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  • PFE Wood-Sheathed Steel End Reefers

    by R. H. Hendrickson

    Page 48: The subtle weathering of this model does much to point up the excellence of the author, the authentic appearance of the car, and a fine model of a prototype reefer. The photo is by the author.
    Prototype Modeler - August 1977 - Page 48 Prototype Modeler - August 1977 - Page 49


    During the 1920s Pacific Fruit Express established the world's largest fleet of refrigerator cars by purchasing thousands of 40' wood-sheathed reefers built to a standard PFE design. By the mid-thirties, year and tear were beginning to take their toll on these cars, so an extensive renovation program was begun which lasted into the 1950s. Eventually, almost all of PFE's surviving wood-sheathed reefers were variously rebuilt, reclassified, and renumbered, some of them more than once (a process which made a historian's nightmare of the PFE roster). This rebuilding program gained added impetus from the freight car shortages of the World War II period, so that by the mid-forties older wood-sheathed cars were being modernized in the PFE shops to the extent of receiving AB brake equipment, air circulating fans, new roofs, and all-steel dred naught style ends. Trans formed this way, they represented a distinctive transition between the completely wood sheathed reefers of the 1920s and the all-steel cars of the post-war period.

    Though the numbering and classification of PFE's rebuilt reefers remains some what puzzling, the steel-end rebuilds were apparently assigned numbers in the 62501-69999 series. Not all of these numbers were used, however; according to the January, 1948, Railway Equipment Register, there were only 3482 live cars in the series at that time. This issue of the register also shows cars numbered 63501-67420 as being equipped with air circulating fans, which would add up to over 3900 cars if all numbers were assigned. So it seems likely that the numbers above 67420 were never used, and that not all of the numbers between 62501 and 67420 were actually assigned. Also, the evidence I've seen indicates that both 30 ton and 40 ton wood-sheathed reefers were rebuilt with steel ends (the two types were virtually identical except for the size of the truck journals), and that 30 ton cars were re-classified R-30-21 while the 40 ton cars were reclassified R-40-21. Anyway, I've seen photos of car no. 64599, rebuilt in 1-46 as class R-30-21 and car no. 65309, rebuilt in 2-46 as class R-40-21, so these two class/number combinations I'm sure are correct.


    Modeling a wood-sheathed, steel-end PFE reefer in HO scale is relatively easy if Train-Miniature's double-sheathed refrigerator car kit is used as a starting point. When it first issued, this kit was available as a PFE car, accurately painted and letter ed in pre-1947 style to represent car no. 65309, and though this version of the kit has long been out of production, I had the good luck to find a hobby shop that still had one in stock a couple of years ago. Those who aren't fortunate enough to have one of these early T-M kits on hand can repaint and decal any T-M wood sheathed, steel end reefer kit to represent a PFE car, however.

    I assembled my T-M car in the usual way, except for the following changes. Before attaching the underframe to the floor, I cut the draft gear covers off the center sill so I could install the couplers later. I also removed all four cross bearers from the center sill, along with the air brake cylinder and reservoir. I then assembled the floor, floor weights, and center sill and attached them to the car body. A distinctive feature of PFE's wood sheathed reefers was that the ends of the I-section cross bearers were visible below the lower edge of the car sides. To achieve this effect, I cut 10 new cross bearers from a Plastruct 1/8" I-beam section and shaped the ends as shown in Figure 1, then cemented 8 of them in place at the same locations as the original cross bearers and the other two at the locations shown in Figure 2. (These two extra cross bearers were added to the prototype cars when they were rebuilt to provide mounting points for the AB brake reservoir and valve.)

    Next, I cemented the air brake cylinder onto the center sill and the reservoir onto the cross bearers (Figure 2) so that the lower half of each extends below the bottom of the center sill. I also installed a new AB brake valve, using the valve cast onto the car floor as a mounting pad so that the new valve is visible below the bottom of the car side. I then made four reinforcement plates from .010" sheet styrene and cemented them in place at the ends of the truck bolsters (Figure 3).

    With the underframe finished, I next turned my attention to the car body. I began by removing the ice hatch hinges from the roof, since these are grossly out of scale and I have no need for working ice hatches. I filled the small holes left by this operation, touched up the paint, and cemented the hatch covers in place. I then made two air circulating fans as shown in Figure 4, using Plastruct 1/8" and 1/16" tubing (the latter is actually plastic coated steel wire), drilled 1/8" holes in the car sides at the locations shown in Figure 5, and cemented the fans in place. Next came the fan drive covers, made of .010" and .040" styrene and mounted below the side sills as shown in Figure 5. (Note : the fan drive covers interfere with truck swing, so you may have to make them thinner or even omit them entirely if you plan to operate your model on tight radius curves.)

    I painted the underframe and truck side frames on my model Box Car Red, following standard PFE practice. I then used a fine detailing brush, plus some patience, to paint the side ladders and grabirons, door hardware, and fans black (this step can be omitted if you're model ing the 1950s lettering style with UP and SP heralds in black and white on both sides of the car, since in this version the entire car side was reefer orange, including the hardware and details formerly painted black). Finally, so my model would have the appearance of a car that had been in service for a couple of years, I applied a light aging/weathering was to the car body, with some slightly darker streaks down the sides, and a heavier coat of grime to the underframe and trucks. I then installed the trucks and couplers and the job was complete.

    Article Details

    • Original Author R.H. Hendrickson
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date August 1977

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