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  • Pennsylvania X45 50' Boxars

    by Greg Martin

    Model photos by the author

    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 25

    DURING 1951, and continuing through 1952, the Pennsylvania Railroad's Altoona Shop turned out 500 new 50' 6" boxcars of all-welded construction in series 73000-73499. Altoona utilized Youngstown Steel's post-war lightweight corrugated 6/6/5 panel doors and camel hardware during this period. The cars also received the Stanray diagonal-panel flush-eve roof panels. This production series would be the last Pennsy-built car to receive this feature; after this car all subsequent classes would receive the overhanging-roof lip eve. The cars were produced with 4/3/1 improved Dreadnaught ends and nailable steel floors. The side sheathing was made up of 18 panels which was a reduction from the 20 panel sides from the the last in-house-produced all-welded car class X41B. The tab sills were somewhat unique in that they allowed the first crossbearer in from each bolster tab to be welded to the sidesill without using the traditional triangular gusset as was standard practice at the time. Future production would utilize the 10" -deep continuous sidesill. The cars were delivered in the standard "Keystone on the Ball" paint scheme, but many would be repainted in both phases of the "Billboard/Shadow Keystone" schemes and the final "Gothic/Shadowless Keystone" scheme. Through these cars were not large in number, like any Pennsy car, hey roamed the nation in general service.

    It has been several years since the hobby has had a steam- and diesel-era 50' boxcar to work with. So when I found out that Accurail's 50' AAR car was on the market I wanted to jump right in and start my X45 project. I found that the car had the same sharp detail as Accurail had given us in the 40' boxcar kit, but with a bonus... separate doors and a thin profile roofwalk. In keeping with their current standards Accurail offers a separate detailed underframe and separate brake parts. I might add that the twin tapered sill also has guides scribed in the die work to allow the modeler the flexibility to modify the sill to match other standards. All good things come with compromises, and there are those modelers who will consider only the compromises. The kit has cast-on details such as ladders, grabirons and the "B" end brake details as well as tackboards on both ends and the doors. The cast-on steps are a breath of fresh air as they are thin, detailed and are very authentic for this era car on the Pennsy. My own mishandling forced me to replace them, but this was not a big problem. I will deal with all these items as I move through this project which should take a couple of nights to complete. This project is meant to challenge your abilities, but not to scare you away. I will offer some alternatives to make the project easier, and I will use a few myself. In no way do I want to discourage you - I intend to inspire you to test your skills, so let's get started.

    The Body Shell

    "A" end details include cut levers, drop grabirons, air-brake hose, and poling pockets. The Pennsy "trade mark" equipment trust plate badge is a simple .005 styrene strip.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 26

    Normally I work from the underframe up, but because we will be using the under frame to support the body shell while sanding we will work from the top down. I find it just as easy to work on two cars at a time as one and believe it makes better use of my time. I started with an undecorated kit and recommend you do the same as we will be removing all the rivets and this requires sanding the car sides.

    Start first by inserting the underframe into the body shell, but don't cement it into place as it also requires work. Remove the grabirons on the side as well as the ends, the brake wheel platform and supports. Although I didn't remove the side ladders, I wish I had since I had to sand the sides any way. If you leave them on I will show you how to deal with them later. Next remove all the rivets and rivet strips that are on the body along the sidesills, in the area where the sides and roof intersect, on the strip between the top and bottom Dreadnaughts and inside the ladders at the bottom rung. Basically, the only remaining rivets should be those on the roof panels and those that connect ladders and grabs to the car itself. Using a chisel-edged hobby knife blade remove the side sheathing rivet strips from the bottom up. You need not take them down flush with the car side as we will be sanding the car sides smooth. Imperfections will be taken care of during sanding, so just do your best. Although I chose not to remove the side and end ladders, brake detail and placards, removing the side ladders wouldn't have caused much more work. You will have to decide for yourself if the extra work in removing the cast-on end details is worth the effort to you.

    Modifying the side sill to match the Pennsy X45 configuration has been made easier because the back of the sidesill has the template scribed in. I used a single-edged razor blade with a steel ruler to made multiple passes until the original sill dropped off; I do not recommend the score-and-snap method as the rough edge that results is too difficult to control and repair.

    The height of Front Range doors was extended by adding .015 styrene strips to the top and bottom. Door details were then added, and the door was cemented to the car side. The tack boards are made from scrap styrene.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 27

    Start with 400-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper and sand the sides smooth. Use long even strokes from one end to the other with water to aid in the sanding. Check for imperfections at this point, and if you find any deep gouges fill them with a lacquer-based filler like Squadron Putty. A trick I learned from airplane modelers is to use a quick-dry gel CA to fill small im perfections. A word of caution: the longer the CA dries the harder it gets. This makes it more difficult to sand evenly because it becomes harder than the original plastic. To get the CA fairly even with the car side before sanding spread it with an old single-edged razor blade; I save a few just for that purpose. Now switch your sanding block to 600-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper and with a little water again sand the car smooth in long even strokes the length of the car. A word about sanding blocks; mine is made from an oak batten about 2 1/2" long and 1" wide. I find it does a fine job. Check your work by holding the body up to a light source and sight down the sides; this will help bring out any imperfections. Use your instincts here. If you feel the sides are free of defects you need not prime them, but if you are unsure, prime the sides. If need be re-sand the car with 600-grit; the paint may help even out small flaws. I did mine for photography purposes. At this point do not attempt to scribe the panel lines to simulate the welded panels. Double check your work, then let's move on to the doors.

    The Doors

    To backdate the kits to more accurately represent cars of the '50s I substituted some of the old Front Range doors for the included doors. Accurail's door is a retooled correct-height version of the Front Range door (also available separately), but they have cast the placard onto the door. I elected to use the old Front Range doors even though the panel sequence is reversed because they allowed me to place the placards and door locks where I wanted. The drawback is that the Front Range doors were a bit short and required the addition of .015 styrene at the top and bottom cords to make them fit. The kit door could be utilized for a car that has been outshopped in the '60s as the placards were moved lower on the doors and eventually moved to the left side of the door. If you decide to use the Accurail doors I promise I will not tell. Details for the doors included scratchbuilt placards, Detail Associates locking hardware and styrene shims for the lower door retainers. The doors were centered on the car side with CA sparingly applied around the perimeter edges.

    The Underframe

    Close examination shows the original placement of the air brake equipment. The brake cylinder is mounted in the transverse position closer to the center of the car. This level of underframe detail underframe is simple and, to me, necessary... believe me, it will be noticed.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 28

    In my opinion, you must have the underframe details. As layout heights get closer to eye level, more of these details are seen... and I love to see these parts hanging down and cluttering the field of vision. In their desire to ease maintenance, the Pennsy, like the Santa Fe and others, transversely mounted the air-brake reservoir. Accurail's underframe is laid out for the standard reservoir mount and needs to be modified. In the underframe photo you can see traces of where the reservoir and triple valve where designed to be placed as well as how I placed them in front of the cross bearers at the doorjamb. The rods and levers are styrene, and the air-brake piping, including the main trainline, and the rod supports are made of wire. Utilizing stretched sprue and styrene for the levers and linkage makes for a quick assembly on the workbench. Use a thin razor saw blade to cut through the cylinder cleavice so the cylinder can support the assembly. With a dab of plastic cement at the end of each rod the assembly with stay in place. Drill holes in the reservoir and triple valve and install the wire to simulate the air pipes. Yeah, yeah, it's lacking the chain between the cylinder and the fulcrum rod, but let's keep this basic. Add the weights to the reverse side with contact cement or silicone. I installed the Accumate couplers and was surprised at how detailed the coupler-pocket cover was. It's a neat innovation with the simulated draft gear, and I hope they release them separately. Cement the underframe in place.

    Body Shell Details

    I started by checking my photos to see exactly what "consistent" details needed to be added. I found published photos for this class car in all four major paint schemes (see references). They provided the in formation I needed. These cars have the traditional PRR equipment badge trust plate in the upper right-hand corner on both sides of the car. It was modeled from a scale 8" x 24" strip of .005 styrene with the corners rounded. This is definitely a signature of the Pennsy in the '50s. I also found that the cars needed poling pockets. These are simple to make from wedges of styrene tubing trimmed with a single-edged razor blade.

    X45 73474 displays a badly weathered version of the third variation of the Billboard Lettering/Shadowed Keystone scheme. Although the stencil to the left of the door reads "HOME FOR REPAIRS," it is probably waiting to be scrapped. The trucks under class X45 were class 2D-F33, an American Steel Foundry "Ride Control" design. Newcomerstown, OH; May 1979.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 29

    If you removed the ladders, add them back to the sides and ends now. I made a defect card tube from a small piece of stretched sprue and added it just above the sill on the left side of the car above the bolster tab. I utilized the stock brakewheel, which, although a bit thick in profile, has nice detail. The brakewheel platform was trimmed from a recycled metal walkway with 1x2 styrene strips used for the diagonal supports. A retainer valve pipe was made from .010 steel wire; this also helps back-date the cars to the '50s. Standard commercially available straight-wire grabirons and air hoses were added. I formed my own cut levers from steel wire and attached them with contact cement to the brackets provided. I added Tichy stirrup steps as I broke the original mishandling the car. The roofwalk provided in the kit will be acceptable to many of you since it is thinner in profile and has the new industry-standard beveled edges. I prefer a see-through roofwalk so I used a Detail Associates metal roofwalk. Adding these simple details helps upgrade this car and takes perhaps two evenings to complete. Now off to paint, decals and weathering.

    Paint and Lettering

    If you ask ten different Pennsy modelers what is the "right" PRR Freight Car Color you will get at least eight different answers. I have my own home brews for the color, too. I try to mix up cars to keep them from looking all the same, so some get different shades. But here is a good simple "go anywhere and find it" color. In a clean empty 3/4 oz . mixing bottle add one 1/4 bottle of Testors #1185 Rust. To this add a fourth of a bottle (1/16 oz.) of Socony Red or a bright red substitute that has an orange tint. This makes a very convincing PRR Freight Car Color that fits the post-war era right up until the late '50s and early '60s when there is evidence showing that the darker color came to be. I painted both cars this color and allowed them to dry thoroughly. This color dries flat so you need to add a clear gloss coat before decaling.

    For the decals I chose the Champ HB-30 set for the "Keystone on the Ball" paint scheme. I had to piece together the numerals and the data, but this set does a good job. On the other car I used the Middle Division HBX-10 set for the "Billboard Lettering/Shadow Keystone" set designed for the X45 car. This set includes all the correct decals to complete the car without splicing and robbing from other sets. Other sets have been offered by Champ and Herald King (now out of the business), but neither had a set that included the correct height lettering for 50' cars in the same set. The bonus is a reproduction of the original Pennsy lettering arrangement from which to work. If I had one complaint about these decals it would be their film thickness can vary, often in the same package. A good way to deal with this is to sand the edge of the trimmed decal at an angle with 400-grit wet-and-dry sandpaper, but admittedly this is a difficult task for long narrow data markings. Once I have set the decals with my favorite decal solution and the decals are dry I wipe the car with a soft cotton cloth to remove the excess decal solution and apply a second coat of clear gloss to seal the decals and even out the film.

    The classic "Keystone on the Ball" scheme was the standard for the Pennsy from the early '30s until 1954.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 30

    Aging and Weathering

    To this point we have avoided the panel layout on the side of the car. After reviewing photos of the cars I realized that even if the car was freshly painted the panels were still very pronounced. I figured the best way to emphasize the panels was to cut a jig from a piece of styrene approximately 2' 8" wide and use a common #2 pencil to draw the panel lines. So I started at the edge of the door and worked toward the ends. The next step was to bring out car's details with a fine-tipped drawing pen and India ink. I worked from the roof ribs down to the car's sill and then to the under frame detail.

    To complete the aging illusion of separate welded panels I shaded the car. The shading process is done by highlighting each panel with thin washes on opposing sides of the emphasized weld line I made with a pencil. The key here is to use a 3M Post-it® note or a piece of cardstock as a guide and allow the overspray to creep over the edge in random light patterns. It is simple to do. Start with a mixture of the basic color and red, then thin it to a wash. Set the Post-it note on the weld line and spray the reddened mixture to the right side of each panel and on the roof up the right side of the rib and turning toward the right at the roofwalk. Next, reverse the Post-it and use Testors Rubber to lightly spray the opposite (left) side of the panels in random patterns. Occasionally I would allow the color to drift over the line, but normally only on the bottom of the panels. The entire underframe then gets a coat of Rubber as does the area along the bottom sill, paying particular attention the door rails, where the oily grime collects.

    PRR 73163 carries what appears to be remnants of a modified Keystone on the Ball scheme. This is a classic example of an unofficial variation that was very possibly applied off line. Note that all X45s had transverse-mounted air-brake cylinders. Circa 1965.
    Model Railroading - January 1999 - Page 31

    The roof is handled in the same manner as the sides except that the "plus-red" color starts on the left side of the rib and then at the bottom of the rib the color is sprayed to the left. This simulates the way water carries the dirt and crud collected on the roof and deposits it at the bottom of the roof, eventually breaking down the paint and exposing the Asphaltium layer beneath. To finish off I spray Rubber down onto the corrugations on the doors and the Dreadnaughts.

    I have experimented with using colored pencils as weathering tools and was very pleased with the results, but in the past I refrained from using them on freight equipment. To simulate the weld beads on the panel lines I felt that an oxide-colored pencil might help pick up the line and set it off without the need to scribe the plastic. It worked! It achieved the effect I was seeking. All I needed to do was use a rule and add the oxide line next to the pencil line. I then used a Dark Brown Conté Crayon to simulate the scratched area on car #73228 in the door path and then to deepen some of the rust areas around the ends of the upper door track. I then came back with an Oxide colored Conté Crayon to highlight the raised areas of the car - the grabs, ladder rungs, brake detail and door hardware, and then to create rust streaks. The rust streaks were rubbed out slightly. Unlike chalk, Conté is far more permanent so put it where you want it and not where you don't. We're done.


    I have geared this article toward the modeler who appreciates realism and authenticity, but also for those perhaps with the urge to experiment and test their skills a bit. I realize that not every modeler is willing to spend all of his or her time researching and super-detailing freight cars. This is a great kit, and I have had a lot of fun just doing the simple things necessary to make it a bit better. There is no doubt that I will return to the workbench and keyboard with another offering utilizing Accurail's plug-door and double-door cars in the future. Perhaps I'll take them to a higher level of detail and skill.

    The sidebar on the lettering is a bit simplistic but should give modelers insight into the Pennsy's painting/lettering from the early '30s to the merger of Penn Central. And, oh yes, I do plan to cover the other schemes for the cars assigned to passenger service and the famous LCL "MERCHANDISE SERVICE," but we will cover that in the future.

    These cars will look great whether being knuckled up to an I1sa decapod or behind a set of shark-nose diesels... or even behind an SD45. And as I've said before, you need not be a Pennsy modeler to model the Pennsy...these car were seen nationwide.


    I want to thank Brady McGuire for his excellent article in the PRRT&HS's The Keystone Vol. 21 #2 Summer 1988 (pages 13-46) titled "Lettering Schemes for PRR Boxcars."Without his great efforts many Pennsy modelers would still be in the dark. Another great reference is PRR Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment, Vol. 2, by Ian S. Fischer and published by Morning Sun Books, Inc. To be a good modeler you must read and feed your head.

    Keep 'em polished.

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  • Joe Walder likes this
  • Rick Schoch
    Rick Schoch Great article. This guy's a PRRT&HS member and knows his stuff.
    December 3, 2011