Editorials & Letters

March 2002

With little fanfare, this site was announced last month to the Steam Era Freight Cars List, The Freight Cars List and the Railroad Modelers List. There has been feedback – which alone is reason to celebrate. The majority of the feedback has fallen into two categories: corrections and comments about the system by which models are rated for accuracy. The corrections are the type of feedback that is so important for an endeavor such as this. If the Steam Era Freight Cars web site is to become a repository for the information that we all seek to further our modeling pursuits, then posting good information and constantly amending it as new information becomes available is of the utmost importance. Keep sending those corrections, additions, amendments, etc.

On the issue of the criteria by which models are rated for accuracy, I was a little bit surprised by the outpouring of feeling about the criteria being too stringent. I surmise that had I delivered the blow a little more softly, it might have been easier to digest. So, I am here to soften the blow after it’s already been delivered.

The criteria used for this list and subsequent lists will always be the most stringent and objective. That is the only way I believe that the cars can be assessed for purchase, by you, the modelers. Granted, each modeler has his or her own tolerance for prototypical accuracy. However, there must also exist a bar that says whether a model is accurate by objective, not subjective standards. This has nothing to do with being a “rivet counter” or a member of the “Prototype Police”. It is a simple matter of fact. A car is either a correct representation of the prototype or it is not (this is stated in general terms - the only truly prototypical model I have ever seen in HO Scale is Randy Anderson’s model of the B&O O-27 mill gondola.)

What I believe many people found offensive is that they perceived my assessments to be judgments about their devotion to prototype modeling, not the accuracy of the models themselves. Point taken. I should have probably done a better job of thinking how the comments would be perceived and received. However, I would never presume to tell someone how good a prototype modeler (or any other type of modeler) he or she is.

This is what I (no one else’s opinion is implied to be represented herein) perceive to be the real crux of the issue that people take with “rivet counters” and the “Prototype Police”. Their supposition is that every time someone states that ABC Co.’s model of the XYZ prototype box car is inaccurate, then that someone must be passing judgment on every person who has built that box car and runs it on his or her layout. Untrue! This is merely an objective statement about the prototypical accuracy of a model. There are not any implied value judgments about others’ modeling capabilities, intelligence, etc. It is entirely unrealistic to assume that every model railroader has the time, the skill or the will to produce a fleet of prototypically accurate freight cars. However, knowing what is and is not accurate is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

It is important to view this issue from the opposite side of the spectrum, as well – what if there were no people to actually count rivets and look at drawings and photos? We would still be making do with the same Athearn and MDC 40’ box cars, Tyco reefers and Mantua tank cars. Imagine a world with no Proto 2000, Branchline, Red Caboose, IMWX, Intermountain, Accurail and Bowser or Funaro & Camerlengo, Sunshine, Sylvan and Westerfield. I think that the model railroading world is a lot richer because of the members of the latter list, regardless of your interest in prototype modeling.

What does all of this have to do with the original context of this Editorial. Here is a good example: the Red Caboose version of the Chicago Great Western X29/1923 ARA Box car. The CGW car is neither an X29 nor a 1923 ARA Box car. The width of the prototype car was 3” narrower than the X29 or 1923 ARA Box car. They had different side panels than any other X29 or 1923 ARA Box car (including the Modified 1923 ARA Box cars that the Van Sweringen roads built). They had unique doors. In addition, some of the CGW cars even had Duryea underframes. Can one honestly call the Red Caboose CGW box car accurate? Absolutely not. However, can one use one of these kits to very reasonably model one of the CGW’s non-Duryea underframe cars, especially considering that Red Caboose specifically tooled the most identifiable feature of the CGW cars, the doors? Absolutely, and this prototype modeler would not think less of anyone who does.

The bottom line of both this editorial and this web site is education. The more information that can be disseminated about prototypes, even if only one person uses it, means that the hobby has been advanced. If you take one thing away from reading this editorial, it is my hope that it is this one concept. Whether you have the time to shave bolster rivets off cars and relocate them is not important. However, it is important that you have the information to perform that modification if you so desire.

Thank you.

Ted Culotta

Please send comments to editorial@steamfreightcars.com