McCloud River Railroad reviews:

Athearn's MR and MCR Wide Vision Cabooses

Athearn's newly released McCloud River caboose models.

The McCloud River Railroad had always either built or bought used its cabooses. The company broke that tradition in 1962 when it paid $18,627 each for two new wide vision cabooses ordered from International. Concerns over curvature on the line prompted the railroad to specify a custom 25-foot length instead of the 35-foot length of the stock International wide vision caboose. International delivered the pair, numbered 101 and 102, painted in a solid red scheme, which they wore until repainted orange in 1972. The #101 remained in service until heavily damaged in a yard switching accident in 1997, while the McCloud Railway repainted the #102 red in 1996 and used the car in its freight and passenger excursions to the present. As of this writing (September 2019) both cars remain in McCloud.

To my knoweldge, the two McCloud cabooses are the only ones International ever built to the custom short length. The only other similar cabooses I know of are the three 1:1 scale replicas of the McCloud cars Weyerhaeuser built in their Sycan, Oregon, shops for use on the Oregon, California & Eastern and associated logging railroad. The one-off nature of these cars almost certainly guarantees that "correct" plastic models of these cars will probably never be produced. Many years ago a small brass importer announced plans for a run of correct McCloud and OC&E/WTCX cars, but their models were dependent on a run of International cabooses Overland Brass was then planning for parts, and the project died when Overland cancelled their models. The only option McCloud modelers have had to produce "correct" cabooses has been to either scratch build or heavily modify one of the commercially available International wide vision caboose models, and many talented modelers have produced such cars.

In April 2018, Athearn announced a new run of its International wide vision cabooses, including models painted as McCloud River Railroad #101 and McCloud Railway #102. These models are incorrect in that they are the "normal" 35-foot long cars, but save for one exception they are the first commercial mass produced McCloud River cabooses ever offered. I ordered a pair of these cars, which arrived on store shelves in mid-August 2019. Athearn released these cars as part of their "Roundhouse" line, which denotes they are upgraded versions of Athearn's old "blue box" kits. The bodies are the same as the old kits, but the various upgrades includes window glaze, finely detailed end railings, and metal wheels. Painting, lettering, and decals are crisp and sharp. MRSP of the cars is $29.98 each. Despite the incorrect length and a few other small issues these are nice models and a welcome addition to McCloud modelers. They are also hopefully a positive sign of things to come in terms of future McCloud models.

MR #101

The "real" #101 in the early 1980s. Pat Driscoll photo, Jeff Moore collection.

A comparative view of Athearn's model. The model is correctly painted to represent the caboose as it appeared from 1972 until the later 1980s when the railroad added service record blocks on the right side of the name. One possible shortcoming is the roof, which is orange on the model; the #101 appears to have had a silver roof for at least part of its later lift, though much of that paint appears to have washed away as the years progressed. The curved grab irons are molded onto the body, but the fine yellow paint applied to them effectively masks this.

MCR #102

A prototype photo of the McCloud Railway #102 in McCloud. Years spent in the outdoors has badly faded the red paint.

Athearn's model of the #102. The car spent most of the late 1980s and early 1990s stored derelict in the McCloud yards until the McCloud Railway restored the car and repainted it into this red scheme in 1996. The model closely captures this red paint scheme. The only glaring paint problem is the smoke stack, which should be black.

One final view of the ends on the two cars, showing the representation of the window trim. There are problems with the end railings on both models; the outside railings on the #101 should be orange, while almost everything except for the brake wheel housing and end members of the ladder on the #102 should be white, but these are understandable given the low end (by today's standards) release of these cars.

The one exception to the Athearn cars being the first commercially produced McCloud cabooses was a run of 500 models of the #102 Golden West Hobbies of Edgewood, California, commissioned from Athearn in 2004. Golden West produced numerous McCloud and other northern California shortline inspired models, mostly small runs they painted themselves, but their model of the #102 was one of a few larger runs they commissioned. The company largely distributed their products through the Dunsmuir Hardware Store. They produced two versions of the #102, a kit form and an assembled version that had window glazing and painted handrails. This photo is a side by side comparison of Golden West's assembled version (top) and Athearn's new release (bottom).