Model a boxcar storage scene to add realism to a model train layout.
I’m a fan of shortline railroads. One of the many things I admire about these operations is how resourceful they are. I came across an example of this when I visited Twin Cities & Western (TCWR) subsidiary Sisseton Milbank Railroad (SMRR) in South Dakota in March 2019.
The SMRR is a 38-mile former Milwaukee Road line that operates between its namesakes in the northeast corner of the state. Sitting on the ground east of the engine house at Milbank is an insulated, 40-foot Milwaukee Road boxcar (no. 10473) being used a maintenance-of-way supply shed.
The boxcar used for inspiration
The boxcar has led quite the life. No. 10473 was built in February 1951 as an ice bunker refrigerator car that the Milwaukee Road leased from Union Refrigerator Transit Co. (URTX). Sometime between 1960 and 1965 it was rebuilt into an insulated boxcar at the Milwaukee Shops, shedding its ice bunkers and rooftop hatches and gaining 10-foot plug doors. During the rebuild the car was repainted orange with black ends and a large Milwaukee Road herald. The outline of that herald is still visible on the left side of the car.
Doug Nighswonger’s Milwaukee Road Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment Vol. 2 (Morning Sun Books Inc., 2000) indicates the 10473 is from the URTX 10297 through 10493 series. His book notes that some cars from this series were upgraded and repainted into the simplified scheme worn by the 10473 in the early 1970s. The reweigh stencil on the car reads “MS 4-71” (Milwaukee Shops, April 1971), most likely when the 10473 was repainted. The URTX reporting marks started to be replaced with MILW marks in 1975. A lot more to this car than meets the eye, eh?
Starting to model the boxcar scene
To model a boxcar storage scene, with 10473 as my muse, I’d start with Accurail HO scale 40-foot plug-door boxcar no. 3114. The kit is sold out at the manufacturer, but it might be available at hobby shops, swap meets, or internet auction websites. The car isn’t an exact match for the prototype, but the paint scheme is the closest off-the-shelf option I could find.
You could use the car as-is or make it a bit closer to the prototype by removing the running board casting (using the mounting pins to plug the holes in the roof!). If you want to change the reporting marks and road number, check out Microscale decal set no. 87-514. Painting the interior white would further add to the realism.
The carbody rests on a cribbing of old railroad ties. As best as I could tell, it’s four layers high. This would be easy to replicate with commercial wood ties, stained and weathered as appropriate.
The car’s interior is reached via steps and a ramp made up of shortened railroad ties and bridge walkway planks. A pair of angle brackets bolted to the car’s sill support the walkway spanning the stairs and ramp. The dock, made up of the same materials, is at the same height as the car’s floor.
Detailing the boxcar storage scene
The final step is to detail the car’s interior and the area in front of it. Inside the car are storage units. The racks are built from dimensional lumber; the shelves are freight car crossover platforms. The shelves are lined with rail anchors, jugs of oil and coolant, and other miscellaneous items used by maintenance-of-way crews.
On the dock are joint bars and kegs of track spikes. Ground level appears to be a catchall for everything else, like tie tongs, rail bolts, an old 55-gallon drum, a discarded tire, spike keg lids, and offcut pieces of rail. Page through the “Super Detailing Parts” section of the Walthers Model Railroad Reference book, get similar details to what you see here, and get started on your model of a boxcar storage scene!