath the stripe would have been 12T. The 12 stood for number of tubes and/or permanent mounting brackets. The T signified loaders capable of handling trucks. I have no diagram information, but these cars MAY have had only the four tubes toward the center and U-bolt brackets for the other tie downs. Some car owners stenciled the number of U-bolt brackets on the main door in addition to the number of tubes. It is also possible that there were four tubes at each end (typically mounted at 2' 6" and 7' from the end (inside) and 13 " out from car centerline. These end tubes would be hard to model on an operating car. Im sure they were a real pain to mount on the real car as well. The location of the center tubes was anywhere from 13" to 26" from the centerline of car and placed to accommodate the variety of wheelbases on autos. They varied greatly; short of specific diagrams, photo coverage would be best. There were many 50' cars equipped with 16 floor tubes laid out to handle (up to) five autos.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 25

    Two automobiles were loaded into the boxcar and were raised at an angle to allow two more autos to be placed beneath them. The fifth auto was then jockeyed into place on the floor. When not in use, the racks were pushed up to the roof of the boxcar leaving the floor free for other cargoes. While this system was much more efficient, it created one major problem. The system wouldn't fit into the standard height car of the time with its 10' inside height; it required an inside height of 10' 6", which just happened to be the same height of the Pennsy's X-32.

    The third event wasn't railroad related, but economic. The economy began to recover in 1936-37 and, with only a slight hiccup in 1938, continued to grow as the clouds of war were seen on the horizon. With extra money in their pockets, and worn out cars and trucks from the late 20s and early 30s, the public went back to buying cars and trucks. With their fleet of automobile cars inadequate for the job, the railroads began building cars in record numbers, especially 1937.

    VGN 62007 -- The Virginian cars were built in 1937 by Greenville Steel Car. There were 25 cars, numbered in the 62000-62024 series. The cars were equipped with Evans truck loaders (as built). These were 1936 Evans, type B or C with 18 pans. Evans referred to this style as a truck rack; the AAR designated them with the T. The 1937 stenciling (8" x 24" rectangle below 3" stripe) as in the builder photo, indicates loaders were equipped to handle 1937 model automobiles as well as trucks. The cars were equipped with the floor tubes, which housed the chain apparatus used to tie down the automobiles positioned on the floor of the auto car. The storage tubes were either mounted perpendicular to the floor or positioned at various angles to pass various underframe and brake components. The dimensions of the tubes are standard: they were 5" in diameter and ranged from 18" to 28" in length. Actually there were oval tubes (5" x 6")as well, but modeling them would be tough.

    The model is a stock Bowser kit that has been upgraded. The lettering on this car is very accurate as it was taken from Virginian lettering diagrams available from the N&W Historical Society. There are several enhancements that can be done to the car to make it look better and dont take a lot of time.

    The first enhancement is painting the ends and roof black. In order to keep the cost of the model in line with other kits in this series, Bowser opted for a single color paint scheme. A photograph appearing in the October 1987 MRG indicated the roofs and ends were painted black on these cars. This seems to have been a common practice among Appalachian railroads. Using the photograph as a guide, I painted the roof and ends of the car using Polly Scale Steam Power Black. There is only one problem with painting the ends and roof, you cover up the nice end lettering on the cars, which leads to enhancement number two.

    Painting over the ends covers the end lettering, so you will need to obtain decals to replace it. Fortunately there is a supplier of decals for this and other VGN cars, Great Decals! ( The decal set for these cars includes end numbers and the white bar that was painted on the door to indicate the Evans loader, which were also omitted on the Bowser car. I do recommend the bar decal be cut in half before applying, as it is too thick based on AAR standards. See side bar explaining the meaning of these markings.

    The next step with the model is enhanced details. I replaced the grabirons on the car sides with Westerfield grabirons and added them to the ends of the car where they had been omitted. I also added the brake wheel detail along with the floor tubes under the car. The floor tubes are 18" long and made from Plastruct tubing. They are placed according to a photo I downloaded from the N&W archives at Virginia Tech. I also replaced the couplers with Accumate Proto couplers. The underbody detailing is sparse, lacking the brake levers and lines. These can be easily added by using the Kadee underbody detailing for their 50' cars. This is available separately and makes a great addition to the car.

    The BX-1 wasn't modeled as it is too recent for my modeling era, but it is very simple to do. Make all of the changes to the Bowser car just as you did with the AX-1 only leave off the floor tubes and paint out the automobile stenciling on the side. This was the modification that the Virginian did to their cars when the cars were placed in general revenue service when they were no longer needed in automobile service. The class was also changed to BX-1 at this time.


    BX-10 61541. World War Two photograph showing the Buy War Bonds logo. Car was originally a BX-11 and numbered 61015.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 26

    The BX-10 class of cars has a sorted history. The class was originally two classes, BX-10 and BX-11. The BX-11s were actually built before the BX-10 class, and both classes used trucks from class H-1 hopper cars that were being scrapped at the time in favor of steel hoppers. The H-1 hoppers were 29' 6" wooden cars that were built for the Deepwater Railroad in 1905. The H-1s were very short-lived as the BX-10s and 11s were built in 1916 making the H-1s only 11 years old when they were scrapped. Baltimore Car and Foundry built both the BX-10 and 11s. There were a total of 75 BX-11s built and 175 BX-10s. The differentiation between the two classes was the brake cylinders; the BX-10s had 8" x 12" cylinders and the BX-11s had 10" x 12" cylinders. The BX-11s were numbered from 61000-61074 and the BX-10s were numbered from 61075-61249.

    The cars, as built, looked drastically different then they did at later stages in their lives. They came equipped with archbar trucks, K brake systems and steel doors. They also had large lettering boards, about 21/2' to 3' wide, on the left-hand side of the door extending to the end of the car. Some of these cars retained the letterboards after conversion to the single class or assignment to Maintenance of Way service.

    Beginning in March 1938, the 50 remaining cars suitable for interchange service were merged into a new class BX-10. The BX-11s became BX-10b and the old BX-10 cars became BX-10c. These cars were renumbered in the 61500-61549 series. The BX-11s had their brake cylinders changed to the BX-10 specifications at this time. Other modifications to the cars were the removal of the letterboards (not always as indicated), wooden doors, and the replacement of the archbar trucks with Andrews. The cars retained their K brake systems. The cars not suited for interchange service were either scrapped or placed in MoW service.

    VGN 61538 -- This car started life as an Accurail 4099 undecorated single-sheathed car. Accurail now offers this car already lettered, but didnt at the time I did this car. I lettered the car with a Champ HN-5 Virginian roadname set, but discovered that the lettering was too large for this car. These have since been replaced with a Great Decals! set that was specifically designed for this car. The decals come with additional numbers so that you can change the Accurail car numbers.

    I enhanced the car with added details and modifications to make it a closer match to the BX-10s. I replaced the center sill of the car, as this is the most glaring difference between the kit and the actual car. The kit has a fishbelly center sill that is very deep. The BX-10s had channel underframes that were only 15" deep and cross members that were 10" channels. I omitted the kit center sill and replaced it with a 1/ 8" channel. I carved off the cross members and replaced them with .080 channels. This gives the car a completely different look.

    The next enhancement was with the brake system. The kit comes with simplistic AB brakes, which are incorrect for these cars. Since I had already decided to change the underframe, it was just a little more work to replace the brake system as well. I added the train line before I added the channels and then added a Red Caboose K brake system after the channels were in place. All of this detailing visible below the sidesill makes a big difference.

    BX-11 61000 builders photograph taken at the Baltimore Car Foundry, October 1916. Note the steel three-panel door, which was later changed to wood. Car became BX-10 61540.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 27

    The BX-10s had ladders, but I didn't make the effort to remove and replace these because of the time required and the chance of marring the wood detail of the sides. I did carve off the grabirons and replace them with Westerfield preformed metal ones. I also added grabirons where they had been left off. As a final touch, I replaced the kit roofwalk with a laser-cut wooden one from Red Caboose and added the roof grabs to this. I also replaced the stirrup steps with Red Caboose steps to more closely represent the straight steps the cars were equipped with.

    By 1948, the number of BX-10s had been reduced to 44, and their number would continue to shrink. However, nine of BX10s would remain in service until after the Virginian merger with the N&W and are shown in the 1956 ORER as being on the roster. The numbers of the cars are unknown as the entire number series is listed.

    VGN 61541 -- This car represents one of the cars that retained its letterboards, at least through the World War II time period. You will note the simplistic paint scheme that was applied to these cars. Based on other car photos, this seemed to be the standard Virginian paint scheme for this era. You will note also the different style of Virginian lettering on the letterboards than on the other boxcars, all being the same size letters.

    BX-10X illustrating lettering style for the cars after numberboards were removed and in material service. Photo taken at T. King photo, John C. LaRue collection Marion, VA, May 1962.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 28

    This car was also modeled using an Accurail 4099 boxcar. The underframe was modified as per the previous car, and the cast-on grabirons were removed and replaced with wire. I added the letterboards using scale 1x12 lumber. The car was painted with Floquil Oxide Red. To get the correct lettering for this car, I used Great Decals! Virginian stock car decals. The only thing that I couldn't duplicate was the Buy War Bonds slogan on the door.

    BX-10X MofW

    In June 1937, one of the BX-11s and nine of the BX-10s were converted to Maintenance of Way cars. BX-11 61030 was converted first and became 90165. The next nine cars were BX-10s and were renumbered 90166-90174. The cars retained their original brake systems and archbar trucks. The large letterboards also remained in place. No more of these cars were converted until December 1946. Eventually 32 cars would end up in MoW service, three being converted as late as April 1953.

    Cars 90167 and 90175 -- Based upon information from Virginian Railway Miscellaneous Equipment, dated December 14, 1948, and photographs, I converted two Accurail cars into BX-10Xs. At first I assumed that the lettering schemes on the cars were identical to other Virginian MofW cars, but I quickly found out they werent when I received the first photograph. Fortunately, it was of a car with the letterboards, and I had just begun to decal one to represent the first conversion cars. It did prove that my assumptions about the first series of cars had been correct as it showed the letterboards and archbar trucks. The other photograph also confirmed my other thought about the cars having the letterboards removed and the placement of their lettering, however it also showed a different lettering style and that the car was equipped with archbar trucks contrary to what had been assumed. A third photograph illustrated a use for the cars that wasnt indicated in the diagram book...that of a bunk car. The lettering on the car is identical to the material car with the large V. The photographs also provided information as to where the car class and type of usage lettering was applied.

    Car 90175 was very easy to do; I just duplicated my efforts on the regular BX-10. The underframe was changed to represent a channel underframe and a K brake system was added. The car was painted using Testors Model Master Flat Gull Gray, and the roof was painted using Polly Scale Steam Power Black. Model Railway Services Virginian Maintenance of Way decals were used for the lettering. These are available from the Norfolk and Western Historical Society at their e-store. To get the weathered look, the car was washed down with several coats of india ink and alcohol.

    Model of MoW BX-10 90167 with letterboards from an Accurail kit.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 29

    Car 90167 took a little longer to do, as I had to add the letterboards. These were done using 1x12 scale lumber. The car was again decaled using MRS MofW decals after applying Polly Scale gravel gray paint. This gave me two cars to put on a siding very quickly.


    With the reduction of the fleet of BX-10s to 50 and the gearing up of the economy, the Virginian found themselves with a shortage of boxcars, so in 1941, they turned to Pressed Steel Car Co and purchased 100 cars. The BX-12 boxcars were a version of the later 1937 AAR design with the W corner post. They were equipped with Youngstown doors and Murphy roofs. All of the cars were still on the roster when the Virginian merged with the N&W and were renumbered and relettered into the N&W Class B-32 and 163000-163099 series.

    Car 63060 -- The model is a Red Caboose late 1937 AAR car and is lettered for the Virginian from company lettering diagrams. Currently, there are six numbers available. If you wish to have different numbers, Great Decals! makes a set for the BX-12s with additional number choices. The car was assembled following the kit instructions with the following enhancements being made.

    Prior to installing the roof, I added an interior to the car. Red Caboose makes these to fit their cars, although I'm sure that they can be used to fit other cars with placeable or movable doors. When using the interiors there is one catch, you cannot use the supplied weights in the kits. As I normally supplement the weights anyway, I just added lead to the ends of the cars where it was out of sight and over the trucks. I left one door open so you could see inside the car.

    Red Caboose also makes a laser-cut wooden roofwalk. I added one of these to the car, replacing the plastic one that is in the kit. I left the roofwalk a natural color and then stained it with an india ink and alcohol mix. It was then weathered with chalk to represent the sooty conditions that would come from running behind steam. The last enhancement to these cars was the installation of scale couplers and coupler lift levers. Just few simple changes that add looks to any car you might want in your fleet.

    Pullman-Standard builders photo of Virginian BX-15 63249.
    Model Railroading - October 2004 - Page 30


    If you are modeling earlier then the 1950s you can stop reading here. Beginning in 1949, the Virginian began modernizing their entire fleet of cars, phasing out more of the BX-10s and upgrading their hopper fleet to higher capacity cars. The H-12 and H-13, 55-ton, cars and H-14, 70-ton cars, began entering the fleet. Dieselization was right around the corner and so was the upgrading of the motive power in the electrified district with the introduction of the EL-2B, a massive two-unit electric locomotive that could handle a 3,000-ton train on a 1.3% grade at a steady 35 miles per hour. By the mid-50s the Virginian looked like an entirely different railroad than it did just ten years before. Injected into this rush to update the railroad was an order of 300 BX-15 PS-1 boxcars.

    Much has been written in the model press about the PS-1 as it is one of those landmark cars that was produced in the thousands, so there is no need to discuss the specifics of the prototype cars in this article, other than to say they were built by Pullman-Standard in Michigan City, Indiana in 1952 as lot number 8048. They had 8 ' Youngstown doors and Ajax brake wheels. With these cars being relatively new, the cars lasted well into the N&W merger and were relettered and renumbered into the N&W Class B-35 163100-163399 series.

    VGN 63310 -- The model is a stock ready-to-run Kadee 5007 PS-1. This is the second model of the BX-15 that Kadee has produced. The first car was produced in January 2002 with the number 63226. It is stock number 5002 and is very hard to find. The car has a reweigh date of March 9, 1954. The new release from Kadee is car 63310 and is in a factory fresh paint scheme. Based upon Virginian lettering diagrams, there is nothing that needs to be added to the lettering. I have a photo in the Virginian Handbook of a BX-15 that looks like it has run under a limestone hopper and been dumped on. As much as I would like to weather this car to that extent, I haven't gotten up the guts to do it, so it remains in pristine condition.

    Other Classes

    The Virginian had two other single-car classes of boxcars, which have not been modeled at this time, but they do deserve mentioning. Car 61550 was a 40-ton wooden boxcar with steel ends and was class BX-13. The car was originally L&N 11613 and was destroyed by fire in 1941 while on Virginian property. It was rebuilt in April 1942 and was still listed in the ORER in 1956. The car would be very easy to scratchbuild and the decals for lettering are available from Great Decals!. Car 61551 was also a wooden car and came to the railroad from the Milwaukee. It was built in 1913 and was numbered 502634. The car was purchased in August 1942 after being damaged in a wreck at Mullens, WV. It was also listed as still being on the roster in 1956. Again the car would be easy to scratchbuild and the decals are available from Great Decals!. Both of these eventually ended up in MoW service and were converted to buck cars.

    Article Album (1 photo)

    Share - Report
1 comment
  • Christopher Brimley
    Christopher Brimley I don't like or dislike the Virginian, I am just posting articles from the magazines we have here.
    May 26, 2011