Early Production

Tenshodo became a major player in the model train industry, beginning in 1949. It would be just a matter of time before their products would begin appearing in the North American market. For both European companies such as Märklin and Japanese firms such as Tenshodo, export items would be vital to their country’s postwar recovery because they raised hard cash in financially stricken post-war economies. So, there was incentive for them to be exporting.  Fortunately, there also was demand for model train products in the North American market.

For Tenshodo, their path would be a combination of items which were popular in the Japanese market and items which were produced specifically for the North American market. I leave to another day a discussion about model locomotives, our interest here is the passenger cars that came from Tenshodo.

The Early Sets

Free standing model railroads are a bit of a rarity in Japan.  The real estate is too expensive, and the population density is too high to afford the space necessary for a model railroad.  Only in recent years has this become a realistic possibility, with Tenshodo now producing Z-Scale model trains of Japanese prototypes. There are, of course, interesting exceptions, notably the Shangri-La Train Museum of Mr. Nobutaro Hara, but generally, the Japanese were forced to make accommodations.

For the average Japanese model railroader, this meant packing their trains up and visiting fellow modelers at home.  Sitting on the tatami mat floors, they would unpack their trains, snap track sections together and run for the afternoon. This usually was accompanied with a glass of Suntory whiskey and cigarettes.

Tenshodo marketed a number of train sets with this in mind, which included these sets:

  • 1000 - Set D-1; A&B Diesel, 6 streamline cars, oval of track (36” curves)
  • 1001 - Set D-2; A&B Diesel, 3 freight cars, oval of track (30” curves)
  • 1002 - Set S-1; 0-6-0T engine, 5 freight cars, oval of track (24” curves)
  • 1003 - Set D-1A; A&B Diesel, 5 streamline cars, oval of track (36” curves)
  • 1005 - Set S-1; 0-6-0T engine, 3 Japanese prototype freight cars, oval of track (24” curves)

D-1 Set

The Tenshodo D-1 train set (illustrated above) contained two locomotives (one powered, one dummy), six corrugated side streamlined passenger cars and an oval of track. The cars:

  • Baggage
  • Coach
  • Diner
  • Sleeper
  • Dome
  • Observation

The 5th Edition of the Tenshodo catalog shows that these sets were available in Canadian Pacific, New York Central or Santa Fe livery.

D-1A Set

The Tenshodo D-1A train set contained two locomotives (one powered, one dummy), five smooth side streamlined passenger cars and an oval of track.  The Tenshodo catalog does not show the composition of cars in this set, but it would approximate what was available in the D-1 set.

The 5th Edition of the Tenshodo catalog shows that these sets were available in Canadian National, Chicago & Northwestern, Great Northern, Pennsylvania Railroad and Union Pacific livery.

Exported Sets

The firm Pacific Fast Mail (“PFM”) was founded in 1953 by William McKinley Ryan, a Seattle businessman. Much of this company’s history was covered in a book by Phil & Ruth Kohl, “Pacific Fast Mail...” [page 63], indicates that there were two D-1 and two D-1A sets imported by PFM, one each in 1955 and and one each in  1956. The Kohl book also indicates that the D-1A was also available in Milwaukee Road and Southern Pacific liveries. The sets were imported with locomotives and cars only, no track or transformer.

Considering the quantities involved, it is likely that these four sets were imported for promotional purposes, with one each being given to the model railroad magazines or key dealers for evaluation and possible promotion by reviews in the press.  The “Milwaukee Road” livery would have been a natural for Kalmbach Publishing, which is based in the Milwaukee area. Also tantalizing is the fact that one Milwaukee Road smooth side baggage car was imported in 1958, presumably as a compliment to a Milwaukee Road D-1A set.

The First Export Items

For about three years, Tenshodo and PFM tested the United States market for their passenger cars. 

In 1955, in addition to two D sets, seven car kits, painted in an unspecified livery, were imported by PFM. 

In 1956, in addition to two additional D sets, thirteen Santa Fe corrugated side cars and one New York Central car were imported. In addition, eighteen smooth side unpainted kits were imported by PFM.

In 1957, the pace started to pick up:

Car Type

Road Name

Quantity

Kit

 

 

 

 

Corrugated Baggage

AT&SF

1

 

Corrugated Baggage

NYC

12

 

Corrugated Combination

AT&SF

1

 

Corrugated Combination

NYC

12

 

Corrugated Coach

AT&SF

1

 

Corrugated Coach

NYC

36

 

Corrugated Diner

AT&SF

1

 

Corrugated Sleeper

AT&SF

1

 

Corrugated Vista-Dome

AT&SF

1

 

Corrugated Vista-Observation

AT&SF

1

 

Corrugated Vista-Observation

NYC

12

 

 

 

 

 

Smoothside Baggage

Undecorated

6

Yes

Smoothside Baggage

Canadian National

1

Yes

Smoothside Baggage

Great Northern

14

 

Smoothside Combine

Undecorated

6

Yes

Smoothside Combine

Great Northern

14

 

Smoothside Coach

Undecorated

18

Yes

Smoothside Coach

Canadian National

1

Yes

Smoothside Coach

Great Northern

40

 

Smoothside Diner

Canadian National

1

Yes

Smoothside Diner

Great Northern

3

 

Smoothside Sleeper

Great Northern

3

 

Smoothside Dome

Undecorated

12

Yes

Smoothside Dome

Canadian National

1

Yes

Smoothside Dome

Great Northern

27

 

Smoothside Observation

Great Northern

2

 

Smoothside Dome-Obs

Undecorated

6

Yes

Smoothside Dome-Obs

Canadian National

1

Yes

Smoothside Dome-Obs

Great Northern

14

 

Source: “Pacific Fast Mail... 25 Years of Fine Models; Phil & Ruth Kohl; Craftsman Press, 1979

Post-1957, Tenshodo’s production of H0-Scale passenger cars would pick up considerably.

Please see: Smooth Side Cars

Please see: Corrugated Side Cars

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