Monday, November 30, 2020

Pennsy freight cars, Part 5: round-roof box cars

 In the first post in this series, I showed how the Pennsylvania Railroad’s car fleet was the largest in the United States, even without its very numerous hopper cars. This is the basis for the statement that every freight car modeler, if aiming at reality, must also be a Pennsy modeler. You can view that post at this link: .  

That first post also showed some photographs of by far the largest class of PRR box cars, X29, and the following post took up the topic of modeling those essential cars. I included photos of several of my own X29 models. That post is here:  . 

I might also mention that in one of my articles about “signature freight cars” for various railroads, published in the Model Railroad Hobbyist issue for March 2015, I naturally included the X29. (That issue is still available, free, to read on-line or download, at their website, .) That article also showed models of PRR wagon-top box cars. (Incidentally, the term “wagon-top” was used in Pennsy documents and is not, as occasionally asserted, a modelers’ term.)

A point worth making is that there exist considerable information about paint and lettering schemes for PRR freight cars generally. A magisterial article by Brady McGuire (The Keystone, magazine of PRRT&HS, Vol. 21, Summer 1988) deserves first mention. Many PRR lettering diagrams have been published in various places, and many are available from PRRT&HS.

It may be true that the signature PRR box car was the X29, but certainly the wagon-top or “round-roof” box cars are also contenders. Some 9000 of these cars, almost all classes X31 and X32, were built in the 1930s. Though not threatening the dominance of X29 in fleet proportions, they were nevertheless a very prominent box car type, particularly by 1955, as you can see in this graph (repeated from the first post in this series, cited at the top of the present post). For much more about these cars, I recommend Patrick Wider’s fine article in Railway Prototype Cyclopedia, Volume 22.

With these wagon-top cars, there is one distinction that is often essential to make: whether or not the roof is “flush,” meaning that the roof contour blends smoothly to the sides, or is “notched” or inset, with a narrow notch between the top of the sides and the edge of the roof. These two end views should clarify what is meant, with the inset roof on the left.

Here’s a detail from a prototype photo that fairly clearly shows the inset roof (Class X31A), taken by Dick Kuelbs at Ft. Worth, Texas on May 6, 1963. The car is in the post-1961 “simplified keystone” scheme. You may also note that the car has patch panels, for the same reason that they were needed on X29 box cars. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

The early 1930s PRR program to build new standard box cars was both for 40-foot cars, like the various X31 sub-classes, and also for a 50-foot design, classes X32 and X33. The only major difference between X32 and X33 was the presence of end doors in the latter class. The 50-foot cars are not included in the graph at the top of the present post; they numbered about 2000 cars.

The 50-foot cars were nearly all sub-classes X32A or X32B, with flush roofs. The distinction between them is that nearly all the X32A cars had a 12-ft., 6-inch door opening, while the X32B cars had 14-ft., 6-inch door opening. This is not a profound difference, only adding a foot to each door, but is visible if photographs are compared. Below is an example of Class X32A (PRR photo, author’s collection).

Next below is a view of an X32B car (Chet McCoid photo, Bob’s Photo collection, taken in October 1951 at Hamlet, North Carolina).     

One way to detect this difference in door widths easily is to look at how closely the doors crowd the road name spelled out toward the left end of the car side.

These interesting signature freight cars of the PRR definitely deserve modeling, and I will return to modeling of the wagon-top cars in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Friday, November 27, 2020

New book on Live Stock by Stephen Sandifer

 I have just received my copy of an really excellent new book by J. Stephen Sandifer, entitled Santa Fe Live Stock Operations, with the informative and very accurate sub-title, “History, Equipment, Facilities and Modeling.” Published by the Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society, it can be purchased on their website, which is at:

This is a softbound book, horizontal format, with 256 intriguing and information-filled pages, with an 11 x 8.5-inch page dimension. Designed and laid out by John  R. Signor and Son, it’s a well-printed, handsome book and a pleasure to browse or read in detail.

Note here that author Sandifer has chosen, quite properly, to use the separate words, “Live Stock,”in his title, since that was Santa Fe practice, though most of the industry did use the familiar single word. 

A good sense of the book’s scope is conveyed by the chapter titles. The introductory material begins with Chapter 1, A History of Live Stock and the Santa Fe, and continue with Operations, The Rules, and Damage Claims. Then Chapter 5 is an overview of the Santa Fe stock car fleet, followed by three chapters on specific stock car classes (totalling about 80 of the book’s 256 pages, and richly illustrated). 

The book’s final section is about operations, beginning with Chapter 9, Cleaning and Bedding, followed by Drover Cars, Not Just for Live Stock, Horses/Railway Express and other Critters, Company Stock Yards, Santa Fe Feeding Stations, Union Stock Yards. The book concludes with an interesting and well illustrated chapter called Modeler’s Notes.

A couple of important points should be made at once. First, though this is a book entirely about the Santa Fe, at the same time, it conveys a rich trove of information about livestock shipping, from the rules and regulations, to the train operations, and the major destinations. So even if you are only a passing-interest modeler of the Santa Fe (as I mostly am), you will still learn a great deal about the livestock business.

Second, some may remember that there is already a book about Santa Fe stock cars, by the noted Santa Fe historian Frank Ellington, with John Berry and Loren Martens. That book is certainly a rich trove of stock car photos, and remains worth owning if you are a Santa Fe modeler. But Sandifer’s new book does summarize, very fully and completely, the entire Santa Fe stock car fleet, so it can certainly serve in place of the Ellington volume. And of course in the rest of the book, it goes far beyond what Ellington covered, to the entire livestock business.

I shouldn’t give the impression that Santa Fe stock cars weren’t important, by the way; in 1952, for example, they amounted to over 7200 cars, in a national fleet of about 42,000 cars, or one in every six cars in the whole country. And they did travel far beyond Santa Fe rails on many occasions. So the freight-car content of this book is not just a home-road topic.

I want to show a couple of examples of book  pages, chosen to illustrate how much of the book is about matters beyond the narrow confines of the Santa Fe stock car fleet. First, a page from the interesting chapter about car cleaning and bedding. It shows workmen shoveling sand into stock cars. Also included is an interesting agent’s message about car needs (page 143).

Another interesting chapter, I think for almost any reader, is the one on Santa Fe feeding stations. It accompanies and complements the one on company stock yards (which is valuable not because everyone needs such a stock pen, but the variety and amount of detail provided on how these pens were built). Here’s a photo from the feeding station chapter (page 228):

I hope these examples clarify that this is very far beyond a Santa Fe stock car book. It is a far broader view of the entire livestock industry, as one railroad handled it. It’s endlessly interesting, provides many excellent details for modeling of either equipment, or structures, or operation, and is a delight to read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Making better roads, Part 2

In the preceding Part 1, I described a project to improve a road on my layout. This is Bromela Road, in my layout town of Ballard. Since it runs alongside some track toward the back of the scene, it isn’t very prominent, but still deserves to be handled in a realistic way. Here is a link to Part 1 of the story: .

One issue I confronted in this road re-do is that it includes grade crossings. More specifically, there is a long stretch of Bromela Road approaching the tracks on one side. Highway marking standards specify an “X” and the letters “R” on each side of the “X,” 300 feet from the crossing in country environments, and down to 100 feet in more urban environments. My town of Ballard, where this crossing is located, is hardly urban but certainly is a town, so I decided to go with the shorter distance (selective compression,  if nothing else).

How would I do this particular pavement marking, I wondered. Then I had the thought that there is a good drawing in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices or MUTCD. I have copies of both the 1948 issue, and the following 1961 issue (these are all available on line), and the drawings are almost identical. I could certainly use the dimensions to lay out the features on the roadway, cut masking tape to outline them, and then paint. But the letter “R,” as you will see below, would be a challenge with masking tape. You may wish to click on the image to enlarge it; I realize the text areas are quite small, but for the most part have no bearing on the modeling issues.

I spent some time imagining how to manage making tape challenge work. Then the little light bulb over my head lit up. Why not just copy the drawing to HO scale, cut it out with a sharp blade, and glue the paper pieces onto the pavement? Here is the critical part of the drawing. 

I cut out the pieces you see above, and used canopy glue to attach the “X” and the two "R” letters. Word of warning: the little letters in paper form are kind of fragile. I tried applying glue to them, then applying to the roadway. Too much sticky in too many places. Then I scrapped those letters, cut out more, and this time applied glue to the roadway, then carefully applied the letters. Much better.

Shown below is the completed application, roughly duplicating the drawing above. The two letter “R” characters aren’t perfect, but will suffice. All the white pavement marking here is paper. It is more intensely white than I want, so after a coat of flat finish, I will add some gray weathering powder to blend better. (Surrounding scenery, as you can see, is incomplete.)

I also need to add one of the yellow Advance Warning signs, like the one below. These signs, and the other markings and signs at railroad crossings, were covered in some detail in my article in the online magazine Model Railroad Hobbyist, in the issue for July 2020. In fact, my article provided the cover photo for that month’s Running Extra edition.

These signs were specified to be 400 feet from the crossing in rural areas, and as little as 100 feet in urban areas. That means they were located close to or just before reaching the pavement marking I have shown above. I will add that sign, along with the crossbuck and associated stop lines, to accompany the pavement markings shown here, to this part of Bromela Road.

But I will defer those installations to a future post. For now, I just wanted to convey my method for making the pavement marking for the grade crossing.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Pennsy freight cars, Part 4: more gondolas

The previous post in this series introduced the topic of Pennsylvania Railroad gondolas in the transition era, both as a fraction of the total PRR car fleet, and in the form of comparison of quantities of cars in the major PRR classes in 1939 and 1955.  That post can be found at the following link: .

That post, however, only addressed the G22 class in any specific detail. In the present post, I want to consider the other important classes in the early 1950s. The graph of car classes in the previous post (see link above) showed the importance of class G22 in the 1950s, along with classes G27 and G31. I will address those classes below, but first I want to introduce class G26.

Class G26, built in 1930, was the first class of 65-foot mill gondolas on the PRR. All had drop ends and steel floors. Though the 1700 cars built are a small class by PRR standards, no other railroad had this quantity of 65-foot cars. A photo from the 1940 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia is shown below. It clearly depicts the four heavier side stakes, two at the bolsters and two at the major crossbearers, the points where the slanting part of the fishbelly sides joins the horizontal side in the car center.

Years ago, E&B Valley created an HO scale kit for this car, which was then sold for some years by Eastern Car Works (often available on eBay). It is a pretty decent model of the car, except that it sits extremely high on the trucks. This can be corrected, as I have done with my own model, following the kit review by Andy Sperandeo (Model Railroader, August 1981, page 44). It’s shown in my layout town of Shumala, with the Southern Pacific Coast Division main line in the foreground. The load is kitbashed from a pair of Atlas bridge girders.

But this is not one of the two large classes after 1950. Let me turn to G27. This class was built during 1936–1939, 4500 cars all told (by the year I model, 1953, fully 4495 cars were still in service!). As with class G26, this was more than any other railroad’s group of 52 ft. 6 in. gondolas. And similarly to G26, the side posts were heavier at the bolsters and major crossbeareers. The most distinctive aspect of this design, never duplicated by PRR or anyone else, was that the sides tapered inwards below the floor level. The photo below is a PRR image, from the Jack Consoli collection, courtesy Martin Lofton; you can see the inward taper below the floor.

For modeling, there was an excellent Sunshine kit, no. 48.6. My model from this kit is shown below, being tilted so you can see the side taper. The model has Kadee 2D-F8 trucks, and remains to be weathered, after which the reweigh and repack data would be added. Once the model is well weathered and has a coat of flat finish, the taper is much harder to see, thus this view.

Finally, I want to consider the large G31 class (and sub-classes). Here there were 12,150 cars built during 1949–1951, all of them 52 ft., 6 in. long inside. Most cars had welded sides, wood floors, and drop ends. But there were variations. Sub-classes G31C and G31E had riveted sides (apparently because not enough welded manufacturing capability was available), and sub-classes G31D and G31E had fixed ends. Below is a photo of G31B, from American Car & Foundry (courtesy Ed Kaminski). Note that now all side posts are almost the same.

It is worth observing that there were only 750 cars of G31C, 1200 of G31D and 500 of G31E, totaling 2450 out of the class total of 12,150 cars, or 20 percent. So the “exceptions” are not the best modeling choices.

For modeling there has long been a Con-Cor (formerly Revell) model which is riveted and thus could model the two riveted sub-classes, but has many inaccuracies (which are correctable; see the Bill Darnaby article, Model Railroader, December 1993, page 96). I did go through that non-trivial set of corrections myself to make one of these cars, but today, we have a superb Tangent model, which reproduces G31B. My Tangent car, with added weathering, is shown below.

The Pennsylvania owned a lot of  gondola cars because so much steel of all kinds was produced and shipped in PRR territory. This fleet was extremely visible throughout North American, and deserves representation in every transition-era modeler’s fleet.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Additions to a small personal post (poetry)

Last month I posted a short personal note about my poetry writing, and provided a link to a Google Drive document, containing a number of published and a few unpublished poems. You can read that post at this link: . I was asked about two missing poems that had been published but weren’t in the Google Drive document. I have now gone back and added those poems. 

Further, I realized upon re-reading that the introductory piece I wrote, appearing on the second page of the document to give some background to the poems, wasn’t very complete, and I have expanded it somewhat.

I was also asked about the ones published in Western Humanities Review, a fairly distinguished journal, still being produced by the University of Utah Press and sponsored by the Department of English. I have scanned those pages as they were originally printed, and added them to the Google Drive document. These changes, and a few minor corrections, mean that I need to offer a new link to the revised document, and that is below.

But first, I want to respond to a reader who asked if I had written any other poems with railroad subjects, like the “Icing Reefers” poem shown in the previous post. The answer is yes. Here is one of them, with a suitable SP photo to illustrate. You can click on the image if the text is too small.

There are others of this kind, a few including illustrative photographs like “Helper,” above. Several of them have been inserted into the expanded Google Drive document. It now contains 27 poems instead of the original version’s 15. On the last page is a bibliographic listing of all the published pieces. Here’s a link to the new PDF:

Anthony Thompson

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Pennsy freight cars, Part 3: gondolas

 I began this series of posts with some general observations about the freight car fleet of the Pennsylvania Railroad, compared to other major railroad car fleets, in 1950. My comparison emphasized the size of all the fleets with hopper cars omitted — because for much of the country, hoppers aren’t very visible in interchange, a point I’ve made elsewhere. (My first PRR post of the present series can be found here: ).

I mentioned in that first post that a distinguishing feature of the PRR was that it had about equal numbers of box cars, gondolas and  hoppers. The pair of car fleet graphs below show this. The graph on the left is the national car fleet in 1950, and to the right is the PRR fleet in that year. The vertical bars are in the same order by car type in both graphs, but for the present comparison you only need to know that the first three bars are for box cars, hoppers, and gondolas. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

It is evident that the PRR fleet was considerably different from the national average — as is true for almost all railroads, due to traffic differences.

(To be complete, let me add that the national car fleet graph, above at left, is somewhat misleading in that nearly all tank cars, and a substantial number of refrigerator cars, were privately owned, so no railroad could be expected to have a fleet car distribution like the national average. But for the present discussion, about the first three bars at the left of both graphs, that’s not an issue.)

Now let’s look at the gondolas. As with many PRR car groups, the very numerous survivors of car classes built in the 1920s and before largely disappeared after World War II, and newer cars dominated the fleet in turn. In this instance, it is the GR and GS classes, totally dominant in 1939, that were almost entirely replaced by 1955.

One can readily see from the graph above that postwar gondola modeling should emphasize G22, G27 and G31 classes. In the present post, I only want to address Class G22.

This class, 46 feet long inside, was the first gondola that long in the PRR fleet, and one of the earliest in the United States. Generally similar to its predecessor, Class GS, it had 12 side stakes on account of its length, compared to 10 side stakes on the 38-foot GS cars. Built during 1915–1917, the design was well enough respected to become the basis for the USRA 70-ton gondola. The photo below of PRR 352068 is from the Joe Collias collection, and was taken at East St. Louis in 1939.

There has long been a very nice Westerfield resin kit for this car in HO scale (kit 1201), and in fact Richard Hendrickson’s review of that kit contains one of the best summaries of prototype information on the car class (Prototype Modeler, Jan.-Feb. 1984, page 42). Shown below is my model of this class, PRR 315287, shown on the Shumala passing siding of Southern Pacific’s Coast Line on my layout. In 1953, the year I model, there were still more than 4200 of these distinctive gondolas in service on the PRR (not counting those modified for container service).

This distinct low-side gondola is an interesting and welcome addition to my freight car fleet. That’s not only because it was a landmark in gondola design history, but also because it models a nationally significant gondola in its sheer numbers.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, November 12, 2020

An appreciation: Denny Anspach

 As many readers already know, Denny Anspach, MD, passed away on September 20 at the age of 86. I knew Denny for 30 years, though not really a close friend, and learned long ago to appreciate his  many fine qualities. 

He was a skilled and energetic modeler in HO scale, but is far better known as the “father” (in some senses) of CSRM, the California State Railroad Museum. That is part of my connection to Denny; I  served for almost 20 years under his chairmanship of the museum’s Collections Committee, and I got to see close up how historically knowledgeable he was, and how dedicated to railroad history and preservation.

I wrote a short obituary for Denny at the request of Richard Bale, columnist for the on-line magazine Model Railroad Hobbyist, and what I wrote has now been published in the November 2020 issue. The piece is contained in the issue’s section on “news and events,” by Richard Bale and Jeff Schultz. That section is included in the free edition of MRH, available to read on-line or download, at their website, , and is also included in the “Running Extra” edition for those of you who subscribe to it.

A distinguishing characteristic of Denny was his considerable interest in “classic” HO scale freight car kits. He was very knowledgeable about the history of early manufacturers, and had collected many of the kits. In fact, he greatly enjoyed finding an old kit, perhaps not skillfully assembled or well maintained, and then disassembling it, repairing any flaws, and reassembling it, often with upgraded details, so it was better than new.

Below is a photo from a couple of years ago, provided by CSRM, showing Denny with the kind of rolling stock he worked so hard to preserve. This is the same image used in MRH, except they cropped it very tightly to his head only.

In my MRH piece, I tried to summarize his CSRM connections briefly, and included a modeling anecdote that for me summed up the life attitudes of “Doctor Denny,” as he was known to his friends. May he rest in peace.

Tony Thompson