Thursday, October 20, 2016

Modeling Mail Trains 55 & 56, the Tehachapi Mail

Another Easy-to-Model "Pike Size" Train Consist
Trains No.55 & No.56, The "Tehachapi" Mail train

An MT-3, 4341, leads a short Tehachapi Mail based on the photo on pg.78 in Southern Pacific in the Bay Area, by Drury.

Originally called the Tehachapi, Nos. 55 and 56 dropped to a no name "Passenger" in the time table after WW2.  I will be continuing to call it the Tehachapi in this post to avoid confusion with other generic SP "Mail" trains.

The Tehachapi Mail train was the main US Mail and Railway Express Agency connection between Oakland and Los Angeles.  The Owl (Nos.57 & 58) and the San Joaquin Daylight (Nos.51 & 52) would carry some faster mail & express but was very limited in capacity and train length, while the Tehachapi Mail could adjust its length and consist to suit the day's needs.  Sundays tended to be lighter with the weekend originating mail and express dropping off on Saturday and Sunday and picking back up Monday night.

The Coast Mail's nickname of "Sad Sam" is indicative of how fast it worked on the Coast Route.  The Tehachapi, Nos.55 & 56, would take over 20 hours to get from Oakland to Los Angeles or vice versa.  These were certainly not the fastest trains over the rails, often hot perishable and express perishable traffic would be routed on faster schedules if possible, but not always.  The article 'Where'd You Get that Dirty Hat' by Strong in SP Trainline Issue 68, pg 23, has a great story of riding No.55's coach from Saugus to Allard the night of the '52 earthquake.

Remember also that these trains also handled the checked baggage of passengers from the premier trains on the same routes.  Passengers would check their baggage the night before they would leave on the San Joaquin Daylight.  The same thing for the Coast Daylights (Nos. 98/99) and the Coast Mail Nos.71/72).  If everything was on time, the mail trains would arrive a few hours before the premier trains so the baggage would be waiting for the passengers just as they're getting off.  Often this checked baggage would be in trunks with all the various labels and stamps of where it had been,  Too bad that whole style of travel is gone now.

My previous links to modeling particular train consists:
Modeling the Shasta
Modeling the Owl (Part 1)
SP HW Psgr Car Index

Engine Assignments

SP's MT-class 4-8-2, 4351, shown as an example of the usual "Valley" engine assigned to the Mail.

The Tehachapi was usually pulled by an MT-class (4-8-2) engine or a larger P-Class (4-6-2) between Bakersfield and Oakland.

No.56 led by SP 4110 brings a pre-1939 Tehacahpi Mail into the old Central Station. Photo from Eddie Sims Collection

Over Tehachapi Pass it would be assigned an AC-6/12 class road engine and whatever was needed as a helper. Sometimes even another AC-class helper when the train was very heavy from holiday traffic.

In the last year of operation, the Tehachapi Mail used MK-class engines like 3259 over Tehachapi Pass.

Later in 1955 just before the Tehachapi was cut-off and annulled from the time table, regular engine over Tehachapi Pass for the last year or so of operations was an MK-class (2-8-2), as the train was down to only 4-5 cars.  The Owl and San Joaquin Daylight took over most of the traffic from what was left of the Tehachapi.

Consist Order, Circa 1952

An example of a UP car that could have been used as the Seattle or Portland car. Stand-in model by MDC/Athearn RTR.

No.55 (Los Angeles to Oakland)
1 Bag/Express LA-Bakersfield - S/O with Storage Mail for Bakersfield (usually a 70ft car)
2 Bag/Express LA-Oakland
3 Bag/Express LA-Sacramento
4 Bag/Express LA-Mojave - S/O & P/U Storage Mail & Express daily except Sunday. (No S/O Sunday AM or P/U Sunday PM.
5 Bag/Express LA-Portland (Return on No.60)
6 Bag/Express LA-Seattle (Return on No.60)
7 Bag/Express LA-Oakland
8 Bag/Express LA-Oakland
9 Baggage (Working TBM) LA-Oakland - This would be a "star baggage" if available for the Train Baggage Man.
10 RPO 30ft Apt/Baggage LA-Oakland (SP 5215 or SP 5216 regularly assigned) Ex-Sunday
11 Rider Coach LA-Oakland (Through Car)
12 Local Passenger Coach Fresno-Oakland

No.56 (Oakland to Los Angeles)
1 Bag/Mail Oakland-LA
2 Bag/Mail Oakland-LA
3 Bag/Express Sacramento-LA
4 Bag/Express Fresno-LA
5 Bag/Express Oakland-LA
6 Baggage (Working TBM) Oakland-LA
7 RPO 30ft Apt/Baggage Oakland-LA (SP 5215 or SP 5216 regularly assigned) Ex-Sunday
8 Bag/Express Bakersfield-LA - P/U at Bakersfield (Car added here because of ease of switching)
9 Rider Coach Oakland-LA (Through Car)
10 Local Passenger Coach Oakland-Fresno

The No.55 consist includes two or three cars from Portland and Seattle, via the Klamath to Oakland. The Seattle car would be from a pool of UP, NP, and GN baggage and express boxcars.  The Portland car would be from a UP, NP, and SP pool.  These cars returned north on SP's No.60, West Coast, connecting to the Passenger Local (No.201) that connected at Gerber with the Klamath for movement north.  These cars add a great amount of color to both the Tehachapi and the West Coast consists!

I will quickly add that the above are the basic consists.  These consists could swell during heavier traffic times due to holidays or express perishable movements. Consists length also dropped by large amounts, usually on Sundays, as the US Post Office didn't work on Sundays and many shippers wouldn't be shipping REA goods on Saturday or Sunday.

These off-days would propagate across the passenger, mail, and express systems across the country, resulting in some trains not having this car on a Wednesday - why is it not here on a Wednesday?  Well, because when the car would have originated half way across the country it was a Sunday and that car doesn't depart on a Sunday.

It is interesting to note that the RPO/Baggage cars were not run on Sundays.  Also on Sunday several of the connecting, express forwarding, or P/U & S/O carloads would not be entrained either.  The resulting consists were down to

Cars in the Consists

Headend Cars - Perishable Express Reefers

Stand-in Walthers 50ft Express reefer, repainted CNW Green (REA Hunter Green) and decalled in the early 1950s scheme

Often SP's Mail trains also would handle express perishables in express reefers.  These would not always be PFE cars, although a good number of the originating loads on the SP would use PFE's fleet of Express Reefers.  Often Transcontinental Mail trains would handle foreign line reefers coming west or returning east.  Nationally the pool of Express Reefers was always rather tight, so if there was a load near by local REA Agents would try to get whatever express reefer cars they could get on site by the required date to make the shipments happen.

Walthers 50ft General American express reefer painted for PFE.  By the late-1940s these cars had roof platforms I've not installed yet.

Very nice models by BLI, Walthers, and Athearn are on the market for the Railway Express Agency's basic 50ft round roof express reefer by General American.  Walthers and Branchline (Atlas) has made some of the REA's 50ft all-steel express reefers.  Walthers has also made the Pennsy's unique R50b express reefers, so you can add some variety to your express reefer fleet.

Walthers PRR R50b #2561 rather weathered and chalk marked from travels around the country.

Do try to pay attention, some of the models produced are lettered "Freight Service Only".  This means the car is NOT equipped with steam and signal lines for passenger service, therefore is not suitable for operations in a mail train such as the Tehachapi Mail and would have to be handled on a train more like the SP's Overnight or other high-speed scheduled freight train.

Headend Cars - 40ft Baggages & Express

One of the Express Boxcars I did a long time ago from an Accurail AAR boxcar with modified Athearn "express" trucks.
The SP rostered a number of these B-50-24 class express boxcars.  Tony Thompson has done an excellent job discussing these on his blog here on Tony's Modeling SP Passenger Trains: Part 4 Express Boxcars.

This older model that I did is still painted in Floquil Pullman Green and MicroScale decals (SP Overnight & Express Service cars, which for this car is correct.  The Accurail car is at best a stand-in for a proper B-50-24 in resin or maybe RedCaboose's model.  At the time I was a poor high school student or freshman in college, so had to go with what I could have on hand or for $10.  I don't actually plan to retire this model anytime soon, as from the side view in a passenger consist it looks pretty good.

The truck modifications were made by cutting off the outside brake hangers from the older Athearn Express Trucks that came from the older (pre-R-T-R) 50ft wooden (round roof) Express Reefer kits.

Headend Cars - 60ft Baggages & Express

60-B-1 thru -8
SP 6190 before my 2016 upgrade and renumbering program for it.
Both these 60ft Baggages are MDC cars (Now Athearn R-T-R) with varying levels of kitbashing done to them.  I discuss this in my MDC 60ft Harriman Baggages (Part1) blog post.

60-B-9 & -10
MDC Kitbashed 60-B-10, SP 6233, after my 2016 shopping when I repainted and decaled it.

It's worth pointing out here that the vast majority better than 60% of SP's headend fleet was 60-B-1 through -8 series cars.

A few 60-B-series cars were modified during the 1930s or rebuilt from RPOs with 6-wheel trucks for storage mail service.  This loading was VERY heavy compared to standard REA or Company Baggage loading with mail stacked to the roofs of the cars.

Headend Cars - 70ft Baggages & Express

70-B-1 thru -9 series Baggage Cars & 70-BA-4 & 70-BA-5 Auto-Baggages
Soho model of SP 6444, a 70-B-9.  This model's not finished at this point.
SP also ordered about 150 70ft baggage cars and baggage-automobile cars built.  Many of SP's 70ft baggages were upgraded in the early 1950s with stars above the number indicating improved Train Baggage Man facilities on the car.  Usually an effort was made when making up the train to assign the 'working' baggage on a train one of these improved cars.

The while I've kitbashed a model of these cars from parts left over after building the SP 6190, a better model for these is the Soho brass car.  Golden Gate Models is also planning to import some of these cars in 2017 in plastic.  I talk about their models on my blog post HERE.

I plan to do a quick build blog on these Soho brass models soon.

70-BH-series and 80-BH-1 
An in-progress photo of SP 7220, a 70-BH-1 Horse-Baggage from MDC parts.

Horse Baggage cars were few in number, only about 37 cars built in four classes.  These cars are easily recognized by the three doors on each side.

I'm currently working on two kitbashed MDC models for 70-BH-1s.  At some point I will discuss these in a build blog specifically about Horse Baggages.

Ex-70-BP-30-4 Retired RPO-Baggage
SP 6102 is a heavily kitbashed 70-BP-30-4 built from MDC Baggage and RPO parts

The SP over time retired some of their RPO cars.  When retired the SP would paint out the US Mail Railway Post Office lettering.  Some cars also were rebuilt or had baggage doors cut in the RPO section.  SP 6102 is one such car that was retired, but at the time of the photo that I'm modeling it from it did not have any other work done to it.  The RPO fittings inside and outside (catcher arms) were removed.

The model started life as the double baggage doors from a 60-B-9/10 and rearranging the RPO windows from a 60ft MDC RPO.  The extra windows at the baggage end were scratch built from clear styrene and sheet styrene forming the sashes.  I cover more on my blog about the SP 6102 Kitbashing an RPO from MDC/Athearn Parts.

Mechanically the car is the same as the other discussed on this page MDC 60ft Harriman Baggages (Part1) and the trucks are installed the same as the SP 5199, SC&F 69-BP-30-3 RPO (Part 1).

Paint is StarBrand SP Dark Olive Green and the lettering is ThinFilm's SP set 87-160.  Chalk marks are added with a carbide scribe and Prisma pencils.

70-B (ex-EPSW) Baggage (11-cars)
Ex-EPSW 70ft Baggage, SP 6515

This is one of the 11 ex-EPSW 70ft Baggage cars that the SP acquired in 1924.  Renumbered into the 6500-series they continued to serve around the SP system (6510-6520).  I've seen photos of 70ft clerestory baggage cars in the Tehachapi Mail, Starlight, and Shasta.  Several received improved TBM facilities and stars over the reporting marks.

The model started life as a clerestory Walthers ACF 70ft Baggage.  Amazingly the car is basically correct except for some slightly different vertical rivet strips on the car side.  I'm not going to worry too much about that.  The door size, placement and details are correct.

Mechanically I did my usual tweaks to the trucks, body mounted the couplers, and added a 0.080" weight down the center sill to help the tracking slightly when run with other heavy brass cars or at the headend of a long 16-18 car passenger train.

Finish is painted with StarBrand SP Dark Olive Green and MicroScale decals in the pre-1946 scheme.  The car is more heavily weathered, per a photo of the SP 6515 at Oakland in 1951-1952 still in the old lettering.

Note cars of this series receiving post-June 1946 lettering "SOUTHERN PACIFIC" on the letterboard also had their doors shortened and a full length letterboards installed. - Therefore, the Walthers model is most correct for pre-1946 lettering.

RPO/Baggage with 30ft Mail Apartment

SP 5215 & 5216 - Rivarossi HW 1920s RPO-Baggage
SP 5216, ex-EPSW 555, a 66ft RPO-Baggage.
The SP 5215 and 5216 were the RPOs regularly assigned in the early-1950s, both were ex-EPSW 66ft RPOs with a 30ft Mail Apartment.  These cars stayed with the Tehachapi until they were converted to baggage-express cars in 1954.

This model started as a Rivarossi HW "1920" RPO-Baggage.  While usually not associated with SP, these EPSW clerestory-roofed cars with deep centersills were none the less prototypical for SP after the EPSW was absorbed into the SP system in 1924.  These two cars were the only all-steel RPOs the EPSW owned and it is interesting that they both came west and were assigned to the same train.

The prototypes had 8-window baggage doors.  I've not done that upgrade to this model yet.  Also planned will be upgrades to the interiors and window bars, etc.  So far the car has been mechanically up graded with Walthers trucks and my standard basic plastic bolster design (like on the SP 5199 build).  The weight of the car has been increased with just a lead centersill weight.

This is by far one of the easiest very close to prototype RPOs that someone could model.  Most of this car modeling was repainting it with StarBrand SP Dark Olive Green paint and this car actually needed the MicroScale SP Passenger Car decals.  The SP 5126 had the a shorter set of letterboard lettering than the SP 5215 because the 5216 had a slightly higher baggage door that extends about 1/3 of the way up into the letterboard.

69-BP-30-3 or 70-BP-30 - Protection RPOs
If the SP 5215 or SP 5216 was unavailable, a 69-BP-30 or 70-BP-30 would be pulled from the pool to protect the assignment out of LA or Oakland for the Tehachapi Mail.  I've not seen any photos of these two EPSW cars running on other assignments, so it seems they did stay on the 55/56 train.

An example of a protection RPO for the Tehachapi Mail (Nos.55/56) a 69-BP-30-3 from SC&F resin kit.

If you want to be more generic then with your Mail train or flexible with your cars to model different trains, I would select one of these two alternate classes which were by far the most common "main line" RPOs used by the SP after WW2 until the mid-1950s on the Mail trains on various routes.  The Overland and Klamath as I understand it used 60ft apartment cars, so keep that in mind as well.

Rider Coach

The SP's Mail trains generally used a single rider coach on the rear of the train for whatever poor soul had a company pass or otherwise didn't care how long it took to get from point A to point Z.  These cars were nothing fancy (think basic Grayhound bus!) no food, no additional frills.  The Conductor and Rear Brakeman rode in the coach.  The Mail trains in general became basically the last mainline "Accomodation" train.  The article 'Where'd You Get that Dirty Hat' by Strong in SP Trainline Issue 68, pg 23, has a great story of riding No.55's coach from Saugus to Allard the night of the '52 earthquake.

Below are several options to model various SP coach classes:

60-CC-Series Non-A/C Coach (a.k.a "old" Chair car).
Non-A/C 60-CC-series Chair cars like SP 2701 could have been assigned to 55/56 as the through coach.

The SP had 32 old chair cars in class 60-CC-1 that never received A/C.  Several of them with smoking rooms were converted to All Day Lunches and then later to News Agent Chairs, but were never equipped with A/C.  One was refitted for Commute Service and several more were converted to MW or sold to the SPdeM in 1928.  The Model Power 67ft coach works nicely as a stand-in for these cars.  I discuss this more in my build of SP 2701 (Part 1 and Part 2) is an example of one such car that never received A/C and was never officially down-graded to a coach, however these cars were quite obsolete as Chair Cars after about 1940.  All the SP's 'nice' chair cars were upgraded with A/C and often upgraded to "Deluxe" status between 1937 and 1941.

These old Chair Cars therefore were left to soldier on acting as coaches and bounce around on assignments away from San Fransisco's Commute Pool where the SP wanted highest density seating possible in those cars.

60-C-Series Non-A/C Coach
SP 1190, a 60-C-3/4, model is a modified Ken Kidder coach.  This model is still painted in pre-1946 and is pretty crusty.

SP's large fleet of coaches were very commonly used as rider cars and local coaches on the SP's mail trains.  This pool was made up from the 556 coaches built for the SP between 1909 and 1925.  The 60-C-3 & -4s, shown above, and the later 60-C-5,-6,-7,-8-,9, & -10s, shown below were the two main styles of 60ft coach to be found.

More common would be rider coaches such as SP 2178, a 60-C-9, such as this Soho Model.

Some SP Mail trains had a second coach for part of the trip.  This was true on SP Nos. 55 & 56 to service the US military installations along the eastern parts of San Fransisco Bay.  On No.56 the extra coach was dropped at Fresno as most of the passenger traffic was off the train by then.  The same car would probably have been picked up by No.55 later in the day for the return trip to Oakland.

The Coast Mail (Nos.71/72) often carried a second coach as well for the coastal military bases.

Modeling Operations - Set Out & Pick-Up Cars

SP 6102, ex-SP 5138, a 70-BP-30-4 rests at Bakersfield after being set out of No.55 or No. 58 last night.
Full carloads of Mail were dropped at intermediate points along the routes of many Mail trains.  Bakersfield received two regular carloads a day, except Sundays, and sent out two cars a day, one to LA and one to Oakland.

To model this on the La Mesa Model Railroad Club layout we use four cars in this cycle.  We have assigned certain cars to this cycle, which makes it easier to pick out which cars are the "working" cars when the train is in the station.

SP 6233, an SP 60-B-10, shown as an example of cars usually used for P/U and S/O cars at intermediate stations.

The Tehachapi had an hour scheduled to work at Mojave alone loading and unloading mail at the station.  Mojave's Mail Set Out baggage car was rather interesting, as it was only done in one direction.  No.55 would drop (set out) one baggage at Mojave 6 nights a week.  It would also pick up one baggage car 6 nights a week.

The regular Mojave switch engine, SP 1310, couples to a T&NO baggage at the freight house for No.55 to pick up.

On the model this means we need to have three cars in this cycle; one at Mojave for P/U, one to Mojave for S/O, and one car returning on No.56 to start the cycle the next day.  Many photos show lonely 60ft 60-B-1 thru -10 cars sitting at various stations worked by the mail trains.  The 60ft 60-B-9/10 by MDC or 60-B-1-thru-8s by SC&F are good for these set out cars.

Ex-EPSW 70ft baggage, SP 6515 rests at Bakersfield waiting to be picked up by No.56 or No. 57 later in the eveing.

Bakersfield is also a hotbed of perishable traffic originating, often No.56 will fill with a few extra carloads of express reefers or perhaps holiday baggage cars or express boxcars loaded with the mail rush from Thanksgiving to Christmas each year.

There's always room to adjust your operations to fit what cars you have or what extra cars you want to use to keep things 'interesting'.  Also, don't forget that during peak seasons second sections of regular passenger trains would be put on to move the extra Holiday Mail & Express or perishable blocks of express reefers when the regular "slow" mail trains weren't fast enough.

A Modeled Example Consist

In the past I've tried to include an actual consist that was recorded of the train I am discussing, however I don't have an historical consist.  Follow the links on the car numbers to my modeling blogs on building that model.

This is the consist photographed at top and below:
SP 4341, Mt-3 class 4-8-2 (Sunset Models - Brass)
SP 6233, 60-B-10 (MDC 60ft baggage, light kitbashed)
SP 6515, ex-EPSW (Walthers 70ft ACF baggage) - see modeling info above
SP 6189, 60-B-2 (MDC 60ft baggage, heavy kitbashed)
SP 5216, 66ft RPO/Baggage (Rivarossi 1920s RPO/Baggage) - see modeling info above
SP 1005, 60-C-5 non-A/C'd "Chair" Car, used as coach (Soho brass) "Through" Rider-Coach
SP 2701, 60-CC-1 non-A/C'd "Chair" Car, used as coach (Model Power) "Local" Coach

The Tehachapi would have normally used two normal coaches, not old "chair" cars, so this would have been unusual.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any of my coaches done in time for this photographing opportunity.  If one old 60-seat "Chair" car was used in the consist it would most likely have been the through car and the "local" car would have been a standard 72-seat configuration coach car.

Markers into the Night

"Chair" SP 2701 (60-CC-1) and old "Chair" SP 1005 (60-C-5) bring up the rear of this Tehachapi Mail consist.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about SP's Tehachapi Mail train and getting some ideas about how to model your own mail and local service SP passenger train operation.

My previous links to Modeling particular train consists: Modeling the Shasta blog, Modeling the Owl (Part 1), SP HW Psgr Car Index.

Jason Hill


  1. Hi Jason,

    Is it possible this train could have used a gs, or were they completely reserved for road passenger.

    John G.

    1. Generally a GS alone would have been too slippery for a train of more than about 4-5 HW cars. Near the end of the Tehachapi's life they assigned a single MK-5/6 Mike to the train, which is smaller than a GS, but also has better adhesion and doesn't need the higher speed ablities of the GS on the slower schedule of Nos.55/56. An AC was normally used because up around 5-8 cars you'd need the extra tractive effort, or a second GS - which simply wasn't economical. The San Joaquin Daylight was the only SP passenger train over the Tehachapi Division that regularly had two GS/MT class engines assigned to it. All the other trains (Owl and West Coast) used at least one AC and often a helper of some type for some or all of the run from Glendale to Bakersfield. The Nos.55/56 sometimes would get a helper if the train was really heavy, more than about 8-9 cars, during those times the train could swell to 14-16 cars and need two AC's.

  2. What a great blog! I read every detail. Wish S gauge had variety of equipment as does HO. Very very informative. Thanks.
    Ned H.


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