Christopher Brimley updated September 30, 2011


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  • Add a Radio Control Car and Helpers to Your Southern Consist

    by Larry Puckett

    Model photos by the author

    Prototype photos by Chris Howard

    The finished model shows off the clean, simple lines of the model with the bold white Southern lettering and numerals.
    Model Railroading - January 2002 - Page 28

    The Southern Railway was also known as the road of innovations and among those innovations was the development of radio-controlled helper service. Helper service had been used for many decades to shove heavy trains up steep grades, but those operations had always required multiple crews, and for normal operations it was safer to simply run the train in multiple sections. In the early 1960s Southern began to experiment with ways to pull longer trains. One option was to simply add more locomotives up front as the tonnage increased, however that option often resulted in broken couplers and delays. At some point it be came obvious that by placing some of that motive power half to two-thirds of the way back in the train the locomotives could push and pull at the same time without the added stress on couplers. However, this option would still require multiple crews and there was also the problem of matching speeds and controlling the train through brake applications, not to mention responding to signals and emergencies. The final piece to the puzzle came together when someone decided to use radio signals to relay commands from the lead locomotive back to the mid-train helpers.

    The early experiments with this new technology reportedly were tried out in early 1963 with the radio receiver and control equipment mounted in an old FTB unit. With the tests a success, a total of two FTBs were gutted, ballasted with cement to 185,200 and 188,300 pounds total weight, and radio equipment was installed in them - these were renumbered as 5952 and 5953. At least one unit (5951) was built in August 1965 on an Alco frame and trucks, and also that year several units were built on Fairbanks-Morse H16-44 frames and trucks, weighing in at about 165,000 ponds each. References indicate that these were numbered as high as 5960, suggesting that s even (5954-5960) of the FM units may have been constructed. Finally, in 1966 50 totally new cars, numbered 5900-5949, were built by Berwick Forge and Fabricating (BFF). These cars had a light weight of from 166,000 to 169,400 pounds. Trucks also varied during their service lives. As built, they had Commonwealth high-speed trucks like those used on express cars. Later photos show them with 70-ton roller bearing trucks, and finally, many if not all received 100-ton trucks. Once the BFF cars were delivered, the equipment was removed from the FTBs and some of the FM units, and around 1971 they were converted to scale test cars (but thats a subject for another article). At least two of the FM cars reportedly were sold to the Northern Pacific for evaluation of the radio controlled helper service. The remaining BFF cars remained in service for almost 20 years after the formation of the Norfolk Southern and are now reportedly stored in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    Internally, these cars were just big boxes with racks and cabinets for the radio equipment, relays, breakers, tools, direction and address controls, air reservoirs, and a brake stand. Externally, they were about as plain a s they could be with their welded steel sides and only a couple of vents on each side. Most of the details were on the ends of the cars. In addition to the usual coupler, air hoses and train air line, there was a door for access to the inside, a brake wheel on one end, an MU receptacle, an electric power connector, a narrow walkway, and ladders. As originally built, the MU receptacle and power connector were located next to one another on the upper left side of the door. This position was necessary because F-units were commonly used in helper service, and their MU receptacles were located up high on the nose next to the headlight. How ever, after the last F7s were removed from helper service in the late 1960s, the MU and electric power receptacles were moved down below the level of the door, requiring a vertical conduit for the wiring, for convenience in connecting to hood units with pilot-mounted MU connectors.

    Southern radio car 905903 was working for Norfolk Southern by the time this photograph was taken.
    Model Railroading - January 2002 - Page 29

    The paint scheme was similar to that of a Southern boxcar of the era. The body w as painted freight car red up to a few inches below the roofline and from there up, including the roof, was white. Large white "SOUTHERN" lettering and numerals were applied to the sides along with the standard dimensions, weight, build date, and in later years, lube stencils and ACI labels. On the ends of the cars was a small "SOUTHERN" roadname and number in the upper right hand corner. There was some other small lettering scattered about the car but I have not been able to find detailed enough photos or a stencil diagram that shows what these were. At least one unit (5925) was given the SOUTHERN green light lettering scheme although we have not been able to determine the time period of this version or whether other cars received it as well. In the late 1960s all the units were renumbered with the addition of the "90" prefix making them 905900-905949. After the 1982 formation of the NS, the radio control cars retained their Southern lettering for some years. Some were subsequently given smaller "SOUTHERN" roadnames and in the 1990s they began to receive the winged NS logo.

    The Model

    Until recently there were only a couple of options for Southern modelers who needed a few of these cars to implement mid-train helpers as part of their operations: 1) buy one of the brass cars from Overland, or 2) scratchbuild one. This changed in the spring of 2001 with the release of a cast-resin kit from Wright Track Models. I know, I said cast resin, but its not like the resin kits of a few years ago. The resin being used now is closer to a soft plastic than those old hard, brittle kits. The material is easily worked, and forgiving of minor mishaps. To make it an even easier project, the body is cast as a single unit with a separate underbody and frame. Also included are various sty rene and brass strips, lift rings, firecracker antennas, custom decals, and brake rigging from Tichy. Couplers and trucks are not supplied, which is reasonable given the variety described above.

    I decided to model the car as it appeared in the late 1960s, before the renumbering and relocation of the MU connectors. Because I received my kit before the instructions were available my construction methods may differ from them. I began the project by removing the small amounts of flash with a sharp knife followed with some filing and sanding. I like to drill all the holes for hand grabs and firecracker antennas first to prevent handling damage to other details later. In this case I used a #77 bit to drill holes next to each NBW casting at the dimples provided on the model. I fashioned the grabs from the .010 diameter brass wire provided and glued them in place with cyanoacrylate (CA). I then used a #68 bit for the three holes on the roof required for the firecracker antennas. Its a good idea to install these later to prevent breaking them off while working on the model. Next I turned to the ladders. Although Tichy styrene ladders are provided in the kit I thought they were a bit heavy looking and the spacing on the rungs did not seem to match those on the prototype. So I started digging through my scrap parts drawer and found several ladders left over from InterMountain and Life-Like kits. I cut these down to the correct length and attached them with CA.

    Theres a wealth of detail on the B end of a car, and this photo really has it all. That bare steel plate to the top left of the door is where the MU connector and electrical receptacle used to be. You can also see the stenciled appearance of the small roadname and car number to the top right of the door.
    Model Railroading - January 2002 - Page 30

    With the grabs on I then turned to installing the various details on the ends of the cars. First, I added the MU and power receptacles to the mounting plate provided on each end of the car. The MU receptacle is one of the round, angled ones from a Detail Associates 1507 set. To keep it from getting broken off easily, I drilled a #77 hole in the MU receptacle and on the mounting plate, glued a piece of .010 brass wire in the hole, and installed the MU receptacle on it. Unfortunately, no one makes a power receptacle, however the angle cock trimmed from a Kadee 438 air hose set makes a convincing stand-in. I mounted this by drilling a #65 hole at a 45 angle just above the edge of the mounting plate, next to the MU receptacle, and then glued the angle cock in it.

    Next I moved to the brake mechanism on the B end - its important to install this before adding the walkway. For the brake I used the Ajax brake casting supplied with the Tichy parts and a Kadee 2022 Miner brake wheel. Once these were glued together I added a section of cast plastic chain long enough to reach the bottom of the brake recess and glued them in place using the prototype photos as a guide. I added the lever mechanism seen at the bottom of the chain, also from the Tichy casting.Before adding the walkway below the door I think its a good idea to install the coupler cut lever. Using the prototype photos as a guide, I made a cut lever from .010 brass wire and installed it using a couple DA 2206 eyebolts. Once these were installed I cut walkway platforms from the styrene strip material provided with the kit and glued it in place under the bottom doorframe using CA glue - note that the walkway on the A end is shorter than the B end. While the glue dried I placed the unit in a tall glass and used scrap foam rubber to stabilize it - if you're real careful you can do this for both ends by placing a small scrap of foam in the bottom of the glass for the car to rest on. Finally, I used the flat brass strip provided with the kit to make the support brackets. Again I just eyeballed the dimensions based on the prototype photos. While I was working with the brass strip I also used it to make the door latch handles and the stirrup steps.

    The only other small details left to add at this point are the MU air hoses and brake air line. The brake air line is a Details West 267 which requires a #68 hole to the right of the coupler. Recently Ive switched to DW 265 for the MU air hoses. These are white-metal castings that are easier to mount and bend into specific shapes than the Detail Associates plastic air hoses. For this installation I trimmed and filed the top of the casting so that it would fit flush against the top of the opening in the end of the car. I then gave it a slight bend over the lower part of the frame - this also allows the metal hoses to sit flat against the frame. Finally, I placed a small amount of CA on the top of the casting and on the back of the hoses at the point were I had bent them to sit against the frame - gluing them in two places like this will reduce the chance of getting them broken off. Turning to the underframe, I installed the brake components supplied with the kit, and drilled a couple of holes in the bolsters for screws to hold the trucks on. I also added some lead weights to the floor and set this and the trucks aside for painting.

    The B end of the model comes out very close to the actual prototype.
    Model Railroading - January 2002 - Page 31

    Paint and Decals

    After looking at handfuls of slides and p hotos it became apparent that the basic color of these cars varied from a deep chocolate brown to a faded reddish brown. After comparing various colors right out of the bottle to photos, I settled on a 50:50 mixture of MODELflex Light Tuscan Oxide Red and Milwaukee Brown. I first applied a coat of white to the roof and let it dry, then masked it off using the top of the six vents over the end doors as a reference. After that I sprayed the car, underframe and the trucks with the brown mixture.

    The decals supplied with the kit are only partially correct for the model even though they were based on original stencil diagrams. The most glaring problem is the numerals, or more precisely the 3, 6 and 9 numerals. For some reason those actually used on the prototype were rounded on the ends instead of being squared off as shown on the original diagrams. Another problem is the roadname and numerals used on the ends of the cars - on the prototype the characters were split as a result of the stencil used for apply ing them. Fortunately, the large 3, 6 and 9 numerals and the stenciled roadname and numerals are available in the Microscale 87-14 Southern Freight Car set. Consequently I ended up using only the roadname and various car data decals from the kit decal set. I applied these decals directly over the MODELflex paint and after they dried gave the whole model a protective coat of Testors Dullcote.

    With the decals on and protected I glued the frame in place using CA. Next I installed a pair of the new Kadee 58 scale-sized couplers and glued the stirrup steps in place, but that wasn't the end of the job. I thinned a bottle of MODELflex weathered black and sprayed a VERY light coat over the roof and then applied an equally thin coat beginning several feet up the sides and working my down, increasing the thickness of the paint as I progressed. I also gave the sides a few thin vertical stripes with the heaviest on the ends, over the ladders, and finally around the vents and over the trucks. The final product is a highly detailed model that will look right at home with a couple Tuxedo-clad diesels buried two-thirds the way back in a long Southern train.

    For more prototype photos visit my Southern Railway web site at Look under the Photo Gallery/Freight Equipment and under Modeling/Southern Radio Control Cars. For current pricing and ordering information contact Gary Wright at Wright Track Model Trains, 886 Rocky Branch Road, Clarkesville, GA 30523, or email him at

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  • SD45LONGHOODFOWARD TERRY /Tsunami decoder
    SD45LONGHOODFOWARD TERRY /Tsunami decoder wow this is grate !i use to see these babies in mid train operation on freight trains also on coal drags i also have 2 wrightrak kits of this model along with their Southern RY baywindow caboose that i highly recommend also.i have 3 sd40-2,s/ 1 sd 45/ 2 g...  more
    October 3, 2011 - 1 likes this