Apollo & Mercury TOFC/COFC Trains

This page is under construction. Watch for developments!

Since I’m modeling the Valley in the 70s, I want to include the Apollos and Mercurys in my operations. Here’s what I’ve learned about these trains and how I’m modeling them. If you have additional information, or find errors in what I’ve posted, please let me know.

The Prototype

Apollo 1 ran from Oak Island Yard to Union Road in Buffalo, where the train was handed over to the N&W which took it to Chicago. The LV locomotives then proceeded to Tifft Terminal for servicing. Apollo 1 was originally all TOFC (1), daily except Sunday. Although the train stopped for 10 minutes at Lehighton, Coxton, Sayre and Manchester, there were no pickups or setouts, except on Sundays. The 1/28/1970 schedule specifies that Apollo 1 carries all traffic bound for the N&W on Sundays, in addition to TOFC, and will add cars bound for the N&W at any of its stops.

By 1/22/1974, Apollo 1 was carrying any available cars bound for Chicago and St. Louis via the N&W in every train, although it was still primarily a TOFC consist. A stop was made at Bound Brook to pick up TOFC and other cars bound for the N&W. The connection with the N&W was made at Williams St.

The 7/10/1975 schedule shows that Saturday and Sunday operations have been suspended, but otherwise the traffic is the same as in 1974.

Apollo 2 was received from the N&W at Union Road in Buffalo, and originally left Union Road blocked for Sayre and Oak Island. It was all TOFC, and remained that way through the end of the Lehigh Valley. The 1/28/1970 schedule includes stops for an hour at Manchester and Sayre. At Sayre cars for destinations other than Oak Island were cut off to be placed in other trains, and additional Oak Island TOFC cars were added. Half hours stops were made at Coxton and Packerton.

The 1/22/1974 schedule showed Apollo 2 being received from the N&W at Williams Street in Buffalo. A block of TOFC cars for a new stop at Bound Brook was added, and there was a 50 car limit leaving Sayre on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday nights. Any TOFC traffic remaining at Sayre was to be included in LV-2.

The 7/10/1975 schedule lists Apollo 2 running Monday through Saturday only, but a hand-written note mentions Apollo 2X running on Sunday if needed.

Mercury 1  (description needed)

Mercury 2  (description needed)


Locomotive types used on the Apollos and Mercurys  (info needed)

TOFC Flat Cars

Typical TOFC/COFC cars in an Apollo or Mercury consist, models available in HO scale, and how to modify them for reliable operation.

Trailer Train flat cars probably comprised the exclusive intermodal consist of the Apollos and Mercurys. The Valley had its own TOFC cars in the 1950s, but these were gone by the time the Apollo was initiated. Although the LV never was a member of Trailer Train, the PPR/PC, which held controlling interest in the LV, was a founding member. There were sometimes non-intermodal cars included in the consists, as covered in the descriptions above.

Trailer Train flats were painted freight car red until 1971, when the color switched to a bright yellow (Railbox Yellow is a good match). The current mustard yellow was adopted in 1980, so would not be appropriate for a Lehigh Valley consist. Trailer Train changed its name to TTX in 1991, so a flat car without the Trailer Train wording would also be inappropriate for use in a Valley consist. A typical mid-70s consist would have mostly red TTX cars, with the proportion of yellow TTX cars increasing closer to 1976. LV videos show at most about 25 to 30% yellow cars in a train.

The following HO scale models would fit into the 1970s Trailer Train intermodal fleet:

  • Accurail’s 89 ft TOFC/COFC flat. Close to the Bethlehem-built TTX class Bsf 10/11/12 flush deck flats, introduced 1968.
  • Athearn’s 85 ft TOFC flat. Similar to a late production Pullman PS-4PB bowl-deck flat.
  • Athearn’s 85 ft TOFC/COFC flat. Similar to an ACF flush-deck flat, but should be 89 ft long.
  • Bowsers’ 50 ft F30 flat. These can be modified to represent TTX class F30d, which was being phased out in the 70s, but made a comeback when 45 ft trailers became common in the early 80s. I think they would be pretty rare in an Apollo or Mercury consist.
  • Walthers’ 89 ft F89F TOFC flat. Close to the Bethlehem-built TTX class F89F C-sill flat, introduced 1963.
  • Walthers’ 75 ft flat. These were being phased out in the 70s, but a few would likely show up from time to time.

The Athearn 85 ft all-purpose flat is four feet shorter than the closest prototype, so is generally not considered acceptable by purist intermodal modelers. There are other variations from the prototype that can be corrected in all of these models, and several articles covering this have appeared in the model railroad magazines. I decided to accept the level of detail and accuracy on the models that have the correct length, and concentrated on building models that would operate reliably.

Operational reliability has been a problem for the Athearn kits, and quite a few articles have been published outlining fixes for this. Built out-of-the-box, there is not nearly enough weight for good tracking, and the center of gravity is too high when trailers or containers are carried. Secondly, Athearn employed a semi-Talgo system for the couplers, which pivot on a long arm centered on the truck bolster and are mechanically linked to the swiveling of the trucks. Body mounting the coupler is often recommended as part of the fix for the tracking problems with the Athearn kits, but this restricts the ability to couple with shorter cars on any but the broadest curves. A-Line offers a weight kit for the Athearn car that increases its weight and lowers its center of gravity, but restricts truck movement to a minimum radius of 27 inches.

I haven’t heard of serious tracking problems with either the Accurail or Walthers kits, although they are both underweight when built out-of-the-box, and both use swiveling coupler mounts. The Accurail kit uses a coupler mounting that pivots on the bolster, but is not linked to the truck movement. The coupler mount on the Walthers kit pivots from a point midway between the truck and the end of the car. Walthers formerly offered a version of this coupler mounting as an accessory for use on the Athearn cars, but I have never seen a review of it, and it is no longer listed in their catalog.

Since I want my Apollo and Mercury trains to operate out of a hidden staging yard that contains some track work that might prove to be an operational challenge for 89 ft flatcars, I decided to give construction of my TOFC fleet a higher priority. I needed to get these trains running reliably through the staging yard before I constructed the visible track layers above it! This return loop staging yard uses a 24 inch radius on the innermost of the four tracks, is accessed via ladders of Atlas #6 turnouts at each end, and is connected to the visible track through a Walthers #7.5 curved turnout whose diverging route includes a short section with a 22 inch radius.

I had three construction objectives for my fleet of TOFC flatcars:

  1. Bring the weight as close as possible to the NMRA recommendations, and keep the center of gravity as low as possible.
  2. Have the cars track reliably through the hidden Buffalo Division staging yard. I decided that swiveling coupler mounts were necessary for operation on the tightest curves, and since the Accurail and Walthers systems seemed to work, the Athearn system could probably be improved.
  3. All cars should have the same deck height, as close to the prototypes as possible. The Accurail and Walthers kits built out-of-the-box are about 3 scale inches higher the prototype deck height of 3′-6″, which is close enough for me, especially since I don’t see any easy way of lowering them. However, the Athearn cars are noticeable higher, and can be lowered without too much trouble.

So far, I have built a short train of two Accurail cars, two Walthers cars, and one Athearn car that not only meets my minimum requirement of running smoothly through the staging yard when pulled (the only operation that is planned for these trains), but has reliably backed up through all sections of the track work as well! I’ll post more on how I modified the models to get this performance after I build a few more and take some photos of the steps.

Trailer Vans

Typical trailer vans seen in Apollo and Mercury consists, and how to model them.  (info needed)


Typical containers seen in Apollo and Mercury consists, and how to model them.  (info needed)

I’ve gotten some good advice from the ModelIntermodal group on the flat cars and trailer vans of the period, and the available models in HO. I’ll distill that and post it here, in addition to my own findings. I haven’t started researching the containers yet, other than to read two introductory articles in MR and RMC. Unfortunately, most of the stuff being published covers 1990 to present.

1. Although LV schedules describe the traffic only as TOFC, videos show that containers were also carried, and that some Mercurys were solid Sea Train containers.

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