MODELING: Mid-Century Composite Wood-Sheathed Boxcar


I have been itching to build a freight car now that my cataract surgery is complete with improved vision.  My first step in selecting

the next project was to the revisit my “bucket list”.  Lots of things

Photo by Jack Burgess

caught my eye but the one that looked like a good projectI was a double sheathed mid-century composite  wood-sheathed boxcar.  I borrowed this title from an article pubished in the Railway Prototype Cyclopedia volume 23.  Patrick Wider authored the article describing a number of late wood sheathered boxcars.  My two favorite cars ,

NP and GN,  were described and illustrated in detail.   I chose the Northern Pacific cars that were built by Pacific Car & Foundry in 1937 to the then current AAR design except for the use of wood side sheathing instead of steel.  The cars were numbered in the 9480-9999 series and were durable lasting well into the early 1970s when the 40-year rule caught up with them.   The has been lots of conjecture as to why the NP selected wood siding when steel was being ordered in large number by other roads.    The late Richard Hendrickson debunked the theory that the road trying to placate the forest products industry which contributed to a siginificant part of the road’s tonnage. My take is that the road was frugal and possibly slow to adopt new ideas.  The Northern Pacific bought their first all-steel boxcsr in 1941 three years after the composite cars.


One thing I discovered quickly was that the original series were extremely camera shy.  I have seen very few photos in their original number and lettering.  The picture shown above is of a non-rebuilt car pretty late in its life.   The large Monad with the “railway” added and the Main Street of the Northwest was the last lettering scheme for these cars.  Approximately 98 of the cars were rebuilt with new 55 ton trucks.  The cars were renumbered in the 40500-40917 series.

Here is an intermediate lettering scheme showing the Northern Pacific without the railway.

The above image was extracted from a presented done by Dean O’Neal and Rick Leach at a NP Railway Historical Association convention.   This illustrates the as delivered lettering configuration.


Like most models I build these day, I use styrene as the primary construction material.  I start with a basic shell to create a box that will be sheathed with styrene v-groove sheet and ends, doors and a roof salvaged from an Intermountain boxcr kit.  This model could be built by cutting out the steel side from an Intermountain kit and replace it with a composite side.  At one time, Lee Turner offered a conversion side to do just that.

Here is Lee’s model built up and weathered.


Here is the partial plan used to build the model.  The drawing came from the Rick Leach collection via the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association.


I took .040″ styrene sheet and cut the basic pieces used to form the basic box.

The floor piece was laminated with HO 1×10 styrene strips to simulate flooring.  I marked the location of the centersill, stringers and all crossmembers.   Start assembly by bonding the side to the floor.  I use machined blocks to keep to maintain a 90 degree angle while the MEK sets.

Once the basic box is assembled, I added Evergreen channels to create the sidesill. The .156″ channels need to be set back .060″ from the side sheet. I marked the location of the vertical and diagonal posts.

The marked lines will aid with the location and alignment of the exposed side posts.   Once all the exposed frame members are installed the Evergreen 3-1/4″ siding material will be added covering all but about 4″ of the side channels.


I will start to apply the outer sheathing and ends and add



8 thoughts on “MODELING: Mid-Century Composite Wood-Sheathed Boxcar

  1. Good choice. This car did not have a radial roof, as NP had many cars with the Radial roof. I shall look forward to the next chapter to see how you put it together.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. My first O Scale kit was an All Nation GN woodside kit to model the car described in Wider’s article. I really bolluxed that one good. I look forward to seeing how your build goes as I still need one of these for my 1938 P&L sub train.

    • That was an oldie. I built one of the steel cars as my introduction to 1/4” scale. The All Nation paint was referred to as “banana lacquer “ because of it’s aroma.

  3. I had cataracts in my 40s. Quizzing the doctor, he said he had done kids as young as 5. All went well for me but I was by far, the youngest waiting for surgery

  4. Gene: Thanks for posting this build. I had wanted to do something like this for a long time. I have a few Intermountain kits kicking around….just need to get the courage to cut one up!!!! Thanks!!! Bill

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