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How to Assemble an Athearn Blue Box Boxcar

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How to Assemble an Athearn Blue Box Boxcar
Posted by SeeYou190 on Sunday, August 5, 2018 2:07 PM

I am not suggesting that any member of this forum needs help assembling an Athearn Blue Box kit. I would like to present the basic improvements I make when assembling one of these so that the finished product will provide years of reliable service on my STRATTON & GILLETTE railroad.

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There are still hundreds, maybe thousands, of Athearn unbuilt blue box kits to be had for reasonable prices everywhee I look. To make it even better, Bev-Bel and others custom painted these into plenty of awesome paint schemes that have never been avilable anywhere else. I'll bet we all have at least ten of these things stashed away somewhere, so, there might be plenty of good reasons for us to still be putting these kits together.

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Model Railroader has published a few articles through the years on improving Athearn Blue Box kits, but these mostly has to do with external detail improvements, not reliability and running quality. I am not going to make any modifications to the exterior of this car. I just want to get it on the rails and have it run as well as any other freight car in my fleet.

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I only operate with freelanced roadnames, so there is not much in the Athearn line of decorated kits I can use, but there have been some released in the NMRA collector Heritage and Living Legends lines that are suitable.

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There are also three kits from the Heritage line that I have detailed and brought up to SGRR standards, GORRE & DAPHETID, DELTA LINES, and SUNSET VALLEY NAVIGATION. These three kits were not Athearn Blue Box and came with seperate details.

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Most of the NMRA collector models made on Athearn kits with molded on ladders and grabs. Redetailing these represent a bit more work than I want to do, as such, the Athearn kits just get assembled and run for fun. The kit for this project is NMRA Living Legends #3, a 40 foot steel boxcar for Milt Moore's GIBRALTAR RAILROAD.

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The contents of the box are very basic. Commonly this style of kit is referred to as "Shake-The-Box" because that is almost all the effort that is required to assemble one.

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Assemblilng this kit straight from the box will give you a decent car, but there are some inherent problems. The trucks do not track too well, the weight is magnetic, the coupler box lids are prone to fall off, etc.

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My assembly technique addresses all of these issues.

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The first step is to remove all the protruding nubbins from where the ejector pins hit the floor casting. These need to be removed so the spacers that will be added have a flat area of contact.

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Then I remove the nubs from the underframe that center the Athearn trucks. I will be using Kadee trucks, so these need to go. If you want to address the truck shortcomings with Intermountain or Proto wheels in the Athearn sideframes, leave these in place.

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Then I cut the coupler boxes off of the underframe. I am a very strong believer in using Kadee couplers in Kadee coupler boxes whenever possible, so these go into the trash bin. Kadee couplers in Kadee boxes give me the best operation.

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The next step is to add spacers to the bottom of the floor casting. I discarded the steel weight because it interferes with Kadee's magnetic uncoupling system. The weight was 0.060" thick, so I used 0.060" by 0.250" styrene for under the center sill and 0.060" by 0.100" for the sides of the frame.

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Then I glued the underframe in place. The Athearn underframe has the brake details all in the wrong places, so I pay no care to whether it is installed correctly or not, it is not right in either orientation.

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The screws that hold the coupler boxes and trucks in place will need a little more meat to bite into than is in the Athearn underframe. I give these screws as much thread as possible. I glue a piece of 0.188" styreme above the coupler and a piece of 0.125" above the truck mounting locations.

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The coupler boxes also need to be spaced 0.060" below the floor. I used two scrap pieces of styrene on each end to make this new sub floor.

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The car will get two ounces of additional weight. I use lead fishing sinkers flattened out to just under 0.250" thick. I glue these into place with gel super glue, but these have been know to come loose, so I also build a styrene cage around the wieghts with 0.250" by 0.100" strips. This guarantees the weights will not come loose and rattle around the car and throw off the center of balance.

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 The doors on Athearn 40 foot boxcars have a habit of bowing away from the sides of the car body. To prevent this I add two small strips of .080" by .080" styrene held in place by super glue to keep the doors even with the car sides.

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The coupler mounting screws will be 0.100" away from the floor ends and on center. The location of these screws is carefully marked prior to drilling.

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Then the screw holes are drilled out with a #50 drill bit.

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Finally, the holes are tapped for 2-56 machine screws.

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For this kind of kit I like to use Kadee number 148 whisker couplers in their number 242 snap together couple box. This combination gives extremely reliable operation and very easy assembly.

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I install the couplers using Kadee plastic 2-56 by 1/2" screws. I like to use the Kadee plastic screws on the couplers because brass screws look weird in photographs. The Kadee plastic screws require no painting.

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I decided to use Kadee #500 "Bettendorf" trucks on this project.

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With the trucks installed I checked the coupler height, as expected, the couplers were too high. That is typical when assembling these kits.

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I removed the trucks and carefully removed some material from the bolsters with a flat file. I like to use a fine file for this operation because I have an easier time keeping the truck mounting pad on plane. Removing material from the truck bolsters lowers the coupler height.

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The couper height was verified, and now the freight car is ready for the rails.

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The final product is a unique boxcar not available from any other source. I have not weathered any of these Athearn NMRA collector cars, and I do not have any plans to do this. While they have no value, they are a neat piece of model railroading history and I do not want to weather them

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What are your favorite assembly methods for improving the basic Athearn Blue Box boxcar kit? Do you put in more or less effort than I do?

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by Harrison on Sunday, August 5, 2018 2:18 PM

I wrote an article of how to do this(much more simple) on my blog.

Harrison

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Posted by Carolina Northern on Sunday, August 5, 2018 3:09 PM

Harrison

I wrote an article of how to do this(much more simple) on my blog.

 

 

Not to be contrary, but you described building it stock. Kevin improved the basic kit at each step.

 

Don

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Posted by zstripe on Sunday, August 5, 2018 3:35 PM

Kevin,

I have quite a few Athearn box cars and never had one with bowed doors. Also the spring steel coupler covers can be bent in at the open sides to give a a tighter snap fit.......all mine are original from the mid-50's and on. One of the features of them that I liked was in fact the sliding doors. A lot of mine have interiors with workers unloading the car. When in the train you can slide the door closed, when spotted open the door and there is the load with workers in it. They also have the original trucks, with a little tuning work fine. Most of My fleet of freight cars have the original trucks........not a problem at all...if you keep your track clean. For 2.95 to 3.95 a kit.....that was the greatest bang for the buck anywhere:

Door closed in train/door open for unloading:

The workers sure have their work cut out for them.......bags of flour......on the floor.

Take Care! Big Smile

Frank

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Sunday, August 5, 2018 3:45 PM

Frank,

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Yes, if you follow my method, the doors will not longer operate.

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The upper door guide on these cars is a seperate piece that is installed at the factory. I think on later cars is when they started causing troubles. The doors will barely slide even if they are properly installed, and they do tend to bow outward sometimes.

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I could probably fix the problem with the door guides if I investigated it, but none of my resin cars have operating doors, so I do not feel the loss.

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Sunday, August 5, 2018 4:42 PM

That's a lot of work to considering what they are.  Ymmv

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

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Posted by Harrison on Sunday, August 5, 2018 4:52 PM

Carolina Northern

 

 
Harrison

I wrote an article of how to do this(much more simple) on my blog.

 

 

 

 

Not to be contrary, but you described building it stock. Kevin improved the basic kit at each step.

 

Don

 

My Standards for rolling stock aren't as high as some people. As long as it runs, dosen't derail, and the couplers are at almost the right hight, than it's good enough for me.

Harrison

Homeschooler living In upstate NY a.k.a Northern NY.

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Posted by dti406 on Sunday, August 5, 2018 7:41 PM

For me I prefer the weights as close to the truck as possible, it aids the car in tracking properly.

Also, since the doors are non-operating after your surgery, I would remove the claws on the door for the bottom door track, it is not prototypical, you could also use replacement doors from a number of suppliers, many times the undec Branchline, Atlas, IMRC, Red Caboose come with many sets of doors for you to use to properly replicate your prototype, I have a couple of hundred extra doors that I can use for replacements.

Rick Jesionowski

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, August 5, 2018 8:36 PM

Nicely-done improvements, Kevin. Thumbs UpThumbs Up

SeeYou190
What are your favorite assembly methods for improving the basic Athearn Blue Box boxcar kit? Do you put in more or less effort than I do? .

Well, mine may look like more, but I'd have to say that the work done is probably more cosmetic than for operational improvements.  I do install Kadee couplers on all cars before they go on the layout, but usually, no other modifications are needed for the cars to run well, and I usually don't bother with metal wheels.

The upgrading process is not only fairly involved, but is also interspersed with a lot of other shake-the-box kit "improvements".  If you have time, and/or are curious, here's a LINK to the whole shebang.  The particular Athearn car to which I'm referring is first shown in the eighth photo on the first page of the thread, but it's some pages later where that particular step-by-step gets underway.  It is rather involved, I think.

Wayne

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, August 5, 2018 9:06 PM

Kevin,

Wow, that's a lot of work...........

My approach is much simpler.........

Why is the steel weight a problem? And the stock amount of weight is plenty, once you add the metal trucks.

I paint the weights, bend the coupler covers so they work (as others have suggested, so I don't think I'm alone there), I cut off the truck nubs, file the bolsters as needed and install Kadee self centering trucks, that have been refitted with Intermountain wheel sets (yes this is my over the top thing).

Sometimes I will replace the molded steps with A-Line steps........

And we are off, to the paint shop for some light weathering, usually very light.

I have nearly 100 Athearn blue box piggyback cars alone. They do have some other cosmetic mods.

But I have never lost a coupler cover yet..........and 50 car trains with them perform flawlessly.

I'm sure I have every bit of 200 blue box boxcars set up as described above, I'm not about to invest that kind of time........not broke, not getting fixed.

Sheldon 

    

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Posted by Doughless on Sunday, August 5, 2018 9:11 PM

Once in a while I would have to straighten a warped floor, especially with their 55 foot covered hoppers. 

After ensuring the floor is straight and level, I secure the steel weight to the floor by melting the holding pads onto the top of the weight with an old soldering iron.  The whole structure is more rigid when the OEM weight is affixed permanently to the floor. 

The metal coupler covers can be splayed a bit to not hurt the nubbies that hold them on.  Scraping off the nubbies is what causes the covers to fall off.  Once equipped with KDs, there wasn't much reason to take them off.  

I don't pay too much attention to underside detail.  My layouts are usually only about 50 inches high which prevents me from seeing much of the underside.  Kind of a moot point for me to inspect it just for the sake of comparing it to the real thing.

 

- Douglas

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Posted by tankertoad70 on Sunday, August 5, 2018 10:19 PM

Great tutorial Kevin and nice improvements.Cowboy

Don in 'Orygun' City
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Posted by hon30critter on Monday, August 6, 2018 12:19 AM

Hi Kevin:

I thought I was doing a pretty good job of bringing Athearn BB kits up to par but my efforts pale in comparison to what you do. I replace the wheels with Intermountains, adjust the weight to NMRA recommended practices, install Kadee # 148s and get the coupler height correct, but that is about it. I have never had a warped door and I do prefer to have the doors operational. Eventually I will get around to adding loads and figures in some of them.

Please understand that I am not suggesting that what you are doing is going overboard. I'm pretty sure you get a lot of satisfaction from doing the modifications just like many of us do when we are detailing a BB car. Your work is to be admired!

Dave

I'm just a dude with a bad back having a lot of fun with model trains, and finally building a layout!

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Posted by peahrens on Monday, August 6, 2018 12:38 AM

SeeYou190
Then I remove the nubs from the underframe that center the Athearn trucks. I will be using Kadee trucks, so these need to go. If you want to address the truck shortcomings with Intermountain or Proto wheels in the Athearn sideframes, leave these in place.

A well explained procedure.

On the trucks aspect, I have been just switching the wheelsets to metal, Intermountains in most cases.  So I do not cut off the "truck nub" cyinder on the bolster that keeps the truck centered. 

I typically find, on several brand HO kits, that the nubs are a bit too long to allow the truck screw to adjust the wobble of the truck properly.  When too long, both trucks have excessive wobble, as the screw tightens against the nub before beginning to tighten the truck adequately to preclude excessive wobble.  So I invariably file the nubs somewhat shorter before even testing the trucks wobble, leaving plenty of nub, of course, to keep the truck centered.  If I guess wrong and have excess wobble when the trucks are initially added, I just remove the truck and file the nub a bit more.

Paul

Modeling HO with a transition era UP bent

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Monday, August 6, 2018 5:53 AM

I've found if I pinch the metal clip a bit, the draft gear coupler box has no issues coming open, although i've never cared for the design and because of that and other reasons, I rarely if ever buy Athearn blue box kits anymore. 

I've been assembling Athearn BB kits for over 40 years and never felt compelled to go to such lengths as described by the OP in this topic, especially as better models have come on the market during the last 20 years. 

My minimal work for a fairly reliable Athearn car (what few I have left) is to:

- file the bolster down so I can snug one truck so it swivels but doesn't rock. 

- Add Kadee fiber washers to make sure the coupler height matches my Kadee height guage.

- Adjust wheels as necessary to fit the NMRA Mark IV guage.

Do a few basic things and the car will operate quite well.  

But I've found for basic low detail kits, I prefer Accurail anymore for the few I buy and occasionally I do.  Everyone has different standards and ways they use their hobby time of course.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Monday, August 6, 2018 11:00 AM

dti406
....Also, since the doors are non-operating after your surgery, I would remove the claws on the door for the bottom door track, it is not prototypical, you could also use replacement doors from a number of suppliers, many times the undec Branchline, Atlas, IMRC, Red Caboose come with many sets of doors for you to use to properly replicate your prototype....

I'd also include removing both the upper and lower door tracks - they're both oversize, and the bottom one sits too high (which likely contributed to lots of us building loading docks that are also too high).  You can use replacement doors or segment the Athearn doors and splice-in parts from surplus Athearn doors.  A lot of improvements like that are included in the link which I provided earlier.
If you want working doors, but with close-to-scale doortracks, use the system that the Front Range cars used, with a guide rod cemented to the inside of the door, running inside of a channel cemented to the inside of the car - I used the same method on these Red Caboose X-29s...

...and on a number of these Walthers 50' automobile cars...

I also found this Ertl r-t-r USRA doublesheathed boxcar at a train show.  It came with working doors, and cost only a couple of bucks...

Wayne

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, August 6, 2018 11:51 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
Why is the steel weight a problem? And the stock amount of weight is plenty, once you add the metal trucks.

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I use Kadee electromagnetic uncouplers, or #308 under the ties permanent uncoupler. Both of these will attract anything that is magnetic.

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Because of this, I take great pains to be sure the only magnetic piece on any of my freight cars is the coupler trip pin.

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Screws, axles, weights, underframes, etc might all need to be modified or replaced to get rid of the ferrous parts.

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One of the most difficult was my undecorated RTR BLI hopper cars. The steel weights were inside and very difficult to pry loose.

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by dstarr on Monday, August 6, 2018 2:05 PM

I do things a little differently.  I am OK with the stock steel weight, the Athearn coupler boxes and the Athearn trucks and wheels.  I do check all 4 wheelsets for gauge, using the NMRA gauge.  The trucks come out of the box in gloss black plastic.  I paint them with red auto primer, Krylon or Rustoleum rattle can.  I brush paint the wheel faces grimy black.  Then I wrap the whole car in 2 inch masking tape and spray paint the undercarriage dark gray auto primer.  Although the undercarriage isn't really visible on the layout, the paint does prevent the odd glimpse of a bright steel weight by onlookers. 

   I always check the coupler height after the car is together.  Since I use the Athearn coupler boxes, the coupler height always comes out low.  A pair of #6 flat washers under the trucks will bring the car up to proper height.  And I always bend the sheet metal coupler box covers for a tighter fit.  Long nose pliers are all I need for that.  In the past I have had some coupler box lids pop off with amusing consiquences, but not the ones I bent for a little more tightness.  If needed I file the sides of the coupler box to make the lids fit more tightly.

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Posted by ricktrains4824 on Monday, August 6, 2018 2:08 PM

While I insist that they run well, the most I have ever had to do is replace to metal wheelsets, and add Kadee couplers. 

Now, the 86' boxcars on the other hand, these I modify a bit more to provide better operational characteristics.

Ricky W.

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Posted by Southgate on Monday, August 6, 2018 2:08 PM

Nie work on your fleet, Kevin. The ol' bb freight cars ,despite their inaccuracies have a well earned place on our layouts. Well, mine for sure. I'm probably going to go back and do a couple of your improvements on my fleet.

Metal wheels and Kadees as well as proper weight are standards on my cars.  I don't bother with detail that can't be seen when cars are on the tracks.

Steel weights don't interfere with my own magnetic uncoupling system. Dan

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Posted by "JaBear" on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 4:52 AM
Gidday Kevin, thanks for the explanation on the Athearn Living Legends kits over in WPF, I wasn’t aware they existed.
 
I’m afraid I’m far too lazy with my Athearn boxcars cars. All I do is remove, if required any rust from the axles and steel weight, prime them with red oxide primer, add weight directly over the trucks, file one bolster for the same reason as riogrande5761, and check the coupler heights.
 
Thanks for this interesting post.
Cheers, the Bear.Smile

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Posted by Doughless on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 5:58 AM

dstarr

  Since I use the Athearn coupler boxes, the coupler height always comes out low.  A pair of #6 flat washers under the trucks will bring the car up to proper height. 

 

Good point David.  I use the pink Kadee fiber washers on the truck tabs to raise the coupler height, usually just one per truck is needed.  The washers also help to screw the trucks up snuggly to the underside, preventing excessive wobble that can happen on certain cars.

- Douglas

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 7:46 AM

ricktrains4824

Now, the 86' boxcars on the other hand, these I modify a bit more to provide better operational characteristics.

Yes, the Athearn 86' auto parts box cars need additional attension on the coupler department.  Mine may go on the block if an HQ version comes along; you never know.  Smile

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Posted by csxns on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 5:22 PM

riogrande5761
tender loving car on the coupler department

I used the Walthers swinging coupler pocket on mine.

Russell

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Posted by dknelson on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 6:06 PM

Interesting - it seems most people prefer to use fiber washers to lift a car body up than to use the appropriate offset Kadee coupler head.  

Now and then when I am in a certain mood I do clip off and re-arrange the AB brake system parts on the Athearn underframe to make them correct (usually when I also feel ambitious enough to add at least some of the piping and rodding).  I am not sure why I do this.  Nobody knows but me.  I still scratch my head that Athearn not only got this wrong the first time (caused by reading scale drawings as if from below but actually they were drawn as if from above) but did it repeatedly for other cars in their line that had different underframe tooling.  They had gotten it right on their old metal and wood floor kits, after all.

I still run plenty of Athearn cars and still have an "ample" supply of unbuilt blue box kits.  Now and then I even see a particularly nice Bev Bel or other custom painted kit and add to the pile.

Thanks for the useful tutorial - I'm usually all in favor of spending hobby hours rather than hobby dollars.

Dave Nelson 

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 6:40 PM

dknelson
Interesting - it seems most people prefer to use fiber washers to lift a car body up than to use the appropriate offset Kadee coupler head.

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I think the offset coupler heads raise or lower a coupler by about 0.030", so if you only need to raise the coupler 0.015" it makes it easier to use washers.

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Note... I usually like my cars riding lower, so I will sometimes use an offset coupler and file 0.015" off of the bolster to lower the car.

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More than one way to skin this cat!

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, August 10, 2018 9:29 PM

zstripe
I have quite a few Athearn box cars and never had one with bowed doors.

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I am building another NMRA special Blue Box car this weekend. This one is for Gordon Odegard's PLATVILLE & CALAMINE.

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The doors on this one bowed out quite a bit. I think the problem is definitely in the upper door guide.

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by NHTX on Saturday, August 11, 2018 1:40 AM

       Having owned some BB boxcars, I found that reducing the width of the portion of the car door that engaged the upper door guide eliminated the problem of door bowing.  A few strokes of a file was all it took.

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Posted by mobilman44 on Saturday, August 11, 2018 4:44 AM

In addition to all the above, I add a spray of Dull-Cote and a black/brown wash to the trucks and couplers.

ENJOY  !

 

Mobilman44

 

Living in southeast Texas, modeling the "postwar" Santa Fe and Illinois Central 

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Saturday, August 11, 2018 5:44 PM

NHTX
I found that reducing the width of the portion of the car door that engaged the upper door guide eliminated the problem of door bowing.

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That sounds like the best solution if you desire an operating door.

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Glad to hear I am not the only one experiencing this.

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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