Monday, August 10, 2020

More crossbuck installations

In a previous post, I mentioned my article in the July 2020 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH, which was about railroad crossing signs, known as crossbucks. In that post, I included a photo of one of the three railroad crossings that I described in the article (you can view that post at this link: ).
     To give an another example of the “full crossing treatment,” as described in the MRH article, here is Nipomo Street in my layout town of Ballard, crossing the Santa Rosalia Branch. There are crossbucks on both sides of the array of tracks, as well as double stop lines and a vestigial center line painted on the pavement. (With any of these photos, you can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     But my layout has additional railroad crossings, some with interesting complications, that go beyond the article. This post presents two of them, chosen because they include variations in the standard crossing arrangement, beyond just installing a pair of crossbucks. Both these additional crossings are in my layout town of Santa Rosalia, and involve roads near their end, and moreover, roads which only cross an industry spur.
     I based my treatment of these crossings on historic photos I have examined, most from SP’s Coast Route, showing crossings of minor roads like these. The standard arrangement of pavement markings may be simplified or eliminated, and sometimes a crossbuck was replaced by an Advance Warning Sign (I showed examples of both of these situations in prototype photos in the MRH column cited in the first paragraph of the present post).
     One of the Santa Rosalia crossings is Laguna Street, which crosses the industry spur and immediately becomes a dirt-surfaced entry to the team track area adjoining the depot.  It has a single-stripe “stop” line and a crossbuck, but no signage on the far side of the track, serving the team track. My assumption is that there is enough traffic to the team track to justify a crossbuck, but none on the far side for those returning from the team track.

As I always do on my layout, the name of the street is shown on the layout fascia in the foreground. In the photo, there is a field truck unloading at Coastal Citrus, the structure at left in the photo. In the background at right is the fish cannery, Martinelli Brothers.
     The second crossing is Corralitos Lane, an even more minor street, and it ends at the tracks, just beyond the Richfield bulk oil dealership at left (that’s Coastal Citrus at right). I showed the “road ends” sign and barrier in an earlier post (you can read it here: ). For this crossing, I made no stop line at all, and only the Advance Warning Sign.

     Though these two crossings have reduced warning signs and pavement markings, they are consistent with contemporary photos from my modeling era (1953) and with the photos in my MRH article, so I am confident they are prototypical. Now to finish the remaining crossings on my layout. Those with features beyond what I have already described will be shown in future posts.
Tony Thompson

Friday, August 7, 2020

Paint patches, Part 2

Paint patches on railroad freight cars occur for all sorts of reasons, but especially in the transition era, few cars were without them in the areas of the car where reweigh dates and places had to be stenciled, along with journal repacking dates. The first problem is to make such a paint patch, by hand with a brush, or with decal panels, as I showed in the previous post (it can be found at: ).
     In this post I want to show examples of these applications, and to make a few comments on paint “matching.” Most reweigh events occurred on the owning railroad of the car; after perusing many hundreds of car photos for the transition era, Richard Hendrickson estimated that at least 80 percent of all reweigh symbols were for a car’s home road. (For background on reweighing, see my blog post at: .) Repacking, however, was much more frequent and happened all over the country.
     To clarify, truck journals had to be repacked periodically, in the days before roller bearings, largely done on the basis of need, but with solid or plain journal bearings, this was done at intervals of a year or so. Like the reweigh date, the repack place and date was stenciled on the car, normally over the right truck.
     This brings up a second point. Though sometimes a reweighing and a repacking would occur at the same time and place, thus having matching stencils, this was not usually true. And unlike reweighing, which required a scale, journals could be repacked at the smallest yard or junction. Often at such places there was not a selection of paint colors, but only one — usually black. Here is a prototype example (Richard Hendrickson collection). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

Note that the reweigh patch (at left) very nearly matches the car color, unlike the repack patch at right, which appears to be black. The date, location and photographer are unknown; but the reweigh location symbol, CR, indicates Cedar Rapids (Iowa), in August 1950.
     Another example is below, an aluminum-painted car. Obviously few scale tenders or yardmen would have aluminum paint handy, and you can see here the black rectangles that resulted. The load limit and light weight have both been changed (at Bakersfield in February 1961); the black rectangle just to the left of the door is where the trust plate has been removed. A black repack rectangle is at right, above the truck.

This is a Wilbur C. Whittaker photograph, taken at Dunsmuir, California on June 10, 1962.
     Obviously we can easily capture all these details of paint patches, using some of the techniques I described in the previous post (see link in the first paragraph of the present post). Let’s look at some examples. I will start with a model of a Boston & Maine box car, built from a Sunshine kit, with brighter boxcar red paint patches for both reweigh and repack. Here the paint patches are a little different color, either because they are cleaner, or because the location where the work was done did not have a paint matching the original body color. Both would obviously be common circumstances.

     For another example, here is a car with the light weight and load limit both changed, but only in the last three digits of each. This was often seen when weights had not greatly changed. The reweigh is shown as occurring at San Luis Obispo in October 1952.

     As I mentioned, not every place that may stencil a freight car can achieve color matching. I showed earlier how I make paint patches of other colors, such as yellow (see that post at: ). Below is an ART rebuilt reefer (Accurail model) with patches that are yellow (reweigh at left) and black (repack at right). 

     Last, I will show another example of a black repack, over the right truck as usual, though the reweigh patch (above the word “Pacific” on the side sill) is boxcar red. This model is a Red Caboose product, representing the SP Class F-70-7 prototype. The repack stencil here is taken from a Sunshine decal set. The Euclid scraper load is from a Stewart kit, which I have described in an earlier post (find it at: ).

     I have usually applied boxcar red patches for both reweigh and repack, but do vary both patch colors on some cars for variety. That same variety is readily visible in prototype photos, and of course that’s the goal of this kind of project: making freight car models look like the prototype.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

New Signor SP book published!

John Signor’s books about Southern Pacific are the “gold standard” for many SP enthusiasts, and so it was great news that his long-gestating “mega-book” project, Los Angeles Division, was going to be published. John grew up in Southern California, and after he began working for SP in 1974, the Los Angeles area was one of the places he marked up.
     This can only be described as a “really big book,” 584 pages in length, 8.5 x 11-inch pages, hardbound, weighing in at five and a half pounds, and including more than 1000 photographs and 76 maps. Even just browsing through it, it does “go on and on,” and I mean that in a good way.

     Published by the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society (1523 Howard Access Rd., Suite A, Upland, CA 917886-2582), the book is available through the Society’s website, , priced at $80 plus $10 shipping for members. At the moment, the book is still shown as a member’s pre-order, but as soon as all existing pre-orders have been filled, the book will be available for general sale, probably at a price increase for non-members. But the book and its massive content of vivid historical material is a total bargain, and in the modern world of specialized books, actually rather cheap.
     Signor fans will know that his SP books are always focused on a specific geographic place or area, such as (in this case) an entire division, and present the history from the 19th century until the descent into the Black Hole on September 11, 1996. John’s interest, beyond the considerable specifics of the geography of each subject, is operations, and this book is rich in operational details.
     The book is divided into five large chapters. First is “Early Days, 1869–1900,” followed by “Expansion, 1900-1929,” then by “Depression & War, 1929–1945,” ”Postwar, 1946–1970,” and “Retrenchment, 1970–1996.” And though the material included in the book is indeed massive, in his Introduction John states that the amount on “the cutting room floor” is big enough for another volume as large. May we so blessed as to see that volume some day!
     I know a lot about the SP, compared to many people, but I continually came across things in this book that I now understood more clearly, or even discovered for the first time. As an example of “understanding more clearly,” the 1947 LA map on pages 254 and 255 brought my nose to the page for many minutes. I reproduce part of it below to show its richness, depicting all the many yards and interchanges of SP, Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Pacific Electric and LA Junction Railway, but also the many instances of joint trackage among these railroads. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish, though this image cannot do justice to what is in the book.)

     John has included some photos from his earlier books that touched on Los Angeles, from the Tehachapi and Beaumont Hill books, to the Coast Line volumes. This is entirely proper, so that all the best photography is in one place. But the great bulk of the photography here will be new to almost everyone, and there is gem after gem. Not every gem is major; I love the photo below (page 420), just because I had not seen a view of the Cornfield Yard at this angle, looking toward North Broadway (photo from the Jack Seeback collection). The locomotive is SP Consolidation 2531.

     I will note in passing my mild surprise that there are a number of fine Richard Steinheimer photos from the Los Angeles area that John has not included, but doubtless they are among those mountains of material on the cutting room floor.
     I will mention once more that the amount and detail of historical information here is just immense. Moreover, if operations is your topic of interest, you too will find a great deal of value here. And what not everyone may appreciate is how much information is included that forms the history of communities served by the SP. I would guess that many local historians, even if not railroad buffs, will also find this a rich treasure trove of information.
     I am sure it’s obvious that I am not a neutral reviewer here, having not only known John for many years, but having handled production of a few of his books, and helped with others, when he published with Signature Press. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that I am delighted to see this book, which I know is a labor of love, finally in print, and I hope it is a best-seller, for John’s sake, for the SPH&TS, and for SP fans everywhere.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Tank cars in service

This post is stimulated by an email I received a few weeks ago, and I have been cogitating about it since, not because I think it is hard to answer, but maybe because it is hard to answer simply. I will give it a try in this post.
     The question was this (I’m paraphrasing): “How do tank cars operate in service? I understand that a company like, say, Dow Chemical owns tank cars and ships its products to customers in those cars. But what about the leasing companies like General American? or railroad-owned cars? How does that work?”
     As I said, this isn’t necessarily easy to answer simply, but I will try. (Background on most points below is available in my article on tank cars in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for February 2016, still available on line for free, to read or download at their website, .) I have also provided a lot of facts and car drawings in a talk handout (you can find it here: ).
     These are the basics. First, essentially all tank cars carry liquid cargoes (though some are liquified gases), and liquids can leave residue in the cars. That in turn could readily contaminate a subsequent load of something different.
     Thus the first principle is that tank cars assigned in some particular service, for example, carrying heating oil, will tend to stay in that service. Tank cars certainly can be cleaned, to permit assignment for a different cargo. But this cost time and money, and was avoided as much as possible.
     So a particular car owned by General American, for example, might carry heating oil, and be assigned to a particular oil company. The car, then, would move between one or more of the oil company’s refineries, and its bulk oil dealers, delivering heating oil. It might show up repeatedly at one particular oil dealer, or only ever appear once at that dealer. But the key point is that when unloaded, it would be moved back to the refinery from which it had come.
          In thinking about such a car, it’s useful to remember that about 95 percent of all tank cars in the United States in the transition era were privately owned, with barely 5 percent in railroad ownership. And fully 90 percent of all U.S. tank cars were the general service or ICC 103 type, AAR Class TM. So that car of heating oil might look something like this, a plain black paint scheme with minimal lettering.

This photo shows an 8125-gallon ICC 103 tank car; photo from the Richard Hendrickson collection (location, date and photographer unknown).
     Another point of importance about a car like GATX 4121 is how privately owned tank cars were handled. A very clear description of the rules for this were presented in a previous blog post, concentrating on how empty cars were to be handled (see that post at: ).
     Some cars were sized to carry specific cargoes. A good example is chlorine, shipped in high-pressure cars. Because of the high density of liquid chlorine, these were usually 6000-gallon cars riding on 40-ton trucks. (To illustrate, 6000 gallons of liquid chlorine weigh about 74,000 pounds.) This means that such a car is not interchangeable with other tank cars that were designed for other cargoes. An example is below.

This photo, with date, photographer and location unknown, is from the Richard Hendrickson collection. The 1940-built tank car had a yellow body with black center band and bottom sheet, and had been reweighed in 1954. The reporting marks are TELX, a mark owned by the Pennsylvania Salt Mfg. Co. of Tacoma, Washington, a PennSalt subsidiary, so this is a car owned by the company which produces its cargoes. As a high-pressure car, it’s classed as ICC 105A-300, capacity 5900 gallons.
     A car like this, or any privately owned tank car in assigned service (as were most such tank cars), would have directions on file with the railroad agent at every place where the car might be delivered. These directions would either describe returning the car to its origin point, as I mentioned above, or would identify the owner’s preferred collection point for cars of this type. I covered this kind of car direction in a previous post (that post is here: ).
     The foregoing PennSalt car, owned by the manufacturer, was by no means the typical specialized tank car, in this case for chlorine. Many such were owned by leasing companies and then painted and lettered for the lessee. Here is an example, for Shippers Car Line (SHPX) leased to DuPont.

     Finally, it is often assumed that any railroad-owned tank cars are exclusively in company service, for fuel, lube oil, or other company needs. But this was certainly not true of all railroads. In particular, it’s known that Southern Pacific, owner of one of the largest railroad tank car fleets, only used about a third of its tank cars for company shipments. The remainder were in commercial service, sometimes under lease. To show a single example, here is SP 60179, an 8000-gallon car of Class O-50-14, photographed in Kansas City in 1959 (George Sisk photo).

This car may not be obviously leased (and indeed most cars do not exhibit leasing information), but it happens that the lessee is stenciled on the center sill, as you see below in a detail of the above photo. Anderson, Clayton & Company of Houston, Texas handled cotton and cotton products, thus the likely use of this car is to carry cottonseed oil.

This car of course would have its travels all in service of Anderson, Clayton shipments of cottonseed oil, and would be directed in its movements by Anderson, Clayton. The movement directions might be provided to agents by SP, the car owner, on behalf of Anderson, Clayton.
     I hope this summary helps understand the operation and directed movement of the majority of tank cars.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Freight car guy stuff, Part 4

I introduced and explained the term, “freight car guy,” in an earlier post. It’s a term that arose when a member of a club I then belonged to came up to me and asked, “Are you the freight car guy?” You can read that post here: .
     More recently, I’ve been volunteering as a kind of Interim Assistant Freight Car Guy on Paul Weiss’s layout, which models Central Vermont in 1956.  As I’ve said before, my first emphasis is usually removal of anachronisms, which for this layout are particularly cars with post-1956 paint schemes, and that is ongoing. 
     But an equally important kind of anachronism is the paint scheme that could not have still existed in 1956. Any of those paint schemes should “depart” also. Two examples are shown below.

The billboard reefer lettering, though an authentic prototype paint scheme, would have been outlawed in 1934 and no longer permitted in interchange after 1937. That one can’t exist in 1956. The yellow Pennsylvania dairy scheme would have been superseded when the PRR joined Fruit Growers Express, no later than 1922, so that one also ought to go.
     One can of course scrap, give away or sell such cars. But the car bodies are fine for layout use. Why not repaint them into schemes the layout can use? I decided to do just that.
    My first step was to mask the roof and ends so that the sides could receive a coat of gray primer, primarily to cover the old lettering and color. For this kind of job, I really like and use the Tamiya masking tape, which is stretchable and works very well close to projections like the ladders on these cars. Below you see a car body, masked, and with the primer freshly applied.

It is along the critical edges where the yellow Tamiya 10-mm tape was used. To span between the Tamiya strips, I used drafting tape, which can’t match the performance of the Tamiya tape at edges, but has a low “tack” that works fine for simply covering an area.
     My practice is to let this primer coat dry a few hours in the sun, and as soon as no paint odor is apparent, to apply the next coat, which for these cars was either yellow or orange. The masking remains in place between coats. When the finish coat is applied, and masking removed, we have a car ready to letter. As shown by the two examples below, I intended to do both orange and yellow reefer sides in this project, which included five cars with the schemes you see in the topmost photo above.

     I chose several paint schemes for these re-purposed cars. Since the layout for which they are destined is very short of railroad-owned reefers, I chose to do NP, ART and PFE schemes. One reason for these choices is that they were cars that went everywhere, so those car ownerships work for layout operation; and in addition, I confess to choosing them because I already had decals.
     The Northern Pacific car I decided to do is from the 90000 series, one of the older cars in the NP fleet, and had a deep center sill, even deeper than the Accurail version. Here’s a Wilbur C. Whittaker photo of a car from this group, taken at San Francisco in July 1941. Side hardware is all black, as is the side sill, and the kickplate under the door is boxcar red. The car is probably empty, because the route card above the truck at left reads “HOME.”

This is the classic NP reefer paint scheme, in force for a number of years. But this car doesn’t have the vertical-staff handbrake of the Accurail model. This is intended as a “layout model,” something of a stand-in, rather than an exact replica, so I left the kit handbrake as it came.
     After applying decals from Microscale set 87-488, brush painting the black hardware, and moderately heavy weathering, my model looked like this. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

You may note the paint patches for the reweigh and repack stenciling, made with the homemade decal sheet of yellow described in a recent post (available at: ), with lettering also taken from the Microscale set, along with a few chalk marks and a route card above the left truck.
     This is just the first of the five cars being refinished. I will return to the other four in a future post. A project like, this, calling on resources of information and modeling techniques not necessarily needed on my own layout, is interesting and rewarding in its own way. Or, to say it more concisely, it’s fun!
Tony Thompson

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Pandemic operating sessions?

As I intend to indicate by the title of this post, most people around the country are not hosting or participating in layout operating sessions these days. Two-person crews would be an obvious problem, though of course crew size could be required to be single. Most layouts have areas that are unavoidably crowded during a session, so that social distancing would be impossible, and many would not wish to rely entirely on face masks as the backup.
     Can we then not have operating sessions? This post describes a kind of alternative session, not the norm to be sure. Our granddaughter is visiting for a couple of weeks, she’s eight and a half, and she likes model trains. Note I didn’t say “loves” model trains, but does like them. She and I have built a couple of Accurail kits together, and she has operated these cars on my layout.
     She is pretty capable with a DCC throttle, and does run at careful speeds, so I had the idea to set up some simple switching problems, using my normal operating session tools of waybills, agent messages, and industry location maps.
    Slightly to my surprise, my wife Mary volunteered to participate in the session too. She has heard plenty about operating sessions but had never actually been in one. This one, of course, bid fair to be a pretty low-stress, low-expertise kind of session, and a good chance to learn peacefully. So we went with a two-person crew.
     As with many switch crews that have operated here in the past, they began by finding all the cars they had to switch, and making sure they knew what to do with each car. When handed a blank switch list, the “light went on,” and they had the tool they needed. Here they are, finding the cars to be moved at East Shumala and completing their switch list (on the clipboard).

     Next they set to work, doing each subset of the job in turn. Some of the individual moves were to pick up a loaded car and replace with an empty (or vice versa), others were to pick up or spot a cat separately from any other move. They were pretty organized and made very few false moves — though their rate of work was not too high. And I did offer a few hints. It was intriguing to watch when there were disagreements as to what to do next, since neither of them had really done this before. (The engineer is standing on a stool in this view.)

     But they did all the moves needed, and got every car right where it was supposed to be. Good job all around! Next they wanted a little bigger session, so I arranged a bit more complicated job for them on the other side of the layout, at the town of Ballard. We did this the next day. Here they got to use a steam locomotive, SP Consolidation 2829, assigned to the Santa Rosalia local. It looks like Mary is throwing the lead switch near the tunnel.

Again, the engineer, holding an NCE throttle, is standing on a stool to be this tall!
     They continued with the work, and gradually got through all the waybills, and with the help of the agent’s message, picking up all the right cars, spotting everything where it should go, and making up the outbound train to return to Shumala.

     This was fun for all three of us. I enjoyed figuring out a compressed session and watching how they did the work, and I know they both were intrigued with the “board game” aspects of moving the various elements and ending up with them in the right places. They even examined some of the waybills to find out what the cargoes were in the cars! I especially enjoyed that part.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Modeling paint patches

There can be all sorts of reasons that a freight car would exhibit a paint patch, but by far the most common, in the transition era, were the dual requirements to restencil cars that either had been reweighed or had journals repacked. I will show a prototype example or two.
     First is this DT&I gondola with a load of auto frames (photo from the Richard Hendrickson collection). Its light weight and load limit have both been changed (one cannot change without the other, as their sum is a fixed value), along with the date and place of reweighing; and toward the far end, the repacking stencil has also been renewed on a paint patch. (As with all these photos, you can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

Sometimes larger areas have received paint patches, when other data have changed or the railroad changes some other aspect of the lettering. The Grand Trunk 40-foot automobile car below is an example (again, Richard Hendrickson collection). At right, dimensional data as well as repack stencil have been renewed. At left also, several items are patched and re-stenciled.

     These paint patches are common enough that they cry out to be modeled. One can easily model them by using a fine brush to paint a rectangle of the desired color in the appropriate place on the model, then add a coat of gloss for decal application. But it turns out it is not so easy to paint a little rectangle with crisp corners. To do that, one answer is decals.
     The extremely useful reweigh decal sets once offered by Sunshine Models contained panels of freight car color, which were black, brownish red, and chestnut red. I show examples of them below. These were printed by Rail Graphics (now out of business) for Sunshine. The long dimension of each panel is about 2.25 inches.

Using these, of course, is very simple. Cut out the appropriate rectangle, apply to model, and apply the needed reweigh or repack information over it. It hardly needs stating that these decals panels are no longer available — though someone else could offer them.
     But what is the answer if you don’t have the Sunshine panels, and would like panels in colors like these? And even if you do have the Sunshine panels, what if you need a color different from the ones you see above? Maybe the railroad you model had freight cars of different colors from the ones above, or perhaps you need to add a reweigh panel to a yellow reefer.
     One solution is to save the blank ends or edges from decal sets, which often have a blank area (if you have it, of course, you can use a whole sheet of blank decal paper) and then paint it the color you want. For the example I used above, of needing yellow, I took an old decal set edge and painted it with Testor’s Gloss Yellow from the rattle can. It’s held here with a normally-closed tweezer, not because it’s hard to hold, but to give it weight while it dries in the sun outdoors.

Obviously any paint color, via airbrush or rattle can, can be used to make panels in the same way.
     Many authors, including me, have posted or written magazine articles previously about how these paint patches can be used on model freight cars. One example is my article, “Reweigh dates on freight cars,” in Railroad Model Craftsman in April 2011, and reprinted (with corrections) in Model Railroad Hobbyist in February 2020 (you can read my post about all this at: ). In a future post, I will show some examples of how I use these paint patch panels.
Tony Thompson