MODELING: Northern Pacific Gas Electric Cars


Early in the 20th century, railroads were looking for a way of to reduce costs for passenger service on secondary lines.  A conventional passenger train composed of a steam locomotive and a few passenger cars had high operating costs due to the crew size, fuel consumption and equipment maintenance.  The rail equipment industry tried to satisfy this need by inventing all sorts of machines that were propelled with steam, gasoline motors with and without electrical transmissions. The gas electrics were nothing more than a interurbans without wires.  Instead of drawing 600 volts DC from the trolley wire or third rail, the motor and a generator created the power.


Fully restored McKeen Railcar done by the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, NV

Early experiments were not the most reliable much like early automobiles  which often were towed to the garage by their four-legged predecessor.  Railroads had to send a locomotive to complete the run.  Over time the machinery became more reliable and the gas electric became a viable alternative to the costly conventional passenger train.  A wide variety of railroads relied on this type of passenger and express conveyance.


Northern Pacific B-18 was photographed at the Kelliher, MN depot towing a boxcar to handle LCL freight

I have always admired these machines.   The Northern Pacific Railway had a fair number of gas electrics providing service on branch lines often towing a freight car or two.  I really like the later cars such as B-12 and B-14 and along with the larger B-20 through B-23 cars.  I have been collecting information sufficient to build a car.  While I don’t have a perfect amount of data, I do have enough to get on with it.   My good friend, Rick Leach, has been a great help in finding technical data and photos of these wonderful cars.  He just completed a new set of passenger car decals which included lettering for several of the Northern Pacific gas electric cars.

NP B-20 Right Front Side ED 012

NP B-20 Left Side ED016

The B-20 pictures shown above were taken in Brainerd, MN awaiting scrapping.  The car served lines in North Dakota for many years.  St. Louis Car Company built the car in 1929 for the Northern Pacific.   All of the larger cars were rebuilt with diesel power plants replacing the gasoline motors in the late 1940s.

Jim Fredrickson photo from NPRHA library

Jim Fredrickson photo from NPRHA library

Photo by JM Fredrickson NPRHA library source for photo

Photo by JM Fredrickson NPRHA library source for photo

Jim Fredrickson shot the B-14 car in Lewiston, ID.  It ran between Spokane and Lewiston until replaced by a RDC.   It is a classic design with shutters for the cooling system and even a snowplow pilot for winter.   This would make a great model in P48.  Another favorite of mine is the B-23 which ran on in Montana and Idaho and later in Washington state.  B-23 replaced a conventional train on the Tacoma to Grays Harbor run for a short time.

 B-23 lr

The B-23 has been illusive in terms of gathering data.  I did find a few drawings for details but no overall plans.  More information on B-14 was uncovered which would make it easier to do.  Both cars were built by St. Louis Car and have very similar features.  It may be possible to make a slight leap to use the B-14 information to do B-23.  I was able to purchase a number of detail shots taken at Brainerd of B-20.  The images are directly relatable to B-23.  They show the sides, windows, ends,roof and underframe details.

b 20 5

b20 1

b20 2

The above photos are three examples of the collection I purchased.  They will be very useful in planning and building my gas electric car.   Unfortunately, it will have to wait until my move is complete and I settle into a yet-to-constructed new shop.

Happy Trails,



6 thoughts on “MODELING: Northern Pacific Gas Electric Cars

  1. I look forward to following your gas electric project. . I need to repower a Sunset Brill gas electric as the small motor between the axel gearboxes (5 gauge’) drive is not delivering the smooth starts and stops I’ looking for. Have you decided on a drive train for your NP gas electric project?

    • Ed
      My first thought was a K&D #4 and a chain drive. LOL
      I have not decided. Jay Criswell can make a power truck using Protocraft gearboxes and a Faulhaber geared motor. I may opt for this turnkey approach.


  2. Gene

    One of these NP gas electric’s was used on the Little Falls branch of the NP that crossed the Soo Line tracks at Glenwood MN just north of town. I also remember a small steam locomotive that ran the way freight along that line a number of times. I did not pay a whole lot of attention to the NP as my dad worked for the Soo, but I remember parts of it.

    Ray & Renee Grosser

    1145 Linn Road

    Eubank KY 42567-9579

    (606) 379-6590

    “I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.” General William Booth

    I hope you never have to work as hard as we play!

  3. Gene,
    I see that Rick Leach is a friend of yours. I got to know Rick back in the early 80’s and haven’t seen or heard of him since then. Rick, Bob (Robert) Hundman, the editor of
    “MainLine Modeler” magazine, and the brass scale model Production Manager at Pacific Fast Mail, and I all tossed around the idea of publishing a scale model railroading magazine. Because of other commitments both Rick and I were unable to continue with Bob in his endeavor to publish the finest scale modeling magazine ever to be available to the hobby. I would like to be able to touch base with Rick if at all possible. Feel free to pass on my email address to him.
    Thanks for your time.
    Denny Ross
    Former consultant and production designer for PFM (Pacific Fast Mail) on several Northern Pacific HO scale model brass locomotives that were produced by Samhongsa in Korea.
    NP Class Y-1 2-80, NP Class X 4-8-0, NP Class W, 2-8-2, NP Class W-1 2-8-2, Great Northern Class G-3 4-8-0 and NP Class W-2, 2-8-2 which was announced by PFM in its 14th Edition Catalog but was never produced..

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