Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Class A-50-4 auto cars -- new update

In an earlier post, I used the Southern Pacific Class A-50-4 automobile cars as an example to illustrate the information which exists in the SP Car Ledgers. I applied that information to determining how many cars of this class survived into 1953 (which was a question I’d been asked) and whether they had AB brakes applied. I also showed prototype photos. You can view that post at: .
     Since that post, further questions have arisen about the A-50-4 cars, in particular whether they kept their original Vulcan trucks or received new U-section cast steel AAR trucks, a change made on many older SP freight cars. Again, the Car Ledger contains this information, showing the date and place of such a replacement, if it occurred. For the cars listed in the previous post as late survivors, here are the truck data.
     For each car surviving into 1953, I have indicated whether trucks were replaced, and the date of replacement. You will see that of the 13 cars in this list, only five got new trucks before scrapping.
     First, the batch of 250 cars built for SP in 1921, numbers 63080–63328:
          63084, trucks replaced 10-48

          63094, trucks not replaced 
          63140, replaced 2-49
          63180, trucks not replaced 
          63197, replaced 6-49
          63246, replaced 2-53
          63261 trucks not replaced
          63297, trucks not replaced 
          63325, trucks not replaced
     Second, the 150-car batch built for T&NO in 1921 and acquired by Pacific Lines in 1936, SP 63600–63746:
          63666, trucks not replaced
          63699, trucks not replaced
          63707, replaced 11-53 (scrapped summer 1954)
          63727, trucks not replaced
This list probably isn’t exhaustive but it should provide truck information for nearly all or all of the survivors past 1-53. For modelers, obviously, the date one models will determine what kind of trucks should be under the model. 
     This SP car class is of particular interest to me, because an HO scale kit for it exists. The kit was developed by Speedwitch Media for the SP Historical & Technical Society convention in 2005, and like all Speedwitch kits, it is a beautiful model. It represents the cars late in their lives, with the enlarged side door opening which was shown in a photograph in the prior A-50-4 post (cited above). I had this kit on the shelf, until I had an offer from Pierre Oliver of Elgin Car Shops (visit ), who was about to build another A-50-4 for a client, to build my kit as well.
     I took him up on it, knowing that he is a fine craftsman, although since I much enjoy applying decal lettering and then weathering my freight cars, I asked him to build and paint it but not to do any lettering. The car did have AB brakes and Vulcan trucks in 1953, which is how Pierre built it.
     Presently the completed car arrived, beautiful as expected, and I applied the lettering and weathering. Here is a view of the completed car. It would no longer have been in automobile service by 1953, but retains that lettering because at that time the AAR still defined double-door cars as automobile cars.

     I really like this car as part of my SP freight car fleet, with its funky steep diagonal brace at the right side of the door, created when the door opening was enlarged (see the prototype photo in the previous post, cited in the first paragraph of this post). It is now at work on my layout, hauling lumber (a common SP use for double-door cars no longer suitable for automobiles).
Tony Thompson


  1. As ever, I'm finding your Blog very interesting. I've got an old A50-6 auto car, and I'll now consign it to lumber traffic for its last months of service.

    May I ask you something?

    The Coast line saw lots of automobile-part traffic, as well as completed autos. Was this traffic only carried in SP (50'?)boxcars, or were other RR cars used? And did it travel in small-ish blocks of cars within general freight consists, or were there almost whole trains of 50' auto cars?

    Thanks for any information.

  2. Auto parts were almost always transported by pools of cars, contributed by each railroad over which the particular parts moved, in proportion to their share of the total mileage. Thus a range of car owners would be found in parts service (including SP, of course). Many auto parts did move in 50-foot cars, but 40-foot cars were also in use, both single-door and double-door versions. I described this traffic in two of my volumes in the _Southern Pacific Freight Cars_ series, volumes 3 and 4 on auto cars and box cars.

    I also discussed my own auto car fleet, for both parts service and assembled autos, in a prior post at:

    SP shipments of assembled cars from on-line plants were likely entirely or close to entirely in SP cars. But not all models of autos were assembled on the West Coast, so some assembled models had to be shipped west, and those could be in cars of the railroads where the autos were built.
    Tony Thompson

  3. I see I forgot to comment on your final question: And did it travel in small-ish blocks of cars within general freight consists, or were there almost whole trains of 50' auto cars?

    Assembled auto shipments of West Coast products might be pretty big blocks, but auto parts arriving from the east would be scattered in smaller blocks, as I understand the process. Ditto for assembled autos coming from the east.
    Tony Thompson