Freight Car Friday – Detailing Boxcar Interiors

25 10 2013

When we think of interesting freight car loads, open cars like gondolas, hoppers and flatcars are generally the first that come to mind. But a look into the normally-closed interior of a boxcar, reefer or stock car can offer a real treat too – even if the car is empty.

open door

Although the doors are supposed to be closed and locked to prevent damage, occasionally an open boxcar gives you a view into the interior.

These doors are normally closed during shipment. Even if the car is empty it is much safer for the doors to be closed. But every once and awhile you’ll catch a car with an open door passing by. Of course these techniques will work well for detailing cars parked on sidings for loading / unloading as well.

Painting the Interior

Many of our Lionel boxcars have opening doors, making it easy to add as much or as little interior detailing as you may like. The first step is to separate the carbody from the floor. On traditional boxcars like the one shown here, simply spread the sides of the car slightly and the floor should drop out. You’ll have to look closely at the particular car you want to work on – or check our parts diagram pages for a “dissected” view.


Before painting, mask the exterior of the car. Painter’s tape and a paper towel make a quick safety net.

With the carbody removed, mask off the entire exterior of the car. If you are painting the floor, mask the trucks and couplers as well. Most steel boxcar interiors are painted a light gray. A cheap spray can of primer will work well to duplicate the look.

If you are modeling a car with wood interior sides, use scribed styrene or basswood panels to fashion new interior walls or floors. For a simple interior, just painting the inside of the carbody will get you started.

Weathering, Writing and Rubish


Grey primer makes a fast and inexpensive paint. You only need to paint the areas that can be seen from the open doors.

With the interior painted, it’s time to add some extra details. It doesn’t take long for the walls and floor of a boxcar to be scuffed and abused by the loads and the people moving them. Scratches on the walls and floor are easy to add using the same techniques you would use to weather the outside of the car.

A small brush and some rust-colored acrylic or oil paints will do well to add this detail. Think of where and how a hand-truck, pallet or forklift might rub against the walls and apply your weathering accordingly.


Paints and chalks can be used to weather the inside of the boxcar. A little goes a long way.

In addition to the wear and tear, workers often chalk notes on the car walls to accompany the load. Unlike the graffiti you may find on the outside of the car, these markings have a purpose (although the occasional unprofessional comment has certainly been scribed as well!) A fine point pen or brush with white ink / paint can easily mimic these marks. Since the interior walls don’t get washed often, you may see several “layers” of old markings built up on the car walls. Express cars with multiple shipments per car are apt to have dozens of these.

Lastly, don’t assume that just because a car is “empty” that it doesn’t have anything in it. Workers are often less than thorough when it comes to removing old packing materials, pallets, etc. from the car when unloaded. An outbound empty may even make a convenient trash can as well. A few little details like this can add a very nice touch to a model.

Loaded or Empty


In addition to the details to the walls, part of a skid of cinder block can be seen just inside the door.

While most of the open boxcars you’ll see are probably empty, they don’t all have to be. Of course what you’ll put inside is completely up to you. It could be humble pallets of cinder block as seen here or brand new automobiles.

Crated loads of almost anything can be made quickly from scraps of basswood. Don’t overlook humorous or unusual loads as well – these can be great conversation starters at an open house.

open door

Open door or no door! Here’s another variation on the theme, a car en-route for repairs.

Since you don’t see these cars in every train, leaving the door(s) closed on one side of the model can help make the interior show up less frequently. Or it can be a good excuse to do twice as many models! The “now you see it, now you don’t” look adds even more interest as the cars make their way around your layout.

The possibilities and potential for these simple detailing projects are limited only by your imagination. What have you put inside your boxcars?



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