Sunday, October 14, 2012

Modeling SP passenger cars -- head-end cars

Head-end cars are all the non-passenger-carrying cars seen at the head end of passenger trains: baggage and postal cars handling mail and express, and some other cargoes. Some trains might include express refrigerator cars. In the AAR classification, these would be baggage-express cars (Class BE), baggage-horse cars (BH), express refrigerator (BR), and box express (BX) cars in the non-mail categories, and then full postal (Class MA), postal storage (MR), and postal-baggage (MB) cars. As I briefly mentioned in my introductory post on this topic (it is available at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/10/choosing-model-sp-passenger-cars.html ), all these car types could be found in the “Coast Mail,” trains 71 and 72.
     Before going any further, I should mention the absolutely essential information contained in the monumental volume on these types of cars, published by the SP Historical & Technical Society, Volume 3 in the series Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, and subtitled “Head-end Equipment” (SPH&TS, Pasadena, CA, 2007). This is simply the bible on this topic, and much that I say in this and following posts about head-end cars relies entirely on its foundation.
     As is true for other parts of its fleet of rolling stock, SP’s head-end cars comprise a pretty complicated story when told in full (see Volume 3, cited above). But for modeling purposes, we can simplify it considerably. One simplification is to discuss only the 60-foot and 70-foot baggage cars, most of them arch-roof cars (I will return in a later post to the 80-foot baggage-horse cars), and postal cars.
     I will begin with the 60-foot baggage cars. There has long been in HO scale a kind of approximation to these cars, the old Model Die Casting baggage car. It is not terribly accurate in several details, and suffers from the defect of the entire MDC arch-roof passenger car series: rivets the scale size of grapefruits. Although I once worked to improve one of these cars for layout service, including sanding off the roof rivets, I eventually abandoned the project and sold the model. But I do believe these can be reworked sufficiently to serve, amongst better baggage cars. I just don’t own an example.
     Another long-serving source of these cars is the old Ken Kidder brass model. The Kidder models also have a few discrepancies from the SP prototype baggage cars, and were originally sold with no underbody equipment at all. But most of the appearance is all right for SP, and underbody detail is readily added. Over the years, I have picked up several of these cars. They are certainly not great models, but aside from the too-low roof arch, they are really pretty decent overall.
     The prototype underbody is typified by a battery box on one side only, with one of the brake system reservoirs visible on the other side (and an electrical generator, if one had been fitted). What I mean is clearly shown by these two views of SP 6018, taken at Fresno in April 1958 (used here by courtesy of the photographer, Don Munger). First, what in freight car parlance would be the left side. This is SP Class 60-B-3, with all 12 SP cars in the class built in 1910.


And as a comparison, the other or right side; note the battery box:


These two photos are on page 237 of the SPH&TS book, Volume 3. Note also that the end nearest the camera is lettered “BAGGAGE” on both sides.
     These cars were delivered with steel baggage doors, but most cars in later years had paneled wood doors, as in the photos above. The original configuration of vents and other equipment on the roof varied according to how and when the car had been shopped, though most of these cars did retain their Globe vents, as above.
     Here is one of my Kidder cars, lettered with Thin Film “Harriman” decals (set HO-160). Their catalog is at: http://thinfilmdecals.com/ . The battery box is on the far side.


     The 70-foot baggage cars are also distinctive, particularly the ones with windows, and years ago, when there were essentially no alternatives, I kitbashed a couple of them out of Athearn plastic baggage cars. I wrote up the process in some detail for Prototype Modeler magazine (Vol. 7, No. 6, March-April 1984, pages 39–44). What I obtained was one car with correct windows and reasonable looking doors and other details, and a second car which really wasn't too accurate but was at least a 70-foot baggage car with an arch roof and equal-size doors. I used the Utility vents typical of SP classes 70-B-9 and -10 for these models.


     I also have a Ken Kidder 60-foot RPO, which is not a bad model of SP’s Class 60-BP-30-1, a baggage-mail car with a 30-foot postal apartment. Here is my model, with the appropriate six-wheel trucks.


     I haven’t shown these models because they are particularly accurate, because they’re not. So I should hasten to mention that accurate kits, with beautiful castings, do exist for all these types of head-end cars, from Southern Car & Foundry. These are the superb model work of Jon Cagle, and can be seen at: http://www.southerncarandfoundry.com/ ; just click on “rolling stock/HO.” I own all of those kits but don’t have any completed ones yet to show in comparison to those displayed above, but I will do so. I am especially eager to finish the 70-foot window baggage from this line, and will certainly replace some of my current “stand-in” cars with SC&F cars. As those kits are completed, I will post about them.
     But the cars shown above are the core of my head-end equipment for now, and thus for the time being form the core of my version of the “Coast Mail.” More on other car types in a future post.
Tony Thompson

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