Thursday, November 29, 2018

Flat Cars - General Information

There are many times where I can't really devote the time to go down and work on the layout, but I can work in small chunks of time while working on something else at my desk. Often this is a combination of working on models and research (and writing an occasional blog post). A common catalyst is the acquisition or announcement of a new model. 

One such group on my bookcase/desk is flat cars. The F30A that I posted recently was one such model/experiment. Instead of waiting to find a(n affordable) Sunshine model, I figured I'd see how hard it was to modify the underframe of the Bowser model. That was a result of getting the Owl Mountain Models SP F-50 and Espee Models SP F-70 flat car kits.

Once I start looking at a class of cars, I tend to look at what I might need. There are two general directions I work from in determining a roster.

Plastic Flat Car Models

The first option is to look at the available models, starting with the easiest ones - RTR plastic, as well as some that are available only as kits. In this case there are a number of good options, and resources (such as Richard Hendrickson's Railmodel Journal articles, Railway Prototype Cyclopedia, and the knowledge of the Steam Era Freight Car modelers in general.

41' Flat Car (Tichy/Ertl)

Based on an NC&StL Prototype, it's also close to DL&W, SP&S, SSW, CN, CP and NYC with 12 stake pockets. Ertl produced an RTR car based on the same prototype. I have no idea whether there are differences between the models. Ted Culotta wrote an article about modeling these cars in Prototype Railroad Modeling Volume Four (available from Speedwitch Media).

 The version that's sold as a Low Side Gondola can be built without the gondola sides and resembles AC&Y, C&O, and D&RGW cars with 10 stake pockets
I'm also working on using it as a basis for NH 36' flat cars.

AAR 50-ton 53'6" Flat Car (Proto 2000/Walthers)

This is a very accurate model, and as far as I know all of the roads released are prototypical. In my case I'm starting with ACL, C&NW,  C&O, CGW, CIL, CRR, D&RGW, I-GN, ITC, L&N, M&StL, NKP, NP, RI, SOO, UP, and WM. EJ&E would be another good choice due to the number rostered. Ted also has an article about these cars in Railroad Prototype Modeling Volume Four.

AAR 70-ton 53'6" Flat Car (Intermountain)

Another very accurate model, although the laser cut wood deck is too thick and tends to delaminate. I'm experimenting with removing it and using a styrene board-by-board replacement. The War Emergency ones are visually identical, the only apparent difference is that some of the crossties are wood. 

Again, I believe all of the released models are prototypical roads, but the NH is a must have for me, of course, and NYC rostered 1,000 of them! The ERIE and CRP are the other ones I'll definitely roster. PM had 350 as well.

NH/NYC Depressed Center Flat Car (Eastern Car Works)

Although this kit isn't produced anymore, they are easy to find, and it's an interesting prototype. More importantly for me, it's an accurate model of an NH prototype.

The body of the model is a very good replica of the cast body of the prototype. The details themselves are a bit course due to the injection-molding technology of the time, but it's easy to turn it into a nice looking model. The deck itself is beautifully rendered.

In addition, a second class of NH depressed center flat cars (they designated them "transformer cars") is nearly identical, only needing to extend the deck at either end. I need to get a picture of Chris' (award-winning) ECW flat car.

(Chris obliged in the comments. Here it is!)

NP Flat Car (Central Valley Model Works)

This is a series of flat cars rebuilt from boxcar underframes. It's a unique looking prototype.

PRR F30A (Bowser)

The Bowser kit is pretty accurate, but needs a few modifications like the addition of poling pockets and the work I did on the underframe. Speedwitch Media has decals available for this kit.

SP F-50 class Flat Cars (Owl Mountain Models)

This is a series of kits, I went with the F-50-10/12 model as it was probably the most numerous in my era. Available only as a kit, but it's a fun one to build. I'm building an SP F-50-12, and might build a T&NO F-50-8 as well. (Jason Hill has a series of posts on building this kit: Part I, II, III and a fantastic overview of SP Flat Cars. Tony Thompson did a quick write-up about assembling the kit too.)

SP F-70 series Flat Car (Red Caboose/Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society)

(I couldn't find a picture of this kit that I could use).
Another series of kits, sometimes available RTR, the F-70-6/7 is good for most of my era, and the similar F-70-10 would sneak into the 1953/4 sessions if I wanted to.'

UP GSC 42' Flat Car (Exactrail)

Recently produced by Exactrail, these are an accurate rendition of a 1951 UP prototype.

USRA 42' Flat Car (Red Caboose/Intermountain)

This is actually a model of the NYC and subsidiary cars, and PM and W&LE are close matches as well. This is a clone of the USRA design with minor differences.

To actually model the USRA prototype Richard Hendrickson noted that stake pockets #2, 4, 5, 8, 9, and 11 need to be moved to evenly space them across the side. In this configuration the CNW was the largest owner, and I may add additional roads once I verify their rosters in my era.

Other Plastic Flat Car Models

Of course, there have been many other plastic (and metal) models released over the years. Normally I look primarily at models that have separately applied detail parts. But flat cars have so few grab irons, they are among the easiest to clean up. A few others that I might look into:

  • The Atlas Pulpwood flat car is based General Steel Casting car built for the ACL in 1951. I believe GM&O, IC, L&N, and TN&O all had similar cars built by 1953. I don't recall seeing any photos, nor hearing of any pulpwood movements on the New Haven, though. So it's not a must-have for me.
  • MDC has a 30' flat car that is similar to a Milwaukee car, and also the PRR F22. This is a very heavy duty flat car. The F&C resin kit is probably a better model at this point. 
  • Walthers has a GSC 53'6" Cast Steel Flat Car model in their Gold Line/Mainline series (depending on when it was packaged). These are simple kits, with molded on details. They were built starting in 1951 for the GM&O, with more built for ATSF and MKT in 1952. It was a long-lived car, with additional deliveries in 1955 and through 1969, many with bulkheads or equipped for TOFC service. From what I understand it's an accurate car, and is probably worth upgrading, especially if you model the late '50s through the '70s at least. 

There are quite a few options, actually, and most available RTR. But flat cars varied quite a bit from road to road, and even though there were a few standard flat cars, they certainly don't represent the national fleet. Fortunately, there are lots of resin kits available to fill in some of those spots. Before I get to those, I'll look at the other method I use to determine what's a good starting point for my roster, and that's the prototype data.

In The Postwar Freight Car Fleet (Kline/Culotta from Speedwitch Media) they note that 15 roads account for 3/4 of the national flat car fleet. 
  • SP and T&NO (Owl Mountain, Red Caboose)
  • MILW 
  • NP (P2k, Central Valley)
  • SOU
  • C&NW (P2k, Red Caboose)
  • PRR (Bowser)
  • ACL (P2k)
  • SAL
  • UP (P2k, Exactrail)
  • GN (Red Caboose)
  • ATSF (Intermountain)
  • NYC (Intermountain, Red Caboose)
  • D&RGW (P2k, Tichy)
  • RI
  • L&N (P2k)
  • CB&Q
Of the top 15, the Milwaukee is the only road that doesn't have an accurate plastic or resin model readily available, other than potentially the MDC/F&C F22 model. Since that's a heavy duty flat car, it's not likely that it's the most common one on their roster. Charles Hostetler has a quick post on another series of MILW flat cars.

Resin Flat Car Models

So the next step was to fill in the options from resin kits. These fill in a lot of holes, especially with the more unusual flat cars. In addition to the ones listed below, Norwest Models produced two Canadian prototypes in resin. There were some other resin or part resin models, such as Westrail, Pittsburgh Scale Models, and Protowest, but these are hard to find and have been duplicated by other releases.

Chad Boas

Chad makes quite a number of flat car kits. These are just the major castings, no other materials are provided. But the price is right and the castings are fantastic. Ordering information is available on the Sunshine Kits website.. These are the ones that, as best I can tell, are appropriate for my era.
  • CB&Q 89000-series 53'6" Straight Side Sill flat car
  • CB&Q 94000-series 60' Welded Straight Side Sill flat car
  • CP 310000-311348 series 36' flat car
  • CP 335000-336559 series 42' flat car
  • CP 300000-300499 series 46' flat car
  • GN 65000-series 52' Fishbelly Side Sill flat car
  • GN 65500/60060 TOFC 53'6" Welded Fishbelly Side Sill flat car
  • GN 66000-series 52' Straight Side Sill flat car
  • GN 67000-series 50' Fishbelly Side Sill flat car
  • GN 69500-series 43' Fishbelly Side Sill flat car
  • L&N 22000-series 46' Fishbelly Side Sill flat car
  • M&StL 23000-series 50' Fishbelly Side Sill flat car (available with straight or extended overhang deck)
  • MP 8000-series 45' Fishbelly Side Sill flat car
  • MP 8100-series 50' Fishbelly Side Sill flat car
  • NH 17500-series TOFC 40' General Steel Casting Frame flat car
  • NW 42900 40' General Steel Casting Frame flat car
  • SEABOARD 47000-series F6 flat car
  • SOUTHERN 51000-series 53'6" Fishbelly Side Sill flat car
  • WP 2400-series 50' Fishbelly Side Sill flat car

Funaro & Camerlengo

Many PRR prototypes, along with a couple of northeastern roads.
  • B&M Well Hole flat car with load.
  • B&O P-11 Fishbelly flat car (available with and without loads)(Chris did a long series of posts on building this car: Part I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X - I think that's all of them in the correct order)
  • PRR F22 Heavy Duty flat car
  • PRR F23 Heavy Duty flat car (same as F22 but with a steel deck)
  • PRR F29 Depressed Center flat car (Excellent writeup by Ted Culotta: Part I, Part II)
  • PRR F33 Well Hole flat car
  • PRR FM flat car (same casting as the B&O P-11) (available with and without loads)
  • PRR FM Container flat car with Container load
  • Rutland 2300/2600 series flat car (available with an without loads)
Speedwitch Media has replacement decals for the F29, F33 and FM flat cars (and containers).

Speedwitch Media

For me, the NH car is a must-have of course.
  • NH 172000-series flat car
  • NP 52' Straight Side Skill flat car (originally from Northern Specific Models)

Sunshine Models

Although Sunshine is no longer in business after Martin Lofton's passed away in 2013, many of the kits originally released by Sunshine are available from other sources now. However, there isn't a good source for ATSF prototypes other than the 70-ton AAR flat car. Sunshine kits are regularly listed on eBay, but they sell for premium prices. In my case, I have an ATSF Ft-L & N kit that I'm looking forward to building.
  • AAR 53'6" 70-ton flat car for ATSF, CRP, DT&I, ERIE, IHB, NH, NYC and PM (same Prototype as the Intermountain model)
  • USRA or USRA Clone 42' flat car for B&M, CNW, PM, SL-SF, and TC (the same prototype as a modified Red Caboose kit)
  • ATSF Ft-G & M 40' and 44' flat car
  • ATSF FT-I & J 44'6" flat car
  • ATSF Ft-L & N 53'6" flat car (originally 50' flat cars, they were lengthened by inserting a 3'6" section)(released with and without bulkheads)
  • ATSF Ft-O & P 50' flat car (released with and without auto frame loading equipment)
  • B&O P-11 flat car (same prototype as the F&C kit)
  • CB&Q FM-11, 11A flat car
  • CNW 46' flat car
  • MP Pulpwood flat car (the bulkheads were built using Murphy ends from retired boxcars)
  • PRR FM flat car (same prototype as F&C kit)
  • PRR F30A flat car (same prototype as Bowser kit)
  • RI 50' Spliced flat car (these prototypes were made by inserting a 7'6" section to the center of a USRA clone. It appears this can be accomplished by splicing together two Red Caboose kits.
  • SSW 42' flat car (I think this prototype looks similar to the Tichy kit)
  • T&P 42' flat car (I think this prototype looks similar to the Tichy kit)
  • T&P Pulpwood flat car (rebuilt from USRA clone boxcars, using the original Murphy ends for the bulkheads)

I haven't gone through the ORER of each of these roads to see if the available models address the largest classes on those roads. As always, the model roster is dependent upon the available models (or the ones I kitbash or scratchbuilt) which rarely coincides with the actual national roster.


  1. Chad Boas also offers kits for 3 CPR flat cars.

  2. Another amazingly thorough post! And here's a link to the pic you wanted :^)

  3. Hi Randy,

    I know this is an old post, but I have just come across your website. Some other good info here (flatcar deck weathering is very timely for me as well), so I've bookmarked it to look at it when I have more time.

    The NH transformer car (ECW car) you have shown above, who painted/decaled it? I have builders photos from their NYNHH scheme, but I'm trying to locate what these things looked like around 1968 or so and I think they may very well have been the scheme shown, but heavily weathered. I'm at least trying to understand if the scheme on the flatcar in your post is accurate in the case I can't locate any photos around 1968.

    Very much appreciate your help and for sharing all this information on the web. My blogger blog is no where near as filled out.

    David Friedlander

    1. I'm happy to revisit these, and I keep updating them too.

      Chris Adams ( did that flat car, and it's appropriately lettered for the era we model. Sweetland/Horsley's NH Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment has a pictures of the car in 1968 and 1970.

      The scheme at that time is simple. All the lettering is under the depressed portion of the deck. A large NH and the first digit ("1") of the road number in the first panel, the rest of the road number in the second panel. Dimensional data in the third and fourth panels, too faded to read specifically what is there. There is no large "New Haven" on the side anymore.

      You can get the decals from NHRHTA for those cars here:

    2. Randy, I have a couple of SP F-70-6/7/10 models and photos I can send you if you want to use them. Let me know.

    3. That would be great. Or if they are featured on your blog just point me to the post and I'll link to that.