Railroad Model Craftsman

Subscribe Today!

Meet the Staff

Craftsman Timetable

Craftsman Product Reviews

Craftsman Extra Board

Craftsman Boomer Trail

Craftsman Tool Chest

Find us on Facebook

Support our Sponsors

Bachmann Brill Trolley
This accurate model of a Baltimore Peter Witt should also be of interest to 2-rail O scale operators. Converting the car for DC operation appears to be a matter of bypassing the sequence reverse logic on the circuit board, removing the third rail pickup rollers, and replacing the tinplate wheels with NMRA contour ones.

3-Rail O Scale Peter Witt Streetcar
from Williams by Bachmann

by Gary Quale/photos by George Riley

Williams by Bachmann has recently introduced a new 3-rail O scale model of a "Peter Witt" streetcar. The car is based on a prototype that operated in Baltimore, and is also offered in a variety of paint schemes for several other streetcar systems that operated this type of car.

Peter Witt was the very efficient city clerk in the administration of Cleveland, OH mayor Tom Johnson in the 1900s. In 1912, subsequent mayor Newton Baker appointed him as Street Railway Commissioner. Witt became concerned with the inefficiencies of fare collection in streetcars. Many systems still relied on the old horse car era scheme of having the conductor squeeze through the crowded car to collect fares from newly boarded passengers. After 1905, many systems adopted the "pay-as-you-enter" (PAYE) car design, with the conductor stationed at a fixed location on the rear platform to collect fares as passengers boarded and moved forward to find seats in the car interior. On busy lines, this resulted in delays while enough new passengers paid their fares to allow the last waiting passenger to find room on the rear platform so the doors could be closed and the conductor could give a two-bell signal for the motorman to proceed.

Peter Witt's innovation was the "pay-as-you-pass" fare collection system, using a front entrance and center exit streetcar configuration. The section of the car forward of the center doors had longitudinal "bowling alley" seats to allow abundant space for newly boarded standees. The conductor was stationed just ahead of the center exit doors, and collected fares while the car was in motion either as patrons prepared to exit the car, or as they moved aft to find more comfortable seating in the rear section of the car. This greatly expedited the loading process at busy stops, and improved efficiency. The first Cleveland cars modified to Witt's design entered service in December 1914, and were an immediate success, resulting in orders for new cars built to this design in Cleveland and in many other cities. The Peter Witt type of car remained very popular until the advent of the PCC streetcar in the 1930's. The standard PCC used the same proven front entrance-center exit configuration, and many two-man PCCs used the Peter Witt fare collection scheme.

Before the PCC, most streetcar systems ordered unique cars specified to meet local needs and traditions. While many cities used Peter Witt type streetcars, the cars were not of the same design from city to city. This presents a problem for the model railroad manufacturer who wants to offer his product in a variety of paint schemes to satisfy regional preferences. Williams has chosen to model the 150 handsome Peter Witt cars ordered by the United Railways in Baltimore from Brill (6001-6050 and 6101-6150) and Cincinnati Car Co. (6051-6100) in 1930. These cars were a bit less than 46' long and had a distinctive flat dash front end very reminiscent of the end on a Brill "Master Unit."

Bachmann Brill Trolley

Other paint schemes offered by Williams include Chicago, Brooklyn & Queens, Cleveland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Toronto. Each of these prototypes differ from the appearance of the Baltimore cars. The Chicago Surface Lines Peter Witt cars were known locally as "Sedans" and were 49' long. These 100 cars were numbered 3322-3381 and 6280-6319. They had three folding doors at the front and three sliding doors, separated by a window for the conductor's station, at the center. The front-end dash was rounded. Brooklyn & Queens Transit had a large fleet of front entrance-center exit cars. They used a turnstile fare collection system instead of a conductor so they were not true Peter Witts. The majority were 8000 series double-ended cars with rounded ends. There were also 200 cars in the 6000 series that were single ended with a flat center section on the front end. All of the cars had more side windows than the Baltimore cars. Cleveland Railway Co. had several series of Peter Witts, in many different styles. Most were 50' or longer, with curved front ends and high arched roofs with inset destination sign. Los Angeles Transit Lines had only two Peter Witt cars; class M cars number 6201 and 6202. These were double-ended cars with doors on both sides of the cars. The cars had a bulge in the roof for the route number sign. United Railways of St. Louis built 233 Peter Witt cars in the 1300 series in their on shops circa 1920. These 50' cars were about the same length in front of the center doors as the Baltimore cars (but with a ½-3-½ window arrangement), but were much longer in the rear seating section. Toronto Transportation Commission made extensive use of Peter Witt cars in several series. Their "Large Witts" were over 52' long, and even their smaller cars were larger than the Baltimore cars. All had rounded front ends with split destination signs in the upper part of the right and center windows.

Several other cities also operated Peter Witt style streetcars, including Buffalo, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Louisville, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Rochester, and Syracuse. Cincinnati cars 100-199 and Indianapolis cars 101-190 were most similar in appearance to the Williams Baltimore car.

The preserved trolley database lists the prototype's dimensions as 45' 11" length, 8' 3" width and 11' 1" height. The Williams model has the correct length and width, but sits about 6" too low. The car is well detailed and the rivets appear to be scale sized. The paint is smoothly applied and the divisions between the various colors are sharp. The lettering is also well done and crisp. The windows are raised areas on a transparent plastic molding attached to the inside of the car by tabs at the top and glue at the bottom. The raised areas bring the outside surface of the window nearly flush with the car sides. Unlike many models using this approach, the window areas are flat with very little waviness from the molding process. The windows look like they could be made from microscope slides. Very nice!! One minor error is that the window to the motorman's left and the two rear quarter windows are curved to match the curved contours of the metal lower side panels. The prototype used less expensive flat glass windows in these locations. One detail missing on the model is the destination sign in the letter board area above the front windows. On their HO model of this car, Bachmann provided stick-on signs with destinations appropriate to the various paint schemes being offered. Our O gauge sample did not include such signs.

Bachmann Brill TrolleyThe car disassembles into three sections. Removing four small screws on the underframe separates the plastic body casting. The trolley pole on the roof presses against a springy tab on the circuit board, so no wires need to be disconnected to remove the body shell. Removing eight additional small screws releases the overhead circuit board and interior seat assembly. Eleven metal posts representing standee poles attach the circuit board to the interior seat casting and serve as electrical conductors between these components. Four of these posts connect to the headlight and backup light LEDs mounted on the seat assembly. The other seven posts contact mating springy tabs on the top of the underframe to make connections to the motor, wheels, front and rear truck third rail pickups, and speaker, so no wires need be disconnected to separate the circuit board/seat assembly from the underframe. This is a very clever design.

When the car is assembled, the circuit board recesses into the roof and is not visible through the windows. In addition to the electronic sequence reverse logic, the circuit board has three yellowish white LEDs that provide interior lighting. There is sufficient space between the seats and the circuit board so that seated figures can easily be glued to the seats to populate the streetcar. No seat is provided for the motorman, but a standing figure can be used to represent him. The trolley pole and third rail pickups are connected in parallel without a selector switch. If one wanted to turn off one or the other, say to have independent control of one car via the third rail and a second car via the trolley wire, it would be a simple matter to cover the appropriate springy tabs with electrical tape. The wheel on the end of the pole is oversized and has a very deep groove. This may cause problems on clip-together type overhead systems and on trolley wire frogs. The trolley pole is held in a realistic raised position when not used under wire by a thread trolley retriever rope. The thread is tied to a dummy retriever and just dangles when the pole is lowered. Some modelers may want to drill a hole through the retriever and attach the end of the thread to a length of elastic inside the car to more realistically retrieve this thread. The base of the trolley pole is oversized and does not follow any particular prototype. The appearance of the car can be improved by substituting a scale pole representing an Ohio Brass Co. Form 5 style pole base, such as the Q-Car Co. number B-125 trolley pole.

The Williams Peter Witt uses a small DC can-type motor with two brass flywheels for power. The motor is mounted below the underframe and is hidden by a plastic cover. The motor drives worms on the top of each truck via long drive shafts, and the worms drive all four wheels on each truck via spur gears, just like the proven drive train used on many HO diesels. Most of the cars rode on 26" wheels, but the last 30 Brill cars, including the #6144 preserved at the Seashore Trolley Museum, had 22" wheels. The model has 25 ½" wheels. One wheel on each truck has a rubber traction tire. The instructions for the Williams car recommend lubrication the wheels and third rail pickup rollers after every ten hours of operation. This can be done without disassembling the car. They also recommend checking the motor and worm gear drive train every 25 hours. This requires removing all twelve screws from the underframe in order to access these components.

A center motor with shaft drive to the trucks can restrict the allowed minimum radius due to the limits of the universal joints. Williams recommends a minimum of 21" diameter (or radius of 42 scale feet) curves for their Peter Witt, but they are not specific as to whether this is a classic tinplate measurement over the outside ends of the ties, or a more correct measurement to track centerlines. Prototype street railway curves could be as tight as 35' centerline radius. We tested our sample on an oval of K-Line Super Streets track. The car operated satisfactorily on the larger D21 curves which have a centerline radius of 9 ½" (38 scale feet). The smaller D16 curves have a centerline radius of 7 3/16" and as expected from the Williams instructions, we found the Peter Will front truck flange would pick on the outer rail joints and derail. These tight curves also caused the car to slow considerably, and bind and stall at low speeds, requiring higher throttle settings. In our tests on an oval of traditional Lionel O-31, we found the lights would come on at about 4 volts and the car would start to move at 5.8 volts. We had to increase the voltage to 6.0 volts to avoid stalling on the curves that yielded an average lap speed of 23 SMPH. A long straightaway test at 5.8 volts yielded a higher 25 SMPH with curves to slow the car. At the 18 volt maximum recommended in the instructions the Peter Witt was turning in 153 SMPH laps.

Baltimore Peter Witt #6119
United Railways Peter Witt #6119 at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.
Photo by Jeremy W. Yoder/N Scale Limited

The Williams Peter Witt comes with front and rear directional headlights, and rear roof-mounted red taillights. The Baltimore cars were single ended, and date from 1930. This raises a question about the rear "headlight" – was it a white light to illuminate back-up moves, or was it a predecessor of the red "Stop" lights mounted in that position on the later PCC cars? Streetcars mixed with automobile traffic, and probably tried to comply with state and city motor vehicle laws. In 1930, a fixed red taillight was not yet required equipment on an automobile. A single light on one rear fender was not yet standard from Detroit, and was only an optional accessory available from one's local auto parts store. The standard "I'm stopping" signal was still the driver's arm out the window in a downward position. It is the reviewer's speculation that the Baltimore Peter Witts were not delivered with either a back-up light or stop light, but that stop lights were probably added some time after the delivery of the first PCC cars. A forensic trolley archeologist needs to visit the Baltimore and Seashore museums to help resolve this question.

The Peter Witt model has a realistic electronic "clang-clang" platform gong sound. It rings only in pairs following a 1 second activation of either the "horn" or "bell" button on modern solid-state power packs. We also tried a variety of pre-1969 Lionel "Multi-Control" transformers and had difficulty in dependably obtaining the gong sound when activating the "whistle" control.

This accurate model of a Baltimore Peter Witt should also be of interest to 2-rail O scale operators. Converting the car for DC operation appears to be a matter of bypassing the sequence reverse logic on the circuit board, removing the third rail pickup rollers, and replacing the tinplate wheels with NMRA contour ones.


Williams by Bachmann
1400 East Erie Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19124

O Scale
Brill Peter Witt Trolley
Available in San Franscisco, Philadelphia, Chicago Surface Lines, Brooklyn & Queens Transit, Baltimore Transit Co., Los Angeles Railway, St. Louis Railways, Toronto, and Cleveland Transit.
$259.95 MSRP

In doing the research for this review, one question remains unanswered: were the Baltimore Peter Witts Master Units? The Seashore Trolley Museum website describes the Baltimore #6144 in their collection as a "Brill Master Unit Peter Witt". In "PCC – The Car That Fought Back", Carlson and Schneider describe the 90 Indianapolis cars as Master Units. The Brill Master Unit was intended to be a flexible design based on standardized components, including single or double-ended single or double truck cars. The Master Unit product line also included a double truck front entrance-center exit design shown in an artist's illustration in a Brill advertisement in the February 9, 1929 Electric Railway Journal. On the other hand Debra Brill in her History of the J.G. Brill Company states that only 78 Master Units were constructed (20 for Lima Peru, 20 for Brazil, 20 for Lynchburg, 13 for Youngstown, 3 for Yakima, 1 for Louisville, and 1 single trucker for TARS in New York). Ms. Brill does not count the 32 similar cars for Wilmington ordered before the official introduction of the Master Unit, or the single car built for a cancelled Lynchburg order and used by Brill for testing. She recognizes that the TARS and Louisville cars were the only ones that fully conformed to Brill's Master Unit design.


About Our Company

White River Productions


Our Publications

Railroad Model Craftsman

Model Railroad News

Railfan & Railroad

Passenger Train Journal

TRP Magazine

Railroads Illustrated

On30 Annual

HOn3 Annual

Shop Our Products

Subscribe Today



White River Productions

©2009-2015 All Rights Reserved :: White River Productions :: P.O. Box 48 :: Bucklin, MO 64631 :: (816) 285-6560