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Sud Pacifico de Mexico Turns a Pickwick NiteCoach into a Train Car

The story of the amazing custom built Pickwick coaches designed by Dwight E. Austin began in 1923 when he was appointed the Superintendent of the Pickwick Stage Lines Body Works. His first design was the Pickwick Observation-Buffet Coach in 1925, followed two years later with the addition of an enclosed pilothouse for the driver as seen below in a photo from a Pickwick brochure image. All of Austin’s later designs can be viewed in an earlier article: Pickwick Motor Coach Designs.

The object of today’s post is one of the early Duplex Coaches that ended up in the Sud Pacifico de Mexico (Union Pacific’s Mexican lines 1880-’51) fleet of rolling stock. This unusual rail car is seen in the lead image and an enlargeable version above found via Actripity. Apparently, after it was removed from road service Union Pacific purchased it and converted the undercarriage of the machine for service south of the border.

  • Circa 1927 Pickwick Observation-Buffet Coach used by the Bus Line on some of its California runs.

From what can be observed in the Sud Pacifico de Mexico photo the conversion consisted of removing the steering gear and front axle and replacing it with a rail truck, the dual rear wheels were removed and bolt on cast metal wheels with steel tires were attached to the original rear drive axle.

The other modifications for railroad service included adding a windshield visor, a lamp, and a cow catcher. For hot weather use, the coach door was removed, and the upper doors of the cab were equipped with latches allowing them to open partly and scoop in outside air, the original hood sides were latched in the open position. The angled bucket-like device above the radiator apparently was either an expansion tank for the coolant or a tank with a valve used for adding more when necessary.

The photograph below courtesy of the Denver Post Archive contains an early Duplex Coach and a detail image of the easily removable power plant that the allowed for quick switching of the engine, clutch and cooling system assembly that limited downtime.

Tell us what you find of interest in these images. Thanks go out to contributor Gene Herman.

  • An early circa 1930 Pickwick “Duplex Coach” and a detail image of the quick change power plant.

14 responses to “Sud Pacifico de Mexico Turns a Pickwick NiteCoach into a Train Car

  1. Everything old is new again. The current Amtrak “Superliner” cars have a similar arrangement with a full-length upper section, a shorter lower section nestled between the wheels, car entrance at the lower level and a connecting stairway.

  2. Looks like something out of a Stephen King movie. I’d think it would topple on the 1st curve. While I laughed at it, I bet someday, a more streamlined version will act as a spur rail bus, to get people to the main line. We can’t sit in traffic forever, and some sort of rail will be the norm. We won’t see it though. I believe, that “quick change” power plant is still used today in fleet trucks.

  3. I think that the bucket is a shield around the exhaust pipe. I’m certain that the Union Pacific shops would have turned out a more professional conversion. If it was done south of the border, they took a worn out bus and blacksmithed it to provide passenger service in a most inhospitable place. I give it a high grade for initiative, low for execution.

  4. I know that some of the big bands used some of these for cross country tours, but this is the first rail car conversion I have ever seen. The engine/trans power pack is still used in coaches today. Pull one out in a few hours with a good crew. Another of Dwight Austin’s ideas, along with the angle drive which made bus and coach travel feasible.

  5. Anyone know what the power plant was? Maybe a Hall-Scott? I wonder what sort of performance these things had – on the road I mean. Probably quite slow compared with today. Was there a heavy vehicle speed limit?

  6. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but “Sud Pacifico de Mexico” translates as “Southern Pacific of Mexico”. The original “Southern Pacific” (of the U.S.) also used those peculiar angled number boards mounted high on the fronts of their locomotives, and utilized the same typeface on the removable/replaceable number tiles.

  7. Perhaps not a lot of bus nuts in the Old Motor readership, but the Pickwick design was iconic and to see a body shell living even in this unbelievable configuration makes one want to go find it if it still were to exist and bring it home for restoration.

  8. The: “SKUNK TRAIN” so named for its several (Older)Single gasoline or diesel engine Motor-Rail Coaches — exists today, out on the Northern California Coast & Inland Forest, —a: 40 Mile ride from Fort Bragg (with a halfway stop for goodies!) To: Willits (& return) (There is also a live steam engine with passenger cars, too, called : the Super Skunk! Edwin W.

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