The Zephyrette's - Trains 1 & 2

Page 2

Exterior/Interior Modifications

The most obvious of the exterior modifications to the RDC-2's was the provision of body-mounted, solid-surface steel pilots. Weighing about 500 lb. each, the pilots hung from the coupler pocket framing with diagonal braces extending from the car center sill to the shear plate on the bottom of each pilot. Ribs welded to the reverse side strengthened the surfaces of the pilots.

Modifications included:
* Filters, installed in the opening at each end of the engine compartments, which with the sealing of the side louvers created a dust-tight engine compartment.
* Back-up horns at each end. These provided warning protection in the event the leading horn became plugged with snow or sand.
* Oscillating Pyle-National "Gyralights" mounted on the end doors. One was equipped with a clear lens and served as a warning headlight. The other had a red lens as a taillight.
* Illuminated identification numberboards mounted on the roof.

Other items included: rear-view mirrors, electric markers, electrical trainline for operating the car's electrical services while being hauled as a coach in a train, and conductor's air-signal communicating equipment. WP's herald and orange "wings" were painted on each end, and the name "Zephyrette" applied to the baggage section dead-light panel.

Engineers seat.
Engineer's compartment.

The engineer’s job was made easier by the installation of a seat, manufactured by the American Seating Company, identical with those standard on WP road diesel power. The seat was mounted on floor sockets and could be used in either cab. In normal operations the car ran with the baggage compartment forward.

The standard Westinghouse M-23 automatic brake had been supplemented by the application of straight-air brakes using the AX-1 Rotair valve.

The car's communicating system was expanded, by the addition of buzzers in each of the passenger sections and in the baggage compartment, permitting the engineer to signal the train crew at any point throughout the car. Miscellaneous additions included sun visors, stainless steel drinking water cooler, and a receptacle for the engineer's watch.

Following consultation with the division superintendent and chief messenger of the Railway Express Agency, and with messengers on line, the following additions were made in the baggage compartment: (1) Independent regulation of baggage-car radiators. It was often desirable to maintain a cooler temperature for perishables in the baggage compartment than in the passenger sections, hence the need for by-pass piping and controls. (2) A rack for iced fish, milk, and other commodities requiring drainage. (3) Letter rack for handling company mail, together with a desk and individual light for executing necessary reports. (4) First-aid kit and rack for stretcher which were mandatory by state law. (5) 64-volt outlet for a hot plate as a convenience for the express messenger during the long run.

The application of the RDC-2's to their runs across three large western states required several major modifications of the coach interior. Foremost was the construction of a ladies' lavatory in the forward corner of the middle compartment. Budd assisted in the layout and specification of materials. In the opposite corner was installed a Sunroc electric drinking water-cooler model RC-6.

RDC reclining seats.
New reclining chairs.

For the long-distance passengers, in the middle compartment, the walk-over seats, standard with the RDC's, were replaced by nine pairs of Karpen individual reclining seats mounted on 36-in. centers. The addition of the lavatory and water cooler reduced the seating capacity of this section from 22 to 18. Since a large proportion of the railcar's traffic was short haul the original seats were left in the larger coach compartment.

A feature of interest is that hot water for each lavatory was provided for by the installation of individual electric heaters mounted under the washbowls. Hot water was produced in a four-gallon tank by a rapid-recovery, immersion-type "Chromalox" electric heating element manufactured by the Edwin L. Wiegind Company.

Other items included:
* Hat-check clips mounted on the edge of the baggage racks above the center line of the seats. Original clips on the back of seats were not satisfactory except for short trips.
* Conductor's headquarters located at the jump seat in the larger passenger compartment. A folding desk was mounted on the wall, and the adjacent cove light placed on an individual circuit to provide light when the rest of the car was darkened.
* Night lights. One ceiling fixture, adjacent to the toilet in each passenger section, was placed on a separate circuit and suitably shielded.

As a result of the WP's experience some of these changes were then incorporated in Budd's production models. Included among miscellaneous changes were a master battery switch, additional grab irons in vestibules and photomurals in passenger sections.


Proclaiming it was a “Revolution on Rails” the Budd rail diesel car closely resembled the California Zephyr vista dome coaches in appearance, although the “dome” contained the engine cooling system rather than observation seats. Mounted under the car floor were two six cylinder, 275-h.p General Motors diesel in line engines with the power drive provided by Allison torque converters, developed for heavy tank use during the war. Even with this mounting arrangement, all clearance requirements were met with no intrusion on revenue space. Moreover, this placement contributed to a low center of gravity only 52.6 inches. The installation was designed with special consideration for simplifying normal maintenance, preventive maintenance, and ready replacement when overhaul schedules required.

The principle of the torque converter, which was being widely employed in automotive transportation, was applied to the power transmission. It operated during acceleration up to a designated speed, at which point the transmission automatically locked into direct drive. In addition to providing high efficiency and reliability, the torque converter saved tons of weight, was appreciably lower in price than other drives, and gave unsurpassed flexibility and smoothness in operation. Only the inside axle of each truck received power.

Seldom did these cars lack for power. In direct drive, cruising speed was 70 miles per hour at 55 percent of available horsepower while in torque conversion the maximum speed was 55 miles per hour. On the one percent grade a maximum speed of 62 miles per hour was obtainable. In 6,000 miles of test service the car averaged 2.8 miles per gallon of diesel fuel at a cost of slightly more than 3 cents per mile. Fuel cost for steam locomotives used in similar service averaged 22 cents per mile.

RDC Disk Brake
Disk brakes as used on the RDC.

The Budd Railway Disc Brakes, model CF, operated in conjunction with the Budd Rolokron anti wheel slide device, and could stop a fully loaded car, under service application, from 85 miles per hour in 2,330 feet. The disc for each brake was bolted to the inner face of the wheel. To increase rail adhesion the car was equipped with both automatic and manual sanding devices. Delivered with 33” wheels these were replaced with 34” wheels in 1953 by the railroad. At the time these two RDC cars were the only “locomotive” type equipment on the railroad equipped with sealed beam headlights.

The car was fully insulated against heat, cold and noise, and completely air conditioned by seven ton, electromechanical equipment especially designed for railway car use by the Frigidaire Division of General Motors. This model of Rail Diesel Car had a seventeen-foot baggage section and its foam rubber seats provided a comfortable ride for 70 passengers at speeds up to 83 miles per hour.

Traffic wise, the Budd car presented an attractive appearance. Constructed throughout of stainless steel, it made a fitting supplement to the California Zephyrs, and for this reason, Western Pacific dubbed its new cars "The Zephyrette’s."

Replacing the daily Royal Gorge these new rail diesel cars were given train numbers 1 and 2. Built of stainless steel construction the two cars with their attractive appearance were a fitting compliment to the California Zephyr.

With the first eastbound departure of the then new “Zephyrette” on September 15, 1950 Western Pacific began operation of a 100 per cent streamlined passenger service. The first westbound “Zephyrette” left Salt Lake City on September 17, 1950 thus beginning the tri-weekly operation that would last until October 2, 1960. Operating on this tri-weekly schedule (Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday) eastbound departure was from Oakland Pier at 7:57 pm with the westbound departure from Salt Lake City at 7:30 am. Running time eastbound was 22 hours and 48 minutes with the westbound run taking 23 hours and 30 minutes. The "Zephyrettes" handled this run of 924 miles with 19 scheduled and almost 100 potential conditional stops in each direction.

RDC coach seats.
Coach seats as supplied by BUDD.

These rail cars did not have the lavish appointments afforded the California Zephyr but were more utilitarian in nature. Food service was not available and refreshments consisted of water available from the electric water cooler and hot water facilities. Depicting scenes along the railroad eight-photo murals were placed in the passenger compartment and for through passenger comfort reclining seats were installed in the center compartment. During times of heavy business the trains often ran with a F3 locomotive on the point, a water tender, baggage car, with the RDC bringing up the rear.

At the end of October 1950, the road figured that over a long period, the direct operating costs for the RDC's would be about 71 cents a train-mile, compared to almost twice that for the former conventional train. Referring to the operation and maintenance of the cars, one officer was heard to remark: "It's just like having a big Buick around."

Although the "Zephyrettes" had been in operation only a short time, they had already demonstrated their many advantages. Their quick acceleration and sustained high speed on long grades was especially useful in ascending the Feather River canyon where, except for a few places, the 1 per cent grade stretches for 100 miles. In this district the cars would pickup from a stop to 30 m.p.h. in 30 seconds. Their flexibility was tested further in accomplishing the many conditional stops on a faster schedule than their conventional predecessors.

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