Sunday, June 4, 2023

Small project: an old brass SP baggage car

I have in my varied collection of passenger car models a number of the old Ken Kidder brass versions of Harriman cars, especially the head-end cars. But one I never had acquired over the years was the Kidder model of the 40-foot baggage-RPO car. The model verges on “cute,” and the prototype was a rare beast on Pacific Lines (most were built for Atlantic lines), so I always would pass on the purchase when I saw one of these models for sale.

But eventually, as most of us have experienced a few times, the purchasing opportunity coincided with a “hey, why not” impulse, and I bought one. Listed at $60, I asked the seller if he’d take less and he said “sure, how about $30?” So now I was the proud owner. What next? I always start with the history, and of course it’s in Chapter 1 of Volume 3 of the SPH&TS series Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, “Head End Equipment” (Pasadena, 2007).

The prototype cars, built to provide a 40-foot postal apartment during 1910–1911, later became obsolete as the Post Office Department standardized on 15-, 30- or 60-foot apartments in postal cars. There were originally 6 cars of Class 40-P-1 (3 for SP, 3 for UP), built in 1910. The SP cars soon became postal-storage cars before all going to SP de Mexico around World War I. 

In 1911, five more cars were built, all for Atlantic Lines; they were rebuilt by T&NO in 1929 to baggage-postal cars with 15-foot postal apartments. A larger baggage door replaced the postal door in one end. By World War II they were surplus to requirements on T&NO, and two were transferred to SP in June 1943, rebuilt as baggage-express cars by removing the postal equipment, and renumbered 6008 and 6009. These are the cars modeled by Kidder.

Below is a photo of SP 6008 at Oakland about 1950 (E.R. Mohr photo, Jeff Cauthen collection). You can see beneath the car, and the large tank formerly present to supply illumination gas is absent, so by this time the car was electrically lighted.

Before going on, I want to simply show the end of the original Kidder box, not because of its description of the model, because the model actually isn’t an RPO, but the original price. This may be informative for those who don’t grasp how much inflation we’ve experienced over the span of decades since this model was produced.

My mode was quite tarnished, understandable since it’s at least 50 years old, and had a couple of loose solder joints. (More on those in a moment.) But all the original Kidder parts were there. The Kidder roof curvature is well known to be a little too small, but not a major point for a model like this one.

My first action with a model as tarnished as this is to use some brass polish on it. It won’t restore the original surface, but does remove a great deal of the tarnish. I use a product my wife swears by, “Red Bear,” intended for polishing both copper and brass. Produced in Norway, I think it’s less potent than in previous years, but it sure works.

It was now time to make a couple of repairs to the model. One of the doors had come partly un-soldered, another one was crooked, and at one end, both the corner joint and the roof-to-end joint were partly open. I repaired some of these problems with solder, though the model interior was just as tarnished as the exterior had been, making soldering difficult. Others were fixed with canopy glue.

I was now ready to apply primer. I used the excellent Tamiya Fine Surface Primer (white in color), which I’ve found to adhere well to both metal and plastic when they’re clean, and a fine first coat under final color. For the body color, I chose the P-B-L Star Brand “SP/UP/D&RGW Dark Olive,” STR-29, and airbrushed the sides and ends (the roof will be dark gray to black —thus no need to mask or ensure even color on the roof at this point).

With these steps, the project was well underway. Some issues still to be solved are couplers and diaphragms, as well as completing the paint and lettering. I will continue my description in a future post.

Tony Thompson

1 comment:

  1. I've always loved these 'cute' little cars...especially the one that was modified into a caboose for the San Bruno branch. Looking forward to part 2.