Updating Athearn Blue Box Railbox XAF 10 cars

 Part 1 – No plan survives first contact with the enemyThe basic blue box car

It has been some time since I’ve had the funds or the time really to do much of anything in the modelling realm.

I’ve simply not had the funds to bring a lot of the work I’ve had underway forward to completion. Thanks to the Taxman and a payout due to being laid off, I’ve been able to order some extra parts to complete most of my Railbox cars.

The most important of all the parts has been a set of Microscale decals.

I ordered these from Microscale in the US and very quickly in the post I received 3 packets of Microscale (87-1291) HO scale RBOX & ABOX decals. Microscale’s service was fast and excellent after ordering directly from their website. They decal two cars of each type and come with all the car data you need for the cars.

RBOX_Microscale_Decals

I have a lot of these cars to re-work; at last count I believe about there were 10 in total. I have enough to cover 6 cars for now. With my layout that I’m building (currently set in 1978) there’s latitude for the Hunter Valley to have bought some similar per diem boxcars. These cars I’ll complete last as I have to produce or manufacture my own decals for them.

Updating the Athearn Blue Box model

The Athearn model is, except for the roof pattern used, correct for the XAF10 series cars. The kit does not have the detail that modern-day kits come with as standard, but they were only $7.50 when I bought them and even after the upgrade process will top out in real dollar terms at less than I can buy the newer models for now. To keep the costs down I’m making most of the add-on parts. To be fair I love scratch building. It has always been my favourite part of the hobby.

Let me say this before the rivet counters jump in: I know that the roof panels on these cars are wrong, I can live with that. At the height above the floor the new layout will be, they really won’t be all that obvious,even if they may be easy to see.

When money is tight these simple upgrades make all the difference. What other issues remain I can live with. There are some issues though that I just cannot live with. In order of descending importance they are:

  • Trucks – I replace these on all of my Blue-Box cars. In this case they’ll be the 70 ton roller bearing trucks (fully equalised) by Kadee. I love these trucks, and with proper weighting they run like a dream floating along and bending to the poor track of the HVL (we are a ribbon in the weeds kind of Shortline you know). At around A$15.00 per pair they are not cheap, but they work so well I’ll eventually fit them on my entire fleet as I can afford to.
  • The body side the grab irons just irk the hell out of me; moulded onto the body side and just begging to be milled and replaced with brass wire – the image below shows the experimental car with these.modifications. While the grab-irons on this model look over sized I am certain that once they’re painted they’ll stand out a lot less. If they don’t then I’ve since sourced some really fine brass, and if they aren’t fine enough I can always get some fine copper wire, tin it and then fit them for prototypical accuracy

Modified_Bluebox_Boxcar

  • The stirrups on the car ends are OK, but I can do better using brass wire, brass strip or as shown in the image above good old-fashioned staples (which have proven to look great but will need to be drilled, glued and then have NBW castings glued through them and into the body to stay on – every one of them has been knocked off  – even with careful handling and using the best super glue)
  • Updated Kadee knuckle couplers (I prefer the #58 which have a much finer head casting). From these I’ll  be removing the magnetic glad hand as I do all of my uncoupling with a skewer, and because I’ll be adding air hoses and glad hands (these magnetic units which look really great as you can see in the YouTube video below. They are now available from P.W.R.S. at: http://www.pacific-western-rail.com)

Remember how I said no plan survives first contact?

If I were a purist, or a glutton for punishment, I could rework the car ends. There is much that could be done by milling the ends and cleaning everything up and starting again. I just can’t be bothered. The ends are good enough, and because they’ll be in between other cars, and generally not focused on I’m not going to worry.

The coupler box used on the model is wider that the real one used on the real car, but again, this is between the cars during normal operation and really, I just don’t think it matters. I’ll live with it.

In part 2 I’ll provide a historical context to the build, and then in part 3 I’ll move on to reworking the basic car into something better for your railroad, and mine.

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About Andrew Martin

After a long IT and Telecommunications career in the USA and Australia, I've decided I need a break, I've changed focus and now work in the public transport sector - a complete change of pace. Hobby wise I'm focused on model railway layout building and modelling. I blog, write and publish as often as I am able.
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2 Responses to Updating Athearn Blue Box Railbox XAF 10 cars

  1. Pingback: Site Update – December 05, 2018 – RailBox XAF10 Modelling pages updated | Andrew's Trains

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