Last year I purchased a couple of used K-Line passenger cars for their parts. Since I don’t have extra storage space inside my train room I began wondering... what I could build with the extra parts on these cars?
My first thought was to build a coach/chair car for my Union Pacific City of Los Angeles train. Looking at the existing window arrangement of the Golden State parts car it would be possible to make a 44 seat coach similar to the Union Pacific's 5401~5449 series cars originally built by Pullman. But it meant modifying the windows in the Golden State’s aluminum shell. Also, after finishing my other more detailed interiors a chair car seemed simple and a little dull as it goes by on the track. Building a chair car interior would involve just gluing in 11 rows of seats and making a couple of walls for the bathrooms. Well, if I was going to modify the windows on this Golden State aluminum shell what other Union Pacific car could I build that would be more interesting for my visitors to look at?
I dug deep into the book "The Union Pacific Streamliners" by Ranks and Kratville and looked at all the plans and window arrangements used in the Union Pacific's City of Los Angeles Streamliner fleet. Then I found a 1937 dormitory-club lounge car called "The Little Nugget". I like challenging myself in each new passenger car interior but recreating The Little Nugget was going to be like nothing I have tried before.
Before I get into the How-To part of this write up, here's some background information about The Little Nugget.
In 1937 The Little Nugget was built as a dormitory-lounge car "LA-701" for Union Pacific's 7th train City of Los Angeles (CoLA). What made this lounge car different was the interior was designed by the famous artist Walter Kuhn. Its interior styling was a complete contrast to the Art Deco used in the rest of the CoLA train. Its been described as an 1880's old west dance hall, prosperous hostelry of the bonanza days, gay 1890's saloon and a Victorian dream of red velvet. Kuhn gave The Little Nugget a large pink cabbage rose pattern on the carpet, silver star-studded cerulean blue ceiling, red custom built rococo chairs, love seats and sofas, black marble table tops, twenty ivory painted winged cherubs holding up ten sets of triple brass gaslight fixtures, white embroidered lace curtains, red velvet drapes and a yellow mechanical canary in a gilded cage. The semi circular bar with had upper and lower brass rails, winged cherubs on the front of either side, gilded ornamentation in between and beveled mirrors on the walls behind. The woman’s bathroom had a damask style wallpaper print with history of the corset frieze across the top wall and mounted to the floor was a gilded toilet bowl, gilded seat with a rose painted on its lid (yep... you read that right, this car had a golden toilet). Over the delicate rose vine wallpaper in the main lounge Kuhn put 125 paintings, drawings and photographs of vaudeville performers, dancers, jockeys and clowns. Although The Little Nugget was replaced with more modern 9000 series dome observation lounge cars in 1955 nothing could replace its incredibly memorable over-the-top interior.
It's interesting to note that in September 1936 the Pullman Standard Car Manufacturing gave Union Pacific a life expectancy of 12.5 years for these lightweight aluminum passenger cars. By February 1939 Pullman increased the life expectancy to 15 years 8 months for new Streamline passenger cars. From these life expectancy estimates you can see why the other Union Pacific lounge cars built build before 1945 were scrapped one by one in the 1950's. The Little Nugget was retired by Union Pacific in July 1956 and donated to City of Los Angeles for display at Travel Town, Griffith Park. To this day, Union Pacific still calls The Little Nugget its most elaborate lounge car ever used.
How to make The Little Nugget interior:
On your semi scale K-Line donor car start by removing the 2 black screws on each end that hold on the end caps. Pull each end cap away from the shell and unplug the wires going to the overhead lights. Slide the black metal frame with stock K-Line interior out of the aluminum shell. Next, remove the small screws that hold the old plastic floor onto black metal frame. Once the old plastic interior is gone, tack down 1/16" wooden strips with CA glue to elevate your new floor above the incoming power wires. Tack down a sheet of 1/32" basswood floor with CA glue to the wooden strips. Mark where the windows are to be located on the basswood floor.
I thought I was working with an K-Line 18" aluminum passenger car shell. But I found out at this point the Golden State aluminum shell is only 17.5" long because it came from an observation car. I did not want to scale down the lounge area because this was the most important part of the build to me. Behind the lounge/club section was the dormitory rooms for the Union Pacific employees like the bartender, chefs, stewards and the mechanical road supervisor. While putting up the walls I kept the plans printed on 11" x 17" paper close by and decided to compress the dormitory section of this car to fit the 17.5” shell.
Add the pink cabbage rose carpet in the lounge area and put a primer/base coat of paint on the walls in the dormitory section. Unfortunately, the original cabbage rose carpet was changed around October 1940 about the same time the mechanical canary in the gilded cage was removed. For this interior build I was going to stick with how The Little Nugget looked brand new in December of 1937. To make more head room inside this passenger car I'm planning on changing out the stock K-Line incandescent bulbs and going with LED strip lights. I left some room up front for a Henning's 21000 Passenger Car LED lighting kit's small LED circuit board in the hallway between the men's and women's bathrooms. With that finished, the easy part of this build was done.
The hard part is going to be getting the historically correct interior while matching window spacing in the Golden State aluminum shell. While I have been to Travel Town in Griffith Park a few times as a kid, I had never stepped foot inside The Little Nugget. Searching the internet I found The Smithsonian Institution had a public collection of Walt Kuhn papers and photographs. Digging through this black and white photo collection I found the images needed to correctly make the original 1937 furniture. I laid the floor plans next to a strip of 3/8" x 3/16" basswood and started making tables and chairs.
The build sequence for making the 2 sofas, 3 love seats and 23 chairs and went like this:
Kuhn added flowing green vines with brightly colored roses and golden ribbons accents on every piece of velvet covered furniture. The miniature red Victorian/Rococo furniture looked like this when painted. I left the legs off the furniture so my passengers would fit better and could see out the windows.
Kuhn put two stacks of colorful glassware in front of the beveled glass mirrors that were mounted behind the bar. The bartender was given a crawl/access door underneath the bar on the back wall to get in and out of the bar section. Some of the photos found in the The Smithsonian collection had writing on the back describing who was in the photo. The two waiters names were Goldie and Scott and they wore white trousers with red pinstripes, emerald green double breasted jackets, white shirts with narrow black string ties. The back of another photo said John T. Ruh was the bartender on The Little Nugget. The bartender was dressed in period correct clothing and wore a fancy vest, red ascot tie with diamond horseshoe pin. During an internet search for more information about the bartender I found a very similar name "John M. Ruh". Curious, I sent John M. Ruh an email and waited for an answer. Success! A few days later he politely responded and confirmed he was the grandson of John T. Ruh. He told me a few stories of his grandfather working as a bartender for the Union Pacific. During his grandfathers time as bartender he had collected several signed photos from the big celebrities of the day that traveled on City of Los Angeles. Here's a family photo John M. Ruh emailed to me of his grandfather working on The Little Nugget.
Well, that did it. If I was going to recreate a historically correct interior of this lounge car it was going to have a John T. Ruh as bartender!
Modifying and painting the aluminum shell:
Toward the end of 1941 the City of Los Angeles paint scheme of Amour Yellow, Leaf Brown with Gold lettering was changed to the modern Armour Yellow, Harbor Mist Gray with bright red lettering and stripes. The full length anodized aluminum molding above and below the window were also added in 1941 but in later years these moldings were painted Armour yellow to match the car. During its life on the rails Union Pacific repainted the outside of the car Amour Yellow at least 4 times and each shade of yellow underneath was slightly lighter than the shades on top (probably due to weathering). Also, The Little Nugget shows it was re-lettered 4 different times as the Amour Yellow paint changed. I picked its 1950's Union Pacific paint-lettering scheme so this car would better match my other K-Line streamline passenger cars.
Painting the shell was going to be an undertaking because I needed to buy an air brush. And then, I needed to learn how to use an air brush. I had already owned Amour Yellow and Harbor Mist Gray latex paint from another project. Following the advice in posts from forum members about how to use latex paint in an air brush I went to work. Even though my existing latex paint was a great color match to my other K-Line passenger cars I could not thin it down enough to flow out of the brush correctly. First I tried to water it down 50/50, then 40/60 and finally 30/70 using both distilled water and Windex as recommended. The final result worked but... I would not recommend using latex paint on a passenger shell to anybody, especially a first time user. If I ever use this air brush again I will purchase air brush ready paints like Scale Coat II or Tru-Color.
The first step was to sand off the old red & silver paint. Then, spray with gray primer. Next, air brush on the latex paint colors (4 coats of yellow paint and 2 coats of gray). Then, spray with Krylon glossy (3 coats). Then, apply Microscale decals. The final step was to spray with Krylon flat (3 coats)
Right side shell modifications.
Left side shell modifications.
In the above progression of photos I used a flat sheet of Styrene (2.0mm thick) to blank off window & door openings in the Golden State shell. New openings were carefully cut in to the shell using a Dremel tool. Then finishing the new opening with a flat file to get a crisp straight edge. Since this was a 17 1/2" semi scale shell I could not include all 5 window openings on the hallway side of the dormitory rooms. Other details were added like the rooftop radio antenna, hand rails, full length moldings above & below the windows, foot steps and rooftop vents. O-Scale Microscale decal sheet #48-114 was used for the red stripes, sheet #48-113 for the large Union Pacific name in the center and sheets #48-136 & #48-198 was used to create car number LA-701. Also, following the advice of other forum members I used Micro Set under the decals and Micro Sol over the top of the decals and finally covering them with flat clear coats.
Finishing the interior and making contact with Travel Town:
Recreating the 1937 interior colors would not have been possible without the knowledge and advice of Greg Gneier, President of Travel Town. Over email he informed me the main dorm hallway was light pink with stenciled roses and the original floor was brown linoleum. The pull down privacy shades were pinkish beige on the inside and silver on the outside. The dorm room walls were a dull aluminum color with blue carpet on the floor. Greg is the historian for The Little Nugget and gave me a great lead about a January 3rd 1938 LIFE magazine article that included a photo of the 1937 "History of the Corset" frieze and the Victorian damask style wall paper used inside the Woman’s restroom. There are no known photos of the original men’s restroom but Greg confirmed the wall paper was the same as the women's restroom. In a June 1948 Walt Kuhn letter to the Union Pacific the only mention that men’s restroom had a frieze of framed rooster fights.
While passing through LA Union Station a few years ago I noticed Travel Town set up a display to help raise money for The Little Nugget's restoration. At this fund raiser Travel Town volunteers brought in several original items from the cars lounge section. I snapped a few photos (shown below) of the furniture but this was the closest I have been to being inside The Little Nugget's lounge. Items like a red Victorian chair, small drink table and cerulean blue cast iron ashtray with two cherubs in the middle that holds a packet of cigarettes. In my option, displaying the golden toilet from the woman restroom would have been a complete show stopper at LA's Union Station but unfortunately that item was changed out by Union Pacific some point before The Little Nugget was donated to Travel Town. Here's a link to see the most current restoration information about The Little Nugget https://traveltown.org/projects/nugget.shtml .
As with my other builds I repainted the K-Line figures and turned their heads slightly. I do this because don't like having all my passengers staring straight ahead at blank walls like zombies. Even though these walls have the original looking paintings and nice wallpaper. Also, I recommend trimming the bottoms on your K-Line 1/45th scale figures to make them fit in the seats better of a 1/48th semi scale car. The toilets and sinks were from ScaleCityDesign.
The Little Nuggets first paid service date was Dec 27th 1937 and it's still around today after 83 years. 83 years is pretty good for a lounge car that was only estimated to last 12.5 years. Kuhn also created custom lounge interiors for the City of Denver's two Frontier Shack's and the Hollywood lounge car for CoLA. None of these other lounge cars made it past the 1950's. One day I would like to make it back out to Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park for a tour inside of The Little Nugget. I'm curious on how far the volunteers made it with restoring the interior back to its original condition. But for now, at least I can enjoy my miniature O-gauge version as it travels down the rails with the rest of my City of Los Angeles passenger cars.
Attached below are the patterns I used for this build for anyone that wants recreate this historic and unique lounge car for your train layout. Thank you to all the OGR forum members for the positive feedback on these interior builds over the last year. And thank you for following this series.
To look at the other interior builds in this series click on the links below. They are listed in the order I run them on my layout: