Model Railroad News Reviews ROKA's Safe-Pak Cars

Model Railroad News Reviews ROKA's Safe-Pak Cars

Excerpt from April 2023 issue of Model Railroad News. Read issue for full article and images.


Review HO Innovative Auto Carrier: Roka Prototype Models debuts with Safe-Pak

Review by Tony Cook


"A new hobby name arrived at the beginning of 2023 and immediately delivered its first release. The company is Roka Prototype Models and the offering is a big one ... the 1970s era Safe-Pak vehicle carrier in HO scale. Though the Roka name is new, its founder is Bob Stears and this model was previously announced by this publication as coming from American Limited (which Mr. Stears was formerly associated with). With a desire to focus on fully assembled offerings, this new company launches with an interesting prototype as the subject of its debut release.


Image caption: The look of rolling stock employed for the delivery of vehicles by rail began changing in the 1970s. This Safe-Pak design was a trendsetter in North American railroading. New hobby name Roka Prototype Models makes this interesting prototype its introductory release in HO. This finely detailed reproduction combines plastic and metal (as shown in the component view at right provided by Roka Prototype Models) to bring the Safe-Pak to HO with a fully assembled model in several styles and road names. 


Railroads carried vehicles for decades in boxcars and on flatcars, but the long autorack freight car of today didn't exist in North American railroading until around 1960. A decade later, the desire to better protect the precious cargo from the elements and vandalism during transport led to developments of adding panels to the sides of open autoracks and, later, end doors and overhead enclosures. One of the first fully enclosed autoracks was this Safe-Pak car. Introduced about 50 years ago, this was an innovative answer to bringing those classic 1970s vehicles to dealers with reduced damage. Delivered in late 1974 and early 1975, the first Safe-Pak cars came from Whitehead & Kales (a company that also built autorack superstructures for existing flatcars). The Safe-Pak fleet of bi- and tri-level examples went to the rosters of many U.S. Class 1 railroads and Canadian Pacific in Canada. The cars are stated as having survived into the late 1990s. I've had several railfans report seeing them into the 2000s. Readers with photo evidence are invited to share those pictures.


Below: Roka Prototype Models delivers what previ­ously was only an uncommon brass import for HO model railroading enthusiasts. Western Pacific and Union Pacific Safe-Pak models include a covered low roof and tri-fold end doors. This release includes several variations that reproduce different roof and end configurations. The detailed end doors include separately applied grab irons. The body-mounted couplers are Kadee No. 5 metal knuckles. The trucks include rotating bearings on the sideframes.

There are several variations in Roka's initial release. I was able to secure review samples for MRN and buy some for my collection, and you see these presented in this review. The group includes a trio of tri-fold end door, low roof, tri-level examples (Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and Western Pacific), and the no roof, no end door Florida East Coast. Having seen these Roka releases, I will return to add the clamshell door versions (bi- and tri-level) to my HO roster. All four examples arrived in good condition and I had no assembly issues. The body shell, doors, and roof sections are plastic, while the underframe is a die-cast metal section with added details. The car is long (86 feet, not including the couplers) and, thanks to the metal base, has a solid feel (the enclosed Safe-Paks weighed ecks appear situated in their lowest possible position and the concession made to the deck thickness may work against what I was attempting in loading up the Safe-Pak with autos. Beyond that challenge, I found them to be fine operators, navigating 24-inch radius curves; the coupler height was good and the metal couplers aid in the solid performance. My understanding is Roka Prototype Models will sell direct via its website and these likely will not appear at your hobby dealer (though this situation was potentially flu'i-q. as this review went to press). At $T99.95 these are not inexpensive offerings, though I think they hit the marks of what constitutes a higher end HO offering. I'm told to expect another all-new freight car announce­ ment and Roka will gain the former HO American Limited tank car and two-bay Centerflow in the future.


Above and Left: In discussing this model with Roka-owner Bob Stears, he shared that the see­through side panels were achieved via a new injec­tion-molding process that allowed them to have the transparency attributes enjoyed by metal, but with sturdy, smooth, and solid appearance thanks to being made of plastic."


Excerpt from April 2023 issue of Model Railroad News. Read issue for full article and images.

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