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Santa Fe Super Chief, 1951-1953

Santa Fe Super Chief, 1951-1953

Fred Klein, 2005, 2010

In 1947 the Super Chief began daily service between Chicago and Los Angeles, and in 1951 the train was entirely re-equipped with new cars.  The Super Chief was an all-room, first class, extra-fare train that ran on the fastest 39 ¾ hour schedule possible.  Train number 17 was westbound, number 18 was eastbound.  The latest cars purchased by the Santa Fe in 1950 and 1951 were preferred for the Super Chief, but cars were protected and supplemented by other new cars from the late 1940s.  Santa Fe drew on all three major builders of light weight, stainless-steel cars: most of the cars for the 1937 and 1938 Super Chief came from Budd, Pullman Standard and Budd added cars in 1947 to make enough cars for daily service, and ACF and PS shared most of the construction of the 1951 Super Chief. 


The 1951 Super Chief had a basic consist, but some substitutions and addition of extra sleepers for summer and holiday periods did occur.  The train modeled here is a full one with the extra weekend 4/4/2 sleeper and an extra 10/6 sleeper for summer or holiday travelers.  Sleepers were usually the popular 4-bedroom/ 4-compartment/ 2-drawing-room or 10-roomette/ 6-bedroom types.  Sectioned Pullman sleepers were very unpopular after the war.  Cars during this time were owned by Santa Fe and labeled Santa Fe in the letterboards, but were operated by the Pullman company and had Pullman in smaller letters near the car doors.  Most of the cars were initially delivered with side skirts.  Later service crews removed them to gain easier access to battery boxes, brake cylinders, etc.  My train has a mixture of cars with and without skirts.  Most of the car sides are available from M&R models with or without skirts.  The most convenient and concise source of information on the 1951 Super Chief is an article with a spread of color drawings in the August 1993 issue of Model Railroader. 


Kits for some of the cars were available from Des Plaines Hobbies in 2000 and 2001.  Thanks to M&R models, etched Alpaca metal sides for most of the cars in this train are currently available, including all of the cars formerly offered by Des Plaines Hobbies.  Some cars in my train are built using the American Limited core kits, others have brass sides applied to Concor smoothside or Budd cars, and all are lettered with Microscale decals.  The kits and sides are the unpainted metal.  I did a basic but by no means superior job modeling the 1951 Super Chief.  I have much that can be done in modeling grab irons, under-body fixtures, diaphragms, roof vents, window shades, etc.  Take this train as one with the correct car types using the kits, sides and cars that are available.  I enjoy modeling the whole train and am glad that I do not have to use incorrect or generic cars labeled “Santa Fe”.


This table indicates the prototype cars in the basic Super Chief consist, and what cars or kits I used to model them.


Car type

Car maker, date

Model car


A-B-B or A-B-B-A power

EMD F3 or F7 1947-49

Kato F3, factory lettered, #17

Prototypical model

72’ Baggage mail, 3453-3466 series

ACF 1950

M&R models part 60-2 applied to Concor body, #3466

prototypical model

72’ Baggage mail, 3432-3452 series

Budd 1942

Kato factory decorated, #3444

Extra car, prototypical

60’ RPO (Kansas City to Los Angeles)

Budd 1940 (80-81), ACF 1947 (82-88)

Arnold RPO, model of Budd car, repainted, #81

prototypical model

10/6 sleeper, Palm series

ACF 1951

M&R models part 60-22 applied to Concor body, “Palm Path”, unskirted

prototypical model

10/6 sleeper, Palm series

ACF 1951

M&R models part 60-22 applied to Concor body, “Palm View”

prototypical model

4/4/2 sleeper, Regal series

ACF 1950

Des Plaines kit DPN 6021 (on core kit), “Regal Elm”, unskirted

prototypical model, weekend car

Dome bar lounge, 500-505 series

PS 1950

M&R models part 60-12 applied to lengthened Concor body, #504

prototypical, roof & dome from Rowa car

36-seat diner, 600-606 series

PS 1950

M&R models part 60-18 applied to Concor body, #600, unskirted

prototypical model

Dorm lounge, 1339-1344 series

PS 1950

Des Plaines kit DPN 6015 (on core kit), #1344, unskirted

prototypical model

10/6 sleeper, “Palm” (sic) series (extra car for a beefier train)

Concor Budd 10/6 sleeper (not prototypical for Santa Fe) mis-labeled “Palm Stream”

Prototypical for Calif. Zephyr, cousin to Santa Fe Pine series

4/4/2 sleeper, Regal series

ACF 1950

Des Plaines kit DPN 6010 (on core kit), “Regal Manor”, skirted

prototypical model

4/4/2 sleeper, Regal series

PS 1948

Des Plaines kit DPN 6007 (on core kit), “Regal Arms”, skirted

prototypical model

10/6 sleeper, Pine series

Budd 1950

Kato factory lettered car from 4 car set “Pine Arroyo”

Budd Pine car substitutes for ACF Palm car

4 drawing room/ 1 bedroom/ lounge observation, Vista series

PS 1948

Rivarossi observation, lettered for Santa Fe “Vista Valley”

Very similar to Santa Fe prototype


Diesel power


Santa Fe purchased the F units (normally for freight service) with high-speed passenger gearing.  The war-bonnet paint scheme, introduced on the first E units with the first Super Chief, indicates these are passenger engines.  The B-units had steam generators for passenger car heat and air conditioning.  The A-B-B-A set of F3s generated 6,000 horsepower.  Kato makes F3 and F7 locomotives ready to run out of the box, but diaphragms or close couplers can be added.


Head end cars


The Super Chief ran with one (sometimes two) baggage express cars carrying storage mail.  The first baggage car was made by ACF in 1950, and was the standard baggage car for the Super Chief.  The corrugations were not used close to the doors because mail carts and trucks would often dent them.  The model has metal sides made by M&R models applied to a cut-down Concor smoothside car.  The second baggage car is a Budd car of 1942 from the pool of Santa Fe baggage cars.  The model is by Kato and very closely represents this Santa Fe car.  See my Kato corrugated car prototype web page for discussion of car details.


The RPO cars of the type carried on the Super Chief were usually those built by Budd in 1940, or by ACF in 1947.  The RPO is a 60’ car.  The RPO space rented by the Post Office was either 30’ or 60’, thus there was no mail storage space in this car.  Postal workers had to pass into the mail storage car to get and return bags of mail as they were processed.  The RPO was switched into the Super Chief in Kansas City for mail work on the way to Los Angeles.  The model RPO is the 1940 Budd car made by Arnold as part of their old “shortie” passenger car sets, and is prototypical for the Santa Fe.


Front sleeper section


A group of sleepers was in the consist in front of the central diner-lounge cars, and another group was behind.  The basic consist leaving Chicago would have a 10-roomette/ 6-bedroom sleeper behind the storage mail car.  On and just before weekends, a 4-bedroom/ 4-compartment/ 2-drawing-room sleeper would follow it.  Then, in Kansas City, the RPO and another 10/6 would be cut in between the storage mail car and the first 10/6.  The 10/6 sleepers were in the “Palm” series and were usually from a 13-car American Car and Foundry order from 1951.  I have two of these cars using Des Plaines metal sides (M&R part 60-22) applied to a Concor body.  Next, the 4/4/2 sleeper from the Regal series was either from a 17-car 1948 order from PS, or a 15-car 1950 order from ACF.  The single ACF 4/4/2 sleeper pictured above is a Des Plaines hobbies kit DPN 6021 built on a core kit and lettered “Regal Elm”.


Lounge and dining section


The next three cars are two lounges with a diner between them.  The first car running behind the forward sleepers is a dome-bar-lounge built by PS in the 500-505 series in 1950.  This was the only dome car in the Super Chief, also called the “pleasure dome” by Santa Fe.  This is the distinctive signature car of the train, and this type of dome car was not used on other trains.  The forward (longer) end of the car was the main lounge for 18 passengers.  The dome space sat 16 and the space under the dome was a cocktail lounge for 9.  The short end of the car was the “Turquoise room”, a dining room available for private parties, and adjacent to the kitchen in the following dining car.  The model is a stretched Concor car with sides from M&R models.  The dome roof is from a Rowa dome car, painted silver, and has flat window facets like the prototype.  The dome closely matches the Santa Fe cars.  The Rowa model dome is from a Chesapeake and Ohio prototype, which is slightly less tall than the Santa Fe dome.  I added a roof antenna using stanchions supplied with the car sides.


The next car was the diner: it sat 36 and had the kitchen end forward.  Pullman Standard delivered it in 1950.  The model has M&R models metal sides applied to a Concor body.  Behind the diner is a PS dorm lounge built in 1950 from the 1339-1344 series.  The lounge car sat 28 in the central lounge (large windows), had a barbershop and a shower in the back of the car, and bunks for 18 crew members in the forward part of the car (small windows).


Extra 10/6 sleeper


Extra sleepers were sometimes added to the Super Chief as demand required, as long as the premier quality was not compromised.  Santa Fe did own Budd 10/6 sleepers, but they were not the 6+6 window arrangement pictured here.  This model is the Concor 10/6 sleeper, whose prototype is Budd sleeper of the California Zephyr.  The model is mis-lettered for the Palm series of ACF cars.  The picture below shows the Santa Fe Budd 10/6 sleeper from the Pine series.  The opposite sides of the Kato and Concor 10/6 sleepers (not pictured) are nearly identical.  Only careful inspection would detect a Concor car in a Super Chief consist as non-prototypical.


Rear sleeper section


The standard sleepers following the lounge section were two 4/4/2 cars from the Regal series, and a 10/6 from the Palm series.  Normally, the Regal sleepers from the 1950 ACF cars were used (first car pictured above), but sometimes a nearly identical 1948 PS car was substituted (second car pictured above).  The public toilet closet (left end in the picture above) for the 4 bedrooms in the car has a small window in the ACF car but not the PS car.  The 4 compartments and 2 drawing rooms have private bathrooms.  The drawing rooms are in the center of the car, and each has two closely-spaced windows.  The model cars are Des Plaines kits with metal sides and plastic core kits, and the roofs are covered with bare metal foil as the instructions suggest.


The following 10/6 sleeper was normally from the 1951 ACF 10/6 Palm series, but often a 1950 Budd 10/6 Pine series sleeper substituted, as pictured above.  The model is a factory lettered Kato car, and is prototypical for the Santa Fe.  The last car was a 4 drawing room/ 1 bedroom/ lounge observation car in the Vista series.  PS built four cars in 1948 and ACF built one car in 1951.  They had boat-shaped tail ends.  The model is a Rivarossi observation lettered for Santa Fe’s Vista Valley.  The prototype for the model car is another very similar PS 1948 observation car, and the window placement varies slightly from the Santa Fe car.



Randall, David, From Zephyr to Amtrak, Prototype Publications, 1972.

Repp, Stan, The Superchief; Train of the Stars, Golden West Books, 1980.

Sperandeo, Andy, The Super Chief 1951-1953, Model Railroader, August 1993.

Wayner, Robert, Car Names, Numbers and Consists, Wayner Publications, 1972.

Zimmermann, Karl, Santa Fe Streamliners; the Chief and their Tribesmen, Quadrant Press, 1987.