The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Monday, June 30, 2008

Scale-Craft and Lionel Box Cars and More

Among the last projects I have been able to complete this summer is the rebuilding a pair of die cast boxcars, one by Scale-Craft and one by Lionel. It creates a good moment to do a comparison of these classic OO gauge cars.

Starting with the older model, the Scale-Craft box car was introduced in 1937. This particular car was an eBay find with a very poor paint job. I stripped the car, repainted it, and added just a few details to the underframe, HO scale AB brakes. Actually, I also replaced the underframe. There were two versions of this casting produced. One has the trucks at the correct prototypical distance from the ends, and the other has the trucks too far away from the ends. This particular car had the original type frame but someone had tried to modify it to space the trucks out correctly. As I had a spare frame I used it instead and added correct brake details rather than use the simple brass turning that Scale-Craft supplied. On the whole the effect is OK; it probably looked pretty good in 1937 but the doors are a bit too wide and basically every feature is a bit off from any presumed prototype giving the car a toylike feel.

One side note would be the trucks on this car had the “shrinking” bolster. A look at a number of Scale-Craft cars will provide an example of what I mean. Some of the batches of Bakelite bolsters have held up and others have not. I had to replace the original trucks with another pair with good bolsters.

Lionel was taking notes for sure as their boxcar, introduced in 1938, is based on a recognizable prototype, the PRR X-29. The effect is much better overall. It is a somewhat unique car still but at least it follows the prototype pretty closely. This particular car also came to me via eBay as a junker. It had been damaged at some point and was only a body and bent frame. I bent both largely back to their original dimensions (there is some visible damage to one side that passes for wreck damage) and used modified Selley doors to replace the missing doors. I went all out on the trucks and used Ultimate wheelsets in a pair of Lionel trucks from the parts box. The car rolls great! For my purposes I always replace Lionel wheelsets; they are oversized and while they will operate on code 100 track work they bump along a bit on the turnouts. Scale-Craft wheelsets however work fine with a lower profile.

Both cars were equipped with Kadee couplers and will be great additions to the layout. These are both pre-war models; the Lionel OO line was dropped after the war and the Scale-Craft boxcar body die is thought to have been damaged either in storage or right after the war, leading to the introduction of the later version of the Scale-Craft boxcars with brass sides, ends, and roof. It was made in four versions, 40 and 50 foot, single or double door.

This model is one of those for comparison, the 50 foot single door version. This car I put together from a partially complete kit (missing most of its wood parts, which I replicated) a few years back. Scale-Craft in my opinion dropped the ball on this one as well. It looks OK, sure, but it is not a scale model of any recognizable prototype. It works in a sense as a car for the Orient as a freelanced road but certainly boxcars were a weak link in the Scale-Craft line and are a weak area on my OO roster. I will continue working on the boxcar problem in the coming months; I have a number of other boxcars in progress.

To conclude I would add that there were two more makers that produced boxcars that had metal sides. The first boxcar produced of this type was the very early Nason sand cast aluminum boxcar, described in this article. These are fairly rare items but probably even rarer today is the final type of metal boxcar, made by Graceline. It has thin brass sides and ends mounted on a wood inner body and came from the factory with hand lettered sides; a photo of an example may be seen toward the end of this article, decorated with hand-lettered markings for the C&EI; these appear to be factory applied marking such as described in this article.

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