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  • Merchants Despatch postwar steer reefers

    Guidelines for modeling these 1940's-vintage cars operated by a number of roads


    Left: Merchant's Despatch No. 9299 was built in September of 1947. It is a steel reefer, one of the MDT's flagship fleet. The car was painted white with narrow red and blue stripes just above the side sills.

    Right top: The author used Athearn's 40-foot steel reefer kit as a basis for his models of the MDT and NRC cars. The stock brake systems of both-showing nicely here-were replaced with Cal-Scale AS brake sets.

    Right bottom: Both of the author's cars feature a combination of Champ and Walthers decals. The MDT model is intended to represent a brand-new car (although MDT always kept this series very clean), and the NRC reefer is weathered just enough to look about a year old...
    Prototype Modeler - May 1986 - Page 40 Prototype Modeler - May 1986 - Page 41

    As a New York Central subsidiary, the Merchants Despatch Transportation Corp. existed chiefly to provide refrigerator car service for the NYC system. MDT also leased reefers to a variety of private shippers and sometimes to other railroads. In addition, MDT owned and operated the Northern Refrigerator Car Co., which leased reefers to such railroads as the Chicago & North Western, Illinois Central and Gulf, Mobile & Ohio as well as to numerous meat packers and fruit shippers. The size of MDT's operations is indicated by the fact that at one time there were more than 15,000 MDT and NRC cars in active service.

    Most of the cars owned by Merchants Despatch were built in MDT"s own shops at East Rochester, N.Y. In fact, the Despatch shops also built many freight cars of all descriptions for the parent New York Central system. In the 1930's, though MDT began building reefers with steel rods and ends, it continued to employ wood side sheathing owing to its insulating properties and resistance to corrosion. Following World War II, however, the MDT shops began work on a large number of new 40-foot refrigerator cars which were of all-steel construction except for their insulation and interior linings. The first 500 of these cars, built in 1946, were assigned to the Northern Refrigerator Car Co. as NRC 18000-18499. In the fall of 1947, deliveries began on an additional order for 1000 similar cars numbered MDT 9000-9999. Though differing slightly in dimensions, these NRC and MDT steel-sheathed reefers were essentially identical. They had AAR standard underframes, improved dreadnaught 3-4 ends, panel roofs, riveted steel sides, steel-grid running boards, and Preco air circulating fans. Many additional cars of similar design followed in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

    MDT and NRC postwar steel reefers are easily modeled in HO scale using Athearn's 40-foot steel reefer kit, which yields prototypically authentic models with only minor changes. In fact, Athearn's reefer is available in an MDT version, but since the quality and accuracy of the lettering in this factory-decorated kit leaves something to be desired, I decided to model both NRC and MDT cars using undecorated kits.

    I began by eliminating the Athearn ice hatch hinges and latches, filling the holes left in the roof with scrap styrene and acrylic auto body putty. I also filled the roof walk mounting holes. I then filed and sanded the roof walks thinner, so they more closely resembled prototype steel-grid walks, and cemented them in place. On the undersides of the models I replaced the Athearn air brake equipment with Cal Scale No. 283 AB brake sets and brake rigging. I also replaced the oversize sill steps with new ones made from flat wire staples and fitted uncoupling levers of. 015" wire mounted in Detail Associates No. 2206 eye bolts. The fan drive boxes positioned below the side sills were fabricated from styrene sheet and strip stock with operating levers made from pieces of wire staple. The ends of the Preco fans were made by cementing thin slices of 1/8" o.d. Plastruct tubing to the carsides, along with centers of. 040" plastic rod. Placard boards from Detail Associates set No. 6213 and destination card boards of styrene strip stock were also cemented to the sides. I secured the ice hatch covers in place -- open on the NRC car, closed on the MDT reefer and added latch bars formed from flat wire, as well as hatch cover rests made from small pieces of styrene. Once the brake wheels were installed, the cars were ready to paint.

    The reefers operated by NRC -- and many MDT cars of this era as well had reefer orange sides and freight car red roofs and ends. On new cars the underframes and trucks were black, as were the panels on the sides below the door openings. As "flagship" cars of the MDT reefer fleet, the 9000-9999 series continued a long-standing MDT practice by emerging from the shops when new with white sides sporting narrow red and blue stripes just above the sills. Door latch handles, ladder rungs, and grabirons were black, along with the under frames and trucks. Standard freight-car red was applied to roofs and ends. In later years, these cars were repainted with orange sides.

    Neither of these reefers proved easy to letter correctly. A Champ HR-47 set provided much of the lettering for the NRC car, supplemented by data from Champ's HD-18 data set and HR-19 Pacific Fruit Express set. I hunted every where for the AIR CIRCULATING FANS lettering below the word REFRIGERATOR, and finally found it (though the style isn't quite correct) in a Walthers 1366 set for late 1950's vintage MDT reefers. Champ's HR-10 set provided the stripes, heralds, and some data for the MDT car, but much of the lettering in this set turned out to be conspicuously oversize. Where this was the case I replaced it with decals from various Champ and Walthers data and alphabet sets. When the lettering was complete, I applied a coat of slightly shiny clear finish to the MDT car so it would look brand new, while the NRC version got a light layer of dirt and grime followed by a coat of clear flat, representing a car that had been in service for a year or so.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Richard H. Hendrickson
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date May 1986

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