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What have I got here? (Weird S scale scratchbuilt boxcar)

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What have I got here? (Weird S scale scratchbuilt boxcar)
Posted by Autobus Prime on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 6:54 PM

I found this at a flea market mixed in with a pile of low-end tinplate Marx and battered old Flyer.  It's an S scale boxcar made mostly from ABS plastic sheet.  The workmanship is excellent and precise.  It's very square and tight.  The roof is either a single bent piece or two pieces fitted precisely together, with no support underneath...despite that, it's almost perfectly straight and parallel.  The doors operate and they're built up from 14 separate pieces of plastic.  The corrugated ends are precisely cut from thick ABS with a very good finish, but enough small differences to show that they were made individually.   The end details are separately applied from ABS sheet and Plastruct shapes.

Both sides are painted blue, and the paint is sprayed on so smoothly I thought at first it was just blue plastic. The ends and roof are unpainted ABS. One side only is decorated for Ann Arbor with what appear to be CDS dry transfers.   The only commercial parts are a pair of American Flyer talgo-style trucks, brake reservoir and cylinder, and one ladder.  All the weld lines are scribed, and the only roof detail is scribed lines, but again, all very straight and square and parallel.

But for all the trouble someone went through to make this, they made some odd choices.  The stirrup steps are solid, cut out as part of the wall pieces (which are quite thick, .060 laminated to .030 I think).  The underframe is blocky and simple, just some cut out crossbraces of the same gray plastic and a pair of strips to form a center sill.  And then of course there are the colors: blue and gray, with lettering that as far as I know was usually used on normal boxcar-red cars.  The trucks aren't screwed on, they're affixed by glued-in kingpins of turned white plastic.

It's all very strange, and the only sense I can make of it is that it's a manufacturer's prototype or photo mockup of some kind.   Because it really does look like someone set out to create a handbuilt 50' boxcar that would look like a plastic-molded American Flyer car in a catalog photo.  I would think a hobbyist with the skill level to execute the workmanship this carefully would also buy or make wire stirrup steps, and unless the model were only meant to be seen from one side, why go through all the trouble to build it, then decorate one side only?

This would also provide a perfect explanation for the colors.   MSU is an engineering school.  Lionel used to be based in Michigan.  It takes no stretch to see how a pre-production prototype for presentation might be decorated in MSU colors and lettered for Ann Arbor...

But if it is a proto, whose is it?  I don't know of any such car in the AF line.  The closest I can think of is the waffle-side boxcar.

Thinking out loud, I wonder if this might not have been a car that was being considered for the American Flyer line but went unproduced in the upheaval of moving production to China in the early 2000s?

Anyway, any thoughts are welcome.   If this is an unproduced car, I do wish it had been made.  It's not finescale by any means but it would have made a really nice toy!

 







 Currently president of: a slowly upgrading trainset fleet o'doom.
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Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 6:59 PM

My gut feeling is that it was a photo prop for something.

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-Kevin

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Happily modeling the STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD located in a world of plausible nonsense set in August, 1954.

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Thursday, June 14, 2018 2:05 AM

My thought would be that it's a mockup for American Flyer, but for an older period than the 2000's.

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by Autobus Prime on Thursday, June 14, 2018 8:21 AM

Paul:

Hmm, because of the trucks, isn't it...they are the older style ones. 

Definitely can't be older than 1968, because that happens to be the year when both Plastruct and CDS were started...

About what year did Lionel change the Flyer trucks?  If we could loosely bracket this into a range of years I might be able to figure out more...

Update:  I heard back from Bob Grubba who was chief engineer at Lionel from 1997 to 2000.  He says the car wasn't one he'd worked with during that period.

 

 Currently president of: a slowly upgrading trainset fleet o'doom.

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