Thursday, August 17, 2017

Narrows Light

The passenger car "Narrows Light" is another one of the rolling stock oddities that makes modeling the New Haven Railroad a fun challenge and the research to do so very interesting.

Car History

The heavyweight 36 seat parlor car Narrows Light was built by Pullman to car plan #3916B in 1929. This car entered service as part of the Pullman owned & operated roster for use on the New Haven's Boston to New York or Boston to Washington runs. In late 1945 the car was purchased by the New Haven then leased back to Pullman, under NH ownership the car retained it's Narrows Light name but was renumbered NHRR # 2056. The car continued in parlor car service until it was withdrawn from the Pullman lease in January 1950. In 1953 this car was converted into a diner.

Diner Conversion, Interior

During 1953 the Narrows Light was converted at the New Haven's Readville Car Shops to what was shown in the public timetables as a "cafe-coach", but the official NH Passenger Train Consists book referred to it as a "diner". The new interior configuration consisting of a small all electric kitchen with cafeteria style serving, this kitchen using compact electric equipment that was developed during WWII for use in the cramped quarters of Navy submarines, an eight table dining area seating 32 and a 12 seat lounge area. The below photo shows the new compact all electric kitchen on one end of the car. Click to enlarge

This second photo shows the dining area from the lounge area at the other end of the car. Why the two end tables have checkered table cloths is a mystery but an interesting modeling feature.

Both Photos Copyright NHRHTA Inc. Reproduced by Permission

Obviously food and drink including alcohol was served but no known menu from this car has survived to my knowledge.

Diner Conversion, Exterior

After the diner conversion the car continued to retain the Narrows Light name. Initially the car most likely would have been painted a light silver gray with the possibility of a Hunter green window band for a better color match when assigned to operation with the New Haven's new stainless steel clad fleet of light weight streamline cars with their green window band, but there is no photo evidence of this. A few years later the car was repainted in the McGinnis era "black knight" scheme of all black with a red-orange letter board and white lettering as in the two photos below.

The side with the air conditioning duct retained the same window configuration as the original Pullman plan #3916B after the conversion to a diner as seen in this out of service photo below.

Peter C. McLachlan photo

The kitchen side of the car also retains the original window configuration but the windows that back up to the new kitchen were covered over on the exterior with individual sheetmetal panels welded in place of each window. A vent was added onto the roof presumably for exhausting cooking fumes from the hood located over the range/oven and a fan added to the clerestory again presumably to vent the ambient heat of the kitchen area. The photo below of the kitchen side was taken at Danbury CT in the late 50's while the car was in NYC-Pittsfield MA service.

 Peter C. McLachlan photo

Modeling the Narrows Light

The Narrows Light was assigned to the Berkshire beginning in 1957, the era of the layout, therefore a model of the diner in the black knight color scheme is a necessity for prototypical operation. The completed model shown above in front of the sanding tower at Danbury motor service on the layout is an attempt to mimic the the black & white prototype photo above this one.

This model was built several years ago. Unfortunately the very few construction photos that were taken then have been lost to the passage of time so none can be offered here, only a description of how it was built.

No Pullman plan #3916B parlor car kit was available, a Branchline Trains Blue Print Series 6-3 Pullman Sleeper kit was used as a core to kit-bash the Narrows Light. This kit was one the many great highly detailed sleeper kits that used to be available from Branchline Trains, the 6-3 was used in particular because it had the most symmetrical rivet pattern on the sides (this model was built before the availability of rivet decals). Using a Pullman sleeper car as a core kit will never render a totally accurate finished parlor car model because the clerestory section of the roof is to narrow, overlooking the roof discrepancy this kit seemed the best choice for a starting point at the time the model was built.

An advantage of the Branchline kits is that the sides are separate flat pieces that can be modified before assembling the kit. The first step in this kit-bash was to convert the window layout of sleeper sides to the correct window layout of the #3916B parlor, essentially first converting the sleeper to parlor car.

The fully windowed food serving and AC duct side of the car as modeled to parlor car plan #3916B is shown below. To achieve the correct window arrangement the window band from the 6-3 sleeper was removed, then 9 paired windows harvested from additional Branchline sleeper sides were installed in the correct locations. Sheet styrene was then cut to size and installed to fill the gaps between each pair of windows.

No Branchline roof had the correct air conditioning duct arrangement for this car, the 6-3 roof was used as a starting point but the left side of the AC duct was to long. To shorten the left side of the AC duct, an end harvested from the roof of a 14 section sleeper kit that matches the length of the right side of the AC duct on the 6-3 roof was spliced in at the lines shown in the photo. The duct is still incorrect in length but judging from the prototype photo of this side of the car is a lot closer match and the best that could easily achieved with the Branchline parts.  

A note about the Branchline Trains parts. All the extra parts to build this car were once easily available from the manufacture direct. All the extra parts like the roof, side sets and undercarriage set details were only $3 each, so the total cost of extra parts was only $9 plus $5 shipping. I sure miss Branchline Trains, those were the days!

The kitchen side of the model below had the window band changed to a #3916B arrangement with the same method as the opposite side. When the kitchen was installed into the prototype car the windows behind the kitchen area were blanked out by covering over the openings with welded in sheetmetal panels, the same was done to the model using sheet styrene. An attempt was made to simulate the panel warping on the prototype caused by the heat of welding in the panels.

Vents were changed or removed as necessary in the clerestory and a vent was added to the roof over the range hood as per prototype.

Branchline undercarriage details were arranged on both sides of the car to best represent the look of the prototype.

Using the interior black & white photos of the prototype as a guide a basic interior was modeled with styrene and various readily available seating. The interior colors of everything except the white tablecloths and stainless steel kitchen are a mystery, so the blue seat color used on other models on the roster was used here too and a red & white checkered tablecloth was chosen for the two tables that required them. Below the kitchen/serving area shows thru the windows.

Below is the dining area and lounge.

A special thanks to Peter McLachlan for the loan of the very hard to find photos of both sides of the Narrows Light and his remembrances of the car, and to Ted Jones for providing the file to print out the HO checkered tablecloths.


  1. Exquisite modeling Joe! Awesome work.
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