Tangent 86-foot auto parts boxcar
The 86-foot high-cube auto parts
boxcar, an icon of the rails in the ’70s and ’80s, is being offered in HO scale by Tangent Scale Models. These cars, available in 11 paint schemes and undecorated, feature accurate tooling, fine printing, and a wealth of prototypespecific details.
When demand for automobiles grew after World War II, automakers started building engines in one factory, transmissions in another, and bodies in a third, then putting them all together in assembly plants. They shipped those parts to the assembly plants via the railroads, first in standard boxcars, then in boxcars with specialized fittings to secure their loads. But this meant these cars were often limited to carrying only one kind of part from one parts plant to one assembly plant.
In the 1960s, Ford, working with the Wabash, explored another approach. The new idea was a single car type with standard fittings that would hold specialized parts racks. The parts would be loaded in the racks at the factory, then secured in the cars for transport. Any car could be loaded with racks filled with any part bound for any plant. Railroads settled on 60-foot cars to carry high-density parts like engines and transmissions and 86-foot high-cubes for lighter ones like body stampings. Exceeding Clearance Plate F dimensions, these cars were about as big as they could be and still fit alongside factory loading docks.
Greenville, Thrall, Pullman-Standard, and Pacific Car & Foundry built, in all, 11,200 of these massive cars. Most had one double-plug-door opening on each side, but General Motors requested one with two openings for faster unloading.
These “eight-door” cars, built by Greenville, are the prototype for Tangent’s model. The first of them rolled out in 1969, and many are still in service today. I couldn’t find a dimensioned drawing of the Greenville 86-foot eight-door boxcar, only the four-door version. But I compared the Tangent model to the overall dimensions listed for Southern Pacific car 616537 in the Official Railroad Equipment Register of January 1971 (Railway Equipment and Publication Co.). The overall height, extreme width, and length over strikers all matched up. I also found pictures of the prototype of SP 616537 in Southern Pacific Freight Cars Vol. 4: Box Cars by Anthony W. Thompson (Signature Press, 2006). The paint scheme, markings, and detail placement all matched the model. Speaking of details, the Tangent cars bear an impressive amount. The closure rods are separately applied. The etchedmetal crossover platforms are prototype specific, as are the cushioned underframes and even the routing of the brake system’s air lines. The trucks are prototype-accurate, as well. Each variety has rotating bearing caps and blackened turned-metal wheels mounted in gauge. The paint scheme was accurate and well executed. The lettering was straight and opaque, and the smallest type was all legible. Because of the length of these cars and the side sills that overhang the trucks, Tangent recommends a minimum radius of 24" for these cars.
Auto parts often traveled a long way from the parts plant to the assembly plant, meaning even if you don’t have one of those industries on your layout, Tangent’s new auto parts cars could still make an appearance as bridge traffic. If you’re modeling the ’70s or ’80s, your hotshot overhead freight needs them.
– Steven Otte, senior associate editor