No better way to bring up the markers on Walthers' Hiawatha series than with a model of the iconic Skytop Lounge observation car.
Product Review: Walthers Milwaukee Road
Twin-Cities Hiawatha "Skytop" Lounge Car
by Gary Quale/photo by George Riley
Walthers is getting to the end of their series of passenger cars for the 1955 Milwaukee Road Twin Cities Hiawathas, and what an end it is! Many feel the Brook Stevens designed Skytops were the most handsome streamlined observation cars ever to grace the rails. The Milwaukee had four cars of these cars that had seating for 12 in the Skytop lounge, 24 parlor seats, and 5 seats in a drawing room that could also provide sleeping accommodations. The cars all carried names in the "Rapids" series and were numbered 186 to 189.
The most distinctive feature of these cars is the rear solarium lounge, with a curved "turtle-back" contour and windows extending above the normal height up the sides and end into the roof. Unlike most observation cars, the lounge seats in the Skytop solarium all faced inward. While this reduced the ability to view the scenery along the Mississippi, it did facilitate conversation and allowed for more seats in the limited space. The Skytop lounge was separated from the rest of the car by a pair of shoulder-high flower boxes. The Walthers model's interior is a good representation of the car's seating, but lacks the prominent circular table and ashtray in the center of the solarium area.
The interior colors of these cars were a tan ceiling in the lounge area, turquoise on the frames of the Skytop windows, and rust colored upholstery on the lounge seats. The main parlor area of the "Rapids" cars was finished with a yellow ceiling, turquoise above and on the bottom of the luggage racks, and light colored wood paneling in the area around the side windows. Light bleached walnut paneling was also used in the aisle around the drawing room at the front of the cars. Walthers approximates these colors with a light buff color on most of the interior plastic parts.
When new, the four "Rapids" cars would have been assigned to the two morning and two afternoon Twin Cities Hiawatha consists. Most of the seats in the Skytops were individual rotating and reclining seats just like those in the 30 seat "Valley" series parlor cars, so that the straight parlor cars sometimes substituted for a Skytop. As the demand for these extra fare seats declined in the late 1950s, the Hi's often ran with just a single parlor car, either a "Rapids" Skytop or a "Valley" straight parlor, on the tail end.
Most of the Twin Cities Hiawatha cars offered by Walthers can be used to model other Milwaukee Road trains. The road had six other Skytop observations, the "Creek" series cars built for the Olympian Hiawatha. These cars had 8 double bedrooms and 19 seats in the lounge, resulting in a significantly different external appearance from the "Rapids" cars. The sleeping accommodations had paired window arrangements, the larger lounge area required an extra course of windows in the Skytop, and the silver band around the rear of the car was fluted rather than smooth, mirroring the fluted nose treatment on the Erie-built diesels originally assigned to pull the Olympian. These differences would make it a stretch to use the Walthers "Rapids" car to represent one of the "Creek" cars.
Fortunately two of the Skytops have been preserved, Cedar Rapids and Coffee Creek. Several photos of the restored Skytop parlor Cedar Rapids are available on their web site. The Skytop sleeper Coffee Creek has also been saved and is undergoing restoration.
The Walthers Skytops follow the modular construction used for the other cars in this series. The cars are assembled from separate assemblies. The body has separate sides and ends, with a recessed window insert and interior insert that fits above and below the windows to represent the inside walls. A single large section of clear plastic is used for all of the Skytop windows. The floor is made from a lower section that carries the underbody details, and an upper section in an appropriate interior color that mounts the various separately applied seats, partitions, etc. The quality of the assembly of these many parts is excellent, yielding a clean, solid appearance to the car.
Wm. K Walthers
5601 West Florist Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53218
932-9206 - Milwaukee Road Hiawatha Skytop Lounge Obs
HO scale, MSRP $64.98
The cars come with separate handrails that the purchaser can install if desired. Walthers provides locating dimples for drilling these holes with a #80 drill. The handrails are provided in a bright finish simulating stainless steel, but photos show that the handrails on these cars were painted in the orange, maroon or black background color of their locations on the car. Walthers does not identify recommended matching paints. The cars come with working diaphragms installed. These cars come with "The Milwaukee Road" lettering and Hiawatha symbol applied, and with a decal sheet of appropriate numbers and car names.
The Skytops, like the rest of the cars in the Hiawatha series, are designed to accept the Walthers #933-1049 preassembled lighting unit. Because the curving Skytop reduces the length of the roof on these cars, the lighting unit must be shortened to fit. The instructions for the lighting unit tell how to make this change. Walthers has produced a fitting "end" to their Hiawatha series with this model of the Skytop lounge observation car.