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First Look Review
O scale
36' Wood Refrigerator Car
Master 36' Wood Refrigerator Car
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Welcome to this inspection of the 36' Wood Refrigerator Car from Atlas Model Railroad Co. This O scale reefer is part of the Atlas O Steam Era Classics and part of their Master series.

This review showcases an outstanding model which has been released 16 times since September 2002. It is the 3-rail model and decorated for Agar Packing Company, Item Number 3001428. It is also available for 2-rail layouts.

History, Reefer Cars

Refrigerator cars started out built, like all freight cars, of wood. Eventually construction progressed into composite wood-steel construction, and ultimately to metal cars. Hauling meat and milk and fruit and vegetables was a challenge. Originally cooling was achieved by filling the car with lading and then shoveling huge amounts of ice into surrounding voids. Insulation was achieved with compressed horse hair! Horse hair was replaced by modern forms of insulation. Later, mechanical and chemical refrigeration replaced frozen water; this lead to the end of icing platforms, a fascinating track side structure in their own right.

Refrigerator cars are favorite models because of elaborate "Billboard" advertisement artwork of the era.
    The 36' reefer is a highly detailed model of the car that was a mainstay in the meatpacking industry during the steam era. Based upon cars built by the General American Car Company for the Cudahy Packing Co. in 1925, the 36' wood reefer is representative of the thousands of cars that transported meat, dairy, beer and food products well into the 1960's.*
For you quarterscale military modelers interested in the diorama potential of this model, it is scaled for 1/48.

The Model
These fully assembled RTR (Ready-to-Run) models are securely packed in a form-fitted plastic two-part cradle, protected from scuffing by a thin plastic sheet. The cradle has indentions for your fingers to grip it for removal from the package. It is packed in a card carton with a clear celluloid viewing window.

Atlas offers this reefer for both 2- and 3-rail operation and Atlas' O scale couplers are compatible for both 2-rail and 3-rail.

I am impressed with the quality of this model. The entire model is cleanly molded and it is free from mold marks, ejector marks, and glue stains from assembly. I cannot find any flash or molding seam lines.

More praise, the doors and ice hatches open! The lock bars and handles are functional. The trucks are sprung and embrace metal wheels. Specific features of this model are:
    * Highly detailed ABS body
    * Separately-applied grab irons, ladders and stirrups
    * Hatch styles and truss rods appropriate per road name
    * Separately-applied door hardware
    * Opening hatches and doors
    * Die-cast chassis
    * Detailed braking system
    * 40-ton Bettendorf-style die-cast sprung trucks
    * Die-cast articulated couplers (3-rail)
    * Die-cast scale couplers with internally sprung knuckles (2-rail)
    * 33” scale metal wheels (2-rail)
    * Minimum diameter curve (3-rail): O-31
    * Minimum radius curve (2-rail): 24”

Plenty of detail to admire! First, handle with care - many delicate parts! As noted above this model has many separate parts, plastic and metal. These include:
    * wire brake detail
    * Wire grab irons
    * Opening doors
    * Hinge detail
    * Swiveling radial door hangers and latches
    * Opening ice hatches and positionable props bars
    * Retainer valve and pipe
    * Cut bar
    * Fine bolt and rivet detail
    * Wood grain
Look carefully at the close-up photos, I haven’t found any two boards with the same pattern of wood grain. Scale rivet and bolt detail enhances the surface. Minor hardware is molded on, i.e.hooks, plates, “L” irons. The truss rods have turnbuckles molded onto them. They look convincing.


To open the loading doors you must swivel the radial door hangers and latches. I could not open the latch doors completely because both have a hinge that binds with the other half of the hinge; these doors will pop off and a bit of refining with a hobby knife should do the trick. The left doors open all the way.

Roof hatches

Opening the ice hatches is easy! These are attached to the roof with fine plastic hinges that snap across hinge pins molded into the hatch. The hinges are pushed into holes in the roof, held by friction. Once I reviewed a similar reefer car which seemed to have been assembled and then painted; paint had glued the hatches closed. Not this model! The hatches opened and closed like champs!

If you pop the hatches for display there are prop bars/latch bars to hold them up.


KC air brake system detail includes actuator arms, gear hangers and levers, with wire brake rods, and air hoses and angle cocks with retaining straps. Looking at the model from track level it is convincing.

Forty-ton Bettendorf trucks carry the body. Hi-rail metal wheels have a dead-flat finish.

Weight & Dimensions
The model measures 36 1/2 feet from end sill to sill, nine feet across, and almost 12 feet from rail to roof peak. It weighs 1.06 pounds, 13% heavier than recommend by NMRA RP-20.1 Car Weight. (Perhaps that is intentional to help it stay on the track if negotiating an O-31 curve?) I judge the coupler height by coupling to another O scale car - a good match.

Excellent, as I have come to expect from Atlas. Smooth and opaque, no chips or scratches. Printing is, well, why read this when you can see in the photos the incredible crisp sharp printing?

Atlas offers this model with two road numbers for eight road names, plus two styles of undecorated models:
    1. Agar Packing Company (Orange/Red/Brown)
    2. Dold Packing Company (Yellow/Brown)
    3. Lange Creamery (Yellow/Brown)
    4. Nuckoll's Refrigerator Line (Yellow/Brown)
    5. New York Despatch (White/Red/Brown)
    6. Pittsburgh Provision and Packing (Yellow/Brown)
    7. Rex Canned Meats (Cudahy) (Yellow/Brown)
    8. Schwarzschild & Sulzberger Lard (White/Brown)
    Undecorated/ w Truss Rods

Plenty of names in this - and prior - releases to create a colorful consist of reefers.

What can I say? Atlas O's Master 36' Wood Refrigerator Car looks like another champ to me. The excellent tooling of the molds produces excellent surface detail, and separately applied parts amplify the molding. Assembly is flawless. Workable doors and hatches allow modelers to add drama to the car. Paint and lettering is top-notch.

The binding door hinges are annoying but should be easy to fix with a quick spot on the RIP track. The model is overweight per NMRA RP-20.1 Car Weight - if you are concerned with that.

This colorful detailed reefer is an eye-catcher and I can't wait to watch it roll along in a block of reefers. Recommended!

Please tell vendors and retailers that you saw this reefer on RailRoad Modeling!

Agar Packing and Provisions Co.
One of a zillion slaughterhouses founded to feed an insatiable growing nation, Agar still exists today, known as "The Pork People". ( https://www.rantoulfoods.com/#homepage )

Agar operated a meat packing plant in Chicago as early as 1890. Agar acquired some other meat plants but was eventually bought by Des Moines Packing Co. in 1910. That company was bought and sold at least once before being acquired by Swift in the mid-1920s. I found reference to Agar plants in the Midwest, and Tennessee and Mississippi. According to the erudite NEB&W Railroad Heritage website:
    Agar Packing & Provision Company

    According to Rudolf Clemen (The American Livestock & Meat Industry), James Agar of the Western Packing & Provision Co. was elected an officer of the newly formed American Meat Packers' Association in 1906. I would assume Western became Agar?

    In 1908, Agar bought 25 reefers from ACF.

    Agar Fresh Meat Express no. 519. ACF builder's photo courtesy Al Westerfield. (NOTE: photo of this car looks close to this model, except the prototype had archbar trucks. - ed.)

    Art Griffin labeled this builder's photo of car no. 519 as c. 1899 (photo no. D9 ZPOL2-6). Griffin also has decals available for this car. Go to the Art Griffin photo list to see what else he has and how to order.

    Agar didn't list any cars in 1915 (which seems strange, having just purchased some only 7 years earlier) or 1919.

    This Chicago based company leased 52 shorty meat reefers from the Mather Stock Car Co. in 1949, in the series AGRX 400-480. (Under such a listing, they didn't tell how cars were marked.)

    Back in '32, the series was 400-419, only 20 cars, apparently 40-foot cars and the numbers reused later on shorter cars (?). In '35, the series was 400-429, 30 cars, and any repair bills were to be sent to Mather.

    In 1953, there was an Agar Sporting Goods located in New York City that specialized in men's jackets (leather jackets?), but no other Agar plant in the state.

    The company wasn't listed in 1953 or '58. However, in '53, Merchants Despatch had 96 reefers, 40 feet long, with "A.P.P.X." reporting marks. In '58, there were 50 such reefers. In '67, there were five APPX reefers under Merchants Despatch. These reporting marks were gone by '78.

    In Classic Freight Cars, Vol. III, there was a Richard Kuelbs c. '64 photo of a 40 foot steel reefer leased to Agar. It had a standard yellow side and box car red (Athearn pink) ends and roof. The hardware and the kick strip under the door were body color. Lettering was black. The reporting marks ("APPX") were somewhat higher on the left side, with lines but no periods. Above it was "Chicago, Ill". All this lettering was in a larger than normal, stretched Gothic. On the right was the trademark filling the whole height of the car. I think it was a butcher's block (table) in red and white, on a white brick floor, with a lower case stylized "Agar" on the block. "Packing Company" below was in black Gothic.**

A bit of non-railroad trivia, one of the Agars was actress Shirley Temple's first husband. After serving in the USAAF during WWII, he became an actor.

* Atlas

** p, d., 2013. NEB&W Guide To Rolling Stock Paint Schemes. [online] NEB&W Railroad Heritage. Available at: [Accessed 30 September 2020].

Click here for additional images for this review.

Highs: The excellent tooling of the molds produces excellent surface detail, and separately applied parts amplify the molding. Assembly is flawless. Workable doors and hatches allow modelers to add drama to the car. Paint and lettering is top-notch.
Lows: The binding door hinges are annoying but should be easy to fix with a quick spot on the RIP track. The model is overweight per NMRA RP-20.1 Car Weight.
Verdict: Looks like another champ to me. This colorful detailed reefer is an eye-catcher and I can't wait to watch it roll along in a block of reefers.
  Scale: O Scale (N
  Mfg. ID: 3001428
  Related Link: Produce Trains & Traffic
  PUBLISHED: Sep 30, 2020
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Atlas Model Railroad!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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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 ©2021 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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