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Athearn Genesis' HO Scale F89F Flatcar Review

Athearn Genesis HO Scale F89F - An Exceptional Model of an Iconic Flatcar

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F89F

This new Athearn model is big on little details.

©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Since 1963, these 89'8" flatcars built by Bethlehem Steel Corporation have been among the most common cars on the rails. Athearn's new release captures not only the details common all of the 9000+ cars built, but specific details for many of the unique variations. This is not the first HO model made of the F89F, but it is certainly the most accurate.

Roadnames: Trailer Train (red and yellow paint), TTX, Undecorated
MSRP: $39.98

Additional runs with new detail variations have already been anounced.

Note: A 22" minimum radius is required for these long cars.

Prototype History

In need of a versitile loading platform for trailers of varying lengths, the Trailer Train Company turned to the major car builders for new 89' flatcars in the 1960s. Among those supplying cars was Bethlehem Steel. Classed F89F by Trailer Train, BSC delivered more than 9200 cars beginning in 1963.

The Bethlehem cars were easily identified by the "C" channel side sills used on the cars. These channel sides extend above the height of the deck itself. It is important to note that among the many modifications made to these cars over the years, some actually lost their sills and were rebult with flush-deck designs for autorack and other services.

For more than 40 years since their introduction, these flatcars have been modified over and over to meet the ever-changing demands of the intermodal and other markets. The most common and simple changes were made to load different lengths of trailers. In addition to trailers and containers, the F89F has been used to haul automobile racks, military, farm and construction equipment, pipe, rail, structural steel and more.

Beginning in the early years of this century, the now 40+ year old cars are starting to find their way to scrap and salvage yards. A few F89F and similar vintage cars from other builders can still be found in intermodal trains and thousands more toil on in other services and could for a few more years to come.

Prototype information from: Trailer Train F89F Flatcar by James Kinkade, Mainline Modeler; April, 1995. and TTX Company's F89F - An 89-foot Workhorse Flat Car by Jim Panza, Railroad Model Craftsman; August, 1995.

Athearn Genesis Model

F89F end

"B" end details include cut lever and air hoses. Note the fine printing on the loading instructions printed on the trailer hitch.

©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Athearn has produced a highly detailed and very versitile car. Several detail variations are planned and version-specific details are commented upon later. As to the overall car, the quality of molding and detail is exceptional. The channel sides are crisply molded and really capture the prototype character. End details are outstanding and include scale couplers, cut levers and the nicest train line hoses I've seen.

The underframe details are very visible on these cars since the side sills actually extend above the deck. Athearn has included all of the piping and rods. Individual parts are all finely detailed. The handbrake and chain casting is amazing.

Athearn held nothing back when detailing the deck of this car. It is far and away better than any model of this flat done before. As finished, the deck comes painted in a striking white paint. Most modelers will want to do some extensive weathering here to tone it down. Flat car decks are notoriously gritty.

Athearn has long set the standard for paint and lettering. The thin and even paint on this car helps maintain the high quality of the castings. Even with multiple color layers, the paint is prototypically thin. The white-on-black letters are slightly less opaque than I would like (this is a common problem on models.) The reporting marks and number are a little fuzzy. But after the car gets a good coat of dirt and road-grime this will not be an issue. All of the small lettering, including on the supports for the hitches (!) is clear and readable under magnification.

"TTX" Version Details

This first release includes cars with a hitch arrangement appropriate for "TTX" reporting marks. Don't confuse this with the TTX 1990's paint (although such a combination is available.) Trailer Train assigns specific reporting marks to its flatcar fleet to reflect their load capablities. "TTX" initials indicate a car that can handle 1 trailer up to 40' in length and one up to 45'. The trailers are loaded front to back. These cars used to be loaded "circus style" but later versions lost their bridge plates and could only be loaded by overhead crane.

The TTX cars were common from the 1960s into the early 1990s, but much less so in the later years as cars were re-equipped to handle more common 45' and 28' trailers. Cars could be found in th original 1960's era boxcar red Trailer Train scheme, yellow Trailer Train paint, or the TTX corporate scheme which began showing up in 1992. Athearn has done 4 roadnumbers in each of these schemes in the first release of the F89F.

Details for this car include ACF type 2 hitches, medium-length steel deck risers and a high-profile handbrake and standard carbody wo/ rubrails. The TTX-painted version I purchased has brackets for bridge plates, but the plates themselves have been appropriately removed. Earlier paint schemes include the plates. Two collapsed hitches are also included and can be easily substituted on the deck.

In addition to the TTX black patches, a close look at the paint on the TTX repaint version reveals darker yellow patches over the "old" paint and data. A nice touch that can be further accented with some appropriate weathering.

The Best is Yet to Come

F89F handbrake

The handbrake and chain is among the many exceptional details on this car. Future releases will have appropriate variations of this and many other details. Note the two shades of yellow paint on this "TTX" model.

©2011 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

A look at the detailed parts sheet included with this first release provides some insight into what lies ahead. It was no secret that Athearn would be doing multiple variations of this car, but who could have predicted the extent to which they would go to get each variation right?

Athearn's part sheet shows 8 distinct carbody variations. These include sill and deck changes and even the TTEX "wide body" cars. Additionally, there are no fewer than 10 different hitches (plus collapsed and raised versions) and lots of other smaller detail options to further customize the different carbodies. These include handbrakes, deck risers, grab irons and stirrups, bridge plates, even airline variations.

What Athearn has done is not creating a great model of a common protoype...they've created at least 8 great models. I'm sure that the kitbashers and freight car enthusiasts will use these cars as the starting point for even more modifications to replicate specific cars. But to their credit, Athearn has already done a lot of the hard work for us.

Look for all of these variations, and maybe more, to come out in subsequent releases in the coming years.

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