by: Ken O'Brien [ ]
The General American Airslide® covered hopper was developed in the early 1950’s to move bulk products that had a tendency to clump while in transit. These included commodities like flour, starch, sugar and plastics. The Airslide cars had an air-permeable fabric lining in the bottom of the bay to speed up the unloading process. A car receiver attached an air supply to the car for unloading. This would allow pressurized air to enter the compartment and “fluidize” the contents, by turning the finely ground solids into a consistency almost liquid and speeding up the unloading process. The 2600 cubic foot capacity, single compartment cars were built by General American from 1953 thru 1979. Norfolk & Western (N&W)bought 97 of these cars, in series 71600-71699, in the early to mid 1960’s and added additional cars in the 1970’s, when N&W absorbed several other railroads.
This ready to run HO scale car comes in the current Athearn blue and yellow window box; the car is protected in sturdy clear plastic with a foam sheet over the roof, protecting the fine roof details. The included instruction sheet is an exploded drawing showing parts callouts for all versions of the Airslides Athearn makes. Athearn lists models in both the early and intermediate configurations of the Airslide cars. This model’s intermediate configuration is correct for the N&W car series depicted. All parts are attached to the model with no extra parts in the box. The roller bearing trucks included are unsprung. The metal wheels are in gauge and match the National Model Railroad Association’s (NMRA) Recommended Practice (RP) 25 wheel contours. The wheel faces have been darkened at the factory. Body mounted couplers are plastic McHenry scale knuckle types. This kit lists for $35.98 on the Athearn website.
The bodies are injection-molded plastic with separate, finely etched, metal running boards and brake platforms. There are no visible casting marks or flash on this model. The brake details, grab irons and wire piping are crisp and properly installed on the model. Couplers are installed at the correct height. The gray paint was evenly applied. The black lettering is crisp and opaque. The “New” date painted on the car does not match the published data for this covered hopper series. The only missing detail I could note are the coupler cut levers. The rivet counters amongst us may want to add these.
The car rolls well through the number 6 switches on my club layout, with a little wobble. I adjusted the model by tightening up one truck screw to give it “three point” stability to correct the wobble. The car weighs 3.6 ounces and follows the NMRA’s RP 20.1 for HO car weight. This car matches the dimensions and drawings in Freight Cars Journal Monograph Number 9, History of the General American Airslide and Other Covered Hopper Cars, by Eric Neubauer, published in 1989.
This Athearn car is more like a Kadee box or even some of the brass models I've seen. It's a real jewel! The fellas at my club were dazzled by the detailing. And most of them have been in the hobby for many years.
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