MODELING: Meat Reefers


image from Pierre Oliver

image from Pierre Oliver

I am in the early stages of building a couple of wood meat reefers using styrene as the primary construction material.  This is a project that has been staring me in the face for at least 20 years.  I built a Swift reefer over thirty years ago using Clover House dry transfers.  I had followed an article in the 1953 Model Railroader magazine.  Subsequently, I discovered that the article was flawed due to an error in the length specified.  The author stated that the body was 36’2″ long.  Well the simple fact is that the ORER doesn’t list a Swift car of that length.  They likely had intended it to be 37’2″ in length. Recently my interest in the project rose to point of action with the new decal sets from Protocraft.

wilson 9258

The two cars under construction are a Wilson 36′ and a Swift 37’2″ wood reefers.   Construction is very similar for both cars.

The Wilson cars were built over a period of 10 years starting in 1939.   Wilson used two different herald sizes, two truck types and different hand brakes.   I chose to build a model of 9258 which had a small “W”, ASF A-3 Ride Control trucks and Universal hand brake.


The Swift Company leased a large number of wood cars from General American of various sizes.  I am focusing on a car in the 3300 – 5799 series. There were over 1100 cars active in 1956.

The following table shows the basic dimensions taken from the Official Railway Equipment Registry for the Wilson car.   My copy is a reprint but Westerfield Models is selling a wide range of dates on CDs.  The ORER is very helpful for in modeling.  Along with the cars basic dimensions, it lists car number series and the number of cars in service as of the date of publication.

Wilson 8101-9600 Swift  5300-5799
Overall length 36’ 37’2”
Height to eaves 12’4” 12’4”
Width at eaves 9’11.5” 9’11”
Height to RB 13’2” 13’1”
Door 4’ by 6’ height 4’ by 6’ height

I will start with the construction of the Wilson car.  My approach to building house cars (boxcars and reefers) is to build a core box, add weight and add sheathing to the outside of the core.  In this case, I will use Evergreen 3.25″ siding for sides and ends.  The roof will be sheathed with styrene strips to simulate the tongue and groove material of the prototype.   When designing the core dimensions, you need to consider the thickness of the siding and roofing materials.  The core will be shorter, narrower and lower than the prototype.

end view sub

cross section of wilson

The two drawings above show how the core is built up and the sheathing is added.

Here is what the core looks like before the top is applied.  I added about 8 oz. of large washers.  I like these for weight since they are inexpensive and readily available in a real hardware store.  I used a thick CA to hold the weights.  For belt and suspenders, I added some styrene strips just in case.

body weight

The floor was cut from .060″ styrene and scribed to represent 5″ boards.  I added 2″ by 3″ styrene stringers and 2″ by 9″ boards to support the center sill.

body bottom

Next time, we will do a little more on the project.

WCLX 9506 lr



6 thoughts on “MODELING: Meat Reefers

  1. This looks like a very interesting blog subject. The Swift wood reefer has been on my “build one day” list since the MR article. Good to know about the length error.

    BTW What are you using to attach the styrene sheet to the core?

    • Charlie
      The Swift cars have been a favorite of a lot of modelers. I had no idea of the variety of cars thar were under lease to Swift. Differences in length and underframe design create the variety.
      I use Plastizap CA to bond the center portion of the styrene overlay. You only need a few dabs. I seal the perimeter with Testors liquid plastic cement.


  2. Good article. Sioux City was at one time the 9th largest rail market when the Sioux City Stockyards was in its heyday, the 20s and 30s. We had Swift, Armour, Cudahey, Sioux City Dressed Beef, Needham, and a couple other small plants. Sioux City was often ranked 1, 2, or 3 for hogs and in the top 5 for cattle. So we say a lot of Swift cars. In the late 40’s the Swift plant exploded and killed several people. It used to be said in July when the wind was out of the South, you could smell the money.

    Dick Donaway
    Sioux City, IA

  3. Pingback: Site seeing – June 1 | Andrew's Trains – Formerly

  4. Gene,
    thanks for your description and this excellent modeling!

    I’m an US-modeler in Germany and I’m building cars from scratch or modify and super-detail them, all in HO-scale. One of my last projects was to detail and backdate some Atlas 36′ reefers to after 1900 times. See my description on MRH forum – I was sure that I should modify underbody details and change the doors with six hinges to a more prototypycal view.
    Some times ago I have seen a picture which was offered on an Ebay auction that shows exactly a Swift reefer how it was modeled by Atlas like this here on Atlas photo – – with four hinges per door which are built in a very large style looking like overdimensioned ones. Because I love to add pictures of prototypes on my website additionally to these of my models so I would like to ask if you know sources for Swift reefer pictures out of a search result in web. Unfortunately this picture which I have seen was a private one which I saved however that I can not use on a public website. Do you know a more source of reefer Photos and especially of Swift reefers? I would be lucky to receive your help.
    I would like to receive also responses from readers of this blog. Please use contact form of my website. Thanks also!

    Thank you very much!

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