by: Sean Lamb
IntroductionJust before Trainfest, I received three N scale freight cars to review. The timing was perfect because I would be able to test them out on the Capitol City “N”Gineers Ntrak layout at the show to really put the cars through their paces. On the whole, these are good models that run well and look appropriate on layouts set in the 1960s through the mid 1980s.
The three cars I tested are:
• Atlas Trainman N-scale 50 foot double door boxcar; item number 50 002 251, decorated for New York Central, road number 43663
• Atlas Trainman N-scale 90-ton hopper; item number 50 002 003, decorated for Chicago & North Western, road number 135209
• Atlas Trainman N-scale 50 foot double door boxcar; item number 50 002 245, decorated for St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad, road number 7004
The ModelAll three cars come in the same style of hard plastic jewel box that Atlas has been using for quite some time (I have boxes just like these with other Atlas cars that I acquired back in the mid-1980s), with a molded plastic insert to hold the car in place and a clear plastic film around the cars to prevent damage to the liveries. These cars all come equipped with truck-mounted plastic Accu-Mate knuckle-style couplers with metal air hose simulants that double as magnetic uncoupling tools; the couplers mate well with other knuckle couplers from every manufacturer that I've tried to mate them with (this included Micro-Trains, Kato, Athearn and Unimate and a few others that I don't have documented). The trucks use press-fit bolster pins to hold them to the body and have low-profile brown plastic wheelsets installed. The trucks and couplers are molded in black plastic. Using the included bolster pins, replacing the trucks is a simple matter.
DetailAs far as I can tell, these cars are not precise models of specific pieces of rolling stock, but are instead close approximations of very similar cars that saw widespread use in North America. All of the details on these cars, except for the brake wheels and boxcar roofwalks, are molded into the car sides. Like most other N scale cars on the market, the stirrup steps at the car ends are molded as part of the body. That means that they are quite large and out of scale in proportion to the other grab irons and ladder steps.
paint and letteringThe paint and lettering on this car is mostly crisp and neat, passing the “it looks good at two feet away” guideline that I often use in model building. All of the lettering is readable with sufficient magnification and these cars all have reporting marks and car numbers applied on the ends as one would expect from prototype practice. The smallest lettering looks a little chunky to me when viewed under magnification, but there does not appear to be any bleed of colors from any of the paint and lettering.
The liveries applied are too early to include stencils of the reporting marks and car numbers on the truck sideframes, but the hopper includes this data along the center sill under the car.
There is no weathering applied to these cars, so out of the box they would look most appropriate on layouts set in the 1960s. Any of a number of weathering techniques can be employed to give them a more prototypical appearance for 1970s and 1980s era layouts.
Literature that Atlas had available at Trainfest included information on the boxcar.
This boxcar is listed in the Atlas catalog as a 3rd quarter 2015 delivery with road names and numbers including: Frisco 7004 and 7090, Maine Central 9008 and 9044, Monon 1433 and 1439, New York Central 43630 and 43663, Santa Fe 42722 and 42759, Southern Pacific 192862 and 192866, as well as an undecorated version. The Monon and New York Central versions are officially licensed from CSX Transportation. The Atlas catalog notes that cars of this type were based on a 1937 design that was improved in the 1950s and that cars like this continued in service into the 1980s. Comparing these road names and numbers with the Official Railway Equipment Register in my collection (dated April 20, 1984), the numbers are appropriate for the Frisco (then part of BN), New York Central (then part of Conrail) and Santa Fe (although 42722 was off the roster by then). The Maine Central, Monon and Southern Pacific cars in those number ranges were either scrapped, sold or renumbered by 1984 as they do not appear in that version of the ORER. Internet searches for these cars only showed images of the models and no prototype photos. The page on Atlas's website for this model (http://atlastrainman.com/NFreight/tmn50dd.htm) notes that this is the 7th release of this body style with the first release in June 2006, and lists about another 30 road names in previous releases with two different numbers each.
Weight and TechnicalThe boxcar models weigh between 0.70 and 0.71 ounces. The current NMRA recommended practice for car weights (RP-20.1, as noted online at http://www.nmra.org/sites/default/files/standards/sandrp/pdf/rp-20.1.pdf) suggests that an N scale car should weigh 0.5 ounces plus 0.15 ounces per inch of model car length. The boxcars are roughly 3 7/8 inches long. So, following this RP, this car is underweight by about 0.38 ounces. However, the RP overview mentions that lighter cars may work if your track is laid well and your wheels are in proper gauge. The floor is removable on the boxcar model, so adding weight to this car is a simple matter of opening it and gluing it in place.
PerformanceI mentioned at the start of this review that I had a chance to operate these cars on an Ntrak layout to test them out in a real-world model situation. I set up a train of about 50 other freight cars from various manufacturers that I had run reliably on Ntrak layouts in the past. I coupled these three cars at the front of the train to see how well they would handle under the load. For the most part, the cars performed admirably, as I would expect for recent Atlas releases. The cars all tracked and rolled freely with light effort. The boxcars operated for a full day at the front of the test train with no problems. Their couplers were at the correct height and they did not derail at all.
This boxcar is listed on Atlas's website at MSRP of $19.95 for a painted model and $14.95 for undecorated. Quick searches of various online retailers showed the boxcars available selling for around $15-17. These cars should be readily available at your local hobby shop. I've seen used versions of older runs of similar cars at model railroad shows in the $2-5 range, so a little bit of looking around will prove fruitful to find these cars at low prices. These cars are also at a price point where kitbashing is not out of the question, and they are produced in large enough quantity that most modelers will be willing to experiment with them and not feel afraid about accidentally destroying them under the guise of upgrading them.
ConclusionIn the end, I would say that this boxcar will be a fine addition to N scale layouts that are set in the 1960s to the 1980s. Out of the box, it runs generally well with only simple modifications needed to make them reliable for the long term. Their price is reasonable enough to make building a fleet of them affordable on smaller budgets, but the road number limitations (in some cases as few as two numbers for a road name) could be a problem for layouts where operations based on car numbers is important. They aren't precise models of specific equipment, but they look good enough to pass the 2-foot rule.
Overall, I would rate these cars at 8 out of 10.
Please mention to retailers and vendors that you saw this model here - on Railroad Modeling.