Monday, June 14, 2021

USRA Single Sheathed Box Cars

With the recent announcement of USRA Single Sheathed Box Cars from Rapido Trains, I decided to go back over my research on the cars. As always, please let me know if you have additional information/corrections, etc.

The cars are covered in detail in Railway Prototype Cyclopedia Volume 17 and I know there have been other articles in the past, such as Mainline Modeler in July-August 1980. Prototype Railroad Modeling Volume 2 has an extensive article covering Ann Arbor box cars, including the USRA cars.

1950 Rosters

The question, of course, is whether I need these cars (of course I do!), and how many. In terms of the national fleet, these are rare cars by my era. What that means for me is that typically one or fewer would appear in any given operating session.

I find 1950 a good ORER to reference when deciding on whether to purchase models. This is about midway through a significant shift in freight car rosters and my modeling era. Following WWII, the railroads replaced a lot of aging cars, but it took time for new orders to be delivered. Then, in 1953, K-series brakes were outlawed for interchange service which eliminated many of the remaining pre-1920 cars.

There were 25,000 built, fewer than 12,000 remaining in 1950 not including steel rebuilds.

John Barry posted 1944 rosters.

Eric Hansmann posted the original owners for all USRA equipment a while ago.

AA 90000-90199 (191)

The Ann Arbor is a small road, but its location in industrial southern Michigan makes it reasonable to assume some cars made it to the NH. 

The USRA single sheathed box cars are the second largest group (191) of box cars on the road comprising 19% of fleet and 26% of box cars. 

It turns out that modeling the Ann Arbor box car fleet for my era has become quite feasible, with one exception. Speedwitch Media produced the 41000-series cars (13% of box cars), 68000-series (7% of box cars) and the 74000-series (19% of box cars) covering 65% of the AA box/auto car fleet. The 73750-series, at 246 cars (33% of box cars), is the largest group on the roster, and the only car not available as far as I know.

Photos show cars received AB Brakes and Miner power brake wheels in the '40s, by my era. Some received, "boots," or patches over the lower section of the side bracing,  and/or grain clips (aka bulge plates) along the lower course of side sheathing. Otherwise they appear to have retained their original appearance. 

Rapido announced them with AB brakes.

ACL 26001-26189 (22)

Relettered from AB&C in 1946, which were relettered from AB&A in 1926. I don't have any photos, so I'm not sure what changes, if any, were made. 

Rapido didn't announce these cars, but they were rebuilt into steel cars (O-28 class) in February, 1952, so they may have had KC brakes until that point. (Thanks Tom C.).

B&O 186999-187499 (421)

I didn't calculate it, since the 421 cars in service in 1950 is a very, very small part of the huge B&O fleet. Westerfield has a model with an updated car with a Hutchins roof. I don't have that kit, so I'm not sure how many received the new roofs. The RPCyc article doesn't mention a replacement roof at all for the B&O cars and I don't see evidence of that in the photos. 

Rapido announced these with KC Brakes. The photos in RPCyc are post-1955, but it's quite possible that many of them never received the upgrade.

Update: Rapido updated their info and these models will now have the replacement Hutchins roof.  

C&NW 143700-145698 (even numbers only) (800)

With over 20,000 box cars, the 800 USRA Single Sheathed cars aren't a significant part of the fleet. Most of those are still in service in January, 1953, but only 61 by 1955. I suspect most didn't receive AB brakes. Rapido announced them with KC brakes which seems appropriate.

C&O 1500-1505 (1)

There is a single car left in 1950. Originally numbered in the 600-1500 series, there were 51 cars in 1945, and the 600-1299 series are now listed as hoppers in the 1950 ORER. 

800 cars were rebuilt with steel bodies in 1939. Some were also converted to flat cars from 1943-45. 

The photo in RPCyc of car No. 632 c1938-40 looks like it has a radial roof, which they received when rebuilt. The photo is taken by the Youngstown Steel Door Company, and looks to me like a "before" picture taken just prior to rebuilding. If so, and if that is a radial roof, it received it prior to 1938. I don't have any other photos. Update: Andy C. informs me that the C&O rebuilt most (if not all) of their USRA cars with radial roofs in the early '30s, as they did for their other wood sheathed cars. 

Rapido announced them with KC brakes. These seems reasonable for the cars that weren't rebuilt as steel box cars.

CC&O 8000-8299 (247)

The Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway was operated by the Clinchfield Railroad. Photos in RPCyc show cars lettered as CC&O, with one (obviously) re-lettered as CRR, but pictured in 1959. A second photo from the same date and location is still lettered CC&O, and it would appear that in my era they would be lettered with that reporting mark. 
They received AB brakes.

In 1950 there were 247 still in service, accounting for 29% of their box car fleet (about 4% of their total fleet). Three of the four photos in that publication show the cars are stenciled for on line use only. There aren't any notations in the ORER to that effect.

Rapido didn't announce any cars in either scheme.

CNJ 20000-20499 (438)

The ORER conveniently separates out the 4 cars with, "new Carline and Roof." from the other 438 cars (29% of box car fleet) that have the, "original Carline and Roof." Those four had replacement Hutchins roofs.

Rapido is producing them with AB brakes, and I have seen it mentioned that they received AB brakes. But a c1946-8 photo in the RPCyc still has KC brakes after having received an Ajax power hand brake. In addition, the roster dropped from 438 in 1950 to 32 in 1953 so it seems probable that most didn't receive AB brakes, .
Since it doesn't appear Rapido is producing any cars with vertical hand brakes, a little modification will be needed.

D&H 17001-17500 (458)

There were 458 cars left in 1950, about 20% of the box car fleet, and received replacement roofs. Some Viking, some Murphy rectangular panel (and some of those with no flat panels at the end), or a Climax radial roof.

Upon closer inspection of all of the pictures in RPCyc, the cars have z-bar bracing, and not the original hat-section of the USRA cars. They also have a steel plate reinforcement along the bottom fifth of the door, plus an additional stiffener under the door. 
Ted Culotta states in Steam Era Freight Cars Reference Manual Volume One: Box and Automobile Cars that, "many cars received zee bar steel structural sections in place of the original hat section members." They also received AB brakes, Ajax hand brakes, and new top-mounted uncoupling levers. It includes a c1937-9 photo of 17914 with the original bracing, a Viking roof, and AB Brakes and an Ajax handbrake. If the Rapido car is tooled with a separate roof, I'll probably modify the car with a Des Plaines Hobbies Viking roof. Otherwise, I'll probably finish the Westerfield model I started for that conversion.

No. 17309 is located at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, ME and still has hat-section bracing. It has a new roof, the stiffening channel under the door, and the triangular gussets, but those could be added. It also raises the possibility that others survived with the hat section bracing and other variations of upgrades. 

MEC 36001-36300 (218)

Like the D&H cars, these have non-standard bracing noted as pressed-steel in RPCyc, and z-bar in the ORER. The design of the bracing is different than that of the D&H as well. I do not know if this was the original bracing, or replaced later, nor whether it applies to all of the cars (although it would appear so based on the notation in the ORER). 
They received AB brakes as in the Rapido announcement.

MILW 70000-703999 (2,024)

One of the largest owners of USRA Single Sheathed Box Cars in 1950, with 2,024 on the roster, this only accounts for 6% of their total box car roster. The c1945-7 photo in RPCyc shows it still has a horizontal hand brake. Despite the relatively large number in 1950, by 1953 there were only 4 left, and none in 1955 so I suspect they never received AB brakes and Rapido is producing them with KC brakes.

N&W 40000-40603 (594); 120000-120799 (95)

Although 95 cars in the 120000-series and 594 of the 40000-series remain in 1950 (out of a total box car roster of 8,843), the N&W rebuilt their cars in 1934 with radial roofs. The 40000-series cars had Apex steel running boards, side and end ladders, AB brakes with transversely mounted brake reservoirs, and triangular gussets to either side of the doors.

Due to the radial roof, the Westerfield model would be a better option.

However, in RPCyc is a photo "late in life" of 120364 with no gussets, wood running boards, and what appears to be the original roof. It may still be KC brakes as well. The information in the resources I have is inconclusive and I have no other photos, but I think the 40000-series cars received the radial roofs and other upgrades, while those left in the original series retained their as-built appearance.

NYC 277000-277999; 282000-282999 (361 total)

A meager of 361 cars in the vast NYC fleet. Rapido is releasing them with KC brakes which I believe is correct.

PRR (8,000+ total)

I'm guessing Rapido's recent PRR kick (running out of New Haven projects?) had a lot to do with selecting this car. I haven't listed the road numbers ranges since there are so many. Two of the three door options Rapido is producing were only used on the PRR.

In addition, there are two other doors unique to the X26 class of cars that Rapido isn't doing. The first is a Youngstown door, and the second a carbuilder door (similar to a Creco door). Both have a weld seam down the center because they were made by splicing together parts of two 4' auxiliary doors from X28 class auto cars. 

Many (most? all?) of the cars received Hutchins Dry Lading roofs, and some received boots on the lower (and sometimes upper) portion of the side bracing, and/or side and end ladders. F&C has a series of kits with the Hutchins roof, boots, and AB Brakes with different doors, including the spliced doors. Westerfield also has kits with Hutchins roofs and Creco (really the spliced carbuilder) door, one with a Youngstown door

Additional cars were rebuilt as all steel cars in the X26C class, also available from F&C

There are ~8,000+ in service in 1950 and I don't know how many, if any, still had their original roof in 1950. The Rapido cars will have AB brakes, as photos confirm for my era.

Jerry Britton has a great post about these cars. One of the cars pictured has a Superior door, so there's another option for you.

Update: Rapido updated their info and these models will now have the replacement Hutchins roof.  

RF&P 981-1140 (64); 2451-2800 (171)

The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac was a bridge line (like the AA), and originated a very small amount of tonnage. It's a road that probably doesn't need to be represented at all, but then we know that a Litchfield & Madison gondola made it to New Britain. RPCyc Vol 34 has a photo of 2538 in Vancouver c1948-50.

These box cars comprise 36% of the RF&P fleet, and their entire roster of box cars (64 for the 981-series, 171 or the 2451-series). 

However, there is a photo in the November, 1985 issue of Prototype Modeling of car 2598 after being rebuilt as a steel box car in 1939. There is no indication in the ORER of this (the cars are listed as steel underframe, steel frame cars). I checked the 1943 ORER and it's the same. RPCyc has pictures in 1959 and 1960 with the original configuration. I don't know how many cars were rebuilt to steel.

Photos show that they received AB Brakes as Rapido is releasing. 

RDG 5001-5999 (589)

There are 589 cars, plus 76 equipped for auto parts, in 1950 (of 7,602 box cars, or ~9%). Rapido is releasing them with AB brakes which appears to be the only upgrade they received.

SP  26360-27359 (29)

Most of their cars have been re-sheathed with steel. With such a large roster, the 29 remaining cars are almost non-existent, but the ORER thoughtfully identifies the following cars as still being of composite construction: 26368, 26406, 26413, 26489, 26529, 26544, 26670, 26758, 26767, 26775, 26839, 26853, 26959, 26969, 26970, 27011, 27094, 27169, 27222, 27271, 27291, 27314, 27324, 27845, 27350.

Rapido is releasing them with KC brakes and I don't see any evidence they received AB brakes.

In addition to these roads, they could be lettered for several other roads in an earlier era. Rapido didn't announce any cars lettered for these roads.

  • AB&A, relettered for AB&C in 1926.
  • AB&C, relettered for ACL in 1946.
  • CM&StP, relettered for MILW c1928, with the tilted box herald applied starting late '30s.
  • ERIE, resheathed with steel and received radial roofs c1936.
  • GA, rebuilt to all steel single sheathed cars in the late '30s to 1942. Tichy and Speedwitch Media have kits for the rebuilt cars.
  • GR&I, relettered to PRR, not sure what year.
  • LIRR, relettered to PRR c1926-29.
  • MC, relettered to NYC in 1937.
  • NYP&N, relettered to PRR.
  • P&R, relettered to RDG in 1923.
  • PMcK&Y, rebuilt to steel in 1934. Gradually relettered to P&LE in the late '30s. Tichy has a kit for this car.
  • PRR Lines, don't know if they were relettered.
  • WM, some/all (?) received Hutchins roofs, not sure what year. All gone by 1946.
  • WS, to RF&P in 1920.
There were also cars originally lettered GET and US until assigned to a road. All were assigned to other roads by 1920.

The Models

I believe there are a few other options, but three primary models are still currently available for these prototypes aside from the upcoming Rapido car. How do they compare?

Incidentally, the available kits all vary a bit in length, as measured over the end sills. The two Westerfield ones I have are 39'-10" (old, dark grey resin), and 39'-11" or maybe 40' (new light grey resin, I haven't built it yet). The F&C kit is 40'-6", and the Tichy kit is 41'. The prototype was 41'-4.5" so the Tichy model is the closest.

Resin shrinks when curing, so each casting might be slightly different. It will be interesting to see where the Rapido car lands. A discrepancy in length is extremely hard to notice on a layout or in photos, but I measured them specifically because I thought the Tichy car looked too large in comparison to the Westerfield kit. Turns out it was the other way around. But it was enough that I noticed the difference.

Tichy Train Group

I think this was the first of these models produced. Originally by Gould, and occasionally available in a couple of roads RTR from Intermountain, these plastic kits are well done. Overall, the Tichy car is probably the best rendered single sheathed plastic car on the market today. Particularly in the manner in which they addressed the wood sheathing. It appears Rapido will be using a similar approach. 

However, the Tichy car is missing rivets in the strap steel angles at each corner, the lines of rivets down the edge of the ends on each side, and is also missing the attachment bolts for the grab irons. I don't know if such bolts were added to the RTR versions, but I doubt it. It's also missing a striker casting, plus the Carmer uncoupling levers. It's also quite a bit of work (for a plastic kit), because you have to drill for all of the grab irons (although they provide a jig), and add those missing details.


Westerfield has an extensive series of resin kits that covers many of the variations, including the N&W with radial roofs, and B&O, PRR, and WM with Hutchins roofs. These are typical Westerfield quality and quite accurate.

These are from a prior generation of production. The only potential complaint, other than the size discrepancy, is that as an older kit they represent the wood sheathing with scribed sides. The current approach for most resin kits of single sheathed cars is either board-by-board construction, or using texture to delineate individual boards instead of the oversized scribed lines. They look like they were hand-scribed, so it's much better than if it was just Evergreen scribed material. But this is currently the easiest way to model the N&W version with the radial roof.

They are now produced as one-piece bodies, and assemble much like a plastic kit.

Funaro & Camerlengo

F&C produces several variations of the PRR X26, with the replacement Hutchins roof and four of the door variations, including the spliced ones seen on many cars.

Prior to the Rapido announcement, this was the newest of these models to market, and the quality of the detail shows it. The boots added to the bracing is very well done. The side sheathing is modeled using various textures for each board. Although it looks a little heavy on the kit, when painted it looks quite good. Like all recent F&C kits these are one-piece bodies and easy to build.


Is the Rapido car needed? Sure, I'd like to see something that hasn't been done in plastic yet, but is this upgrade warranted? Is it an upgrade?

The Rapido renders show only horizontal ("stemwinder") brake wheels on the models. They announced the three doors, but not any alternate roofs. They have two grab irons on the left side, which is appropriate for my era. Regardless of the installed brake system, They are including parts for the other option in the box so they should be easy to convert if needed. All of the lettering schemes are appropriate for my era.

All of the details that are missing from the Tichy car are present. It also appears that overall it will be a level of accuracy and detail on par with Westerfield, and better in terms of the side sheathing and dimensions. Only some minor modifications may need to be made (replacing the brake wheel, for example). The F&C car is more accurate for the modifications made to many (most?) PRR cars in my era, but it only covers those upgraded Pennsy cars.

So other than the variations on the F&C X26, and the N&W car with a radial roof from Westerfield, I think these are an upgrade and I'm excited to see them produced.

I've already ordered the B&O, CNJ, D&H, NYC, PRR, and RDG. Despite the low number for some of these roads, they are all direct connections with the NH.

In addition, I ordered one for MILW since they had so many, and AA and RF&P because they were such large parts of their fleets, so nine cars. I wouldn't mind a CC&O car too, just because I don't have any cars with that reporting mark. Maybe I'll add an undecorated one and order some decals from Westerfield.

I'll have way more of these cars than I "need." But it also means that when they do show up in an ops session, I'll have options and it won't always be the same car.


  1. Randy - thank you for doing all of this research and posting this! I found it tremendously helpful in analyzing what the new Rapido offering means in the context of era and alternative kit options. I model the Georgetown Branch of the B&O ca 1945-55 (a wide range, I know - but chosen for various reasons) and found your breakdown very helpful in guiding my choices on what to pre-order. I'm going with B&O, MILW (mainly b/c I have some photos showing similar cars on my line), PRR, RDG, D&H and RF&P (proximity to DC makes this a fun one for me.). Still considering some of the other road names, too. Again, thank you! My GB website:

  2. You're welcome! I jot down info I find in OneNote as I go for the same purpose, and just figure it's worth sharing.

    Nice site, now I have another source! I added your site to my list. Thanks!