Friday, July 13, 2018

The “rookie test”

I was recently reminded of something that I had first done years ago, when I and my layout lived in Pittsburgh, PA, and sometimes visiting operators would bring equipment to include in an operating session. Essentially, all I did was tell them that the cars had to meet my operating standards (I have described my operating standards in some previous posts, particularly in this one: ), but I called my test a “rookie test,” with their car(s) as the rookie(s) in question. I will return in a moment to what that test involved, but first let me explain what brings it to mind now.
     I hate to mention it, but my very good friend, the late Richard Hendrickson, for all his considerable skills in researching and building model freight cars, did not actually operate them, as the layout he was building never reached operational status. The cars lived in display cases, so there was no need to think about operation. But when he came to Pittsburgh in 1989 as part of a trip to attend an RPM meet in Troy, New York, he brought along a bunch of his freight cars so they could run on my layout. In addition, he had planned to photograph them on my layout, and the photos would be used in one of editor Bob Schleicher’s “Prototype Modeling” features in the then-thriving Railmodel Journal magazine. (It was published in the issue for January 1990, pages 10-13).
     All that was fine, and I was flattered to have my layout as the setting. But as they came from the carrying case, the cars were inoperable. First, most had truck screws turned down tight. This kept trucks aligned with the long axis of the car, making them easy to take out or put into Richard’s display cases. But of course cars like that can’t operate on any but dead straight track. Second, couplers had been painted a lovely rust color, but the paint in many cases had glued the knuckles shut. And third, most trip pins on his Kadee couplers were far too low, and would hit road crossings or even high ties on my layout.
     I trotted out the “rookie test” system, and most of the cars were quickly corrected and put into operation, as indeed was usually the case with other visiting operators’ cars. But what brought this to mind? I inherited most of Richard’s freight car fleet, and there are still a few entering operation on my layout for the first time. I most certainly do exercise the rookie test on each one, to make sure it can run all right.
     All right, so what’s the rookie test? First, it involves checking coupler height. This mostly means the coupler head is at the same height above the rails as the Kadee coupler gauge.

When this test isn’t met, it may mean adding a truck washer to increase coupler height, or perhaps some material removal on the body bolster or truck bolster to decrease height.
     But also it should mean checking the trip pin height. This height really only has to be sufficient to be above the rail head in most situations, but the shelf at the bottom of the Kadee gauge allows one to be conservative and set the trip pins a bit higher than the rail head. I usually do this.

     Third, and very important, couplers must swivel freely and the knuckles must freely open, and then spring back closed when released after opening. This is where paint is the culprit, as it gets into the mechanism and prevents the coupler spring from doing its job. This is not always an easy fault to fix, but touching a brush wet with paint thinner to the knuckle area usually works.

     Last, I check truck swing. The truck should rotate freely and be capable of wide swings. It’s easy to correct if loosening the truck screw fixes it. Of course that may not always be true, as with the brass car seen below, where shortening the spring on the truck screw may be necessary.

     As I said above, I still use the rookie test on any car not recently operated on the layout, just to make sure. Most of my cars today are fine, but I still like to check. And I still double-check any of my Richard Hendrickson cars!
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SP’s whaleback tenders

Southern Pacific steam power had many distinctive features, some of which (like the cab-forward articulated locomotives) were so distinctive as to practically constitute signature power of the railroad. Lesser power often exhibited features different from other railroads, too. The one I am writing about today is the so-called “whaleback” tender. This was called a “semi-cylindrical” tender, classed as SC types by SP, and that is a good description of these half-cylinder shapes.
     Many of the larger SC tenders were built for cab-forwards, and in later years, as some of the older cab-forwards went to scrap, were re-purposed for other locomotives. But there was a smaller class of 7300-gallon tenders that were built new by Baldwin for Consolidations in 1903. These continued in service on a range of smaller steam power in the late steam era.
     The diagram for these tenders is shown below. Dimensions are identified but details such as handrails and appliances are not. This is intended to be just the basic car. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     Photographs of these tenders in later years show a range of modifications that had happened over their lives. This is of particular interest to me, because I have chosen to model steam power that was assigned at San Luis Obispo toward the end of the steam era. That’s because my layout’s mythical SP branch, the Santa Rosalia Branch, would have used power from San Luis.
     For a number of years, there was a Consolidation assigned there, SP 2592, with one of these 73-SC tenders. It’s shown below in a Rod Crossley photo from January 1954, after my modeling era.

The tender appearance and lettering of my model were matched to this photo, as you see here with the engine switching in my layout’s town of Shumala. Note that my model is fairly heavily weathered, to look like the prototype SP 2592 shown above.

The road  name on the tender is the 9-inch lettering specified for smaller tenders after 1945, as shown in the reference book, Southern Pacific Painting and Lettering Guide (Locomotives and Passenger Cars), by Jeff Cauthen and John Signor, SP Historical & Technical Society, Upland, CA, 2013.
     Most of the 2500-series SP locomotives were Class C-9, one of the larger SP locomotive classes (221 engines, all from the Harriman era; UP had an additional 291 of the C-9 design). The series 2513–2599, 86 engines, were built in 1906-07. A previous group of 47 C-9 locomotives, in the series 2752–2799, had been built in 1905-06, and 26 more arrived in the numbers above 2800 in 1907. They were delivered with both rectangular and Vanderbilt tenders, but like many SP engines, swapped tenders frequently through their lives. Both my model C-9s with 73-SC tenders are in the 2500 number series.
     The photo above shows relatively small 9-inch tender lettering of the road name, but some of the whaleback tenders were given the post-1946 larger lettering, either 12 inches or 15 inches high. Shown below is a Francis Smith photo at Bakersfield in 1950, with Class C-2 Consolidation 2601 as the power, and the tender has the 15-inch road name.

     My second model with this tender type has the larger lettering, and I like the variety. This engine remains freshly painted, and still needs some weathering, though not necessarily as much as SP 2592. It is shown on the turntable at Shumala on my layout, with an SP tank car in the background delivering another load of Bunker C locomotive fuel.

     These tenders make an interesting contrast to the otherwise-ubiquitous Vanderbilt tenders of so much SP steam, and I enjoy having them on my layout. It’s an added bonus that I know at least one such tender was active at San Luis Obispo in the period I model.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The 100th MRH

For the 100th issue of the on-line magazine, Model Railroad Hobbyist (which was the issue for June 2018), editor Joe Fugate came up with the idea that the whole roster of the “Getting Real” column should each offer a short contribution. Normally the five (or sometimes four) of us submit columns in rotation, and that is how they ordinarily appear in the magazine, but for this special issue, we all contributed. (For those who don’t know, you can read on-line, or download for free, at any time, any issue of MRH via their website, .)
     We were all asked by Joe to comment on the following three aspects of our own prototype modeling, and I quote:

“1. You didn't start out a prototype modeler from day one in the hobby I suspect. How did you start out in the hobby and when did the ah-ha moment come for you that led to you being a prototype modeler? What sparked you to choose this route for your modeling?
2. Things almost never go exactly as planned. Tell us how it has gone – what do you really like about prototype modeling, and what hasn't gone like you expected? Any nasty surprises along the way? Any pleasant unexpected windfalls?
3. Any horror stories? Epic fails? Have you done any total re-dos? And also find the silver lining if you can and tell us about that.
     This may be a lot to cover in 800–1200 words, so you will need to be fairly brief. If at all possible, pick things to write about that can be illustrated from your photo collection or with a diagram.”

     As you would see by reading each of our contributions, we all had quite different “takes” on the assignment, along with fairly different backgrounds and trajectories through modeling. My own comments would likely sound generally familiar to anyone who reads much of this blog.
     One image I decided to use in the article was a new one, taken to show Willow Lake Road in my layout town of Santa Rosalia. The town is at the mouth of the Santa Maria River, and has a practically perpetual marine cloud (or fog) layer out over the Pacific.  I enjoyed building an SP CS 22 depot from the American Model Builders kit, and one end of the depot is alongside the road, right across from the Harbormaster’s trailer office. (Both structures have been discussed in prior blog posts; the depot was described in a series of posts, ending with: , whereas preparation of the trailer office was described in this one: .)

In this view, the rails in the foreground are almost at the end of the branch.
     The “assignment” we were all given was a thought-provoking one, and I enjoyed the chance to look back and reflect on how I’ve gotten to where I am today, with prototype modeling. As my essay explains, I have for some years aimed at layout operation that is both prototypically accurate and also interesting for visiting operators. I think I’m getting there.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Adding some 40-foot flat cars

In surveying my fleet of flat cars for service on the layout, I noted that the great majority of them are 50 or more scale feet long. For my modeling year of 1953, that’s actually quite appropriate, as flat cars of that length had become pretty standard in American railroading after 1930. But not only did a fair number of older, 40-foot cars survive into the 1950s, modest numbers of them were even built new in the 1940s and 1950s to serve specific needs. My cars of 40-foot size are mostly Athearn “Blue Box” cars, suitably upgraded and re-detailed (for example, to replace the quite unusual vertical-wheel handbrake on the Athearn model).
     More modern models, of higher quality, are clearly needed in this situation. One option, of course, for a Southern Pacific modeler like me, is the recent Owl Mountain kit for a Harriman flat car. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is a superb model and a pleasure to put together (that post is at: ). The Tichy flat  car kit also makes up into a very nice model, and I have a group of those, too. But both of these are straight-side designs, and there were other kinds of flat cars than these.
     I decided to burrow into my stash of freight car kits of the “some day” variety, where I was pretty sure I had one or more Red Caboose 42-foot flat car kits. These are intended to represent the USRA flat car design, which though never built under any USRA contracts, had been adopted by the USRA standards committee as a consensus design. In the post-USRA period, a number of railroads purchased cars to this design, making it a good choice for a manufacturer to be able to offer multiple lettering schemes.
     Mention is made of this and other USRA standard designs that were not built by the USRA, in the authoritative article by James E. Lane (“USRA Freight Cars: An Experiment in Standardization,” Railroad History (The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society), No. 128, pp. 5–33, 1973). A drawing for the USRA flat car design was included in the 1919 volume of the Car Builders’ Cyclopedia, page 998. A comprehensive article about the railroads which purchased cars to this design (or very close to it) was written by Richard Hendrickson and published in Railmodel Journal (“USRA-Design 42-foot Flat Cars,” Vol. 8, No. 8, pp. 53–59, January 1997). The article includes an extensive roster of roads that owned these cars.
     Assembly of the Red Caboose kit is straightforward and I won’t describe any of the normal process. However, I did make a few detours which may be of interest. One important item is to add to the weight. The kit weight is a very thin strip of steel sheet, and adding more weight needs to be done. I will return to that in a moment.
     Shown below are two kits in progress, the one at left with underrframe being glued to the weight, the one at right with the center deck being added, both models clamped with reversed clothes pins, a type of clamp I use all the time. Note I am leaving space for additional weight by removing underbody detail.

     Weight is a significant issue with these kits if you plan to operate flat cars that are empty (thus not taking advantage of the weight of an applied load). With a fully assembled kit of this length, the NMRA recommended weight would be 4 ounces. But this kit, with its thin steel weight, is actually below 2 ounces. I added one ounce with A-Line lead weights, though these have to be cut to fit into the center of the underbody. I then added additional weight with lead sheet to bring the weight closer to 4 ounces.

Note at the left edge of the added weights that I  made a pencil line where the limit of truck swing would be. This ensured I would not put weights into that area. My added weight is just under 2 ounces, bringing me into the range of the NMRA recommended weight for this car.
     (Incidentally, lead sheet is easy to buy. My sheet of 0.062-inch thick sheet, a piece 6 x 12 inches, is from Small Parts Inc., their item no. SPB-062-B. I usually cut it with side cutters. If it isn’t quite flat, you can flatten with your fingers or use a small mallet. Likewise if a piece is too wide or too long, just hammer gently and “forge” it to the right shape. It’s very soft. And do wash your hands after handling it.)
    Another important point, at least to me, is to make the deck of the car look like it has been in use. Flat car decks are subject to extensive abuse, with spikes driven into them, holes drilled for bolted hold-downs, heavy loads or loading equipment skidded or dragged over them, and all kinds of tools used to secure loads or to release load securement. In addition, of course, a flat car deck is always out in the rain and sun and industrial dirt of the world. Most models are delivered with decks painted body color, which practically no railroad ever did, so that has to be superseded, along with distressing and weathering the “wood” represented on the deck.
     I scratch and gouge the plastic deck, drag the corner of a single-edge razor blade along some board joints to widen them, nick the ends of some boards, and use 100-grit abrasive paper, dragged parallel to the long direction of the boards, to make the surface rough. (These techniques, and more, are all described in Richard Hendrickson’s Railmodel Journal article, cited above in the fourth paragraph of the present post.) This will eventually be painted to represent well-weathered wood, bur for now, here is how it looked on one of the cars:

     The rest of car kit assembly went smoothly.I will confess it is fairly tedious placing all the stake pockets on these models, but if you take the advice in the directions, to clear out all the locating holes with a #75 drill before starting the attachments, it actually goes smoothly. I will return to some finishing points in a following post.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thoughts on black

By “black” I mean the color black. It comes into modeling in a variety of ways. Most modelers know that objects that are black in the prototype ought not to be painted pure black as models, because it is just too severe. Instead, we use “warm black” or “grimy black” or some other modified color so that we can see the details on the model, rather than have them swallowed up by pure, dead black.
     But there are other places that the color black might show up in modeling, outside of models of such things as rolling stock. These include things outside the layout itself, such as fascia, support legs, and drapes. Here we actually want the effect I just mentioned avoiding with models, namely for everything about the object to be swallowed up by the deadness of black. As many know, this is an old theatrical technique, used for stage props, background areas the audience ought not to notice, and even something like a stool that a single actor might perch upon, but wants attention on him or herself, not on the stool. Dead black, especially flat black, magically makes these things invisible.
     Having hung around with theater people a little bit when I was at Carnegie Mellon University, with its renowned drama program, I was familiar with this trick. So when I was first going to have an open house for my layout in Pittsburgh, I thought of painting the legs and braces under the layout, making them all flat black. I was surprised, though, how powerful this effect is. Suddenly you simply can’t make your brain take notice that there are legs under the layout. Of course, being black, they are visible, but some odd spot in our brains refuses to notice stuff that is dead black.
     Shown below is one example of my old layout legs, black as stated. All around you can see some of the storage containers, wiring, etc. underneath the layout, which I would prefer to hide. But the black legs really did disappear, when these legs were exposed under the old layout. The inner parts of the leg unit, which weren’t visible from the aisle, weren’t painted.

     The same dramatic impact of black applies, of course, when drapes or other coverings are applied under the layout. Most of us do store “stuff” under the layout, and not only do drapes hide it, but if they are black, they fall below our level of notice. My wife was kind enough to make me a set of black cloth drapes, all attached with Velcro so as to be easy to remove or attach, and these are most effective. Here is the same area shown above, but now covered by a drape. This is just cotton cloth.

The difference in appearance is dramatic, and certainly much preferable. It’s nice if legs can be made to disappear, but even better if the entire under-layout area can be made to disappear.
     But what about the fascia? Some modelers have chosen to make the fascia black also, for the exact same reasons. Personally, though, I don’t agree with that idea. Black is awfully stark when adjoining the layout surface, and if anything, calls attention to itself. Something less stark looks better to me.
     I think a fascia ought to be clearly distinct from the layout surface — after all, it is kind of a vertical cut through the world, located at the edge of what we have modeled. To me, it shouldn’t look like part of that world. Black at least meets that criterion, though perhaps too strongly. At the other extreme are choices like green, blending with the green vegetation on the layout, or California golden-grass tan on a California layout. These seem to me to be extending the “layout world” down over the edge, and to me, that looks a little funny.
     Colors like those greens or tans also may fall into another category, the “designer” look. I recall visiting a layout (which I won’t identify) that had a dark blue fascia. It was in a basement where part of the room area was a family room with window curtains of the same blue, so it made the layout look nicer as part of the room, but looked very odd as a component of the layout. Various other colors of this kind, which may be handsome colors but call attention to themselves, seem to me bad choices.
     Then there are what I call “neutral” fascia treatments. These are choices that don’t call attention to themselves, but tend to fade into the background of the room, rather than blending with or strongly contrasting with, the surface of the layout. I have seen a fascia that was a warm, dark gray, and it looked fine. Another choice, which happens to be mine, is to use tempered Masonite and leave it natural in color (though I give it a coat of shellac). Some fascias I have seen are probably made out of Masonite, but are then painted a color very similar to that of natural tempered Masonite. I guess because it’s a natural color, it comes across as neutral.
     Just to illustrate my own choices, the area near what was shown in the photo above does depict the fascia (this happens to be a large expanse of it). The drape below it tends to disappear from view, of course, since it’s black,

     These are, of course, personal choices, and I would never assert that there are “right” or “wrong” answers for these choices. The foregoing commentary just represents my own thoughts on the topic, and whether or not you agree with me, I hope you too find it worth thinking about.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Further appreciation of Richard Hendrickson

In 2014 and 2015, after Richard had passed away on June 28 of 2014, I gave a short talk at a few of the meetings he and I had often attended, intended to memorialize him and his accomplishments. These were  the “Naperville” (now “Chicagoland”) and Cocoa Beach meetings, for example. Several people afterward asked about the additional material and comments I had included, beyond what I had written for this blog, shortly after his passing  (you can read that post at: ). I really did not feel up to expanding my written remarks during those days, but have not forgotten those inquiries, with which I was certainly sympathetic.
     So with the fourth anniversary of his passing now at hand, let me return to the topic of Richard’s qualities and contributions, along with a little more about his life. In that previous post, I tried to convey how helpful he was to so many modelers,and how much he worked to get accurate prototype information out to modelers and to manufacturers. That was because he believed that the only way modelers would demand more accurate models from manufacturers, was for modelers to have sufficient information to understand accuracy. Otherwise, they wouldn’t request better models from manufacturers.
     Let me add some of the photos and commentary that featured in my oral talks about Richard. As I mentioned in my previous post (link above), he had learned to fly as retirement approached, and after a few years of airplane rentals, he purchased a Citabria airplane, and proudly flew it as often as he could. I remember him saying that on a nice morning, nothing would clear your head and make you enthusiastic for the day like driving to the Ashland, Oregon airport (ten minutes from his home) and going up in the Citabria for 30 minutes or an hour. Here he is with the plane at Ashland.

     Another important aspect of Richard’s life was his interest in automobiles. Having held a competition license at one time, and having worked as a racing mechanic, he knew and loved automotive performance, and drove peppy cars all his adult life. After his Navy service during the Korean War, he earned a Bachelor’s degree at U.C. Santa Barbara. The photo below, taken at Santa Barbara in 1955 when Richard was 23, shows him (at right) in his MG TD with the third-place race trophy he had won.

     Last, I want to show a photo of Richard}s workbench. Built when his children were small, and thus capable of being closed and locked, it reveals his tidy arrangements of lots of tools (though there were still more tools in drawers), along with some projects on the bench. Above the bench on shelves were vast numbers of freight car parts, of every imaginable kind. Just visible in this view is the fluorescent tube inside the top of the bench, which gave plentiful illumination.

I now have some of the tools you see here, and rescued most of the in-progress projects, as I have mentioned in a few previous blogs. Most are on the way to completion, a few are now finished.
     But now to what is perhaps a more interesting topic. I was asked recently, what was my recollection of the most outstanding thing about Richard’s modeling? It is an interesting question, and in trying to answer it, I want to go beyond the comments I made in writing the In Memoriam post I wrote about him (see link in the first paragraph of the present post).
     My core thought on this subject, of Richard’s truest talent, was his ability as a kitbasher, and that talent in turn arose from his phenomenal memory. Back 30 or more years ago, modelers of freight cars didn’t have an awful lot to work with. Resin was just emerging as a pathway to short-run kits for freight cars, and the accurate models of Innovative Model Works, Red Caboose, and InterMountain, and such successors as Kadee, Owl Mountain, or Tangent Scale Models, were still in the future. Instead, we had the injection-molded products of Mantua, Roundhouse, and yes, Athearn in Blue Boxes.
     Richard had spent a lot of time poring over those models and knew in great detail what the components (ends, roofs, etc.) were in each case. That is where the memory came in. He had spent even more hours poring over Train Shed volumes from different editions of the Car Builders Cyclopedia, as well as model magazines and prototype books. And he could remember the details of many, many prototype cars.
      So if you were to say to Richard, back in the day, “I would really like to model one of the high-side gondolas of the Wheeling & Lake Erie,” not only would he know the prototype you were thinking of, but would immediately say something like, “Well, the Mantua gondola has the right number of ribs, but you would have to change the ends. Probably the Athearn gondola end could be cut down to fit.” I could multiply examples like this endlessly.
     Numerous models in his collection were built in just this way. Most are so skillfully done that it is hard to decide which parts came from where — exactly as he would have wanted. In fact, it would take someone with his depth of knowledge to disentangle some of the assemblies of parts in his models. A good example is the Western Fruit Express car he built from a Silver Streak kit, and not only upgraded many details, but corrected the roughly 10 percent oversize car body (typical of many Silver Streak kits). This was described in Prototype Modeler magazine, in the issue for January 1986, pages 39 to 41. Here is a photo of the completed model:

This project brought into play all his modeling skills, and more importantly, his combination of prototype freight car knowledge, and knowledge of available model railroad parts and what they could represent.
     To illustrate, let me show a couple of photos of this model that were not in the magazine article. Richard knew from prototype photos that the roof ribs on this car were not evenly spaced, but had one narrow panel. He modeled that detail, along with the characteristic Fruit Growers hatch rest bars that you can see inboard of the ice hatches. (You can click on these images to enlarge them if you like.)

     For the underframe, he represented the steel center sill along with the truss rods, and did include K brake gear (all right for his modeling year of 1947), but did not otherwise add the kinds of detail that would not be visible when the car was on the track. Note, though, that he did include the brake reservoir servicing stencil.

     Or for a more extensive kind of kitbash, I greatly admire his model of a Santa Fe automobile car of Class FE-13. He has reproduced the reverse corrugated ends on these rebuilt cars, with modern steel sides, doors and roof (note roof is slightly raised), but still with its original, very deep underbody sills set back from the car side. This is not only a very distinctive prototype, but a model created from a range of different parts, assembled into an impressive model.

     These are only two of his models, but I think they help convey Richard’s modeling skills. Still, that is only one of things I miss about my friend Richard Hendrickson.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Walkways and sidewalks

In the world around us, we are accustomed to most walkways being paved in some fashion, commonly concrete. This is as true in industrial settings as in residential and commercial areas. So one would think that the same would be true on model railroad layouts. In fact, it often is not, and this post sets out to address the point.
     Anyone doing a city or town scene, with buildings close together and urban-style streets, naturally includes sidewalks too. But around industrial buildings, and even in residential settings, those walks are less commonly modeled. I am not trying to point any fingers, because I am as guilty as the next modeler. But I want to change that.
     My project in this connection is to work out where there should be paved walkways around my structures, and to start adding them. I like the Evergreen scribed sheets with rectangular patterns, and use them where I can, though of course you can easily scribe your own desired size and shape of the grooves at the “joints.” If you have watched workmen laying concrete sidewalk, you have seen a tool called a groover used to incise those “joints.” The purpose of the joint grooves is to control subsequent cracking of the slab, and restrict it to the groove locations. Accordingly, these grooves are an essential recognition factor for concrete walks.
     An example of using the Evergreen material is the depot platform at Ballard on my layout. The passenger platform is on the side of the depot toward the top of the photo, in this overhead view. Southern Pacific in fact often used asphalt for depot platforms, but there are certainly examples of rammed earthen ones, and of concrete ones like this. (You can click to enlarge.)

Also visible, of course, is the house track and its unloading platform, to the left of the depot.
     I have in several instances already added concrete pads or walkways near industries to facilitate passage of workers or employees. One example is my recent post about the tank car unloading spot at the cannery in my town of Santa Rosalia (see that post at: ).
     Another example is the small commercial area near the depot in my town of Shumala. There is a nearby parking area, but it’s at a lower level. In the past, I had a small piece of stairway material, simply lying in place against the bank. It didn’t look very realistic, as you can see in the photo below, though at least there is a sidewalk in front of the businesses, and a railing along the top of the roadway wall. The outdoor seating area at right, of course is served by the Dolphin & Anchor Tavern.

Recently I added a little piece of styrene sidewalk to extend the existing walkway, added a railing to the stairs, and positioned them in a reasonable way to reach the upper level. The sidewalk was made from the same Evergreen product used before, sheet no. 4518 with 1/2-inch squares, so that the grooved squares would be the same size.

I think this looks far more reasonable as a way for patrons of these businesses to climb up from the parking area to the walkway.
     One more example here,  is providing a walkway or perhaps a sidewalk in conjunction with the recently added type foundry (my post describing that structure is at this link: ). The key idea for me is to make a paper pattern for the eventual styrene sidewalk piece. This way, you can cut it a little oversize and then fit to the exact need with the models involved. Here is a first try at a paper pattern in front of the type foundry:

You can see that I want to fit the “concrete” area into the door recess, and also have the sidewalk extend to the street corner. (I have plans to add another business structure at the corner.)
     Here again, I could have used the scribe-and-snap technique to cut my sidewalk shape from the Evergreen 4518 styrene sheet, but since I had the odd shape extending into the doorway of the building, I used the heavy scissors you see in the photo above, and cut out the styrene oversize to permit fitting it into that doorway accurately. Below you see a view of a file being used to complete the fitting.

The new sidewalk needs of course to be painted a concrete color and weathered, but those are routine steps. 
     These kinds of added features on layout scenes, walkways and sidewalks, complete many scenes with a familiar presence, the concrete or other paving that is so widely used around buildings. I plan to add more of these in the places they are missing on my layout.
Tony Thompson