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Make a 3/16 scale Marx ore car

Marx fans often complain Marx didn’t make quite enough variety in its 3/16 scale line. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get a bit more variety out of it by making a 3/16 scale Marx ore car. And you can do it all with original Marx parts.

Marx expert Al Osterud pointed out that the early Reading 3/16 cabooses have slots in all of the right places to accept a 6-inch hopper or gondola body. Nobody knows why. But Marx liked to reuse parts, so perhaps Marx considered putting a 6-inch hopper body on a 3/16 frame to make an ore car.

And 3/16 cabooses in poor condition are pretty easy to find. There are always plenty on Ebay, and you can find them at train shows in the junk boxes under the tables. Marx 6-inch cars are even easier to find.

Finding a suitable donor caboose

Postwar Reading and NYC cabooses don’t have the slots. Of course you can cut the slots yourself using a 6-inch body as a template. But it’s easier to find a beat-up prewar caboose to use.

With Marx, the biggest rule is that there’s almost always an exception to the rule. But suitable frames are more likely to have gray undersides and unsuitable caboose frames are more likely to be all black.

This Marx caboose lacks the slots in the center that would make this an easy project. You want one like the one below.

Examine the underside of any caboose you’re considering, whether online or in person. If there are slots in the center of the underside with nothing in them, that’s the caboose you want. If the underside is solid like the one immediately to the right, keep looking.

Of course, if the price is right, go ahead and buy a slotless caboose for spare parts. You may need the wheels and steps to complete another project. Junk cabooses, especially damaged and incomplete examples, are often the most economical source of Marx parts.

This is a prewar Marx Reading Caboose with a Marx hopper for comparison. Note how the slots line up on each.

I don’t recommend using pristine cars for this project. There are plenty of poor condition Reading cabooses out there, so it makes more sense to buy damaged ones and make any necessary repairs.

As for the 6-inch cars, just look for a Marx 6-inch gondola or hopper that’s presentable but not in pristine condition. You can save some money by looking for one with missing wheels or couplers. You can use whatever parts are left to salvage other incomplete 6-inch cars.

Building the ore car

Remove the body, the end rails, and the toolbox from the caboose. Then a 6-inch hopper body fits in the existing slots.

After straightening the tabs next to the running gear and bending the tabs at the top and prying a bit, the frame popped out easily.

To remove the caboose body, there are four tabs on the underside you have to straighten, and six tabs on the edges of the frame you have to bend. Usually once you straighten the four tabs on the underside and bend the three tabs on one side, you can pry on that side to free the body. With the body off, the end rails come off easily.

The toolbox is easy to remove after removing the body. There are two twisted tabs that hold it in place. Straighten those tabs and the toolbox drops right out.

Disassembling the 6-inch car is easy. Simply straighten the six tabs on the underside and the body lifts right off the frame.

Here’s a Marx 6-inch hopper body on a 3/16 caboose frame, making a 3/16 ore car. A few of these would look good behind an American Flyer 561. A converted Lionel 2457 or 467618 caboose would complete the train.

Place a body from a 554738701, or 86000 hopper on the frame. Now you have a recognizable representation of an ore car. Not only that, you can have three different road names (Northern Pacific, Pennsylvania, and Lackawanna), and two colors (red and blue) in Northern Pacific.

Getting more variety

In real life, ore cars sometimes looked like miniature hoppers and sometimes they looked like miniature gondolas. So you could put a high-side gondola body on the car, or a regular gondola body. This increases the possibilities even more, since Marx made Northern Pacific, Pennsylvania, and Lehigh Valley high-side gondolas. They also made Rock Island, Seaboard, and B&O low-side gondolas. If you’re going to modify a Seaboard gondola, only use the red one. The other colors are scarce.

The result of this kitbashing of vintage Marx parts isn’t a finescale model by any stretch. But’s representative of the times. It also gives you a few more cars and roadnames to run behind a 3/16-scale Marx or American Flyer locomotive, and it’s an inexpensive project.

Why didn’t Marx make a 3/16 scale ore car themselves?

Obviously there was a reason why Marx punched the caboose frame to accommodate a different type of body. Marx was cost conscious and had a reason for everything it did. I think Marx considered having the caboose frame do double duty.

I also think Marx abandoned the idea of a 3/16 scale Marx ore car because the result didn’t have good scale fidelity. As much as rivet counters like to deride Marx, the 3/16 line had good proportions and Marx researched the designs. This ore car doesn’t meet the standards for scale fidelity that the rest of the line had. The car is too tall and too long when you compare it to modern-production ore cars.

That said, by 1940s standards, the results aren’t bad.

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