30 November 2012
Mike Pigott looks at this high quality but short-lived range of 1/50 diecast trucks made by the well-known American model railway company Athearn. ...
In 2004, the long-established model railroad company Athearn entered the diecast model vehicle market. Prior to this, Athearn had been producing a wide range of well-detailed 1/87 trucks in ABS plastic, but the diecast line was all in 1/50 scale. First models were a range of John Deere tractors, followed by Ford commercial and emergency vehicles, and finally a series of Ford vintage cars and vans also in 1/50 scale, which was quite an unusual size for cars. Interestingly, Athearn’s model railways were in HO and N gauges, so presumably the diecast range were intended for diecast collectors, or model railroaders using rival lines of O-gauge trains.
The Athearn 1/50 model trucks were made to an extremely high standard, and were certainly in the same league as the better Corgi and First Gear American trucks in the same scale. Of the six castings released between 2004 and 2008, five were variations of the Ford C-Series truck.
FORD C BOX VAN
The Ford C-Series truck was a medium-sized, forward-control lorry that was enormously popular in the USA and Canada, being roughly the equivalent of the British Ford D-Series. It was an extremely long-lived model, remaining in production from 1958 to 1990 with very few modifications. It was used for a wide range of duties, but was most commonly used as a fire engine or a beverage truck.
It was also quite common as a box van, and this was the type first modelled by Athearn. This was an extremely good model of a two-axle truck, and came with a very convincing aluminium-look van body with fluted sides. The cab was also very well done, with a detailed interior, indicator lights and very accurate wing mirrors. As Athearn was model train company, most of the vans came in railway liveries, although there were a few in John Deere colours and some general freight haulage liveries such as Roadway and Penn Yan Express.
FORD C FIRE TRUCK
The Ford C-Series was used extensively as a fire truck, and Athearn made an extremely nice model of a fire pumper version. Although based on the same type of vehicle as the box van, it shared no component parts with it. It had a crew-cab with a semi-enclosed rear section, plus a very detailed interior, hose bed and control panel. It came complete with ladders, suction hoses, a high pressure nozzle and a full complement of fire-fighting tools. Six versions were initially released, in authentic liveries such as Boston, Chicago and Detroit. After these sold out, a second batch were produced in 2007, but in generic colours (such as County Fire Dept).
FORD C SEMI TRACTOR
Next release was another For C, this time as an artic tractor. This used the same cab as the box van, but now as a two axle prime mover with a fifth wheel coupling. It was available in a selection of railway and hauling company liveries. It was a nice model, but unfortunately Athearn did not manufacture any matching trailers.
FORD C STAKE BED TRUCK
Another Ford C followed in 2006, and this time it was a rigid truck with a stake-side body. Another impressive model, it had diecast stake sides that were removable and allowed the truck to be displayed as a flatbed. It was available in a number of colourful railway company liveries, such as Burlington Northern, Santa Fe, Union Pacific and Rio Grande (as shown).
FORD C TELESQUIRT
The final Ford C model was another fire truck, this time using the standard truck cab with an all new rear body. Mounted at the rear is a boom with Telesquirt water cannon. The boom and attached ladder raise and rotate, while the cannon nozzle can swivel up and down. The finish on this fire engine is excellent, with detailed hoses, control panel, lights and ladders complete with safety covers. This model was available in six authentic fire brigade liveries: Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Boston, Washington DC, plus the lesser-known town of Gardner, Illinois.
FORD F-850 FIRE TRUCK
In 2007 Athearn released an all-new casting, this time a Ford F-850 fire pumper. The Ford F-Series was a range of bonneted trucks that ranged in size from pick-ups through to huge prime movers, but all shared common styling. Athearn modelled a big F-850 fire truck which had a front-mounted platform with a pump and hose connections. The detailed rear section had a large hose bed, ladders and suction hoses, while the cab had a light bar and spotlights mounted on the roof. It was available in six liveries, but again, these were all generic colour schemes.
Sadly, this was the last diecast model made by Athearn. The models sold well, but were just not profitable for the company, which went back to manufacturing model trains and 1/87 scale plastic vehicles. This proved disappointing for many collectors, who had been impressed with the high quality and reasonable pricing of the Athearn 1/50 trucks. They were all models that had never previously been produced in this scale. It was hoped that some Ford F-Series trucks would be made, but unfortunately, this never happened; nor did a Ford C beverage truck (although there were plastic HO versions available).
For collectors of 1/50 scale vehicles, this range of six vehicles are certainly worth tracking down, although they are becoming hard to find. They would certainly complement a collection of Corgi American trucks and fire engines very nicely.