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Modeling Gaffe 4 – Vehicular Anachronisms

February 14, 2009

Ok, for those who don’t have a precise knoweledge of what an anachronism is, think of it this way: If you were a citizen of the 1870’s, which method of communication would be appropriate for you to contact your family In New York if you’re stuck in an Odgen, UT train depot and won’t be there in time for Christmas?
a) Whip out your Cell Phone and make a call.
b) Walk over to a phone booth and make a call.
c) Go to the local Western Union office and send a Telegram.

Answering “C” would be the appropriate answer, but wouldn’t you know how many people, model railroaders included, would have chosen “B”?

Modelers frequently screw this up with their choice of automobiles and trucks for their layouts, and there’s no excuse, really. So this brings us to the tale of:

1958 Athearn Ford C cabover out of place on a 1946 scene

You see it even on some of the finest layouts around the country, and this saddens me.
Why, when:
-The Meticulous Prototype modeler re-details their rolling stock fleet to perfectly fit the era (either by “modernizing” or “backdating” such things as Brake equipment, trucks, couplers, trussrods/steel underframe)
-They don’t purchase any diesel or steam locomotive that doesn’t strictly fit their modeled era
-They invest time, money and research into detailing their structures with period details, getting the right advertisements, window displays and prices written on signs in the windows.

Do the same modelers NOT take the same care with their choice of automobiles and plop a ’58 Corvette in a 1946 scene and dub it “ok” when that corvette probably never would have met a revenue steam locomotive at a railroad crossing in it’s entire life?

The worst offender in the vehicle catagory is definately the cliche1956 Ford F-100, which has been produced in almost every scale. It’s usually found in some junkyard on the layout, a total rust-bucket like it’s been there for 45 years of harsh canadian winters with spring floods….and the modeled year is 1951!!


Delibrately posed to prove a point this Athearn Ford-C cabover truck is weathered only like you’d find one in 2009, with completely faded paint, heavy rust and grime, flat tires, etc. The Ford C was made from 1958-1991 so, like the corvette I mentioned earlier, it would have never seen mainline steam, nor would it fit into my 1954 layout, but SO MANY modelers make this mistake it’s getting old and unacceptable.

There is no excuse for this behavior as the Auto/Truck’s model year is printed on the packaging 95% to the time! Picking an era and sticking to it is a major step towards realism and automobiles can provide the most vivid clue.

Cars change every model year, and trucks usually change designs every 5-10 years. There are periods in which the change was quite rapid though, and most of those fall within “popular” modeled periods.

Visit this car show gallery and follow along with the commentary below:

1922 saw the genesis of the car beyond the wooden-framed, doped cloth covered flivvers.

1935 was the first major jump from “running boards and long noses” to the beginning of the full-bodied cars. Fenders became part of the body.

1939 saw the best of the streamlined cars, they were sleek, chromed, fast and were getting “fuller” in shape, running boards began to disappear on Automobiles.

1949 saw the dawn of the “upside-down bathtub” designs that were WIDE, fat and round.

1955 began the transition into the “fins” era, the designs were still subtle, but a hint of what was to come. The Profile becomes somewhat more square.

1957-9 had perhaps the most outrageously overdone “production” cars with HUGE fins and ungainly shapes. Running boards diappeared on pickup trucks and “highlight lines” (creases in the side of the body, usually horizontally across where the door handle is) were all the rage.

1961 saw the beginning of the slab-sided boxes. Minimalist detail until the mid 1960’s when such cars as the galaxy redefined the GIGANTIC size of the automobile. (these cars were so large, you paint it battleship gray, letter CV-60 on it’s hood and christen it as our next aircraft carrier.)

mid 1970’s, when the hideous “retro” attemps at vinyl tops, bad grilles, and awkward looking bodies were the mainstay of american roads

The 1980’s saw the rise of Computer-aided (er in these cases, hindered) design. Most cars were built as if the designers only knew straight lines at odd angles.

The 1990’s saw the rise of the “bar of soap” designs for aerodynamic reasons. The Ford Taurus was perhaps the worst offender. Trucks became aerodynamic with rounded edges for the first time since the 1940’s.

…you probably can deduce the current collection of cars on the road today, I’ll leave you with that.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2009 4:29 am

    I’m very curious about this series of cliche posts, but it appears the spot where your images are hosted has exceeded its bandwidth. Any plans to fix it? It seems that at least the last 5 or 6 posts are affected.

  2. January 11, 2013 7:19 pm

    This gaffe, in my personal opinion, is more of a dead givaway than some others. A great many people are VERY well versed in automobile styling, and a complete layman in everything else on the layout could easily take exception to the wrong car.

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