ARISTO-CRAFT PASSENGER COACHES OR CARS
Not to be outdone, Aristo-craft (not to be confused with the UK model coach manufacturer confusingly called "Aristocraft Coaches"), was a major player in the large scale train market until their unfortunate demise at the end of 2013, also offered both historic Narrow Gauge and a fairly comprehensive assortment of modern Standard Gauge (1:29 scale) fluted and smooth-sided streamlined passenger cars for mainline operations.
These latter passenger cars were available in a variety of types (Coaches, Combines, Dining Cars, Baggage Cars, Dome Cars, and Observation Cars in popular road-names as we shall discover later in this module. Both versions of these 1:29 scale cars feature extruded aluminium bodies, full interior lighting, and other state-of-the-art features.
Despite the loss of Aristo-craft as a substantive supplier you may still find the odd cachet of Passenger Cars produced by the company both in their Narrow Gauge “Sierra” range and also Standard Gauge Heavy Duty & Streamline Passenger Cars. If not, there is always the second-hand (or "previously cherished") marketplace.
The departure of Aristo-craft was a particular loss to members of the garden railways community who modelled standard gauge 20th Century trains as Aristo-craft were the predominant full range supplier.
Aristo-craft American Outline Old-Time Passenger Cars
Quite why Aristo-craft chose to call their old-style cars "Sierra" remains a bit of a mystery and there is still come controversy over their origin. Aristo-craft maintained that they were "based on an "old-style / wooden" Passenger Car of the late 1800's era. Actual prototype examples were used on the Sierra Railroad of California featured in many 'westerns' by Hollywood producers including "Little House on the Prairie" apparently, but this was a standard gauge railway rather than narrow gauge.
In the early 1980's Aristo-craft collaborated with a number of other players who were on the scene at the time including Delton Locomotive Works, Railway Express Agency (REA) and even Lionel MPC. It was it was assumed that Aristo-craft might have acquired the design and moulds from Delton when that company went into liquidation but it now seems that these assets were actually acquired by Hartland Locomotive Works (HLW) who went on to produce their own range of "Sierra" Cars.
Only the Delton freight cars, caboose and C-16 Steam Locomotives were acquired by Aristo-craft at the bankruptcy auction. This being the case it appears that these cars were developed by Aristo-craft from the outset (possibly during its subsequently dissolved partnership with Railway Express Company (REA), purportedly to 1:29 scale according to firm's catalogues and accompanying instruction manuals (rather than 1:24 scale as were most of the Aristo-craft "Classic" Series.)
Nevertheless, they look perfectly at home on a 1:22.5 scale layout (and measurements of the actual cars also suggest that Aristo-craft may have taken some liberties when realising this attractive car.) As one observer has commented they could be anywhere in that nebulous area between 1:22.5 and 1:29 The first cars in the series (ART 3000 and 3001) actually formed part of the Rogers 2-4-2 Steam Passenger Railway Set (ART 25000-1).
It is believed that Aristo-craft's interpretation of the "Sierra" passenger car may have been inspired by coaches built for the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) in the late 1880’s rather than those used on the standard gauge Sierra Railroad narrow gauge and there is some difference of opinion as to whether the Aristo-craft models (possibly 1:24 scale?) can truly be called a “Sierra” coach at all.
Well, enough about their origins - what about the actual "Sierra Cars" themselves. Like most Aristo- craft model trains they are robust, well-engineered and incorporate quite a large amount of detail given the period they were manufactured. However, you need to be careful when buying as Sierra Passenger Cars were often supplied in Starter Sets and these did not including all the "extras" such as lighting, smoke unti, electrical unit or interior detailing. They were, however, supplied with metal wheels!!!!
These imposing looking “shorty” coaches were available singularly in Coach, Combine and Observation style (and also 3-Car and occasional 4-Car Sets) in a variety of road names including Pennsylvania RR (see image above); Baltimore & Ohio RR; Denver & Rio Grande; A.T.S.F / Santa Fe RR together with a special Christmas version. They were built to a high spec and proved very popular.
Indeed the features and elaborate level of detail on these lighted cars was exceptional for the time as shown below:
Detailed passenger car trucks / wheelsets with individual springs and metal wheels
Operating interior lights (and rear markers on the Observation Car)
Clerestory windows in roof
Full underframe, including Air Brake System component
Clear plastic windows with design and brightwork trim
Brass Grab and End Railings / Brakewheel
Front/Rear Operating AAR Knuckle Couplers
Potbelly stove with smoking chimney
Solid state electronic circuit
Brass Filigree trim Removable roof
Length 161/4 in./ 413 mm and Simulated Wood Grain
Officially 1:29 scale (1:24 Scale?)
Note: The coaches were also supplied in Starter Sets but these usually lacked some of the above "premium" features such as interior detailing, smoke,lighting, etc.
Restored examples of similar cars are on display at various USA Railroad Museums." Certainly there is some resemblance to cars to be found at the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, Jamestown, California, USA although Aristo-crafts reproductions are somewhat smaller - possible to help them navigate round the tight minimum 600mm radius curves.
Over the years they were released in at least 40 variants in a wide choice of Railroad liveries - all in the 31000 Article Numbering Series and if space permits I will try and include a thumbnail of each version in the gallery below:
31101 Aristo-craft Sierra Passenger Combine Car (PR)
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Few of you, especially this side of the pond, may have heard of some of these companies but they were pioneers in the development of the large-scale model railroad business. Many of them have fallen by the wayside and their contribution is not always recognised. If you would like to know more I can recommend that you read an authoritative history compiled from interviews with those who were actually there. You can just click the active link below for the relevant webiste courtesy of Family Garden Trains:
Additional material on Delton Locomotive Works and Hartland is available in the fascinating Phil Jensen story available from Narrow Gauge Down Under (Australia) by clicking the button below:
IMAGE NOT AVAILABLE
Note: There were several other variations to the above , especially Christmas & Circus car liveries, and there were also separate Jack Daniels Distillery Coaches (31099) that are so rare I was not able to locate an image for them.
Aristo-craft Standard Heavyweight Passenger Cars
Wooden passenger cars provided good operational service to many railroads in the 19th Century as they were light enough for even the smaller steam locomotives of the day to pull them but customers did not enjoy much comfort as the cars did not ride the ‘iron road’ that well and were unsuited to higher speeds.
Around the turn of the century standard heavyweight passenger car designs came into being in an attempt to
improve passenger comfort and safety but also to compete more effectively with the emerging automobiles. These cars had double walled riveted steel sides making them less liable to telescope in a wreck.
Their “heavyweight” designation was apparently derived from not only the heavy steel construction but also the concrete slabs embedded in the floor to hold the coaches firmly onto the track thus improving the ride quality.
Standard Heavyweight Passenger Cars were considered the ultimate in luxury travel throughout the first half of the twentieth century and it was not unusual for the interiors of the cars to be elegantly decorated with plush seating, antique lighting, and other such comfortable amenities. Indeed these ‘Pullman’ coaches were the finest thing on rails during the 1920’ and 1930’s.
Prior to going bust Aristo-craft was said to be the only manufacturer to offer large-scale, steel-construction mid-twentieth century passenger cars of the type that ran on USA main-lines prior to the introduction of lighter streamlined cars. Their 1:29 scale line of “Heavyweight” Passenger Coaches, Observation cars, Combines, Pullman Sleepers, Diners and Railway Post Office (RPO) Cars, and were available in a number of different road names, come complete with detailed and lighted interiors.
Aristo-craft’s fine-looking reproduction was based on standard practice at the time and represented a 72’ car derived from the Association of American Railways (AAR) designs of the day. The Aristo-craft Heavyweight passenger cars were based upon a particular model built by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company for the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) in the early 1920's.
They were available with 4 or 6 wheel trucks (bogies) depending on the production run, prototype and particular road name.The resultant models are very large (around 30” / 749 mm) and need large radius curves of at least 8’ diameter plus ample clearances to run satisfactorily. These long cars require eight-foot minimum diameter curves.
As with most Aristo-craft products the 1:29 scale plastic models were well executed and the finish is to a high quality for a mass-market product of this nature. These models come painted and lettered for some of the most popular trains of the times and the company appear to have gone to considerable lengths to match the original paint colours. Each Car features a fully detailed interior with working lights, removable roof, operating vestibule doors, sprung trucks, detailed bodies and brass handrails.
As with the Sierra Cars the Standard Heavyweights were originally available singly or in complete 3-car sets (Coach, Pullman and Baggage versions) and came in a wide choice of road names including Pennsylvania; New York Central; Southern Pacific Daylight; Baltimore & Ohio; Union Pacific; ATSF/Santa Fe; Southern Crescent; Rio Grande; Napa Valley; and Chicago & Northwestern.
In late 2005 Aristo-craft decided to cease supplying Heavyweight Passenger Cars as single items and only made them available in boxed sets of 4 cars (although dealers were at liberty to split them if they wished). This did not prevent them from making a special offer to American buyers in that same year offering 2 additional heavyweight cars (one passenger and one Pullman car) of the same road name free with every complete set of 4 purchased. This policy appears to have been relaxed in later years as subsequent catalogues list these cars as separate purchase items.
In November/December 2005 Aristo-craft also used their "Insider" magazine to announce a series of long awaited improvements to the Heavyweight cars. Where the prototype car had 3 axle trucks the Aristo-craft Cars would also have them. Another popular design improvement was that cars would be henceforth couple just over an inch closer together - improving the realism considerably. latest versions would also have blackened grab irons and handrails as well as light bulbs that can easily be changed. (Incidentally that year Aristo-craft held a "Heavyweight" Car sale in the run-up to Christmas whereby if you purchased any 4 heavyweight Passenger Cars of the same road name you could two extra cars - a a Coach and Pullman Sleeper - absolutely free. Aristo-craft often used to indulge in this type of promotion but sometimes they only applied to buyers in the Continental United States to the indignation of UK and European customers - possibly a contributory factor as to why they eventually went bust!)
Technical description over the years was generally as follows:
Front / Rear Operating AAR Design Knuckle Couplers
Detailed passenger car trucks (prototype specific 2 or 3 axle trucks) with metal wheels and shorter coupler shanks for closer coupling
Moveable vestibule doors
Solid-state electrical circuit
Operating interior lights
Brass grab hands - many versions are blackened or painted
Fully detailed interiors with seats, bag racks, and lavatory (No interior in baggage sections)
Realistic Painting & Authentic Detailing
Detailed Underframe including Air Brake System components
Clear plastic windows with simulated wood trim
Available in Coach, Pullman Diner, Baggage and three (Coach, Baggage and Pullman) or four car sets (Combine, Observation, RPO, and Pullman Diner.)
NOTE – These cars require a minimum of eight- foot diameter (4’ foot radius) curves for efficient operation.
There are far too many versions of these popular cars to mention here but the gallery below gives you some idea of what is (or rather was) available in the company's hey-day and will also append a list of know variants at the end of this chapter. The models may prove difficult to source in the UK but are often offered for sale on the Ebay USA website and other auction houses (see list of sources in Module * ).
A rake of Southern Pacific Daylight Heavyweight Passenger Cars
For a more comprehensive run-down of Heavyweight Cars produced by Aristo-craft please visit this website:
To complete the picture feast you eyes on these YouTube videos recording the Aristo-craft Heavyweight Cars in action:
Aristo-Craft Baltimore & Ohio E-8 and Heavyweights with Kadee 906 Couplers
A rake of Union Pacific Heavyweight Cars
Aristo-craft Southern Crescent Heavyweight Cars
Aristo-craft Streamline Passenger Cars
In addition to their heavyweight Series Aristo-craft also manufactured a range of more modern ribbed (or fluted according to your preference) "Streamline" passenger cars made from highly polished, extruded aluminium (or 'aluminum' as our friends in the USA pronounce it). Earlier models were a little fragile and rode too high but later editions improved on the initial design with clear windows, vacuum formed interiors, lighting and lower trucks with free-running ball-bearing metal wheels.
The prototype "streamliners" were built in the late 1940s through the 1950s by the Budd Company, Pullman Company and American Car and Foundry and were used for long distance passenger rail services in North America. These rolling stock manufacturers took advantage of a new concept in aluminium extrusion introduced from Italy for producing lightweight cars. You can read all about it by clicking on the following link:
These are just a few of the Aristo-craft "Streamline Cars" that were produced over the years up until the final closure of Aristo-craft in December 2013 although I understand that the production runs were spasmodic and realitively short depending on the order book. During the final months stocks appear to have been very depleted and no doubt avid collectors took the opportunity to snap up any residual cars during the 50% off clearance offer. Note: All later production of these cars had much the same specification apart from the livery as follows;
Vacuum formed interiors, ball bearings, new lighting (battery ready capaability ) and lower height!
Made from extruded aluminium and highly polished bodies
Operating AAR-design knuckle couplers
Detailed passenger car trucks / wheelsets with individual springs and metal wheels
Operating interior lights (and rear-end markers on the Observation Car
Metal grab rails and end railings
Clear plastic window strip with green tint trim
Length: 27 1/2" (699mm)
Scale : 1:29
Once again videos can give you a much better idea as to how these cars look and perform so I have selected a few YouTube contributions to demonstrate the cars in action:
Aristo-craft never did rest rest on their laurels and also introduced "Smoothside" Passenger Cars which as the name suggests did not have the "go faster" ridges of the Streamline heavy-steel construction variety but were still manufactured from extruded aluminium. These were available as individual coaches. These cars also tended to ride very high, and too far apart so it was common practice for purchasers to carry out modifications to overcome these issues. There were numerous ways to tackle these improvements but apparently it was possible to slide out the floor and insert it back in a higher groove. Couplers could also be mounted further back or replaced with more prototypical versions from Kadee.
Aristo-craft Smoothside Passenger Cars - Coaches
No image available for 33301 New York Central and 33308 Great Northern was never made.
Aristo-craft Smoothside Passenger Cars - Observation Coaches
No image available for 33401 New York Central and 33808 Great Northern was never made.
Just a reminder that these passenger cars are 1:29 scale and designed for use on layouts representing standard gauge railway operations. If you model Narrow Gauge they are unlikely to look realistic but if you just want to "run trains" don't let me put you off as all churches are catered for in the wonderful world of model railways.
Well that about covers Aristo-crafts long running foray into the production of model railroad passenger cars in the depth appropriate to a manual of this nature. The loss of this particular company has probably been the most significant in terms of it's impact on the hobby and it was a great pity that they could not be rescued. Fortunately the demise of LGB was averted by its absorption into the Marklin family but just imagine if it had failed to secure a "white knight" when it ran into financial trouble. If you wish to find out more about Aristo-craft try to get hold of some of their old catalogues (they are still around) and read old issues of the company's "Insider" Magazine which covers events in much greater detail.