California's Railroad to the U.S. 1861 - 1996

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Model Train Help EBook

Modeling SP's Commute Cars

There are a few options available for modeling these cars, initially we will concentrate on using the Athearn Round Roof coach.

Originally delivered in SP Dark Olive Green, repainted two-tone gray in 1954 and later to solid Lark Dark Gray after 1968. Always with a black roof. Some lasted until the end of commute operations.



© 2007 David Reed

When I first started building these cars back in 1987, I assumed that 72 feet meant the length of the car, not the seating section compartment. My cars are not the correct length of 80 feet, but are a good compromise. It should have 25 windows per side, not 16 per side. With Richards help we will give you other ideas for these cars.

Construction of these cars will begin with the car sides. Lay the car on its side with the brake wheel end on your right, and remove the underbody toolbox facing you. Next you need to plate over the end windows on the left side of the car and do the same on the other side as well, so that these are opposite each other - these are the bathrooms.

Roof detail consists of adding Detail Associates #6604 roof vents. These vents are 2 ft. off the center line of the roof. They are spaced from left to right, 5 ft 3in. from the end, then 10 ft. on center for the next 5, and then 5 ft. 3 in. from the other end.

Next using a #79 drill bit and pin vise, drill holes to install a pair of Detail Associates #6602 roof grabs to the right of the end door, above the bathroom windows.

The sides of the car need holes drilled for installation of Detail Associates #6601 vestibule grabs on either side of all four doors. The ends get a pair of Detail Associates #6602 grabs along the frame rail, on either side of the end doors. Install the brake wheel at this time. Updated ! Also the vestibule door windows need modifying to single pane windows.

The underframe construction consists of removing the entire underframe and its cross braces. Remove the center toolbox compartment, except for the side that is opposite the brake wheel, which will be left in place. Fill the floor opening and the back of the tool box that you left on the frame with styrene. You may fill the holes with what ever styrene thickness you wish to use.

Next fill in the truck holes on the frame with Plastruct #40105 3/16 inch tubing, cut flush with the underframe and the floor.

The final details to add are the underframe detail. Use Cal-Scale #AB-300 Passenger Car "UC" Brake set. I mounted mine more on a guest-a-mation, not having anything to work with. The instructions in the brake set are of some help. At this point you may leave the detail as is, or add the brake lines and detail as I have on my model.

Last to add is the passenger car trucks. I used MDC (Roundhouse) #2937. You will need to remove the coupler arms from the trucks. I'm not sure about these being the correct trucks, but at the time I built the cars, there was no other choices.

For mounting the trucks after painting and decaling, I used #2-56 round head screws, washers, and nuts to fasten them to the underframe.

At this time you may add diaphragms to the ends of the cars of your choice. I used Walthers #977 rubber diaphragms and striker plates from Walthers paper diaphragm kits. At the time I built these cars, there was not a selection as there is now.

The passenger car interior is IHC #20171 1920's coaches, cut to fit the Athearn car. I painted the interior a light tan. Add figures of your choice.

All that is left, is painting and decaling. The roof and underframe are painted Engine black and the sides and ends are painted SP Dark Lark Gray. The truck side frames are also painted SP Dark Lark Gray. Decals I used were Micro-Scale #107.

This is how you can start a fleet of SP commute cars or SUBS for your layout. All you need now is a Train Master, EMD GP9, SD9, GP40P-2, or SDP45 for the diesel era. For those in the steam era you need a Pacific, Mountain, or a GS.


  • Athearn
    • #1854 Undec. Standard Round Roof Coach

  • Cal-Scale
    • #AB-300 Passenger Standard Steel "UC" Air Brake Set

  • Detail Associates
    • #6601 Vestibule Grab Irons
    • #6602 Roof Grab Irons
    • #6604 Harriman Style Roof Vents

  • MDC (Roundhouse)
    • #2937 Standard 4 wheel Trucks

  • IHC
    • #20171 Coach Interior

  • Walthers
    • #997 Rubber Diaphragms

  • Evergreen Styrene
    • thickness of your choice

  • Plastruct
    • #90105 3/16 inch tubing

  • Paint
    • Engine Black
    • SP Dark Lark Gray

  • Decals
    • Microscale #107 - Passenger Car - General Service Cars with Grey Lettering

Modeling References:

  • Prototype Modeler July 1986 pages 34-38


  • Southern Pacific Passenger Cars Volume.1 Coaches and Chair Cars - by The Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society
    • information on the 60ft, 72ft Commute coaches and 85ft Bi-Level Commutes

  • Official Pullman Standard Library, vol. 6, Southern Pacific Post-War Cars - by David Randfall & Ross William
    • Has photo essays floor and elevation plans for the 1955 and 1968 MLC-1 and MLC-3

  • Western Prototype Modeler Feb 1979 pages 30-41 - Southern Pacific Steel Coaches Common Standard Class 60-C-1 thru -4 by Sheldon King
    • Here is 12 pages of history, data, 12 prototype photos, model photos and information and even a set of plans to 3/16 scale

Other ideas, options and suggestions...

SP classed their earlier passenger cars by the length of the passenger accomodation. So the 72-IC-x commute coaches were actually 80 feet 8 7/8 inches long as measured over the diaphragm striker plates.

As David said in the article above; he was not aware of this fact at the time he built these cars and the Athearn car is too short but does make a good representation for the time and effort involved.

As far as trucks are concerned; another person has suggested the Eastern Car Works #9003 4 wheel passnger trucks are usuable.

To get a more scale length car using the Athearn round roof coach is possible but, a totally scale model is unobtainable for one reason or another.

The roof profile on the Athearn car looks a little too flat to my eyes.

The 72-IC-x cars has 25 windows per side including the frosted toilet window. The Athearn car as bought only has 16 windows.

On the commute coach the toilets were in opposite corners, on the Athearn coach they are both at one end. How much fun would it be to cut the sides from the roof and then assemble parts to get offset toilets...

You could of course just cut two coaches 36 scale feet long and cement them together, the join would be close enough in the middle of a pier and would probably work, but why make life easy...

If you cut 37 feet from one end of one coach and 36 feet from the other end of another coach, you get a 73 foot coach with 18 windows. The windows are about the right size but the piers in between the windows should be 5 1/2 inches instead of the 15 inches that Athearn have. You end up with 18 windows instead of 25...

On the commute coach the toilets were in opposite corners, on the Athearn coach they are both at one end. How much fun would it be to cut the sides from the roof and then assemble parts to get offset toilets :-)

Many years ago I detailed an Athearn Round Roof coach for SPMW service using an after market resin underframe for more interest.

Using this car as a guinea pig, I placed it on a flatbed scanner and digitally played with the scans to get the following results:

The first image is of the coach simply detailed for SPMW service and showing the passenger compartment as 65 feet long.

In the second image it has been shortened to 60 feet long to represent a 60-C-x car for Commute service.

The third image shows the cuts required to get a 73 scale foot long coach.

The fourth image shows how a 73 scale foot long coach might look.

One option that is a lot of work, is to cut out a window section from a side as close to the rivet strips as you can get and still keep the rivet detail and then replicate it in resin to get enough pieces to make a full side 72 scale feet long. You still end up one window short. This image shows what this might look like.

Other options we are looking at are the MDC Roundhouse now Athearn 60 foot Harriman coach
Updated ! and the Branchline 151001 80 foot single window coach sides.



© 2007 David Reed

This model as shown in the photos is not complete, but this is how I would do this to complete the model to fit the prototype.

To build the commute cars using the Branchline car sides # 151001, you will need 2 Athearn RR coach kits. With the first shell cut at the vestibule door, using the rivet line as a guide, to the roof rivet line. I removed the last 19 ft. from the other end, you may remove less, I just wanted to have room to work with on that end. Cut the car sides off following the roof rivet line all the way down to the end of the shell. Do this on both sides of the car.

I used a varible seed Dremel tool to do my first cuts, leaving the cuts away from the rivet lines. Using a bastard file, finish filing up to the roof rivet line. On the end with the vestibule door still intact, remove the rivet line we left in place before. Make sure your corner at the door and roof are perfectly square, as that is important to avoid any filling. On the second shell , you will do the same thing, the only exception is you will need to decide where to make your joints in the roof, so that the car sides match up to the other end. Make this part of the construction a cut and fit as you work, so that it all fits square and tight. Before gluing all this together remove all grab iron detail molded on the Athearn body. Once you have completed this , do a final dry run on assembly, before gluing sides,ends, and roof together. I would use a liquid cement to do the assembly of the parts.

The frame is a little more involved. Without knowing the exact location and measurement of the underbelly toolbox, I will give my best guess on measurements to make it look right. On the first frame, with the brake wheel end on your right ( this is the end of the frame that is 32ft. from the toolbox, the shorter end of the frame is to your left, about 25 ft. in length to the toolbox), with the toolbox you want to save facing you, cut to the left of the box. On the second frame cut 32 scale ft in, to the toolbox( this is the longer end of the frame). When you have completed your cut, you will do a cut and fit to match the other frame. Before you glue the 2 halves together, remove the toolbox on the oppisite side as we did building the Athearn model. When this is completed, glue the 2 frame halves together with liquid cement.

All that is left is to follow the detailing as we did on the Athearn model. The roof vents will need to be decided where they go by looking at photos on Richards web site. There is still seven per side, just use the photos as a guide.

This should complete a more representive model of a SP commute car."


  • N Scale:
  • HO Scale:
    • Athearn
  • O Scale:

Commute Car Info Page

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