Railroad Model Craftsman Review: ROKA Models Whitehead & Kales Safe-Pak Auto Carrier

Railroad Model Craftsman Review: ROKA Models Whitehead & Kales Safe-Pak Auto Carrier

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

ROKA Models Whitehead & Kales Safe-Pak Auto Carrier 

Harry K. Wong

"Not long after finished au­tomobiles began to be transported in open carri­ers between assembly plants and distribution centers did the dark­er side of human nature and na­ture itself begin to take hold upon the freshly built vehicles riding out in the open air. Vandalism, parts theft, and foreign objects striking the glass and bodies took their toll upon this valuable car­go. In an effort to reduce the spi­raling costs of damage claims and to restore shipper satisfaction, North American railroads came together with railcar builders and shippers to finally tackle this is­sue in the early 1970s. New en­closed designs began to emerge that would provide greater pro­tection than the existing open auto rack cars which left the loads completely exposed to po­tential mayhem.

One of the earliest fully en­closed auto rack designs was designed by Whitehead & Kales in cooperation with Ford Motor Company, Detroit Toledo & Iron­ton, Louisville & Nashville, Nor­folk & Western, Seaboard Coast Line, and Union Pacific. Dubbed initially as the "Snap-Pak," a pro-totype car was constructed as N&W 400000 in 1973. Wearing the logos of DT&I and N&W, this fully enclosed tri-level auto rack car underwent a year of testing and evaluation. With the data, refinements to the initial design were incorporated into the first production cars - now known as "Safe-Pak" enclosed auto carriers.

Between August of 197 4 and Spring 1975, 322 "Safe-Pak" cars were built for nine original own­ers, including Santa Fe, Canadian Pacific (CPAA), Clinchfield, Flor­ida East Coast, N&W, SCL, Cot­ton Belt (SSW), Union Pacific and Western Pacific. Of these, Santa Fe operated the largest fleet with 160 cars, followed by CPAA with 59 examples, and Union Pacific with 45 cars.

Unlike later enclosed auto rack designs which used dozens of perforated corrugated unpaint­ed aluminum side panels, Safe­Pak cars featured totally smooth perforated sides that enabled the introduction of bright liveries and bold graphics.

The Model 

As their first release, ROKA Models is now shipping finely de­tailed ready-to-run replicas of Safe-Pak auto racks for HO scale in multiple versions corresponding to different eras. ROKA offers five different body styles with multiple door, roof and deck configurations across this family of cars. Our ex­amples of UP 800043 and WP 89009 represent Safe-Paks in their original form built as tri-levels with tri-fold end doors and a low-profile roof needed to successfully navi­gate tighter overhead clearances on most Eastern routes.  

Out of the box, each of these big cars delivers a weighty, well-con­structed feel in your hands. Hold­ing the model up to the light reveals the semi-translucent appearance of the prototype Safe-Paks, even from some side angles. Most im­portantly, the cars track extremely well due to their low center of grav­ity as the entire bottom deck and underframe are of a single piece of cast metal with the exception of the outer layer of the center sill.

Separately applied ABD brake details, flexible plastic cut levers and a multi-wire rendition of the brake piping help to complete the basic appear­ance of the underframe. Everything above the bottom deck is of injection-molded styrene and solidly assembled. Despite initial impressions, the rungs on the ver­tical ladders at each corner of the car are actually separately applied and stand barely off of the surface. Removing the end doors can be accomplished gently for those who desire further customizing.

By the mid 1980s, many roads con­verted their Safe-Paks to bi-level cars by removing the roof, end doors and remov­ing and rearranging the upper decks to allow for the transport of vans and pick­ups. FEC 2302 is a further permutation as an example of a Safe-Pak with its roof and ends removed, but retaining its tri-level deck layout. The lack of roof and ends on this car allows it to show off its fully painted white interior complete with tire guide rails, separate wire grab irons, prototypically correct convex-shaped up­per decks and threaded rod deck ad­justment hardware within. Paint cover­age, separation and lettering was perfect across the three cars we reviewed.

On the scales, each Safe-Pak car weighs 7.8 ounces, with the roofless FEC car coming in a tad lighter at 7.4 ounces. Either way, the cars are either dead-on or just barely over the NMRA'.s weight rec­ommendations for cars of this size. Each Safe-Pak rides on 28" insulated metal wheelsets mounted in low-profile truck side frames with rotating roller bear­ing details. All cars come equipped with Kadee # 148 metal couplers installed in fixed draft gear enclosures. The couplers were in full conformance against our cou­pler height gauge.


Enthusiasts of the 1990s to the pres­ent day are not left out, as ROKA also pro­vides bi-level and tri-level Safe-Paks mod­ernized with clamshell-style doors and a taller enclosed roof. These styles are also offered in this current run in several pro­totypical paint schemes. Given this first production of these W&K Safe-Pak auto carriers, modelers have much to look for­ward to from ROKA Models."


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

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