Harry K. Wong/photos by the author
Major online industries such as automobile manufacturing plants and steel mills require large numbers of railcars to keep their operations humming. Many of these cars are of specialized designs to meet the specific service needs of each industry. Steel mills typically utilize specialized rail cars throughout the manufacturing process. Hot bottle and coke cars are well known, but mills also need to deliver finished sheet steel to their customers in a damage-free environment.
Rolling mills produce sheet steel. Thinner grades of sheet steel from .010-inch thick to over a quarter-inch thick are typically wound into rolls, or “coils,” for convenient transport and consumption. Coiled sheet steel is then stamped or formed into various shapes for appliances, automotive body parts, liquid or air tanks, petrochemical use and thousands of other consumer and industrial applications. Each coil can weigh as much as twenty tons.
In the past, coiled steel was shipped in open or covered gondolas, but was subject to shipping damage all too frequently. In response, purpose-built coil steel cars became dominant since the 1970s to transport steel coils. The purpose-built designs carried steel coils either transversely or longitudinally in cradles. Each cradle carried up to three coils, and was typically lined with wood and covered with a hood overhead to ensure safe transport.
ScaleTrains.com has recently released a finely scaled HO scale replica of a contemporary coil steel car based on a prototype first manufactured by the Thrall Car Company in 1995. With a single longitudinal cradle measuring 42 feet long, the new design utilized just a single insulated long hood, unlike earlier designs with two hoods over two separate shorter cradles. While the cradle itself has a 42-foot inside length, the entire car measures 47.5 feet over the end sills. All dimensions on the model mirror prototype drawings.
More than five thousand cars of this basic 42-foot design from Thrall Car Company have been produced since the 1990s. In 2001, Trinity Industries took over Thrall Car Company and continued manufacturing this design with minor refinements. The final examples were produced in 2012 for Norfolk Southern, capping a seventeen-year-long production run. These Thrall/Trinity 42-foot coil steel cars are actively plying the rails across North America today in a multitude of reporting marks and paint schemes.
ScaleTrains has invested significant time and resources to provide multiple tooling and detail variations to cover the many road- and order-specific details seen on these cars. There are three different body styles, six different hoods, three different sizes of steel coils, two styles of lifting bales, different handrail configurations and more.
We received two samples for this review: one finished for Conrail, and the other for CSX Transportation. Our Conrail model replicates CR 623600, the first of a group of 100 F51 “Coilshield” cars (CR 623600-623699) constructed by Thrall Car Company and delivered to this Northeastern Class I between April and May 1997. This Conrail car is of the earlier body style and utilizes an early style hood with square lifting bales and end handrails attached to the hood.
Our CSX example is CSXT 493005, a later production car whose prototype was manufactured by Trinity Industries, part of a group of 525 cars (CSXT 493000-493524) delivered in 2012. Later production cars differ most notably by having their personnel railings at each car end mounted to the car instead of to the hood. Additional differences from the Conrail car include a later body style, and late-style hood with round lifting bales and single (instead of double) reinforcements on the longitudinal roof braces. Modelers of Norfolk Southern need not fret, as ScaleTrains is also offering NS’s “Protect III” cars with Norfolk Southern’s specific design for their coil steel hoods. Other roads offered in this inaugural release include Canadian Pacific, CHTT, and Indiana Harbor Belt.
As this is a top-of-the-line model from ScaleTrains’ premium “RivetCounter” line, the car features a long list of exquisitely rendered details, including etched personnel walkways, wire-form grab irons, coupler cut levers, separately-applied handrails and full multi-piece brake rigging consisting of both wire and plastic components on the underbody. Assembly quality was excellent, with the exception of a slightly angled brake wheel stand on our CSX car that I was able to correct. Finished with a brown wash at the factory, the painted finish of the simulated “wooden” cradles is especially well-executed. All lettering and markings are opaque and crisp.
Each model configured as empty weighs just 1.625 oz, but wait… the car weighs 4.25 ounces with the included simulated coil steel load. At 4.25 ounces, the car conforms precisely to NMRA recommendations for a car of this length. Unlike coil steel cars of other designs, it is exceedingly rare to see these cars operate over the road without their hoods while empty, thus the loads supplied should remain under the hood of these models, thereby furnishing the required weight for reliable operation. It should be noted that one of the coils supplied with each car does not have a weight within it. This is intentional so that the car does not become overweight according to NMRA’s Recommended Practice. I found that the largest coil fits best under the hood at the very end of the car, with the unweighted medium-sized coil in the middle, and the smallest coils taking the intermediate positions on either side. The remaining weighted medium-sized coil sits at the other end.
Some minor assembly is optional, as each model comes with a small number of separate parts that the owner should install to complete the model. As mentioned above, five simulated steel coils are provided per car in three different diameters. Self-adhesive stickers for each coil are included, though the single sheet only allows users to finish three of the five coils.
Application of the stickers seems straightforward, but take the time to sort your coils and stickers by size before attaching the stickers. The adhesive on each sticker is also rather strong, so be sure you have each sticker aligned perfectly before affixing it permanently onto your coils. I found that a pair of tweezers makes this task much easier and much more precise than just using your fingers.
Load dividers and hood guides are also included in a separate parts baggie. I used canopy glue to attach the load dividers after loading my car with the coils supplied. There are left and right hood guides—two of each. Consult prototype photos and use a tiny bit of CA (cyanoacrylate) glue to install the hood guides onto the body.
Lower shelf Type E knuckle couplers of metal construction are Kadee-compatible and measure out at the proper height using a Kadee coupler height gauge.
Each car rides on a pair of all-new 100-ton ASF FOT trucks. Free-rolling nickel-plated 36” inch diameter .110-inch width wheels mounted on non-magnetic insulated metal axles support each truck assembly. Each axle includes bearing caps that spin when mounted in the truck side frames. All wheels were tested and found to be in gauge. The cars operate smoothly with other rolling stock across our layout without issues. All in all, the ScaleTrains 42-foot Thrall/Trinity Coil Steel Car is a great addition to the freight car fleet for contemporary modelers.
ScaleTrains.com Thrall / Trinity 42’ Coil Steel Car
Four different road numbers per paint scheme
– Chicago Heights Terminal Transfer (CHTT – gray/black)
– Canadian Pacific (red)
– Conrail “CoilShield” (gray)
– CSX (boxcar logo scheme, blue)
– Indiana Harbor Belt (black)
– Norfolk Southern ”Protect III” (silver)
Check the ScaleTrains.com website for additional road names and road
numbers to be announced.
7598 Highway 411
Benton, TN 37307
This review appeared in the June 2020 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman!