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  • The Great Northern Empire Builder - Part III

    MHP kits (WE-43S) built up as SP&S "Wapinitia Pass, " 701 and GN "Pitamakin Pass, " both 6-5-2s. - Author Photos
    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 37 width=

    by Dave Schumacher

       (Part 3 of a three-part series - Part 1 is in the August 1977 issue. Unfortunatetly, we do not have a copy of the October Issue, so if anyone has a copy they would allow us to borrow and scan, please let us know!)

       (11) "PASS SERIES SLEEPERS (6 Roomette - 5 Bedroom - 2 Compartment): Sixteen "Pass" sleepers in the 6-5-2 configuration were built for the 1950 Empire Builder by Pullman-Standard Each (GN 1370-1384, SP&S 701). Each "Empire Builder" carried three in the regularly-assigned consist.

       These "Pass" sleepers are easily confused with the "Pass" cars built for the 1947 "Empire Builder" which had an 8 Duplex Roomette - 4 Bedroom - 4 Section floor plan. (These first " Pass" cars will be offered by Soho in the Spring of 1977, 1408 for $58. Plans and prototype photos for these earlier cars may also be found in RMC for February, 1967, p. 36.)

       I used the MHP kit (WE-43S) for my "Empire Builder" cars. Construction was simple following the MHP format, discussed above. The interiors were easily added following the plans included with the kit. Dick Wright has graciously consented to reprinting those plans. He offers kits on a "custom" basis at $29.95.

       Interior window shades (rather than venetian blinds) were simulated with Contac (or Mystic tape) pressed against the plastic window material. The windows were completely covered in the area where the constant lighting circuitry was installed.

       (12)"RIVER" SERIES SLEEPERS (7 Duplex Roomette - 4 Section - 3 Bed Sixteen bedroom - 1 Compartment):Sixteen of these cars were constructed for the "Mid Century Empire Builder" by Pullman The selection of Standard in 1950. "River" names for these cars may also generate some confusion insofar as the Observation-Lounge cars built for the 1947 "Empire Builder" were also named after rivers. (These 1947 "River" cars were later renamed, however, to the "Coulee" series when they were refurbished and assigned to the "Empire Builder.")

    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 38 width=

       No model for this car is currently available on the market; however, Soho has announced that it expects to introduce this car in the Spring of 1977 (1407, $58.).

       If you wish to scratch build the car, plans and additional photos are in Railroad Model Craftsman, March, 1970, pp. 36-37.

       If you don't want to scratchbuild the car, I suggest ordering it from Wright Enterprises; the kits are made up on a custom basis at $29.95.

       (13) "MOUNTAIN "SERIES OBSERVATION LOUNGE: ACF built six observation lounges for the "Mid-Century Empire Builder" in 1951. These elegant cars had high-level ("raised") windows through the entire lounge area. The cars were named after mountains along the route: "Appekunny Mountain" (1290); "Saint Nicholas Mountain" (1291); "Going to the Sun Mountain" (1292); "Cathedral Mountain" (1293); Trempaleau Mountain" (1294); and "Little Chief Mountain" (1295).

        These cars served less than five years on the Empire Builder; they were transferred to the "Western Star" in 1955 when the "Great Domes" arrived. The older "River" series observations for the 1947 "Empire Builder," which had gone to the "Western Star" in 1951, were completely reshopped, refurbished, and renamed (in the "Coulee" series) for assignment to the "Empire Builder."

       I decided to use one of these "Mountain" series observations in my "Empire Builder" - even though I am modeling a post-'55 consist with the dome coaches and "Great Dome." The "prototype" rationale for this could have been temporary equipment substitution; my personal rationale being that (a) no model of the "River" - "Coulee" series car is presently available and (b) quite frankly, I prefer the unique appearance of the high-windowed "Mountain" cars (I have fond memories of riding through the Cascades in "Appekunny Mountain" several years ago on a fan trip; this car was subsequently sold to Grany Supply Company in Houston a few years later; I saw it sitting on the track at Houston Union Station last year, in gleaming new Great Northern livery. Rich Miller says two cars are in Andy's "Tukwila Station" in Seattle.

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    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 40 width=

    Great Northern 's "Skagit River," 1267. - BN photo

    Great Northern's "Poplar River," 1269 - BN photo
    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 41 width=

    "Poplar River" in Chicago in May, 1969. This is a 7-4-3-1 car. - Richard Miller photo

    Builders photo of "Appekunny Mountain," 1290. - BN photo
    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 42 width=

       Soho has announced plans to release a model of this car in the Spring of 1977 (1410, $62.).

       MHP offers smooth side observations on a "custom" kit basis at $34.95.

       The Balboa and Westside observation cars have the correct window arrangement; but, unfortunately, these cars lacked the prototypical tall windows in the lounge area.

       As it was the only thing to work with at the time, I went ahead with the Westside observation; stripping the shell before I began modifications.

       The lounge windows were all raised to the correct height - through many long evenings spent with a flat X-Acto file. I began by scribing a very light line scarcely a trace - along the sides and around the end about a scale 12" above the existing window tops; this should demarcate a new upper window level about a scale 39" above the bottom window base line. I then used a diamond tip scriber to deeply inscribe the upper window borders over each existing low window and the side borders from the existing window sides to a point near the new window-top line. The top and side scribe marks were not joined at a corner because the corners should be rounded and I didn't want to scar the brass.

    The "Appekunny Mountain " Observation Lounge at St. Paul, MN, in April, 1970. - Eric Archer photo

    Westside (Balboa) Observation Lounge in HO. - Author Photo
    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 43 width=

    Westside (Balboa) "Appekunny Mountain." - Author photo

    Westside (Balboa) "Going to the Sun Mountain." - Author photo
    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 44 width=

       These scribed lines served as a guide to prevent filing the opening too high or wide. As an additional precaution, I tacked a strip of black tape along the top of the new window level. I then began filing ... and filing ... and filing. If you trust your steady hand with a Dremel tool or a Unimat on a brass shell, you have my heartfelt admiration. I did finally get the correct height on all the lounge windows; the corners were rounded with an X-Acto round file. The narrow window in the rear door was similarly raised to new heights, taking care not to tear the soldered joints around the door which join the roof, the sides, and the rear door.

       This project was a tedious undertaking; but I judge it well worth the effort as I watch the final result coasting around the curves on the tail end of my "Empire Builder."

       The Balboa and Westside cars also require the addition of a tail light housing. I used a short piece of brass tubing, 12" inside scale diameter to simulate this housing. I placed a length of the tube, approximately 3/4" (4'-6" scale) long on an old "throw-away" paintbrush handle; I then gradually filed the tube down to match the curved contour of the roof with an X-acto file and a Dremel tool.

       When the contour was correct, I marked the location of the housing on top of the rear roof; I then drilled a small opening in the center of this ellipse to permit pushing the wire leads for the tail-light bulb into the main shell. I cemented the brass housing to the roof with cyanoacrylate (Devcon "Zip-Grip" or "Krazy Glue).

       Radio antennae ran the full length of the roof; additional length can be added to the Balboa car by using wire and Kemtron "O" Wabash Mogul handrail posts.

       The completed shell was painted with out masking the gold striping. Due to the unique curve in the upper stripe, just a head of the raised lounge windows, this was the first car which relied on decal striping. Micro-Scale's GN Cab Diesel set (RH-45) furnished the curved portion of the stripes: I cut out the section intended for use on the nose of the E-7 . The new Micro-Scale GN Passenger Car lettering sets don't contain this curved stripe, so you'll probably have to follow suit. (The only drawback to this method is that the gold color in the early GN Diesel set, which I used, doesn't match the gold color in the GN Passenger Car set. The discrepancy isn't too glaring to be objectionable, however.)

       After the shell was completed with the correct lettering and oversprayed with the half-gloss half-flat glaze, described in the painting section, I installed the finishing details such as the taillight and tailgate ensign. The taillight bulb was inserted into the housing and the wires were drawn into the body shell. The taillight lense was cut with a paper punch from translucent red plastic. (The prototype car had a rotating red Mars light which came on at low speeds; perhaps Kemtron's small dual filament bulb could be used here. This is a project for the future.)

       The tailgate ensign is illuminated: a small hole was drilled through the tail door and the square taillight housing, with the sign enclosed, was set in place with a dab of cement. I used the sign marketed by Tomar Industries, which features a constant lighting circuit. I believe Paige Enterprises sold a similar tail sign, without constant lighting.

       Venetian blinds were installed in the lounge windows, using the chart tape method outlined earlier; the lower windows have shades. I covered the inside ceiling and walls above the windows with light blue Contac sheet; similarly, red Contac was used below the windowline and dark blue Contac or Mystik tape may be used to surface the styrene floor cut to fit over the underframe. Seats were painted a dark ("rust") red and turquoise in flat colors. Partitions and interior details were cemented along the inside walls of the shell or on the styrene floor where they would clear the inside of the shell. I used the plans from the Carbuilder's Cyclopedia, 20th Edition, page 472 (reprinted with permission of Simmons-Boardman Publishing Company). Colors were taken from the description in Railway Age for June 11, 1951, page 56-57 and 61.

       With this car my "Empire Builder" consist is near completion: I have some more detail work to do on the interiors and underbodies; and I need to complete the lighting installation (being done by David McBride).


       The material presented earlier on the "Mid-Century Empire Builder" was intended as a guide for those of you who want to recreate the full-blown "Builder" consist at its peak (or "days of teem" as Beebe would say).

       It is important to remember, however, that considerations such as layout size, prototype area covered, and other factors (such as cost!) may limit your modeling ambitions to a more modest consist. Don't be disheartened; you can have Orange and Green Great Northern streamliners cruising around your layout with a less extensive outlay of time and cash.

       1947 EMPIRE BUILDER: You can start your consist-trimming plans by choosing to model the 12 car "Empire Builder" of 1947; some of which has been touched on in this article. You will need: two F7 A units; one baggage-mail (1100 series; Blue Line's Baggage-RPO is correct... if you can find one) ; one 60 seat coach (1110-1114; use the Balboa-Westside coach or MHP's kit, WE-14S); three 48 seat (Day Night) coaches (Nickle Plate's model); one dorm-lunch counter (1140, "Waterton Lake," etc.; no model available); one diner (1150, "Lake Superior," etc. Balboa Westside diner is close); one "Pass" sleeper (8 Duplex Roomette - 4 Bedroom - 4 Section, 1160-1169); Soho's 1408 will be needed here; or plans are in the RMC for February, 1967, p. 36); two "Glacier" sleepers (1170-1179 ; use the Balboa Pullmans described earlier); another "Pass" sleeper; and, finally, a "River" series sleeper-observation, although not strictly correct.

    Westside (Balboa) "Appekunny Mountain." - Author photo

    Westside (Balboa) "Going to the Sun Mountain." - Author photo
    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 45 width=

       This can be whittled down further: a coach and sleeper were cut off the 1947 "Builder" to run from Spokane to Portland; so you can delete these cars and run a ten car consist if you model the Great Northern between Spokane and Seattle. (Vanishing Vistas has a picture of this consist running along Puget Sound; Card JT-789).

       1951 WESTERN STAR: The "Western Star" was innaugurated with the 1947 Empire Builder consist in 1951; (a sixth consist of new cars was added to meet the extra equipment requirements of the slower schedule). The "Western Star" carried the "River" series sleeper-observation cars until 1955 when they were remodeled for the "Empire Builder" as the "Coulee" series. The "Mountain" series observations, removed from the "Empire Builder" for this switch, were now "Western Star" equipment (use Soho's 1410 or modify the Balboa-Westside observation as described above).

       If these shorter trains still exceed your passenger service requirements or budget, you should consider one of the Great Northern's classic shorter streamliners. (Remember: all other GN consists were lettered G.N.)

       1950 INTERNATIONALS: The streamlined "Internationals" began service between Seattle and Vancouver in 1950 with two five-car consists: Motive power was a single E-7 A (use Model Power's E-7 or the Cary shell, modified as noted in the power section of this article); Baggage-Mail car (1105, 1106); two 60 seat coaches (1115-1118; use the Balboa or Westside coach, Soho's 1403 or MHP's WE-14S); one 52 seat Chair-Cafe car (no model available, but floor plans can be found in Car Names, Numbers, and Consists, page 229, and in Railway Age, July 1, 1950, page 53); one Parlor-Observation (1195, "Port of Seattle" and 1196, "Port of Vancouver;" no model is available. You could "punt" with the Balboa Westside observation or scratchbuild a car using the floor plan in Car Names, Numbers, and Consists or Railway Age). Wright Enterprises offers the "custom" kit observation but you may have to supply the plans. Richard Miller indicates that the "Mountain" series observations were used on the "internationals" in their final years of revenue service.

       1950 RED RIVER: One five-car consist began operation in 1950 as the streamlined "Red River;" motive power was a single E-7 A (see the motive power portion of this article); one Baggage-Mail (1107); three 60 seat coaches (1137-1139; use the Balboa-Westside coach, Soho's 1403, or MHP's WE-14S); one Cafe-Observation (1147, "Red River;" no correct model is available, but you could use the Balboa Westside observation if that satisfies you; plans for the floor can be found in Railway Age, July 1, 1950, page 53).

       WINNIPEG LIMITED: This overnight train between St. Paul and Winnipeg had a consist which included the following cars (I'm not sure how many of each type, however): (1), 48 seat "Day-Night coach (use Nickel Plate car); (2), "Pass" sleeper [6-5-2]; use the MHP kit; Soho's car is for the first "Pass" sleeper which had a different floor plan; (3), "Glacier" sleeper (16-4) ; the Balboa-Westside car or the MHP kit fits in here; (4), "Club "sleeper; two "Glacier" cars ("Oberlin Glacier" 1175 and "Harrison Glacier" 1177) were remodeled for this train and renamed "Manitoba Club" 1198 and "Winnipeg Club" 1199. Half the Duplex roomettes and half of the bedrooms were removed to provide lounge space. (See photo and plans in Dubin's Some Classic Trains, page 412). No model is available but Wright can make up custom kits at a price.

       Perhaps at some time in the future, if there is enough interest, we can detail modelling these trains more thoroughly (perhaps one of our readers will write such an article).

       The Great Northern ran spectacular trains; they were unquestionably beautiful to ride or to watch. Now that they no longer slip across the Montana prairies or cut through the Cascades, the only way to relive the visual thrill of that era is to recreate these trains in miniature.

    Westside (Balboa) "Appekunny Mountain." - Author photo

    Westside (Balboa) "Going to the Sun Mountain." - Author photo
    Prototype Modeler - December 1977 - Page 46 width=

       The process of assembling and modifying the complete "Mid-Century Empire Builder" which I have detailed here is not simple; but ... neither is it as difficult as it may seem at the outset: spread over a few years of collecting, reworking, and scratch building, I have found each additional car is more rewarding. If you want to "cut your teeth" on something smaller, you can begin with the smaller trains outlined above, then switch some of the cars into a larger consist at a later date,.

       The MHP line of kits was no longer available at the time I began to work on this article; I had to locate the cars I used from private collectors; a major project. I was very happy to hear, therefore, that Wright Enterprises is once again offering streamline passenger car kits - although on a limited "custom" basis now. The renewed availability of the MHP kits should cut down considerably on the frustration I often experienced as I came to a "dead-end" in my search for cars. Wright also offers a promising source for the "one-of-a-kind" GN cars such as the "Port" observation cars for the "Internationals." You may have to supply the plans for these cars, or other rare cars you may want.

       I confess that this project absorbed a great deal of time, energy, and money and it still is unfinished; but all the frustrations have a way of fading quickly, I promise you, when the "Empire Builder" begins its climb to the summit.

       ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSI am deeply indebted to the following individuals and organizations for their time and assistance; this article would not have been possible without their help:

    1. Eric Archer

    2. Peter Constantatos, California Locomotive Works

    3. Richard Miller

    4. Cyril J . Durrenberger, Contributing Editor, Prototype Modeler

    5. Jason B. Moore, Vancouver & Columbia Valley Ry., Austin, TX

    6. Barbara Nelson, Marketing Director, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp.

    7. Ruby J. Shields, Research Assistant, Archives/Manuscripts Division, Minnesota Historical Society

    8. P. W. Stafford, Director of Public Relations, Burlington Northern

    9. Richard K. Wright, Wright Enterprises

    Article Details

    • Original Author Dave Schumacher
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date December 1977

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