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Title: Athearn Trains 50-Foot FMC 5347 Double Door Boxcar

Database: N Scale Model Trains
Category: Product Reviews
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Last Modification Date: 2022-10-28
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In December 2021, Athearn Trains expanded their 50-foot Exterior Post Offset Double Door Boxcar collection with the release of six road schemes. Athearn Trains acquired the tooling of this model from MDC Roundhouse during the summer of 2004. Announced in November 2020, this model represents the FMC (Food Machinery Corporation) 5347-cubic foot boxcars manufactured during the second half of the 1970’s colorful Incentive-Per-Diem (IPD) era.

Road Names and Pricing

The road names represented in the most recent Athearn Trains FMC-5347 Double Door Boxcar collection include:
  • Arcata & Mad River (Simpson Timber Company)
  • Burlington Northern (Ex – East St. Louis Junction)
  • Burlington Northern (Ex – Galveston Wharves)
  • Burlington Northern (Ex – Union Railroad of Oregon)
  • Sierra Northern
  • Yreka Western
Northern California Shortlines 3-Pack (One boxcar from Arcata & Mad River, Sierra Railroad and Yreka Western)

Three unique road numbers are available for each road name with a suggested retail price of $26.98. *The Burlington Northern boxcars feature the Athearn Trains ‘Prime for Grime’ paint finish – faded colors and patches that replicate real-life wear-n-tear on the rails. These boxcars are perfect candidates for weathering.

The Northern California Shortline package has a retail price of $76.98. My review includes observations of Athearn Trains ATH17266 – Yreka Western #25108.

Prototype History

The Yreka Western Railroad is Class III freight shortline operating between the cities of Montague and Yreka in the state of California. Incorporated as the Yreka Railroad in 1888 and launched in 1889, the railroad offered local passenger and freight service to the Southern Pacific and Central Oregon & Pacific interchanges at Montague. In 1933, the railroad was re-incorporated as the Yreka Western (YW) Railroad Company.

Kyle Railways acquired the Yreka Western Railroad in 1953. During the Kyle Railways ownership, the YW continued freight and passenger service as well as operating a steam excursion train between Yreka and Montague named the Blue Goose. The trip offered views of the Shasta Valley and Siskiyou Mountains. The Yreka Western blue goose logo, color, and slogan originated during this era. In 1953, the Yreka Western acquired its most famous steam locomotive from the McCloud River Railroad, 2-8-2 Baldwin Mikado #19. The #19 was also known as Pancho for its service time in Mexico and fabled run-in with the Mexican Revolution General Pancho Villa. Furthermore, the #19 was a Hollywood star exhibited in several movies including “Emperor of the North” (1973) and “Stand by Me” (1986).

YW 19 at Cottage Grove Station August 1971
Photo by Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of California
Used by permission under Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Source= http://www.flickr.com/photos/28101583@N07/


The Union Pacific Railroad gained control of the Montague interchange in 1995. Lengthy Union Pacific tunnel and track repairs (along with the mid-2000's world economic downturn) negatively impacted the Yreka Western freight and excursion businesses. The YW decided to cease excursion trains in 2016 to streamline operations. Presently, the Yreka Western is owned by Railmark Holdings, who purchased the railroad in 2017. The railroad offers freight hauling, transloading for customers not located on rail, railcar management & maintenance and track construction services for industries primarily in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. Freight traffic includes forestry products, woodchips, and propane

The early 1970’s found the American railroad with a unique predicament – a shortage of general service boxcars to handle rail traffic demand... and a great deal of boxcars that were available were deemed out-of-date. One of the contributing factors to this problem was the low per diem rate (the daily fee a railroad paid the car owner when online). The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) hoped to incentivize the construction of new rolling stock with the approval of a higher per diem rate making ownership of a boxcar more financial appealing – thus the formation of the Incentive-Per-Diem (IPD) boxcar. Investment firms saw this as an opportunity to abuse the system and generate a high return on investment. These companies purchased large fleets of newly built boxcars and operated them on short lines, earning a daily fee for the investment group. Furthermore, to make certain their ‘investment’ stayed on the rails, the IPD boxcars were allocated as free-runners --- rolling stock not assigned to a specific service and can be loaded ‘with anything – by anyone – going anywhere.’

The outcome of this program was the American short lines amassing 30,000 boxcars from 1974 thru 1980 by investment groups that comprised of National Railway Utilization Corporation (NRUC), Itel (SSI), Brae, Emons and Trans Union.

As the United States entered the 1980’s, the economic conditions of the country worsened as much of the world fell into a great recession from the early start of 1980 until the spring of 1983. This attributed to the end of the IPD program as ‘more than 250,000 cars or approximately 20% of the total fleet of rolling stock were sitting idle by February 1983’ (Sloss – Center for Transportation Studies, MIT).

The boxcars manufactured during the IPD era had a basic 50-foot, external-post design with 10-foot sliding doors, 70-ton capacity and Plate B or Plate C clearance. Plate markings indicate if a railcar outside dimensions falls within a standard cross-section. Freight cars are assigned Plates B, C, E or F – the plate size of a car is stenciled on the side panel. The Plate B designation, first used in 1948, has the smallest basic dimensions (maximum exterior height 15’-1” and width 10’8”) and can run anywhere in North America without road clearance authorization for tunnels and bridges. Plate C cars are slightly taller with a maximum height of 15’-6” and can run safely on about 95% of North American routes.

Railroad equipment manufacturers such as Pullman Standard, Berwick, Evans, Food Machinery Corporation (FMC) and Pacific Car & Foundry built some of the most iconic and colorful boxcars of the 1970’s. Amongst them was the Pullman Standard 5,277cf ‘waffle-car’ with its protruding exterior posts with Railbox as the primary customer. Also, a widely produced boxcar during the IPD program was the Plate C - 5,347cf car with its earmark non-terminating ends and AAR Code B209 body type (unequipped boxcar with an inside length of 49’-8” with an inside height of 10’ or more).

The Food Machinery Corporation (FMC) can trace its beginnings back to 1883 when inventor John Bean fabricated an insecticide spray pump to fight the ravages of scale insects destroying the Western states fruit crops. Incorporated in 1904, the Bean Spray Pump Company acquired two of its main competitors in 1928 – the Anderson- Barngrover Company and Sprague-Sells. As a result, the Bean Company became the world’s largest food machinery manufacturer and changed its identity that same year after a public naming contest to Food Machinery Corporation (FMC).

FMC received a government contract from the United States War Department to design and build amphibious landing vehicles during World War II. In November 1943, the newly produced LVT (Landing Vehicle, Tracked) was placed into combat service at The Battle of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.

Afterwards, FMC continued to diversify its product line launching into the chemical business and railcar production. In 1965 FMC acquired the Gunderson Metal Works Company and renamed the railcar branch in 1973 as the Marine and Rail Equipment Division of FMC (MRED). Railcar manufacturing proved lucrative for FMC during the 1970’s IPD (Incentive Per Diem) Era – producing over 6,000 cars annually during that period. However, when the early 1980’s world recession hit, only 25 railcars were produced in 1982.

The Model

The ready-to-run double door boxcar came packaged in a plastic jewel case with a slip-off cover and a thick two-piece clear plastic cradle to support the model. The model information is clearly printed on the end of the case for ease to locate when in storage. A thin plastic sleeve was wrapped around the car to protect the model from scuffmarks. No additional parts were found inside the case.



The paint job is a rich, vibrant Yreka Western blue with white lettering. All lettering and images are crisp and sharp and (with only a few exceptions) in the proper location when compared to real life prototype photographs of boxcar YW #25108. The prototype boxcar has the FMC Portland, Oregon builder’s logo stenciled between the near side grab irons – the Athearn model placed the FMC trademark on a far side panel below the ‘S’. Additionally, the prototype has a NEW date of 10-78, while the Athearn car shows a date of 3-77. The Yreka Western Railroad blue goose insignia is proudly displayed on the left side panels of the railcar.

The sides of the Athearn model closely resemble the FMC 5347cf Double Door steel railcar with two 7’-6” wide by 10” tall Youngstown non-functioning sliding doors with a horizontal corrugated pattern. FMC cars varied in door configuration and style to better suit individual customer needs. The model also features FMC prototypical correct low mounted route board, four-rung grab irons and stirrup steps on each end of the boxcar. The sides have a straight bottom sill notched all the way back to the bolsters.



Note the XM Association of American Railroads classification below the road number (photo above). The XM class boxcar was designated for general service and equipped with either side or side & end doors. Furthermore, the Plate C designation is also located underneath the road number. Plate markings indicate if a railcar outside dimensions fall within a standard cross-section. Freight cars are assigned Plates B, C, E, or F - a square with the appropriate letter is stenciled on the side panel. Plate C indicates a car height of 15′ 6′′, which is standard for most boxcars, covered hoppers, and center-beam flatcars. Anything exceeding Plate C is considered oversized. This boxcar was built NEW in March 1977 by FMC at their Portland, Oregon plant.

The yellow dot inside the black square (U-1 inspection dot) is a prototypical correct marking. In the mid-1970s, 33"-wheel sets manufactured by the Southern Wheel Company were believed to be defective. In March 1978, all boxcars were inspected and those railcars with Southern Wheels were not allowed to haul hazardous materials. These cars were stenciled with a white dot inside a black square until the wheel sets were replaced with an approved style. Beginning in January 1979, those boxcars with white dots could not be used on any interchange service until replaced. Yellow dots were marked on boxcars with approved wheel sets, those cars that have been replaced with proper equipment or any new boxcar manufactured after the inspection phase began. The U-1 dot system lasted until all suspected boxcars with defective wheels were believed replaced in 1981.



The Athearn model also features the era correct ACI tag. The KarTrak ACI tag was a color-coded 13 horizontal bar label designed to help identify rolling stock and locomotives with optical scanners located trackside. This assisted with pinpointing the exact location of equipment and shipper’s cargo. These six-inch wide labels used series of red, blue, black and white patterns. Each line provided unique information to identify each engine or railcar. In 1967 the Association of American Railroads required all pieces of rail equipment to have the KarTrak tags installed - by 1975 over 90% of all stock were labeled. During the initial years of implementation, the KarTrack system experienced a 10% failure to read or error in reading rate. Dirt accumulation and physical damage to the labels were the primary reasons for these errors. Without full compliance of proper label maintenance by all equipment owners, the failure rate continued to grow and the KarTrak system was left to abandonment in 1978.

Both ends feature prototypical correct three-rung grab irons on each side, a low mounted placard board and 3/3 wide ribbed non-terminating ends (sides continue past the ends). The B-side features a separately applied low-mounted brake wheel. Again, the grab irons are molded details. The lettering is neat and in proper arrangement with the road marker & road number in the top right of each end. AAR standard truck spring group size D-1 is stenciled on both ends of the car.





The top of the boxcar displays a silver ‘X-pattern’ Stanray nine-panel non-overhanging metal roof. The model also features the proper raised roof panel line with no running boards - running boards were not mandatory on new equipment built after 1966 with a target date of 1974 to have running boards removed from all rolling stock. The deadline was extended to 1983 to allow removal during normal maintenance cycles. A nice touch is the simulated silver ‘overspray’ along the edges of the roofline – having the appearance of uneven paint when the boxcar was customized for the client during the IPD Era.



The black underframe has a molded AB brake system arrangement with features such as the brake cylinder, brake reservoir, control valve and brake rod. The boxcar is fitted with screw mounted roller bearing trucks with shiny machined metal wheels. Lastly, the model is equipped with proper height body mounted McHenry knuckle spring couplers.



The car is 3 7/8 inches in length and weighs about 1.1 ounces, which is perfect according to the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) recommendations (which are 1.1 - 1.2 ounces for this size car). I found it an excellent runner while testing the car on Kato Unitrack with no issues around curves or through turnouts at slow and medium speeds. The recommended minimum operating radius is 9 ¾" for both Code 55 and 80 rails.

Conclusions

In closing, another solid release by Athearn Trains. Although I have been disappointed with their lack of new N scale product announcements the last year or so - when compared to the amount of HO output – Athearn keeps creating high quality rolling stock for us 1/160 modelers. Sharp lettering, strong molded details and prototypical design. Metal wheels, body-mounted couplers and attention to small elements, like the roofline overspray and stencil markings, are all winners. I strongly recommend investing in a few of these colorful IPD era boxcars and reliving the days when Erik Estrada and John Travolta ruled the world.

To see a list of all cars in this series, CLICK HERE

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.

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