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Two-Axle Pilot Car

Unimodel 1/72 Two-Axle Pilot Car Build Review

By Llarry Amrose

Date of Review December 2010 Manufacturer Unimodel
Subject Two-Axle Pilot Car Scale 1/72
Kit Number 615 Primary Media Styrene & Photo-Etch
Pros Nice detailing Cons Ejection pin marks
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $23.99


Pretty much as soon as railroads came into being, they became an important military tool.  Dependable, economical transport of troops, equipment and supplies was essential.  This, of course, also made the railroads a natural target for enemy and partisan action.

As soon as war broke out (or even as hostilities seemed imminent), civilian railroads were pressed into service.  Furthermore, most countries also produced dedicated military trains.

According to the history section of the instructions, two-axle flat open wagons were produced by the USSR in great numbers from 1920 through 1940.  These cars had low wooden sides that could be folded down, and could carry about 20 tons.  As well as carrying cargo, these cars were often used as “pilot cars”.  Loaded with sandbags, they would be connected to the front of the train, in order to detonate any mines, protecting the locomotive and other, more valuable cars in the train.  At other times, anti-aircraft guns would be mounted on them to defend the trains from aerial attack.

Searching on-line turned up one picture of a Soviet train in which one of these cars appeared to be at the edge of the image.  Not a lot of reference help there…

The Kit

UM has gradually been releasing a series of Soviet railcars, including various armored cars.  This is one of the most recent, and while not as glamorous, would certainly be an expected part of any train display.

Inside the usual blue UM end-opening box are the usual green UM sprues. There are two copies of sprue A, one of which contains a section at one end containing the wheels and a few other parts common to UM’s other railcar kits, many of which are not used here.  B is an extensive sheet of photoetched brass.  As usual for UM, this is rather thick, but the necessary folds are straight and simple enough that no special handling is needed.  There is also a length of wire included, which somehow went astray before reaching my work table, but I was able to substitute some plastic rod as the wire is intended to be used in straight sections.

The standard 4-page instruction sheet includes a brief history in multiple languages and a parts layout with unused pieces crossed out.  A small decal sheet completes the component list.  As with most railcars I have ever seen, there is a small forest of stencils noting identification, usage and capacity, which are all but indecipherable to any but the most dedicated rail-fan, and in this case are in Russian.

If there is an issue with the parts to watch for, it is the placement of the ejector pin marks.  The ones on the wooden sides are relatively easy to fill and sand, while those on the underside of the frame will really not be visible when the kit is completed.  There worst are those on the track display sections.  They appear on a number of the railroad ties, which have no detail on them as it is. (In contrast, the rails themselves and the flanges where they attach to the ties are very nice.)  After sanding out the pin marks, I have gotten good results taking a sewing needle and scribing 2-3 random lines along each tie to simulate some grain and crack detail.  This gives some texture for paint and washes to highlight.


Assembly consists of 9 steps, nicely diagrammed.  Normally UM instructions are a little vague in some part placements, but I found these drawings to be sufficiently detailed.  Step 1 is the construction of the bed of the car, which is molded with the underside frame.  From there the steps proceed in a logical manner, though I did end up switching the order of just a couple of the steps.

Rail Car Rail Car

In step 3, I feel it is important to be sure to attach the long sections of brass, parts 25B and 26B (4 of each) before tackling the wheel assemblies.  With the length and thickness of these parts, I heartily recommend the use of a photoetch bending tool of at least 4 inches.  The rest of the brass bends will be small, simple bends that tweezers will handle.

Rail Car Rail Car

For purposes of handling, I found it best to combine steps 6 and 7, the sides of the body, and to do them before step 5, which is using the wire (which as I mentioned previously I had to substitute plastic rod for) as underside support rods.  Step 9 is joining the rail sections and mounting the car on them.  I saved this until after paint and decals were complete, and used only one rail section to save shelf space.

Painting and Finishing

The directions call for the underside to be black, representing the iron frame of the car.  Olive drab and natural wood are given as options for the upper, wooden sections of the car.  I chose the wood so as to get a chance to try out the “Weathered Wood” set from Lifecolor which I recently picked up.

I started by spraying the entire kit in black.  In a couple of places on the bottom, due to the shapes, I got incomplete coverage over some of the brass parts, which ended up looking really good, like partially rusty iron.  A couple of brown and red-brown washes, and some pastels completed the look.  I recently saw a statement by a modeler of both military and railroad subjects that when it comes to rail cars, in real life, what starts out black never stays black…

For the wooden sections, I started by drybrushing on the base color so as to leave some of the black undercoat in the spaces between planks and on the iron brackets.  Other shades were added in the same way to age and weather the wood, and the brackets were touched up and then some rust and dirt added with light washes and drybrushing.

Rail Car Rail Car

The decals are matte, fairly thin, but with fairly wide carrier film.  Generally this isn't much of a problem if you have room to leave the entire carrier in place, as it tapers down well in thickness towards the edges and snuggles down to the surface pretty well.  In a few places I did need to trim the decals down to get them lined up between the iron bracket details. 

This is where the lack of references came most into play.  Most of the decals have the locations shown pretty well, though I wonder how many of these cars actually carried a full set of markings.  Decal 2, however, is an identification number, and there is nothing to indicate what sort of number would be expected.  Given the location indicated, it looks to me like a 6-8 digit number would fit best.  I decided on 6 digits, I don’t expect to ever hear otherwise….  Lastly, Tamiya Weathering Master pastels were used to finish off the look.


All in all, an enjoyable and recommended build.  The structure of a railcar is different than most other subjects.  The kit goes together quite well and certainly looks the part.  I can’t speak to accuracy, but then this is a kit representing a class of car which undoubtedly saw variations during its 20 year production.

At this rate, I am likely to end up completing UM’s entire catalog.  While the moldings and engineering may not be quite up to state of the art, they are far better than what we usually call "short-run".  They're pretty affordable, and cover subjects and variants that have rarely if ever been kitted in 1/72, and to a reasonable standard of accuracy. 

This railcar is an attractive and unusual vehicle, which will look good on just about any model shelf.  Now I just need to find a kit of a Soviet AA gun for it.

My thanks to, who provided the kit for this build review.