By Tony Cook and Tony Lucio
Pacific Fast Mail (PFM) was the biggest name in model railroad brass imports from the 1950s into the 1980s. While the majority of PFM’s brass releases were HO-scale steam locomotive replicas, the line included a number of diesel locomotives over the years.
Bill Ryan founded Pacific Fast Mail in the early 1950s; initial PFM imports date to 1955 and include brass HO logging-type steam locomotives. Mr. Ryan’s son took over the business following his father’s passing, and Don Drew became involved in the mid-1960s. Under Don Drew’s direction, Pacific Fast Mail continued to be the leading name in brass models, and expanded into books and sound equipment for model railroading operations. The company’s full-page ads were a fixture on the back page of popular model railroad magazines for more than two decades.
A massive dose of locomotive by any measure, General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD) constructed more than 1,200 examples of its 3,600-hp SD45 beginning in 1965. By the close of production in 1971, 20 railroads rostered this distinctive six-axle diesel, easily spotted by its wide-flared radiator section. Southern Pacific was the majority buyer; Santa Fe, and the roads that eventually comprised Burlington Northern (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Colorado & Southern; Great Northern; and Northern Pacific) also owned large fleets, with the balance owned by a number of other roads. Despite its fuel-hungry nature, the SD45 enjoyed a long service career and units were still common on mainlines more than 30 years later. Wisconsin Central famously made rebuilt SD45s a signature locomotive up through its acquisition by Canadian National in the early 2000s.
SD45 in Miniature
The prototype had only existed for a year when Athearn announced its HO-scale version in the spring of 1966. This plastic model was the first HO SD45 on the market. Athearn’s original SD45 release presented what is now considered an early production phase, with a short blower duct housing on the fireman’s side of the long hood. This design required four stanchions following the bend in the handrails near the back end of the unit on the fireman’s side, and was limited to EMD’s first year of SD45 building. The model also included a crank-type brake mounted in the nose of the unit, pan-top fans, and twin vertical headlights on the nose. At release, Athearn offered six road names (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Pennsylvania Railroad; Santa Fe; Seaboard Air Line; Southern Pacific; and Union Pacific) plus the attractive EMD Demonstrator scheme.
PFM’s Early Brass Diesels
From its startup in the 1950s to the debut of the SD45, Pacific Fast Mail’s diesel roster included a variety of EMD motive power. The company’s first import diesel release was an SD9 from Tenshodo of Japan. Tenshodo continued to handcraft diesel locomotive models for PFM throughout the 1960s. The PFM-Tenshodo diesel model checklist reads like a catalog of first and early second generation EMD design including an FT A-B, F7 A-B, F9 A-B, GP7, GP9, GP20, GP35, NW2, SD9, and SD24…