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Jan 31, 2002


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Walthers Bi-Level HO Autorack Modeling
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Autoracks The Walthers model of the Thrall-built Trailer Train/TTX Company bi-level autorack is good model of a common car found everywhere across North America and is definitely an eye catcher on layouts, especially when the cars are assembled in traditional Conrail autorack unit trains. In the real world, these cars haul larger vehicles from the automobile assembly plants to distribution facilities, where the vechicles are unloaded onto auto-carrier trucks for delivery to dealer lots. A typical full load for these fully enclosed cars would be 10 trucks, vans, or sport utility vehicles. As these types of vehicles have become more and more popular with American consumers nation-wide, more and more bi-level autoracks are seeing service.

The Walthers model comes predecorated in the standard Conrail scheme with oxide red paint and wheels-rails logo (#932-4803) as well as undecorated. Walthers chose to manufacture these cars as if the models were boxcars. The entire assembly--flatcar, rack, and doors--is cast as one solid piece of yellow plastic. The roof comes as a separate piece, whereas the side panels are molded as one-piece sections that fit onto the car body.

Panels: The first job will be to cut the side panels from their sprues, trimming any excess. On the prototype each panel section has a four-corrugation design, which was by far the most common design for these cars, whereas the model has a less common three-corrugation design. Etched brass replacements for the side panels would be a true blessing, allowing for the correct panel design along with see-through holes. Since such parts are not available, the Walthers panels will have to do. To call attention to the panel holes, give each panel a wash of black, then wipe them clean, leaving the black paint in the panel holes. Also completely paint the seams between the panel sections black, suggesting that they are indeed individual sections and not one big piece as in the kit. Also paint the seam between the top panel and the rack roof as well as the bottom panel and the flatcar the same black. Do not paint the small panel ties--these must remain silver as on the prototype. Once the panels are dry, glue them to the model body, making sure to attach the proper panel to the proper opening.

The Rack & Roof: This kit is a typical Walthers product from the 1990s; it goes together fairly quickly and easily, with most of the time being devoted to the side panels. All details--such as handrails, foot stirrups, and brake levers--are molded onto the body. The rack body comes prepainted in what Walthers believes to be Conrail's oxide red. Unfortunately, the color looks more like brown than oxide red. Of course, Thrall probably painted Conrail autoracks in several shades, ranging from brown to oxide red. Plus layout lighting will change paint color. Still, I would have preferred to see the color just a bit lighter and reddish. The side braces don't have as angular a look as on the prototype, but this probably has more to do with molding issues than with Walthers' lack of attention to detail. Finally, the ridged roof that Walthers includes in the kit is functional, though some Conrail TTGX autoracks have a smooth version.

The Doors: The end doors of the kit are molded onto the model in the closed position. While Tom Wolfgang has been able to remove these doors so they are in the open position, he has yet to tell me exactly how e accomplished this. (Hint hint, Tom!) Usually the doors are closed on moving trains, though I have seen a number of empty in-transit cars with the doors jutting open, a potential safety hazard. Loaded cars must have their doors closed in order to prevent vandalism and theft. Assuming that the cars are loaded with doors firmly closed, there are a few improvements we can make to them. For example, the wheel track ends stick out through slits in the doors. Paint the area around these tracks black, while painting the exposed track silver along with a mixture of grime and rust. Check the Bi-Level Photo Page for references.

The Flatcar: We are working our way down the model, arriving at the flatcar portion of the car, which is molded in yellow to match the Trailer Train/TTX Company paint. The predecorated kit comes with proper TTGX reporting marks and the older-style Trailer Train logo. While all autoracks manufactured prior to 1991 received this logo, those cars manufactured, remanufactured, or repainted from 1991 onward received the TTX Company scheme. While the older logo can still be seen on trains today, the most common scheme is TTX.

Replacing the predecorated reporting marks and logo is simply a matter of removing them with solvent from the model, then applying the proper Microscale decals. Their set 87-709 "Conrail Autoracks" includes decals for the older Trailer Train logo as well as for the newer TTX logo. It also contains reporting mark decals for the TTGX cars, as well as additional detail decals. For autoracks having the Quality logo, use Microscale's set 87-862 "Conrail Quality Freight Cars." Check prototype photos for reference when applying these decals, since variations and blunders abound. Also, some cars have their Conrail logos painted directly onto the corrugated side panels, whereas other cars have their logos applied to smooth panels, which can be easily modeled by replacing the proper panel with cut and painted sheet styrene.

Couplers: Walthers equips their bi-level autoracks with what they call a "special swinging (radial) coupler mounting to improve operation on curves." Make sure these radial mounts are free of flash and swing smoothly. If you replace the horn-hook couplers with Kadees or Kadee-clones, check their height in a coupler gauge. Since these are long cars, you want their couplers to be exact, else you risk some major derailments while pushing them or some serious uncouplings while pulling. I speak from experience here!

Trucks: Replace the supplied plastic wheels with your choice of 33" metal wheels. I have been using Life-Like Proto2000 flatback wheel with good results, though I have also used Kadee wheels. I have steered away from Jay-Bee wheels simply because I believe in reliability through standardization. If you can spare the extra cost, replace the entire truck assembly. Walthers trucks are notorious.

Operation Tips: These models are tall and long. Walthers suggests a minimum track radius of 22", though recommends 24" or larger for best performance. If you have never run this long or high a car on your layout, I suggest that you build one test car. Carefully and slowly run it around your layout by hand, especially if the layout has tighter curves such as 22" or 24". On tight curves these cars have significant overhang, knocking over nearby trackside details, jamming against tunnel portals or bridge abutments, and sideswiping passing trains. Also make sure the car clears all your bridges, tunnels, and anything else that hangs over the tracks. You might discover that you must initiate clearance projects, just like the prototype.

Copyright (c) 1998-2016 Robert S. Waller. All rights reserved.
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