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First Look Review
HO scale
Billboard Reefer
HO RTR 40' Wood Reefer, Red Top Milk #14207
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
RailRoad Modeling

40' Wood Reefer, Red Top Milk #14207
Item: RND85452
Scale HO (1/87)

Refrigeration Cars, “Reefers”
Reefers evolved as America grew. Their history includes many aspects of design, lading, size, rosters and fleets, and livery. Reefer history fills books and websites, too extensive for this review. Particularly popular (and misunderstood) are ornate “billboard schemes.”

RTR 40' Wood Reefer, Red Top Milk #14207
The model is packed in a form-fitted cradle with a fitted clear lid. Roundhouse models are packaged in an olive box that displays the model through a cellophane window. Roundhouse lists 149 reefers in more than 26 roadnames. Most roadnames have several road numbers.

Key Features

    • Fully assembled and ready for your layout
    • Razor sharp printing and painting
    • Weighted for optimum performance
    • Machined RP25 profile 33" metal wheels
    • McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers installed

This model is a basic RTR (Ready-To-Run) reefer and which is of Athearn “Blue Box” linage tooling now released under the Roundhouse banner. As such it is molded well with sharp detail, no flash or visible ejector marks, but with over-scale details. According to Rensselaer Railroad Heritage Website:

5200 40 Foot Wood Reefer - Athearn cut a new side for their steel reefer. In 1948, PFE rebuilt older wood cars with Improved Dreadnaught Ends, classifying them R-40-24, but changed the wood siding to plywood sheets. Then starting in ’55, the plywood, which tended to curl, was replaced with wood again. So the Athearn kit represents PFE cars post-’55.

While there were other prototypes similar to this, the post-WWII end is a decade too modern for the billboard schemes that this is kit is often lettered. (Billboard schemes were outlawed in 1938, and this is hard to overlook if your pike is set any era later. Most such reefers also had wood ends, another reason to avoid the Athearn reefer for these.) I thought you might be able to utilize a fancy paint scheme by cutting off the sides and gluing them to the Accurail reefer kit, but the sides are just a little too short. Or scratchbuilt new wood ends and even a wood roof from Evergreen scribed siding. And again, not if your pike is post-’38. (If you really love these schemes, for heavens sake, move the cars out of sight if your layout is being photographed for a magazine article.)

It’s engineered with a floor/underframe upon which is secured a metal weight. Underneath are secured the couplers in pockets and the trucks. Upon the frame is a two-piece body: the sides are molded to the floor, and the Murphy roof and 4/4 Dreadnaught ends are molded as a single part. The doors are molded as part of the sides as are all tack boards, brake gear, and over-scale ladders, grab irons, and stirrups. A separate steel running board is applied to the roof, as is a Miner hand brake wheel on the end.

Interestingly, the ice hatches do not open. The parts diagram shows them to be separate parts. I could not open them with a pocket knife. Perhaps they were attached prior to painting and the paint sealed them. I also broke off a hatch support.

Underneath is basic molded detail. Your reefer rides upon plastic ASF Ride Control solid-bearing trucks mounting metal wheels. Also factory installed are McHenry knuckle couplers.

Paint and Markings
Roundhouse claims 26 different roadnames including 57 models categorized as No Roadname:

1. American Refrigerator Transit (6)
2. Bangor & Aroostook (2)
3. Burlington Refrigerator Express (2)
4. California Fruit Express (2)
5. Canadian National (2)
6. Chicago & NorthWestern (2)
7. Denver Texas & Fort Worth (2)
8. East Tennessee Virginia & Georgia (4)
9. Great Northern (2)
10. Merchant's Despatch (2)
11. Minneapolis & St. Louis (2)
12. New York Lake Erie & Western (NYLE&W) (2)
13. New York Ontario & Western (2)
14. North American Despatch (2)
15. NorthWestern (4)
16. Pacific Fruit Express (11)
17. Pennsylvania Railroad (2)
18. Pittsburgh & Shawmut (2)
19. Purina (6)
20. Santa Fe (9)
21. Southern Pacific (2)
22. Swift (11)
23. Union Refrigerator Transit (6)
24. West India Fruit (2)
25. Wilson (3)
26. [No Roadname] (57)

Although several of those companies are completely wrong for this style of reefer, the model finish really shines. The paint and printing is excellent—see the photos. The only possible complaint is the color of the handholds and ladders. They were usually black; I do not have any reference photos of Red Top Milk cars to settle it.

OK, so this model is not the most accurate or authentic. What it is an affordable, beautifully decorated, RTR model nicely equipped with metal wheels and knuckle couplers. I am glad to have it.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here – on RailRoadModeling.net.


† John Nehrich. “40 Foot Wood Reefers. NEB&W Guide to Athearn Reefer Models.” Rensselaer Railroad Heritage Website. 15 September 2011. .

John Nehrich. “NEB&W Guide to Refrigerator Cars - Introduction & Overview.” Rensselaer Railroad Heritage Website. 16 December 2011. .

John Nehrich. “NEB&W Guide to Reefers - Table of Contents.” Rensselaer Railroad Heritage Website. 28 October 2011. < http://railroad.union.rpi.edu/index.php/NEB&W_Guide_to_Reefers_-_Table_of_Contents>.
Highs: Razor sharp printing, 33" metal wheels, McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers.
Lows: Molded detail. Accuracy issues.
Verdict: An affordable, beautifully decorated, RTR model nicely equipped with metal wheels and knuckle couplers.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: HO Scale
  Mfg. ID: RND85452
  Suggested Retail: $17.98
  Related Link: Roundhouse Reefer Series
  PUBLISHED: Dec 28, 2011
  NATIONALITY: United States

Our Thanks to Roundhouse Trains!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


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