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

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Model Train Help EBook

Southern Pacific Passenger Train Make-up

Additions welcome. Other List Subjects also solicited.

Passenger Train Make-up.

The following is an exchange of posts to the SP List and direct e-mail messages on the make-up of passenger trains: summarized by Jim Lancaster

1. Leo Nichols started the discussion on the SP-List with the following post:

This is a question about the make-up of passenger trains. Was there a rhyme or reason where certain cars went? For example, the baggage and RPO's went in the front, and the observation car was at the end, but were there guidelines or practices where a diner, dome, or sleepers went? This is a general question, but I am particularly interested in the SP practice, but any info will be great.

2. Jim Lancaster responded to Leo on the SP List with the following:

Since the observation car was usually open only to first class passengers, the sleepers (also first class) were placed just ahead of the observation car. [Exceptions were heavyweight Tourist sleepers and lightweight cars such as slumbercoaches which did not require first class tickets.]

The dining car was placed in the middle of the train separating the first class sleepers from the coaches and chair cars. Tourist sleepers often operated between the chair cars and the diner. If there was a mid-train first class lounge (often in lieu of an observation car) it went behind the diner and ahead of the first class sleepers. Coffee Shop-Lounges for coach passengers went ahead of the diner.

The location of a dome car depended on the type -- dome coaches with the coaches, dome sleepers with the sleepers, and dome lounges usually mid-train. On the SP, the latter usually operated between the Coffee Shop-Lounge (if there was one) and the diner.

Baggage cars, baggage-RPO's, baggage dormitories, etc., were usually (but not always) ahead of the coaches.

The rear of the diner was in essence the dividing point between the coaches and the first class sleepers and often had a sign on the rear door that said "First Class Passengers Only Beyond this Point."

During the last couple of years before AMTRAK (long after observation cars had disappeared) the SP operated the sleepers ahead of the diner (or Automat) and the chair cars behind the diner.

3. Andrew Taylor then contributed the following on the SP List:

Okay here's my input, sorry if my examples seem a little targeted to the NYC but that's what I know best. The same rules apply to all however.

There is some variation among roads, but generally the following would apply. Items that would need switching were normally towards the front. First would be inaccessible items such as sealed RPO's, fast freight and milk cars. ( note in addition to RPO's there are also Mail cars, which are essentially sealed boxcars with sacks of mail, that is not sorted en route. They are unmanned.) Also any 'dead headed' passenger cars being run empty to shuttle to another location would be here, to be easily switched off. The exact order of these may vary depending on switching needs along the way. Certain 'name' trains would not often have these, or if present they would be in a specific order to maintain the look of the train. Next would normally be baggage. Following baggage ( or sometimes before depending on switching) you might find one or two trans- continental sleepers. These are cars that were either received from another road or are destined for another. For example the NYC 20th Century Limited shared an interchange Pullman with the Santa Fe Chief. So the 20th Century could often be seen with one stainless steel Santa Fe car, and the Chief would often have one Black and Gray NYC. In the case of the 20th Century this car was marked differently being the only one with silver trucks. Following the interchange cars were coaches. Normally the non air conditioned or commuter coaches were first followed by the better accommodations. Anything with a heavier passenger flow , such as local or commuter coaches were nearer the head end to give them better platform access on short platforms. It wouldn't do to have the commuters walking through the first class Pullmans to detrain. Following the coaches would be a lounge or similar than the dining car. These cars were often the buffer between first class and coach class accommodations. After the dining car would be the better accommodations. Pullmans with sleepers, roomettes and such, the exact order would vary, but the typical rule was the more people the car could handle the closer to the front, to minimize traffic flow. And lastly the observation lounge. For the sleepers not only is position looked at, but also facing. For example on the 20th Century limited, the walkway was always on the right side of the train leaving New York city. And always on the left side returning to New York. This assured that every one of the high paying 20th century passengers had the spectacular view of the Hudson River Valley, and not a rock cliff face, while sitting in their room, roomette etc.

Also not all trains included all of these components. Some trains were all coaches with no sleepers, some were all Pullmans with no coaches (20th Century) so the exact layout will vary with the train modelled.

4. Jim Lancaster responded to Andrew on the SP List with the following:

Although the NYC (and possibly other eastern railroads) may have run interchange sleepers ahead of the coaches and separate from the other sleepers, this was not true on the SP. [Note: Putting sleepers ahead of a baggage car and separate from the rest of the train probably meant the sleepers were deadheading.]

For an SP example look at Jeff Cauthen's 1955 Sunset Limited consist. The LA-El Paso chair car and the LA-Dallas 10-6 sleeper (via T&P east of El Paso) were both near mid-train (sandwiching an LA-New Orleans Hamburger Grill) and were cut out at El Paso (requiring several switching moves).

On the SP Cascade the through Oakland-Seattle sleepers were placed between the triple-unit Cascade Club and the Oakland-Portland blunt-end 10-6 sleeper (the last car on the train).

[It is interesting that when the through East Coast-LA sleepers mentioned by Andrew Taylor operated on the Chief, they were at the front of the all-sleeper consist. In 1954 when coaches were added to the Chief the through East Coast-LA cars (from NYC, PRR and B&O trains) were switched to the Super Chief and operated behind the diner and lounge and just ahead of the observation. According to Frailey's Santa Fe consist book, the through sleepers were all Santa Fe cars by that time.]

5. Andrew Taylor then sent the following e-mail directly to me:

Quite correct as I said I am most familiar with NYC practice, and they ran interchange cars at the front, behind the baggage for easy switching. In the case of the 20th Century, like the Chief it was all sleeper. I'm not sure of the ownership's of the interchange cars, in the late 50's. NYC did not actually own the cars it used for this, they were Pullman leases, so the rosters on them are a little sketchy. It is possible that when NYC returned or bought it's leased cars from Pullman following the lawsuit and breakup of Pullman, these were returned, and the service continued with just the SF cars. ( actually I seem to recall reading just this awhile back, but now I can't find where it was from.) Also look carefully at the pictures, by '54, '55 the 20th Century Limited had at least one or two trainsets of stainless steel Budd cars, in addition to the Pullman smoothsides. These would blend in with the Chief trainset, but I'm not sure if they were ever used in interchange service.

6. Thomas Wolfrum from Walnut Creek, CA next sent the following directly to me:

Jim -- From what I remember your information is correct except for information about the SP Dome car and the Shasta Daylight. The dome on the Shasta (circa 1954- 1960 when I rode it often) as I remember it was placed one car or directly behind the triple unit diner. As the song goes (the dome car on the Shasta) 'was a good way to travel when things didn't move quite so fast and I am sorry son but you can't ride one, 'cause trains are a thing of the past.

7. Jim Lancaster responded directly to Thomas with the following:

Obviously, with a triple unit diner, as on the Shasta and Coast Daylights, the dome-lounge had to operate either ahead of or behind the triple unit cars. My comment applied more to the City of San Francisco and to Daylights without triple unit cars (e.g., the San Joaquin Daylight or the Shasta or Coast Daylights after discontinuance of the triple unit cars).

The position of the dome-lounge on the Shasta Daylight seems to have varied over the years. I have seen pictures of it with the dome-lounge as far back as the second car in front of the observation (the position where the Timberline Tavern originally operated). I twice rode it in the 1960s when the dome was next to the triple unit diner as you stated. And I photographed one of the last Shasta Daylights in the summer of 1966 when the consist was:

  • 2 F-units
  • Economy Baggage
  • Coffee Shop-Lounge
  • Dome-Lounge
  • Four chair cars

8. I also copied the above message to Ken Harrison with the following:

Ken - As one of our passenger train experts, do you have anything to add to this little discussion?

9. Ken sent the following directly to me:

Not much. You covered it very well. On the Coast Daylight in 1970, I saw the dome car operating just ahead of the observation and behind a treasured Automatic Buffet. Seems to me I have a picture somewhere of #51 with the dome just ahead of the last car. The only place I never saw it was at the headend of a train, and lo and behold you give a Shasta consist with just that. For all the times I rode the Shasta, I don't remember where it was placed.

Jim Lancaster
Tustin, CA

and in followup:

Thomas Wolfrum wrote:

Jim you are correct. I don't remember the dome car on the Shasta ever being directly behind the triple unit diner, but it is possible that from time to time the coach or coaches that separated the diner from the dome were BO'd and not protected. Generally there was, as best as I can remember, one coach between the dome and the parlor car.

Your comment about the Timberline Tavern Car brings back interesting memories. I remember it as a very smoke filled place--I guess I was 5 or 6 or 7 years old when I rode in the TT. I was amazed at all the alcohol the "adults" drank, the poker games, and observing some pretty wild dancing as well. The domes were a big advantage over the TT because the smokers, drinkers, and gamblers preferred the lower level (closer to the bar?) while people willing to talk to a child rode the upper level. I recall spending an afternoon talking with Arthur Clarke and receiving autographed copies from him a few weeks later--quite a thrill for a kid from Berkeley.

Another feature I enjoyed on the Shasta was the "newsbutch" stand. The first coach, like the first coach on #99, had a space where the "newsbutch" kept candy, gifts, and comic books.


Now that I think about it, there may have always been at least one chair car between the triple unit diner and the dome-lounge on the Shasta Daylight. Otherwise there would have been four consecutive cars without a vestibule. It seems like that would have been too many for safety reasons. But did SP care? Read on.

During the 1960s the LA-Oakland Owl often had the following consist before it was discontinued:

  • 2 or 3 Baggage/Express/Mail Storage cars
  • Baggage-Mail with 60' RPO
  • Chair
  • Articulated Chair
  • Automatic Buffet
  • 6-6-4 Sleeper

The first chair car was sometimes one of the ex-Cotton Belt "American Flyer" cars or else one of the chair-observation cars (ex-parlor obs), operating with the round end forward next to the head-end cars. The chair-observation had NO vestibule.

A friend who is now an SP engineer often worked as a fireman at LAUPT on the swing shift in the 60s. He told me about one night when the chair-observation car was in the consist of the Owl. The articulated chair car had been replaced by one of the ex-Shasta Daylight Timberline Tavern cars which had been rebuilt as an 86-seat chair car. This car also had NO vestibule. The next car, the Automat, was one of the rebuilds from a pre-war Daylight Tavern car and also had NO vestibule. This meant that all chair car passengers on the train had to load through the vestibule of the sleeper, the one-and-only vestibule on the entire train! Passengers in the first car had to lug their luggage through the Automat and the ex-tavern to get to their car. Such was life on "The Friendly".

Jim Lancaster
Tustin, CA

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Friday, February 19, 1999 9:25:35 AM