Atlas 50' Stock Car

Published: 2020-12-03 - By: CNW400
Last updated on: 2021-01-01
visibility: Public - Headline
In my opinion, the livestock car is one of the more underappreciated pieces of rolling stock - ignored by the modern modeler and unknown to newer generations. Admittedly not a very sexy car with its deformed slats, the stock car is sorely underrepresented on search engines and railroad photo sites. Its foul smell and unpleasant subject matter is a sight for the curiosity seeker or the true railfan.

Hobby manufacturers have been known to release stock cars with no specific prototype design in mind - just make a railcar with horizontal slats and call it a livestock car. Additionally, non-prototypical colors have been used to fill a product line with a rainbow of colors and/or logo placards slapped on the side for marketing purposes. Based on my research, I believe Atlas somewhat fell into that trap with the July 2020 release of the 50-foot stock car in their Trainman Line.

Road Names and Pricing

The Trainman release includes five different paint schemes. The road names represented in this collection include:
  • Chicago Burlington & Quincy - red paint
  • Great Northern - red paint
  • New York Central - teal green paint
  • Pennsylvania - brown paint
  • Wabash - brown paint
Three different road numbers are assigned for each rail line.

The suggested retail price is $24.95. An undecorated model is available with a suggested price of $17.95

My review includes observations of Wabash #16510 (Atlas stock number 50 004 426).

Prototype History

The practice of transferring livestock in railcars dates back to the 1830’s. The railroads sought to fill the need of transporting livestock from the North American farms and ranches to processing centers. The first type of rolling stock used was the common boxcar. The initial livestock routes were mostly shorts hauls but the conditions of the boxcar were hardly ideal for the shipping of animals. The boxcar proved to be difficult to load and unload live animals. The boxcar also offered little stability for the livestock thus the trips took longer time because of the low speeds needed to prevent injury to the ‘cargo’. This extra time meant loss of dollars to the railroads. Finally, the lack of fresh air and access to water was not ‘humane’ treatment of the animals - injury and death to the product was again profit slipping away from the shippers.

The railroads were reluctant to invest heavily into the production of stock cars. First, stock cars were seen as a single-use or limited-use specialty car. Little revenue was realized beyond the hauling of animals. Secondly, the need for stock cars was seasonal, peaking during the fall months. Thus much of the stock car fleet sat idle during the year.

The 1880’s saw the initial attempt to construct livestock specific cars; built atop existing flatcars the original designs were 28 or 32 feet long with a wood roof, wooden ends and horizontal side-slants. The cars did not need to be pretty or weatherproof considering the cargo and did not need to be strongly constructed - the load never approached weight limitations. Railroads did try to keep animals strong and healthy by installing built-in feeders and water troughs.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Public Domain

On June 29th 1906, Congress approved The Animal Transportation Act to protect animals from cruel treatment while traveling long distances on the railroads. A similar Federal law was imposed in 1873 but was not strictly enforced. The Twenty-Eight Hour Law was created, in short, stating “that animals cannot be transported by rail carrier for more than 28 consecutive hours without being unloaded for five hours for rest, water and food.” There are some expectations to the rule and the law has been amended several times to stay current with changing technological advancements.

Railroads continued with the practice of either rebuilding or converting retired rolling stock and/or boxcars in the need of repair into stock cars. These practices lead to a great variety of styles and construction design on the rails. While most cars still had wooden ends, the use of retired boxcars with their steel Dreadnaught or Murphy ends created a host of different heights. Car heights varied between 8 feet to 10 1/2 feet.

Finally in 1930, the American Railway Association (ARA) purposed recommended designs for a stock car. These recommendations did not become the standard design and were not enforced by the ARA. The proposal included: 40 foot length with 40-50 ton capacity, steel underframe, wood ends, steel truss framing, slatted wood sides and a steel over wood roof.

Besides railroad shops building their own stock cars, manufacturers of stock cars that emerged during this timeframe included: American Car & Foundry, Pullman Standard, General American, Pressed Steel Car Company, Ralston, Ryan Car Company, and Penn Car Company.

The Harriman design was a popular choice for the railroads. A 36-foot car on a steel underframe, wood ends & roof and distinctive 3-panel pattern on each side of the loading doors. The design was a favorite of the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific and Western Pacific.

The American Railway Association (ARA) assigned stock cars with a ‘Class S’ designation and divided them into the following classifications:

The larger cattle and steer required the entire open space of a single deck car. Smaller animals, such as hogs and sheep, could safety be shipped in a double deck stock car. The multiple decks allowed for greater carrying capacity per car. These two tier cars required special loading ramps to reach the second level and separate half-height doors for each deck. Furthermore, the double deck car could have a fixed, permanent floor or a convertible floor that could be either removed or swung-up towards the ceiling for storage when not needed for transport.

Loading Sheep into Double-Deck Stock Car
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Public Domain

After World War II the railroads began to experience a decline in livestock traffic to trucking companies and the expanding national highway system. In order to compete with trucks, the railroads realized they needed to do the job more efficient and faster than the trucking industry. An example of their efforts was the creation in 1947 of the Union Pacific Daylight Livestock Route. The UP created a high-speed route between Salt Lake City, UT and Los Angeles, CA. All Union Pacific livestock cars received a new yellow paint job; roller-bearing trucks and new aluminum panel roof and sides to better reflect the hot Western sun. Furthermore, the cars were fitted with new smooth metal slats to reduce injury to the animals from jagged wooden boards.

The Steady Decline of Livestock Car Fleets
Railroads with at least 3,000 Cars in 1932
Source: Official Railway Equipment Register

In 1951, the ARA updated their stock car design recommendations to include a diagonal metal panel-roof and improved Dreadnaught ends. Another major player during the livestock peak years was the Mather Stock Car Company. Mather built, sold and leased boxcars, reefers and stock cars. They constructed a simple design that kept costs to a minimum for the railroads: 36 or 40 foot steel frame with wood ends. Mather build cars have a distinctive ‘Z’ shaped posts; ‘U’ shaped steel channels and a 3-panel pattern on each side of the loading door.

Mather leased cars had MSCX reporting marks. Long-term leased cars were painted to the railroad’s specifications with the railroad’s reporting marks and numbers. Private packing companies also managed a small fleet of leased stock cars. Armour Stock Express (ASEX) leased 200 cars and Swift Meats had disposal to 860 cars assigned with the Swift Livestock Express (SLSX) reporting marks.

In the early 1950’s Mather did produce a limited amount of 50-foot stock cars by combing two 40-foot cars. Few were built and all had a double deck with side-by-side double doors and separate half-height top and bottom loading doors. They also had a distinguishing 3-panel pattern on each side of the doors. By the end of the decade Mather was merged into the North American Car Corporation of Chicago.

During the downslide of livestock traffic, railroads assigned stock car to other methods of revenue service. Some livestock cars carried hay bales, railroad ties, lumber and even pressed into grain hauling after being lined with plywood. Also cars with drop bottom doors hauled coke along the rails.

Finally, the railroad’s last-ditch effort to compete with the trucking industry was to GO BIG.

Double and triple-deck poultry cars were created for eastern United States rail traffic. These cars had a series of racks to hold cages. The center of each car had an enclosed area for an attendant to feed and water the birds. The space included a bunk, stove and sink. The poultry car lasted until 1956 when the Poultry Transit Company went out of business.

In 1958, Northern Pacific converted 200 older boxcars into the double-deck Pig Palace for hog transport. These rebuilt cars were equipped with roller-bearing trucks and all-steel sides with collapsible metal slats that could open and close depending on weather conditions.

The Northern Pacific introduced in 1966 their 86-foot long Big Pig Palace. Built by Ortner Freight Car Company, these cars handled hog travel from St. Paul, Minnesota to destinations west until the mid-1980s. The cars featured a small door called a drover, which allowed a handler inside without opening the main loading door. Around the same time, the Southern Pacific introduced their 86-foot car called the Stock Palace.

Finally, the last specialty stock car was manufactured for the Union Pacific in the 1970s. Their all-steel HOGX car was a 60-foot, triple-deck that ran from North Platte, NE to Los Angeles, CA. Nicknamed the Hog Train or Ham Train for their main client Farmer John Meats, it was active until 1994.

By 1986 less than 1,000 stock cars were registered as active rolling stock on the North American railways.

The Model

The ready-to-run boxcar comes packaged in a clear plastic jewel case with a slip-off cover and a thin one-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 plastic film sheet was wrapped around the car to protect the paint job from scuffmarks.

The paint job is crisp and even along the entire injection molded plastic model. The Wabash car is painted brown with silver ends and silver metal panel roof. Lettering is extremely sharp and clear, even when some magnification is needed for the smaller printing. I was impressed with the tiny print being centered on the horizontal planks. I have seen my share of stock car models with the half the print either missing or illegible because of poor placement.

My main complaint with the print job is the lack of prototype representation. The Wabash in 1933-1934 converted 600 single-sheathed 40-foot automobile boxcars into single- and double-deck stock cars. The single-decks were numbered in the 15000 series and the double-decks assigned numbers 16400 - 16599.

I was able to track down two Wabash stock car photographs of this series from the Herald & Review Newspaper in Decatur, Illinois. One photo shows cars #16429 & #16430. Both of these 40-foot cars had a single door with 3-panels on each side of the door - very similar pattern to the 50-foot Atlas model. The prototype cars had non-shiny 5/5/5 Murphy ends, a metal roof and the Wabash name & car number on separate planks on the left side of the car.

Moreover, I discovered an image of stock car #16601 with a stamped date of February 16, 1963. This particular car looks very dissimilar to the Atlas car. The car has metal grid-pattern sides with a curved metal roof (similar to a passenger car) - not a metal truss frame design commonly assorted with stock cars. This car has a single door and non-shiny 4/5 ends. This real-life car does have the Wabash flag placard and WAB reporting marks like the model - but the placement is different on the Atlas car.

The 1933 prototype has minimal printing - the typical data stamped on the slats and the Wabash name and car number on individual horizontal boards. The Atlas model has the Wabash flag, the WAB reporting marks and the Wabash name printed in large letters across the three left panels.

It appears that the Atlas model is a combination of these two designs.

Each side of the model features a single half-height door to allow access to each level, 4-panel side configuration, stirrup steps and a full ladder. The doors do not open and close. Fine detail is exhibited with raised steel truss framing and rivets along the frame.

The prototype photographs in contrast display a different door and panel configuration. I was not able to locate a Wabash 50-foot stock car photo but I was able to find images of Chicago Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q -#50237 and New York Central (NYSX - #3037). Both of these rolling stock are 50-foot livestock cars and both road names are represented in the Atlas series. The Atlas models are painted the correct colors - Burlington red and New York Central teal green. The Atlas models do not have the side-by-side double doors and separate half-height top and bottom loading doors present on both photographs. The prototypes also have a 3-panel configuration on either side of the doors, unlike the 4-panel represented on the Atlas model. If the elusive Wabash image is available and proves me wrong - my apologies are offered.

Both shiny silver ends feature a molded full height ladder and 4/4 Improved Dreadnaught ends. A separately applied Ajax handbrake and platform is located on one end, the same placement as the prototype image. Again the lettering is neat with the road name & road number at the top right corner of each end. The arrangement although is not correct according to the images found - the model has the road name and number side-by-side. All Wabash rolling stock photos have the road name on top with the road numbers centered below the name. Lastly, the Atlas model is missing the end tack boards found on all prototype pictures.
4/4 Improved Dreadnaught Ends

The diagonal panel roof features a molded running board and laterals. The underside has all the basic molded details such as the brake cylinder, braking system components, stringers and cross bearers. Finally, the stock car has AccuMate truck-mounted couplers and brown plastic wheel sets.
Underframe Detail

The car is 3 7/8 inches in length and weighs about 0.6 ounces, which is extremely light according to the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) recommendations (which are 1.1 - 1.2 ounces for this size car). Even though I found it a decent runner while testing the car on Kato Unitrack with little issues around curves or through turnouts at slow and medium speeds (wobbly at times), I would be leery stringing two or more of these cars together without adjusting their weight for fear of derailments.


In closing, if you are looking for a sharp-looking, shiny new toy - this model fills that need. A basic stock car that has been manufactured many times before and is not truly prototypical based on discovered images. The car is severely underweight and would need adjusting if multiple number of these cars are strung together into a train consist. I personally will add some weight to the car and upgrade the plastic wheels to metal.

Atlas has added a slick-looking car to the Trainman Line, but not without its faults.

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.