Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Friendship Train & Mennonite Central Committee Boxcars

The original Train Miniature Mennonite Central
Committee boxcar.

In the late-1980s, a friend gave me a gift: A Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) boxcar (see photo above).

As a former volunteer and employee with the agency, the relief and development arm of the North American Mennonite churches, I was grateful. But I was also mystified—why would anyone make a car for such a small organization?

Later, I discovered it wasn’t the only one. I was flipping through an issue of Model Railroader when I saw an N scale version of the car on Loren Neufeld's Ozark and Great Plains layout.

Some more research revealed that at least four versions of the car were made in HO, N and O scales.

Since the agency isn’t that well known, and it never actually owned a boxcar, I wondered: How and why did they come to be made?

To find an answer to that question you have to go back to the late 1940s, and to the Friendship Train.

Two years after the end of World War II, France and Italy were still suffering from the effects of the German occupation and the fighting.

Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson suggested that Americans should help people in those countries through something he called a Friendship Train—a train of aid donated by ordinary people.

The train began its journey from Los Angeles to Chicago with on Nov. 7, 1947. It was met by enthusiastic crowds at stops along the way, where more cars of food, medicine and clothing were added.

By the time it got to Chicago there were so many cars of donated aid that two trains were needed to transport it all.

In the end 270 boxcars of aid arrived in New York City in November for transport to Europe.

Sending off a car from Pittsburgh.

The trains were easy to spot; communities along the way put banners and signs on the cars to let people know where the gifts came from.

“Carload of Raisins from Fresno,” said one. “To the people of France and Italy from the hearts of their friends in Stockton,” said another.

“From Pittsburgh, U.S.A.: Food For Friends” was on the side of a third.

The Fresno car.

In gratitude, the French created the Merci Train. The Merci Train was a collection of 49 French boxcars filled with thank-you gifts—one for each state.

The cars were shipped to the U.S. in 1949; a number of them still exist today. (Click here to learn more about the Merci Train.)

The Nevada Merci Train car.

But back to the MCC boxcar: Jan Gleysteen, an avid model railroader, wrote about the Friendship Train in the Sept. 27, 1959 issue of the Mennonite Publishing House children’s publication Words of Cheer.

He included a drawing of an MCC boxcar; children were encouraged to cut out the drawing and glue it to some stiff cardboard or a 2 by 9 inch piece of wood.

The car, numbered 146572, was emblazoned with the agency’s name and the locations of its four North American offices: Akron, Pa.; Newton, Kan.; Reedley, Calif; and Waterloo, Ont.

The owner was the Reading Railway—the railway that Gleysteen happened to like the most.

Jan Gleysteen's original artwork.

As far as I can tell, the next step in the car becoming a real model took place in the 1960s when Rule’s Hobby Shop in Mannheim, Pa., had custom decals made for an HO scale car by Walthers.

Sometime during that decade Train Miniature made the first version of this car, as part of its popular HO scale billboard series.

Other cars were made by Life-Like and Athearn (also both in HO); by Con-Cor (in N scale); and Williams (O scale). I own two of the Train Miniature version, and one of each of the other HO and O scale models, but not the Con-Cor N scale version. (Find photos of the various cars below.)

I also own newer versions of the car that I helped to make.

In 1995, when MCC celebrated its 75th anniversary, I worked with others (Willard Martin, David R. Dyck, Ken Epp, Frank DeFehr and Loren Neufeld) to make versions of this car to raise money for the agency's relief and development work around the world.

Four cars were made: Two in HO (Athearn & Con-Cor) and two in N (Micro Trains). One car was a 50-foot version with the agency's modern logo; the other was a version of the original Train-Miniature car. The artwork for the cars was created by Loren, an accomplished model railroader from Houston, TX.

Later, another model railroader in Washington state made a Great Northern version of the car (also by Con-Cor) to raise money for the agency. It was sold mostly in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the years, I've enjoyed researching about and collecting the cars, and learning more about the Friendship and Merci trains. But the question remains: Why were so many versions of the MCC boxcar made?

If you have any information about the cars (e.g. when they were made, or why), or own one or more yourself—including a version I don’t know about—let me know.

And I’m still looking for the original Con-Cor N scale version; let me know if you have one of those for sale. You can contact me at jdl562000 at

Click here to learn more about the Friendship Train.

Click here to see a video of the train.

The new Con-Cor version, made in 1995 as a fundraiser
 for MCC, MCCX 146595. 

The new Athearn version, made as a fundraiser
in 1995; MCC X 209575.

The Life-Like version, MCCX 146571.

The old Athearn version, MCCX 146513.

The new Con-Cor Great Northern version, made
in the late 1990s as a fundraiser, MCCX 46642.

The 2 Micro Trains N scale cars, made as a fundraiser
in 1995. (Numbers same as on HO versions.)

The Williams O scale version, MCCX 144371.

The HO MCC boxcars, with the Train Miniature
version in the foreground.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Simple Wire-Activated Switches

SW9 329 approaches a wire-activated switch on the 
CP Rail M & M Sub. Note how unobtrusive it is.

A close-up of the wire that helps control and move the 
switch. The piece of sprue is at the bottom, left.

The CP Rail M & M Sub has a lot of switches--65 on the visible portion, to be exact.

Since the layout is only between 12 and 26 inches wide in most places, all of them are easily reachable and can be hand-thrown.

I use Caboose switch throws for some of them. They work fine, but they aren't cheap (although they are less expensive than electrifying the switches). Plus, they are a little out of scale.

For these reasons, I wanted a cheaper and less obtrusive way to throw switches. I found it in a piece of bent wire.

The idea isn't original with me; I probably read it in an old issue of Model Railroader or some other magazine.

All you need is a bit of stiff wire, some wire cutters and needlenose pliers. A bit of sprue is useful, too.

First off, this caveat: I use Atlas Code 100 switches, I don't know if this would work with other brands.

To make this work, cut a piece of wire about 3/4 of an inch long. Bend the ends down about a 16th of an inch. (Put the ends in the needlenose pliers, and bend down.)

Next, bend the wire in the middle at a slight angle. Put one end of the wire into the hole in the throwbar, and the other into the nail hole in the tie at the end of the switch. (You may have to experiment to find the right angle.)

The goal is for the wire to fit snugly; you will have to push it in with the tip of the pliers. (If it fits easily, it won't work.)

The tension will hold the wire in place, and also hold the switch in place when you throw it.

To assist in moving the switch, I cut off the rounded end of a piece of sprue (from an old kit) and glued it to the throw bar on the outside of the switch. I paint the spring itself black or brown so that it isn't too visible.

To move the switch, simply push or pull on the piece of sprue; in most cases, you will hear a satisfying click to let you know the switch has been thrown.

This method provides a simple, cheap, reliable and unobtrusive way to make switch throws.

Planes On Trains

I was in Newton, Kansas in early November on business. After work I'd head down to the station to watch trains on the BNSF transcontinental mainline that goes through the town. The last day I was there I found five Boeing 737 fuselages parked on specialized flat cars across from the station.

While I was taking some pictures, BNSF C44-9W 5470 came out of the nearby engine terminal, coupled up to the cars and then proceeded west out of town.

The planes are made in nearby Wichita and shipped to Renton, WA (near Seattle) for final assembly.

If you want more information about these unique flatcar loads, visit Chris Camp's page at

Brian Keay of Calgary made a model of one of the cars and planes. You can see it, and learn more about how he made it, at

More photos are below.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Fine Train Poem

Model railroaders and railfans are not noted for being fond of poetry, but there's one poem they should know: Travel, by English poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. It expresses my sentiments well.

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing;
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A New Canadian Railfan Magazine

If you like Canadian trains, you'll like Railfan Canada.
The new magazine, edited by Suzanne Lemon and published by Morgan Turney, is produced four times a year by North Kildonan Publications.

For Turney, Railfan Canada is a dream come true.

"I've wanted to create a magazine like this for a long time," he says. "There are a lot of people in this country who like trains, and who also like to take pictures of trains. Railfan Canada has been created for them."

For Lemon, it's a chance to combine her love of trains and photography.

"Whether it's spending several hours in -30 Celsius temperatures or hiking through the bush to some inaccessible spot, I'm always in pursuit of that perfect shot of a train," she says.

A subscription to Railfan Canada, which comes out four times a year, is $30 (Cdn). Other items published by North Kildonan Publications include Canadian Railway Modeller, Canada's only model railway magazine, and other railway-related books, such as the Canadian Railway Heritage Guide.
To subscribe to Railfan Canada, go to

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It was so ugly, I had to model it

CP 5447 at rest in the Fort Francis yard.

It was so ugly, I just had to model it.

I'm talking about CP Rail 5447, which started life in 1975 as CNW 6910 before being sold to NRE (National Railway Equipment Company) in 1986. NRE rebuilt it and leased it to CP Rail in 1993, and sold it to that railway in 1994. It plied the rails as CP Rail 5447 until 1998, when it was relettered for the St. Lawrence & Hudson Railway (a division of CP Rail). It was sold in 1999 and today is FURX 3012. It was never painted in any CP Rail livery.

What attracted me to this unit was the hand-painted "CP" on the side--something that both makes it beyond ugly but also, in a strange sort of way, kind of appealing, too. I decided I had to make one for myself.

I made my unit the same way the prototype did. I started with an Athearn CNW shell, which I spray painted with primer. I then made a stencil out of masking tape for the unique lettering. I carefully drew the letters on the tape, then cut them out with an X-acto knife. I then affixed the stencil to the side of the unit, and used a brush to gently dab on white paint.

Applying the simple stencil.

Photos of the prototype unit show it both with and without lettering on the other side. I chose the simpler route, and left the other side unlettered.

I didn't have any small CP Rail dry transfers to put under the numbers, but I did scrape off part of the second number 4 to match the prototype.

Is it perfectly accurate? No. But it's close enough for me, and a real conversation piece when visitors come over.

The prototype. Photo from Canadian Pacific Railway Locomotive Roster and Photo Archives. ( Another photo of the prototype unit can be found at

Monday, November 2, 2009

CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. in Railroad Model Craftsman

When I was a kid, I read Railroad Model Craftsman and Model Railroader and thought to myself: Maybe one day my work will be in those magazines.

It was more a wish than anything else; I never imagined that I could actually ever make a layout good enough to be published.

In 2005, my wish came true when the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision appeared in RMC. In December, it will come true again, when RMC will take a second look at the layout. You can view the table of contents on the RMC website at:

(Meanwhile, Model Railroader has also purchased an article from me about my scenery techniques; no idea when it will be published.)

Blogging is fun, and so is sharing photos and ideas on forums. But being published in a magazine is something unique and special. Dreams do come true!