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Newberry-Columbia, SC Line: Historical rolling stock, great fun to collect

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  • Member since
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Newberry-Columbia, SC Line: Historical rolling stock, great fun to collect
Posted by robert sylvester on Saturday, February 9, 2019 11:23 AM

Smile, Wink & Grin When I go to train shows sometimes I look for the unusual, that is something old, from way back when. When I was around ten in the 1950's my father brought home a model kit made by Varney. Now at that time I was new to HO but I knew that Varney was a name that produced some nice HO scale rolling stock and engines.

It was a 40 foot box car with a whole bunch of parts that had to be put together. Back then all I had was modelers glue/cement so you had to take your time, let parts dry before moving on to the next.

These kits were before Athearn and even Accurail, instead of molded parts you actually had to add the grab irons and such to complete the model.


This added a since of realism. Remember, I am talking about kits from the 40's and the 50's, that is a while ago, some 60 or 70 years ago, hard to imagine.


There is no plastic, it was all metal or wood. The roof and floor are wood, the body is in separate parts, all metal. The wheel sets I added as well as the Kadee couplers.

Now I spoke to soon when I said no plastic, Varney did produce a somewhat detailed braking system that you added underneath, much better that what you got with Athearn and Accurail,


Never did understand why Athearn and Accurail did not do this, it would have looked a lot better and more detailed.


I still have this car today and it runs on the Newberry-Columbia Line providing service and carrying goods.

I stumbled on my next piece at a train show in Columbia, SC. I found myself standing at a table where a gentleman from the upstate had an open box with about ten F units. They were all re-built Varney units, beautifully done with Cannon motors, headlight, new running gear, with added grab irons and detail.


Believe it or not this is an all metal unit, the body shell is an alloy metal, the grab irons are metal as well and for HO it weighs a ton, it is quite heafty. Again, the original engine parts are 60 years old and well built. He charged $50.00 per unit so I bought one and it still operates today.


It's one of those units that you just have to show off. We have another train show coming up in Columbia and I hope he is there with another collection of Varney engine, just have to have another one.


I think it looks great, and runs really well and has a lot of pulling power. It pulls five of my brass passenger coaches without any trouble.


When you are married to a beautiful lady who has a famous name and you find a box car with her great-great-great grandfathers name on it you just have to have it. So, I found one produced by Accurail.


You guessed it, she is the great great great granddaughter of the famous general from the Civil War. If you don't know he had several off-springs, some even served under him in the war. My wife did not, she wasn't even around but she is a Lee.

Now I am a Pennsylvania Yankee, but as a military man, I have great respect for history. Even General Grant had great respect for General Lee as I do, one of the finest Generals America produced and he should be remembered for that.

My last piece of rolling stock raises a question. I have a nice collection of Proto 2000 frieght cars, and after inspecting them I noticed they have a built or new date of 4-41 and 44.


As most of you know, these frieght cars were a new generation of frieght cars by Life Like, (now Walthers) that were some of the first produced highly detailed cars, the other companies finally cought on, (i.e., Kato, Kadee, Fox, Athearn, Atlas, etc.)


Even underneath they took the time to detail the braking system which was unheard of unless you did it yourself. Now it's standard practice.

My question is, when were the 50 foot cars first produced, I actually thought they came out later than WW II. But, like I said these built dates are 1941 and 1944, evidently they have been around for a long time.


It is weathered with pastel chalks.

Thanks for letting me share a little history,

Robert Sylvester

Newberry-Columbia Line, SC

  • Member since
    May 2010
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Posted by mbinsewi on Saturday, February 9, 2019 11:56 AM

robert sylvester
My question is, when were the 50 foot cars first produced, I actually thought they came out later than WW II. But, like I said these built dates are 1941 and 1944, evidently they have been around for a long time.

I'm NO railroad historian, there a few on here, but here's a thread from 2010 where the same question was asked:

Nice collection you have.  I like the Soo Line car.


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Posted by doctorwayne on Saturday, February 9, 2019 3:55 PM

Robert, your Soo Line boxcar looks like a very early Varney car, as it appears to be taller than mine, below, which dates from the mid-'50s.  The plain roof is another distinguishing feature. 

As you can see, my car has the stamped metal roof, so yours may be older than mine.  The doors on yours are from Athearn, while the origin of those on mine is unknown - I keep a fairly good supply of such stuff on hand, but it's not always identifiable as to who made it.

This somewhat-modified Athearn car is a fairly decent rendition of its prototype, which was built in late 1936.... 

...and from perusing a couple of books on the subject of automobile cars, it appears as if 1936-37 were the years when 50' doubledoor steel boxcars first appeared.

Many roads had, as noted previously, 50' single sheathed automobile cars, most dating from the early- to mid-'20s and the NYC (and likely others, too) were building 40' steel-sheathed doubledoor automobile cars in 1916.
The 1941 BLT date isn't unusual, as the U.S. didn't enter WWII until late in 1941, and by 1944, steel would have been available for at least some freight car construction.  Wartime rail traffic was rough on rolling stock, as much of it dated from the '20s or earlier, and by war's end, it was worn-out, so railroads needed to re-equip.

robert sylvester
....Never did understand why Athearn and Accurail did not do this, it would have looked a lot better and more detailed.

For Athearn's Blue Box boxcars, the die makers read the prototype drawings for the brake gear as if it were being viewed from beneath the car, but it actually represented a view from above, so the components on the model are in the wrong places.
Accurail, right from the start, offered the major brake components (air reservoir, AB valve and brake cylinder) but not the associated piping or the rigging which was used to activate the brakes.  Later models, at least the 1941 AAR 41' gondolas and the fairly recently-released 36' boxcars (both the Fowler type and the doublesheathed ones) have fairly complete brake rigging, although not the piping - on most cars, it's not all that visible, unless you have regular derailments involving roll-overs. Smile, Wink & Grin

Your Seaboard boxcar, with the Robert E. Lee slogan, is actually an Athearn car, and not from Accurail...the working doors are the main giveaway.
I did three different Seaboard boxcars, also using Athearn cars, for three different friends, because I had a lot of Seaboard lettering (from Speedwitch Media) left over doing this car, which is the only Seaboard "slogan" boxcar old enough to be correct for my late '30s layout...

A friend modelling the '50s selected this one...

...and another friend this one...

...and the third friend, this one...

Your Varney diesel looks great, and from your description, sounds as if it's a good runner, too.  I notice that the diaphagm on the back end appears to be from MHP, a firm in Rochester NY.   Made from rubber, with metal striker plates, they were very flexible and mine had tabs on the striker plates, which kept them in alignment on curves. (Yours don't seem to have the tabs, so perhaps are an earlier version or aren't from MHP.)  I had them on an A-B-B-A set of Globe (later Athearn) F7s, and still have at least one pair of them in my supply of parts - still flexible after more than 60 years.


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Posted by robert sylvester on Saturday, February 9, 2019 7:35 PM

Bow Wayne: Thank your observations, the reason I thought the Robert E. Lee box car came from Accurail is because of the coupler cover which has Accurail stamped on it, but it could be that the floor or the chassis could be from Accurail and the body is from Athearn, I don't know. I thought I bought the car new but I can't find the original yellow box.

I did get a message about the fifty foot cars going all of the way back to the 1880's so they have been around a lot longer than I realized. I really do like what Proto 2000 did with their cars, great detail.

At a convention I attended back in 1995 I met a Vice President from Bachman who was describing to me how they designed the bulldog nose of their F units and how accurate they were, then he told me about a bet that the President of Bachman made with the President of Life Like and how they would compete with each other to come up with a finely detailed piece of rolling stock that would compete with brass but would be a lot cheaper. If the story is to be believed that is how it all started, then other companies began to jump on the band wagon because they did not want Bachman and Life Like to get ahead in the market. It is my understanding that is how Spectrum and Proto 2000 came about.

I think today modelers should be greatful for their endeavors. Although I am proud of the Varney car, for me that was my first introduction to a more detailed frieght car, albeit you had to assemble it, but for the time, 1950's, it was a jump ahead of the other manufactures.

By the way, great information in your post, a good history lesson in Model Railroading.


Robert Sylvester

Newberry-Columbia, Line, SC

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