Model Railroading

So far, I have just one passenger car that needed a bit of work to bring it into line with my wishes for a more realistic HO model of the original. Here is the short story.

The Amtrak parlor car is an off-the-shelf HO model of one the high-level parlor cars built in 1955 and 1956 by The Budd Company for Santa Fe. Amtrak inherited six of these cars in 1971, and operated five of them until February 2018 as "Pacific Parlour Cars" (note the spelling) in its Coast Starlight trains running between Los Angeles and Seattle. This model wears Amtrak's "Phase II" paint scheme, typical of the car before it was assigned to the Coast Starlight. Note, too, that I did not apply any of the car numbers provided as decals with the model.

My goal (achieved!) was to collect just enough models of Amtrak engines and Superliner passenger cars to put together a two-engine, ten- or eleven-car consist representative of the Coast Starlight as it ran in the mid- to late-2000s when my wife and I rode it several times. Unfortunately, no model of the Pacific Parlour car is currently (2016) available. However, this precursor of the car was still on the shelf at a couple of hobby shops, so I bought it and a set of decals which reproduced Amtrak's Pacific Parlour Car paint scheme as it existed from about 1997 to 2007 or 2008. Note that a later "Phase IVb" paint scheme is different from this "Phase III" scheme that I am using.

I chose No. 39975 as the prototype of my model. This car was known for a while during its Amtrak years as "Willamette Valley", and can be seen on the web with that name. That was later than the time we enjoyed the Pacific Parlour cars, however; the cars we rode were known only by their numbers.

The Pacific Parlour Car is the result of my work on the model. I consider this a moderate success, not too bad considering that I've done no modeling work like this for over half a century. The biggest problem with this car is the mismatch of the "chrome" paint with which I oversprayed the Phase II striping. The "stainless" paint that the model came prepainted with is a bit less reflective, so the new paint contrasts with it, especially the bit covering the blue stripe, just above the lower windows, on the earlier version. The lighting that I used to take the photos has exaggerated the difference, but the contrast is noticeable under other conditions, too. I may experiment with other "stainless"-colored paints in the future to see if a better match is possible.

The decals came out better than I'd anticipated. They are over-coated with a clear, satin-finish acrylic sealer to protect them. I fashioned the smooth "stainless steel" panels under the decals from a sheet of thin PVC simply glued over the old fluted panels on the original car (there is one exception that I left fluted; it should be obvious ...). That same "chrome" paint worked very well on those panels, reproducing the shinier appearance of the prototype car nearly to perfection.

For comparison, here is a photograph of the prototype car taken in April 2007 by Al Sollinger in Salem, Oregon. Other photos of the same car can be found with a web search for "pacific parlour 39975" or "amtrak 39975".

Almost all of my models are of Southern Pacific and Amtrak rolling stock, though I do have a couple of non-SP engines and several non-SP freight cars as well. The freight cars, SP or not, are representative of those of the late 1940s and early 1950s when I was a child in Southern California. The Southern Pacific hauled the prototypes of these cars all over the western part of the United States, and I was lucky enough to see them in action many times. Similarly, the SP passenger cars are representative of those that ran on the "Daylight" trains traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco on SP's Coast Line. I was told by my parents that I rode one of the Daylights to San Francisco with them and my siblings in the late 1940's, but -- unlike the many freight trains that I saw -- I unfortunately have no memory of this trip.

As time goes on, I'll post more photos of my collection of HO model trains here. First, however, I need to build a proper backdrop to replace the Rube Goldberg I used for these photos, and work out a repeatable lighting scheme.

I noted above that Amtrak has stopped using the Pacific Parlour cars in its Coast Starlight consists. The cars were put up for sale in 2018. Two of them, including No. 39975 that I modeled, were purchased by the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan where they will be used as first class cars on the Institute's tours and excursions. I'm relieved that these two cars will be refurbished, will continue to run, and will continue to bring the joy of passenger railroading to new generations of rail fans. The Institute's web site has more information.

Latest update, this file: 24 July 2023.