SPECIAL FLAT CARS
Railroads have developed several types of specialized flat cars for hauling various commodities. The AAR classifications for the types available in N-scale are listed below:
LF- Container car. A flat car equipped to handle one or more demountable containers.
FD- Depressed center flat car. A flat car with the floor depressed between the trucks to provide extra clearance for oversize loads.
FW- Well flat car. A flat car with a hole in the deck to provide clearance for oversize loads.
FL- Logging flat. A flat car or skeleton car with racks for transporting logs lengthwise.
LP- Pulpwood car. A flat car with a solid floor and fixed ends for transporting pulpwood
ATLAS and MINITRIX
Due to their volatility, some chemicals were shipped in containers rather than in bulk. The containers were then shipped in modified flat cars (class LF) or gondolas (class LG). Atlas offered one such car years ago; made in Austria by Roco, this sharp-looking model carried 22 cylindrical containers.
Of the four road names offered, three had some basis in reality:
SOUTHERN PACIFIC- Espee’s two cars were the apparent prototype for the model, they were described in Equipment Registers as “Equipped with 22 demountable containers for handling calcium chloride.”
MISSORI-KANSAS-TEXAS- The Katy’s single car was also listed as “Equipped with twenty-two 2-1/2 ton demountable containers for handling calcium chloride”.
CHESAPEAKE & OHIO- The C&O’s two cars were equipped with “Tote bins containing chemicals” (Barium oxide was mentioned in early Registers). The 81011 first appeared in 1960, but was gone by 1969. The 81015 first appeared in the 1966 Register and lasted until 1978; the January 1979 Equipment Register listed it as an ordinary class FM flat car.
Like the Atlas version the Minitrix container car was also made in Austria by Roco. It was also sold by Aurora under the “Postage Stamp Trains” label. It is a model of container cars built by ACF for DuPont beginning in 1957. According to the Equipment Registers, they carried 28 containers which, sadly, aren’t included with the model. A photo of car number 50008 is in the book “Freight Car Pictorial” by John Wayner. It differs from the model by having a vertical brake wheel and a dark (black?) paint scheme. The caption mentions that the containers carried sodium cyanide. An online photo of car number 50021, built by Ortner in 1967, is painted in the same dark scheme.
The cars were listed in the Equipment Registers under both Shipper’s Car Line and Dupont; the amounts differed so I’ve included both in the chart. Though the cars were originally leased to Dupont I get the impression that some were eventually sold to Dupont. As for the other three road names (Dow, Monsanto and Hooker), I could find nothing even close.
LOG FLAT CARS
It is amazing how many oddball prototypes were manufactured in the early days of N-scale. Like so many others, the Atlas log car was made in Austria by Roco. My guess is that the manufacturers thumbed through a copy of the Freight Car Cyclopedia and picked out what looked cool. Of course, the fact that Roco had already made many of them in HO was certainly a consideration. Atlas 3001 represents a series of ten bulkhead log cars built for the Norfolk & Western. Numbered 32850-32859 the entry in the April, 1963 Equipment Register has a star, which indicates an addition. The January, 1979 issue listed eight cars, but only two were listed in the July, 1981 issue. The cars carried an AAR classification of FMS.
As for the other three road names, there is nothing close. However, by cutting the sides and inside bulkheads and adding a wood floor to a Louisville & Nashville car you can have a halfway decent stand-in for a bulkhead flat car.
FOUR-AXLE CENTER DEPRESSED FLAT CARS
MODEL POWER AND GHQ
Center depressed flat cars are AAR class FD, and like class FW well cars, they are used to haul oversized loads. Since the loads are often heavy, most class FD cars have six or more axles, though a few roads owned small four-axle cars. Most had a length of between 36’ to 40’ and a loading platform between 16’ and 17’.
The only ready-to-run model of a four-axle center depressed flatcar was offered by Model Power. Unfortunately, it is rather toy-like and two of the four road names offered are inappropriate. The lettering is very basic, and the model has two figures (hobos?) and either a searchlight or two undersized cable reels for a load. I don’t own one so I can’t measure it; the photo above is of a modified Minitrix six-axle car. If you’re willing to put in the effort, a nice pewter kit is available from GHQ. The two-car kit includes decals for several railroads which are indicated in the chart below by an asterisk.
The chart below lists those roads that owned four-axle center-depressed flat cars with the above dimensions. Of the two ready-to-run road names, the Canadian National comes closer with a length of 43’ and a loading deck of 18’6”. The Pennsylvania cars were significantly longer, with a length of 55’1” and a 30’ loading deck.
SIX-AXLE CENTER DEPRESSED FLAT CARS
MICRO-TRAINS, MINITRIX, BACHMANN and ER models
The six-axle center depressed flat car was the most common type, and was owned by a variety of railroads. Most were home-made affairs using a cast steel body made by General Steel Casting (GSC). The most common length was 58’4” with a loading platform of 21’. The Micro-Trains model matches these dimensions nicely, so it is presumably a model of these cars.
Roco produced an N-scale center depressed flat car for Minitrix in the early seventies. It was 52’ long with an all wood deck, a large round crate for a load and offered in four road names. The model was later re-issued by ER Models in four additional road names with either the round crate or a transformer for a load.
Atlas also offered a 52’ center depressed flat car that was made by Roco. These differed from the Minitrix car by having vertical ribs along the frame. I’m guessing it represents a car with a fabricated frame, but I have yet to find a prototype for it. The car came in two road names, which were printed on an unpainted black frame and came with a transformer load.
Bachmann’s model has a ribbed side frame like the Atlas car; the earlier 5500 series came with a rather toy-like missile load, while the later 71000 series came with no load. Currently, the car is offered in an Army camouflage scheme with a Sheridan tank, or undecorated with a boiler or transformer load.
The chart below lists the models into three groups: 52’ cars that are best represented by the Minitrix and ER Models cars, 58’ cars that are best represented by the Micro-Trains model, and the “Stand-ins” that vary significantly from either model.
CANADIAN NATIONAL- Micro-Trains 10900120 represents CN’s flatcars as renumbered and repainted in the mid-sixties. They were slightly longer, with a length of 59’9” and a 22’7” loading platform.
CANADIAN PACIFIC- CP 309910-309911 had a length of 51’3”, which is slightly shorter than Minitrix 3118. Micro-Trains 10900060 is numbered for the 3000925-309929 series which had a length of 54’5”. Both series had a 22’7” loading platform.
ERIE and ERIE LACKAWANNA- Micro-Trains 109050 and 10900050 models are numbered for Erie’s first series of center depressed flatcars which are closer to the dimensions of Minitrix 3117. However, the dimensions of Erie’s second batch (7260-7271) match the dimensions of the Micro-Trains models
GREAT NORTHERN- The GN’s three cars had a length of 52’9”, a loading platform of 23’9” and four-wheel trucks. Bachmann 5504 is painted in the big sky blue scheme adopted in 1967.
NORFOLK & WESTERN- N&W’s first car (70099) had a length of 54’4” and a loading platform of 22’ which matches Pennsy’s F35 class. Subsequent cars numbered 70096-70098, 202903 (Ex-NKP) and 300010-300011 (Ex WAB) match the dimensions of the Micro-Trains models.
SOUTHERN PACIFIC- Micro-Trains 10900091 is numbered for a series of twenty former Texas & New Orleans cars which had a length of 63’4” and a 26’ loading platform. However, SP owned two cars whose dimensions matched the Micro-Trains model; originally numbered 39900-39901, they were renumbered to 500500-500501 in 1956.
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE- The DODX cars were about the same length as the model and had two six-axle trucks, however, they had a framework and container for carrying radioactive material which gave them a height of 15’4”. There’s a photo in volume six of Classic Freight Cars for anyone who would like to model the load.
TRAILER TRAIN- The Micro-Trains model represents a series of cars that were about the same length, but had two two-axle trucks and a 25’ loading platform.
U.S. ARMY- The U.S Army’s center depressed cars were seventy-two feet long with a 30’ loading platform and four four-wheel trucks. By 1975, the USAX reporting marks had been changed to DODX.
EIGHT-AXLE CENTER DEPRESSED FLAT CAR
An eight-axle center depressed flat car is available from Tomix. Not surprisingly, it is based on a Japanese prototype. It is available in the United States as an undecorated car with two rather puny transformers as a load. Though several railroad and private owners had eight-axle cars, I haven’t been able to find anything similar to the model. The model measures 82’ long with a 26’ loading deck.
As you can see in the photo above, it dresses up nicely with some decals and a proper load. An Arnold Rapido transformer fits nicely in the car with little modification.
GSC WELL CARS
EASTERN SEABOARD MODELS
Well cars have an AAR classification of “FW”, and like center depressed cars were used for hauling oversized loads. Eastern Seaboard Models produced an N-scale model of a General Steel Casting (GSC) well car from 1958, which had a well opening of 23’and an overall length of 49 feet. Like modern stack cars, the bottom of the well is only ten inches above the rails, and the cars were prohibited from third rail territory and were not allowed to be humped.
The eight cars of the D&H, NYC and LV may well represent the entire production, and the cars listed below differ from the model:
ALLIS CHALMERS- Allis Chalmers’ two well cars differed from the model in having a 30 foot well and a length of 52 feet. ACMX reporting marks are not listed in later Registers, but the ESM website does mention that one of the cars was not scrapped until 2005.
CONRAIL and PENN CENTRAL-- The numbers in parentheses indicate the number of ex-PRR cars, which differ from the model. There is a discrepancy in the number of cars listed October 1993 Register as two cars are listed twice.
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE- Built in 1972, these cars were similar in dimensions to the model, but are listed as having four four-wheel trucks.
PENNSYLVANIA- This model represents Pennsy’s F49 well cars, which had a 25-foot well and a length of 51’.
85 FOOT TRILEVEL AUTO RACKS
ARNOLD, AHM, ATLAS, CONCOR, MINITRIX and MODEL POWER
The development of the auto rack in 1959 was a boon to the railroad industry. Prior to the auto rack, new automobiles were shipped in specially-equipped boxcars, an inefficient and labor intensive process. While a boxcar accommodated only four automobiles, the new tri-level auto racks could handle twelve. In addition, bridge plates allowed entire strings of cars to be unloaded at once. By the mid-sixties, the majority of new automobiles were being shipped by rail, and many railroads operated auto-racks in dedicated trains. The era of eighty-five foot auto racks was short-lived, however, as eighty-nine foot cars had appeared by 1963. Though only four feet longer, the eighty-nine footers could accommodate fifteen automobiles. The number of eighty-five foot auto racks quickly decreased as they were either lengthened or stripped of their racks and converted to TOFC cars.
The largest fleet of auto racks belonged to Trailer Train, who installed railroad-owned racks onto their large fleet of TOFC cars. These cars carried “RTTX” reporting marks, indicating a fixed-deck tri-level rack. The auto-rack usually carried a placard with the railroad’s logo and might be a different color than the flatcar Trailer Train flat car it rides upon. (A detail usually neglected in N-scale models.) While a few western railroads installed racks on their own flat cars; many eastern roads had clearance issues to resolve before adopting auto racks.
Though several companies offered eighty-five foot tri-level auto racks in the early days of N-scale, all were produced by Roco (Austria) with three different body styles. Atlas offered a model in four road names with a single placard and ladders as uprights. The Minitrix model features nine uprights, one placard, diagonal braces, and high railings on the top deck which are rather fragile. The third body style was first offered by AHM in three road names and featured two placards and nine C channel uprights with triangular gussets. Two of the road names were copies of Atlas releases, which is a source of some confusion. This body style was later sold by Model Power in three road names, two of which were also copies of the Atlas releases. The third release of the AHM model was by Con-Cor; while the manufacturer is listed as Rivarossi, the boxes are marked “Made in Austria”. Con-Cor offered the car in a dozen road names. Unfortunately, like the earlier releases, most have the “TTX” reporting marks to the right of the road number, and many have paint schemes that are too modern for open auto-racks. The Con-Cor models are also rather scarce, and I have only been able to confirm the existence of six road names so far.
All three versions of the model are rather toy-like, with basic detail, large cutouts on the bottom sill to accommodate coupler boxes and poorly executed lettering. Nearly every model has reversed the “TTX” reporting marks to the right of the road number, while some have two road numbers. As you can see from the photo above, these models can be vastly improved by a proper lettering job and painting the automobiles in less fluorescent colors.
Arnold Rapido’s tri-level auto rack also measures a scale eighty-five feet long, but it is actually a shortened model of an eighty-nine footer. The model features a bit more detail, one placard, a straight bottom sill, twelve uprights, diagonal braces and twelve automobiles. However, most of the paint schemes offered are too modern to pass as an eighty-five foot auto rack, and some are too modern to pass for an open auto rack of any length. The original release came in five road names, three of which have no catalog number and are rather scarce. A second run with six road names was imported by Walthers; all had “KTTX” reporting marks which indicate an eighty-nine foot car with a tri-level rack with hinged ends.
For those who might like to upgrade their models, the chart below contains a comprehensive list of eighty-five foot auto racks. The catalog numbers of those models that at least bear a passing resemblance to the prototypes are included.
VERT-A-PAC AUTO CARRIERS
In 1970, General Motors introduced the Chevy Vega, a subcompact economy car with a price of around $2000. While a standard tri-level auto rack could accommodate eighteen subcompacts, a more economical method was needed to keep shipping charges to a minimum. Southern Pacific and American Car & Foundry designed the “Vert-a-pac” car, which carried thirty Vegas vertically in a nose-down position. Each car consisted of ten large doors which were hinged at the bottom and could accommodate three Vegas.
After an initial SP prototype (SP 618000), three lots of Vert-a-pac cars were constructed for a grand total of 410 cars. The first lot, delivered in 1970, was constructed on ACF flatcars and delivered to Southern Pacific and Trailer Train.
Trailer Train assigned TTVX reporting marks to their Vert-a-pac cars and the first lot of ACF flatcars was painted mineral red, while the two subsequent lots of Pullman Standard flatcars were painted yellow. Unfortunately, The Chevy Vega suffered from reliability and rust problems, and was discontinued in 1977. With nothing left to carry, the Vert-a-pac superstructures were scrapped and the flat cars put to other uses. Though a few Vert-a-pac cars remained in the January, 1979 Equipment Register, none were listed in the July, 1981 issue.
Exactrail’s N-scale Vert-a-pac model is described as an ACF car, but appears to be a Pullman Standard car, and all six of the paint schemes represent Pullman Standard cars. The chart below includes every paint scheme I could find just in case Exactrail decides to do a second run (MDT please! Hint, hint.) The quantities listed for the Trailer Train paint schemes are from the Railgoat website, which provides specific road numbers for each scheme. Like standard auto racks, Vert-a-pac cars operated in a pool from the Lordstown, Ohio plant, so any road name could likely be seen in any part of the country.