ESM X72 Boxcar: True to the Prototype But a Disappointment

Published: 2019-10-18 - By: gdm
Last updated on: 2021-08-12
visibility: Public - Headline
Eastern Seaboard Models (ESM) released this model in September of 2019. It was first announced in early 2018. The prototype is a U.S. Equipment Corp X72 Boxcar. The prototypes were produced in the early 1970s and the major lessees of these cars were Penn Central, Western Pacific and Conrail. The cars were released as singles for $43.45. I purchased our sample car for $33 on MB Klein's online store. The cars are made in China and clearly labeled as such.

The Prototype
The X72 is a general purpose boxcar that can be found in nearly every service, making it a very common boxcar. The X72 design features smooth, welded sides and a large 6-panel Superior door. This 10 foot door allows forklifts to easily operate in and out of the car. Some cars are equipped with DF Belt Loaders for assisting in the loading and unloading of special equipment, while other cars are equipped with Dual Air Paks for shock control of goods and pallets. These specially equipped cars are in assigned service to specific industries for specific loading.

Penn Central X72

Between 1972 and 1973, Penn Central began purchasing the first of the 50' X72 boxcars from US Railroad Manufacturing (Evans) Blue Island, IL, plant. These cars would eventually find their way to Conrail in 1976, retaining their PC numbering series while getting CR reporting marks. However, many X72s can still be spotted in their original PC green paint scheme and PC reporting marks, though fairly rusted and faded.

The Box
This box is oversized and frustrating to open.

These cars come in 5 5/8" acrylic telescope boxes. The car rests inside a clear plastic double nest and includes a nice wrap-around insert. The box was a bear to open at first. Telescope boxes depend on friction to stay shut and this box simply had too much friction. Once I initially opened the box (with some effort), it seemed to loosen up and become easier to open. The box size is simply too large for a 50 foot car. Most other manufacturers of 50 foot boxcars use 4 1/2" boxes. When you have an extensive collection of rail cars, it is really much more preferable if the manufacturers standardize on a box size. Atlas, Micro-Trains and Athearn all put their smaller cars in 4 1/2" boxes. ESM should follow suit. Also, next time please use some kind of jewel box. The end-fastening MTL style or the side-clip style made for Atlas are both preferable to telescope boxes. If you are going to run these cars, you need to get them in and out of boxes easily, and if you are going to store your cars in Axian boxes, please make sure the acrylic boxes are a uniform size for ease of storage.

Couplers and Trucks
These cars carry body-mounted couplers. This is always nice to see, but we are coming to expect this with newer third generation releases. (Please see my blog, The Evolution of N-Scale Rolling Stock Models). The couplers themselves are (Holy Cow!) actual, legitimate Micro-Trains body-mount couplers. The wheels are blackened metal low-profile wheels. I am sure all the Code-55 dudes out there will appreciate them. Personally, I prefer a little more flange; the MTL Standard design is an excellent one. Small wheel profile definitely looks more realistic, but I am an N-Trak guy, and I know track work ain't always perfect. Small profile flanges are subject to increased risk of derailment. However, most folks will like these wheels as they have about as little flange as you can get away with. As far as we understand, the wheels are an ESM-specific design, made in China along with the bodies.

Truck and coupler detail - notice the molded in ladders

I placed my sample car on my T-Trak layout to give it a roll. I call this the 'pinky test,' as I simply give the car a nudge with my pinky. The car failed miserably. It simply didn't roll very far at all. I am not sure if the issue is with the trucks or with the wheels. Since both are made by ESM, the failure is theirs either way. I simply cannot recommend you run these cars in any number. You will quickly overwhelm the pulling power of any locomotive. What is more, the added stress of pulling a resistant car will strain any coupler and be a sure fire recipe for derailments. Perhaps you can pull off the trucks and replace them with a decent set of MTL trucks with a good set of wheels to fix this. I didn't bother.

The Model
This is a mid quality 3rd generation piece of rolling stock. The print and paintwork are perfect. The molding is satisfactory. It reminds me of 1980s vintage Roundhouse toolings. ESM has taken advantage of some modern injection-molding techniques as the stirrups seem smaller than an 80s vintage car. Unfortunately, the molding around the door has not taken advantage of these improvements. It is clear even from several feet away that the doors are molded in. A good 2019 model should have enough detail in the molding that the doors should appear as if they could open. A person should be tempted to try to open the door with their fingernails. One look at this car will dispel any illusion that the door could open or is a detail part. They don't and it isn't.

Good quality underframe

There are two nice detail parts with this car, but you need to know what to look for. The underframe has some really nice elements and detail parts. The other feature is the metal etched end platform. It is small, but well executed. These details stand out as an excellent example of what kind of detail can be produced without creating any sense of fragility. After all, the highly detailed cars we have seen in the last two years that clearly are fragile and not well suited to handling, it is nice to see ESM was able to get some detail here while still maintaining a clear sense that the cars can be handled without risk of breakage.

For $43, this car should have detail parts for the ladders, grab irons and stirrups. These details really stand out when they are done well and a $43 boxcar should stand out.

This car was a disappointment. It may be true to the prototype, but the vast majority of buyers don't know and don't care. What they do care about is whether or not the car will run well. The small wheel flanges and the silly amount of truck friction make this car a non-starter for runners. For folks who love detail, this car has very little. A nice under frame and metal end platform are simply not enough to justify this price.

Now we get that this car is a niche car for folks who model certain railroads in a very specific time period. Thus ESMs run is likely small, making their cost per unit quite high. However, ESM claims they were able to re-use elements of their earlier X65 model, which should have reduced the production cost of this tooling. But these considerations do not change the simple fact that you aren't getting a lot for your money with these cars.

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About the Author

George has been collecting trains for more than two decades. He started writing about the models and the process of collecting more recently. As well as the TroveStar Blog, George's written work has appeared in the N Scale Enthusiast Magazine. He loves talking about collecting, models, manufacturing and modular railroading. His background in management of massive amounts of financial data made him interested in using some of that knowledge to benefit various collectors. He lives on Cape Cod in the state of Massachusetts with his wife and three cats.