What is the largest radius curve on your layout? If you said anything less than 24”, you won’t be running 85-foot passenger cars any time soon. Even then, a 24” curve is extremely tight for those cars to navigate. Fear not, I have the solution for your long passenger car dilemma: short steam era passenger cars!
Now, most passenger equipment has been 85-feet long for decades and must meet certain crashworthiness requirements from governing agencies. But that doesn’t mean you can’t run these shorter cars on excursion service during a later era. In fact, some of the first HO scale rolling stock that I purchased were two Mantua 1860-80 era passenger cars [now out of production –Ed.] lettered for the Black Hills Central Railroad. I still love seeing a little 0-6-0 pulling them on short out-and-back hops. While Mantua has been out of business for a few years, you may be able to find some of these cars on the secondhand market and at train shows. If you’re looking for new models, look no further. The following steam era passenger cars are able to navigate curves as tight as 18”.
Bachmann offers its 1860-80 era passenger cars in two types: baggage cars and coaches. The retail price for each is $43.00. Each car features a duck bill roof or rounded-end clerestory roof as appropriate, blackened metal wheels on non-magnetic axles, and body-mounted couplers. Available paint schemes include Baltimore & Ohio; East Broad Top; Durango & Silverton (coach only); Old Colony Railroad; Pennsylvania RR; Santa Fe; Union Pacific (coach only); Virginia & Truckee; and Western & Atlantic. Bachmann also offers coaches painted green, red, or yellow and unlettered to match any railroad you want.
Available from its Roundhouse line, Athearn’s 34-foot Overton passenger coach is short but that doesn’t mean it lacks detail. The passenger car features end handrails and ladders, clear windows, and green-tinted clerestory windows. It rides on metal wheels with RP-25 contours and features body-mounted McHenry knuckle couplers. The Overton coach is offered in six road names including Denver & Rio Grande Western; Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe; Boston & Maine; Canadian National; New York Central; and Southern Pacific. In addition to single coaches being available, four-packs are available decorated for New York Central and Southern Pacific. These packs include a baggage car, combine, coach, and observation car. Single cars are priced at $36.99, and four-packs are $129.99.
The Athearn 50-foot old time Overland passenger car is offered either as a single coach or a four-pack that includes a Railway Post Office, combine, coach, and business car. The Overland cars are available painted for Virginia & Truckee; Denver & Rio Grande Western; Great Northern; Southern Ry.; and Union Pacific. The cars feature the same features as the 34-foot Overton coach. Single coaches sell for $42.99, and four-packs are $149.99.
What if you want an entire train set complete with a locomotive and short steam era passenger cars? Bachmann has got you covered. The Durango & Silverton train set includes a 2-8-0 steam locomotive and tender, open excursion car, 1860-80 era combine, and 1860-80 era coach. The locomotive includes a factory-installed 8-pin socket for easy DCC decoder installation (sold separately) and an operating headlight. In addition, the set includes a 47” x 38” oval of Bachmann’s E-Z Track, power pack, and speed controller. The set retails for $399.00.
For those N scalers out there, you haven’t been left out. Athearn has done runs of its 34-foot Overton coaches in the past, and Bachmann produces a N scale version of its Durango & Silverton train set. Instead of a 2-8-0, the N scale set includes an 0-6-0 steam locomotive and tender. Accompanying the locomotive is an 1860-80 era combine and two 1860-80 era coaches. The track pack included is a 34” x 24” oval of N scale E-Z Track. The N scale set sells for $263.00.
Whether you model the 1800s and need some passenger equipment, or the modern era and run excursions with a restored steam locomotive, these short steam era passenger cars can be a welcome inclusion to virtually any layout.