Passenger Car Design

The Process

Before a model appears on the hobby dealer’s shelves, there is a long process that leads up to that moment.  A decision to manufacture something starts the process, then decisions about just what to manufacture then lead to the design process.  Scale drawings are found, the necessary manufacturing tools are obtained and the process begins in earnest.

In the case of the Tenshodo passenger cars, one major decision was to make them shorter than scale length; 62’ versus the accurate 85’. In the long term, this decision would limit the salability of the Tenshodo passenger cars, but it was satisfactory enough to production run of over ten years. And the cars were done well enough to still be collectible many years after manufacture stopped.

It is not known what prototypes these cars were based on, but it certainly appears that many of the cars had a Great Northern Railroad heritage.  This would make sense since William Ryan, owner of Pacific Fast Mail (the importer) was a Great Northern fan.  The Tenshodo cars all have smooth roofs, which eliminates Budd as a source of prototype; the Budd cars have two distinct roof ridges which run the length of each car.

Regardless of the prototype manufacturer, the Tenshodo cars show respect for producing a car that captures the look and feel of a full length passenger car.  If you don’t look too closely, a Tenshodo passenger car consists looks very real indeed.

In the design process, Tenshodo shortened the car lengths by selectively removing windows, while retaining the same general size of each window.  If the windows were made smaller too, it is not immediately apparent. So, you may be able to take a micrometer and check out the window size, assuming that you have the original car drawings and you know which prototypes were the basis for each car.  But, then again, if you’re interested in the Tenshodo passenger cars, you probably don’t carry a micrometer with you.  It is the appearance of the cars that matters, and whatever they lose by being short in length, they more than make up for it in general appearance.


The Vista-Dome is one area where you can possibly figure out what the Tenshodo cars designs were based upon. Domes, by their character, are unique to the three different car manufacturers. But even then, it can be complicated. Consider the Pullman-Standard design of the first Santa Fe domes, from

And, an early Tenshodo dome kit:

By removing 2 large windows and making another smaller, the Santa Fe 500 - 505 series dome gets reduced to 62’ in length from 85’.  This photo also indicates a greater problem with one approach to doing domes which was attempted by several different manufacturers.  Using a piece of shaped plastic that has the window frames lithographed onto it does not look good.  It didn’t look good when new, and time is never kind to the clear plastic.

This picture illustrates a modeler’s effort to correct a problem with an early Tenshodo dome.

The replacement dome has been chopped from an Athearn dome car; the printed acetate lies to one side in typical wrinkled condition.

Tenshodo soon moved to another approach to manufacturing domes that was more realistic in appearance:

For the record, the Pennsylvania Railroad never had any dome cars. Nor any dome observations, but Tenshodo seemed willing to weather any criticism about prototype accuracy.  If you were already past the fact that the cars were not the correct length, then a lot of other detail matters become easier to accept.

Sleeping Car

So it is with the Tenshodo sleeping cars.  The staggered windows usually indicated duplex roomettes, and there were examples of such cars on various railroads:

Doing a window count, the Tenshodo car would be something like a 12 duplex roomette / 2 double bedroom car with a small porter’s room or toilet room.

The Great Northern had no such cars, but there were many similar examples. Here, a Great Northern “River” series car:

Baggage, Coach, Combine, Dining and  Observation Cars

In the cases of these four cars, Tenshodo merely removed the required number ofl windows in the middle of the car to make for a proper looking car. Observation cars are typically unique to a specific railroad, but mostly this is involves the floor plan of the car.  There are some external differences in appearance, but again Tenshodo merely “came close”.

The dome observation cars are a bit more unusual.  By my count (subject to correction) only the California Zephyr, Wabash and Canadian Pacific (later Via Rail) had boat-tail dome observations. Regardless, the Tenshodo car came close to approximating the CP’s “Park” series cars:

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