Welcome to the N-scale page! I've been playing with N-scale trains since 1967. At that time, I lived next to the C&O tracks in Groveport Ohio, where trains went by four times per day. If I wasn’t in bed or in school I would go outside to watch the trains go by. I was fascinated by the boxcars from all the different railroads. Ten years later, I began a forty-three year railroad career just as the colorful IPD (Incentive per diem) boxcars exploded onto the scene. Because of these experiences, one of my favorite aspects of the hobby is researching my model freight cars to learn more about them.
Over the years, I have gathered several composition books of notes gathered from books, magazines, Official Railway Equipment Registers and the internet. My research spans from the late 40's to the early 80's; the twilight of steam to the twilight of the caboose. While I'm just getting started, this site will be dedicated to the historical basis of N scale model train cars. This site will endeavor to answer the following questions:
How accurate is the model?
How common was the prototype?
What years did it exist?
As far as accuracy goes, this will be more of an "In the ballpark" effort. Covering
all the many variations of every model freight car would be a herculean effort. Besides, if you're a "rivet counter", you should probably be working in a larger scale. There will be a page for each type of freight car; and I will cover them in roughly chronological order; the earlier cars first, as well as the many oddball models produced in the early years of N-scale.
The information for each car consists of a photo (If I have one in my collection), an introductory text description and a chart. For those unfamiliar, I’d like to explain a few terms used in the description.
PANEL- A panel consists of the space between the vertical ribs or seams of a car. For example, the Micro-Trains 56000 ribbed hopper is an eight panel car. For boxcars, the door is not considered a panel.
HOWE TRUSS- A Howe truss is one in which the diagonals go upwards toward the center of the car. For example, the Micro-trains 28000 single-sheathed boxcars have an eight-panel Howe truss.
PRATT TRUSS- A Pratt truss is one in which the diagonals go downward toward the center of the car. For example, the Micro-Trains 35000 stock cars have an eight-panel Pratt truss.
Most of the information is condensed into the chart. The information below will help you better understand them.
The left column(s) list the catalog number of the model. In order to keep the charts concise, only one catalog number is listed; there may be more due to second runs or multi-packs, but I’m leaving that bit of research up to you!
The "ROAD" column describes the paint scheme on the car. The reporting marks of the railroad are listed first, followed by the color of the car. The term “brown” is used for the many variations of boxcar red, mineral brown, Tuscan red etc. Third is a brief description of the paint scheme on the car. Anything in quotation marks is actually printed on the car. The term “plain” is used to describe a car that contains only reporting marks and dimensional data. Items on the car that affect the date in the “1ST” column are noted as follows:
ACI- Kartrak "Automatic Car Identification" placard used from 1967 to 1977.
L1- Single panel consolidated lube plate adopted in 1972.
L2- Two-panel consolidated lube plate adopted in 1974.
L2D- Two panel consolidated lube plate with wheel inspection dot used in 1978.
L3- Three-panel consolidated lube plate adopted in 1982.
The "NUMBERS" column lists the number range for the prototype car series. In most cases the model is in the correct number range.
The "1ST" column indicates the earliest date that the car would have existed. When the date in the form of month/year it is usually the service date printed on the car itself. If the date is not in parentheses, it is the “as delivered” scheme. Two ways to spot an as-delivered scheme is the presence of the builder’s name somewhere on the car and “new” next to the service date. If the date is in parentheses, it is a scheme that was later painted on the car by the railroad when it was serviced. It would be impossible to determine exactly how many cars were repainted, so repaint schemes have a “ditto” in the year column.
The remaining columns list the amount of cars from the Official Railway Equipment Registers. These amounts may include additional series of similar cars not listed in the numbers column. Cars in the series that have been extensively modified are not included. This would include roof hatches on boxcars, bulkheads or racks on flats and gondolas or roofs on hoppers. A dashed line “--“ in the column indicates that the car series did not exist at that time. Other notes are as follows:
MW- Maintenance of way scheme. This is a car that would be found only on home railroad. Generally, they are not listed in the Equipment Registers.
NI- Not used for interchange. This is a car that would be found only on home railroad.
NQ- The number series is listed in the Equipment Registers, but no quantity is given. This usually indicates that the car series in the process of being delivered or retired.
NOTES ON SPECIFIC RAILROADS
ATLANTIC COAST LINE, SEABOARD AIR LINE- The Seaboard Coast Line did not list quantities of Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line car series after the 1967 merger. The amounts shown in the charts were from the post merger Seaboard Coast Line series. Therefore the amounts shown from 7/69 onward would include cars repainted for SCL.
CENTRAL OF NEW JERSEY- Between 1946 and 1952, the Jersey Central changed the reporting marks on some of their cars to "CRP". The "Central Railroad of Pennsylvania" was a paper road designed to avoid New Jersey state taxes. Though no "CRP" models are as yet available in N-scale, I've included them in the charts to provide a better insight as to the history of Jersey Central models.
MISSOURI PACIFIC- The Missouri Pacific began replacing their subsidiaries” reporting marks with “MP” in the late fifties with no change in car number. The totals from the 7/57 Equipment Register include cars re-lettered “MP”; the 4/63 register no longer lists the subsidiaries’ reporting marks.
MONON- Monon changed their reporting marks from CIL (Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville) to MON in 1956. Equipment Registers do not indicate the quantity of cars relettered.
UNION PACIFIC- The Union Pacific had begun re-lettering the cars of their subsidiaries “UP” by 1960. Totals from 4/63 Register and onward include those cars changed to “UP”.
A BRIEF GUIDE TO FREIGHT CAR LETTERING
The New York Central boxcar illustrates the standard arrangement for freight car lettering adopted in 1926. The reporting marks and car number were to be in a specified location on the left side of the car with a line above and below. The use of “Railroad Roman” lettering was encouraged, but not required. This made it easier for conductors and brakemen to read the numbers, a task often performed while the cars were in motion. Beneath the road numbers the following weight information is displayed:
CAPY (Capacity)- The weight capacity as listed in the Equipment registers
LD LMT (Load limit)- The maximum load that the car can carry.
LT WT (Light weight)- The weight of car when empty.
Just to the right of the weight information is the service date. This is the date that the car was last serviced, and is a valuable clue for dating your models. The “new” indicates that the car was serviced when built, which means it is likely that all the cars in this series had the same paint scheme. For subsequent service dates, which may not have included repainting, a two or three letter code indicates the location.
The dimensional data is located on the lower right side of the car. It includes interior and exterior height, length and width as well as the cubic capacity and built date of the car.
The Penn Central boxcar illustrates the changes that occurred over the years. By the mid-fifties, the lines surrounding the reporting marks and road number were no longer required. In April, 1966 new standards for freight cars were enacted; running boards were banned, the handbrake was lowered and platforms was added at the ends of the cars. Rebuilding the existing fleet took some time however, and the rebuilding of older cars wasn’t consistent. As a brakeman in the late seventies, I recall that running boards were a rare sight, but there were still a lot of high hand brakes around.
In 1967, the railroad industry adopted Kartrak Automatic Car Identification (ACI). This was an optical system that utilized placards with barcodes on every car, locomotive and TOFC trailer. Unfortunately, when the bar codes got dirty, they could not be read and the system was discontinued in 1977. Early N-scale models did not include ACI placards as they required at least three extra colors in the printing process. However, updating your old models is a simple project, as Micro-Scale offers ACI placard decals (60-4280). An “ACI” in the “ROAD” column indicates a model with placards.
In 1972, consolidated lube plates were adopted. They consisted of a black square with a white border which provided a place for information on car maintenance and type of brake valve. Like the ACI placards, they were often left off of early models due to the extra paint colors. Once again, you can easily update your cars with Microscale 60-5002.
The Alabama State Docks car illustrates the drastic changes in freight car construction and lettering that occurred in the seventies. In addition to the structural changes, freight car lettering is much “busier” with information on clearance (Plate C), floor capacity, door width, brake shoes etc. The model features the two-panel consolidated lube plate adopted in 1974; which indicated by an “L2” in the charts. Of particular note is the yellow dot on a black square in the lower right corner of the car. A batch of defective wheel sets which caused several derailments prompted an inspection of wheel sets in March of 1978. A yellow dot indicated that the wheels were good, while a white dot indicated defective wheels. Models with inspection dots are indicated by “L2D” in the charts.