Hi all! 

Was a couple a years ago I purchased a couple of the excellent Atlas O California Zephyr cars. After operating them for a while I found some smaller issues that could be improved. On the dome cars there is light leaking between the dome casting and the car body. The lighting in the domes comes from beneath? Two small diodes is providing the light. The lightning over all comes from the center of the car, leaving corridor and some compartments in the dusk. My plan is to paint the interior with as accurate colors as possible, adding figures and additional lighting. This improvement will hopefully take the cars to the next level, displaying a more "finished" look. 

The dome Observation Car was quite easy to take appart. Four screws later and with some careful pulling the car came apart. Most of the parts on the car are snapped in place.

Observation parts


The interior is faithfully reproduced and quite accurate. The most obvious thing missing is the desk and chair beside the stairs in the observation lounge. The compartments, the small "Cocktail bar" beneath the dome and the observation lounge, all is present.

Observation interior

However there is some issues with the interior. The dome interior is shallow, same with the observation lounge area. The solution for the dome is to paint the floor black to get the illusion of dept. Populating the dome area will require small figures and some cutting and trimming of lower body parts of the figures to make them fit the couches.

The observation lounge is a tuffer nut to crack, Atlas didn't made it easy to add figures in this part of the car. Even the smallest figures are too big for the chairs. Cutting the legs of the figures isn't an option, they are too visible in the observation lounge.  Contemplating to either take a razor saw and cut off the chairs and raise them a bit or cut out most of the area, fabricate a new floor and add interior.  Has anyone else takled this interior area? Input would be most appreciated.

Concerning the interior colors there is two ways to go. Pre 1960 and after 1960.  The railroad company's that operated CZ rebuilt the interiors in the trains late 1950s and early 1960s. The concern were that the late 1940's interior design were dated and needed modernising. I intend to follow the early color pattern of the interior. Finding color pictures of the early design isn't easy. After some research its obvious that the post 1960 design is well better documented. 


Most of the early design is represented in the brochures and advertisements of the era. Most pictures are in black and white but there are some color renditions. As the cover above that gives some ideas how to paint the interior.

CZobslounge pre 1960

Pre 1960 Observation lounge area.

CZObsLounge post 1960

Post 1960 Observation Lounge area. The standing girl in the blue dress is one of the "Zephyrettes" crew.

Cocktail lounge pre 1960

The pre 1960 Cocktail lounge interior.

Coctial longe post 1960

The post 1960 Cocktail lounge interior.

CZ number plate

Since the devil is inte details, the small individual car number sign is missing on the Vista Dome observation Car, but present on other Atlas O CZ car types. 

CZ car number early

Early car number plate. Small sign with the number of the car in the train. Will try to add this to the Dome Observation car.  HO-scale decals is well suited in the size for this. 

Car number late

Picture taken in Oakland from the last trip off the California Zephyr to Chicago in 1970. The car number plate on is now lighted and bigger.

Well! My first post on this forum. Since english isn't my native langue I hope there isn't some atrocious spelling or grammatical errors. 





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Last edited by Belle Epoque
Original Post

Rainy day and well suited to start modifying the interior of the CZ Vista Dome Observation.

interior plain

The parts of the interior as it came out of the car. Let the mayhem begin.

cutt interior

The interior for the Dome observation is painted with Vallejos black primer. The black floor is intended to gave the impression of the floor being deeper as it is. The small figures from Golden Gate Depot is still too high for the really low couches.  The couches will be painted in Humbrol nr 6 "Leather", seams to be the closest color to the pre 1960 color pattern I follow.

The observation lounge area required the most "surgery". Started to cut the side trims down to floor level and then carefully saw trough the chairs from the outside and inwards. Went rather quick since the chairs are hollow. The raced end of the area was cut off completely just before the mounting screw underneath the floor. A new straight piece will be fabricated with the old raised one as template. Underneath the raised area, a small screw is present. The screw holds the small circuit bord with a diod providing lighting for the "California Zephyr" sign. Since there is a lot of space under the interior modules, the circuit board can be fitted underneath. The diod needs to be desoldered and prolonged with thin cables upp to the right place.

Well! This was the end of the destructive phase of the build. The floor in the observation lounge area are a bit concave and needs more sanding before the next step in the rebuild. 


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Last edited by Belle Epoque

English is no issue so keep us posted as railthunder says. What tools have you used so far for the destruction phase and also please show us the fabrication of the new parts. Neat project!

You might want to try some S scale figures. Being 25% smaller, they may fit better in the seats and at a quick glance the difference in scale might not be readily noticed.

Hope this helps.

Belle - I rode on Canada's VIA Rail Canadian train across Canada several years ago.  I spent a lot of time in the domes during the day and at night.  The domes were lighted at night by lights along the floor.  This allowed passenger to see where they were stepping without blocking the outside view by reflected  overhead light.

This means that lighting the domes from the floor area at night would be correct at least for the Canadian.  I would suspect that the CZ domes had the same floor lighting scheme for the same reason.  People viewing the train from the outside as it passes would see unlighted domes.  The lower level of the dome car would have regular overhead lights.  

NH Joe

Thank you for your kind replays and likes. And yes I will update the progress of the rebuild and painting process. 

Concerning the question what I used for tools? The only thing I used so far was a broad X-acto Extra fine saw blade. Sanding was done with two different grits of sand papper.

The options of lightning in the dome I suppose it's correct to have it both ways. From below and above even in the pre 1960 domes.  Even if the lightning from bellow was the most used when the train was in motion.


California Zephyr vista dome

And here is the Dome area today from the WP Silver Crescent at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. 

Silver Cresent dome lightning

Figures will be mix of sizes. In the dome I will use as "big" figures as possibly. Figures From Slaters and Golden Gate depot is what I'm currently test fitting. In other areas I will go for Preiser and some Chinese made figures that I got of eBay. The Chinese figures seams to be copys of Preiser's. The Slater's and Golden Gate is closer to S-scale then O. In the picture below, the white and painted figures is from Preiser and the tan ones is Chinese.


The smaller Slaters figures is primed black. There is different schools to paint figures. Nowadays I start with a black base and go lighter avoiding to paint in "shadow" areas.

Slaters primed




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Last edited by Belle Epoque

I have reworked several Golden Gate cars.  They ran the wiring between the bottom of the car and the plastic floor that holds the furniture, looks like your car is the sme way.  I ran the wiring under the car itself, along the center beam etc.  That allowed me to drop the plastic floor down to the metal car bottom.  The car I was using had plastic "stand offs" cast under the plastic floor so they had to go .  Fortunately, the Golden gate furniture was high enough to handle most smaller frame figures.  There are some 1/50 scale plastic sitting figures on ebay and them being a little smaller helps.  Golden gate had undersized figures in there but they were crude and discarded.  I think your idea of building up the base of each seat is the way to go.  The dome floor was a challenge. I think I dropped it a fraction lower than they had it and I have a shallow LED strip son the center beam of the dome.  At least Atlas gave you the steps...I hope you can use them.  I had to fabricate mine....but I can hardly see them once I had the car back together.

I detailed my CZ D&RGW, WP and Amtrak Dome Observations.  The interior sleeping rooms were a normal height seat. The end Lounge Area required that I grind down the feet and legs of my passengers. The altering of the people is less work and prevented me from making errors that could not be repaired.  It is difficult to see the feet of the figures when there are figures across the aisle blocking the view of the lower half of the people.

I disconnected the stairs to the Dome into two pieces. The Upper Dome floor had a short section of stairs glued to the Dome floor.  I ground down 5/16" from the Upper stairs where they join the Lower stairs. This made assembling the car very easy.  (I did this on all of my Dome cars.)

I also allow the Dome Floor to rest on the top of the window glass upper edges of the Lower windows. This lowers the Dome Floor enough to make the Preiser 65602 Seated People I painted look better in the Dome. If light shining from the Dome is a problem, electrical tape will help mask the light after the Dome Floor has been re-inserted into the body shell.  (I did NOT tighten my Dome Floor screws. They are in place to keep the floor from moving forward or back as the floor rests on the top edge of the window glass.)

Sincerely, John Rowlen


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Some progress in the interior update. I want to say Thank you! to the previous kind replays.  

The chairs in the observation lounge gave me some thoughts. I first intended to use the original chairs and raise them to an appropriate level. However the chairs are too small and dosen't even resemble the big and comfy looking chairs in the picture. Since I have access to a 3D printer this venture vent in a new direction.

CZ observation Lounge bw

3D printing on a novice level have its perils. First I measured the original chairs and made a slightly raised and bigger version. 6 hours later I've got a quite disappointing result. The machine had some problems with nozzle overheat, ending up with a quite messy result. At least I've got a result to measure and resize from. Instead of a direct reprint I went for the maximum size that could be fitted in the area, so back to the drawing board.  The second print went much better with a smoother result and quite a correct hight for the sitting figures. I also made the files to print the missing desk and chair. The desk looks a little low but will sit a bit up on the wall in the end. If anyone is interested in the 3D files for the chairs, couches and desk I can post a link for free download. 

3D print

The Zephyr cars needs passengers. I started to paint the figures with a black primer, and then first basic skin tone. The odd moment when I went to get a cup of coffee and came back to the table. It struck me that the figures togheter looked like a well attended funeral. The excess of figures is intended to populate four cars in the end. I will pick a "crew" for one car and finish the painting of them. Before the next car interior update.

Funeral people




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Last edited by Belle Epoque


I read in Model Railroader magazine many years ago  a suggestion that it is easier to paint all the figures in skin color and then overpaint them using darker colors for the clothes, hair, etc.  I haven't done this so I don't know if it would be easier than your method.  Your figures look great.   NH Joe

Hi Joe and Thank you!  When I started out to paint figures I went from lighter to darker colors, but nowadays I use to start with a black base and then go with lighter colors. You get some shadows on the figures from the start with a dark base.

Great work Belle. That was funny as it does look like a well attended funeral.

I guess some time management comes in handy, when summer and outdoor activities takes time from updating CZ-coaches. Some rain or mosquitos in the evening and I'm back fiddling with the interior. The rebuild of the interior in the observation lounge is coming to its end and is almost ready for paint.

The things I done to the observation area is filling in the holes from the old chairs. Made a new rounded floor end. Made holes instead of the slits in the original piece that was sawn off.  The original stairs needed some attention. I cut off the sides on the two lower steps. Added trim and extended the lower step with two rounded pieces. I used Plasticard for all additions to the base, some laminated to get the right thickness. The only exception is the desk that was 3D printed.  The glues I used was Tamiya plastic weld and some Gorilla glue, Cyanoacrylates.

Sanding and adding Tamiya's putty to level everything out, and sanding again. Below the stairs were a small recess that was filled too.

Interior empty

The pre 1960's observation lounge. Hopefully I'm getting there...

CZ interior pre 1960

The more fun part of the build. The 3D-printed chairs and couches is painted and I started to pick figures for the area. I guess I will go with this crew. Next step is to finish painting them. The standing lady is intended to be a "Zephyrette", on here way to attend to the old lady in the front. No CZ train is complete without at least one of the Zephyrettes.

Taking pictures of your build is a good thing to do now and then. A good way see more things that needs attention. The guy on the left in the gray pants looks like a more dubious german character from WW2.

interior figures

Adding figures to the upper observation area is a bit fiddly. Trimming down butts, spines and cutting legs. Some figures I filed down the sides to get two to fit the narrow couches. One way get more combinations of figures.  Still some trimming and fitting to do in this area, before the finishing paint on the figures.

Interior overall


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Last edited by Belle Epoque

Taking pictures as the project moves along is a good idea because once everything is completed and the car is re-assembled you won't be able to show off the wonderful detail and craftsmanship as much.

This is well on its way to being taken to the next level as you hoped.

The summer rainy day project had made some progress.  Even if most of the updated interior won't be seen much through the windows, It was fun to do the research and do some alterations. I spent most of the time on the observation lounge area. So I changed focus to the bar lounge area and the compartments. I haven't found any color photos of the pre 1960 versions of the compartments. So I went with a colors that hopefully would harmonise with the rest of the car.

Well! Two step forward and one back. I'm not particularly happy how the chairs and couches turned out in the compartments. I painted them with Vallejo's Dark red, and the turned out in more of dark cerise tone. The green chair for the car staff I painted in Vallejos medium olive and it turned out bright green.  Right now I'm contemplating alternative colors. 


One thing about passenger cars with compartments there is lot's of doors. To make doors turned out to be quite simple. I browsed the internet of pictures of doors until I found a door that would suit the cars. I downsized the door to O-scale proportions in Corel Draw and added a small rectangle to simulate a door handle. I printed the doors out on self adhesive paper.  When I started to install the doors to the interior modules, it struck me how low the Atlas interior is. Every door had to cut on the on the upper part and some doors are narrowed. Two doors in every compartment. Entry and rest room. I guess they will look right through the windows. 


The bar lounge came out better. The walls were painted in a faded green, red carpet, red leather furniture and greyish silver tone on the tables. The bar were painted in silver and the bar desk will be finished in a wood tone. Still needs some paint touch-ups in places.

Bar area

The corridor outside the compartments, the floor in the compartments and corridor is painted with Vallejo light gray, and here is at last a finished area.  

corridor doors

Next will be some more painting and adding figures......




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Last edited by Belle Epoque

I think the colors look great. With lighting, the figures will probably be the focus. I think the seats will look fine.

Excellent work and attention to getting details as correct as possible.  A true inspiration for others to emulate.

Jesse   TCA

Something to watch for is the height of your passengers in the dome section. When I did my dome sections the passengers sat too high and I ended up having to lower them in order for the dome to properly fit the car body. My solution was to use a Dremel tool with cut off disk to cut off the lower sections of the passengers, you might try using "S" scale seated passengers in your dome sections. Gene

Watch your mailbox, I think I'll send you some passenger cars for those upgrades, they look way better than what I do!

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