Building Alaska Railroad Flat Cars #2549 and #3107
By Pat Durand

Building historically accurate HO scale models of Alaska Railroad freight cars has become a research challenge. While there are some photos in which freight cars appear in the background or incidental to the main subject there are few "builders" photos before the 1948 reconstruction. While I have partial rosters from six different years from 1923 until 2008, none show renumbering of cars in transition or rebuild except for skimpy information on Troop sleeper and kitchen cars. Some cars moved into the Engineering department MOW fleet and were renumbered. Retirements are rarely mentioned and only occasionally is mention made of new rolling stock arriving.

I, therefore, require a "dated" photo to reveal the car type and number before setting out on a building project.

My model of fish belly steel flat car #2549 began with a poor photo on page 863 of The Alaska Railroad by Bernadine Prince. The caption of the photo shows the car department staff posing for their portrait on the flat car that had just gone through an "upgrading" program in the Alaska Railroad Shops. All necessary repairs were made on the cars to add 15 years to their useful life on the railroad. The photo clearly shows the fresh 1957 lettering style.

Flat car

49 cars numbered 2540-2596 were still listed in the 1963 roster, which also confirmed the width at 9'3" and length 40' 2" with 50 ton capacity. By 1976 only #2569 was still on roster equipped with corner posts for containers and GS general service.

With no documented history before 1957 or after 1976, one has to question if the entire class was subject of a renumbering when rebuilt from cars that had been around during or even before WWII.

ARR Flat #3107 was photographed in Fairbanks in 1947, an example of 40 cars in the 3101-3140 class listed in an undated FREIGHT EQUIPMENT SUMMARY from the 1930's.

Flat car

I proceeded to build a general service flat car with characteristics common to these prototype photos. You can decide if you want an early car, #3107, or one in service from 1957 to 1976 such as #2549.

Either car can be built in about 6 hours starting with the Red Caboose 42' Flat Car With Fish Belly Side Sills. This was a common USRA design which was modified and built during the 20's through the 40's for many railroads.

The kit is for a 42' car so start by removing 22 inches from the center cross section of the car kit. I alternated the splices between the flat car body side sills, the deck insert, the main frame and the sub frame. Cut about 24" off the end of the car weight. When this is all assembled the splices should be at different locations in each of the components so it goes together as a strong assembly. When you have the kit in hand this muddle will becomes clear and obvious.

The kit has 12 stake pocket down each side and we want only 10. I solved this problem by installing the pockets at each end and then spacing over the next three pockets the width of the pocket toward the center. This means using one existing hole and drilling another toward the center of the car to accept the pin on the back side of each pocket. The last two pockets were moved over a full pocket width toward the center on each side. You can do this pretty much to match your prototype photo. While checking the photos determine if poling pockets were used on your car. In the case of #3107 they were not.

I installed wire grab irons, steal stirrup steps and a steel staff for the brake wheel as the plastic ones would soon fail in service in our arctic weather conditions. I used ACC to mount these dissimilar materials to the plastic car body. Move the brake staff from the kit location outside the grab iron, and place it next to the draft gear box per the prototype. I used a piece of .020 wire with a 90 degree bend 1/8 inch from the bottom. The staff is then installed with the bent end going through a hole near the bottom of the end sill. The original brake wheel can be attached with ACC and the rest of the brake hardware cut back and applied over the wire on the end beam. Now you can apply the grab iron out toward the edge of the car.

Plastic wheel/axle sets were replaced with Kadee 33" wheels after tuning the side frames with a reamer. A set of Kadee #518 scale couplers, black paint and white decals finished the job for #2569. (I am still waiting to make up the white ALASKA RAILROAD in 6 inch size to match.)

If you build the earlier version #3107, it would be appropriate to use rib backed wheels and Oxide Red paint with white or yellow letters.

This is an inexpensive model with limited time investment representing a versatile car with many years service on the Alaska Railroad.

3107 2549

Added 2/14/09

John T. Gray, a fellow modeler, who grew up on the Alaska Railroad and later worked for them before moving on to the UP ,  was good enough to correct a common error in our account of the 3500 series cars.   In black and white photography,  black, red, green can all appear the same.   So can the lettering in yellow and white.  

"I noticed your item about the 2950 series flatcars on the alaskarails web site. I hate to be the one to tell you  - but - these cars were painted army/coach green when I knew them (as 35000's). Some may have been repainted when renumbered for ARR but I never saw one that was red. I remember them very distinctly back in the 60's and the last one I saw was in the early 80's. As I understood it, they were acquired from the Army, as you note. However, they were originally designed and built new to move Army equipment in conjunction with troop movements in the states and thus, had to have passenger trucks to operate at passenger train speeds in the states. Running these mixed trains was something the Army did pretty frequently back then and we did it up into the 80's in Alaska. I also remember seeing some of them at Ft Eustis, Virginia when I was stationed there briefly in 1972. Since  I remembered them from ARR, I asked about them and was told that they were a pretty standard item for the Army's rail equipment. Obviously, they were too light duty  to handle very heavy equipment such as tanks. However, they were the utility flat of choice for jeeps, trucks and other light vehicles. You can still occasionally find some of them tucked around on the backs of bases in the  states."  John T. Gray

So, thanks to John, I now can justify building a second 35000 series car and giving it a light pullman green, that is weathered O.D. paint job with white lettering as was common on military equipment.   I am going to believe that the ARR actually painted the 2950 series mineral red when they moved them to the official roster and renumbered them.   Can't wait to see who can burst that bubble with a color photo of the cars.