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HO-Scale Trains Resource

The Ugly Duckling
40ft. Baby Hi-Cube Box Cars
HO-Scale Plastic Models

The Most Common Is The Oddest
It appears from the research I did that what is the most commonly produced model in HO-scale for the 40ft. Baby Hi-Cube is the least common prototype, which is not uncommon for the hobby.  The 40ft. Smooth-Side Plug-Door Hi-Cube that was first offered by Athearn and later had similar examples available in the Bachmann, Lionel-HO, TYCO, and AHM lines seems to be the Union Pacific's homemade car, model BF-50-4, built in Omaha in 1967.
The Pullman-Standard Smooth-Side Sliding-Door 40ft. Hy-Cube Box Car, produced currently only by Hi-Tech Details as a flat stock plastic kit, is possibly the car with the most prototypical owners. 
Athearn's Outside-Braced Sliding-Door 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car appears to most closely resemble a Southern Pacific prototype.  It is also close in appearance to a car built by Pacific Car & Foundry in the early '70s, again for SP and/or Cotton Belt.
Finally, Santa Fe's 40ft Hi-Cubes were built for them by Transco and appear similar to the Athearn Smooth-Side model.  The ATSF cars had a sliding door instead of the insulated plug door found on the Athearn example.
With respect to roadnames, most offerings in 1/87th will have difficulty finding their 1/1-scale originals.  My research suggests that ONLY the Union Pacific may have rostered the Smooth-Side Plug-Door 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car.  Many of the Athearn models, like the IC and CB&Q, are close but should perhaps actually be sliding-door Pullman-Standard models.  Others such as the passenger livery Rio Grande from Bachmann, The Rock from Lionel-HO and AHM's yellow Chessie System are more at home behind a TYCO Chattanooga Choo-Choo, than operating on a strictly prototype pike.

What's That Name Again...Hy...Hi...High?
Over the years and especially while looking into these models for this information, I kept finding different ways that company's refer to these cars.  Some call 'em others they are Hi-Cubes...and still others label them High Cubes.  What is correct?  Actually, all three may be accurate depending on who you might be talking to about them.  Going by the ads placed in the 1966 edition of the Car and Locomotive Cyclopedia, all three names are used by three different manufacturers.  Pullman-Standard calls their cars Hy-CubesThrall calls theirs Hi-CubesGreenville uses High Cube in its ad.
The labeling lines may blur a bit in HO-scale.  Athearn did and does call their 40ft. smooth-side plug-door a Hi-Cube, though it may be closer to the Union Pacific-prototype, it is stated as being based on a Thrall original in a 1969 edition of Railroad Model Craftsman.  Hi-Tech Details uses Hy-Cube and their model is stated and does match the Pullman-Standard example.  AHM used the full High in its labeling.
Below is a picture from the 1970 Car and Locomotive Cyclopedia of the UP car, which was a BF-50-4 model by Uncle Pete's description.  Union Pacific also had a smooth side sliding door model, which was their B-50-55 model.  The smooth side slider, B-50-55, may be found in Morning Sun Books' Union Pacific Color Guide to Freight Cars Volume I by Lloyd Stagner and Robert J. Yanosey on page 31.  A color pic of the smooth side plug door Union Pacific is found in the second volume by Lou Schmitz on page 9 of the Morning Sun series, this again was UP's BF-50-4 model.

Athearn 2007 Ready-To-Roll Series Release
This first offering of the 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car in Athearn's Ready-To-Roll series includes a pair of roadnumbers for each of the six roadnames produced.  Tooling on the car's shell and underframe is the same as former found in Athearn's blue box kit examples.  The R-T-R Hi-Cubes feature Athearn's newer Roller Bearing trucks with 36" metal wheels.  The prototype was not a 100-ton car and thus would not have to be put on 36" wheels, though they do look good on the model.  Actual examples of the Union Pacific prototype often show it riding on older friction-bearing trucks that had been adapted to roller bearing specs.
The underframe weight is painted black.  Each car retails for $16.98 in the R-T-R release.
The roadnames chosen by Athearn for this 2007 R-T-R release have all been among blue box kit offerings in the past.  As you'll see in comparing this new run with the older Blue Box examples further down the page, Athearn has enhanced the paint schemes on this new release. 

CB&Q#19864 (No.70844)
CB&Q#19829 (No.70843)

Illinois Central
IC#15478 (No.70848)
IC#15455 (No.70847)

Northern Pacific
NP#659998 (No.70850)
NP#659994 (No.70849)

Rio Grande
D&RGW#67430 (No.70846)
D&RGW#67427 (No.70845)

Santa Fe
ATSF#14064 (No.70842)
ATSF#14025 (No.70841)
The appearance of the Santa Fe Hi-Cube in the new Athearn RTR offering is enhanced with a black roof, ends and sill. 

Union Pacific
UP#518128 (No.70852)
UP#518115 (No.70851)
The Union Pacific RTR Hi-Cube features silver colored trucks that enhance its appearance.

Athearn Blue Box 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Cars

Athearn is first to the HO-scale plastic model train market with its pair of 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Cars in late 1969.  The February 1970 Model Railroader includes mention of the cars in its Trade Topics section.  Model Railroader states that the prototype for all four (86' 4-door; 86' 8-door; 40' plug-door; and 40' sliding door) Hi-Cubes are from Thrall originals.  Inspection of Union Pacific's home-built cars of the '60s seems to suggest that perhaps the Athearn model may more closely resemble the UP prototype over any Thrall examples.  It is noted that the original Athearn 40' Hi-Cube kits included the first offerings of the company's working roller bearing trucks.
The initial Athearn Ugly Ducklings were each produced in six roadnames, plus Undecorated.
Athearn Smooth-Side Plug-Door 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car
Illinois Central
Milwaukee Road
Rio Grande
Santa Fe
Union Pacific

Athearn also introduced the Outside-Braced Sliding-Door 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car at the same time.  This car was issued originally in six roadnames (B&O, SSW, GN, PC, SCL, SP) and Undecorated too.  My understanding is that this car's prototype is the SP/SSW B-70-36 class box car.  To date, I do not know of any owners beyond the SP/SSW for this example.

AHM 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Cars

AHM's 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car was made in Taiwan and carries AHM's name and Made in Taiwan on its underframe.  I do not find it among listings in AHM catalogs, nor does it seem to appear in the company's many magazine ads for freight car offerings.  To date, I've seen the AHM example dressed for Burlington, Chessie System, and Union Pacific.  My guess is AHM had the car in its line sometime around 1980.  The yellow Chessie System is the unique decoration of AHM's offerings.  The AHM CB&Q and UP cars are near duplicates of the Bachmann models with respect to both tooling and lettering.
For more AHM information, check out my AHM HO-Scale Trains Resource...

AHM HO-Scale Trains Resource

Bachmann 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Cars

Everyone remembers those great shots of Rio Grande's Yampa Valley Mail being pulled by an Alco PA with an RPO, that odd ex-C&O Dome-Obs and the omnipresent 40ft. D&RGW Baby Hi-Cube that delivered appliances to rural parts of northwestern Colorado, right?  Okay, so Bachmann did take a few liberties with decorating its 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Cars.  Can't decide which is better looking this Rio Grande example or maybe the Jade Green NYC?
Bachmann does not currently, but did until recently include their 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car in the company's Silver Series line of freight cars.  The Silver Series Hi-Cube, like other models in the line, features body mounted knuckle couplers and nicely tooled roller bearing style trucks with blackened metal wheels.


Produced for Lionel's 1970s HO-scale line of model trains by Kader in Hong Kong, this 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car is the insulated plug-door model also sold by Bachmann.  Kader is Bachmann's parent company.  Lionel-HO examples include the company's name on the model's underframe and made in Taiwan and/or R.O.C. for origin mark information.  Lionel's other roadname offering was Union Pacific, which was later found in the Bachmann line.

TYCO 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Cars

Examining shells, TYCO may be the one who didn't do its homework and simply copied off Athearn.  TYCO's 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car most closely matches the basic design and tooling of the Athearn model.  TYCO did initially offer cars with open steps, but soon "improved" its tooling with filled-in steps.  The TYCO model is a one-piece shell with separate brake wheel.  The car's underframe snaps into the body shell and is held by four tabs.  Two tabs per side each fit into slots cut into the car's shell.  TYCO offered this car in three roadnames (Illinois Central Gulf, Soo Line, and Union Pacific).  TYCO's unique approach to decorating its rolling stock provided this rather bloated UP shield on its Baby Hi-Cube, as seen in the above image.  TYCO catalogs its 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car from 1978-1982, however in its Chug-Chug Sound variation it survives through the end of TYCO train offerings in 1993.

See TYCO's 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car offerings

TYCO utilized its 40ft. Hi-Cube Box Car for its infamous Chug-Chug Sound in Box Car (No.902) accessory.  Packaged frequently with TYCO's Chattanooga Choo-Choo sets, this Baby Hi-Cube included a large wheel in its belly that was filled with rocks.  As the car rolled along and spun the wheel, the rocks produced a chug-chug steam engine-like sound to the less discerning ear.  The car was first decorated with TYCO's 40ft. Reefer Baby Ruth scheme.  You'll notice the paint job doesn't quite make it all the way up this excess height car.  In the '90s at the end of TYCO's train offerings, the Chug-Chug Sound Box Car was back with Ralston-Purina's checkboard pattern.

See TYCO's Chug-Chug Sound in Box Car

40' Pullman-Standard Smooth-Slider
And here is what may be the most commonly owned and operated of this type of freight car, the P-S smooth-side sliding door model.  Hi-Tech Details produces a very nicely done flat stock kit available in undecorated and in Burlington. 
Will we see this Pullman-Standard model in a R-T-R example?  Atlas' Trainman line introduced this prototype in O-scale recently and it could perhaps be a future Trainman HO-scale release at some point.
The above Illinois Central example is a Hi-Tech kit built and painted by John Kohlberg using his brother Dan's decals.  The links below include Kohlberg Decals, which is Dan's excellent custom made decals that include the IC Hy-Cube, a Burlington Northern Hy-Cube set and much more.

Related Links...

Athearn website

Atlas Trainman O-Scale

Bachmann Trains

Hi-Tech Details

Kohlberg Decals

Images of the latest run of Athearn Ready-To-Roll
40ft. Hi-Cube Box Cars from
Information Sources:
Railroad Model Craftsman Nov 1972
Model Railroader Feb 1970
1966 Car and Locomotive Cyclopedia
Special Thanks to Terry Cook, Dan Kohlberg, Bob Miller
and Stephen Priest for sharing knowledge and info on the prototypes.