P2K Automobile Boxcar as Lehigh Valley 8500-8599

One of my ongoing projects has been to sort through all of my old model train stuff from two decades ago in order to continue to purge the things that I will never use. During a recent purge, I found a Lifelike Proto 2000 50′ automobile boxcar kit (remember kits?).


When I came to own this kit, back in the early to mid 1990s, it was probably an advanced product because it had separate brake and ladder details.  Even by today’s standards, it’s a decent model, and without too much work its quality can match that of other contemporary kits.

A steam-era automobile boxcar would have no place on the WRMRC layout, but the geographical location and era of my planned home layout is slowly crystallizing, and what’s certain is that I’ll build something representing railroading on either side of the Niagara River during the first half of the 1970s – the era of my earliest memories of train watching with my dad.  I just might be able to use this car in that context.

We live in an era when primary source historic information is abundant.  Online resources alone eclipse what was available to a modeller two decades ago, not to mention the quality of the various hard-copy books on the market from niche presses.  I acquired a copy of Craig T. Bossler’s CNJ/LV Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment shortly after finding this kit in my collection of junk, so  I was delighted to learn that the P2K model of the Valley’s automobile boxcar is actually a close representation of the prototype.

According to Bossler, the Lehigh Valley took delivery of 100 automobile boxcars from ACF in 1942.  These cars were numbered 8500 to 8599.  Being the ever frugal outfit they were, the Valley repurposed these cars long after they outlived their intended use.  63 of them were still in revenue service in 1971, with the majority of them in auto parts service.  A small number of them were refitted with damage free loaders and placed in general revenue service.

Bossler’s Color Guide proves that the kit is very close to the prototype, though there are a few differences that can be corrected without too much effort.  Most significantly, the side sills are incorrectly shaped, and need to be contoured with the appropriate notches.  I used the photos in the Color Guide to inform my carving and filing.  The kit designers had the foresight to put indents on the inside of the side sills, which serve to guide one through the re-shaping of the sill for different versions of the car.  The left end of each sill needed a short augmentation to conform to the prototype, and I accomplished that with strips of styrene and a spot of putty.


IMG_2753The above photo shows the shape of the side sills before the car was touched up with Model Flex Maroon Tuscan Oxide Red.

The word “Automobile” appears to have been removed from the cars in the Color Guide, so my next step will be to remove that and paint the sill extensions. I’ll move ahead with the assembly of this car, but I’d like to have a bit more information than what’s in the Color Guide.   A high angle shot would really help to move the project forward, but I’d appreciate any information that a reader can give me.  Please help me out if you can!

86′ Hi-Cube Project – Part 2 Removing and Reshaping

In my previous post, I outlined the various possibilities for modelling 86′ hi-cubes in HO from the old Athearn blue-box model.  In this post, I’ll describe how I plan to move forward with improvements to the model.

I decided that I would try to improve the Athearn four door car into a representation of the Greenville prototype.  The Athearn car more closely represent an early Thrall car in that the model has single welds between the side panels and the indent behind the ladders  have a beam at the floor and roof.  But I wanted to try to bring the car closer to a Greenville car, despite the fact that all of the Greenville cars were riveted.  I decided I could live with the concession of the welded panels for this one.

My decision to live with the welded sides was partly influenced by the fact that the factory paint on my NYC car isn’t too bad.  I felt that a model of a Greenville car would result in the least amount of repainting required.  Also, I’m confident that I can weather the factory finish more easily than a custom paint.  I’ll expand on that in a later post.

To begin the the upgrade, I removed all of the cast-on hand rails and grab irons, the stirrups, walkway across the B-end of the car, brake equipment, and tack board.  I shaved these off with a chisel blade hobby knife, then shaped and shined the ends with three consecutively finer grades of sanding sticks.

Once the cast-on details were gone, I removed part of the beam at the top and bottom of the indent behind the grab irons. Here’s a nice illustration of the indent on a Greenville car.   In this photo of a Thrall car notice that there’s a beam at the top and bottom of where the sides are indented (near the ends).  That’s the part that has to come off of the model.  Here is a sequence of photos taken during the removal of the cast-on bits.


I used Morning Sun’s NYC “Color Guide to Passenger and Freight Cars” as one of the many sources of information for this build.

In this shot, I'm trying to illustrate the thickness of the beam that runs along the top of the indent in the side of the car.

In this shot, I’m trying to illustrate the thickness of the beam that runs along the top of the indent in the side of the car. There is a corresponding thick beam at the bottom of the indent, above the side sill.


This photo was taken while I was in the process of removing the unwanted bits. The grab irons have just been carved off, and I’ve tried to minimize the effect of teh beam at the top and bottom of the indent. At this point, I considered trimming back the wrap-around of the ends to correspond with the prototype, but I felt that would remove too much of the factory paint in a place where the repaint won’t be partially obscured by new wire details. Aside from cleaning things up a bit, this is the extent of the removals.

I’ll need to do some drilling for grab irons and the handrail & walkway across the B-end.  I haven’t checked my parts box, but I’ll proceed when I find or buy the grab irons that I need.

In the meantime, here are some links to old articles about HO hi-cubes built from the Athearn model.

Railmodel Journal January 1994 – Part I   D. Scott Chatfield

Railmodel Journal March 1996 – Part II  Mike Budde

Railmodel Journal June 1996 p42 – 48 – Part III   Mike Budde

NYC 86′ Hi Cube Project

One of the things that we don’t have on the WRMRC layout is auto-parts traffic.  Hi-cubes are ubiquitous in southern Ontario, where all of the assembly plants in the province are located.  The only commodities moved for the auto industry in the north of Ontario are the finished product going to market, and perhaps the raw materials going to the stamping plants (steel from the Sault?).

I was born in the ’60s (man), and my earliest memories of trains are from the ’70s (far-out).  Starting in the early 70s, my father took me anywhere within a couple hours of home to watch trains.  Rail traffic around these parts was dominated by the steel and auto industries. As a result, hi-cubes play the leading role in my nostalgia for railroading in the ’70s.

This past summer I purchased a two-pack of Walthers Pullman-Standard 86′ hi-cubes in PRR livery, for no reason other than the vivid memory they evoked the instant I saw them.  If you consider that nearly every model railroad product released in the past 15 to 20 years is new to me, you might understand my excitement over the quality of these models.  They’re already outshined by newer products by ExactRail, for instance, but they’re very nice models of the Pullman-Standard car, with no mods required (from what I’ve seen) to be accurate.

The purchase of these Walthers cars inspired me to have another look at the old Athearn blue-box hi-cube models, apparently produced some time in the Mesolithic period.  Ten bucks got me one in NYC and one in PC factory paint.  I figured this was a small price to pay in order to check out the potential of these models.

There were only three major builders of hi-cubes in the ’70s, those being Thrall, Greenville, and Pullman-Standard.  What I like about the Athearn car is that it augments the Walthers model and allows for a small fleet of hi-cubes models representing a variety of car builders.

Shortly after embarking on this mad quest, Jurgen Kleylein pointed out an article in the January 1994 issue of Railmodel Journal that served to jump-start my research.  There are two relevant articles in that issue that were of use to me.  The first, by D. Scott Chatfield, gives an overview of how 86′ hi-cubes are deployed by railways to serve the auto industry, and it assess the merits of Athearn’s 4- and 8-door HO models (also referred to as quad-door and dual-quad cars, respectively).  The second article, by Robert Schleicher, describes his method for body-mounting the couplers on the Athearn car.

From Chatfield’s article, I went to the NYC Color Guide to find photos and more information about the NYC car I was going to build.  Of course, the benefit of building models in this age is abundance of online photos to use for reference.  From those sources, I examined merits of the Athearn 4-door (quad-door) 86′ hi-cube, and came up with a quick summary of what can be done with a model that, as it turns out, is a mishmash of features from two different builders.

1.  Early Thrall 4-door cars

As Chatfield points out, the Athearn model of the four-door car is a good starting point for an early Thrall hi-cube.  The only major change required is the removal and replacement of the bottom sill.  The sill on the Thrall car extends all the way to the stirrups on both ends.  Otherwise, it appears that the Athearn model closely matches Thrall cars built before 1967.  They’ve captured the single welds on the side panels, which are appropriately sized to match the prototype.  The indents in the sides, at either end of the car, are reproduced with fidelity.  Building a model of one of these based on the Athearn car could be a quick win.

2.  Late Thrall 4-door cars

To correctly model this car with the Athearn model, the welded side seams would have to somehow be changed to represent the double row of welds on the prototype.  An indent on either side of the doors would have to be built into the car’s sides, and the same change to the bottom sill noted in my description of the early Thrall car would also be necessary.  These changes make the late Thrall cars a more involved project, if one bases it upon the Athearn model.  A more workable compromise might be to do all modifications but the double row of welds along the side panels.

3. Greenville 4-door cars

In his 1994 article in Railmodel Journal, Chatfield calls the Athearn model “a nice copy of the Greenville car, except it lacks rivets.”  I agree with him to the extent that of all the prototypes, this model is closest to a Greenville car.  Today’s models have rendered Chatfield’s assessment of the Athearn model out-of-date.  The Athearn model has errors that I would find unacceptable today, but some changes can bring it closer to the prototype.  The beams at the top and bottom of the indents by the side ladders and grab irons are too pronounced.  Furthermore, all of the Greenville cars were riveted, and the Athearn model depicts a car with welded sides.  The welds could be smoothed out and replaced with rivet decals, if one is willing to sacrifice the factory paint, which is not always a great loss as the paint on some RTR Athearn models is gruesome.

That outlines the basic changes required to bring the model’s major features in line with the various prototypes.  In my next post, I’ll outline my first attempt at updating an Athearn model of a 4-door hi-cube.



Chatfield, D. Scott. “Athearn HO Scale and Arnold N Scale 86-Foot Box Cars.” Railmodel Journal. January 1994: 32-39. Print.

Schleicher, Robert. “Derail-Proofing Athearn 86-Foot Box Cars.” Railmodel Journal. January 1994: 44-45. Print.

Sweetland, David R., Yanosey, Robert J. NYC Color Guide to Freight and Passenger      Equipment, Edison NJ.: Morning Sun Books, 1994. Print.