Boxcar – PRR 51121

Builder:PRR Altoona Shop
Original Owner:Pennsylvania Railroad
Capacity:50 Tons
Class:AAR Class XM, PRR Class X29

Since the US railroads frequently handed off freight cars between each other (the railroad term is “interchange”), it was advantageous to standardize design of cars between the numerous different railroads and companies who owned them. Standardization avoided compatibility issues such as one railroad’s cars not fitting through another one’s tunnels or couplers not matching up.

One of the trade groups driving standardization was the American Railway Association. In 1923, the ARA developed its standard 40′ steel boxcar. The design was successful, with over 300,000 copies built for use on North American railroads. In the 1930’s, the ARA merged with other trade groups to become the Association of American Railroads, an organization which still drives harmonization of railroad technology and designs today.

The Pennsylvania Railroad – which routinely preferred to build its own railcars and locomotives – built over 30,000 of its own ARA 40′ boxcars, and dubbed them its X29 class. Boxcar 51121 was built in the PRR’s Altoona Car Shops in 1929. These cars were used to transport all sorts of crated or boxed goods requiring protection from the elements. At some point – likely during World War II – 51121 was modified for express (i.e. time-sensitive freight) service and renumbered 4996.

After being acquired by Jerry Jacobson in the 1990’s, 51121 received new PRR paint and a quick lettering job to appear in re-created steam freight trains on the Ohio Central Railroad. In 2021 the boxcar was rolled into the Age of Steam Roundhouse Backshop for a more in-depth restoration. Freight Car Restoration Specialist Bill Hanslik led the charge to bring 51121 back to it’s early 1940’s freight look, just before its express modifications. During rust removal the PRR’s Keystone logo was uncovered, likely being applied in the 1950’s.

Rotting metal was removed and new patches were welded in. Wood was replaced on the roof walkway. The car was then primed and painted, with the paint color carefully matched to a paint swatch loaned from the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society. PRR lettering diagrams were painstakingly followed to confirm the car’s final lettering was spot-on. When boxcar 51121 rolled out of the Backshop in the Summer of 2022, it looked as good as new!

Our thanks to Bruce Smith of the PRRTHS and John Frantz of Mt. Vernon Shops for their contributions of artwork, diagrams and paint swatches to ensure the accuracy of this project.