Part 2 – Body works – getting physical (no Olivia Newton-John required)

The original Athearn Blue Box model of the XAF10 RailBox cars are pretty good, even by today’s standards. Sure their are issues with the roof panels being the wrong pattern, overall though it’s a great cheap and easily available model. Moulded on detail does date the model however. Replacing the moulded detail with wire grabs and stirrups gives a massive upgrade to the look of the model. When you add upgrades between the floor of the car and the rail head, covered in part 3, the car will look much better for little effort and cost.

Updating the Blue Box body to modern standards

There are a few modifications that you need to update and improve the body:

  • End handrail
  • Grab irons
  • Stirrups, and
  • Knuckle couplers

Image 1: My suggested body upgrades

Additional upgrades I apply to all my rolling stock (as time and money allow) are Kadee’s fully sprung and equalised trucks, in this case the 70 Ton Roller bearing trucks, which make the cars work for a living on imperfect track without coming off the rails.

Upgrading the body

There are three steps to the upgrade:

  1. Removing and cleaning up moulded details,
  2. Drilling holes for grabs, handrails and steps, and
  3. Cutting and fitting the brass or steel wire grabs, etc

I’m not going to go into much detail on this. If you’ve never drilled a hole or made and fitted handmade details, let me say, it’s easy. There were a few gotchas I found while drilling the prototype shell that are worthwhile recording for others.

  1. The plastic is brittle, and thin and it can break very easily while drilling the shell – so drill slowly and locate your holes carefully (build a drill jig if need be to assist) to enure that you don’t break the ends of the shell as I did on the prototype and it took a lot of time to invisibly fix it
  2. If you choose to make the stirrups from metal (I used staples straightened and bent to the same shape as the kit moulded ones) you will need to figure a mounting system to weld them to the cars – I’m going to drill the stirrups, and then super glue Nut Bolt & Washer (NBW) castings to hold them on. I’ve tried super glue only and they fall off at the first breath

Beyond that the remainder of the upgrades are simple and even if you’re new to kit making or kit bashing you’ll knock these cars over quickly.

Adding knuckle couplers are straightforward using the built-in coupler boxes and the (in my case) #58 couplers and their copper/brass spring inserts to centre them. Same with the trucks. These are a simple screw mount to the frame. The only trick is to flatten the bolster as described in the truck kit instructions so that the truck mounts flat.

Further thoughts

Simple, relatively cheap, and easy are three of my favourite modelling words. Being quick to do and achieving a great result make this a great learning experience for those new to kitbashing and scratchbuilding. The results, even in the black and white photo above, speak for themselves I think.

For more on the project:

See the introduction in Part 1, or adding the underfloor details that really make the model pop in Part 3.

Designing & Building Small Layouts since 2003

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