Specialty Cars for the Rio Grande Zephyr

Three unusual cars to fill out an HO scale RGZ

On my model railroad, a key feature of the 1970-1983 era is the Rio Grande Zephyr passenger train. Alhough the train was essentially a scaled-down version of the California Zephyr, it turns out there were a few changes in equipment from CZ days. Ever the completist, I’ve modeled these exceptions for my own operations.

Firstly, the head end. The Rio Grande evidently predicted lower baggage-hauling needs for the RGZ than before, coupled with the seating needs on an all-coach train. They had a couple of idle cars on the property which could be utilized to address both needs– a pair of Pullman-Standard combine cars dating from the now-defunct Prospector trains. So the streamlined Budd baggage car from the CZ was sidelined and the combines put into RGZ service.

The two combines were Nos. 1230 and 1231, initially identical. This one is No.1230. I built it from etched carsides by Nickel Plate Products commissioned by the Rio Grande Modeling & Historical Society, detailed and built onto a car core kit, with many added details. I had to remove the skirts to make it accurate for this period. (I have also kitbashed a version of 1231 after the small dorm windows were removed, but it’s not quite up to these standards of detail.)

Here if you look carefully you can see the full interior in the coach section, as well as some of the underbody detail.


Now, the tail end. In the early 1950s the railroad had converted a P-S coach into a classy business car. During the 1970s and early 1980s the Wilson McCarthy was often tacked onto the rear of the RGZ. In fact, during my time of chasing and riding the train it was essentially a fixture. I have wanted to model it for decades. I finally scored a brass version, my one serious model extravagance. I had the unpainted car sandblasted, then painted and lettered it using decal art that I created.

Hey, it’s brass, and it’s gorgeous. The photos can speak for themselves.


Finally: a substitute diner. The ex-CZ diner SILVER BANQUET was heavily utilized during the RGZ‘s tenure, and it began having issues to the point that the D&RGW picked up a former Union Pacific diner to protect it. This ACF diner was refurbished and repainted, but was never actually lettered with the number it was assigned (1116). The car was used for several months during late 1981, but that was pretty much all. I modeled it to provide variety, and because it was on the train the first time I rode it. Modeling it was actually quite easy, since the Rivarossi diner is an exact match. It required very little lettering and only one stripe per side.

To my knowledge this is the only passenger car built by ACF ever owned by the Rio Grande, certainly of the streamlined category.


With the combine, needed on every RGZ run, and the other two cars used as desired, I can exhibit the train in all its variations. Having basically a full set of the Broadway Limited cars rounds out the rest of the equipment needs. And yes, I have all the F9’s. Now, if I could just knock out that pesky steam generator car…

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