Boxcars are one of the oldest and most common designs of freight car. Until the 1960s, they represented the overwhelming majority of freight cars on most railroad rosters. Even today as more specialized cars and intermodal traffic have taken away many boxcar loads, the basic boxcar remains an important part of the railroads' rosters.
Seemingly simple and standardized in design, boxcars actually come in many variations. Even in the most basic "no frills" general service variety, cars feature a number of sizes and construction patterns.
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The best way to learn about or model any freight car is to start by studying the prototype. These photos present a good overview of some distinctive boxcar variations.
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Narrow Gauge Boxcars
These Blackstone HOn3 boxcars represent a boxcar in its most basic form. These beautiful models also prove that even a "simple" prototype can be recreated in amazing detail and become a show-stopping model. The company has also recreated the "economy door" versions of the Rio Grande's venerable narrow gauge boxcars.
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The general purpose boxcar had grown to a fifty-foot standard length by the 1950s. Cars like the Pennsylvania's X-58 class were adopted by several railroads and could be equipped with a variety of interior appliances to serve specific types of customers. These common cars of the 1960s through 1980s have been recreated in both HO and N scales.
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Soo Line Boxcars
Showing another variation of the "standard" 50-foot boxcar, these Soo Line-designed cars served in much the same capacity as the X-58. Subtle changes in design and construction could really change the look of a car. These differences are what makes freight trains and freight car modeling interesting.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Showing how a simple modification can make a big difference, these unique "canstock" cars were modified for hauling rolls of aluminum for can production. Simply relocating the side doors to one end of the car enabled the easy loading of one extra roll of aluminum, increasing car utility with every run.
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Combination Door Boxcars
A more common door variation was the double door car. This group of cars featured both a sliding and plug door arrangement. Use of the plug door increased the smooth wall area inside the car when the doors closed while allowing a larger opening for loading and unloading. The largest fleet of these cars was owned by Railbox and given "ABOX" reporting marks.
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Berwick 7327 Boxcars
Larger boxcars like these Berwick 7327 cu ft. cars from Exactrail are used for larger but more lightweight loads. These 60' "high cube" cars are commonly found hauling auto parts and appliances. These loads would fill the capacity of a standard boxcar before they would tax its weight limit.
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89' High Cubes
The biggest boxes on the rails are the 89' High Cube boxcars designed for light-weight auto parts like body panels. These cars originated in the late 1960s. The large and often colorful cars have been a fixture on the rails ever since. In more recent years they have also been used to haul appliances and trash. In parts service, the cars regularly run in dedicated pools and can be seen repeatedly in the same trains running back and forth between parts and assembly plants - the perfect arrangement for model operations!Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Most people think of refrigerator cars when it comes to hauling food, but many products don't require refrigeration for safe travel, just a more moderate control of temperatures. Insulated cars like this make that possible without the cost of refrigeration units. Beer is one of the more common loads in these cars.
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Detail a Boxcar Interior
Although normally the doors are closed for transport whether the car is loaded or empty, it is not uncommon to see a boxcar with an open door. Adding some simple details to the interior of a car or two can be a great way to add interest to a passing train on your layout. Even an empty car can have interesting details inside.
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