Southern Pacific Lines

Coast Line Division 

“The Route of the Octopus”


General Information

Head-End Cars Description

  1. These cars are so-called because they typically ran at the front end of the train behind the locomotive. These cars include baggage cars, express cars, railway post office cars (mail cars), and crew or dormitory cars. These cars were mostly railroad-owned and often shop-built, therefore there are very few truly "generic" head-end cars that would be correct for more than one railroad. Spotting features: baggage cars generally are 60' to 70' in length, and have one, two, or three large cargo doors on each side. RPO cars look like baggage cars with a row of windows usually offset toward one end. Express cars can be baggage cars, or express reefers, which were roughly 50' in length for hauling perishables. Dormitory cars were typically combined with a baggage compartment at one end. There is also the combine coach, which had a baggage compartment in one end and coach seats in the other end.

SP Heavyweight Headend Cars Types

  1. On the Espee Modelers Archive, on the Passenger Train Consist page, it lists various headend cars as; baggage, baggage express, express, mail-storage, etc. See the following descriptions:

Baggage cars

  1. Baggage cars and reefers were used in postal storage service during heavy use periods (Christmas). Baggage car may be transporting passenger baggage of company goods. And yes, these cars were scheduled.

Postal Cars

  1. A number of 60' postal cars were rebuilt to postal storage cars, as were a number of 60' baggage cars. The Post Office Department paid for the use of postal cars and postal storage cars. The railroad was obligated to provide a 30' postal, if they provided a 60' car, the PO Dept. would only pay for 30'.

Postal-baggage cars

  1. Postal-baggage cars were used in postal storage service when needed.

Express car

  1. Express car was used by the express company (REA). The railroad was obligated to provide a 20' express, if they provided a 40' car, the REA would only pay for 20'.

  1. Generally, express cars were not box cars. They were railroad owned "baggage" cars. the express company would pay for space on these cars. Sometimes the entire car, but in many cases they would purchase X number of feet. That's why the cars were lettered "Railway Express Agency". The box type express car you may have seen were most likely express reefers. But of course, these reefers were sometimes used to move regular express or even mail during the holiday rush.

  2. Express cars had safes to transport cash and other valuables. There must have been large volumes of cash and checks items moving between major cities on trains besides normal mail. It was common for SP trains carrying mail or mail express to include foreign line cars, particularly on secondary trains. The cars were often from connecting railroads, e.g., NP or GN cars on the Klamath, CRIP cars on the Imperial.


  1. Notice normal "baggage car" handled both baggage and express, i.e. REA, and was always so labeled. There were also baggage-mail cars with a compartment for each, which could be called "mail express" cars. Finally, older baggage or decommissioned postal cars were used for storage mail, meaning mail not sorted en route but handled as sacked mail from end to end.

RPO Timeline

  1. SP did not run any RPOs after 1967.

Association of American Railroads (AAR) Nomenclature

Passenger Car Classification  -  1955 Revision

Head-End Equipment

Class B

BE- Baggage Express

  1. Typical passenger -train baggage car having side doors suitable for baggage or express, with or without windows or end doors.

BEM - Baggage Express Messenger

  1. As above but equipped with desk, lights, safe, closet, drinking water and lavatory for expressman to protect valuables and handle parcels en route. Marked externally with a five-pointed star six inches in diameter above designation (this classification added about 1948).

BH - Horse or Horse and Carriage Express

  1. Equipped for the transportation of fine stock, with or without stalls (movable or stationary) and with or without space left for carriage and horse equipment.

BLF - Flat Car

  1. Equipped to carry containers of liquid (example: National Car Co. cars that carried removable milk tanks for Borden’s)

BM - Milk Car

  1. Insulated with out refrigeration, used primarily for milk in cans and bottles; usually these cars are railroad owned.

BMR - Milk Car

  1. Insulated car with ice bunkers, for carrying milk in cans and bottles.

BMT - House Car

  1. Enclosed car with insulated tanks, usually shipper owned or leased (examples of these cars include General American Pfaudler milk cars and Borden “butterdish” milk cars).

BP - Refrigerator Express

Insulated with or without means of ventilation, having refrigeration apparatus.

BR - Refrigerator Express

BS - Refrigerator Express

BX - Box Express

Class C

CA    - Combined Car, Baggage and Passenger

CAD - Combined Car, Baggage and Passenger

CO    - Combined Car

CS     - Combined Smoking and Baggage

CSA  - Combined Baggage, Dormitory and Kitchen

CSB  - Baggage-Dormitory

CSP  - Combined Mail Storage or Baggage, Dormitory and Passenger

Class M

MA - Postal Car

  1. for use by the U>S> Railway Mail Service, with side doors with or without mail-bag hook, equipped for sorting and classifying mail in transit, with or without end doors or windows.

  2. Lettered “United States Mail, Railway Post Office”)

MB - Baggage and Mail

  1. Two compartments, one for baggage, the other a Railway Post Office (RPO).

MBD - Combination Mail, Baggage and Dormitory

  1. Three compartments, RPO, baggage and crew quarters.

MBE  - Combination Mail, Baggage and Express

  1. Three separate compartments, one for each business.

MD  - Combination Mail and Dormitory

  1. Two compartments: RPO and crew quarters.

MP - Postal Car

  1. For transporting newspapers and large packages, having side doors and stanchions, with or without end doors or windows.

MR - Postal Storage Car

  1. Suitable for carrying mail in bulk, without appliances for sorting or, with side doors and stanchions, with or without end doors or windows (this or a standard baggage-express car often placed next to working RPO to store sorted mail)

MS - Mail and Smoker

  1. Two compartments, RPO and smoking section for pax.


Dark Olive

  1. Nearly all head-end cars were painted in the standard Dark Olive Green scheme. This was discontinued as standard in 1954.

  2. These head-end cars were painted SP’s Color No. 1 in the Common Standard No. 22 color series, named Dark Olive.

Modeling Dark Olive Paint


  1. There are at least three ways to go. First, several versions of Great Northern “Empire Builder Green” match well to the SP color chip. Many GN fans will tell you that this color is merely Pullman Green, but the true Pullman color lacks the brown and yellow tones of olive green, and does not match the SP chip.

  2. Second, military Olive Drab paint is often quite close to the SP chip, especially the current Floquil enamel color.

Star Brand

  1. But probably the best solution is approach number three: Star Brand paint from P-B-L, item STR-29, which is matched to the SP and UP chips for Dark Olive. It goes on smoothly with an airbrush. This paint can be purchased on-line from P-B-L, at: . To see the paint list, click on “online catalog” and then in the “Categories” window, select “paint / cement,” and scroll down to STR-29.

  2. Tony Thompson


  1. There is now also a Tru-Color Paint option, their color TCP-135, SP Dark Olive Green, which airbrushes beautifully.

Daylight & Two -Tone Gray

  1. A few SP heavyweight head-end cars were painted in other schemes, such as Daylight or Union Pacific Yellow, for relief service in the relevant trains, including a few in Two-Tone Gray. But before 1954, the Two-Tone Gray was not generally used for cars in pool service.

  2. Tony Thompson

Interior Paint

  1. The USPO Railway Mail Service stipulated the interior paint colors for all RPOs; during the circa 1940s-1960s period, This was a warm cream tone for the walls of the mail storage part of the car and a cool light green for the working mail "apartment"; white ceiling in both spaces. This info was turned up when CSRM Sacto was restoring GN l/w RPO 42 and the standard applied, according to Federal sources, to all US railroads. On checking the interior of the then-raw SP "shorty Harriman" RPO (ex-San Bruno Branch caboose) No.6008, the same interior colors were there in several good layers.

  2. Kevin Bunker

  3. Per Common Standard Specification C.S 22 Paint, revised to December 2, 1929, inside walls of baggage, express, baggage-horse, baggage apartment, postal and postal apartment cars was: No. 9 and No. 9A postal car brown

  4. Ceilings for above were: white No. 204 and 204A

  5. Floors were: Maroon No 4

  1. Generally the postal and baggage cars should be postal brown on the inside with off-white ceilings.  The coaches can have medium green walls with off-white ceilings.

  2. Jeff Cauthen


  1. Refer to the SPH&TS book, SP Painting and Lettering Guide (for passenger equipment), and to Volume 3 on head-end cars, in the series Southern Pacific Passenger Cars (SPH&TS).

Lettering & Numbering

  1. Head-end equipment was well down the queue when it came to keeping paint and lettering current.

  2. Tony Thompson

  1. Some roads put "Baggage" at the baggage end, and "Chair" at the chair end. This is, indeed, how the SP handled it.

  2. See page 276 in:                                            Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, Volume 1: Coaches and Chair Cars

SP “Harriman” round-roof baggage cars.

  1. The B end of the car can be identified in some classes by an external handbrake lever, but always by the end toward which the brake cylinder “points” (that is, indicated by the pointed end of the cylinder). That is the end of the car which, on both sides, carries the legend “BAGGAGE,” while the other end, on both sides, says “RAILWAY EXPRESS AGENCY.” Also, when facing the car end from between the rails at the B end, the car side to your right is called the the right side. On most SP baggage cars, that right side was the location for the single battery box (if the car had one).

  2. Tony Thompson                                 


                                                                         Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, Vol 3: Head End Equipment, pg. 36

Schemes by Year

1917 scheme

  1. Researching in Vol 1 SPPC book what the lettering on baggage cars, it would have been delivered with "Southern Pacific Lines" in the letterboard and had (i.e. CP over #6235) with lines above and below.

1931 scheme

  1. In Sept 1931 it would have been relettered with the initials and number in a straight line.

  2. In 1931, periods were dropped in reporting marks and subsidiary lettering was dropped also.

  3. Tony Thompson

1936 scheme

  1. Dulux Gold, which became SP’s standard lettering for Dark Olive cars in about 1936, replacing the former gold leaf. This is not a metallic color, but is a paint intended to convey the tone of gold-leaf lettering.

1946 scheme

  1. "Lines" was dropped in June, 1946. That change (like other changes) would have awaited repainting opportunities.

  2. Tony Thompson

Lettering per Car Length

15’ RPO Apartment


                                                                         Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, Vol 3: Head End Equipment, pg. 36

30’ RPO Apartment


                                                                         Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, Vol 3: Head End Equipment, pg. 36

60’ RPO Full Car


                                                                         Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, Vol 3: Head End Equipment, pg. 36

Modeling Decals

Harriman Head End Car Decals

  1. Modelers of the post-1936 SP will not want to use “metallic gold” decals. As most modelers know, this is not a metallic color, but is a paint intended to convey the tone of gold-leaf lettering.

  2. Tony Thompson


  1. Decals correct for the SP cars in grey are not available by Microscale.

Thin Film

  1. ThinFilm's SP passenger car decal sets are very nicely done. Their decals can do all the paint schemes including the Daylight steam locomotive sets.        

  2. Available through Original Whistlestop

  3. and Caboose Hobbies in Denver, CO

  1. By far the best HO decal set is the Thin Film set HO-160 (“SP Heavyweight and Harriman Dulux Gold Lettering.”), described as being for Harriman-era cars but in fact for heavyweight cars generally, in Dulux Gold. These are available through hobby dealers. See the catalog at this link: . Much of the sheet is occupied by a fine selection of SP-appropriate Pullman car names (lower part of the sheet) but practically any other passenger car type can be lettered with this set. Do note, however, that you can really only letter one car per decal set, though you will have lots of lettering left over. The film truly is thin, and the gold color excellent over a Dark Olive Green color.

  2. Tony Thompson


  1. SC&F will not produce its own decals.

San Juan Car Co.

  1. For other Espee steam, it’s recommended to use the set offered by San Juan Car Co. which is similar (and now updated) to the former Foothill Model Works SP steam loco decals. 

  1. For San Juan Car steam loco decal sets:


Head end Equipment

    Mainline Modeler February 1985      - Head end equipment.

    Mainline Modeler April 1985                - Head end equipment.

    Mainline Modeler December 1985             - Head end equipment.

    Mainline Modeler March 1986                - Head end equipment.


  1. NMRA Bulletin June 1980                 - Plans, SP Baggage/RPO 42ft.

  2. Prototype Modeler Mar/Apr 1984      - SP 70ft Baggage kitbash

  3. Railroad Model Craftsman October 1971     - SP Budd Baggage/Mail #5005 - 5010.

  4. Railroad Model Craftsman September 1954 - Plans, SP Baggage Turtleback 40ft.

  5. Model Railroader October 2001, pg. 90       - Plans, SP Baggage Cars

  1. Buy Randy Cape's new book on SP trains 21 and 22, it discusses worked mail, storage mail, express, baggage, etc.

  1. See SPHTS, Volume 3, it lists all SP baggage, postal, and postal-baggage cars.

Mail cranes and Railway Mail Service

  1. In various SP "station books", Colombian or Barker mail cranes are specified for various locations.

  2. You need:

  3. - "Railway Post Offices of California and Nevada”, by Rod Crossley, published by La Posta Publications in 1991.

  4. - Vol. 3 in the SP Passenger car series will have a limited amount of information on SP RPO routes and service.

  5. - "The Ghost Trains of SP's Overland Route, Train Nos. 21-22, Mail, 1947-1967., SPH&TS

  6. "SP station books" that specify cranes, etc. are, "List of officers, agencies, stations, etc" . . . " issued annually by accounting department [Southern Pacific Company], San Francisco. SP "List of Officers, Agencies and Stations" documents start reporting the existence, location and types of mail cranes from 1916. The earliest newspaper references to mail cranes was the February 9, 1895 Los Angeles Times (pg. 8).

  7. Look for copies of Circular 4s at swap meets or possibly on e-bay. One from 1931 and one from 1950 and did not see a reference to mail cranes. They changed some of the data contained in the books from time to time.

Modeling Head End Equipment

SP Heavyweight Headend Cars

Modeling Harriman Cars


  1. For modeling purposes, the old “blue box” Athearn SP Daylight baggage and baggage/chair cars on the market and on eBay, are not prototypical.

  2. David Coscia

  1. The “new” Athearn arch roof cars list for $44.50 each,  lettered for SP. The trucks are different, with metal wheel sets.

  2. They are just the same old MDC cars, with all the errors from back in the day. The coach is just one example -- it has one too few windows, and so looks odd if you compare to the prototype.. None of the cars duplicates an SP car.

  3. Tony Thompson  

  1. Sand off the "Battleship Rivets" and replace with Archer, repaint and decal, and you have a good stand-in.

  2. Arved Grass


  1. Dark green, with black roofs. The paint schemes are greatly improved.

Ken Kidder Harriman cars

  1. Ken Kidder HO scale Harriman cars represent Harriman-era equipment painted in SP Dark Olive Green found operating on the T&NO in the early to mid-1950s. The Ken Kidder cars from the 1960s suffer from a few dimensional issues, notably their height and resulting roof contours.

  2. Clyde King is working on a string of head-end "Sad Sam" cars (aka the Coast Mail train). These are *heavily* modified MDC 60' Harriman baggage cars.

  3. Details for the meet are found here       

  4. When operated together, the Kidder cars should look *okay* as a consist. However, mix them with Harriman cars from other manufacturers and you'll notice the height and roof dimensional issues.


  6. Rob Sarberenyi

Kidder Underframes

  1. Replace the plain wood underbody that came with the original cars was with plastic underframes fabricated from Evergreen Scale Models styrene based on a drawing made by Robert Bowdidge. These look good, and after adding some detail parts from Precision Scale, Cal Scale and others, they look *much* better than the bare wood frames would have. Placement of detail parts was based on studying photos from various references. Although their placement may not be 100% accurate, the general appearance and "feel" can be achieved here. Good luck trying to find really well-modeled 60' Harriman cars these days.

  2. Ken


  1. The old MDC cars come with all the errors from back in the day. The coach is just one example -- it has one too few windows, and so looks odd if you compare to the prototype.. None of the cars duplicates an SP car.

  2. Tony Thompson  

  1. Sand off the "Battleship Rivets" and replace with Archer, repaint and decal, and you have a good stand-in. They have talgo trucks.

  2. Arved Grass

MDC Kitbash  (Clyde King)

  1. Clyde heavily modified several MDC cars to represent Harriman-style head end cars for the "Sad Sam" Coast Mail train he intends to model. Note the scratchbuilt underframes and some of the underbody battery boxes.







  8. Most of those cars have since been painted into dark olive green or two tone gray colors. Motive power will be a GS-1 class 4-8-4.

  9. Rob Sarberenyi

Southern Car & Foundry

  1. The best bet is the Southern Car & Foundry cars:

  2. Kit 1000 - Harriman 60' RPO - $60

  3. Kit 1001 - Harriman 69' Baggage Postal - $60

  4. Kit 1002 - Harriman 70' Baggage - $60

  5. Kit 1003 - Harriman 60' Baggage - $55


  1. Be careful when adding weight in the center of the model floor. The floor has no real center sill and is thus a fairly thin casting and can bow in the center. Add stiffening beams in the form of rectangular brass tubing, 5/16 x 5/32 inches, to span from bolster to bolster. Drill and tap the approximate center of the edge of each beam for 2-56, then drill a clearance hole for 2-56 in the matching location on the underframe. Putting a screw through the floor into each beam and drawing it down tight fixed the problem rather cleanly. If the car weights were not placed in the car center, but at the ends around the truck screws, this problem would not occur.

  2. Tony Thompson                                                         

SOHO Headend Cars

  1. You can get Soho head end cars, which paint up nicely, and can have detail added of you are so inclined.

  2. Alan Houtz



American Limited

  1. Use Harriman-style diaphragms by American Limited (part #9156 designed for the MDC Harriman cars), however a test fit showed there would be some visual appearance issues (sticking up a bit over the end roof eaves), thus they were left off. Walther's makes a smaller one in terms of height. Not as nice looking or acting as what was originally intended, but better than none at all.


Central Valley

  1. Trucks used were Central Valley. Two of the trucks featured metal axle wheelsets (earlier production), while the rest had split plastic axles. The earlier, real CVs are lacquer insulated, as are motor armatures and will break down with time. The plastic axle insulated version Central Valley trucks came later, before they were discontinued entirely. The last ones, with the bright plated axles, are in plain words, crap. The plastic bushings were ill-fitting when new and probably even worse now. Wheels wobbled, slipped out of gauge,and so on. Also, wheel brake kits were produced for CV trucks. Unfortunately, they don't necessarily fit on all CV trucks.

  2. Rob Sarberenyi

  1. Central Valley no longer produces trucks. The last batch or so had some serious QA problems, according to an MR review (or was it RMC?), and many modelers complained. Rather than fix the problem, they took them off the market. This may have been about the time the original owner's son took over.

  2. Arved Grass

  3. Central Valley if you have them will work also. 

  4. Jeff Cauthen

Coach Yard

  1. Coach Yard make reasonable 4-wheel trucks.  6-wheel trucks, I'd use Coach Yard only.

  2. Jeff Cauthen

Precision Scale

  1. They produce a Harriman passenger car 4-wheel truck. PSC make reasonable 4-wheel trucks & 6-wheel trucks.

Packing Foam

  1. For anyone who has an old set where the foam packing has stuck to the trucks, a dip in dish detergent and a scrubbing with an old tooth brush will quickly clean them up.

  2. Lou Adler


  1. For the photo scroll down to the shot of SP 6018:


Baggage Doors

Interior RPO



  1. Walthers used to make one.

Pullman 70' heavyweight head-end cars

  1. SP did not have Pullman head-end cars of this type. Usually the railroads owned and operated head-end equipment, not Pullman.

Modeling B-70 Baggage Cars

  1. These are all Pennsy prototypes, based on the B70 baggage car. You can determine this not only by looking at the drawings, but noting the name of each diagram: the names give the PRR classes.

  2. Tony Thompson

Southern Pacific Lines
S.P. Head-End Cars
General Info
Head End Description
Headend Cars Types
AAR Nomenclature
Lettering & Numbering
Modeling Head End   Equipment