IMPROVE MDC'S 1:32 SCALE REEFERS
Make a good car better
BY GARY RAYMOND
REEFERS ARE AN important component of a railroad's ability to move perishables quickly and efficiently from producer to market. The Model Die Casting reefer is a steel side ice refrigerator, in contrast to modern mechanical refrigerator cars.
MDC's reefer and boxcar dimensions are very close to correct height and width and the length is only about 2 1/2 feet short. If you are willing to accept that flaw, the model has the capacity to become one of the most accurate "off the shelf" plastic models now available in One Scale. To bring it into correct 1:32 (One) scale standard gauge you have only to replace the wheels and couplers.
LET'S GET STARTED
The first and easiest step is to replace the stock, oversize plastic wheels with correct size metal wheels. I suggest beginning with this step because it changes the height of the car above the rails and establishes the correct coupler positioning.
Remove the entire truck and then remove the two smaller screws retaining the sideframes. Next remove the coupler tongue at the point where it connects to the truck bolster (the beam between the sideframes). You may use a razor saw or a power saw. I use a table saw because it is faster and easier if you modify several cars at once, as I do. Now is also the best time to paint the trucks and wheels. Mine are a dirty, rusty color.
In this model's era nearly all freight cars rolled on 33 inch wheels. As you might guess I use my own One Scale metal wheels because the diameter scales out exactly to 33 inches. Simply replacing the wheels will lower the car to its correct height and make a world of difference in its appearance. Be sure to use the 1/16-inch washers my instructions specify for MDC trucks because those trucks have the widest back to back sideframe spacing of all large scale models. The washers will take up the excess room, reducing wheel drag and rolling resistance.
NOW THE COUPLERS
I also recommend Kadee 820 One Scale body mount couplers. They are the correct size and body mounts are more realistic than truck mounted couplers. Cars with body mounted couplers will stay on the track more reliably when an engine pulls or pushes them through curves or turnouts; the wheels follow the rail instead of side-to-side pressure from an attached coupler.
The only drawback to body mounting is the minimum radius your car will accept four feet (an LGB 1600 curve). Forty foot cars with body mounted couplers actually will handle curves as tight as 2 1/2 feet, but not "S" curves, such as those on LGB crossovers. The limitation is almost theoretical anyway because four feet is becoming the accepted minimum radius in One Scale.
Two dimensions determine the correct position of the coupler. First, how far the coupler gear box sits below the end sill. And second, how far the coupler sticks out from the end sill. On all prototype standard gauge cars, the centerline of the couplers is the same height: 34 1/2 inches above the top of the rails. In 1:32 scale that works out to 1 1/16 inches. With Kadee couplers, we arrive at that distance by placing the bottom of the trip pin 1/8-inch from the top of the rail. Here is all you do:
Glue a strip of Plastruct I-beam 3/16- x 3/8- x 1 19/32-inches to the car's underside. Be sure to position it on the centerline of the car, equidistant from each side, with one end snug against the body bolster. That's the cross-support where the truck screws in. Use Polyzap to glue down the I-beam. Be sure the I-beam is on its side and 3/16-inch high not 3/8-inch! Apply the glue to the two bottom edges of the I-beam where it fits against the floor and to the end facing the center of the car where it butts against the body bolster. NOTE: Be sure to keep any trace of glue from the opposite end of the I-beam where it touches the end of the car. Repeat this step for the other end of the car.
The second dimension, how far the coupler sticks out, is 21 inches for this car. We measure it from the inside of the coupler "hand" to the car's end sill. The end sill is the bottom edge of the car. It is recessed a little from the end ribs and projecting brake hardware. Even though it seems natural to mount the "tab" on the top of Kadee's gear box flush with the end sill, it's wrong. That would leave too little space between the cars and they would hit one another and derail on minimum radius curves.
Lubricate the gear box before you assemble it according to Kadee's instructions. Then position the gear box so the end with the tab is parallel to the outside edges of the end ribs. Drill through the two center line holes with a 3/32-inch bit. Again, repeat this step for the other end of the car.
Set the gear boxes aside. It's time to remove the car's roof.
The car consists of a main body (a floor with two sides and two flat ends, all painted the same color), a roof (either brown or black), and two molded ends (the same color as the roof). To remove the roof you must first gently pry off one of the car's ends. The best place to pry, using a small screwdriver, is at the end sill. That's the bottom edge of the ribbed end closest to where the coupler will be. The end press-fits to the body very snugly so work gently and carefully.
When you remove one end you will see a roof tab protruding through the flat body end. Depress that tab and push upward on the roof just enough to release the tab. Three more tabs remain, so when you have enough space between the roof and the sides to fit in a very small screwdriver blade, press in and release the two roof side tabs. That should allow you to remove the roof by pulling it upwards and toward you.
Now back to the gear boxes. Put them back on the I-beams, lining up on the holes you drilled. Fasten each gear box using a pair of 2-56 round head bolts 3/4-inch long and nylon insert nuts. Put the nuts on the inside of the car. Tighten the bolts to where the coupler arm binds slightly when you swing it from side to side. Then back off each bolt just enough to let the coupler center itself without binding.
Replace the roof and the ends. Do not glue the ends. You may have to get back inside the car to readjust the coupler sometime.
If you plan to weather the car, do it before you mount the trucks. Also mask off the coupler shank and the gear box opening so paint won't foul the operation. I am also careful to keep paint off the working surfaces of my couplers. It may jam the free action of the parts.
When I have added weathering and oversprayed everything with Testor's Dullcote, I remount the trucks and double check the coupler and trip pin clearances. Remember, the trip pin should ride 1/8-inch above the rails.
Now set your reefer on the tracks and admire it. You have created a very realistic model of a Pacific Fruit Express ice refrigerator car.
1 MDC refrigerator car
1 pkg., Kadee 820 couplers
4 axles, 1 1/32 inch diameter Gary Raymond Metal Wheels
1 bag Gary Raymond Metal Wheels 1/16-inch washers (8 washers per bag)
1 Plastruct I-beam 3/16-inch x 3/8 inch (cut two pieces each 1 19/32 inches long)
4 Number 2-56 x 1/4-inch round head bolts
4 Number 2-56 nylon insert captive nuts
Razor saw or table saw
Small slotted screwdriver
1 bottle graphite lubricant