NEB&W Guide to Lightweight Passenger Cars

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Streamlining came in at the depths of the Depression, when almost no cars were being built. As production began to return to normal, almost all the new cars were streamlined. However, I have been surprised to find a few heavyweight cars built after '34. The CN, for instance, had heavyweight baggage and postal cars built at that time, although they had arch roofs to fit in with the prevailing style. The GPEX steel milk cars must have been influenced by streamlining, as they too had skirting to a modest extent.

Body panels were often corrugated down the length of the car. This added stiffness (I think), just as Ruffles potato chips had ridges for strength. This also added horizontal streamline lines for aesthetic purposes. Some cars were given smooth sides.

The two major builders of streamlined cars were Budd and Pullman. Budd made the bodies for the Burlington Zephyr in 1933, the first streamlined cars. In 1941, after an antitrust suit against Pullman, Budd entered the manufacturing of sleeping cars. ACF also made smooth-side cars. I'm not positive of spotting features between the manufacturers. I'm beginning to find that Budd cars had horizontal corrugations on the roof, while Pullman used smooth panels with the seams that ran across the car. ACF seems to have stuck with smooth-side cars, although in the '53 Cyc., there was a ACF-built stainless-steel sleeper-obs. for the Santa Fe. This too did not have a corrugated roof. I'll keep looking to see how reliable a spotting feature this is.

According to John White (The American Passenger Car), Budd had the patent on a welding system that allowed them to use the corrugated stainless steel as a structural member.

The cars of the Zephyr used fluted stainless steel, which didn't need painting, so the cars appeared silver. Smooth side cars were painted. Stainless steel could have the window band painted, but smooth sides allowed the individual identity of the railroad be indicated by a distinctive paint scheme, and also to continue the colors of the diesel.

Todd Sullivan said the first separate cars (not fixed consist entire trains) were built in 1937-38. These were for such top of the line name trains as the NYC Twentieth Century Limited, SP Daylight, PRR Broadway Limited, and the UP Forty-Niner. The first general service cars were built between 1939-42, when the War curtailed production. These generally had full skirting and full-width diaphragms.

Narrow diaphragms and no skirts mark the post-War cars, built until diminishing passenger traffic in the late '50's ended production. (The Central, however, did have full-width diaphragms on Budd-built cars in 1946-'47.) Skirting on the earlier cars was generally removed. Sullivan said the Central had taken off most of these by 1948. A contemporary RA article said that skirts made maintenance difficult, and that in particular in the northeast, since they tapered in, they collected snow and ice to such an extent they became dangerous. The post-War cars seemed to retain a vestige of skirting at the ends, but the section between the trucks was in line with the cutout over the trucks themselves. You could possibly backdate some models by adding skirting (difficult), but removing skirting on otherwise out of the box models would help make your equipment look different. (Thus on heavyweights you bring them up to date by adding material, the air conditioning ducts, while on streamline cars, you upgrade by removing material.)

Streamlined cars were built in the era when the car manufacturers themselves were encouraging the railroads to accept standardized designs. Thus these cars have more appeal for the plastic manufacturers, who seek to spread their kits over as many prototypes as possible. For those of you that have no interest in the New York Central, the dates given should at least be some info.

We noticed in the 1940's NYC film Within The Oval that a number of stainless steel cars had black roofs. We painted the roofs black on models of these silver cars, chosen at random, to make them look a little difference from out-of-the-box cars.

As discussed in the heavyweight section, "duplex" was a concept and term used dating back to 1932. Pullman built a two-unit articulated duplex sleeper-obs. for the NYC in 1936. ACF was building "slumberliners" in 1945. In 1946, Budd was calling their duplex version "Budgette", although they also had "Duplex" cars.

According to White, once a road upgraded their name trains with streamlined cars, they had little interest (or funds) to continue modernization. There were only about 300 new cars a year built during the two decades of the streamlined period (1935-'55) and almost none after that, so that the cars only represented at most 15% of the fleet.

I have heard about a book, From Zephyr To Amtrak, which I understand covers every streamlined car built.

Stainless Steel

White said that this material, an alloy of 18% chrome and 8% nickel, was developed by Krupp in 1912, used at first only as a novelty material, for such things as "silverware". Edward Budd, who had been making stampings for the auto industry, heard about it in 1928 from a German contractor.

Stainless steel, because it didn't rust, could be made very thin. However, thin material needs lots of attachment points (a large sheet of paper can't be attached to a bulletin board with just a few house nails), which implied welding. Conventional welding ruined the material. In 1933, the Budd Company devised a very quick method, called "Shotweld" (similar to how we can solder a feeder to flex track without melting the plastic ties). In 1931, even before the method was perfected, Budd built the first all-steel airplane, then several small rail cars, then the Burlington Zephyr in '34, and the first separate coach in '36 (Santa Fe no. 3070).

A major part of the strength (one-third of the bending moment) of the Budd stainless steel passenger cars was in the roof, which developed its strength.

By 1944, there were almost 500 Budd stainless steel cars, and by '49, 1,000 cars.

Pullman at first tried to compete with Budd by adding corrugated stainless steel side panels as decoration, (hence the un-corrugated roof) but these panels allowed leakage. These cars were often rebuilt with flat sides as smooth-sides (SP, B&O, C&O) in the mid-'50's. In the '50's, Pullman built all stainless-steel cars, using conventional spot-welding and rivets. White showed a '54 car built by Pullman for the M-K-T, which still had a conventional roof.


According to White, this material, while obviously lighter than steel, also cost significantly more. While in theory it didn't require painting, it didn't weather well, so it was generally painted. White said that some 1,000 cars where built of aluminum, particularly for the UP and KCS. I'm not sure of any exterior difference therefore of aluminium cars over Cor-Ten steel "smooth-sides".


According to White, this steel alloy was much stronger than ordinary steel, several times more corrosion-resistant, easily welded, and only a tenth the cost of stainless steel or aluminum. White said that more than 2/3's of the lightweights, or 6,500 cars, were built of Cor-Ten. While I can't imagine that Cor-Ten was never made corrugated and "silver" as such, the Pullman "faux" stainless-steel cars would be included in this total of 6,500 number. On the other hand, from the modeler's viewpoint, the 1,000 aluminum smooth-sides should be lumped in with the 6,500 Cor-Ten cars, suggesting a high percent of smooth-sides, upwards of four out of five cars.