Re: Throwback Thursday: Athearn Rolling Stock Ad, Model Railroader, February 1959
James Lackner asked:
“And did any of these (in this advertisement), ever match a specific prototype? All that I have ever seen is "similar to, but not an exact match to...."
The issue with these models, specifically, the two flat cars and the tank cars is that prototype matches are coincidental rather than intentional. This is why you see the caveat “similar to, but not an exact match.”
Comments on Garth’s assessments:
“Some but not many. The 40' flatcar (a hold-over from the metal kits, by the way) only has a Rutland Prototype.”
Again, not an exact prototype, though a good starting point for models as illustrated by John Nehrich, Kyle Williams, and Will Gill in past articles in MR and RMC. Not just Rutland either; keep in mind that the Rutland was under NYC control between 1904-1911, so their freight car fleet reflected NYC design practices. In this case, this would be Lot 344-F and 345-F flat cars, originally built for the Michigan Central, later going to CASO and NYC during the late 1930s system renumbering.
The metal flat car kits feature an interesting combination of stamped metal parts and castings, including a stamped metal strip of stake pockets that fit on the inside of the carbody.
“Their 40' tank car is similar to SP, WP and UP 12K tanks, but has a lot of problems as it was a retool of their foobie 3-dome tank.”
Not the tank car from this ad (the 40 ft “chemical” insulated tank car), which is a further development from the tank cars that Garth describes, which are the non-insulated single and three dome tank cars. What Garth says is true, but these models are salvageable and still the only non-brass game in town for the SP, WP, ad UP 12,000 gallon tank cars. Tony Thompson has a nice writeup on how to use these models on his blog.
Plus another writeup on salvaging the “Chemical” tank car model:
“Their 40' 10'6" IH square-corner boxcar was used only by two or three railroads.”
Specifically, the combination of 10 ft 6 in IH, 5/5 square corner Dreadnaught ends, 10-panel sides, rectangular panel roof, and Youngstown door makes this ubiquitous model good for only three railroads: IC, SOO, DSS&A. This is one of the two most ill-used models of all time, decorated in any paint and lettering scheme applied to any prototype 40 ft boxcars, and some 50 ft and 36 ft prototypes too.
“The hoppers aren't too bad.”
None of them were in the ad that I posted…but since we’re discussing them:
- The 40 ft offset quad is the ARA standard 70-ton quadruple hopper, with details modeling B&O Class W-2. It has not aged well, and the operating doors are especially overscale and toylike. It is the second of the two most ill-used models of all time, decorated in any hopper paint and lettering scheme and copied by many other manufacturers (Tyco, Rivarossi/Roco/AHM/Mehano, Cox/Bachmann) who offered even more bogus schemes. (There are actually quite a few legitimate paint schemes for these cars.)
- The three twin hopper models were actually introduced in the early 1970s, making them latecomers in the Blue Box line. The offset twin is probably the nicest model in the Blue Box line; the composite twin is nice with the exception of reusing the offset model’s tooling for the interior, resulting in interiors that make absolutely no sense; the 7-side post model is a foobie that coincidentally is close to similar PRR and Virginian prototypes. It also suffers from reusing the offset model’s interior.
Bill Keene asked:
“Wasn't Athearn's stock car based upon a Union Pacific prototype?”
“Supposedly, but I understand it is so bad that I didn't mention same. I seem to remember the roof panels are backwards.”
UP Class S-40-12.
The roof is the biggest issue – the diagonal panels are the mirror image of the prototype. Otherwise, it’s actually not too bad.
Notes on other cars in the ad:
- The derrick and work caboose are imagineered models to reuse the tooling for the 40 ft flatcar.
- The containers on the frozen food gon are legit models of refrigerated containers, N&W IIRC.
- The TOFC flat is basically a toy, though the trailers are a start for short trailers of the era.
- The Auto Loader is patterned after an experimental Evans prototype, but is shortened to fit the Athearn 50 ft flat car.
“In my view, most Athearn cars are useful as fodder for conversions” and
“Some features on most Athearn cars are prototype, and could be used for slice-and-dice conversions, but you still have to get rid of all the cast-on ladders and such. Often there are, or have been, better solutions available.”
There are often better solutions available…but there’s immense learning value from these projects. The plastic is easy to work with; the models and parts are abundant and inexpensive if you take your time and keep looking, and the consequences of making mistakes during the learning process are fairly low. It’s easy to turn up your nose on these models, and going with better models is preferred, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had if you want to use up the ones you already have.