Rail Classics printed a two page article in July 1984 (Volume 13, Number 4), by Maryhelen Campa called 'Police Car on Rails' which details the operation of #250.
I recently had an exchange of emails with an exSP Police Officer who served from 1969 to 1994. He rode the #250 from its inception and has cleared up and confirmed quite a few operational aspects described on this page.
From the espee mailing list courtesy Wesley Fox: It's former SP 3104, a Budd-built baggage-dorm car for the Sunset Limited. The car was involved in a derailment on the Cascade in Jan, 1971 and was withdrawn from service and never sold to Amtrak. The SP first used it briefly as a test car SP 250 in the mid seventies until they acquired the California Zephyr sleeper and called it SP 251. In the 1980s, the SP installed bay windows of sort and spot lights on the side for special agents to watch carloads of autos ahead. Supposely they had ATVs on board and a ramp so they could open the baggage door, set the ramp down and chase thieves. Last I heard the car was in Cheyenne, WY.
Not much has been written on the operational aspects of the RR Special Agents and their equipment, so the following is mostly pure conjecture on my part...
In the 1980's Southern Pacific had major problems with theft on autorack trains. SP tried several ways to combat this; a number of caboose were modified see: SP Railroad Police Caboose
The main problem train for theft was the LASAA - Los Angeles-San Antonio Automobile, a train of around 35 bi-level and tri-level autoracks. SP's operating rules state that a caboose must be run at the end of a train, and that cars of caboose length also must be run at the end of a train. Common sense also says that you could not properly monitor a 35 car autorack train from a bay window caboose just from the rear end and you could not place a caboose in the middle because of the buffing forces.
So someone came up with the idea of using SP #250, here was a car that was heavy enough and long enough to be used in the middle of 35 autoracks and was at the time surplus to requirements.
The car had all ready been fitted with showers, beds, toilets etc when used as a crew dorm on the Sunset Limited, it probably had a generator fitted when used as a Test and Research car; see photo 4 for grills and vents indicating the position of the generator.
The LASAA was often stopped for opposing trains at sidings between Colton and Yuma, here was where offenders boarded and removed car radios and others parts that could be quickly sold. Transients also caused problems by breaking into cars to use as shelter.
Revised: The train was kept under surveillance when moving by two SP Police Officers via the Perspex lookouts fitted to the side windows immediately in front of the baggage door and when stopped on sidings the train was patrolled on foot. A 1,000,000 candle power hand held spotlight was available if needed. Police Dogs were only used when the train was stopped at or near places that had Canine units, ie. West Colton, Los Angeles, Tucson and Yuma.
Revised: Any offenders that were caught were transferred to the SP Police Pace Car that followed the train to be taken to the nearest Police Station for processing. If the Pace Car was not available, then the local Police Department were called to assist. They did not get many offenders due to the fact that they were there to keep them off, so the 250 was a huge success because it brought SP's thefts way down on that particular train.
Revised: Wesley mentions above that an ATV may have beed used. This has been refuted by my contact who rode the #250 from its inception. If you think about it, the time taken to open the door, lower and position a ramp and then drive an ATV out would be too long, even if an ATV could fit through the door and the surrounding terrain allowed the use of a ramp. This may have been an early idea that was deemed not viable.
Revised: On a personal note the assignment was no sinecure, one drawback was sometimes it took over 24 hours to get from West Colton to Yuma. An exhausting workload; it did have sleeping accomodations but when stopped they had to get up and patrol the train.
SP #250 was only used once a week on a random basis on any of the five LASAA trains that ran from San Luis Obispo via Los Angeles and Yuma to San Antonio. It was not used for very long and although another 3 cars were supposed to have been leased from Amtrak and modified; it would appear that the concept was shelved. One reason may have been the continuing development of the fully enclosed secure auto-rack.
From David Varilek we find that: She now resides in Fremont Nebraska and is owned by a company named Empire Builder Private Cars. It has been there since 2003 and is slowly undergoing some work. Most visibly was the removal of graffiti and the cleaning of the stainless. It looks pretty decent at this point. Empire Builders also owns one of the Sunset Coffee Shop Lounge cars #10411. They are a part of a matching Stainless fleet that includes 2 Domes.
Additional information courtesy Gene Lewis and David Varilek.
Modeling Notes: Union Station makes Laser-cut styrene sides to fit a Budd Car core kit requires other parts and trucks/couplers to complete.