Southern Ventilated boxcars

A Southern ventilated boxcar can be seen in the lower right of this circa 1925 image. Keefer, Potomac Yards, Alexandria, Va. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/npc2008013406/>.

Fenton Wells has presented an interesting kitbash at a couple recent RPM meets. He shares his tips and techniques to transform an Accurail 36-foot boxcar into a Southern ventilated boxcar. Click on any image here to view a larger size.

Ventilated boxcars were once a common element of the freight car fleet. Several southeastern railroads had thousands of ventilated boxcars on their rosters to move fruits and vegetables from packing plants to wholesale grocers in northern areas. Distinctive screened doors and end vents set them apart from typical boxcars. Most of the ventilated boxcars were older cars of double-sheathed wood construction, thereby standing out all the more over the years as the national freight car fleet modernized with taller steel-sheathed cars.

I model the Southern Railway and ventilated boxcars are a missing element of my model fleet. Here’s a breakdown of the Southern ventilated car quantities over a few decades.

  • 1925 – 12,343
  • 1930 – 9,170
  • 1944 – 355
  • 1950 – 61
  • 1953 – 21

Cars in the 120000-123249 series were built in 1914 and lasted through to the K brake ban of 1953.

When Accurail released their straight steel centersill 36-foot boxcar kits, I thought there were possibilities to convert them into Southern ventilated cars. I was fortunate to find Dr. Dave Campbell was already working towards developing parts for a similar conversion based upon data and conversations with Ray Breyer. Dave created 3D artwork that was printed by Shapeways to use as masters for resin casting. Dr. David Bott created the decal art. These castings and decals were part of a special presentation at the 2017 RPM Carolinas meet.

Here’s a look at a prototype car and the details that need to be considered for the new model.

  • Doors – Add bar across vent door
  • Space door stop total width is 20’-0”
  • End Doors
  • End sill
  • Side fascia and new roof
  • End fascia
  • End ladders – special 14-inch wide and 18-inch step spacing with angle irons and rungs through stiles
  • Stirrup steps – mounted special fascia at bottom of car
  • 12-inch channel facing inward is at bottom of car sides

The doors, end doors, end sill, and end fascia ended up as cast resin parts for the conversion.


The conversion parts are on the left in this image; a pair of end castings and a pair of door castings. The decal sheet is on the right and the Accurail boxcar kit parts are in the center. Some strip styrene and Evergreen car siding will also be needed.


The underframe requires some modification to add a channel side sill. The prototype used 12-inch C-channel steel along the side sills. Strip styrene of 0.40 x 0.125-inch was glued to the outside edge of floor. Additional short lengths of 0.020-inch square stock were glued behind the sill strip as reinforcement.

Add brake rigging to suit your tastes. A very nice K brake system is included with the kit. It is doubtful these cars ever received AB brake systems that were mandated in 1953.

A-Line sill steps were added to the new side sill at the corners of the car. Couplers were added and the floor was test fit to the car body.

The car body is prepped next. The ends were carefully cut away using a fine blade saw. Support the inside of the car with a wood block to avoid damaging the car sides.


Sand and square up the ends before installing a sheet styrene piece on the inside of the car ends. The new resin ends will be attached to this blank piece. A this point, shave off undesired grab irons and other details that are cast onto the car sides and mark the body for new wire grabs. Post WW2 modelers may want to add a second grab on left end of the car side to follow prototype practices.

Remove the existing door on the car body. Also remove the thin piece at bottom of car sides at this time.

The Southern ventilated cars kept their original wood roofs, so the cast on roof details need to be removed. A mill file makes quick work of the removal. Remove alternate roof walk supports and shave off the existing roof eves. A new fascia will be added with the doors.

Install 0.030 X 0.040-inch styrene risers to the top of the remaining running board supports. The new roof will add some height so these risers will put the running board at a proper height.

Cut Evergreen car siding (part #2037, 0.020-inches thick) to fit the roof with a slight overhang on the sides and ends. The parts will fit as an overlay on the car roof. Trim slots for the siding to fit around the running board supports and ensure a nice fit. Do not install the new roof parts yet.

Prep the car end castings and install them. Once they are in place remove any bump on the roof where the castings meet the end so the new roof fits. When these roof parts fit well with a minimal overhand, glue them into place. Install 24-inch L-shaped corner grabs ten inches in from roof edge at the roof corners to meet the ladders on the car sides and ends. With a wood roof, these cars did not have lateral running boards.

Now it’s time to add the door castings. Cut the resin door parts to suit your preference for the ventilated door position as open or closed. The total width of framed opening outside of the door stops is 20-feet. Install the new side fascia strip of 0.020 X 0.080-inch strip styrene before installing the door and door stop castings.

With the car body modifications complete and the castings installed, additional details can be added to the model. Strap reinforcement pieces need to be installed at the car ends. Evergreen 0.005-inch thick sheet plastic is cut to size and installed. Don’t forget to add the strap piece over vent door and the wire door handles.

Add the brake step and components to the B end of the car. Tichy ladders were installed on the car ends.

With the details and parts installed, check the fit of the underframe and car body. Make any adjustments before washing the model with warm water and Dawn detergent. The Southern painted these cars with a mineral brown paint that seems like a lighter shade of burnt umber and a hint of red.

After decaling, apply a flat coat before weathering the model. Accurail Bettendorf trucks were installed. If you are modeling an earlier era, arch bar trucks may have been used. Consult prototype photos for other details.


Thank you Fenton for sharing information to modify an Accurail 36-foot boxcar kit into a Southern ventilated car.

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2 Responses to “Southern Ventilated boxcars”

  1. Wayne Dzwonchyk says:

    Great!. I love these vent cars. where can we get the door and end castings?

    • Eric Hansmann says:

      Wayne, the castings and decals are not currently available. It was a special production for the RPM events. – Eric H.

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