SPECIALIST FOR AUTHENTIC TRAIN MODELS
edited version was published in
CANADIAN RAILWAY MODELLER
September/October 2000 page 26.
WOODEN "MOUNT" OBSERVATION CARS
| This is the original
manuscript written in 1995.
| THE PROTOTYPE
In the summer 1909 the Canadian Pacific
Railway took delivery of twenty-two new observation
cars constructed of wood and steel at the company's
own Angus shops in Montreal. Eleven cars were named
after mountains and featured an observation room, a
buffet, three state rooms and one drawing room. Eleven
other cars of similar construction were named in the
"Glen" series and featured an observation room, a
buffet, a smoking room, one state room and one drawing
room. All cars were immediately put in service on
CPR's transcontinental route between Montreal and
Vancouver. Cars with such a prestigious assignment in
that time were very well built, and finished with the
finest materials and contemporary fittings.
From 1910 to 1913 the CPR built twenty -
three more "Mount" cars in four series and in 1916/17
all the "Glen" cars were converted to "Mount" cars.
This brought the total of "Mount" cars in service to
forty - five.
In this article we are focusing on the
"Mount" cars, which truly represented the finest way
to travel the CPR across the Canadian shield, through
the Prairies and over the Rocky Mountains during the
first part of this century. CPR built all "Mount" cars
at their Angus shops in Montreal. Body and under frame
were made of wood to contemporary construction designs
at a time when coach building was at its highest level
in terms of craftsman ship.
few steel parts were utilized for load bearing parts on
the under frame, such as truck bolsters, truss rods,
draft gear, ect. The complete car body was made of wood,
with tongue-and-grove mahogany for the outside
sheathing. Trucks utilized were the all steel 6-wheel
type, bottom equalized "Commonwealth cast frame", with
separate cast pedestals mounting 5" x 9" journal-boxes.
Wheel diameter was 36". Total length inside coupler
knuckles was 80'-11 1/4". The observation platform at
the rear end was 6'-6" long, enclosed with a massive
brass railing and gates, and deck chairs were provided
to accommodate about 15 passengers. The observation room
provided 18 large, movable and very comfortable arm
chairs of three different designs made of padouk with
morocco leather upholstery. Small end tables held
magazines and were adorned with heavy lamps. One special
feature of these cars were the windows in the rear of
the observation room, which were designed to reach down
to 20" above the floor, enabling passengers an unbroken
view of the scenery. The walls were also finished in
padouk, a wood similar to Spanish mahogany, but of a
Another unique feature of the "Mount" cars lay in the
fact that they were the first passenger cars to be built
by the CPR with electric lights. The three state rooms
were 6'- 4" long by 7' wide, each with a toilet and
sink. The one drawing room was of the same size but it
had a sofa with the toilet and sink in a 4' long annex.
A cook in the buffet section provided the passengers
with snacks, light meals and cocktails. Always present
was a porter, to look after the comfort of the
passengers. His seat was located across the aisle from
As delivered, the outside of the cars was finished with
stained and heavily varnished tongue-and-grove mahogany,
adorned with lettering and decorations in genuine gold
leaf and polished brass railings. Mineral brown paint
was used to weather proof the canvas roof. Trucks and
under carriage fittings were painted black. During World
War 1, the CPR started painting all wooden passenger
cars to match the new steel cars coming into service.
The color chosen was a dark red, the now famous "CPR
Tuscan" which was derived from a color the SOO LINE used
on its passenger equipment (we can see history
repeating, with CP using SOO red in its current engine
Roofs got painted black, the same colour as the under
carriage and trucks. Around this time period the CPR
management decided that polished brass railings on
observation cars were an unnecessary maintenance
expense. It was decided to paint these railings black,
excepted the top and side handrails . Needles to say,
the cars lost a big part of their glamour. In this
appearance they carried many lucky travelers across the
country until 1925/26 when a program of steel-sheathing
partially altered their appearance.
With the appearance of new steel cars, the wooden
observation cars in the prestigious transcontinental
service had quickly gone out of style. This was
undoubtedly an attempt to have them match the newly
constructed heavy-weight steel "Mount" cars of 1926.
However the steel-sheathed wooden "Mount" cars
continued, on the transcontinental run for many years,
though with less glamor than newer equipment.
Particularly the "Solarium cars", introduced in May
1929. All "Mount" cars from the 1909 series were
converted to coaches in 1942/43. Excepting the Mount
Begbie, Mount Rundle and Mount Lefroy, which were sold
to the Alberta Northern Railway. Cars from the 1910
series carried on until they were scrapped in 1956/57.
Most cars from the 1911, 1912 and 1913 series were
converted to hospital cars and coaches during the war in
1942/44. Only two wooden "Mount" cars have survived to
this day, albeit in their steel-sheathed state. The
"Mount Lefroy", which was the first one built, resides
on a farm near Tofield, Alberta and is reported to be in
very bad condition. The other one is "Mount Ellesmere"
formerly in maintenance of way service on the Q.NS &
Ly Railway as # 453. It would be nice to see one of this
cars getting restored to their original appearance.
|THE HO SCALE MODEL
A few years ago LANCE CAMP of Vancouver BC,
a prominent CPR historian and model collector,
acquainted me with the story of this famous but
forgotten mansions on wheels.
As I am very interested in history and
heritage artifacts, and always had a great admiration
for the wooden coaches of generations past, I became
immediately interested. Lance needed to have an HO
model of a "Mount" car for his collection.
He had asked some brass importers but
apparently there was no hope for a far-east brass
production run. When he asked me, whether I could make
one for him, I said I would think about it. Having
built hundreds of architectural models in the past for
customers, it promised to be a project I could hardly
turn down. From the very beginning, it was clear to
me, the challenge to build a successful model of this
car would be great and would require extensive
research, some Innovative state-of-the-art model
building techniques, a lot of patience, and endurance
to finish it at all.
The main problem I actually faced was not
really how to build the model, but to make it
prototypically correct. The wooden "Mount" cars were
altered and mostly scrapped before I was born, so It
was not possible to study and measure the prototype as
it would have appeared in the early 1920's.
I agreed to accept the challenge to build
the model, with the assurance that any information
from authorities on the subject would be open to me.
Getting started with the project required a
lot of home work. First, I studied and photographed a
surviving but distant relative, the wooden business
car "BRITISH COLUMBIA" of 1890 vintage. This car
belongs to the West Coast Railway Association (WCRA)
and is on display at their beautiful Heritage Park
Museum in Squamish BC.
Next, I studied the possibility of
rebuilding/converting an imported brass "Kettle
Valley" car. But it was found that correcting the
numerous mistakes on this model, and the whole
rebuilding job were not justified. Instead I could
build a far superior model using high tech model
building techniques of the 1990's. Though this
necessitated starting from scratch. And scratch it was
(a lot of it on the head)! Practically no HO parts
suiting the prototype are commercially available,
everything had to be created by hand.
For the car body, I chose to have the sides
and ends fixed to the floor, but the roof removable.
To make the car sides I employed the sandwich
Years ago, I made an 0 scale CPR open
platform combine this way, resulting in windows that
are crisp-clear, and very realistic in appearance. To
do the same in HO scale necessitated much experience
and clean working practice. Before going ahead with
the "Mount" car, I decided to test the technique on a
HO model of a wooden CPR day coach of the same era. It
proved successful; the sides are very realistic and
A slab of thin 0.8 mm (0.030") acrylic
plastic serves as the supporting main structure and
also the window glass. Tongue-and-grove wood
imitation, belt rail, letter board and window frames
are made from Evergreen styrene and glued to the acryl
plastic with liquid cement; a technique similar to
that I always use in architectural model building.
time was wasted getting started on Lance's "Mount" car.
Only one thing, by now my day coach needed a companion.
I decided I had to build two "Mount" car models. Lance's
car was to be the "Mount Cheops", a famous summit in the
CPR Rogers Pass area. For my model I chose the "Mount
Begbie", a legendary name in British Columbia history.
The namesake peak near Revelstoke was named for Judge
Matthew Baillie Begbie, first Chief Justice of British
Columbia who was a legendary character in making law and
order during the Cariboo gold rush in the 1860's.
To save time on repetitive parts I made silicone rubber
molds and cast them with epoxy resin. A challenge was to
produce the brass railing for the observation platform
and the distinctive CPR upper sash windows. Photo
milling them out of brass was my preferred choice for
these parts. With the aid of a computer, a graphic
program was enlisted to make the drawings for the art
work needed in using the photo milling process.
For the roof I was able to use wooden roof stock made by
North Eastern, though it had to be milled to the correct
width for the clerestory. Roof vents and clerestory
windows (screens) are castings made from my own hand
made masters. The curved roof ends are castings as well,
glued to the wooden roof stock, and the joint carefully
filled with putty and sanded to make it invisible.
Completing the "train" end (that opposite the
observation end) is A Walters diaphragm, a steam hose,
train and signal lines, safety chains, uncoupling rods
and a Kadee coupler.
Slowly the model took shape, and with all detail parts
in place the day came for airbrushing it. Painted in the
attractive CPR Tuscan, the crisp details now showed up
nicely. The model looked much better now, than it had in
For me, one of the highlights in model building lies in
painting and giving a realistic look to the model. The
most important job in making a model look realistic is,
of course, the fine art of weathering. Contrary the
popular belief among hobby painters that weathering can
be used to hide a sloppy paint job, it is actually the
most difficult task in painting a model. A good
weathering job requires absolute control of the air
brush combined with other techniques like dry brushing,
that are acquired with a lot of practice. One has to
study the prototype to see where dirt actually
accumulates, and the right colors to represent different
kinds of "dirt". Passenger cars of the wooden "Mount"
car era were kept very clean, excepting an accumulation
of dust and soot on the roof, and dirt and brake dust on
the trucks. Airbrush weathering is easily overdone and
cannot be corrected. Once too much is on the model it
stays, and any painting blemishes show up to unfortunate
The lettering was made from my own water slide decals.
think a model without interior, of such a distinguished
car would not do it justice. Fortunately, information of
the interior layout is available. I decided to build the
interior as a separate unit with floor and compartment
walls made from 0.8 mm acryl plastic. The seats are cast
with epoxy resin from my own molds and more acrylic
plastic was used for the buffet counter, desk and
cabinet . The window blinds are made from paper, air
brushed an appropriate green.
In my opinion, a passenger car model without revenue
producing passengers is not complete. Preiser makes some
very nice sitting passengers. I got two sets of their
unpainted figures and hand painted them to represent the
upper class fashions of the roaring twenties; if you
look really close, you can see ladies in shiny silk
dresses with matching hats.
Hundreds of hours were spent on this project in research
and building. Looking back, I have to say it was a very
rewarding project, as I learned a lot about the early
CPR and met some interesting people, providing necessary
information. Many TV programs were missed and with that
came the realization that there is more to life than
watching TV or videos!
I have written this article in the hope it will inspire
other young people to become modelers and to discover
the heritage and the history of our railroads. More
important in a personal sense, is the satisfaction of
having achieved something, and the fact two people are
very happy with having these "jewels of the crown" in
their model collections.
This challenge mastered, I am looking forward to a next
project of building wooden CPR mail and baggage cars and
eventually an entire CPR trans-continental train of the
wood era in HO scale.
like to thank LANCE CAMP for giving me the opportunity
to build this model for him and for the help in
preparing this article.
Many thanks also go to GIB KENNEDY of Richmond BC, who
sadly passed away last summer. Gib's recollections and
constructive criticism were invaluable and helped to get
the model as historically accurate as possible; and to
Jim Shields, Canadian Pacific Archives in Montreal for
providing further advice and information.
Further reference on the subject:
Model Railroader June 1959:
"Canadian Pacific Kettle Valley Passenger Train" by
Model Railroader December 1959:
Drawing of the SASKATCHEWAN by Harold Geissel
Model Railroader May 1961:
"Passenger Train Interiors" by Gibson Kennedy
Model Railroader September 1966:
"Plush for your passengers" by Gibson Kennedy
Railroad Model Craftsman May 1990:
CPR's 3260-3299 series Wood Combines" by Robert
Pictures and text: �Andy Wegmuller, Vancouver 1996