Thursday, August 7, 2014

Modeling SP’s Coast Mail — the rider coach

One component of the “Coast Mail,” trains 71 and 72 in the Transition Era, was a rider coach. This served the crew as a caboose, and accommodated the occasional paying passenger (few of whom traveled much distance), or deadheading SP employees. I will need one or two such cars for my model of the train. The rest of the train was introduced in one of my earlier posts (see: ).
     The most commonly seen rider coaches on the Mail were old 60-foot arch-roof coaches (often termed “Harriman” cars). There is now a great deal of information about these cars, presented in Volume 1 of the series Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, entitled “Coaches and Chair Cars” (SPH&TS, Pasadena, 2003). The earliest cars of any quantity, classes 60-C-3 and 60-C-4 (219 cars for Pacific Lines), had the wide windows familiar from photos and models. Subsequent 60-C classes had paired windows, a quite different appearance. One has to choose which to model. I lean toward the earlier cars.
     Roof arrangements varied too. The first 116 of the 219 Pacific Lines cars of classes 60-C-3 and -4 had a single row of ten Globe vents along the roof center line. Subsequent cars in those classes had double rows of eight vents per row, plus additional vents over the toilets, and in later years many of the older cars with single vent rows had them rearranged into the double rows of eight, plus toilet vents.
     The Model Die Casting (now Athearn) “Harriman” coach, with wide windows, has been familiar to modelers for years. In my view, it suffers from a couple of defects. First, the rivets are simply immense, practically the scale size of grapefruits. Especially on the roof, where they are unavoidably visible, I have simply sliced them off with a chisel-blade hobby knife, and the remaining scar still looks kind of big. Second, and more seriously, there are not enough windows: the car has seven large side windows, whereas the prototype coaches had eight and the chair cars nine. The reason is simple: the good folks at MDC evidently did not realize that passenger car length, in SP terminology, is the length between end sills, and the end sills were located at the end of the passenger compartment, not at the outer edge of the vestibule. The coupled length of the prototype car is thus about 68 feet, not the nominal 60 feet of the “60-C” classification, or the 60 scale feet of the MDC car.
     Alternatives at reasonable prices include the Ken Kidder brass cars from the 1960s. These were intended as economy models, and were sold with only a plain wood floor, no underbody detail whatever, and no interior whatever. They also have a little bit the wrong roof contour; the roof edge should curve down to be tangent to the car sides, whereas the Kidder roof meets the side at an angle. But this is not terribly obvious in a passing train.
     Over the years, Kidded produced several car bodies: a 40-foot RPO, and a bunch of nominally 60-foot cars. These include an RPO, a baggage car, a combine, two coaches (one with a single row of roof vents, one with a double row), and an observation. As far as I can tell, the arch-roof combine represents an extremely rare SP car and the observation may be imaginary as they modeled it. The others seem to be reasonable, and here I will talk about the coach.
     I have one of the Kidder brass versions with double rows of Globe vents. I bought the car fully 25 years ago, and it was far from new then. Naturally it had been gently tarnishing during the interim years. I used a product my wife relies on, Wright’s Copper Cream, available in many housewares and hardware stores, to see if I could clean the car. With virtually no elbow grease, just gentle scrubbing with an old tooth brush, the car was gleaming clean brass in under a minute. I then rinsed it thoroughly with warm water and allowed it to dry.

     The most visible shortcoming of this car is that it has open upper window sashes, whereas SP over the years either plated over those upper sashes, or replaced the glass with something opaque. I wanted to capture that look without having to apply plating over all the upper sash segments, so applied styrene strips, 1/8-inch wide and 0.020-inch thick, along the car length inside. I attached the strips with canopy glue, a very effective medium for dissimilar materials like these. (If you don’t know this product, you can read my commentary at: .) Here is a view inside the car, showing the first styrene strip applied on the far wall:

From the outside of the car, the desired blanking of the upper sash is neatly accomplished:

Then I applied a gray undercoat to the car, using Testors “Flat Dark Aircraft Gray,” which remains available in the Testors line as a spray can, item 1226. This undercoat seems to help adhesion of Tru-Color Paints, which I will use for the final coat of SP’s Dark Olive Green (some modelers call the color “DOG,” from its initials). Here you can also see the blanked upper sashes.

What now remains is to paint the roof dark gray or black and the car sides DOG, then decal; and also to create an underframe.
     Robert Bowdidge has also undertaken upgrading of several of these Kidder cars, as he has described in a post to his fine blog (you can read his post at: ). Although his statements about roof vents don’t apply to the early SP classes modeled by Kidder, he accomplished a nice underbody, and I will come back to that topic in a future post. I will also show in that post the final paint and lettering for this car.
Tony Thompson


  1. Rob Sarberenyi chronicled his building of Ken Kidder cars that I found useful for the floor and underframe.

  2. Yes, when I post about my completion of this car, I will have a link to Rob's page, which I did study. But his underframe is an approximation, as can be seen from any of the Southern Car & Foundry kits, and his version both overdoes some parts, and omits others. I will have more to say in my forthcoming post, which will show my OWN approximation.
    Tony Thompson