by Tony Cook/photos by the author
In the January 2017 edition of Model Railroad News, you saw Dick Foster’s build of Concept Models’ recent HO-scale kit for Santa Fe’s Ga-123 coal hopper car. I remembered this unique hopper car was a fully assembled N-scale release back around 1970. I dove into my collection of vintage product catalogs from that period in search of this model. As I looked, I found more and more interesting and unique freight cars that I thought you might enjoy being reminded of or seeing for the first time.
Roco was a prolific producer of model trains for the North American market beginning the 1960s. One of this Austrian-based manufacturer’s earliest efforts was a Pullman-Standard PS-1 sliding-door boxcar model in HO for AHM, dating to 1962. The original boom years for N scale of the late 1960s saw Roco at work with a number of freight cars imported into Canada and the U.S. My unofficial round up of Roco-made N-scale freight cars saw them included in AHM, Atlas, Aurora, Con-Cor, E-R Models, Minitrix, Model Power, Model Rectifier Corp. (MRC), and Walthers. While some of those companies saw Roco items in their lines in more recent times, the majority of the names you just read all included some of these Austrian-made N-scale releases only from the late-1960s into the 1970s. Roco certainly made the rounds in a short amount of years!
Impressive, even in N scale, this shot provides a comparison in size between a 40-foot boxcar and this Southern Pacific high-cube boxcar. The rib-side boxcar measures out to 88-feet in length.
For the collector, the wide variety of prototypes reproduced into N scale compounded by the number of times these models appeared and reappeared makes for an interesting subject. The assortment of N-scale freight car styles produced by Roco and the number of importing hobby companies makes complete coverage of this line impossible for a single installment of “From the Archive.” I’ve selected a handful of interesting examples to present here. I’ll work on future installments to add more coverage for these Roco-made N-scale models.
Big Time Railroading
Some of Roco’s models featured long-length prototypes of more than 50 feet. General practice saw most hobby companies focus on rolling stock that easily operated around tight-radius curves associated with train set offerings. Not only did freight cars tend to stay at 50 feet or less, but often passenger cars also saw compression down to more manageable 70-foot lengths.
I measured 88 scale feet from end-to-end on this monster stock car. The model was promoted as being an 85-foot Hi-Cube stock car during its early 1970s appearance in Atlas’ line.
Big Pig Palace
Ortner’s “Big Pig Palace” was a 1966 stock car built for Northern Pacific. The double-deck hog hauler was reportedly a 50-ton cushion-underframe attempt at keeping livestock transportation on the rails. This SPCA award-winning stock car fleet totaled approximately 20 and saw service into the 1970s.
Ortner built similar 85-foot stock cars in 1970 but with a more modern appearance. Prior to Northern Pacific’s Big Pig Palace cars, Southern Pacific experimented with the same concept for its 1964-built double-decked Hydra-Cushion “Stock Palace” cars that reportedly only consist of two prototypes.
Container carrying flatcars were a new and growing segment of North American railroading at the time of this model’s late-1960s arrival. The flatcar is 86-feet long, and the removable pair of containers are a tad more than 40-feet each in length.
Though it is not one, this Roco model is reminiscent of the 1960s Flexi-Van flatcar used originally by New York Central and Santa Fe. The flatcar portion of this release is somewhat unique with its lack of paint or decoration. The flatcar, presented in plain black molded plastic, appears to come in this undecorated style for all its releases. The twin 40-foot rivet-side containers come in a silver-painted finish with road names stamped on the sides.
A review of catalogs appears to show the following road names were available for this release: Matson Lines, Rio Grande, Santa Fe, and Southern Railway. Minitrix and Model Power appear to be the two companies that imported this Roco model.
Another uncommon prototype was Roco’s Hy-Cube boxcar. The 1960s saw the introduction of these giant excess-height boxcars go into auto parts service. The popular prototypes came from Pullman-Standard and Thrall and included four- and eight-door variations. Many roads rostered Pullman-Standard and Thrall 85-foot boxcars. Pacific Car & Foundry (PC&F) built an exterior-post version of the eight-door high-cube boxcar in 1964. This rib-side prototype wasn’t so popular and appears exclusive to Southern Pacific and its Cotton Belt subsidiary. This uncommon Southern Pacific PC&F example made it to N scale from Roco.
Early high-cubes did possess running boards and high-mount brake wheels. Roco’s rib-side Southern Pacific Hy-Cube boxcar included separately applied black plastic running boards and brake wheel. As the chips in this sample’s paint show, the shell is black plastic. How far has the quality of pad printing come in the hobby over the years? Check out the smudged “S” in the road’s name on the upper left placard and gaps and bubbles in the large circle herald on the middle of this model.
Atlas included an eight-door high-cube boxcar in its N-scale line by 1975. This Roco-made model appears to be a variant on the original Minitrix tooling. The rib-side design is dropped and the model presents a more common look of the Pullman-Standard prototype. This tooling receives yet another incarnation later with a Con-Cor release of a four-door high-cube boxcar that comes from Roco and shares components from the earlier models. The original rib-side Minitrix model includes running boards, which would be accurate for this boxcar during its first years of service. The follow-up revised high-cube boxcars done for Atlas and Con-Cor lack running boards.
While not exactly accurate, the non-rib high-cube boxcars suggest a Pullman-Standard prototype from the look of the model along its sill. Pullman-Standard’s design had the outside smooth panel come down to the frame on the car side but let the lower ends of the posts exposed. Thrall’s design brought the outer smooth panel down and tucked it in along the frame with no posts visible at its base.Minitrix introduced the eight-door Hy-Cube rib-side boxcar. The model returned from Model Power. Road names included Baltimore & Ohio, Grand Trunk Western, Missouri Pacific, and Southern Pacific.
Roco’s name is not included on the examples presented. The giveaway is the Austria origin mark. You’ll find importer names, such as Altas or Trix, on these releases. This view shows the Ga-123 coal hopper’s origin marking with the Trix name and Austria. This example was part of the early 1970s Minitrix line sold in North America.
Santa Fe’s Ga-123
The previously mentioned Santa Fe Ga-123 hopper, marketed more generically as a “longitudinal hopper,” at first glance might appear to be a European prototype masquerading as a U.S. example.This model was included in Aurora’s Postage Stamp line, followed by Minitrix’s line and later saw release from Mod
el Power and Con-Cor. Road names offered for this Santa Fe-only prototype included Canadian National, Boston & Maine, and Penn Central, as well as a Mineral Red hopper lettered for Santa Fe.
At 63-feet, this is one of Roco’s smaller attempts at N-scale tank car models. The 94-foot tank car riding on four sets of trucks was offered only by Atlas and is a model to look for to add to your collection.
Jumbo Tank Car
There are at least two noteworthy N-scale long tank cars among Roco’s work. One remains very much available today, and the other is uncommon. Both are “whalebelly” prototypes dating from the 1960s. Atlas lists the smaller of the two examples as an American Car & Foundry 33,156-gallon tank car. This model is approximately 63 feet long. The bigger tank car was a whopping 94-feet in length and rode on four sets of trucks. Another curiosity rather than a common prototype, this Roco model reproduced a General American mid-1960s experimental design. The prototype resides on display at The Museum of Transportation in the St. Louis area. I was curious about the possible return of the 94-foot tank car model and inquired with Atlas. Information received back stated that the location of this tooling is unknown, and its comeback to N scale appears unlikely.
Many of Roco’s freight cars saw release across more than one model railroading scale. For example, Roco’s 40-foot plug-door boxcar exists originally from AHM in HO, came out in N scale next, and later saw an O-scale offering from Atlas. All feature essentially the same design. These intriguing Roco examples highlighted in this “From the Archive” are N-scale only offerings. For collectors in HO, one can only wonder about how that big SP high-cube boxcar or flatcar with containers might have looked in 1/87.
This article appeared in the January 2017 issue of Model Railroad News