by: Frederick Boucher [ ]
Originally published on:
IntroductionMy first addition to my first train set was a Tyco piggyback set in Santa Fe livery. They were a favorite of mine and I still have those two 28 ft. semi-trailers, their flat car, and accompanying loading dock. Coincidentally, the legendary Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway is one of my favorites and a basis for my freelanced Jackson Purchase and Texas Railroad. That probably explains why I am thrilled that Athearn generously sent RailRoadModeling this Santa Fe TOFC (Trailer On Flat Car) set.
As I write this review, Athearn lists 197 Ready-To-Roll 50' flat cars models on their website. They come with a variety of loads and in 15 road names.
TOFCFrom the dawn of automotive haulage, trucks continued the synergistic relationship trains shared with animal drawn wagons. Trains carried the tonnage from source to terminals for distribution; trucks could haul goods from the railway terminal directly to the customerís doorstep. As the American road network improved trucks began carrying more of the nationís freight with a flexibility railroads could not match. The national interstate system made it feasible for trucks to quickly and economically move product from source to consumer. Eventually it was found that in many circumstances it was better to let railroads, rather than truck drivers, carry the trailer from terminal to terminal. This intermodal combination is common in North America to transport semi-trailers on railway flat cars or spine cars, an arrangement officially known as TOFC (trailer on flat car). Popularly it is known as Piggyback. Some TOFC vans were painted with a cartoon pig on railroad wheels!
The 45 ft (13.72 m) box trailer (also called a van trailer) is a standard size semi-trailer pulled by a semi-trailer truck (known in the UK as an articulated lorry for semi-trucks). Carrying them on flat cars began after World War Two. Whereas boxcars used to be the usual source of color on freight trains, flat cars covered with trailers began to boast the riot of colors seen racing along the rails. Eventually trailers got bigger and flat cars got longer.
Standard lengths in North America are 28 ft (8.53 m), 32 ft (9.75 m), 34 ft (10.36 m), 36 ft (10.97 m), 40 ft (12.19 m), 45 ft (13.72 m), 48 ft (14.63 m) and 53 ft (16.15 m).
Today intermodal containers have eclipsed the truck trailer for the lionís share of haulage.
HO RTR 50' Flat w/45' Trailer, SF #293017Athearn securely packages this set in their blue and yellow carton with a clear plastic display window. They are securely held in a form-fitted plastic cradle with a fitted clear plastic top.
These are older Athearn models. That's not a criticism because Athearn's quality was usually impressive. It appears that Athearn has reworked the tooling a bit. The models are molded with sharp detail. Each is factory assembled and Ready-To-Roll, hence Athearnís name of this series! Let's look at each piece.
50' Flat Car If you care about prototypes for your generic flat cars then you'll be glad to know that the Western Maryland had 50-ton 50 ft flat cars with the brake wheel and housing mounted on the side of the car like Athearn's model. These were built by Greenville Steel Car Co. Athearn produced 50 ft flats with the brake housing both at the end and on the side. The side mounting is for TOFC service as it allows the trailers to be on and off-loaded circus-style. One thing missing from a TOFC flat car are the rub rails that keep the trailer tires from sliding around -- easily made with sprue or plastic angle shapes.
The flat car looks good as is. If you want to improve the looks, the brake housing appears too chunky, as do the stirrup steps. The steps are easily removed and replaced with scratchbuilt or aftermarket steps. Molded grab handles can be chiseled off with care and replaced, too. The wooden deck lacks any wood grain -- easily rectified if you want to.
Only the most basic detail makes the underframe but that, too, can easily be rectified with some scrap sprue rods. Athearn uses machined RP25 profile 33" metal wheels. Those are good wheels but they are shiny. While Athearn uses basic trucks, aftermarket trucks can easily be installed. Finally, while the McHenry couplers look sharp they can be enhanced with aftermarket air hoses and angle cocks.
Trailer Very good molded detail adorns this model. The end doors are detailed with molded hinges, locking bars and handles. There is basic detail on the bottom, including the front landing gear and rear suspension. These can be exchanged with raised gear. Look at those wheel hubs!
My inspection finds the model to mainly be in conformance with NMRA Standards and Recommended Practices, with RP-25 wheels and couplers at the proper height. I weighed them on a postage scale at 4.5 ounces, while I calculate the NMRA weight is 5.0 oz. A bit of extra weight can easily be applied underneath the flat car.
PaintingA photo is worth a 1,000 words so I'll let you be the judge. Me, I think the printing and finish is excellent.
Highball!It is hard to judge reworked older models against new state-of-the-art models, such as Athearn's Genesis series. Compared to those this model would rate a 6 out of 10. Some detail is basic, some is out of scale. However, I am comparing this RTR model with RTR-style models from Athearn and other companies. As such, the fidelity of detail, the overall appearance, the molding and printing and finish quality rate these models high in my experience. Recommended!
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