REEFER MADNESS: Scratch-building CN’s 40′ Wood End Bunker Reefers [PT:1 Car Body]

CN 208571T.A. Watson photo, Ian Cranstone collection

CN Wood End Bunker Reefer #208571 (Series 3). Photo:

Some time ago Steve Hunter showed me photos of his beautifully finished Norwest Models CN Wood End Bunker Reefer kits. This planted the seed for a small obsession with these wooden reefers built between 1926 and 1932.

Knowing that I would eventually need a few of these cars to compliment my fleet of F&C and True Line 8 Hatch Reefers (which will be regulars at the Vernon River Co-op warehouse!) I searched high and low for years for even just one Norwest Kit, to no success.

Armed with general arrangement drawings sourced from the C. Robert Craig Memorial Library and a copy of Railroad Model Craftsman (June 2001) featuring Stafford Swain’s wonderful article on this prototype I set out to begin scratch building a pair.

I began the preliminary work on the project by sourcing decals from Black Cat Publishing, trucks from Tahoe Model Works, 3D printed underslung charcoal heaters and liquidometers from Shapeways and many of the other detail parts and styrene stock I would require to complete the build.

By studying the drawings I determined that it might prove easiest to build the car body in three layers. A inner core, a main core and finally an outer layer of Evergreen freight car siding.  (All layers .040″)

  • The inner core would provide a solid foundation for the car’s floor to sit on which would be made from Evergreen V-Groove siding. This would be the main core to which the entire car would be built off of.
  • The main core’s purpose would be to simulate the 6 scale inches of steel under frame and would be cut 6 scale inches taller than the inner core to achieve this.
  • Finally, the outer layer of Evergreen freight car siding would be cut 6 scale inches shorter than the main core. The freight car siding would then be placed around the main core using a jig made from styrene to ensure a uniform 6 inches of the main core remained visible all the way around the model.


After constructing the inner and main cores, the next step was to cut the car siding to fit around the car body. Once I made the cuts I marked where the doors would be cut out. Using the previously mentioned jig I taped the siding to the car to test the look and to ensure everything lined up properly.


4 car sides made of Evergreen freight car siding cut and marked for their door openings.


This view shows what the siding will look like when finally glued to the car. This also shows the 6″ of the main core that represents the visible steel under frame of the prototype. Eventually Archer and Micromark rivet decals will be used to detail it.


The spacing jig I made to ensure a uniform 6″ of the main core remains visible all the way around the bottom of the car body.


Sitting on trucks just for fun, this car is starting to look a little less like a time consuming rectangle and more like a wooden reefer!

After a few failed attempts at cleanly cutting out the doors out of the car and subsequently having to cut out new sides I decided I needed a different approach.

Browsing around on a few different model railroading forums I came to the conclusion that a nibbler seems to be the way to go in regards to cutting square, clean doors (and windows) from sheet styrene when the standard #11 blade won’t do the job cleanly. With that knowledge I ordered one from Amazon and I should see it next week.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that it’s often best to tape a step back, take some time to plot the next move and then come back with a new approach and fresh mindset.

I hope to return to this build soon- when I finally have the door openings cut out and installed I will be able to turn my attention to the steel under frame.

I already have some ideas brewing.


5 thoughts on “REEFER MADNESS: Scratch-building CN’s 40′ Wood End Bunker Reefers [PT:1 Car Body]

  1. This is an exciting project!

    I’m looking forward to more detail on those doors – a part of a wooden carbody that I consider difficult to visually distinguish from the rest of the car side.

    In terms of the roster do you have a sense of how many of these you’ll need? Most of what little I know about the reefers on PEI is focussed on the 1970’s onward so I’m keen to learn about this era.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed Chris.. I think it will be necessary to pay a little more special attention to the doors on these wooden reefers to ensure they are noticeable and “pop”.

      For the general framing and construction of the door areas I plan to use the method Gene describes in this blog post:

      I previously showed you my plan to use a .005″ substrate over the cars core to make the door details “pop,” even going as far as to make a successful mockup. Something I had not considered until very recently was that I could maybe achieve the same effect but perhaps just a little more subtle by using HO scale strip styrene (which would be just a little thicker than the sheet styrene). I now have some on hand and will try this method on some scraps before I commit either way.

      Regarding the reefer car inventory- this is a great question and to be honest was something I had been putting off figuring out until you asked.

      When I was researching CN’s 8 hatch reefers I learned that by 1954 about 50% of CN’s reefer fleet consisted of the aforementioned 8 hatch reefers. Comparing this statistic to Stafford Swain’s article in June 2001’s RMC where he states, regarding the end bunker wooden reefers “…the 207000-209419 series cars lasted on the roster in significant numbers throughout the 1950’s with their numbers declining fairly rapidly in the early 1960’s…” one could make the assumption that by 1958 the wooden reefer would still be pretty common, but maybe to a lesser degree than it would have been in 1954.

      Using this data, by pure guestimation I have arrived at an approximate ratio of 70/30% 8 hatch to wooden reefers.

      I already have six 8 hatch reefers on hand (3 TLT, 3 F&C) to go along with the two wooden reefers I’m scratch building. If I were to stick to the ratio I’ve laid out, I’d probably need one more wooden reefer. I’ll keep hoping a Norwest kit shows itself or maybe I’ll upgrade an Accurail kit.

      (This all has me thinking that it might be fun to try and track down a Sunshine Models MDT reefer kit to add some variety… although they wouldn’t have been around on the Island in as much force as say the 1970s, perhaps the odd one would have appeared every now and then.)


      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much for your thoughts on the reefer distribution. As you know (unfortunately!) I’m bordering on obsessed with this fleet so find it hard to ignore a chance to ask about it.

        As you note, the fleet of orange NRC, MDT, and similar rented and leased cars wouldn’t really become a fixture until after the period your layout is set in. I’d imagine that in your era the fleet is much more CN heavy and would borrow a proportionate distribution like what you’ve identified. Into this distribution do you think it’s fair to ask if CN’s relationship with the Island and the Murray Harbour subdivision might weight this distribution? Maybe we’d see a slightly higher balance of those wooden cars that the farmers seem to like so much.

        Regardless, this station on this subdivision is going to be a wonderful. I’m very excited about the project and looking forward to updates.



        Liked by 1 person

      • “Into this distribution do you think it’s fair to ask if CN’s relationship with the Island and the Murray Harbour subdivision might weight this distribution?”

        Yes, absolutely. I had definitely considered this in the past but I don’t think I was really considering it when I was working on a response to you.

        The farmers did indeed love the wooden cars and I would imagine they made special requests for them. This considered something like a 50/50 ratio might be more realistic.. perhaps an even higher ratio then that (for the wooden cars).

        I think I will have a better idea of the wooden to 8 hatch ratio once I actually drill down and figure out what kind of roster I’ll need for the layout as a whole- not just reefers.


        Liked by 1 person

      • This project has so much to offer in this study of car types and distributions on so many levels: the Island Division, the Murray Harbour Subdivision, Vernon River.




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