# Questions for 1950's era trains

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by mikebalcos, Dec 13, 2007.

1. ### mikebalcosMember

First, about how many streamlined and heavy weight passenger cars can a single F7A pull?

Second, can you point me to an online guide on how to determine if a freight car belongs to the 1950's?

I'm on vacation right now. I'll be having time (and money, hehe) for my layout when I get some database and e-commerce solutions done for relatives. Btw, I'm still a student and blissfully spending vacations on my HO layout. Oh, and I'm just a beginner with this model railroad hobby. I have a 4x8, and I have no plans of expanding it right now.
2. ### doctorwayneActive Member

How many cars any loco can pull is determined by a number of factors, including make of the loco, make and rolling qualities of the cars, the weight of both locos and cars, the radius of any curves (and the number of curves that the train will be in at any one time) and the presence of any grades.
On a 4'x8' layout, your F-unit may be able to pull enough cars to stretch completely around the layout, but it won't look very believeable. I'd suggest a train of 3 or 4 cars at most for a passenger train.
As for picking the proper cars for a '50s layout, this can get pretty complicated. If I'm not mistaken, freight cars have an interchange life of 40 years, so any car with a built date 40 years or less before the time of your layout is a candidate. The built date, usually written in small print on the carside to the right of the door as BLT-10-38 or something similar, indicates that this particular car was built in October, 1938. This car should be suitable for your layout. However, this is where it gets complicated. To the left of the door, in with the small lettering that shows how much the car can carry (CAPY, LD LMT, LT WT) there will be a notation that reads either: NEW 10-38, or a station symbol (set of letters) such as RDG 6-54. The "NEW" means that this car, when new in Oct '38, weighed what the other lettering indicates (LT WT) and can carry the amount indicated by the LD LMT. However, cars had to be re-weighed every so often - this was done to verify the current weight of the car (which may have changed due to repairs or alterations since the last weighing) which will affect how much the car can carry. The station symbol (Reading) indicates where the re-weighing was carried out. So far, so good. However, that re-weigh data could just as easily read RDG 5-68, meaning that the car was last re-weighed in May of 1968. So, while the car may be suitable for your chosen era, the lettering is incorrect. In addition to that, the car may have also been repainted to a newer paint scheme, say in 1963, which makes the car even less correct for your era.
Despite all of this, nothing says that you have to be that fussy. In general, most 40' boxcars, either wood or steel, would've been in use into the '50s. There were also a lot of 50' boxcars in use in this period, but many of the 50'-ers offered are of modern cars in use today. I'd suggest 40' is a good guideline for house cars (boxcars, reefers, stockcars), and 50' for gondolas and flatcars, especially on a 4'x8'. If you're dealing with a reputable hobbyshop, they should be able to advise you on what's suitable and what's not. Or, you can always ask here on the Gauge before you buy something.
Sorry to have gone on so long, but this is the kind of information I would have liked to have had when I started out. Just take what's useful to you, and your interests, and have some fun.

Wayne
3. ### mikebalcosMember

Thanks a lot, Wayne. I really appreciate the extra mile you went to just to answer my question. For the F7A, I was asking for a believable number of passenger cars it can pull. So the 3 to 4 figure is really helpful. I'm coupling in 1 baggage, 1 coach, 1 dinner, and 1 observation streamlined cars.

As for the freight cars, I don't mind right now about the letterings. I just want the F7A's to pull freight cars that are used/seen in the era. So the 40' box cars, etc., and 50' gondolas and flat cars are targets. Btw, how about hopper cars? And gasoline tank cars? Can they belong to the same era?

I have a tank car that says "Built 4-27" at the right side. At the left in bigger lettering, it says "BLT.8-38". It's a Bachmann Shell tank car. Is this a candidate?

Btw, I'm not sure if my observation is correct, are the value Bachmann products cheaper than value Athearn products?
4. ### CNJ999Member

The specific IDing of the period or era a particular piece of rolling stock belongs in has been a problem in the hobby for many years. Most manufacturers refuse to indicate just what interval their cars are appropriate for, fearing that it might limit their sales. There are a great many cars on the market that have paint schemes corresponding to periods far later than their built dates.

As Doc wayne has pointed out, an early built-date is no guarantee the car will be appropriate to that period since it is the particular paint scheme, heralds and company logos that actually define this. As pointed out, with a 40 year service life, most cars go through a series of often distinctly different paint schemes over the course of their lifetime. Some company's schemes have lasted as short as just a few years at a time.

There are still only a couple of kit or RTR manufacturers who list what general period their cars are correct for. If you go to either the Accurail or Bowser web sites , you'll find their products are IDed as to the general period they represent by built date. Between the two companies, a pretty wide selection of rolling stock is available. More recently, Atlas has been issuing rolling stock with detailed historical backgrounds indicating just what years the car represents (likewise, craftsman kits also usually define exactly what period their cars are appropriate for).

CNJ999
5. ### wjstixMember

A limiting factor as to how many passenger cars an engine could pull is the engine's ability to produce steam for the passenger cars heating and cooking, or in the Amtrak era, electric power for the cars. For example an F40PH is/was limited to five cars per engine - it could physically pull more cars than that, but that would be the max it could pull and supply HEP (head-end power) for the cars.

For the 1950's, 4-5 cars per F unit or E unit would seem about right. Great Northern's "Badger" in the sixties was usually an E unit and 3-5 cars, if there were more cars than that a second unit (often a GP) was added.

Keep in mind too that in the fifties many railroads bought F units in A-B sets with drawbars between them, and usually only had the steam generator in the B unit...although it was possible to squeeze a steam generator into an F unit.

For knowing what fits what era, as far as lettering, picking up decal manufacturers catalogues can help, like old Champ or Walthers lettering diagram books, or Clover House dry transfer decal catalogue. The Clover House one you can get from them, Champ and Walthers catalogues / diagram books can be found at flea markets and the internet (although I think Champ is still selling theirs now that I think of it??)

For the cars themselves, generally the shorter or lower the car, the older it is. 36' cars are generally WW1 or earlier, 40' cars were common from the 20's into the '50's when 50' cars became more common. Wood is also a good indication of age, but that can be tricky: All steel cars were common in the 20's-30's, but woodsided cars with steel ends and roofs were built during WW2 due to steel shortages. Wood also was used on refrigerator cars longer than on boxcars.

The typical 40' long, 10' high steel boxcar came along in the mid-1930's, 50' cars with that height were produced at that time too but 40' cars were more common until into the fifties I'd guess. Lower cars (less than 10' height) were built in wood, steel, or some of both (including outside braced woodside cars) until the 1920's or 30's, some lasted into the diesel era.

Roofwalks are another 'rule of thumb', they were outlawed in I believe 1964 (although there were exceptions and such so some lasted later than that) so generally boxcars with roofwalks and brake wheels near the roofline are from 1964 or earlier; cars with lower brake wheels and no roofwalks are more recent cars.
6. ### TriplexActive Member

Hoppers - 2- and 3-bay. Though pretty much any 2-bay hopper will be appropriate since they weren't generally built after the 50s, 3-bays are still being built, so be careful.

Tank cars - I'm not sure how big they got then, but 60'+ cars and frameless cars are out.

Covered hoppers - Only 2-bay ribside (PS-2, ACF) in general use, and mostly for sand and cement. Cylindrical hoppers didn't come until the early 60s.

Paint schemes can show era just as readily as locomotives and rolling stock. A servicing date may not be evident without close inspection, but a roadname will be. Some big ones to avoid: Penn Central (1968+) and Conrail (1976+). Burlington Northern (1970+). CP "multimark" scheme (1968+). CN "wet noodle" logo (1961+). I won't bother to mention the important newer roadnames, because you won't find so much older equipment in their colors.
7. ### nkp174Active Member

As far as passenger cars, that is an extremely railroad specific question. My beloved NKP had a few wooden coaches still in service, a hodge-podge of older head end cars (baggage & mail), a mix of heavyweight, lightweight (streamlined), and modernized heavy weight (these were heavy weight cars with new windows, roofs, and ends to look like lightweight cars...the B&O did this extensively) coaches. They also had a mix of old & new sleepers, and a fleet of diners which had been built into diner-lounges.

If I was you, I would probably just run 1 heavy weight baggage car with 2 coaches...it is most appropriate for the length of train you're considering. Observation cars were typically on much longer trains, and diners are also out of place on short trains (not enough revenue for them). Commonly, snack cars and lounge cars were used on later, short passenger trains such as the B&O's Cincinnatian. Also, avoid dome cars in general. They are around 10x more popular on model trains than they were on real trains.
8. ### mikebalcosMember

I guess my interest in a streamlined passenger train is pretty complicated. However, I think I can simplify my life by just relying on my tough Athearn RDCs for passenger service. 2 of them are RDC-1s and 1 is a RDC-3. After all, 1950's is a time marked by declining train passenger numbers.

What I do not like about these RDCs is the rubber band that needs high maintenance.
9. ### nkp174Active Member

If you like a 5 car streamlined train, and you don't car about the accuracy, who cares if you run it...even on a branchline! It's just a matter of what you prefer.

For my DSP&P roster, I plan on having all of my primary roster be 1884 equipment...but that isn't going to stop me from adding 1874 equipment to the roster...because I love some of the earlier cars. I also plan to have a 1930's stock rush train...and it's fine with me.

Also, with passenger cars, there is another huge preference decision...since you're looking at a 4x8...you'll probably have 22" radius curves...
Passenger cars are commercially offered in two lengths: 72' shorties and 85' scale length cars. Some prefer the 72' because they don't overhang as much on tight curves...such as 22"R...others, such as myself, prefer scale length because the artificially short cars look terrible to us...especially when passenger cars are shorter than the locomotives...which are supposed to be noticeably shorter.

There isn't a thing wrong with getting a nice matching string of IHC (scale length...can be had for less than \$10 a piece) or Athearn passenger cars (shorties)...and they won't cost you too much. Most de lux trains were all sleeping cars (pullman's)...while lesser services were all coach (long trips...NY-Chicago, Chicago-LA) would have dining car service...and be 10-20 cars long. Lesser passenger roads, such as my NKP, would have a couple coaches and a couple sleepers on their premier trains. Head end business could also be a big deal...I recall a number of pictures in which 1/2 the train was made up of baggage cars (only the NYC & SP EVER claimed to make money on passenger service...express business, such as mail, was what paid for the passenger service).
10. ### Russ BellinisActive Member

Another thing to keep in mind for a small layout is that a bunch of short cars looks like a longer train than a few long cars even if the overall length of the trains are the same. That means 10 40 foot cars will look longer than 8 50 foot cars even though the length is the same. Also on a 4 x 8, I would stick with Athearn 72 foot shorty passenger cars or something similar. The shorter passenger cars will also work better on the tight radius of a 4 x 8 table.

I would also echo the idea of running a baggage car, maybe an rpo, and 2 or 3 coaches. with some sort of lounge or snack car. Most short passenger trains like that were on day runs like the Valley flyers on the Santa Fe that ran from Oakland to Bakersfield or the San Diegans that ran LA to San Diego. There were short trains like that running all over the country connecting 2 or more cities that were less than 8-10 hours apart. Those trains didn't offer or require sleeper service and just used snack/lounge cars rather than dining cars.
11. ### 60103Pooh Bah

I think CP's Canadian was the last stainless steel car fleet built; that was 1954, so almost any stainless cars would be appropriate except the very early Pioneer Zephyr style trains. At the same time, Canadian National was buying smooth-side painted cars. Again, one of the last large fleet orders until Amtrak.
Non-passenger cars like baggage and diners tended to have longer lives, especially baggage/postal/express. You could add heavyweight baggage cars to a streamlined coach train.

Freight cars were often not fully repainted, even when corporate image changed, unless they became offensively shabby. If a railroad were purchased there might be a wholesale repainting, but even then they might just re-do the initials and car number.
12. ### mikebalcosMember

So there were short trains in the 1950's without an observation car? I think I can put that into consideration in my planned passenger train.

Anywayz, I'm not really going as accurate as I can. I just want to feel a little sense of realism. And I do want to learn more about passenger service in the 1950's.
13. ### Russ BellinisActive Member

The observation car were usually reserved for transcontinental "name" trains, and I know in the case of the Santa Fe, many were modified to square off the round end to allow the car to be put in he train somewhere other than the tail end. The shorter, local, coach only trains seldom had observation cars attached and if they had a drum head, it would be found attached to the rear door of the last coach which was secured so that a passenger could not accidentally open the door and fall out the back of the train.
14. ### nkp174Active Member

If you'd like open platform cars, I'd recommend adding some private and business cars to your roster. A good number of the platform cars served in those roles. Wooden open platform cars from the 1880s were still used by division superintendents into the 1960's.

I agree with everything that Russ has mentioned...except for the point on using the shorty coaches. BUT! This is a point of selective compression. Certain aspects of a model railroad must be compressed...hence using 22"R curves. My HO NKP 2-8-4 will navigate 18" radius curves...yet the real engine can't go around anything tighter than a 240' radius (33" in HO scale)...so it isn't going to look right on curves. Shorty passenger cars address this. They compress the length to make curves like wider...but distort the length of the cars to do so. If you check out my threads in the scratchin' and bashin' forum...you can tell that I hate compromising with my rolling stock...but don't mind it with my curves. So that's why I hate 72' streamline cars...of which I have a dozen that haven't touched rails for 10 years.
15. ### doctorwayneActive Member

I had a pair of those Athearn RDCs, too - one was a dummy. I removed the motor and rebuilt the lead truck with a Tenshodo PDT self-contained power truck. It ran well, and could pull the dummy around, too.
I don't think that those PDTs are available any longer, but you could replace the front truck on the RDC-3 with one from an Athearn F-unit or perhaps a switcher, to get a shorter wheelbase (not a drop-in procedure, though) then rig a way to mount the RDC sideframes on the new truck.
I did something similar to power the gas-electric shown below, although I used the front half of an F-unit frame (I needed a fuel tank anyway) to hold the truck in place. I also used a can motor. The body is a much-modified Rivarossi combine, and with all 10 wheels picking up current, a reliable runner. It will also pull more cars than many locos. :-D

Wayne
16. ### 60103Pooh Bah

Mike: I don't remember seeing an observation car in the 50s, except the streamlined ones on the Canadian. The daytime trains I saw usually had a diesel (FPA), 3 or so express reefers, a baggage or 2, a postal/baggage, 2 or more coaches including a diner, maybe a parlour car. I think open platform observations had been done away with except for business/official cars.
17. ### MadHatterCharging at full tilt.

I love those doodle bugs! COme to think of it you can even make a short mixed consist using those.
18. ### wjstixMember

Life-Like RDC's are very nice and run great, they're not expensive (Train World ads often have them for \$19.99 each)...but they are full size so are a bit longer than your Athearn ones, but still would look OK on a small layout.

Keep in mind in the fifties a number of local and mail trains were still using heavyweight cars on local trains. For example in the area I model, the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range's typical pre-RDC passenger train (c.1952) would be a Baggage/RPO combine, a Coach, and a Solarium Observation car - all Pullman green heavyweight cars.

Also common would be a mix of heavyweight and streamlined, like an old heavyweight baggage car and RPO with a couple of streamlined coaches trailing. Some railroads never bought streamlined 'head end' cars, just painted the old cars into their new streamliner colors and kept using them.

In the fifties many passenger trains that were still around were running because the railroad held the US Mail contract for that line, so it wouldn't be unusual for a passenger train (i.e. not specifically a "mail train") to have more RPO or baggage / storage mail cars than passenger coaches. Even 'second level' transcontinental streamlined trains like GN's Western Star or NP's Mainstreeter would carry a high number of mail cars in their consists.
19. ### TriplexActive Member

Wasn't the Western Star the train that carried express cars behind its streamlined observation?
20. ### Glen HaasdykActive Member

I have read that even though a passenger train could easily be pulled by say 1-2 1st generation F-units. Railroad companies often used more because of reliability concerns. It would not do the company's reputation any good if one of the deisels broke down on the way and the train couldn't make it