When a Plan Comes Together

It has taken a long time to collect all the information we have about CP operations over the Sudbury Division. Most of it has been acquired through dedicated research, photo studies, and conversations with former employees. Even though the WRMRC has been at this for, literally, decades now. there will always be new things to learn. Research and education are lifelong pursuits after all.

A case in point; within our photo archives we have discovered three separate instances of CB&Q 2-bay Center-Flow hoppers travelling over the Sudbury Division. As the WRMRC’s chief operations guru, I’ve developed some plausible waybill information for mid-western US covered hoppers to run over our layout (note – we will be publishing a series of club operations posts in the future). However, finding out the prototype shipping information for why these specific CB&Q railcars were showing up in Sudbury would be our desired goal.

Despite the hardships one should normally expect with prototype research, sometimes good stuff just falls into your hands when you’re not even looking. Recently, Mike Confalone‎ posted a model photo on his Allagash RR Facebook page of Minnesota Dakota & Western (MD&W) boxcars being loaded on his layout. He had seen these being used in Maine in real-life back in the 1980s, and had always wanted models of them for his own layout. The problem was that despite these FMC-built combo-door boxcars being available in HO-scale for years now, they were never offered in this particular ’80s re-paint scheme. So he painted and decalled his own.

mdwboxes

Mike Confalone’s MD&W boxcars on his Allagash RR layout.

Mr. Confalone is an incredibly skilled modeller, as you can see, so it is no surprise his efforts would be top notch. The surprise for us was; why the heck are Minnesota Dakota and Western boxcars being used to load paper in Maine? The answer is forestry giant Boise Cascade (parent company of the tiny MD&W RR) owned a paper mill in Rumford ME. Apparently some of these boxcars even had “Return to Rumford ME” stencilling applied to them.

This one model photo along with the real-world information about Boise Cascade’s Maine paper production helped to resolve a number of CP Sudbury Division puzzles, ones we didn’t quite remember even existed. This explained occurrences of Boise Cascade MDW boxcars on prototype photos of CP train 911, a manifest freight that had rolled daily through Sudbury ON. This train operated from St Luc Yard in Montreal to Sault Ste Marie ON; then continued via CP’s US-affiliate SOO Line to their Schiller Park IL Yard within the greater Chicagoland area. CP #911 carried a lot of New England paper traffic bound for Chicago during our 1970s modelling era, as many shippers were avoiding the transit-time mess created by the Penn Central merger. Service was so good in fact that CP Rail continued to ship a decent amount of New England rail traffic well into the 1980s.

4232 leads train at Sault Ste Marie 09 05 1981

MLW C-424 #4232 leads train 911 at Sault Ste Marie ON on 05 Sept. 1981. Note the four MD&W boxcars behind the CP steel-coil service gondola trailing 911’s locomotives.

Our original assumption was that these MD&W boxcars were lumber empties being returned to the US mid-west, with no idea of their true origins. The truth was they were hauling newsprint bound for the Chicago area, and for all intents and purposes are as New Englandy as any paper-service boxcars painted for the Maine Central or Bangor & Aroostock.

Topping this off, one of our club members had purchased two recently released Athearn HO-scale models of FMC-built combo-door boxcars painted in the 1970s as-delivered MD&W white scheme to operate on the WRMRC layout. Being uninformed at the time, they were placed within our “Pool 733 – US mid-western misc boxcars” category (more information about our pools when we publish operations articles) and tried to stretch excuses for why some lumber might be rolling through Sudbury from International Falls MN (where the actual MD&W RR is located). Knowing the real story about why these boxcars were rolling though Sudbury, they have since been re-classed into our New England newsprint service boxcar pool. In fact our layout could now use a few more models.

MDW_10009

Produced by Athearn, MD&W 10009 wears the as-delivered 1970s white Boise Cascade corporate scheme. This car is now in New England paper-service on the WRMRC layout.

This information comes at a great time, as the Coronavirus break from operating sessions has given our club a chance to update and fix a number of older waybill shipping inaccuracies. But this MD&W boxcar mystery has to be one of the easiest puzzles we’ve had solved. When something just falls together like this, one is reminded of that old catch-phrase that Lt Col Hannibal Smith used to say on the old ’80s television series ‘The A-Team’ – “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Rescuing Old Kits

A while back I wrote a blog post on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum about resurrecting old rolling stock kits developed in the ‘80s, back when the hobby finally began to move past the ‘blue-box’ era. Over the course of that decade, companies like Robin’s Rails, McKean, C&BT, Front Range and Innovative Model Works had sprung up to challenge Athearn and MDC. This was a big leap forward for HO modellers; as these kits were based on specific prototypes, were well researched, and offered a core model with all details applied separately.

Since those times we’ve moved into a model railway world of ready-to-run (RTR) pre-assembled models of exquisite quality. New manufacturers like Tangent, ExactRail, Scale Trains and Moloco (just to name a few) now offer 1:87 rolling stock replicas that truly are museum-quality models. However for those who crave the days when we used to build our models, and paid less than $10 for a freight car in the process, there is something to be said for resurrecting these old kits.

My latest example is this old McKean 40ft PS-1 boxcar painted for the Louisville & Nashville RR.

Louisville-Nashville-40-PS-1-Box-Car-No

A good friend and fellow WRMC member had this kit for sale amongst a pile of surplus model train stuff at a previous Kitchener Train Show. It went through two shows without anyone showing interest. What struck me was its 1960s paint scheme, a relative minority in a model railroad world where the popularity of the ‘40s-‘50s transition era dominates how manufacturers paint their products. However it was dismissed at the time due to it being a southeastern US boxcar, which I assumed would be a rare traffic event over the CP Sudbury Division in the 1970s.

My thoughts changed recently in my continuing efforts to update the club’s traffic/waybill system. It turns out the southeast US offers northern Ontario a lot more than just orange juice and kaolin. Using the OPSIG Industry Database I’ve found a long list of products that one could see routed through the Sudbury Division which are mainly supplied by the southern states. Cotton, rice, peanuts, casting sand and even mining equipment are just a few of the commodities that were uncovered over a couple of hours of research and coffee consumption. So it turns out the WRMRC had been neglecting a traffic source, and  this L&N boxcar was resurrected from the flea market table.

This photo shows it fresh from the ‘grunge factory’ (a.k.a. – the spray booth) after all paint, extra decals and final weathering had been applied; along with one of the prototype photos used to aid in its kitbashing.

L&Nbox_paintshop

As described in the MRH blog, you pretty much have to throw away all the kit-supplied detail parts. I used better ones which are stuffed away in my surplus parts boxes. The underbody was completely gutted, and replaced with Intermountain underbody details – yes, they sell their detail parts separately. The brake detail on the ‘B’ end was fabricated from brass wire, a brake wheel and housing I had lying around, a bit of photo-etched roofwalk material, and a couple of staples I re-bent to hold the brake platform. Likewise I used staples as stirrups to replace the crude ones supplied by McKean.

It should also be noted I used the internet to research these cars, in order to find as many prototype photos as possible. Turns out the L&N 11xxx-12xxx series cars were 1960s rebuilds, with DF loaders, moveable bulkheads and other features added for specified commodities. However with more modern 50-foot cars being purchased, I’m certain that by the 1970s these cars were already relegated back to general service by the L&N.

Though it took a few evenings worth of kit-bashing and research, these efforts are what make the hobby rewarding for me. As the price of RTR models continue to climb, I hope more modellers come to discover these old kits from the ‘80s. There is real value to be found here, and you don’t need to dig too deep to uncover them at any train show.