Aristo-Craft Heavyweight Passenger Cars

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This is a nicely detailed model of the prototype. You need to look a bit for the exact prototype, because these cars scale out to 71' 10.75". I believe they are modeled after an east coast line of 73' prototypes.  (they are 29-3/4" from diaphragm to diaphragm). Bruce Morrill told me that they may be modeled from the Jersey Central coaches.

They are all lighted except for the baggage car.

Properly lubricated and maintained, they are excellent cars. People who report trouble normally have not lubricated their cars properly.

They also look good with the MTH 1:32 stuff, like a challenger.

They come with truss rods and stanchions, but apparently these were not used on metal frame pullman cars. I installed them at first but had to snap off an air tank to get them to fit. Turns out they are not on the Santa Fe prototypes.


There are two versions so far, but it seems (Oct 2008), another version is on the horizon. I'll call them version 1, 2, and 3.

Version one
is the originally released version. There are a lot of reported problems with derailments, especially with the 6 axle trucks.

To identify version one:A lot of the trim details are unpainted, handrails and grab irons. The windows frames were sometimes a gold color.

Version two apparently started in 2004. The new versions are printed with a builders mark "Aristocraft Trains" and the year.

Most of the details are blackened or painted. There are some reports that the cars sit lower, lowered bolsters. I cannot comment on this.  The major improvement is in the trucks, they have more side play in the center wheelset, and there is a ridge on the top of the truck that acts as a sidebearing. This stabilizes the car. Also many of the details are now blackened, like the grab irons.

Version three seems to have appeared without any fanfare in October 2008. There was a promotion of the doodlebug and a free HW coach. The both came with LED lighting, there is a circuit board inside, with a full wave bridge, and a small cap to minimize flicker. I'm assuming these will find their way into the next production run of HW cars.


I cannot stress enough that you MUST lubricate these cars out of the box. They WILL derail otherwise, trust me, save yourself the aggravation! 


Be sure to oil all the journals, these cars can have a lot of drag if unlubricated. Most of mine came dry. With the metal journal bearings, I use a heavy oil, like the gear oil from Hob-E-Lube.

Truck Pivoting:

Greasing the truck pivot areas, the main pivot and the curved slot. Make sure there is no hangups or rough spots, I use Hob-E-Lube moly grease.

Mine derailed right out of the box. Many of the journals appeared dry. After lubricating the journals and the underside of the body where the side bearing rubs, all derailments ceased immediately.

I cannot tell you how many people complain about these cars, and if they would just lubricate them properly 99% of their problems would go away.

Very important: If you have the new style trucks, they have a rib on the top of the truck that goes from one side to another. You need to grease where it rubs on the underbody, this is the main reason for derailments.

If you have the old style, you may notice that there is very little clearance between the truck and the 2 screws and bosses near the vestibule. Flat head screws will give you more clearance, I think these screws hold the floor "sandwich" together.

Also on the old style, the inboard side of the truck can rub on the 2 ribs that are tapered for clearance, I would cut them down flush with the chassis so the truck cannot rub there.


Removing the roof

There are just 2 screws at each end of the roof securing it. You can remove these 4 screws and the roof without taking anything else apart. You have to open the vestibule doors and you can see them inside, small heads adn about an inch from the outer wall.Get a long shanked philips driver so the shaft can rest against the steps and remove them carefully since you are at quite an angle (who designed this??).

The roof should now lift off. Some cars that were assembled while the paint was not completely dry might take a bit of prying.

I normally write inside the roof to indicate which way it went on with a felt marker.

Removing the end caps / vestibules:

You need to remove the trucks first, remove both pivot screws, and GENTLY move the truck off center to let things clear. BE CAREFUL, do not pull hard or you will tear off the track pickup wires.

Remove end cap:

remove the 2 screws near the bottom of the end, on either side of the bottom of the diaphram. The picture below shows one screw already removed.


Once the 2 screws are removed, you pull out at the bottom edge, and it swings out. Do not try to pull straigh out. You will see that the top edge has 2 lugs that engage the roof of the vestibule.

The steps will come out with the vestibule end. If they are stuck wedge GENTLY between the step and the rest of the car. Note well: The steps are NOT identical, but are slightly different so do not mix them up!!


Now you will remove the rear bulkhead:

Now with the removal of 2 screws underneath, you can slide the bulkhead, with the vestibule doors out.



It should puill straight up, but this can be tricky:

    • make sure the door in the bulkhead is closed, if it is open it can block the removal
    • make sure you pull it up evenly side to side
    • often they stick, so use a flat blade screwdriver between the top edge of the bulkhead and the roof, and again do it evenly.

After removing you can clear the grooves in the body, and even a small drop of oil in the groove to make things easier.

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Now is a good time to wick some CA into the back sides of the windows to keep them from popping out, just a tiny drop at the crack between the door and the window, let it wick in.

Now the end of the car is open:

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Increasing truck movement/clearance, and thus tracking:

These cars are famous for derailing. On problem is lack of lubrication on the pivot and bearing surfaces for the truck, for both the old and new style trucks, and I have a Santa Fe set that derailed out of the box, and lubrication fixed it right off. After all the stories, I made sure I bought the set with the new style trucks.

Now I am working on some Napa Valley Wine Train cars, and most are the old style. As I had them in the cradle, I was checking how the trucks swiveled, and I found several places where there were downright obstructions to the truck movement, both up and down and side to side.

First, I noticed these large plastic bosses were darn close to the truck. I had noticed them before and wondered why the screw is recessed into the boss.

Well, the picture below sure tells the story, the damn truck is riding on these bosses! (clearly if the screw was not recessed, the truck would be scraping on the screw head, even worse.

floor 1

Yes it is that piece of black plastic between the chassis bottom and the truck!!

OK, let's see these without the truck in the way:

floor 2

Notice that the insides of these 2 bosses are ALREADY trimmed a bit, my guess is clearance issues with the smaller 2 axle trucks.

NOTE: do not do this modification on the platform end of an observation car. I suggest you follow Ted's reinforcing methodology for the platform, click here for Ted's Page

In any case, they have to go, they were actually TOUCHING while the car was on the track for chrissakes!

floor 3

The hole is almost perfect for a 3mm metric screw, Ace hardware has 10mm long ones, .5mm pitch

floor 4

No more clearance issue now!

floor 5


OK, now not much you can do about the screws that hold the bulkhead in place, but there is more clearance there:

bulkhead 1

bulkhead 2

Additional clearance issue:

The raised mounts for the ends of the truss rods also can conflict with the truck, and since these cars did not have the stanchions, I removed the interfering block of plastic:

stanchion 1


Much more clearance with the uneeded "blocks" ground off:

stanchion 3



Truck "attitude":

I'll mention this here, but see the details in the Kadee coupler section.

Basically, there are two pivots for the truck, one that is a post and a hole in the truck, and the other a post and a curved slot. Unforunately the design is that the main post is way off center in the truck so the weight of the car "tilts" the truck, and it in turn causes less clearance under the truck. See the Kadee section for a simple mod to mitigate this.

truck 1

stanchion 2


What next?:

If, after lubrication and gauging and clearancing, if you continue to have derailments, other than bad wheel gauge (see below), you have trackwork issues. ALL long cars will amplify any poor trackwork. Follow your train around and watch the tops of the cars, and if they change slope noticably, then you have a vertical transition in your trackwork that needs attention.

Another improvement is to re-gauge the wheels. Virtually all large scale manufacturers undergauge their wheelsets. So, if you have improved your trackwork, doing this will further increase reliability. All my Aristo cars are too "tight" in back to back, using the Aristo gauge!!

Disassemble trucks to set gauge:

When you go to take a truck off, notice the red wire from inside the body is on the same side on both ends. All you really need to do is remember this. I put the car on it's back, remove the 2 small screws that connect the wires from the truck pickups to the wires that go inside the body.

Take the 2 screws and washers off and remove the truck, GENTLY feeding the power wires through the hole in the truck. These wires are normally poorly soldered to the lugs, and if one feels very flexible at the joint, you would do well to resolder them. On mine, the wires were not crimped into the lugs before soldering, and the crimp that is a strain relief onto the insulated part of the wire was likewise not crimped. Definitely a future failure point. Might be best to replace them with new ones properly crimped. Soldering is optional if you do it right.

Now, you want to take one sideframe off. There are 2 screws on top, but the sideframe is also glued on! Use an xacto knife and wedge it into the middle, and then open it up enough to get a small screwdriver to spread it open.

CAREFUL! There are bosses in the plastic that you can cut off, so keep the knife AWAY from the screw holes.

Now this will not be enough to get it apart, you need to use the xacto again on the ends. You can see where there is a locating peg about 1/4" in, don't slice it off! Just get the xacto in there enough to split it open enough for a screwdriver. PLEASE, be careful, don't hold it in such a way you will jam the xacto into your hand!

Once you have popped one sideframe off, you can tilt it away enough to get the wheels out. NOTE which side is got the insulated bushing, and which side the axle is metal to metal to the wheel. You want to put the wheel back the right way. The non-insulated side always goes to the bushing that has a wire to it.

This is a good time to lube the axles. I would use a plastic compatible grease with moly in it over oil.

When you put the sideframe back on, be careful not to pop any of the four pivoting ends (for journal motion) out of their pivots. Also be sure you do not pinch the wire between the sideframe and the rest of the truck. Rule of thumb: If it does not snap back together with light finger pressure, you are doing something wrong.

Once you have replaced the 2 screws on top, then check for the nice up and down motion of the sprung journals at each corner of the truck. I squirt dry graphite/moly lube here and work the journal up and down until they move freely. Fully 50% of mine "stuck" out of the box.

Before you put the truck back on, lube the area on the underside of the floor with grease, where the ribs on top of the truck ride.

Thread the power wires through the hole in the truck, and then screw the 2 pivot screws on. These do not have to be more than gently snug, nothing rides against them when running. Then attach the power wires with the small screws, making sure the red wire is on the same side of the car at both ends.

If you do all of this, you will find a marked increase in rolling performance and much fewer derailments.

The power pickup on the cars is weird. The center axle of the 3 axle trucks is not sprung, so does not pick up power well.

On each truck, the center axle picks up from one rail, the outer 2 sprung axles pick up from the other rail. Well this would be fine if the trucks were identical, but nooo.. looking at the way it's wired, one rail is only picked up by the 2 unsprung axles on both trucks, and the other rail is picked up by the 4 sprung axles. Weird.

Well, you can swap the wheels around and even this out. An easier fix is to take 2 cars, and swap trucks between them. Be sure you don't mess up the polarity when doing this.

Going to the bathroom:

Be careful! The toilet seat is on backwards, at least in the Observation car! Ha ha ha, just had to show this! Photo posted on the Aristo forum by Tom Thornton.


upside down sink

Aristo vs prototype Santa Fe Heavyweights

Just notes on the Aristo part number, and the closest record I could find of the prototype. Aristo did a reasonably good job of numbering the cars as compared to the prototype.

31311 coach,numbered 3040 "tourist car"
plan 4061, lot 4249, build feb-mar 1913, steam ejector ac, 32 volts, 6 wheel trucks
14 section tourist cars: 9 cars assigned: 3038-46

31411 observation, "silver valley"
3 compartment, 2 drawing room, observation lounge, Plan 3950D, Lot 4835, blt 10-24, for California Ltd, 10 cars: Silver Valley

31511 diner, numbered 1468
#1467, 6 wheel trucks

31611 RPO, numbered 79
#74 in San Diego railway museum

31711 combine, numbered 2548
#2544, build 1927, 42 seats, 6 wheel trucks, was originally a coach, plan 2410F, lot 4503, build jun-jul 1917, 32volts

31811 Pullman, "Point Bonita"
10 section, 2 drawing room, Plan 3584, Lot 4836, blt 12-24- jan 25, steam ejector air conditioning, 32 volts



Click the links below to go "deeper" into details on the Aristo-Craft heavyweights

  3 axle vignette    Kadees    Lighting    Disassembly 
  Napa 2 to 3 axle conversion    Truck Problems & Fixes    Truck fixes from TOC    Ted's HW Kadee mounting vignette  
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