Christopher Brimley updated September 2, 2011

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  • Add Intrest to your Model Railroad Station Scene with Platform Vehicles

    by V. S. Roseman

    Photos by the author unless otherwise indicated

    A Red Cap helps out with a three-wheeled electric tractor on the point of a train of two Kibri wagons equipped with pneumatic tires. In the background a loaded Walthers Santa Fe express car awaits departure time. Platform tractors could be seen in almost any color, sometimes being in the colors of the railroad or those of the union station where more than one railroad was involved, and sometimes the tractors came in the manufacturers standard colors, such as orange or yellow.
    Model Railroading - August 2006 - Page 20

    From the inception of passenger trains, people on long trips traveled with large trunks holding their clothing and personal possessions. Sales people made up a large proportion of the traveling public, and they usually had cases of samples as well as their own trunks of clothing and necessities for long trips selling from town to town. A circuit of their sales territory could take a month or more to traverse.

    Three Types of Head End Traffic on Passenger Trains

    Checked Baggage - Even before the turn of the 20th century, people traveling with large trunks and suitcases made it necessary for the railroads to provide for the checking of baggage. Clearly, there was no way to stow large trunks and suitcases in the space provided in passenger coaches and sleeping cars. Under the baggage check arrangements made by the railroads, passengers could turn over their baggage to the baggage master or stationmaster at the point of origin and receive a metal disk with their check number. A duplicate number was fastened to their trunk or suitcase. After debarking, they would present their tags in the baggage room and receive their cases. This service was included as part of the passengers fare, and the weight and size limit for free handling of checked baggage was usually printed in timetables. Handling checked baggage was a function of the railroads, and Railway Express was forbidden from handling passenger baggage as stated in their contract with the railroads.

    Baggage or express wagon with fenced-in sides and solid rubber tires. Photos show this type of wagon in service for Railway Express Agency, although railroads also owned some of this type wagon.
    Model Railroading - August 2006 - Page 21

    There was an escape clause, however, which permitted Railway Express to handle checked passenger baggage if so requested by a railroad. This was employed by Pennsylvania Railroad in their New York City operation, and REA was permitted to handle passengers baggage between trains and local destination addresses.

    Express - Express traffic was handled by either Railway Express Agency, or in some cases by a local express company in cooperation with REA. Trucks were used to pick up and deliver parcels in the area surrounding the railroad station with one or more routes originating there. The drivers would await the arrival of scheduled trains to pick up or send out large parcels and sacks of small packages. In many cases the station agent, a railroad employee, could have part of his salary paid by REA for which he would act as a Railway Express agent. Where this arrangement was used, drivers would not have to wait for trains as the station agent would pick up and set out sacks and packages at train time.

    Mail - Mail trucks picked up and delivered the mail to local post offices. From most post offices there was a truck route to deliver mail sacks to the local railroad station for loading on trains. A postal employee always stayed with the mail until it was put into mail cars on the train.

    Platform Wagons

    The baggage, mail and express parcels all had to be placed ready for loading in advance of train arrivals so as to prevent delaying departure. To meet this need, the baggage wagon was devised and later standardized. While these wagons had four wheels, a platform and a steering tongue to haul it, there were some interesting variations.

    The baggage agent, station agent or a railroad-employed helper would load passengers checked luggage and trunks onto a wagon at the baggage room and roll it out to the platform to wait at the spot where the doors of the baggage car would open. No records in the contracts reviewed so far seem to address the use and ownership of platform wagons.

    Various other vehicles were used on train platforms, such as the two-wheeled X-frame carts that could be moved about easily by balancing their loads on both sides. Two-wheeled box-bodied carts sacks, as well as common hand trucks, were often used by the Post Office for transporting mail.

    Self-propelled battery-operated platform wagon for large terminals. The skirts have been removed to facilitate servicing of the motor and battery. The yellow extension at the frame level is the front bumper, the fold-up step plate for the operator is just above this on the end; at the top the upper bumper beam is to protect the operators head in the event of collision. This unit is in service at Toronto Union Station. Similar units I have seen in the U.S. have not had the upper bumper fittings.
    Model Railroading - August 2006 - Page 22

    Operations at Train Time

    Wagons or carts would be moved either to the platform adjacent to the station or across to the other side (usually over wooden deck planking or other paving between the rails) of both tracks to await trains. In most cases, it was the agent who had to haul these heavy wagons about, often with some laborers to help if there was more than one wagon to be moved. At busy stations electric elevators were installed to permit moving the wagons to a subway passage in order to cross the tracks. In large stations and terminals, such as Union Station in Chicago, separate low platforms were provided for moving the baggage, mail and express wagons without interfering with passengers. In larger stations the special passages for these wagons ran in their own subway tunnels and formed labyrinths not usually seen by the public.

    When a train arrived, the doors in the "working" (open and staffed) express cars would be opened to receive and drop off sacks of express. Mail and passenger lug gage were usually placed in separate cars, and was all shifted from the wagons onto their assigned cars. This operation was done without much lifting since the platforms that the wagons employed were usually a close match for the height of the floors in the head end cars.

    After the departure of a train from the station, several of these wagons would have been filled with packages and sacks received from the head end cars. These cases and parcels were brought to the baggage room or express office. Railway Express packages had to be logged in to be handed to the REA drivers for local distribution. Luggage and trunks went to the baggage room to be handed over to passengers, while mail always had to be picked up directly by U.S. postal employees.

    Grandt Line wagon on platform ready to have its load moved into the express car of an arriving train. In the background an REA truck with driver awaits loads from the express car for local distribution.
    Model Railroading - August 2006 - Page 23

    Four-Wheel Baggage Express

    Wagons After the formation of Railway Express in 1929 the most typical platform wagons had a metal frame, wooden deck and four spoked wheels with metal treads (see Photo 1). Photos in various books show that some of these wagons were later modernized with solid rubber tires or automobile-type wheels with pneumatic tires.

    Near the back end of the wagon there was a fixed axle hold ing the wheels with a rigid suspension. At the front end there was a more elaborate metal support for the front wheels with a flat circular bearing plate that rotated with the axle and mated with a fixed metal circular bearing plate to permit the wagon to be steered by means of a long tongue with a handle at the outboard end. Above the deck the equipment varied from a couple of wooden posts to keep packages from falling off the ends, to wood or stamped-steel corrugated slats with metal stakes open only near the middle of their sides to permit access to parcels being moved. Some of these wagons had rounded ends and were built in a streamlined-deco style. These wagons had a brake that was actuated by raising or dropping the drawbar out of the hauling position (see Photos 2-4)

    Covered Wagons

    Some wagons had four metal rods or posts mounted to the deck which rose several feet and to which a roof was fastened. This accessory does not seem to make a lot of sense as rain or snow could blow in from the sides and ends, but like an umbrella, they would provide some protection; old photographs show that a number of large stations had these covered wagons.

    Double-Ended Platform Wagons

    There was a variation of the four-wheeled platform wagon having a drawbar at each end (see Photo 5). A look at the undercarriage showed that the axle bogies at both ends could turn. Only one drawbar would be extended at a time for hauling, and unfolding it released a lock for the steering and the brake. This clever variation on the basic platform wagon made it unnecessary to turn the wagon to move it in the opposite direction. This was a great convenience to the operator when trying to move one of these wagons on a narrow platform. As platforms are not always very level, a loaded wagon could tip over when turned, especially when trying to make a tight 180 turn to move the wagon to the station area for unloading. The wagons weighed several hundred pounds even when empty.

    Platform Wagon Wheels

    There were several types of wheels used on REA wagons. The earliest were ordinary wooden spoked wheels with thin metal rims as in the Jordan kit, while later ones had heavier wheels with more spokes as in Grandt Lines HO and O scale models. Eventually, solid rubber wheels with wire spokes running at angles were used; some wagon designs called for pneumatic tires of about the size and configuration of small automobile tires.

    Platform Tractors

    These small tractors were found in stations that had a great deal of head end business. The tractors were either battery or gasoline powered and were about the size of a large riding lawnmower. Improved concrete, wood or macadam platforms were common where tractors were used. These tractors range from 7' to 12' long, and up to 57" wide. They can haul about 4,000 lbs. at the drawbar according to the manufacturers, and have governed top speeds of about 15 mph.

    Clark, Harlan, Northwestern Baggage Tractor and United are some of the brand names of small tractors available today, although some of these makers once manufactured them for the railroads and Railway Express. The design of the tractors has not changed much externally, although with the advances made in engine design the new tractors are more fuel or current efficient.

    In enclosed areas, such as underground or interior spaces of passenger terminals, the electric versions of these tractors were commonly seen hauling long strings of wagons. Lowboys or dollies and similar conveyances were used in some terminals, especially where there were high platforms. While practicality of design dictated which types of wagons and tractors were used, in some cases the choices were a matter of someones preference so there was no real standardization of manufacturer or type of equipment employed.

    Maywood station with REA truck and wagon on the platform ready for an eastbound train.
    Model Railroading - August 2006 - Page 24

    Gasoline-powered tractors were intended for use out of doors hauling wagons on open platforms, but I can attest to the fact that these were used inside too, for I have been on the work floor of some terminals in which the air was blue from the exhaust of the tractors.

    There were some three-wheeled tractors too, with a pair of powered wheels at the rear and one steerable wheel in front to permit a tighter turn radius. (Manufacturer specifications indicate that their fourwheeled tractors can negotiate a 115" turn radius) See Photos 8-13.

    Self-Propelled Platform Transporters

    These are a battery-powered variation of the platform wagon. Many of these transporters had a small spring-loaded footplate in the front for the driver controls were on the sides. Depressing the footplate unlocked the controls and released a safety brake. The operator stood facing front with the controls extending from behind...a pretty scary if not dangerous way to run a vehicle of this size and weight, especially in crowded areas and next to train tracks.

    Batteries underneath the deck powered the wheels. This type of unit is still in use in Toronto Union Station, where they use doubleended versions with controls and bumpers at both ends. The units shown in the photos have a heavy steel bumper bar that extends around the operators feet, and some have an additional safety bar above the operators head.

    Double-ended variants of the powered and hand-towed wagons were used where platforms were not wide enough to permit making U turns safely. I saw generally similar transporters in New York Citys Grand Central Station, and they were used in many other important stations as well (see Photos 6-7).

    Model Platform Vehicles

    In both HO and O scale, Grandt Line makes a very complete model of an older-style Railway Express platform wagon, complete with detailed suspension. When assembled carefully, the wheels will turn and the steering operate. The similar baggage wagon from the Jordan line of injection-molded plastic kits is of a slightly older looking prototype than the Grandt Line model. Many of the prototype wagons had no bars on the back I suspect these got broken off or were removed to hold some long cargoes and were just never replaced. Some wagons had solid panels front and rear with a plywood or metal plate covering the open area between the vertical columns, and as described above, some even had roofs which could be built by individual modelers. The spoked wagon wheels on these models represent older wagons; newer ones had more complex wire wheels as shown in the photos. So far I have not found any suitable wire wheels with a light enough construction for use on scale models of platform wagons.

    Newer wagons, especially those that had to travel on dirt platforms and though open areas such as those at Allentown (PA) Union Station were fitted with pneumatic tires by the 1950s. Some of the older wagons were also retrofitted.

    Micron Art (http://www.micronart.com) offers an etched-brass baggage wagon kit in HO, N and Z scales that is built by folding and gluing it together. Preiser makes an excellent kit with several European-style baggage wagons which resemble some of the more modern types used in the United States. These only require simple assembly and painting. The front axle assembly is steerable, and the drawbar is positional. There are also side gates, which can be moved from open to closed positions. If you can find some good automobile wheels with tires you might exchange the ones in the kit for another variation. I have slightly modified the Preiser wagons by cementing their sides in place and slicing out the middles to resemble slat-equipped Railway Express wagons. There was even a streamlined REA wagon style with rounded ends, but so far I have not had a chance to model those.

    An REA expressman hooks together a train of green and red-trimmed Railway Express wagons to an electric tractor. These slat-sided wagons are similar to the one in the prototype photos at the Toy Train Museum in Pennsylvania. In some large terminals the tractor-hauled trains could run up to ten or more wagons long.
    Model Railroading - August 2006 - Page 25

    Self-Propelled Transporter & Baggage Tractor Models

    The only self-propelled transporter model I am aware of is made by Peco Modelscene (Merit) in England (http://www.pecouk.com). It is OO scale and is their item #5063 Electric Trolley & Trailer. Model tractors are hard to find since Kibri dropped t heir nice three-wheeled baggage tractor from their line several years ago. Fortu nately, Funaro & Camerlengo (http://www.fandckits.com) makes a baggage tractor of a similar three-wheeled design in HO as an easy-to-build resin kit (the steering wheel is one part and the rest of the body and wheels make up the second part.) It is their item #600 Baggage Horse.

    JL Innovative Design (http://www.jlinnovative.com) has their set #452 that includes a nice cast-metal riding lawnmower tractor, and a rotary power lawn mower. The rotary mower is a nice accessory for residential areas on your layout, and the cast mower cutting fairing of the riding mower-tractor can be left off when assembling the model to convert it into a small platform tractor. A sheet of plastic or brass for the shield can be mounted onto the front to resemble the baggage tractors shown in the photos.

    In O scale, an aircraft towing tractor was once provided in some older Lindbergh 1:48 s cale plastic jet fighter plane kits. Since these are sometimes found on eBay for only a few dollars, it may be worthwhile to buy the kit for the tractor and give the plane kit to an enthusiast. I hope the photos will help you to find other kits that can be used for making baggage tractors.

    Typical Paint and Decoration

    The wooden wagons were identified with code numbers either painted on or engraved on metal plates. On REA-owned wagons they often had a small enamel diamond plate with their emblem mounted to the front crossbar on the end stakes. While the sides of the platform of the wagon was too small to paint the Railway Express Agency (or railroad) name, a wooden fascia (decorative strip) would sometimes be hung below the platform or mounted along the sides of the frame of the wagon with the name on it.

    Railway Express Agency baggage wagons and tractors were dark leaf green, and often used red for the wheels and some times the underbody metalwork too. Surprisingly it appears that either the REA painting standards changed frequently or were not enforced, for photos show a surprising variation in decoration of both tractors and the wagons. On wagons with more elaborate superstructures, the solid green carried over the whole upper part, sometimes adorned with a red diamond herald on the front and back, or sometimes on the two sides instead.

    Some of these wagons had long enamel signs on the sides with RAILWAY EXPRESS AGENCY in imitation gold with dark and light red shadow shading on a leaf green background. The signs I have seen were in three parts, each about 22" long. In some cases, a fascia panel was mounted below the side and recessed slightly and the sign was mounted to that. I have to guess that less than half of the REA wagons actually had the owners corporate name on them, either on a long sign or a herald as most photos seem to show them without signs.

    Railroads usually painted their wagons in their passenger train colors. Some platform wagons I saw in use recently were used by VIA. Their colors are blue and yellow, and while the wagons were painted in blue, the battery-powered tractors were yellow. Pennsylvania Railroad had their own fleet of wagons painted Tuscan Red, and most roads used either REAs Leaf Green color (nicely simulated by Tamiyas Japan Navy Green), Pullman Green or a similar industrial green.

    Now that more modelers are simulating REA operations and facilities on their model railroads, these baggage wagons and tractors should help add some additional detail to the overall scene, as would even a single REA wagon on your passenger station platform. They should go a long way toward livening up the action on your passenger station platforms and creating a lot of interest on your model railroad layout.

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