How To Prototype Railroads Model a boxcar storage scene

Model a boxcar storage scene

By Cody Grivno | November 23, 2021

A railcar storage scene you can add to your layout

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Assorted railroad supplies stored on shelves inside a boxcar and scattered around in front of it

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.

Weathered yellow steel insulated boxcar with railroad ties, pallets, and other debris piled in front
Model a boxcar storage scene: Milwaukee Road 40-foot insulated boxcar no. 10473 spent years hauling beer throughout the country. The car is spending its retirement off the rails in Milbank, S.D., where it serves as a storage car for maintenance-of-way supplies on the Sisseton Milbank RR. Cody Grivno photo


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?

Left-side view of Milwaukee Road insulated boxcar number 10473 sitting off the rails with a snowdrift in front
The 10473 started life as a Union Refrigerator Transit Co. ice bunker refrigerator car back in February 1951. It was rebuilt into an insulated boxcar in the first half of the 1960s. Cody Grivno photo


Starting to model the boxcar scene

An orange HO scale insulated boxcar model on a white backdrop
Accurail photo

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.

View of railroad tie cribbing supporting old railroad car
The carbody rests on a four-layer cribbing of railroad ties. Layers 1 (top) and 3 are parallel to the car ends. Layers 2 and 4 are parallel to the car sides. Cody Grivno photo

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.

Old railroad ties and bridge walkway planks used as staircase and ramp to boxcar interior
The steps, walkway, and ramps are railroad ties and bridge walkway planks. Two angle brackets bolted to the car’s sill support the walkway between the steps and ramp to help model a boxcar storage scene. Cody Grivno photo


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!

Assorted railroad supplies stored on shelves inside a boxcar and scattered around in front of it
An assortment of details will draw operators and visitors in for a closer look at your boxcar storage scene. Joint bars, track spike kegs, tie tongs, rail anchors and bolts, and offcut pieces of rail are just some of the things in and around the prototype. Cody Grivno photo











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