Eventually the railroad owned cars would grow on me, especially those of Burlington Northern. BN had a large fleet of covered hoppers from the pre-merger roads as well as several purchased new in the late 70s and early 80s. As the 80s wore on BN acquired covered hoppers from several co-ops and elevators as well as some castoffs from Conrail. The additions to the covered hopper fleet couldn't be painted fast enough, even without the large name and logo applied to the sides of the car.
As I was seeing the fleet change in the late 80s I only knew there were two different types of covered hopper: the ACF Centerflow type and the ribbed side Pullman-Standard type. I knew this because Athearn made models of both (a crude PS 4740 and an even cruder ACF 5250). I really didn't start to dive deep into the differences between covered hopper cars until I started modeling the Bottineau grain train in the early 90s. As I described in the blog on Bottineau, I quickly became aware of the many different prototypes out in the real world and started collecting models of them from Intermountain, Accurail and MDC Roundhouse when I could.
|Original MDC Roundhouse Gunderson 4700cf Covered Hopper|
The Gunderson 4700 covered hopper kit from Model Die Casting's Roundhouse line was something of a transitional model between MDC's earlier less detailed kits and the more detailed models that would be released later in the 90s. Compared to say MDC's open hopper or boxcar kits, there was a real effort made to create a kit that built into a fully decorated model that looked complete. This model didn't have an unpainted underframe or brake details. Everything was painted and the lettering was crisp. The molded on stirrups and ladder rungs compared favorably with the Accurail ACF 4600 covered hopper released around the same time. The model had good bones, but soon it was surpassed by better models of different prototypes.
Like the Accurail ACF 4600 covered hoppers, I managed to collect a handful of these MDC Gunderson 4700 covered hoppers through the 90s and early 2000s. By the time Athearn had released the Gunderson car in the RTR line it was heavily upgraded with etched running boards, new trucks with metal wheels, new brake details and fine stirrups and end ladders. When you put the RTR model next to the original MDC model the difference was obvious.
|Original MDC Roundhouse model (left) compared to an upgraded MDC model (right)|
|Athearn RTR model (left) compared to upgraded MDC Roundhouse model (right)|
Rather than dispose of these older MDC models I decided to try upgrading them. Again, Plano Model Products came to the rescue with their etched running boards. Changing out the molded plastic running boards for the etched stainless steel part from Plano is the easiest thing you can do to improve the model. Unlike the Accurail model there's no carving or filing or sanding required, though you will have to fill in the holes where the original running board attached to the model. The Plano running board kits include brass supports that you bend and install on the model. The running boards can be installed later if you choose to paint the carbody but leave the running boards unpainted. The prototypes I'm modeling had the running boards painted the same as the carbody so I installed them before painting.
The stirrups can be replaced with A-line's Style B metal stirrups, but I decided to make some using 0.019" flat wire. Once the stirrups were bent to shape I drilled them for 0.012" brass wire pins and soldered them in place. The pins double as bolt heads visible where the stirrup mounts to the carbody.
Like the Accurail cars, I decided to replace all the cast-on ladder rungs with Plastruct 0.010" styrene rod. The grabs were replaced with Detail Associates parts on the first of these upgrade projects before I switched over to BLMA drop grabs. Since that time BLMA was purchased by Atlas, so I'm not sure if they are available anymore, but the point is moot since Tangent drop grabs are readily available and every bit as nice as the BLMA parts.
|Still missing a brakewheel!|
The model in red still isn't finished.... But when I finally get going on it again it will become BN 456438, a car I've managed to photograph twice:
|BN 456438 in fresh paint on the right, Bottineau, ND July 1991|
|BN 456438 looking a little worn in Saginaw, TX May 2006|
When Athearn finally offered these models upgraded in their RTR line, the plain green scheme wasn't available. Not being one to wait around for them to do it for me I repainted one myself:
I'm glad Athearn chose to take these cars to the next level. I've purchased several of the RTR models since. But I'm also glad they gave me a target to aim for as I tried to bring the older MDC Roundhouse version up to date. With a little work, these older models blend in quite well with the superdetailed models from Tangent, Scale Trains, ExactRail and Athearn Genesis.