by: Frederick Boucher [ ]
Originally published on:
Steam Era Classics
53'6" Wood Express Reefer
While Atlas is probably most associated with their HO and N scale models of the Trainman® and Masters® series, Atlas also makes a great selection of O scale –1/48—rolling stock, track, and accessories, the Atlas O line. This review of the Atlas O Steam Era Classics General American 53'6 Reefer showcases an outstanding model.
O ScaleSome of the very first commercial model trains were roughly the size of what is now known as O scale. Depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you are on, O ranges from 1/43 to 1/48; the once common 1/50 scale from Japan also fits nicely into the stable of O iron horses. As such O scale combines ideally with the growing 1/48 range of quarterscale military models.
O scale provides a sensual heft that magnifies the realism of model railroading. O was dominated by toyish Tin Plate and 3-rail models most often identified with Lionel. A couple of decades ago O scale began to evolve with greater accuracy and authenticity that includes a shift from traditional 3-rail to 2-rail, as well as prototypical scale and details. Into this arena Atlas presents Atlas O models.
General American 53'6 Wood Express Reefer
At one time, the express refrigerator car was a common component of the nation's passenger trains. These cars provided fast delivery of perishable, high value crops and goods that demanded the speediest service the railroads could deliver. Since many of the cars were equipped with collapsible ice bunker bulkheads, the cars could double in mail and express package service.
The General American 53' 6" Wood Express Refrigerator cars were among the most common cars of this type used in the US. Not only were they used by many class 1 railroads in express mail and passenger service, they were perhaps best known in the liveries of the express companies, such as American Railway Express and Railway Express Agency.1
Atlas O L&N Wood Express Reefer, No. 3715
The fully assembled model is securely packed in a form-fitted Styrofoam cradle, protected from scuffing by a thin plastic sheet. The cradle has indentions for your fingers to help grip it for removal from the package, and holes to poke the model out of it; the fit is tight and I had to work to get the model out of the cradle. It is packed in a card carton with a clear celluloid viewing window.
Atlas releases this reefer for both 2- and 3-rail operation. Atlas "O" scale couplers can also be used on both 2-rail and 3-rail versions.
I am impressed with the quality of this model. It is free from mold marks, ejector marks, and glue stains from assembly. I cannot find any flash or seam lines.
More praise, the doors and ice hatches open! The lock bars and handles are positionable. The trucks are sprung and embrace metal wheels.
Surface detail is excellent with great wood grain molding. Look carefully at the close-up photos, I haven’t found any two boards with the same wood grain. Scale rivet and bolt detail enhances the surface. Minor hardware—hooks, plates, “L” irons-- is molded on. Underneath is a fishbelly frame. And more—please read on.
Features Include :
• Sprung die-cast GSC Commonwealth express car trucks
• All metal ladders, stirrups and grab irons
• Detailed underframe
• Opening doors and roof hatches
• Accurate painting and lettering
• Approximate length: 13.5"
• Minimum radius curve (2-Rail): 36"
• Minimum diameter curve (3-Rail): O-36
• Note: Atlas O body mounted scale couplers can be used on both 2-rail and 3-rail versions.
• Four road numbers are available per road name.
The wheels are in gauge. Measuring the model finds it scaling out properly, matching the dimensional data stenciled on the car. It weighs 1 pound 3 ounces, just a hair above the NMRA RP-20.1 Car Weight recommended weight of 18.4 oz. Atlas lists the minimum turning performance as O-36 for 3-rail, and a 2-rail minimum radius of 36".
For you quarterscale military modelers interested in the diorama potential of this model, I include photographs of it with 1/48 figures and a 1942 Ford sedan.
DetailsAtlas richly equips this model with individual separate parts:
• Wire grab irons, hand holds, sill steps
• Die-cast six-rung ladders
• Plastic textured roofwalk
• Swiveling radial door hangers and latches
• Opening doors
• Opening ice hatches and positionable props bars
• AB air brake system
• Brake gear hangers and rods
• Wrapped steam line
• Ajax brake wheel, housing, retainer valve, and shelf
• Cut bars
• Air hose and angle cocks with straps
• Steam line connector
• Springs in the trucks
Markings and LiveryAtlas prints four road numbers per road name. Almost a dozen roadnames are available. A smooth opaque coat of Pullman Green and black covers the model and does not obscure detail. Louisville & Nashville, Railway Express Agency, Express Refrigerator and stenciling is sharply printed in Dulux Gold. Operational and service data is also printed sharply.
This model is decorated as a 3500 series L&N Railway Express Agency Express refrigerator car. An undecorated version is available.
SummaryThis model is a beautiful representation of an L&N wooden express reefer. It is beautifully molded, finished, and impressively detailed, with sharp printing. I appreciate that the doors are operable. I’d prefer the wheels to be darkened, but they aren’t.
Whether you plan to use your express reefer on an O scale layout or in a 1/48 diorama, this is an impressive model. Highly recommended.
1 Atlas O, LLC