To paraphrase Vane Jones, "Knowledge is of little value until shared with others."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Models of Open Bench Cars with Some Fixes

Models of open bench cars are a great change of topic. Even though it's February with the cold, uncomfortable weather; we won't let the weather get us down. Spring is around the corner. Now is the time to get your open bench car(s) ready for warmer weather running and the crowds the cars can carry!

The purpose of this post is to show a way to fix 2 potential problems with open bench cars. The glass in the bulkheads and the use on maximum traction trucks can be problems.

There has been lots of material written with regards to open bench cars. Almost every early trolley line had them on their roster.

We'll narrow down our discussion to O scale models of them. To my knowledge the only available models were imported by Ken Kidder and MTS. All the models were made from brass. Brass is probably the best material to be used. Other materials are not as durable and suitable. Open bench cars have curves plus other unique architectural and structural features.

If I recall correctly there have been articles in print on how to scratch-build an open bench car. The brass models mentioned below show up on EBay and at some O scale meets.

Starting in 1955 through 1965 Ken Kidder had built in Japan and imported the following models of open bench cars. All of the models were brass bodies only -
17/64" and 1/4" scale14-bench models from "Model Craftsman" plans,
1/4" scale 9-bench model built from 1895 Cincinnati Car Company plans,
1/4" scale 10-bench models,
1/4" scale Boston 12-bench models, and
1/4" scale Manchester 15-bench models.
The 14-bench models were based on New York City plans while the 10-bench models were patterned after New Haven plans. 

About a decade or more ago MTS imported a brass powered double truck 14-bench open car. The model seemed more refined than the Kidder models. The cars can powered - the modeler didn't have to purchase and install trucks. Also, the MTS models were wired ready to run.

One of the unique features of an open car were the bulkheads between the operator's area and the passenger section of the car. Often the bulkhead had windows with glazing. To replicate this feature in the Ken Kidder bodies, a piece of real glass was fitted between 2 pieces of brass which constituted the bulkhead. 

In the 1970's I acquired Kidder's 14-bench and 10-bench open cars. Painting the cars was not the easiest project. Since this was done many years ago, I think the bodies were sprayed yellow and then the red, brown, and black were hand brushed on. The removable seat backs were sprayed red. How I picked the yellow, red, brown, and black paint scheme is unknown. Maybe the Connecticut Company cars has some influence on me.

The following photo is of my 10-bench open car. Why some of the roof details are painted a wood color is unknown. The model came with the controller and brake handle at each end.

If you look through the car to the opposite side you will notice a bar at about the height of the seat backs. This bar is painted red and can be seen on this side of the car a the top of the post. It was a trick to paint this bar and at the same time not paint it in place. The bars on both sides can be raised and lowered just like on the prototype cars. About the only details added are working headlights and marker holders. The red striping is a very thin decal.
This model of an open bench car with a single trolley pole has a longer than usual trolley pole.
The marker holders are short pieces of brass tubing carefully soldered to the end post. The marker holder can be seen just above the brake handle. At the time my models were painted and finished a vendor had single lens markers with a short piece of bent wire on the rear of the marker for hanging.

Some open bench cars were used on extended street or interurban trackage to go to the local street railway owned amusement park. Hence the need for markers on cars.

My 14-bench open car looks much like the 10-bench car with 2 exceptions - the 14-bench car has a interurban headlight and the trucks. The 14-bench has maximum traction trucks.

A few years ago I noticed a crack in one of the small pieces of glass in one bulkhead of the 14-bench model. One thing I failed to mention is, it is easy to run the wire from the trolley poles down through the side of the space into which the piece of glass slides. It just takes a little time while to fish the wire into place. Be careful not to cut into the wire's insulation or you might have a short in the car's electrical system.

The broken pieces of glass were taken to a local glass outlet near my home for replacement. In an hour or less the new piece of glass with a rounded top was ready. When I picked it up I was told the piece of original glass in the model was thinner than glass available now.

Upon getting home the new piece of glass was tried. It didn't fit!  The new glass was too thick! The model with the pieces of glass sat on my workbench for about 2 years until the idea of obtaining clear, colorless polycarbonate. was logged onto and 0.060" polycarbonate looked-up. There is a vendor with different thicknesses of polycarbonate in 12" X 12" sheets. It was ordered and arrived in 2 days.

The next day (Our mail usually arrives after 6:00 pm or later daily.), the sheet was cut and the new piece inserted. It is impossible to tell the difference between the glass and the polycarbonate.
Why polycarbonate and not another clear plastic? Polycarbonate is the same material used to make CD's, DVD's, more importantly the lenses in eyeglasses. Polycarbonate is strong but can be scratched.
Unfortunately, there are no good photos of the piece of polycarbonate after installation in the model. If there was, you would find it hard to be able to tell the difference between a piece of glass and the polycarbonate.
Just like the prototype maximum traction trucks, my model maximum traction trucks did not power the model very well. The maximum traction trucks were more like minimum traction trucks. Two power trucks were tried and still didn't work very well.
With the small diameter wheels powered, the truck tended to lift off these wheels and ride on the larger diameter wheels only. In talking to other modelers, they complained of the same problem.
What was need was a way to keep the small wheels on the track. In my pile of brass shapes was a 1/4" (I think that is the size. It may be slightly smaller.) square bar. A piece was cut off and soldered to the piece of brass used to covers the truck's gears.
This has 2 effects on the truck. The piece of brass was heavy enough to change the weight distribution onto the axel of the smaller wheels. The other effect was to fill the area between the truck and the body of the car. The small wheels did not have as much space into which they could lift.
My other idea had been to install spring(s) on top of the gear area of the truck. But by the time a way to keep the spring in place and controlled along with installing the spring and its "mechanism"; it was easier to solder the piece of square brass on!
With a little bit of lubrication and a good cleaning and dusting, the 2 open cars of the Chicago & Utopia are ready for summer. Maybe some day, lighting will be installed inside the roof of the cars.


  1. Beautiful, fun cars! I have the HO MTS 10 Bench that I'm not looking forward to painting. I'll have to remember your post.
    Thanks Ed!

  2. I just love "Toastracks" as we call them here. Yours are really very nice! Maximum traction bogies are problematic even in full size practise. The real thing has the pivot slightly closer to the "pony" wheel to put more weight on the smaller wheel to keep them on the rails... I found that running 4 wheel cars with a single trolley pole and longer bogie cars with a single pole require careful placement of the overhead especially on sharp curves.

  3. I like your beautiful color photos of your Ken Kidder 14 bench open trolley, Ed. I have the more "refined" MTS Import version in 'O' scale. And I have no intention of painting mine, either. Because of the "curves plus other unique architectural and structural features", a steady hand is indeed a must for painting an open bench trolley. I'm going to leave my open bench trolley just the way I bought it - in it's natural brass color.