Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Rapido SP box cars: the paint schemes

When the Rapido HO scale models of SP box car classes B-50-15 and -16 were first released, I posted a description of the prototype and some details about the models. (That post is here: ). In the present post, I want to show several of the models as offered.

Class B-50-15 was built in 1925-26 and Class B-50-16 in 1927-28. At that time, SP lettering called for the SP initials to have periods, e.g. S.P., as did many railroads. But in 1931, SP decided to discontinue the use of periods in the reporting marks. Thus the earliest paint scheme offered by Rapido is correctly called “1931–1946,” accurately describing the span of time involved. Below I show one of the models in this paint scheme. Some cars, of course, didn’t get this lettering replaced for years after 1946.

In 1946, SP made considerable changes in its lettering for locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars (the latter changes are described in considerable detail in the book, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide [SPH&TS, 2016], by Dick Harley and me). For SP freight cars, the road name was now spelled out, instead of mere initials, for the reporting mark. 

Below is one of the Class B-50-15 model cars that had been steel-sheathed, in the 1946–52 scheme. (In 1952, SP discontinued the use of the 1-inch stripes above the road name and below the car number, which is why Rapido uses that year in its paint scheme description.) One might, in passing, wonder why a car with a post-1946 paint scheme carries a 1936 reweigh date — but I digress. It’s fixable.

Rapido also offers what they call a “post-1955” paint scheme, with spelled-out road name but no stripes, which is narrowly correct, but by 1955, and thereafter, SP returned to use of the initials “SP” only as the reporting mark. I didn’t get one of those cars.

The steel-sheathing program for both these box car classes originally seems to have begun in the mid-1930s, when SP instituted  an overnight package (LCL) service between Los Angeles and San Francisco, integrating long-distance rail with their trucking service, Pacific Motor Transport, for local delivery. This was soon named “Overnight” service, and a distinctive paint scheme developed, using all-black cars with Light Orange lettering and striping (the orange was a PFE color dating from 1929, and two years after its adoption for the Overnight cars, would become famous as “Daylight Orange”). 

That scheme would vanish at the beginning of World War II, when special freight services like the Overnight trains were discontinued for the duration. So this scheme was long gone from 1942 onward, but I had to have one for my display case. Note that these cars had been renumbered into a 9000 series, but recovered their original numbers when returned to ordinary freight service.

When the war ended, SP like most railroads was quick to reinstate special freight service, including the Overnight trains, but with a dramatic new paint scheme. Car bodies were still black, but an SP medallion in yellow was added, along with a red ball and a gold arrow through it. SP bought 450 new box cars for the core of this service, but repainted many of the Class B-50-15 and -16 cars into this scheme also, to fill out the fleet. This is a signature SP freight car scheme.

As it happened, the pre-war Overnight cars did not all return to freight service at the beginning of the war. Instead, SP repainted 99 of the cars to join others of these two boxcar classes in head-end passenger service (AAR type BX cars, with signal lines, Type E couplers, and steel wheels). They were painted in Dark Olive Green with gold lettering (later Dulux Gold), and could be seen this way for some years after the war. But those BX cars were all returned to freight service during 1948-49, so it’s display case for this one.

This particular model, numbered 9008, represents a Class B-50-15 car, SP 15344, converted to passenger service in 1936 though still wood-sheathed, and still bearing the original lettering these cars had at the outset of Overnight service. This particular car returned to freight service under its original number in 1943. (This information is from the the SP Car Ledgers, now at CSRM.)

Lastly, Rapido did decorate a few models in a Maintenance of Way scheme, as SP did with large numbers of these cars in the 1950s and later. This particular car, SPMW 1399, originally SP 14772, was not converted to MW service until 1955, but I will accept that modest time-warp.

I did admire the ability of the manufacturer, on these MW cars, to add the ubiquitous SP “danger” signs in English and Spanish, entirely readable.

All these models are shown above in the state I received them. Aside from the pre-war Overnight car destined for the display case, all will receive suitable weathering and, where needed, reweigh and repack stencils. More on that at a later date.

Tony Thompson


  1. I model a couple of years later than you (1955). Would a cad in the pre-1946 FCR scheme or the post 1946 Overnight scheme (in general service) still be in use by 1955? I have read your books and it seems that given how often cars were painted, this would be plausible. But, I wanted your opinion given the oddity of the overnight scheme and the fact that many of these cars had wood sheathing.

    1. Qualified yes to both. Certainly the pre-1946 freight lettering lasted into the mid-1950s. The post-1946 Overnight, though, is a stretch. As demand dwindled for the service, the older cars like the Rapido models were withdrawn from the service in favor of the 1946-built Class B-50-24 cars. I would have to dig through the ledgers to find out if a few of the older cars did survive as late as 1955 in the Overnight paint.
      Tony Thompson