The all-door concept for boxcars had the goal of taking this common freight car type and opening up its sides to provide the easier access of a flatcar. The design intent was to combine the better freight handling offered by flatcars with the protection provided by a boxcar. Evaluation and ultimate adoption of the prototypes appears to favor the lumber industry, though the cars were promoted as ideal for a variety of uses when unveiled in the 1960s.
In the early 1970s, Associated Hobby Manufacturers (AHM), Bachmann, and Life-Like marketed the first HO scale all-door boxcar to arrive in ready-to-run plastic. A second design arrived just a few years later from Life-Like. The third plastic HO all-door boxcar is more recent, most accurate, and came from Walthers around 2000. With the exception of the contemporary Walthers model, the other models enjoyed releases by other companies, as well as revisions and modifications over the years. For this first installment, HO Collector examines 1/87th reproductions of Pullman-Standard’s all-door boxcar.
Wearing Pullman-Standard’s Transport Leasing lettering and promoting its “Hydroframe 60” cushion underframe is a great shot of the prototype. Original references to this prototype labeled it, “Full-Door,” as you see on the middle door. –James A. Kincaid collection Wearing Pullman-Standard’s Transport Leasing lettering and promoting its “Hydroframe 60” cushion underframe is a great shot of the prototype. Original references to this prototype labeled it, “Full-Door,” as you see on the middle door. James A. Kincaid collection
Southern Railway’s slogan famously proclaimed that the road “Gives a green light to innovations”. Living up to the claim, the railroad rostered several innovative examples of rolling stock. Southern’s “Big John” hopper paved the way for the 100-ton freight car revolution that represents common practice for railroading since the 1960s. The road worked on a number of other interesting ideas. Among them was a boxcar with doors that rolled up on both sides, leaving a wide opening for loading bulky cargo that didn’t squeeze within typical sliding door clearances. Research indicates the request for an all-door boxcar came from the lumber industry, which desired a bulkhead flatcar with a covering or roof.
Southern Railway worked with Pullman-Standard to develop a concept all-door boxcar that began testing in 1960.
The successful project brought an order for 200 copies produced by Pullman-Standard at its Bessemer, Ala., plant in mid-1961. “Both the Southern and Pullman-Standard view this new development as an important step in providing the railroads with another significant service to American shippers,” said George L. Green, vice-president of marketing at Pullman-Standard at the time of Southern order announcement. This era of railroading included a number of new specialized freight cars better designed to handle specific loads to keep customers happy and going by rail. Southern Railway’s D. W. Brosnan stated, “the new full-door boxcar was designed and built with the shipper in mind for it can be loaded as easily and economically as a flatcar and carry its lading safely enclosed.”
The new boxcar offered the general appearance of a typical 50-foot example of the day, and Southern listed a 4,480 cubic foot capacity. Three aluminum roll-up doors, each measuring 16-feet, 10-inches, made up the side of this new type of car. When all three doors were in the rolled-up position, operators slid the two divider posts between the doors toward one end of the car, creating an unobstructed 50-foot, 6-inch opening. The interior floor featured a nailable base. Pullman-Standard provided its Hydroframe-60 cushion underframe, which extended 30 inches of travel out from the frame to the coupler on each end. Southern Railway’s mechanical department listed the car as a 90-ton all-door, and its 200 examples came numbered 9800-9999. The fleet’s ownership was divvied up between Southern (9800-9924), Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (9925-9964), New Orleans & Northeast (9965-9989), and Alabama Great Southern (9990-9999). Regarding other stated uses for this car besides lumber, Southern shows all-door car 9897 received special racks for hauling coiled aluminum.
Unlike the other boxcars marketed as “all-door” types, it appears only this Pullman-Standard car truly allowed for its entire length to be open. Other all-door boxcars allowed for sliding of doors in various ways to enable wide access to any point inside, but this was accomplished only in sections and not with all open at once. The second part of HO Collector’s survey of all-door boxcars will cover these designs as popularized by Thrall and other builders, with models offered replicating those prototypes.
If you wanted an all-door boxcar on your layout when the prototype was new, Ambroid’s kit was the way you had to go. Here’s Joe Altnether’s build beginning to take shape for the wood component Quality Craft kit. Watch for more on Ambroid and Quality Craft in coming issues of HO Collector. Joe Altnether photo
Wood Models for Wood Hauling
The first known HO all-door boxcar came to market not long after Southern’s fleet went to work in the early 1960s. Ambroid Company’s release came out in 1963 and was the second offering in its famous “1 of 5000” series of HO kits. Advertising proclaims this Pullman-Standard prototype to be “one of the most interesting cars in the line, sure to become a collector’s prize!” The craftsman-level kit mostly consisted of wood components with some metal and wire details. Less trucks and couplers, Ambroid stated, “(a)ssembly is challenging, but not too difficult.” You’ll find this kit packaged as Ambroid Quality Craft, as well as Northeastern Scale Models. Watch for more on these kits, including a build of this Pullman-Standard all-door boxcar, in a future edition.
The early Southern Railway example is as close to the prototype as you’ll find for this model. Featuring road number 9924, this brown car with silver sides saw inclusion in AHM, Bachmann, and Life-Like lines in the 1970s. This version is the early tooling with running boards and tall ladders.
HO’s first plastic ready-to-run all-door also reproduced Pullman-Standard’s 1961 Southern Railway prototype. This model originally came from Taiwan and although three vendors began selling it at roughly the same time, AHM appears to be first in line marketing it in mid-to-late 1972, ahead of Bachmann and Life-Like. For its time, the model is a well done rendering coming in at 56-feet in length out to the edges of the car sides. The trio of roll-up doors accurately measure 16-feet each between the dividers. Car width is slightly wide at a bit more than 10-feet (Southern plans show 9-feet, 4-inches). The car should stand 14-feet, 1-inch tall and that measurement is more difficult to compare on models, as is the length between coupler facings.
Little more than a year into service, Southern 9829 is rolling through Albany, Ga., in late 1962. K.B. king, Jr. photo, Kevin EuDaly collection
The prototype featured cushioned couplers and a 63-foot, 5-1/2 inch length; while the model’s original X2f coupler mounted on the truck deviates from the design of the real car, it still provides an approximate length of a bit more than 63-feet. The prototype’s cushioned couplers are simulated (if crudely) by tabs extending from the central sill on the plastic underframe, which cover the long-shaft x2f coupler to mimic the extended draft gear box on the prototype. The car is certainly an interesting selection for a ready-to-run plastic HO model. Its roll-up doors with raised post dividers was not the consistently smooth surface most compatible with 1970s era pad printing. Yet even with this challenge, you’ll find elaborate decorations done for this HO all-door boxcar.
AHM’s All-Door Boxcar
AHM’s 1972 releases featured a 5270 stock numbering for this model. Road names were noted by a letter following the number. The first batch includes Southern Railway (5270-B); Southern Pacific (5270-C); Union Pacific (5270-D); and Detroit, Toledo & Ironton (5270-E). The model carried a $2.98 suggested retail price. Another production run came to AHM with road names noted by two digits following the 5270 stock number. That release added Ralston Purina (5270-06) and Santa Fe (5270-07). The previously offered road names return for that release with two digit identifiers: Southern Railway (5207-02); Southern Pacific (5270-03); Union Pacific (5270-04); and Detroit, Toledo & Ironton (5270-05). The car makes another appearance for AHM with five digit stock numbering. Examples from that release include Southern Railway (12031), Santa Fe (12032), Union Pacific (12033), and Ralston Purina (12034).
For the collector, AHM’s offerings include a couple of eye-catching promotional models including Ford Motor Company, and Ray-O-Vac Batteries (5270-F) cars. Research finds the Ray-O-Van Batteries all-door boxcar was included with a promotional train set offering that featured a Bicentennial locomotive. The Ford example is also presumed to be a promotional item, but that is unconfirmed and any evidence known by the reader is welcome. Neither Ford, nor Rav-O-Vac models receive coverage in any known AHM product listings.
Speaking of Ford, railfans will quickly recognize the decoration applied to many of these early all-door boxcars mimics prototype boxcars built for auto parts service beginning in the 1960s. Apparently, Southern Railway being the only buyer for this P-S car sent model makers looking for inspiration. The bright, attractive 60- and 85-foot modern boxcars used to transport automobile parts seemed to have caught attention. Of the roadnames AHM offered, DT&I, SP, and UP were inspired by auto parts car schemes. Considering these somewhat flamboyant paint schemes, AHM’s silver-and-brown Southern Railway offering is quite respectably accurate and would have been a rivet counter’s delight at the time.
One of the most interesting of all releases to date for this model is Life-Like’s Canadian National offering from 1972. This model features the decoration applied to a CN paper-hauling insulated plug door boxcar. Life-Like would come much closer to this eye-catching prototype with a Proto 1000 release more than a quarter century after this effort.
Life-Like’s First All-Door
The first rolling stock to arrive for Life-Like without Penn Line or Varney heritage came with a 1972 release of four HO freight car models. Life-Like promotes the group as its “51’ Cars,” referring generally to the car lengths even though only the mechanical reefer is closest to measuring 51-feet in length. All four models came from Kader in Taiwan, and match cars sold by AHM at the same time. The models went also into Bachmann’s HO line, and some served in the 1970s Lionel-HO collection as well. Kader was a prolific supplier for HO vendors in the 70’s.
For its Pullman-Standard all-door boxcars, Life-Like’s most notable offering is a Canadian National (T591A) featuring decoration inspired by a newsprint car. The CN newsprint prototype was not an all-door boxcar. Attempting to source liveries from the lumber industry, Life-Like’s all-door boxcars also included a light blue Bennett (T591C) and red-and-white Canadian Forest (T591B) examples. While those lumber company road names are closer to the mark, the models illustrate schemes that did not appear on the P-S all-door boxcar.
Early Life-Like P-S all-doors came in the company’s “Pulling Power” boxes. A later release included DT&I, SP, and UP examples that duplicate offerings from AHM and Bachmann. Those cars were packaged in Life-Like’s updated red-frame window box, with yellow squares in the upper corners of the package pace for the manufacturer’s name and an “HO” identifier.
Life-Like’s original models include a Taiwan origin mark on the underframe with a blanked-out area nearby. This blanked area likely covered the AHM logo. Both companies’ releases present the earliest version of this all-door boxcar, as the model debuts with a separate black plastic running board on its roof, with tall ladders at the associated ends and short ladders on the others.
The same P-S all-door tooling comes to Bachmann’s line for its first appearance in the company’s 1972 catalog. That catalog labels the model as a “58’ All Doors Box Car”, lists a $3.50 retail price, and shows to be offered only for Southern Railway (1220). The pictured example appears to be a uniquely decorated car, carrying road number 9800 and dark lettering rather than the red used on the prototype and known production models. The 1972 catalog car is a curiosity not thought to have been a regular production release; it makes a second appearance in 1973’s catalog, but is replaced with a more common-looking model beginning for the 1974 product listing. Bachmann catalogs stay Southern-only for all-doors until 1978, when a Santa Fe model appears in silver with light-blue doors. By 1980, Bachmann revises its Santa Fe listing, showing the production model with black roof and ends, and light blue frame around red doors. The car’s labeling also suggests it’s shrunk since its original appearance: originally labeled as 58 feet, the car is listed as 56 feet in 1980. The model is the same and the discrepancy likely references measuring out to the couplers versus the ends of the body.
What became of Southern’s all-door boxcars? Here’s 9805 still in service in the spring of 1995. Note the roll-up doors are gone. Sliding doors and running board removal are among the revisions to this example. Check out Diesel Era’s January/February 1992 edition for details on the rebuild program and service select members of this fleet saw in their later years. Kevin EuDaly collection
As noted, Kader originated this model at its Taiwan production facility. Today, Kader is the parent company of Bachmann Trains. Kader’s origins in the hobby deserve more complete coverage in HO Collector and may be covered in future editions. Briefly, the Ting family began making HO trains for the North American market in 1964. Those releases included five known freight cars sold under the Crown Products name, which wa listed as a division of Mantua Metal Products. Crown’s 40-foot boxcar, gondola, 3-dome tank car, heavy-duty flatcar with log load, and standard-cupola caboose, all join Bachmann’s line in 1970. For many years, Kader products from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and now China, were staples in several comapnies’ product lines. In addition to AHM and Life-Like presented here with the all-door boxcar, the company produced trains for Lionel’s 1970s HO line, and a few smaller brands too.
This Netherlands Overseas Mills model is from Bachmann in the 1980s. The scheme is applied to a Pullman-Standard model, but in actuality the blue-and-yellow with black livery was on a Thrall car. The lower left corner of the far right door includes a Thrall Car logo.
Bachmann’s first Kader-sourced offerings closely match models sold by AHM and Life-Like and also originated in Taiwan. This source is replaced with Hong Kong and China origin markings appearing on models by the mid-to-late 1970s. A modernized edition of Bachmann’s all-door boxcar arrives by 1980. Following mandated prototype practice, the removal of roofwalks (and the holes for same in the model’s roof), as well as the lowering of tall ladders on car sides was the usual practice. Brake wheels remained in their original location at the peak of the roof on the car end, making access by HO crews a challenge! However, this practice was common on prototype railroads, which often left brakewheels in their original location with one tall ladder at the brake end of the car. You might surmise that deletion of running boards offered economic savings with the reduction of parts and costs. In addition to this model, you’ll find Bachmann’s 50-foot plug-door boxcars and mechanical reefer cars received similar modernizing as well.
Modernization notwithstanding, you’ll discover no major differences in the shell tooling between sources, however output from Hong Kong and China appears to have a crisper level of detail. For example, the divider posts include details that are more pronounced and dimensional. The plastic underframe stays relatively unchanged over the years. You will find the earliest examples have trucks mounted by a plug, while later models use screws to secure trucks in place. Early underframes lack holes along the center beam just inside the truck area. Later underframes include one or two openings in this area that appear to be related to securing the metal weight inside the car. I found weights to be secured by plastic posts running up from the inside surface of the underframe and melted over openings on the die-cast metal bar. Curiously, these weights appear to have received a coating of black paint, though you’d never see them.
The most recent revision for this now-vintage model occurred with its move into Bachmann’s Silver Series. This change brought body-mounted knuckle couplers and roller bearing trucks with metal wheels. The early versions included X2f couplers on the trucks. There are at least two styles for that assembly, with the original featuring a snap cover for the coupler. Later a small screw holds the coupler to the arm extending from the truck. You’ll also find improved brake and door wheels on the end of Bachmann’s most recent Silver Series examples. Newer renditions also use screws to hold the weight in place on the inside deck of the underframe. The length of the screw requires a protruding boss cylinder sticking out of the underframe near the inside of each truck.
For the collector, road names are generally available on all versions of this model: with running boards and tall ladders, and later modernized editions. Exceptions include Life-Like’s Canadian National “newsprint” scheme and AHM’s Ford and Ralston Purina releases. Examples of the other known road names exist in both tooling versions. If you enjoy collecting models across manufacturer lines, the all-door boxcar adds another dimension to possibilities with the ability to obtain road names with virtually the same tooling from multiple companies. Additionally, those companies offered this model in a variety of box designs! Topping my personal list would be AHM’s Ford and Life-Like’s CN “newsprint” releases. Of the more common releases, look for the light-blue frame Santa Fe. For box oddities, Bachmann’s wrapover window display package from approximately 1980 is interesting.
Thanks to Warren Calloway, James A. Kincaid, Eric Neubauer, and Paul Withers for their input and assistance in preparing this article. The second part of this feature will present models produced following Thrall Car prototypes. Watch for All-Door Boxcars Part Two: Thrall-Doors coming in HO Collector!