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Upgrading an Old AHM Boxcar

By Craig Bisgeier

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I recently got my hands on a number of old AHM "Old-Time" boxcars that you sometimes see at swap meets.  These cars, made originally by Pocher (name stamped on the bottom) are not much to look at on first glance – Heavy plastic door guides and truss rods, talgo trucks, many cast-on details – just trainset quality stuff.  But hey, they were brand new in the box and $3 apiece, and I never pass a chance to put more period-looking cars on the layout.  These had the right dimensions (about 32-34 feet in length, and about 7-8 feet in height) and came with their own arch-bar trucks, so I figured I’d give them a shot.

Turns out once you get past a lot of the grossly oversized ‘trainset’ detail parts, it isn’t a bad looking car at all.  I started by separating the carbody shell from the floor by prying them apart at the center until the floor tabs cleared the retaining slots at the ends.  I was able to pop off the oversized door guides easily from the inside, and that was pretty much all there was to disassembling the shell (except for removing the weights).  The car is not painted, with white pad lettering applied directly to the orange plastic walls of the shell.  I was not sure if the printing on the side of the car had to go or not, so I took one shell and sprayed it with primer - and sure enough the printing telegraphed through.  So I asked a friend to sand down the car sides with fine sandpaper during one of my work sessions.

The holes in the shell where the door tracks had been attached had to be filled.  I plugged the holes with bits of styrene strip glued in with liquid cement.  I considered taking the extra step and filling the remainder of the dimple with putty and then sanding and scribing it, but decided to forego it because it would not be readily visible unless one were really scrutinizing the car.  While I was at it, I pulled off the heavy and oversized brake wheel and staff and plugged the two larger holes left behind with 1/16" styrene rod, which I glued in place then trimmed flush with the carbody.  I left the bottom-most small hole unfilled.

Moving on to the underframe, the heavy truss rods under the floor are a single part and also popped off easily, requiring a couple more styrene strips to fill the holes left behind in the floor.  I was able to insert strips of .040 x .156" strip styrene into the holes by trimming them slightly wider with a razor blade.  I drilled new holes for truss rods into these strips, intending to use monofilament for the new truss rods.  Unfortunately I couldn't find my stash, and I got impatient as I often do.  I ended up using heavy thread strung through the holes and over the queenposts, securing them to the car floor with CA cement.  I did not attempt to apply turnbuckles to the thread, as I value my own sanity.  Had I been able to use monofilament, I would hve included the turnbuckles.

The trucks turned out to be pretty decent-looking once I nipped off the attached coupler boxes.  I discarded the awful plastic wheelsets with oversized flanges right away and replaced them with Intermountain wheelsets, and was surprised to find the trucks rolled very well without any reaming of the journals.  The arch-bar trucks were actually fairly light and open-looking in appearance which helped make them look better than some other models.  With the couplers removed and metal wheelsets installed, the rolling performance was quickly improved.

The floor needed a bit of trimming at each end to accept a Kadee coupler box flat to the stringers, but that was not much of a problem to fix with a razor blade and a light touch.  I installed #58 couplers in thenew boxes for appearance and reliability.  Finally a 2-56 screw was installed through the box into the car floor to hold the coupler and draft gear box securely to the model. 

I briefly considered carving off the molded-on grab irons and replacing them with wire, but I am building these cars for an operating layout and details like this are often the first casualty.  I decided they didn't look too bad and left them on.  I had originally decided to save the brake wheel and staff detail that came with the car, but later decided it was too clunky in appearance.  I used parts from a Tichy Brake Wheel and Staff kit to apply a bracket for the staff wire, and bent the lower end of the wire to go into the small hole left from the  original brake wheel part.  A drop of CA in the hole held the brake staff wire in place at the bottom.  The new part is much finer than the old and helps make the car look more detailed than it really is. 

Once the prep work was done (washing the models in warm soapy water) I had to decide what road to paint these cars for.  I was originally going to paint them for the New York & New England railroad, but later decided to make them New Haven cars.  I found a photo of an 1880's New Haven boxcar and made up decals on my ALPS printer for them, which I thought came out pretty well.  . 

With the decals printed I washed and dried the car bodies, hit them with a light coat of primer and then sprayed them with a medium brown enamel color, straight from the can.  The underframes and trucks got brush-painted a charcoal gray / grimy black color.  The enamel paint was glossy enough to go ahead and apply the decals right over it, so I went ahead and did that.  After a few coats of Solvaset to get the decal to stick well to the model, I carefully went back and made a slit in each decal where it crossed a wood board joint, then hit the decals with more Solvaset.  This made a huge difference in the look of the models, getting the lettering to look applied to the individual boards.  I sprayed the models with a coat of clear matte paint when everything was dry to seal the decals. 


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