by: Sean Hadfield [ ]
HO RTR 57' Mechanical Reefer
Roadname: Southern Pacific Fruit Express
Era: 1960 - Present
Intro and HistoricalThe "mechanical reefer" is more properly called a "refrigerated boxcar" with a refrigeration system, instead of blocks of ice, to keep the load cold. These are used to ship such perishable commodities as fruit, vegetables, dairy, poultry, meat, fish, seafood, and Florida orange juice.
The subject of this review is a Pacific Fruit Express reefer. The Pacific Fruit Express was originally formed in 1900 as a joint venture of both the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads until 1978, when the Southern Pacific gained sole ownership. The build date of this particular model is "NEW 7-70", and it shows both railroads' logos.
AppearanceThis car has a bright orange paint scheme, with crisp black and white lettering. The ladders, reefer grills, and door and end details are simply molded onto the sides but there is plenty of detail there. The stirrups are thick plastic-- no effort to hang separate scale-thickness rungs underneath. The molding is clean and sharp. The trucks are of a slick, softer engineered plastic material in black. The metal wheels have a brilliant shine. The underbody detail is pleasingly detailed-- more than most. The coupler boxes seemed to me to extend too far, making me think that Athearn did this to help the long car track around tight HO curves, but prototype photos seem to show them correct on this model.
A modeler concerned with a more realism would need to get a dark "wash" around the details to get them to stand out, replace the stirrups with wire, and rust the wheel faces. For that matter, that orange paint gets pretty dirty in prototype photos too. For someone focused solely on operation or for the kids, the factory detail is nice.
OperationThe car checks perfectly on an NMRA gauge for wheel spacing, and flange height. I checked it with a Kadee coupler gauge, and it matched perfectly. I didn't weigh it, but it has a nice heft to it. With metal wheels and axles in plastic trucks, it rolls flawlessly and trails well. The couplers are plastic, but the springs are metal, and the trip pins are magnetic. The couplers are made by McHenry, which is another member of the Horizon Hobby family. They are secured in their boxes by a metal clip, historically found on Athearn kits.
SelectionAthearn's website shows 116 variations on this car, but all prior releases are listed as "sold out", although home of the oldest offerings from 2004 and 2005 show a curious "Sold Out/ Due Date TBD", which makes me wonder if re-releases are being considered. The price of roughly $20 seems high for such a simple one-piece molded body to me.
SummaryThe car looks good and works very well. The price is getting up there for some simplified detail, but the car is a common prototype that everyone should have.
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