Tenshodo Car Kits

In the period between 1956 and 1960, a small number of Tenshodo passenger car kits were imported into the United States by Pacific Fast Mail.  They proved to be unpopular, and after a few years, no more were brought in. Here, a breakdown of what was brought in by PFM as reported in “PFM 25 Years of Fine Models” by Phil & Ruth Kohl.

I should note at the beginning that these numbers do not necessarily represent exact quantities.  As reported in the Kohl book, only 13 corrugated side car kits were brought in by PFM.  Yet, I personally have four Tenshodo kit boxes, two for Kit 600 (baggage) and two for kit 601 (combine). It seems unlikely that I would have cornered the market in such a way, not to mention that only 1 combine was reported and yet I have two boxes for this kit.  One of them is a complete, unbuilt kit.

There are a number of possible explanations for this anomaly. First, PFM probably did not have total control over Tenshodo items imported into the United States. The Kohl book is based upon the PFM invoices and freight manifests, but this would have been only for items officially brought into the United States by PFM.  Certainly, more than a few Tenshodo items have come into the U.S. packed in the luggage of tourists returning from Japan.  So, these numbers are for reference only, and are more probably useful for comparing the general proportions of Tenshodo items in general.items

Corrugated Side Cars (all undecorated); quantities are suspect:

Type

1956

1957

1958

1959

1960

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baggage

 

 

1

 

1

Combine

 

 

1

 

 

Coach

 

 

2

 

 

Diner

 

 

2

 

 

Sleeper

 

 

2

 

1

Dome

 

 

1

 

 

Obs

 

 

 

 

 

Dome Obs

 

 

1

 

1

Smoothside Cars (most undecorated*):

Type

1956

1957

1958

1959

1960

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baggage

 

6

3

 

 

Combine

2

6

2

 

 

Coach

8

18

3

 

 

Diner

2

 

3

2

 

Sleeper

2

 

2

1

 

Dome

2

12

1

 

 

Obs

2

 

2

1

 

Dome Obs

 

6

 

1

 

Note:  * In 1955, a limited number of smooth side car kits which were “painted” were brought in by PFM.  Little is known of these kits except for the quantities reported in the Kohl book:

  • Baggage - 1 kit
  • Combine - 1 kit
  • Coach - 1 kit
  • Diner - 1 kit
  • Sleeper - 1 kit
  • Vista-Dome - 1 kit
  • Observation - 1 kit
  • Vista-Dome Observation - 1 kit

The instructions:

The Koll book reports that a total of 87 kits were brought into the United States by PFM, but, judging by the elaborate instruction sheet, many more kits were either sold domestically in Japan or that much greater overall sales were originally anticipated. No small amount of time was devoted to the instructions, which thoroughly illustrate how all of the Tenshodo passenger cars were assembled:

The body itself was made of brass, rolled into the proper contour profile. Corrugated side cars had the additional side flutings soldered into place. Each car end was made of cast metal, giving the car some weight.  The ends are held in place by the small ventilators at each end of the cars.  The floors are made of wood in the kits, made of cast plastic in the assembled cars.  The assembled car floors also have brass inserts for the trucks, couplers and such, which are threaded for the screws which hold things in place.  The kits require wood blocks to be glued in place to represent underbody detail: 

The floors of the assembled Tenshodo passenger cars had this detail cast in. The kits required manual placement, both drilling the locating holes for screws and the underbody detail itself:

The instructions include interior detail placement information.  Here, the interior layout for the #606 observation, which corresponds to the #406 assembled car.

Both the Tenshodo car kits and the assembled cars shared interior details made of little wood blocks, reasonably acceptable in that era. Of course, by today’s standards things are different.

It is also helpful to remember that the painted and assembled cars sold for $6.95 while the kits sold for $4.95 in 1958. That’s the equivalent of $57.21 and $40.75 in today’s dollars. In comparison, a typical Walthers assembled passenger car of today retails for about $80.00 (in 2014).

In the 1950’s in the United States, model railroading was very much a builder’s hobby. That is, with the exception of the power supply, almost everything had to be built by the model railroader.  Having ready-to-run locomotives from Globe (later Athearn) was a big step forward. Hnad built Japanese brass locomotives was another big step, so the Tenshodo passenger cars fit into a general market of those who did not want to build everything.  This may explain why the Tenshodo passenger car kits were not as successful as their completed counterparts.

A Factory-assembled dining car.

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