When it's time to assemble your model railroad's freight car fleet, keep in mind the prototype that you're trying to model. On many prototypes, there are signature pieces of rolling stock that absolutely have to be included for a model roster to be believable. If you're modeling UP or SP in the 1950s, you should include several Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars. If you're modeling the Milwaukee Road in the 1980s, like I am, you should include a few horizontally-ribbed boxcars and bay window cabooses. Or, if you're modeling the B&O in the 1940s and 50s, you should include a few wagontop box cars, like the one seen here modeled in N scale. Determine your railroad's signature equipment and model it.
As we all recover from the hide-and-seek games that occurred over the weekend (you did find all of the eggs again this year and didn't come up with any extras, right?), it's time to take a lighter look at our favorite hobby. You've probably seen a layout or two at a model train show that has a list of details to find on the layout. Here's a photo of one I found at the NMRA's National Train Show last summer in Detroit. Isn't he a little short to be a stormtrooper? (bonus points if you know the scene that comment comes from) Like the show in Cincinnati, the Lego layouts were absolutely amazing. What made it better for me was that so many of the Lego train modelers actively added humorous scenes to their modules and trains. With all the model builders in Los Angeles that work in the entertainment industry, I'm really looking forward to some fun scenes this summer at the NMRA convention in Anaheim.
If you're going for a merit award with your rolling stock models, take a very close look at the prototype you're modeling. Most cars have quite a bit more detail than ever get modeled, like on this detail shot of an airplane parts car. The brake chain is probably on the model, but is the AEI tag (in the upper left corner of the photo) on the model? Did you add the embossed numbers or the car's reporting marks to the truck sideframes? Also notice the different shades of rust colors on the truck parts; most of the sideframe is a fairly even dark gray color while more orange and red appears around the axle bearings. In NMRA Achievement Program judging, the AEI tag will help with the detail grading while the color variations and reporting marks will help with the paint and finishing grading. These aren't big additions to a model, but they could add that extra 1/2 point where it's needed.
I'm always fascinated when I go out railfanning to find freight cars still lettered for former railroads (fallen flags), like this former Wisconsin Central covered hopper that I saw in 2004. Not only was WC no longer extant at that time, the location made the sighting all the more interesting. This car was sitting in the yard at Tacoma Rail during the tour that I took at the NMRA convention that year. So, when you're building your freight car fleet for your model railroad, add a few fallen flag cars, and don't worry so much about the region where the former railroad operated.
When you're building up your fleet of rolling stock, don't forget to include some semi trailers. This former CSX trailer (note the CSXZ reporting mark on the front and side) behind one of the buildings at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay shows its Seaboard System heritage with a very faded logo.
Use those undetailed cheap plastic automobiles as loads for your covered autoracks. The rack's perforated side panels will prevent the viewer from seeing any details on the cars within it, so all you really need on the load is the general shape and color. This autorack is an HO scale model.