Athearn Boxcar

Athearn Boxcar

Assembling a plastic freight boxcar kit

This is not impossible. It just looks harder than it is. Each manufacturer has different ways of telling you how to assemble their kits. One manufacturer is Athearn. These kits are very good value for the modest price of $6-8 per kit. You get an authentic and accurate appearing freight or passenger car that runs well will not derail easily and can survive falls off the train table onto a concrete floor fairly well.

Athearn kit instructions are as basic as possible. An exploded drawing of the kit with each part identified and dashed lines showing where it fits on the car body.

  • Tools needed:
    • Small blade screwdriver with a big handle.
    • Small needle nose pliers to handle parts or
    • Small tweezers also to handle parts.
    • Long pointed tips are a plus.
    • But normal tweezers can work also.

Sample Diagram Start by taking everything out of the box and study the parts. Dry fit them to the body. Almost everything is a press fit. In the box is the metal weight. For a 50 foot car the piece of steel was 1-1/2 ounce. For a 42 foot tank car the weight was ¾ of an ounce. In HO, the NMRA recommends 1 ounce minimum plus ½ ounce per inch of car. (see Weight) A 6-inch car should weigh 4 ounces and a 7-inch car would weigh in at 4.5 ounces. What is included may not be enough but it will do for aassembly. The key item is to learn how to assemble the kit. Adding more weight in can come later.

The drawing does not say how to assemble the kit. My experience is to assemble the floor, the weight and the underframe first. Notice that on most Athearn cars, the weight goes on the bottom side of the floor between the floor and the underframe. First put the couplers into the rectangular box on each end of the underframe. Since you have the floor upside down, be sure that you have the coupler upside down also. When using a knuckle type couplers. the curved piece of metal should be up. (see Knuckle Couplers for an example) The spring steel cover plate holds them in place. Here is the only tricky part of the assembly. The steel plate snaps over the 2 protrusions on the coupler box. The plate only goes on one way. That is with the little extension facing out towards the coupler shank. Look at the diagram. It shows how the plate fits on. Use your thumb nails to press the plate on tight. When you get it on flipping the coupler should not make it fall off. If it does try again.

Now put the underframe on the floor over top of the weight. Next fasten the trucks on with the 2 shinny machine screws that were in the envelope. Remember to put the trucks on upside down too. The angled sides of the truck frame are up. The screw goes in quite a bit further than it first appears. You'll need a screwdriver handle big enough to grasp to turn the screw in the first time because it is threading the plastic shaft. Just right is when the truck swivels from side to side without any binding, but not so loose as to allow the truck to wobble. Most of the time just right is 1/8th turn back from too tight. Now put the floor into the body. Again use your fingernails to spread the body slightly apart so the floor will press fit in. Most of the time two or more tries are necessary. Suddenly you'll hear a snap. Bingo, it's in! Slide the doors on from the end, snap on the roof walk and it is ready to join the fleet on your RR.

Rick Shoup, MMR

Rick Shoup is MMR #234 and has received certificates in the following AP categories: Motive Power, Scenery, Civil Engineer, Chief Dispatcher, Association Official, Association Volunteer and Author.

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Page last updated January 9, 2015