Prototype Collecting - John Houlihan's PFE Reefer


John Houlihan lives in Fresno, CA, and is well known around the NMRA’s Pacific Coast Region as the “Irish Tracklayer”.  John models the Western Pacific, Santa Fe and Southern Pacific plus some traction, set in the Central Valley of California. He has a 36 foot x 48 foot O scale layout with detection, signaling and transponding. His era is 1947 to 1957.


John also is a manufacturer and has been developing a number of new parts using 3D CAD and RP printing. He has produced brass detailing parts for steam, diesel, rolling stock, signals, catenary hangers, pole steps for signals and crossing signals.


What is less well known about John is what he keeps in his basement.


John has managed to collect, literally board by board, most of a wood sheathed Pacific Fruit Express reefer car side.  John found the car abandoned in a field and began removing a few boards at a time after marking their original sequence on the car side.  The eight to ten boards he removed with each salvage operation was all that he could fit in his vehicle. 


Over a period of time he retrieved a sizable portion of one exterior wall and the interior ceiling.  He had to remove decades of dirt, mud and insect infestations from the wood.  These boards the now adorn one wall and the ceiling of the den adjacent to his basement layout.  The exterior boards exhibit most of one car side as it appeared when the car was removed from service.


From the stenciling on the boards the car’s identity is -


Car Number:   PFE 7322

Class:              R-30-5

Built:                11-09

Rebuilt:            1-22


Immediately adjacent to the class designation stenciling of R-30-5 is “-11 ½”.  This additional stenciling is clearly evident in the photo and indicates a sub-class of the R-30-5 cars.


Additional information on these cars can be found in the book, Pacific Fruit Express. An image appears on Page 79.


Westerfield featured HO scale models of the R-30-5 in both pre- and post-1911 Safety Appliance Act versions but these currently are out of production.  These were kits 4903 and 4953, respectively.


Photos of the car side in John's basement are on this link:


Bob Chaparro

Hemet, CA

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