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Athearn Trains HO scale TankTrain tank cars

Read this review from Model Railroader magazine

Athearn Trains HO scale TankTrain tank cars
With bright orange and white lettering on black car bodies, models of the GATX TankTrain are again on hobby shop shelves.

Models of these cars were available as kits in the early 1980s. Those kits were notorious for being difficult to assemble, but the prototype was always interesting. This time, Athearn has produced a finely detailed ready-to-run Genesis model.

The prototype. The idea was introduced by GATX in 1974 as a way of moving large quantities of liquids without needing a large crew and complex loading and unloading infrastructure. The cars are linked by hoses in sets of 15 to 20 cars and can be filled or emptied with a single connection at one end.

Valves in a control box at the top of the tank on each end of the car close when the train is in motion. For loading and unloading, an air line is connected to the train to open the valves.

To assist in unloading, an inert gas is pumped into one end of the consist to pressurize the cars while another pipe is connected to the other end car to draw out the load.

Notable uses of these cars have been on the Southern Pacific RR and successor Union Pacific RR hauling oil in California, on the Grand Trunk Western hauling oil to a power plant in Michigan, and delivering oil to a Schlitz brewery in Syracuse, N.Y., in the late 1970s.

In a 1978 Trains article, George Drury reported TankTrain cars of a another design carried sulfuric acid for Allied Chemical, and there were plans to haul superphosphoric acid using TankTrains in Florida.

The model. Athearn’s model comes in three varieties in each of the two build dates offered, 1977 and 1982. There is a two-car set with the A and B end cars, then individual intermediate cars to connect between them.

The A and B end cars have special hardware on the connection points at the top ends of each car to connect to an unloading pipe at one end and a pressure source at the other. The intermediate car has pipes for making the connections between cars. All of the models come with a pair of detailed flexible vinyl hoses. The hoses slip onto nubs molded onto the ends of the pipes.

The cars ran reliably around Model Railroader’s club layout, the Milwaukee, Racine & Troy. I was able to push and pull a connected three-car set through no. 6 switches and around 24" radius curves with no problems. Body-mounted double-shelf McHenry scale knuckle couplers are mounted at the correct height.

The models have a wealth of added detail. Walkways and handrails at the top of the cars are molded in plastic – flexible for the handrails – and wire is used for end platform railings and grab irons. The end platforms are etched metal, as are some bracing details.

The black paint is evenly applied to the car body, and the orange and white lettering on our samples is sharp and opaque. The small lettering on the instruction panels at the ends of the cars is legible under magnification.

Although I couldn’t find published prototype plans to compare with the models, the Athearn TankTrain cars closely match dimensions from unpublished prototype drawings by frequent MR contributor Harold W. Russell. The models are a scale 54'-6" from end sill to end sill. The trucks are mounted on 43'-9" centers, and have a 6'-0" wheelbase and 36" wheels that are in gauge. The major proportions look correct and all the details seen in reference photos are there.

Overall, the models were assembled cleanly, but one of the ladders on an end car was canted, and on the other end car, an air line connected to the valve boxes at the top of each car ran outside of the ladder rather than behind it. Careful work with a hobby knife and some cyanoacrylate adhesive would fix these issues.

With these detailed tank cars, Athearn has made it simple to add this unique unit train to a model railroad.
Price: A/B end car set, $99.98; intermediate car, $49.98

Athearn Trains
1600 Forbes Way
Suite 120
Long Beach, CA 90810

Paint schemes
GATX, early large lettering or late small lettering, A/B end car set numbered and without numbers; intermediate cars, 10 numbered and one without number

Era: 1977- or 1982-present

  • Genesis 100-ton roller-bearing trucks with spinning bearing cap detail and machined metal RP-25 contour wheels, in gauge
  • Recommended radius: 22", minimum radius: 18"
  • Full underframe detail: air brake reservoir, control valve, and brake cylinder with plumbing and brake rod details
  • Weight: 5.1 ounces per car, 1⁄4 ounce too heavy according to NMRA RP-20.1

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