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Built Review
HO scale
Steam-era 50' Express Reefer
50' Express Reefer
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
RailRoad Modeling

"Blue Box"
Steam-era 50' Express Reefer
Item 5330

"Blue Box" Introduction
For decades Athearn "blue box" kits were a mainstay of model railroading. Athearn made dozens of different types of rolling stock and locomotives. The rolling stock models are simple and inexpensive kits. They had good detail for the era, albeit molded on. Usually the brake wheel was separate, and most box cars and hoppers had opening doors. No doors opened on cabooses or passenger cars. Many paint schemes and liveries were available, as usually was an undecorated offering.

Athearn packed these models in a sturdy two piece blue box (The hue and design varied over the years) featuring dramatic box art. The contents were only known by reading the printed label on one end of the box. While locomotives were secured with cardboard, most rolling stock was unrestrained, or buffered by wadded paper.

The simple kits usually consist of a one-piece body, a one-piece frame (usually with molded air brake details), a steel weight, plastic trucks holding plastic wheels joined with metal axles, and NMRA X2F "horn hook" couplers with stamped metal retainers. Screws are included to secure the trucks to the frame. These smaller pieces are held in a sealed paper envelope. Most other separate parts are snap-on. Cars with roofs have plastic simulated wooden or metal roof walks, as appropriate for represented prototype and era. Tank cars and locomotives have wire handrails.

Accuracy and authenticity of the prototypes is widely discussed in the model world; your humble reviewer has little expertise concerning the facts and foibles of the subject.

Athearn discontinued blue box kits in 2009. This was both welcomed and rued in the model railroad community, and much debate still surrounds Athearn's decision. The company has decided to focus on ready-to-run models; some seem to have revamped details and some have new tooling. If you like blue box kits, fear not, as vast quantities are still available.

HO 50' Express Reefer
This is the undecorated model. It is molded in dull black styrene. The surface detail is crisp. I found no visible sink holes or ejector marks, no flash (Except on the brake wheel.), and minor seam lines. Over-scale stirrup steps are molded on.

While this reefer kit is the usually one-piece body, the underframe is more detailed than the usual box car. A plastic bottom is included onto which you glue frame sills. The metal weight is set on the top and secured with the screws that hold the shiny plastic trucks to the body. Basic surface detail is molded onto the exterior. As are the pockets into which you mount the couplers (Knuckle couplers will fit without and modification). Onto this deck you simply snap the body. The running board snaps into holes on the roof. The brake wheel is separate, too.

The doors are molded on. So are all ladders, handles, and grab irons.

This kit also included some very well detailed separate air brake components such as the triple valve and cylinder. These have dimples into which you can attach piping, if you desire to enhance the detail.

The roof has an opening at each corner. Separate ice loading hatches are attached into these. They can be positioned open or closed.

This is simple. Attach the sills to the underframe, put the weight on the top of the underframe, secure it to the frame with the screws you use to attach the trucks, and snap on the body. Add the hatches, running board, and air brake parts, and put on the couplers. I used aftermarket knuckle couplers.

The styrene takes paint well. I painted the reefer for my Jackson Purchase & Texas Railroad. I used Model Master enamel Willow Green for the body. Various blacks and grays were used for the roof and underside. Passenger car style gold lettering was used along with the JP&T emblem and railroad slogan. The decals are custom printed by Don Manlick, MMR.

Many people celebrated the demise of the blue box kits. Many are sorry the are not being made anymore. Me, I like them. They do their job representing rolling stock for me. I can carve away most molded detail and use aftermarket detail parts if I want.

This looks like a steam-era express reefer. For the simplicity and detail and price, it is a fine model. Recommend.
Highs: Detailed separate air brake parts. Easy assembly.
Lows: Molded-on detail.
Verdict: This looks like a steam-era express reefer. For the simplicity and detail and price, it is a fine model.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: HO Scale
  Mfg. ID: 5330
  Suggested Retail: $8.50
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Jul 13, 2011
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright 2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. All rights reserved.


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