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First Look Review
O scale
X-29 40' Box Car
O Master 1923 ARA (X-29) 40' Steel Box Car Erie Lackawanna (M Of W)
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

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O Master 1923 ARA (X-29) 40' Steel Box Car Erie Lackawanna (M Of W) is a new release from Atlas O, expanding their Steam Era Classics selection of classic train cars. Atlas O makes this model for 2-rail O and 3-rail O27. This sample is Item# 3002910, painted and lettered as a maintenance-of-way car of Erie-Lackawanna.

Quarterscale military modelers -- note the diorama potential of this model! I display it with 1/48 figures, a 1/48 Fordson tractor, and a 1/50 M3 half-track.

Per Atlas;
    In 1923, the ARA (American Railway Association) proposed a standard design all-steel box car for the railroads. While the design was certainly a good one, the car never became a recommended practice due to questions of the selected inside width. Nonetheless, quite a few railroads opted for the design and rostered sizeable fleets. The largest group of cars, by far, was class X-29 of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

My first impression of this X-29 is high: exceptional molding; high detail; separately applied grabs; air brake gear; movable doors; excellent paint with crisp printing.

The model
Atlas O secures this model in a form-fitted cradle held inside an end-opening carton with a cellophane window. The cradle has a clear form-fitted top. The model is buttressed on each end with a removable Styrofoam wedge. Soft plastic sheet prevents scuffing of the model.

Atlas produces this model with an injection body, die-cast chassis, and metal wheels. Molding is high-quality with crisp detail and fine scaling. I found no flash, seam lines, sink marks, glue smudges, or visible ejector circles. Atlas O scale couplers can also be used on both 2-rail and 3-rail versions.

Atlas lists these features:
    * Highly detailed ABS body
    * Die-cast chassis
    * Flat or corrugated ends are per the prototype
    * Detail variations as appropriate for each version
    * Different door styles
    * All metal separately-applied grab irons, ladders and stirrups
    * Accurate painting and lettering
    * Minimum diameter curve: O-31 (3-Rail)
    * Minimum radius curve: 24" (2-Rail)
    * Some assembly required for undecorated models.

Maintenance-of-way car Erie-Lackawanna (E-L) 414255 sports 3/3 Dreadnaught ends, 10-panel riveted sides, flat seam roof, 6-rung ladders, 4/6/5 Youngstown 6-foot doors, Andrews trucks, and Ajax brake hand wheel.

The wheels are in gauge. Measuring the model finds it scaling out properly, just a skosh over 41 scale feet long. It weighs 1 pound, 3.3 ounces, heavy per the NMRA RP-20.1 Car Weight recommended weight of 15 oz. Atlas lists the minimum turning performance as O-31 for 3-rail, and a 2-rail minimum radius of 24".

Atlas loaded this model with a lot of detail and separately applied parts:

Wire grab irons
Die-cast eight-rung ladders
Door rings
AB air brake system with wire piping
Ajax brake wheel, housing, retainer valve, and shelf
Air hose and angle cocks
* Springs in the trucks
Brake shoe sets attached to the trucks

The underframe is molded with cross tie timbers, center sills and crossbearers. Hanging from all of that are the modern air brake system components - air reservoir, brake cylinder, triple valve and actuator levers with chains and rods. They are held by molded support brackets. The brake rods are metal wire and run along the frame towards the trucks. The system is visually complete.

Up on the body are many separately applied parts including the bottom door tracks held away from the sides with brackets. Individual ladders and grab handles are individually attached to the sides and ends; these have a near-to-scale diameter. Curiously, no cut bars equip this model.

Let's examine the attached pieces, like the tack and route boards on the doors and ends. The Youngstown doors feature rivets,levers, lock bodies, wedge pins, hasps; pusher block brackets, open door stops, and handles.

The running board features molded wood grain. On their ends Atlas included the top of mounting bolts as well as the stem of the bolts with nuts on the underside of the boards.

The trucks have casting data molded onto the side frames.

Everywhere you look on this model you will find crisp casting and molding, and individually applied parts.

Livery and Lettering
Atlas' finish is uniformly excellent. The paint is opaque yet doses not obscure detail. Stencil printing is excellent, sharp and legible. Rebuilt date is January 1961; we can read that the box car was repainted and repaired then, too. Stenciling also shows that the wheel bearing lubrication wells were repacked by E-L on January 21, in Meadville, Pennsylvania. I will let you read the rest of the lettering yourself.

Atlas is releasing four road numbers per road name except for Erie Lackawanna (M of W) which has two. Atlas writes, "Erie paint scheme accurate for 1923 ARA box car of a modified design with 93 interior height."

Road names for this release are;

An undecorated model is available, too.

Atlas O is offering yet another excellent model of the "X29" box car. It features exceptional molding and detail including separately applied grabs and air brake gear, movable doors, fine surface detail, and expert assembly. Excellent paint with crisp printing accentuates that detail.

Perhaps my only complaint is the lack of cut bars on the end sills. Otherwise, I am very impressed with this model and recommend it to O scale modelers, and even to non-model railroader modelers seeking a 1/48 box car for their diorama or scene. This model is very versatile as it spans the 1920s into the 1960s.

O scale - 1/48
Quarterscale (1/48) military modelers -- note the diorama potential of this model! Gondolas were multipurpose cars that carried coal, aggregates, pipes, crates, scrap, vehicles - anything that would fit.

Some of the very first commercial model trains were roughly the size of what is now known as O scale. Depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you are on, O ranges from 1/43 to 1/48; the once common 1/50 scale from Japan also fits nicely into the stable of O iron horses. As such O scale combines ideally with the growing 1/48 range of military models.

O scale provides a sensual heft that magnifies the realism of model railroading. O was dominated by toyish Tin Plate and 3-rail models most often identified with Lionel. A couple of decades ago O scale began to evolve with greater accuracy and authenticity that includes a shift from traditional 3-rail to 2-rail, as well as prototypical scale and details. Into this arena Atlas presents Atlas O models, with both 2- and 3-rail models.

Erie-Lackawanna X-29
According to the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society website:
    The E-L inherited the Erie's X29-type cars. The Erie had two classes (see above) of X29-type cars, one with a radial roof but Dreadnaught ends, the other with an X29 type roof but Buckeye ends. (In other words, each class is off from a standard X29 by one major feature.)
    According to Richard Hendrickson (Dec. 2001 Railmodel Journal), these Erie cars were renumbered into the E-L's 71505-71845 series, along with a bunch of other older cars lumped in. Hendrickson said a few remained into the late '60's. In '78, under the Conrail listing, there were still lots of cars left with EL markings but no box cars with the low height of 8 ft. 7 ins.

X29-Type Steel Box Cars
Also from the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society website:
    In 1934, the American Railroad Association became the Association of American Railroads. Just prior to this (1932), they introduced a radically new steel box car design. Most of these improvements were internal, but externally, the double rivet line became a single line of rivets, and the bottom of the car side had a series of gussets.

    This section includes all the steel box cars built PRIOR to this '32 design, those box cars with sheet steel sides. (Outside braced steel box cars aren't included in this chapter. However, this section is limited to 40 foot cars.) The other two characteristics I've used to put cars in this chapter is the use of the 1-1/2 rivet lines and the straight side sill. The 1932 design introduced the single rivet line seams and the gusseted side sill. But just to be safe, I'm including steel box cars with flat plate ends which might be confused with the X29 type.

    There were some pioneering all-steel box cars built prior to 1914, including some for the Union Pacific around 1906, and one 36 foot car built for the New York Central in 1912. The Pennsylvania in 1914 introduced their class X25 all-steel 40 foot car, which set some early design features. Before they could refine it, as their X29 design, WWI halted production.

    In 1916, the New York Central was building its own version of an all-steel 40 foot car. It appears this design was adopted by the USRA for its wartime standard steel design, although the USRA version was never built because of wartime scarcity of sheet steel.

    After the war the two arch-rivals, NYC and PRR, fought over making their steel box car the standard ARA design. While the PRR managed to get its design accepted by the car committee, the fighting produced gridlock and an all-steel design was never accepted. Meanwhile, throughout the 1920's, both roads and many others, too, had cars built to the competing designs.

    In 1932, the ARA redesigned the proposed standard, using lessons learned from the 1920's cars. As a result, the 1932 design, in all the important design features, would basically only be changed in later AAR revisions by adding height and the latest in proprietary ends, doors and roofs.

    I refer to all these assorted cars as "X29-type" cars, but only the PRR made a true X29. The ARA design had a different way the sheet steel overlapped. When the Train-Miniature/Walthers kit was the only way to get reasonable models, this didn't matter, but Red Caboose made two different version of their kit (and after fussing with this detail, that I can barely discern under normal layout viewing, they offer the kit for prototypes only marginally close).

    By 1920, the railroad industry was awakening to the need for standard freight car designs. They couldn't afford the luxury of custom-made designs for each railroad. The idea of standardization did not come easily. While the railroads agreed in principal that standardization was the way to go, each master mechanic thought his road's designs should be the chosen ones and was indignant that instead he might have to use someone else's standards.

    It was decided that 8-1/2 feet was the bottom line, and a circular went out to the railroads soliciting their opinion as to how much taller the general purpose cars should be. (The USRA wartime designs had been 9 feet.) The railroads conservatively added ONE INCH, one mere inch to the minimum, setting the ARA designs at 8 feet 7 inches.

    Of the ARA designs, by far the most influential was the steel box car, even though it never was officially adopted. The Pennsylvania built tens of thousands of cars to this (slightly modified) design, and many other Northeast railroads followed suit.

    Despite the controversy that meet the ARA's standard designs, one thing that was accepted was inside height. Other freight cars of the period adopted this height, too. For instance, right after WWI, the New York Central was building cars to the proposed USRA steel box design, including the 9 ft. IH, but shortly thereafter they revised the design down to the 8 ft. 7 in. height.

    Within a decade the Pennsylvania RR, tired of these low cars, forced greater clearances with their round-roofs.

    In 1914, the PRR produced all-steel box cars, class X25. This was the first mass-production of all steel box cars, and employed some features that influenced later car design, although in other respects was simply their single-sheathed X23 with a steel superstructure. The steel panels were placed vertically, with 10 panels overall. The PRR used a steel roof where the supporting ribs were placed underneath, giving a flat surface on the exterior. The ends were also flat-appearing, as the three vertical ribs had been placed inside, and only the 6 vertical rivet lines reveals their existence. The underframe was a deep fishbelly, far too heavy as the sheet steel in the car sides was more than adequate to support the weight of the car and its load. Before the PRR could modify the design with what they had learned from the X25, WWI interrupted. This new car became the X29, as the PRR numbered their designs sequentially. (The X26 was the USRA SS cars the PRR acquired during the war. I'm not sure what the X27 was, and the X28 was a taller 8 in. version of the X29.)

    The USRA adopted the Central's version of a steel box car for its own standard, but no steel box cars were built during the war. After the war, the PRR, who had more influence with the ARA than they did with the USRA, got the ARA to issue their X29 design, and tried to get it accepted against objections of arch-rival NYC. The controversy created gridlock, and the design was never approved, but the Pennsy and other roads used the design. (Paradoxically, the design that was never officially approved was used in great numbers and was really the standard steel box car of the 1920's. Meanwhile the design that became official, the single-sheathed car, was all but ignored, at least as for as its particulars of truss orientation, ends and roof.)

    Officially, the X29 was called the ARA proposed standard all-steel box car. While only the PRR used the term "X29" for their own cars, which actually varied slightly from the ARA design, I prefer to call all steel box cars with an inside height of 8 ft. 7 in. and 10 panels X29's, a convenient short-hand.

Please remember to mention to Atlas that you saw this box car here - on RailRoad Modeling.

* NEB&W Railroad Heritage Website. Erie-Lackawanna, NEB&W Guide to X29-Type 40-Foot Steel Box Cars - D-L. [Web.] 4 April 2014, at 11:50.

** NEB&W Railroad Heritage Website. NEB&W Guide to X29-Type Steel Box Cars. [Web.] 16 September 2011, at 15:20.
Highs: Exceptional molding and detail including separately applied grabs and air brake gear, movable doors. Excellent paint with crisp printing.
Lows: No cut bars.
Verdict: I am very impressed with this model and recommend it to O scale modelers, and even to non-model railroader modelers seeking a 1/48 box car for their diorama or scene.
  Scale: O Scale (N
  Mfg. ID: 3002910
  PUBLISHED: Apr 16, 2018
  NATIONALITY: United States

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright 2020 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


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