No. 36: Steam Era Freight Cars – B&O M-53

Probably the most easily recognized box car on the US railroads in the 1950s was the B&O “wagon-top” box car.  Here are a few detail photos of the well-preserved B&O M-53 wagon top car at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.  I took these photos on a trip through the northeast US in September 2015.



B&O’s series of wagon top cars was very innovative for their time.  The road first rebuilt almost 1,290 M-15 cars of various types to the wagon-top design beginning in 1936.  Later, beginning in 1937, B&O built 2,000 all new cars, class M-53, from the ground up.  Another 1,000 cars were built in 1953.  The wagon top design featured a rounded roof designed to eliminate roof leaking—which was a constant problem with standard box cars of the era—and it worked.  The M-53 also incorporated the Duryea cushioned underframe, which helped reduce damage to lading and may have contributed to increasing the fleet’s life span. 


The data below describes the car in the museum collection, and is included from the B&O Museum website at

Name: B&O No.385897
Railroad of Record: Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
Type of Car: Wagon-Top boxcar, steel
Class: M-53A
Manufactured by: B&O Railroad
Date Built: 1941
Car Weight: 23.5 tons
Load Capacity: 50 tons
Inside length: 40.5 feet
Cubic Capacity: 3712 cu. feet

The No. 385897 was built by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1941. It was lightweight and could carry up to 50 tons. By the 1970s, the popular design was considered small and lacked proper protection for cargo.  The No.385897 retired from service in 1981 and a year later was sent to the B&O Railroad Museum.





This car (below) is part of the collection at the Union Transportation Museum in Union, Illinois.  I took this photo in 2004.  This is a former M-15N that was originally built in 1925.  When rebuilt the car received number 374065.  You can tell the difference between the M-15 and M-53 by the lower side sill.  The M-15 series has an indented bottom side sill; the M-53 side continues all the way to the bottom of the car.


There are many good models of the M-53 cars available in HO.  For decades about the only way to acquire a car in HO was the Red Ball model, or one of the brass cars released by Overland or Precision Scale in the 1980s.  West Shore Line offered a hard-to-get resin model.  Then around 2005 a number of manufacturers scrambled to offer a car, including Wright-Trak and Sunshine Models, and later Fox Valley, Funaro and Camerlengo, ExactRail, and probably a few others joined the fray. 

In my opinion the best HO model is the Exactrail offering although the Duryea underframe is not very well represented.  The Sunshine car was a little difficult to build—now you can get them for a dime a dozen on eBay. In O Scale, Chooch produced a beautiful M-53 as part of it’s Ultra-Scale line.  That car is out of production and very hard to find but it is gorgeous.

Below.  He is a photo of my Exactrail M-53.  I replaced the trucks with Intermountain ARA trucks with Reboxx 1.015-width wheelsets with semi-scale wheelsets, then sandblasted the car and repainted it with Scalecoat 2 Oxide Red.  I used Ted Culotta’s the outstanding Speedwitch M-53 decal set for the model–which can be found at–and then sealed the decals with a 50-50 mix of testers Dullcoat and Glosscoat.  It is supposed to represent a newly-repainted car so I gave it a light coating of dust and that was it.


Below.  Here is another M-53 model.  Naturally I bought this one before the flood of models came in HO in the mid-2000s.  This is an older Precision Scale brass car with post-war doors.  This is a nice model and like my Exactrail car I stripped it and repainted it with Scalecoat One Oxide Red.  I used Speedwitch decals on this car as well.  New parts include Kadee #58 couplers and Intermountain ARA trucks with reboxx 1.015-width 33-inch semi-scale wheelsets.   



Above.  the Duryea underframe on the Precision Scale car is rather poorly represented, but the overall the model captures the prototype well. 

I hope you have enjoyed the photos!






No. 35: Steam Era Freight Cars – B&O M-27


This car is part of the collection at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. It is one of my favorite prototypes and this car has been nicely restored and placed on display outside the museum roundhouse.

The M-27 was an interesting car series. B&O built 2,000 cars in 1926 for automobile service in both 1-1/2 and double door configurations. The cars were built with a 9-foot interior height. During this time freight car design was evolving rapidly, and within a few years these cars were already obsolete for carrying automobiles. The introduction of the Evans auto loader, which required a minimum 10-foot interior height car–allowing automobiles to be stacked inside box cars–was unable to be fitted in the as-built M-27. PRR Also had this problem with its vast X28-series cars.

In response, in 1934, B&O rebuilt 501 M-27s with a Mansard-style roof that allowed a loader to be fitted inside. Then, around 1940, B&O converted the entire M-27 series–including the rebuilt cars with Mansard-style roofs–back into general service box cars. Ultimately there were six variants of the M-27, with over 1,900 of them still in revenue service in 1950. We are fortunate that this car, an M-27F, still exists.








Sunshine Models offered HO scale resin models of all six versions through 2012. They can occasionally be found on eBay or at train shows. It is possible to model the car in HO (Red Caboose) or O (Middle Division) using the 1924 ARA car/PRR X29 as a starting point but the carbody is a few inches too short (8′ 7″ IH vs 9′ 0″ IH on the M-27) which will force the modeler to make some compromises.


Above.  For reference, this is a PRR X29 at the Strasburg Museum in Pennsylvania.  It is about six inches shorter interior height, and has many other differences.

I hope you all find this post helpful.

No. 23: Steam Era Freight Cars – NYC Rebuilt Box Car

This is a former NYC box car, probably from NYC 152000-153769, Lot 657-B, rebuilt by Despatch shops in 1936-1937 from one of NYC’s large fleet of single-sheathed box and automobile cars, commonly referred to as “1916 Cars”. Ultimately Central rebuilt about 5,800 of the 1916 cars into box cars and an additional 2,400 cars into automobile cars.


The early history of these rebuilds is nicely covered in Ted Culotta’s new series of books, Focus on Freight Cars, Volume 7.  According to Ted, Central rebuilt over 5,800 of the ‘1916’ double sheathed automobile cars into all-steel box cars, featuring indented Murphy ends (leftover from the original cars, but heightened) and an inset lower side sill with numerous fixtures connecting the sill to the underframe. At ten feet interior height, they were interesting and different cars.

I found this extant car at the CSX yard in Greencastle, Indiana, near the former NYC brick depot, in 2009. The car was obviously transferred to maintenance of way service by NYC, or PC, or Conrail at some point in its life. The underframe still carried a partial maintenance of way car series number, but apart from there are no clues as to which series this car originally belonged to, or when the car was transferred to maintenance service.


Photos of the B end are included below.  You can see the rebuilt, three-piece ends and other details.  the coupler is broken and the wood running board is long rotted away, but the car still looks like it’s in pretty good shape.  The lower photo depicts a Morton brake step.  This car is ready for restoration.



Below is a pretty rare detail, not often seen.  Note that the straps and hand-grabs are secured to the car end with square nuts.


The view below is the attachment of the uncoupling device to the car end.  The poling pocket is just out of view to the left.


The B end coupler pocket and brake gear bell crank are shown in this photo below.





Finally, the AAR trucks–original to the rebuilt car–are below.  They are still looking pretty darn good.


Sunshine produced a nice HO scale model, but as far as I know no one else has ever produced a car of this prototype in any scale. This prototype would be a great re-boot in HO and also in O scale. Like every other general service box car they could be seen anywhere in the US or Canada.

I hope you find these photos helpful!

No. 22: Steam Era Freight Cars – B&LE 1937 Box Car

I photographed this car at the same time I photographed the UTLX X-3 (see the first Steam Era Freight Cars post on this site). It IS obviously a 1937 ARA box car, but obviously IS NOT a Pennsylvania Railroad car.


Wanting to identify the car before posting the photo, I e-mailed Ed Hawkins, Bill McCoy, Pat Wider and Bill Welch, asking for their thoughts. I referenced the 40-ton trucks, apparent seven-foot door opening, and unique defect car holder as an identifying “birth marks”. Normally I don’t rely on trucks to identify museum cars since trucks were often changed over time. However, identifying the trucks is a good starting point.

Bill Welch immediately speculated it was a B&LE car. There was some discussion it may have been a Western Maryland car as well. Ed Hawkins then replied and put the debate to rest. Here is Ed’s reply.

  • Presuming the trucks are original (Barber S-1-L lateral motion), I think Bill has it right. The WM cars were delivered with double-truss trucks.
  • Bill is referring to B&LE 90101-90800, built as lightweight box cars using Cor-Ten Steel by Greenville Steel Car Co. in 1940-1941. See RP CYC Vol. 31-32 p. 103-104.
  • In 1960 when the cars were just 20 years old, B&LE began selling some of the cars but I have not been able to determine where they went. From 1/59 to 10/60, nearly 200 were removed from service (total number in service dropped from 774 to 575). By 4/61, 215 cars remained in B&LE 90101-90800 series while 360 had been renumbered B&LE 80101-80800 when these cars were refurbished and received side sill reinforcements and 5-panel Superior doors. When refurbished they were painted orange with white stencils and black & white circular monogram. Remember the Athearn cars in this scheme?
  • When it comes to cars meeting the definition of a 1937 AAR box car, does a 1937 car require a 6’ door opening? If the WM cars having 7’ door openings meet the definition, then I see no reason why these B&LE cars with 7’-3” openings should be any different. Both the WM and B&LE cars had an IH of 9’-11” that was one inch shorter than the standard dimension that might vary due to interior differences.

Pat Wider later confirmed:

  • I agree. Based upon the car’s features including the Barber Stabilized Lateral Motion trucks, defect card holder, 7’ door opening, and lack of a Duryea underframe, it must be the B&LE box car as described by Ed and shown in my article on “lightweight” box cars in RP CYC Vol. 31/32. The only OTHER 1937 AAR boxcars that I know of that had 7’ door openings were built by GATC (Lot 2954) circa 6-45 for the Western Maryland (28201-28300). See 1946 CBC page 128.

Mystery solved.

No. 21: Steam Era Freight Cars – UTLX X-3

This week, I was e-mailing with Frank Hodina–the man behind Resin Car Works (–and I mentioned to him that I photographed a UTLX X-3 tank car at Dennison, Ohio last year.  Frank asked for the photos, and I thought it would be helpful to also post them here.

The UTLX X-3 was Union Tank Car Line’s “standard” tank car.  At it’s height, UTLX operated over 41,000 tank cars.  The X-3 was it’s standard design, although over the years UTLX acquired through mergers and acquisitions tank cars of almost every size and type.  Even the X-3 came in a variety of sizes and with 8,000 gallon or 10,000 gallon capacity.  The X-3 was an uninsulated car and mostly moved petroleum or refined products.

I came across this preserved example at the small railroad museum in Dennison, Ohio.  Dennison used to be a PRR engine-change point, with a large yard, car shops, and large roundhouse.  Most of the PRR facility is gone but the depot remains, and there is a nice museum there with a cool, historic restaurant and a nice model railroad.  More to follow on that later.

While I have the opportunity, Frank has recently released a much-needed X-3 model as part of the RCW line.  You can read about the model and order here:

Here are the photos of the UTLX X-3, which I believe is an 8,000 gallon car.  Here, below, is a general view of the car.


Below. The A end of the car and the coupler pocket.  I don’t recall ever seeing the air hose attachment angled on another car series–very interesting.


Below. The tank car saddle, straps, and unique UTLX placard board.


Below. A view of the two-piece ladder assembly.  Note the ladder on the UTLX X-3 was only on one side of the car, generally the left side.


Below. A view of the AB-schedule brake equipment.  Valve on top, reservoir on bottom.


Below. A view of the brake gear and frame.


Below.  Side view of the left side of the car.


Below. Another view of the saddle and strap, this time on the B end of the car.  Note that the X-3 series had a wood platform on each end of the car; it is still in place on this display.  Also note the conical rivets.


Below.  Here is a closeup view of the B end of the car, particularly the end sill.  This shows the retainer valve attachment and the uncoupling device.


Below.  And finally, the trucks.  These are 50-ton Barber S-2 trucks.  Stenciling ont he side reads “UTC CO 6497”.  I don’t know if that was the number of the original car–I doubt it.  However the trucks read that they were built in Feb 48, and if these are the original trucks then that should get us close to determining the original car series.


I hope you enjoy these photos.  I will post a photo of my UTLX model here shortly.  – John G