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Pacific Fruit Express R-40-26 Part IV

In this installment, I’ll discuss modifications to the sides of the Accurail 8500 Series 40′ Steel Plug Door Refrigerator Car to model a PFE R-40-26. The next installment will deal with the ends and roof, followed by the underframe, and finally painting, decaling, and weathering.

Like many modelers, destructive work is done before constructive work. That way, I’m not wasting time or money spent on detail parts on things that will be thrown away and replaced should something go horribly wrong. As I left off on Part I, I had already cut the side sill.

First order of business was to strip the paint. I like my finish to be as thin as possible to reveal the most detail possible, so adding the right shade of (Daylight) Orange and Box Car Red over the Accurail paint and lettering was definitely out. Usually, 90% Isopropyl Alcohol does a good job of removing factory applied paint, but it only softened the paint Accurail used. My next attempt was to use good, old fashioned oven cleaner. This did a fairly good job, but left some paint in the corners. I then took the parts to my trusty abrasive blasting cabinet, and finished the job of removing the paint.

I do say, though, that this would have all been completely unnecessary had I started with an undecorated kit, and I recommend anyone else attempting this project to order the #8500 undecorated reefer kit, instead. I will build another R-40-26, and plan to do everything the same save starting with a factory painted model. It’s just not worth the added work.

I removed the molded on grab irons, including the ladder rungs. Removing just the ladder rungs is a handy little matter of expediency, as you don’t have to worry about all the body work patching the sides from the inevitable gouge, or replacing the rivets on the corner. I had intended to use Tichy Train Group #3062 ladder rungs in  the original molded on ladder stiles (although the word stringer is more common in  the US to describe the vertical structural member of a ladder, railroaders use the British stiles so there’s no ambiguity with the stringers used as structural members  on a car’s underframe). However, the stiles are a bit too narrow on the car. Instead, I’ll modeled the rungs with Plastruct 0.010″ styrene rod. I can get a good bond with liquid cement, and when dry, trim to length with a razor blade.

I made the mistake of drilling (by hand) for Kadee grab irons on the left hand side of the car. These aren’t the right style of grab irons, so I filled the holes with Plastruct 0.020″ styrene rod. I then put the sides back in my milling machine, and used my DRO to accurately drill the 4 holes for the 2 grab irons. Two holes go centered in the rivet strip on the edge of the car, and two more go 24 scale inches to the right on each side. I’ll add a few Archer rivets to simulate the mounting bolts.

Initially, I wasn’t going to do anything about the tack board being in the wrong location. PFE had earlier cars with the tackboard in the same location, and I was hesitant to do anything about it. I decided to take a chance and mill it off. I put the side in my trusty 2″ machinist vice with some parallels under to level the side, and bring it up in the jaws of the vice. I put a 1/8″ end mill into my mini-mill, and carefully lowered the mill to the car side. I took a light skim cut of the tackboard, and then measured the remaining thickness of the tackboard with the depth guage portion of my calipers. I then lowered the head to within 0.001″ of the side, turned the mill on, and milled off the tack board. There was still a thin remnant, but this easily polished off with wet sanding. Success! Well one side, at least.

On the other side, somehow I ended up with a few gouges that revealed themselves after priming the side. I filled these gouges  brush painting with Gunze Sangyo Mr. Surfacer 500, and followed up with wet sanding with 600 grit and then 1500 grit sandpaper.

I then located and drilled the hole to mount the PRECO circulating fan bearing block. The hole was accurately located from the R-40-26 photo on Tony Thompson’s web site, by counting rivets. I center drilled and then drilled out the mounting hole with a #30 bit. Although drill bits rarely “walk” on styrene, I’ve suffered from the results enough to have developed a ritual of center punching every hole (often with a sewing needle in plastic), and center drilling before drilling the final hole (or where utmost precision is required, drilling and then reaming to final size). All those steps that machinist learn and use are for a reason, and model requires a lot more accuracy than rebuilding a Chevy small block.

I carefully apply the PRECO ventilator fan bearing block, the defect card holder, the tackboard, and other details. A few rivets have to be shaved off so  the tackboard will fit flush. Again, I’m using the rivets as a guide. It’s really starting to look like a PFE car now, with the black hardware against a light orange plastic side. As I mentioned in Part III, the photo of PFE 9036 shows that the control box has been omitted, so this part was not used on this model (my next R-40-26 will be an earlier version from this class, and will include the control box).

I was a little concerned about applying the Archer rivets to the side. For one thing, I didn’t know how the decal film (a familiar Microscale product) would adhere to bare plastic, as I’d always applied decals to glossy paint. However, the videos on Archer Transfer’s web site gave me the confidence to go forward with this. After I’d written about (and ordered) the rivets, Tony Thompson wrote this in his blog:

The answer is Archer rivets. These are three-dimensional resin objects deposited on decal film. You apply them like any decal (taking care not to knock them off the surface). The set that has the closest wider-spacing rivet rows is Archer HO Surface Details 25 (there is also a set 30, which is for Alternate Center Rivets as on box cars). You can purchase them on-line at:

I had ordered set 30, and I ended up using them. What’s interesting is that Tony had researched these for Archer (and is given credit for them). Well, these appear to be perfect for  that second row that needs to be added. I’m not sure why Tony thought set 25 might be more appropriate. I’m very happy with these rivets.

As I mentioned above, I also added a rivet above and below each of the grab irons on the left hand side of the carbody, and one above and one below the vertical grab iron next to the door. These represent the bolts that fasten these items to the car.

Door stops were added using Evergreen #261 channel cut to size. I sliced some very thin peices (3″ long) based on the measurement of the stops molded in to the left of the door. I then carefully glued these to the side using the rivet pattern as a guide. Once in place, and with the glue completely dry, I shaved the taper in the flanges of the C section.

I attached  the ladder rungs (the 0.010″ styrene rod) with liquid cement, primed the sides with Gunze-Sangyo Mr. Surfacer 1000 (I just love the way the Japanese name their products) thinned with MEK, and set the sides aside. They are ready for paint. Grab irons will wait until paint and lettering (decal) application. Next will be the ends and roof.

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