An “O” scale streetcar model, probably dating to the 1950s, recently sold for $520 on eBay, even though it is unpainted and needs a motor, wheels, and a trolley pole.
That might seem like quite a lot of money, until you consider that this is an extremely rare brass model of the Chicago Surface Lines 1934 Brill pre-PCC car 7001. This model, made by Kidder, could be the only version that was ever made.
The famous St. Petersburg Tram Collection models are made of urethane, not brass, and so far, they have not issued a 7001 model, although they have made one for the 4001, the other experimental 1934 CSL car, made by Pullman-Standard. The actual 7001 itself, a one-off, was quite influential on the eventual body style chosen for the PCC car starting in 1936. Unfortunately, it was scrapped in 1959.
The eBay auction winner contacted us for help in determining what colors the 7001 was painted in, when first delivered to Chicago. This is not as easy a task as you might imagine.
The earliest color photo I have seen of 7001 dates to 1941, by which time the car had been repainted to match the 83 PCC cars delivered to CSL in 1936-37. There are several black and white pictures circulating, but while they tell us how light or dark various parts of the car were painted, they can’t help us figure out colors.
There may not actually be any color photos that show what the 7001 looked like before it was repainted.
There were no true color standards in 1934, such as today’s Pantone Matching System. Complicating matters further, in the 1930s not all black and white films were “panchromatic,” meaning they react the same to different colors. Some were still “orthochromatic” and had exaggerated sensitivity to certain colors.
Kodak did not introduce Kodachrome film until 1935, and it was rarely used to take 35mm slides before 1939.
There were some experimental color films shot during the 1933 season of A Century of Progress (early three-strip Technicolor), and we linked to some of those in an earlier post (February 20th). 7001 wasn’t delivered until 1934, and it was not there for the entire season in any case; during September it spent some time in Cleveland at a trade convention.
While there was a 1934 Brill trade ad, showing an artist’s rendering of 7001 in color, these aren’t the right colors– the body is too dark. Interestingly, the color scheme in the ad looks remarkably similar to the one CSL used on the 1936 PCCs.
Hoping to find a consensus, we reached out to Frank Hicks of the Hicks Car Works blog, author of an excellent article detailing the story behind both the 7001 and 4001. In that article, Mr. Hicks says that the 7001 was originally painted a light green.
We also consulted two expert modelers, who prefer to remain nameless. Here is what the experts have to say:
Interesting question! This is my kind of conundrum. 🙂
I’d be happy to cite my source. “Chicago Surface Lines: An Illustrated History, Third Edition” by Alan Lind, 1986, page 121. To wit: “Everywhere it  went, riders commented favorably on its sleek shape, set off to advantage with a paint scheme of aluminum and two shades of green with orange trim.” I’m not sure what the primary source for this account was, I’m afraid.
I’ve also seen photos of (the painted 7001) model and it has struck me as looking quite plausible, though I’ve never seen a color photo of either 4001 or 7001 in its original livery. I also haven’t seen the illustration you mention. The 4001 had a very simple livery consisting of only two colors while the 7001’s livery evidently featured five colors: roof, lower body, upper body, belt rail and striping. Judging from various photos of the 7001 that show the belt rail alternately as very dark or quite light, I’d guess the belt rail was orange and that we’re seeing – respectively – orthochromatic or panchromatic views. Photos I’ve seen also strongly suggest the roof and front visor were a metallic color, surely silver.
I decided to see if I could find a newspaper account of the 7001’s debut – and I did! I found two mentions within a few minutes of Googling. There’s an article on page 3 of the March 21, 1934 Tribune at http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1934/03/21/ which describes the car’s colors to be “silver and gray.” There’s another account in the July 9, 1934 issue on page 7 (http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1934/07/09/). This article focuses on the newly-delivered 4001 but includes the line “The new car was demonstrated to a party of engineers, car line officials, and newspapermen, beside the streamlined silver and green vehicle recently placed in operation.” Then just a few lines later it refers to the Brill car as “silver and gray.”
So, I don’t know. The 7001 may have been more of a green-grey than a bright Mercury green-like shade. It’s also possible that the 7001’s primary body color was grey, that Lind’s color description was correct but simply left out the gray color, and that the belt rail, striping, and secondary body color were some combination of two shades of green and orange. A third possibility I would forward is that the car was mainly green and that what we’re seeing is a transcription or typesetting error – swapping out the word “green” for the word “gray.” It may be a bit of a stretch but I’ve done my share of poring over old newspapers and accuracy is not a word I’d generally associate with newspaper articles! Either way I haven’t seen any contemporary evidence to support that flyer’s suggestion that the Brill car was, in common with the Pullman car, blue.
The color is not Mercury Green but I don’t know the name of the shade. It is lighter than Mercury. Brill used the same shade on the first Brilliner delivered to the Atlantic City & Shore then owned by the PRR. That car had narrow gold stripes on it similar to the Raymond Loewy styling of the 1938 Broadway Limited trains. There are color renditions of the Brilliner in (that) shade of green in numerous trade journals of the time.
As you may recall, Mercury Green seemed to be darker in some photos than in others. Perhaps the Mercury Green color had variations, some lighter and some darker. I recall hearing talk about what was Traction Orange, and the reply was whatever they could get that seemed close to Traction Orange! It was not an exact science so there were variations.
Having looked at Black & White movies of car 7001 in service as well as B&W photos, I can see how one could feel comfortable with a Mercury Green color on the lower body of the car. The paint was probably not called Mercury Green in those days, but it might have been very close in hue.
After I sent Mr. Hicks a copy of the 1934 trade ad, he wrote:
Thanks for forwarding these photos; interesting stuff! Did you say that Transit Journal illustration of the 7001 was from 1934? That’s pretty intriguing to me mainly because the color scheme is extremely similar to the prewar PCC cars, suggesting that perhaps the decision on what color those cars should be was made well before the cars themselves were even ordered. Or who knows, maybe someone at CSL just saw this illustration and thought it would look nice in real life. Neat! And Modeler A’s statement that the green on the 7001 was very similar to that on the Atlantic City demonstrator does make some sense; I wouldn’t be at all surprised. It also looks more toned-down than Mercury green so perhaps that’s where the disagreements in the newspaper over whether the car was grey or green came from.
Yes, the Brill illustration was from 1934. By 1935 they were touting the Washington, D. C. pre-PCC cars.
Could be Brill worked up several different color schemes for 7001 and they just happened to pick this particular one for the advertisement, even though the car itself was painted differently.
I know that Brill had a styling department in this period, since they worked as consultants on the 1939-41 modernization program for Lehigh Valley Transit. (See photo below.)
So yes, the original color scheme for the 1936 Chicago PCCs, built by St. Louis Car Company, may have actually originated with Brill, who never actually built any PCC cars.
Modeler A added:
My enlightenment on the topic of color for the 7001 comes from Bob Gibson, Joe Diaz, Jim Konas, Fielding Kunecke, and Bob Konsbruck, all sadly now deceased. These fellows, all older than me, saw the car and rode it in service. Bob Gibson rode it every day, in blue, of course, on his way home from Austin High School. It ran as a PM school tripper on Madison Street, always with the same crew, familiar with the operating characteristics of the car, the hydraulic brakes, for example. Its unfortunate that we cannot get their testimony today but I can carry on their remarks. Joe Diaz, an avid follower of the Pennsylvania RR, included all things Pennsy in his historic trek and he identified the color as identical to the Brilliner demonstrator delivered to the PRR-Atlantic City & Shore. You can take it for what its worth or stay with whatever the news reporter felt like writing that day.
I would value eyewitness accounts such as you describe over the offhand remarks made in a newspaper article. The people who wrote those articles weren’t fans, while your sources were all sticklers for accuracy.
Modeler B adds:
I would say that the photo (of the Atlantic City Brilliner) showing the two tone green colors adds credence to the attractive rendition as seen on Modeler A’s model of 7001. Using the lighter color green below the belt rail and the darker color green for the thin lines that flow around the car body.
Say what you may, these color combinations are exactly what CSL used on the Post War PCCs. Mercury Green below the belt rail, Swamp holly Orange Belt Rail, and Cream colored roof. The colors were always separated by a dark green line of paint. Some people thought that the thin line was Black, but it is a very dark shade of green, not unlike the Green shown on the Atlantic City Brilliner.
In conclusion, we all now seem to agree that the 7001 was indeed first painted in colors like those shown on the model. In turn, this color scheme is remarkably similar to the classic combination of Mercury Green, Croydon Cream, and Swamp Holly Orange that Surface Lines picked for the 600 postwar PCCs.
Therefore, it is one of the ironies of history that J. G. Brill, who never made a single PCC streetcar, due to their refusal to pay royalties on the patents, appears to have played an important role, albeit indirect, in the process of developing the color schemes ultimately used on the entire Chicago PCC fleet– all 683 cars.
And, the more you look at it, that $520 winning bid for the 7001 model starts to look like a real bargain.