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In-Box Review
PFE 57' Mech Reefer
Athearn HO RTR 57' Mechanical Reefer Car, SPFE/Wht Let #458772
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by: Sean Hadfield [ WINDYSEAN ]

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HO RTR 57' Mechanical Reefer
Roadname: Southern Pacific Fruit Express
Era: 1960 - Present

Intro and Historical
The "mechanical reefer" is more properly called a "refrigerated boxcar" with a refrigeration system, instead of blocks of ice, to keep the load cold. These are used to ship such perishable commodities as fruit, vegetables, dairy, poultry, meat, fish, seafood, and Florida orange juice.

The subject of this review is a Pacific Fruit Express reefer. The Pacific Fruit Express was originally formed in 1900 as a joint venture of both the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads until 1978, when the Southern Pacific gained sole ownership. The build date of this particular model is "NEW 7-70", and it shows both railroads' logos.

This car has a bright orange paint scheme, with crisp black and white lettering. The ladders, reefer grills, and door and end details are simply molded onto the sides but there is plenty of detail there. The stirrups are thick plastic-- no effort to hang separate scale-thickness rungs underneath. The molding is clean and sharp. The trucks are of a slick, softer engineered plastic material in black. The metal wheels have a brilliant shine. The underbody detail is pleasingly detailed-- more than most. The coupler boxes seemed to me to extend too far, making me think that Athearn did this to help the long car track around tight HO curves, but prototype photos seem to show them correct on this model.

A modeler concerned with a more realism would need to get a dark "wash" around the details to get them to stand out, replace the stirrups with wire, and rust the wheel faces. For that matter, that orange paint gets pretty dirty in prototype photos too. For someone focused solely on operation or for the kids, the factory detail is nice.

The car checks perfectly on an NMRA gauge for wheel spacing, and flange height. I checked it with a Kadee coupler gauge, and it matched perfectly. I didn't weigh it, but it has a nice heft to it. With metal wheels and axles in plastic trucks, it rolls flawlessly and trails well. The couplers are plastic, but the springs are metal, and the trip pins are magnetic. The couplers are made by McHenry, which is another member of the Horizon Hobby family. They are secured in their boxes by a metal clip, historically found on Athearn kits.

Athearn's website shows 116 variations on this car, but all prior releases are listed as "sold out", although home of the oldest offerings from 2004 and 2005 show a curious "Sold Out/ Due Date TBD", which makes me wonder if re-releases are being considered. The price of roughly $20 seems high for such a simple one-piece molded body to me.

The car looks good and works very well. The price is getting up there for some simplified detail, but the car is a common prototype that everyone should have.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on RailRoadModeling.
Highs: This is an attractive, sufficiently detailed, good working car. Very common prototype should be on every layout!
Lows: The detail could be finer.
Verdict: This common PFE car is a bright, attractive, and necessary addition to your freight car fleet.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:87
  Mfg. ID: ATH71409
  Suggested Retail: $19.98
  Related Link: HO RTR 57' Mechanical Reefer series
  PUBLISHED: Mar 16, 2012
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Athearn!
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 Sean Hadfield (windysean)

I picked up model building and HO-scale model trains from my father. I've been working at it now for more than 45 years, always learning more. Although a self-proclaimed cheapskate, I always modify or add to my builds to make them unique and special (for better or worse, ha ha).

Copyright 2021 text by Sean Hadfield [ WINDYSEAN ]. 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.


Yeah, these are it. Thanks, Windysean I have a few to make open end, blue NRDX Cold Train and white ARMN styles. They are also fun to paint and weather as is, out of the box.
MAR 16, 2012 - 02:23 PM

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