Improving Tenshodo Passenger Cars

Granted, the Tenshodo passenger cars are no longer state-of-the-art, but they remain nice examples worthy of model railroads. The Tenshodo cars are not scale length, but they were designed to look nice on the model railroad of that day.  Which meant that they looked good on model railroads were 18” radius curves were the norm, and 22” radii curves were as large as you could find in commercial track.  Model railroading has moved on, so much so that the current crop of Walthers passenger cars cannot operate on curves sharper than 24”.  Times change.

On the other hand, there are certain modelers who have large model railroads with 36” minimum curves, yet they still hold on to the shorter passenger cars of an earlier time.  To their mind, the current crop of passenger cars will operate on their railroads, but the shorter cars still look much better. Who am I to argue?  Which makes a compelling case for the Tenshodo cars.

That said, even pristine examples of Tenshodo passenger cars can use some improvement.


Tenshodo models came fitted with “Tenshodo Couplers”:

Typically, the Tenshodo passenger cars were fitted with the “T-1” coupler. Both Tenshodo couplers are very similar what is called a “Baker” coupler in the North American market. The late John Allen was a big advocate of the Baker coupler. Early Minitrix N-Scale trains used them, too.  They are simple to use, reliable in operation and not very realistic looking.

You may want to swap out these couplers for something a little better; Kadee and Accumate are two types that can be added to the Tenshodo passenger cars.  These cars have a coupler pocket which will accommodate them, making this an easy improvement.


As delivered, the Tenshodo passenger cars are equipped with two large frosted incandescent bulbs.  The cars can be improved by replacing these bulbs with current technology LED strips. There’s a Youtube video which details this process.


As delivered, the Tenshodo passenger cars have attractive paint jobs, but along the way, things can happen.  Consider this Great Northern baggage car:

At least the box is in nice condition. But the car itself will need to be disassembled, the metal body stripped of the old paint and then repainted and decaled. Please see here for paint information.  And here.

You also may run into a Tenshodo car built from a kit. And your taste in passenger car livery does not match the original builder’s:

Which brings us to the fact that repainting such cars is also an opportunity to produce a train of Tenshodo passenger cars in a livery that was not available from the Factory.  My long term plan for the blue and white dining car is to strip it and repaint it in vermillion red, then use Baremetal Foil on the side corrugations to produce a Texas Special car. The baggage is probably going to be done in the Northern Pacific “Loewy” livery.


Diaphragms on passenger cars were designed to provide sheltered passage between cars.  The Tenshodo cars featured full-width diaphragms, which were popular with some passenger car designers in the mid-20th century. They gave a train a unified appearance, but, ultimately, narrower diaphragms won out.

After a period of time, the Tenshodo diaphragms begin to decay, flaking off in tiny black pieces.  Reboxx makes replacements:

As an alternative, American Limited Models makes two different diaphragms, No’s 9000 (gray) and 9010 (black) that can be substituted. Some light filing may be necessary:

Interior Detail

As delivered, the assembled Tenshodo passenger cars have elemental interior detail.  Given the time of their manufacture, these details largely consist of little blocks of painted wood. In some cases, they look okay:

But in other cases, there is room for improvement. This is especially true for a Tenshodo car that has been built from a kit. In most cases, the workmanship of the kit builder is not equal to the Tenshodo craftsman’s.

So, given that there are a number of manufacturers who produce accurate H0-Scale passenger car interior fittings (such as Redcap Line and Palace Car, for example), why not have something better?

Photo: Railroad Model Craftsman

For some thoughts about specific car types and their interiors, please see these pages:

[Home] [Tenshodo Passenger Cars] [Early Production] [Passenger Cars] [Smoothside Cars] [Corrugated Cars] [Tenshodo Car Kits] [Passenger Car Design] [Collecting Tenshodo Passenger Cars] [Improving Tenshodo Passenger Cars]