Atlas DIFCO Dump Car

Published: 2020-11-15 - By: CNW400
Last updated on: 2021-01-01
visibility: Public - Headline
In July 2020, Atlas Model Railroad introduced the Differential Steel Car Company (Difco) Side Dump Car into their Master Line Series. The Master Line Series offers greater attention to detail and higher quality of materials used during production. This model is a new entry into the Atlas N Scale rolling stock family based on tooling recently acquired from Walthers Model Trains.

Road Names and Pricing

The Atlas N Scale Difco Side Dump Car series includes fourteen different paint schemes and an undecorated model. The road names represented in this collection include:
  • Alaska Railroad
  • BC Rail - British Columbia Railway
  • Burlington Northern
  • Florida East Coast (2 Road Numbers)
  • Helm Leasing
  • Kansas City Southern (2 Road Numbers)
  • Louisville & Nashville (2 Road Numbers)
  • Missouri Pacific (UP Shield)
  • Montana Rail Link
  • Norfolk Southern
  • Norfolk & Western
  • Northern Pacific
  • Rio Grand
  • Santa Fe
  • Undecorated (1)
Southern California Regional Rail Authority/Metrolink (SCAX) was cancelled Three different road numbers are assigned for eleven rail lines and two road numbers each for the remaining three road names (noted above). The suggested retail price is $34.95. My review includes observations of the Santa Fe - ATSF #186208 (Atlas stock number 50 005 268).

Prototype History

The Differential Steel Car Company (Difco) of Findlay, Ohio was founded in 1915. The company initially constructed side-dumping equipment for the railroads and later introduced a line of road dump trucks during the 1920’s.


A side-dumping railcar, in the gondola class of rolling stock, is fitted with pneumatic cylinders (operated by air under pressure) and side doors. The ‘dump car’ can haul up to 100 tons and discharge on either side of the tracks. There are four lifts mounted on the underframe of the railcar (two per side) that tilt the dump car’s bed to a 50-degree angle and empties its contents in less than ten seconds.

Association Of American Railroads Codes for Gondolas (Class G) GA Drop-Bottom Between Rails Car (fixed ends) GB Mill Gondola (fixed or drop ends) GD Side-Dump Car GE Drop-Bottom Between Rails Car (drop ends) GH Drop-Bottom Outside Rails Car (drop ends) GRA Drop-Hopper-Bottom Car (fixed ends and sides) GS Drop-Bottom Outside Rails Car (fixed ends) GT Coal Gondola (high sides and fixed ends) GW Well-Hole Car

Source: Model Railroader

The side-dumping cars feature all-welded steel construction and most commonly possess a 40 or 50-cubic yard body. Their low body height makes it easy to load and stabilize the car while dumping.

The dump cars are primarily used in Maintenance-of-Way (MOW) service carrying ballast, fill and riprap (i.e. granite, fieldstone, limestone used to reduce water and ice erosion) to a construction site. They are often pressed into revenue service hauling such materials as gravel, coal and sand for quarry and mining duty. If the railcar is a non-revenue piece of equipment, it’s often designated with a ‘X’-series number denoting MOW service only.


The Differential Steel Car Company, acquired by Trinity Industries, Inc. in 1966 was the largest manufacture of the side-dump railcar. Other companies that produced this type of rail equipment included The Magor Car Corporation (1910-1973) of Clifton, NJ and The Western Steel Car Company (1902-1925) located in Illinois.

Today, the dominant suppliers of air side-dump cars are JK-CO Specialty Railcar ( of Findlay, Ohio and Georgetown Rail Equipment - GREX ( in Texas.

The Model

The ready-to-run boxcar comes packaged in a clear plastic jewel case with a slip-off cover and a two-piece plastic cradle to cushion the model. The model information is clearly labeled on the end of the case for ease to locate when in storage. A thin plastic film was wrapped around the car to protect the print job from scuffmarks. No additional detail pieces were found in the packaging.

Box and Model

My first impression out of the case was a little disappointing. The car is rather lightweight and the sidewalls of the bed seemed thin and fragile. The model is also equipped with plastic wheels, rather surprising for a $35 Master Line addition with few detail parts and minimal amount of plastic used during production.

The Santa Fe mineral brown paint job is crisp and even along the entire injection molded plastic model. Lettering is extremely sharp and clear, even when magnification is needed for the smaller printing. The tiniest text is neat and surprisingly legible. The color, placement and size of printing is very similar to that found on the prototype image - Santa Fe ATSF #186205 (
Amazing Small Print Detail

The sides of the model feature simulated white reflective strips at regular intervals along the bottom of the bed. White (or yellow) stripes are situated on a piece of rolling stock to reflect the headlights of a vehicle. All railroads have adopted the practice of applying reflective stripes to their equipment. The ARR mandated that all in service rail cars have reflective markings by January 1,2014. The Santa Fe instituted the use of reflective warning stripes back in 1971. Each of the four side corners has a rather bulky-looking two rung step-up ladder to the end platform.
Bulky End of Car Detail

Each end features two separately applied black wire grab railings. A nice touch of fine detail. These grabs are present on the prototype image. The brake end features a separately applied modern Ajax hand brake. Lastly, both ends have clear, easy-to-read road markings and “Do Not Hump” directive printed in white text.

Fine Wire Details & Printing

The underframe has an elaborate arrangement with highly detailed separately applied cylinders and lifts. Rib-braces are molded along the entire length of he underframe. The dump-car rides along newly tooled, prototype accurate 100-ton roller-bearing trucks and black plastic wheels. Furthermore the model is equipped with truck-mounted AccuMate couplers.

Underbody Screwed-On Separately Applied Details

Lastly the bed of the dump-car is smooth with no details and plastic toy-like appearance. The four sidewalls and floor have a very shiny sheen- this characteristic can be remedied with weathering and/or the addition of a load. The inclusion of a load would also address the underweight concern.

The car is 3 1/4 inches in length and weighs about 0.4 ounces, which is extremely light according to the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) recommendations (which are 1.0 - 1.1 ounces for this size car). Although I did not adjust the weight of the railcar before testing, I found it a good runner on Kato Unitrack with no issues around curves or through turnouts at slow and medium speeds. The dump-car was tested on a fourteen car freight train consist running in the middle and towards the rear while hooked-up to 40-foot boxcars on each end. While I had no problems running this car solo, I would have concerns latching two or three together without fine-tuning the weight issue. My worry would be that too many underweight cars would become unstable and cause a possible derailment.

Overall the Atlas Differential Steel Car Company (Difco) Side Dump Car offers a good presentation - flawless paint job, exceptional printing, some attractive details (i.e. wire railings and underside parts) and prototype accurate depiction. The lettering is spectacular given that lack of space available on such a small-scale model. My main concerns were the extreme lightness of the car, the plastic wheels on a Master Line product and the delicate (afraid to break it) perception I experienced while handling the railcar. While I would entertain the thought of including one or two of these models on my layout, the $35 price tag feels a tad steep for this release. The addition of metal wheels and body-mounted couplers would have helped justify the lofty suggested retail price.

About the Author

CNW400 became enamored with trains while watching the ‘Green & Yellow’ double-decker cars clad with shiny green windows (C&NW) rumble by his childhood house in Chicago. His first train set was the Tyco Bicentennial model in 1976. Always a fan of the railroad, CNW400 is newer to the hobby, active for the last four years (now that all the kids are grown-up!). Furthermore, he is also a collector of railroadiana focusing on lanterns, locks & keys and insulators.