By Tony Cook
Greg McComas’ MAC Rail line offers a really interesting variety of items for the model railroad enthusiast. The majority of the offerings are HO scale and generally skewed toward modern, contemporary era prototypes. If this is your kind of railroading, or even if it’s not, take a moment and surf through MAC Rail online and you’re sure to be impressed by the array of items.
How About a Bowl of Sweet Bran?
While “Sweet Bran” may sound like the name of a breakfast cereal trying to straddle the fine line between tasting good and being good for you… the label refers in this context to a corn syrup byproduct known as wet milled grain. This is a main ingredient in Cargill’s Sweet Bran, which is a high-protein cattle feed. Midwest corn processors ship wet milled grain by rail to Cargill plants in Bovina and Dalhart, Texas (both located on BNSF), that make Sweet Bran.
ABOVE: BN 534534 is on a westbound BNSF train rolling through Parkville, Mo., on October 20, 2020. This is the short hopper top shown on this car. — Tony Cook photo
Repurposed coal hoppers, specifically aluminum Bethgon “Coalporter”cars, work in unit sets with a specially made frame covered by a canvas tarp top hauling the corn syrup byproduct. This concept of taking a coal hopper and loading it with grain or similar commodity isn’t a new one; I remember seeing Illinois Central Gulf hoppers in the 1970s given a covered hopper lid. I was just a kid then and wondered how you could put grain in a dirty coal hopper and still make a loaf of bread from it. My dad informed me that was how they made darker breads like wheat or rye. To this day, I avoid them and most gluten; however, I won’t say there is a correlation between that questionable fact provided to me at a young age and my gluten intolerance. When I catch one of these unit trains in the Kansas City area, BN cars are the norm (see my prototype photos on this page and page 80), but I also see General American’s GGPX, Johnstown America’s JAIX, Trinity Industries’ TILX, and First Union’s SBTX cars (all leasers) mixed in BNSF trains of aluminum hoppers with tops for this type of service.
ABOVE: MAC Rail’s protein hopper top release comes with a 3D-printed hopper top and vinyl adhesive decal and you supply an HO-scale Bethgon hopper car model. The top is painted in an aluminum hue and the decal is gray to simulate the color of the prototype’s canvas top. No painting or special skills are needed to make your own realistic looking hopper top.
There are several HO-scale coal hopper models that could serve with MAC Rail’s protein hopper top kits. The manufacturer notes in its illustrated instructions (available for download from MAC Rail’s website) that you need to have a smooth surface for the hopper top to reside. This means the more basic the model possibly the better. The long-out-of-production LBF HO model is listed as lacking detail around the upper edge frame of the hopper, while more recent and higher quality reproductions from Athearn and ScaleTrains releases are noted as requiring a bit of sanding to smooth over the area of contact between the hopper top base and the top of those models.