San Juan Car Co. O Scale Parts

With excellent fit and detail, these passenger car parts are nothing short of a boon to builders of narrow gauge passenger equipment in O scale. Part no. 5200 is shown above, with the later style sides and ends.

San Juan Car Co. O Scale Parts

Reviewed by Chris Lane/Photos by the Author

After getting a few pairs of the excellent On3/On30 passenger car trucks, I was pretty excited when San Juan announced they would be doing a Jackson & Sharp coach in On30 and On3. I got even more excited when I saw some samples that included the “duckbill” roof and an earlier style window seen on older cars and work train equipment. So I was equally disappointed when they announced late in 2012 that the coach project was suspended indefinitely.

I got excited again when I opened a box from Durango and it contained a passel of passenger car parts. It contained ends, sides, floors, roofs and end details, all molded in gray styrene and exhibiting San Juan’s crisp die work. Clearly, the packages contained the major components of what was to be the San Juan ready-to-run Jackson & Sharp coach. While being far from a complete kit, this is better in some ways, because it gives the modeler the ability to mix and match components and achieve cars that would likely never have been offered RTR. Indeed, these pieces provide the basis for the majority of Denver & Rio Grande Western and Rio Grande Southern passenger coaches as well as many pieces of MOW rolling stock. In addition, because Jackson & Sharp produced cars for many other railroads, and the parts duplicate both early and later roof and window styles, modelers of other roads can get into the building and kitbashing act. Let’s examine the parts more closely.

The prototype for these parts were the 59 Jackson & Sharp coaches ordered in several batches between 1880 and 1882 by the D&RG. These cars were 38’-5” long (body; the overall length of the cars with platforms was 44’-4”) and they weighed 23,500lbs. They came with the “duckbill” roof, end windows and 13 single pane side windows. These windows were rather squat making for a very large letterboard and had a slight radius in each upper corner. These are generally referred to as the “early arch” style. Using San Juan sets 5202, 5203 and 5204 would yield the as-built version of these cars, with the exception of the end windows, which started to be blanked out quite early. Cars with this appearance survived quite late (into the early 1940’s) on both the D&RGW and RGS (the Rio Grande Southern bought their passenger cars from the D&RG out of these class of cars), and examples survived much later on both roads in MOW service. D&RGW No. 307 at the Colorado Railroad Museum is an example of a surviving car that could be accurately built with the above-mentioned parts.


As time went on, the railroad made other changes to the cars that gradually changed their appearance. An 1887 order of cars from Jackson & Sharp sported the then-new “bullnose” roof style, and the D&RG rebuilt many of the 1880-82 order cars with that roof. Many of the cars lost the arched doorway at the ends. This was replaced with a straight across quarter round and by the 1920’s most cars had the side windows rebuilt with taller double-paned windows. This reduced the letterboard size. In addition, the 13th window on both sides of the car where the stove resided was blanked off. Using San Juan parts 5200, 5201 and 5204 would build a car that reflects these changes. Nos 280 and 284 at the Colorado Railroad Museum are examples of this type of rebuilt, open platform car.

sanjuan-duckbill 5203 Duckbill style roof and floor

Now it starts to get interesting, as not all the cars received all the changes. This is where the mix and match aspect of the San Juan parts comes into play. Coach 292 in Chama has a bullnose roof, but didn’t get any of the other modifications. No. 311 got the side window updates, losing the 13th window but retained its duckbill roof and arched end doors. This car is currently in service in Durango, although it regained its 13th window when it was rebuilt by the Durango & Silverton.

sanjuan-Bullnose 5201 Bullnose style roof and floor

Quite common are cars that had all the modifications, yet retained the arched door opening on the ends. Nos 306 and 320 (now used on the Huckleberry Railroad in Flint, Michigan along with K-27 No. 464) are examples of these cars. As it stands now, you would have to buy both San Juan sets 5200 and 5202 to obtain that car, (and you would have an old style sides with the more modern end. No doubt that style existed, but I can’t confirm a car number for you at this point.) I did mention this to San Juan and they are amenable to offering the 12 window sides with the arched ends (San Juan 5205?) so check back with them in the future if you want to build this style of car.

sanjuan-ArchWindow 5202 Arch window style sides and ends

I walked you through all the styles because of how San Juan incorporated tabs and slots into the same locations in the pieces for assembly. Any roof can go with any side, which all mate with any floor and end. This flexibility makes the possibilities endless, and for the freelancer, who is not constrained by strict adherence to prototype, can have a field day. From an assembly stand point, these parts are extremely well designed. Frankly, unless your vision is 20/240, you hit the bottle of brown liquor on the workbench frequently and use your elbows to position parts, you will have no trouble assembling the components into a square and straight car body. Then it will be just a matter of obtaining the various finishing details from Grandt Line, Precision Scale and Wiseman Models. I’d start with the San Juan passenger trucks (K218 – On3, K218-30 – On30). These trucks are outstanding models, and the parts were designed to ride on them.

sanjuan-Platformparts 5204 Platform parts and coupler covers

After all that, we haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done with these parts. Perhaps you wish to model one of the MOW cars that featured blanked out windows. Evergreen styrene No. 3047 passenger car siding is as close to a dead match of the San Juan siding as one could expect, so it is the perfect material to close off windows. Further, if you used the Evergreen to build baggage, RPO, combine or other head end cars, they would blend in perfectly with coaches built from the San Juan parts. You could also build completely new sides with the Evergreen siding and windows and quarter round from Grandt Line for parlor cars or different coaches. Again, the possibilities are virtually endless.

These parts are nothing short of a boon to builders of narrow gauge passenger equipment in O scale. The fit and detail are absolutely excellent. I urge everyone to purchase some parts and let’s get building!

San Juan Car Co.
190 Turner Drive, Unit C
Durango, CO 81303
(970) 385-5256

5200 Sides & Ends with Flat-top (later) Windows – $19.95MSRP

5201 Clerestory (Bullnose) Roof & Floor – $24.95MSRP

5202 Sides & Ends with Arched (early) Windows – $19.95MSRP

5203 Duckbill (early) Roof & Floor – $24.95MSRP

5204 End Fascia, Platform & Coupler Covers. – $5.95MSRP

This article was posted on: February 1, 2014