CN Boxcars a Plenty

Canadian National had a long lasting fleet of 40 foot boxcars, some of which lasted until 1996 in grain service.  Modelling northern Manitoba in the early 1980's requires a significant number of 40 footers in both grain and general service.  

Over the past several years I have been building out my fleet of these cars using RTR, kitbashed kits and resin kits.  There have also been numerous CN painted models done over the years, with some being relatively accurate while others are stand in models - some call these foobies.

First Thing To  Do

If you want to accurately model any CN steel boxcar your first stop should be to find a copy of Railroad Model Craftsman's August 1993 issue with Stafford Swain's seminal article "Canadian National's 1937 AAR design 40-foot steel boxcars".  It covers the entire range of 40 foot steel cars from 1937 to the end of 40' car deliveries in 1957.  This is "must read" material.  CN Lines has a number of articles on the CN 40 foot boxcar fleet as well.  Go to for a list of back issues.  You can also get a DVD of all the back issues of CN Lines <here>.  These are excellent resources for accurately modelling the CN boxcar fleet.

Another key set of books for Canadian freight car modellers are the Canadian Rail Car Pictorial series by Richard Yaremko.  This series covered CN, CP and some of the BC Rail fleets in detail.  For CN 40' boxcars Volume 2 and 2A cover many of the variations of these cars.  As well Morning Sun has several CN freight equipment books available with some coverage of the 40' boxcar fleet.  All these sources provide good sources of information.  As well and offer good photo coverage of the CN freight car fleet.  

What's Out There

The current crop of models offer ample opportunities to accurately model the CN fleet.  Intermountain (IM) offers relatively accurate CN cars in both 10' and 10'6" IH (interior height) versions.  Only a few minor changes need to be made to accurately model a significant number of CN cars.  

IM calls their cars "modified AAR 40' boxcar".  They come with Improved Dreadnaught Ends (IDE), raised panel roofs and 8 rung ladders.  Most runs of these are in the early maple leaf scheme although several CN noodle models have been done.  RTR versions of these cars can basically be plopped on the layout as is and be fairly accurate compared to the prototype.  Some US decorated cars (Erie is one railway that comes to mind) were done with the modified AAR car so you can buy them (often at a discount), strip them and redo them as CN.  All the IM decorated cars that I have seen are 6 foot door versions. 

Branchline (now Atlas) also have a good 10'6" IH 40 foot boxcar kit with a variety of door opening sizes.  This kit needs some changes to be more accurate.  One benefit of the Branchline kit is that it comes with a diagonal panel roof whereas the IM generally comes with a raised panel roof.  The TLT cars have an integral roof whereas the IM and Branchline kits have separate roofs.  You can swap around the roof between different cars to get the variety seen on the prototype, however be aware that some early  Branchline cars were too long (about 2 scale feet) so the roof won't fit correct length cars.  They later fixed the issue so the newer cars are the correct length.  Just be careful about mixing and matching parts.   

True Line Trains (TLT - molds have been sold to Atlas) has accurate 10' IH cars for CN in a variety of schemes.  These are out of production for the time being but you can still find these cars in hobby shops and online retailers and auction sites.  Generally these have roofwalks and full height ladders.  They are based on Canadian prototype cars so are quite accurate.  

Trains Canada offered Canadian 40' boxcars with an 8 foot door opening instead of the usual 6' door.  These are no longer in production but they are still widely available in hobby shops and train shows.  Central Hobbies in Vancouver ( have a large supply of these cars left, they purchased the remaining stock of these cars a few years ago.  

These are Canadian prototypes but unfortunately Trains Canada made the decision when tooling the cars to do way overscale rivets on an otherwise very nice model.  One source who shall remain nameless was at the meeting between the Trains Canada owner and tool maker when that was done.  The toolmaker was less than happy to have toy-like rivets demanded by the company when he could do a nice scale car.  Suffice to say the  company missed the mark on this car, which is unfortunate.  

I have a large fleet of these cars in a variety of schemes but have done minimal work on them.  Apparently there is a scale 8 foot door car coming from another manufacturer at some point so patience maybe rewarded eventually.  Yarmouth Model Works has a nice resin version of this car type, but at US$60 each they are not an inexpensive way to build a fleet.  

In addition you can still find Red Caboose 10' IH kits around, these are offered by IM as built up cars as well.  However I don't know if they have done CN cars in their RTR cars.  The Red Caboose cars are accurate for a number of CN cars if you change out the ladders and some other small details.  

A number of resin kits are available from Kaslo Shops, Sylvan Scale Models and Yarmouth Model Works for a number of CN wood and steel cars.  These are sometimes hard to source but are worthwhile picking up to get accurate CN cars that are often otherwise not available.  Basically you can build the kits as per instructions, paint and letter them and you are good to go.  This is the route to go for accurate CN double door boxcars (Sylvan Scale Models) and 40' wood cars (Kaslo Shops Distributing and Sylvan Scale Models).   

Accurail offers several 36' and 40' single sheath wood boxcars that are quite accurate for CN prototypes.  These have been offered in CN paint.  This is a good way to build out the earlier boxcars from the CN fleet.

Other manufacturers like Bowser, Atlas, Athearn and others offer 40' boxcars decorated for CN, but usually these have the wrong ladders, ends and roof for CN cars.  They are more work than they are worth in my opinion if you want a more accurate model.  They are good for stand ins but I recommend IM, TLT or Branchline as a better starting point. 

Detailing the cars  

In order to have the correct details you will likely need to swap out the ladders and steps, and depending on the car, the ends may need to be swapped out as well.  Stafford Swain's RMC article is the ultimate reference point for figuring out the variations in the original car deliveries.  

Until recently IM offered their parts separately but this is no longer the case.  I stocked up on ladders, IDE ends and roofs (they do have diagonal panel roofs as well but they seem to be hard to find) from IM when they still offered the parts separately.  You may still be able to source these parts from online retailers and hobby shops.  

I also have a good stock of  CRMPG/Sylvan/Yarmouth resin ends, roof and doors as well.  These are still available direct from Yarmouth Model Works and cover most variations of these parts.  I am moving over to Black Cat Decals etched metal ladders (8 rung version) for future builds as they are very fine and accurate for CN as well as CP.  Tichy 8 rung ladders are another option if you prefer, but they are a bit heavier than the IM or Black Cat ladders.

Black Cat also has 40' etched walkways that come with a nicely etched brake platform.  These are appropriate for the CN 10' 6" cars as they all were delivered with steel walkways.  These are excellent and very nicely detailed.  I use these instead of the plastic walkways that come with the kits.  Kadee also has nicely done 40 foot roofwalks but they are sometimes hard to come by.    

The CN 10' IH cars have wood roofwalks.  I generally use the kit walkway if the car still has the roofwalk.  You can also use laser cut walkways or there are also resin roofwalks available as well.  

An added complication to modelling CN boxcars later in life are the numerous modifications that were made to them over their service lives.  This included roofwalk removal, cutting down of the A end ladders and reinforcement plates and door opening reinforcements that were retrofitted.  Some are subtle changes, others less so.

Roof Details

Most prominent was the removal of the roofwalks due to regulation changes in the late 1960's/early 1970's.  Roofwalks were supposed to all be removed, however numerous CN 40 foot cars kept their roofwalks very late, including some still in revenue numbers that I shot photos of in 2000, long after the roofwalks were supposed to be removed.  Photos from my modelling period (early 1980's) show numerous cars still with the roofwalks in place, so a mix of those with and without are fine.  

If you are building boxcars from kits it is a simple matter of not adding the roofwalk when  assembling the kit.  If you are changing an RTR car, sometimes the roofwalk is glued in place, other times held in place by pins.  Glued roofwalks can be easily removed by simply popping the glue joints and cleaning it up. If the roofwalks are held on by pins it will require filling the holes and painting the repairs.  Weathering can cover any paint differences quite easily.  

Prototype corner grab support 

The left over ladder from the shortened A end ladders on boxcars without roof walks
Trim off the 3rd rung after installing the corner grab.

Remove the ladder rungs and all the rivet details except the two adjacent to the corner grab mounts

Corner grab iron mounted on the car.  I still need to clean up the ladder rung mounts on this car.  

On boxcars that the roofwalk was removed, shop crews fabricated a rooftop corner grab support using angle iron on the B (brakewheel) end.  An easy way to model this is to use the other end of the cut down ladder for these supports.  

Trim it to fit between the roof edge and first roof rib and drill mounting holes for a wire corner grab.  I use Tichy wire corner grabs.  I leave the ladder rungs in place while I drill the holes for the corner grab and corner eyebolt to keep everything square.  

After I glue the fixture on the B end roof at the top of the ladders I trim the ladder rungs and carefully sand the rung mounts off except for the two at the edge of the roof which nicely represent the bolts/rivets that attach the corner grab to the angle braces.


Chopping the ladders is exactly what it says - cutting the ladders to a 4 rung length instead of the regular 8 rungs.  Only do this on the A end of the car as CN left the B (brake) end ladders as 8 rung, as they did not move the brake wheel down from the rooftop.  One common feature on the cut down ladders was an angled top, generally around 45 degrees.  You can touch up the cut down ladders with paint as well. CN didn't worry too much about matching colours on these chopped ladders, so you can have a wide variety of boxcar brown colours.  

Door Reinforcements

Some cars received reinforcement plates and/or reinforcement under the door opening.  Refer to specific photos for these features as all seemed to be somewhat different.  For cars that have the under door reinforcement I guesstimated the size of the extra steel bracing and made a master version from styrene.  I use this to cut these reinforcements from sheet styrene.  This is glued under the door.  Reinforcement plates are made from strip styrene that is cut to a scale 12" length.  I use a pin or end of an Xacto knife to make the openings in the plates, likely where they were welded to the car.  Only some cars have these features, many never got these modifications.  

Paint and Decals (or not) and RTR options

Paint varied wildly; some cars got full repaints into the later noodle scheme, others wore patched versions of the maple leaf scheme.  Some cars had patched patches with what appears to be 3 or more repairs done with no attention paid to colour matching.  These are to my eye the most interesting cars to model.  

If you are modelling a Maple Leaf scheme car there are a few options.  IM, Branchline and TLT offer several versions of this scheme in both kits and RTR versions.  This is the easiest route to start with.  If you prefer to "roll your own" cars, Black Cat offers several versions of the various Maple Leaf scheme.  There are also older decals from Champ and Herald King still kicking around, and if you are really keen to try something difficult you can use CDS dry transfers.  

For CN noodle scheme cars your options are more limited.  IM and TLT have done some cars in this scheme, and that  is about it for RTR.  Black Cat and Sean Steele (now Circus City Decals) offer noodle scheme decals.  

Paint for the cars is also a mixed bag.  TLT, Rapido Protopaint and TruColor offer (or offered) acrylic paint for both Maple Leaf and Noodle scheme cars.  Scalecoat (via the CNRHA) had enamel paint for these cars as well.  My preference is acrylics as I have moved over to using that for painting.  

You can also custom mix paint for your cars using Vallejo Model Air paints.  This is great stuff and I am slowly figuring out how to mix these to get reasonably accurate CN colours.  Honestly I think pretty much any brown colour will be okay, especially if the cars will be weathered as most were in the 1980's.  


I have used Pan Pastels, acrylic washes, airbrush weathering using thinned acrylic paints.  I try to have a variety of weathering patterns as it wasn't too common to have the same weathering on different cars.  Generally the Maple Leaf scheme cars are more heavily weathered than the later CN noodle scheme cars as they were much older.  

I like Pan Pastels to give a nice controlled finish to the weathering.  I follow photos for inspiration.  I use a variety of black, brown and grey colours, generally focusing on the roof and carbody.  Basically I am winging it with varying degrees of success.

To get the effect of peeling paint on galvanized steel I used a mix of grey and silver acrylic paint to mimic the look of the metal.  It is predominantly grey with just a hint of metallic sheen.  I apply this using a toothpick and small brush.  I highlight the ribs and edges of roof panels and drybrush the paint on various areas of the roof.  I think the look is quite effective, particularly after some dark washes and Pan Pastels are applied.  

The acrylic washes are nice for roof weathering and streaking.  You need to be on top of the acrylics as they dry fast so be ready with a Qtip and paper towel to clean things up.  You can also rework some of the acrylics with water afterwards but results are not guaranteed.  I also have used Tamiya panel line washes for roof ribs, doors and body panels.  This is a nice way to deepen the colours on the roof and selected areas of the body.  

I have used the airbrush to get dust effects on the carbody, wheel spray on the ends, roof weathering etc.  This is a skill set that I am still working on. 

I have not yet used oils for weathering but this is on my to do list.  A variety of techniques will give a more interesting car fleet in my opinion.  Too much of one thing is probably not a good thing with weathering.  

Below is a selection of my modelled boxcar fleet.  This will continue to be expanded as time and interest allows.   

Variety is key- these show some of the various methods I used on the cars.  

I airbrushed rust and dark grey black roadgrime on the carbody.  

This car got light airbrushed rust followed by grey dusting on the carbody.  I tried a bounce technique whereby the airbrush is aimed at a sheet of paper below the car and the paint bounces onto the carside.  I think it worked well.

This car was a bit of an "oopsie".  I decided to try airbrushing some Vallejo black wash but it went on just a tad heavy.  Somewhat recoverable but probably a bit overdone.

This car saw a lot of Pan Pastels as this was one of the very early maple leaf schemes that was very beaten up by the 1980's

Pan Pastels to capture some of the grim seen on these older cars.  

Galvanized metal using grey and silver paint, followed by Pan Pastels.  I also used some Tamiya panel line washes on the rooftop ribs on this car

Pan Pastel weathering with repaired areas on the carbody.  I masked these areas before weathering to get a nice sharp edge to the repaired areas.

This view shows some of the galvanized metal look on the roof.  This is a mix of grey and silver paint, drybrushed on the roof.  

This car got lighter Pan Pastels on the upper car body and darker on the lower portion

This 50' car got acrylic washes applied to the carbody and roof.  

This wood Fowler boxcar was painted grey black then oversprayed with boxcar red on the metal portions.  I used Vallejo chipping medium followed by more boxcar red.  I selectively removed paint on the chipping fluid areas to get the peeling paint effect.  I like this method and will use it in the future on wood cars.  

Another wood Fowler boxcar that got the same approach as the car above.  CN didn't look after their work equipment  very well.  This car was based on a prototype I photographed in 1985


  1. Thanks for posting this information. I grew up in Swan River, Manitoba and am planning a layout representing that part of the CN line. The era I am planning on modelling is 1979-80 so this information is very helpful. Any other information you have on this area that you are willing to share would be great.

    1. Glad it is of some use. I grew up down Route 83 from you near Roblin so I know Swan River well. I didn't shoot too much around Swan River unfortunately, but I'll keep my eyes out for stuff. The late 70's/early '80s was an interesting "transition period" for Canadian railways. Hopefully plenty more to come.


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