Sunday, September 17, 2017

VanRail 2017

For those who don’t know, VanRail is an operating weekend held in Vancouver, British Columbia in odd-numbered years. It is a wonderful event, with full Canadian hospitality, fine layouts, and accomplished layout owners. All in all, a real delight to attend, as I did this year on September 8 through 10.
     There was a pre-VanRail session on September 7 at Al Frasch’s excellent N-scale BNSF layout on Whidbey Island, Washington, which I had very much looked forward to. I had met Al when he operated on my layout last spring during our BayRails event, and he and I had talked about a variety of waybill and freight car routing topics. The most striking thing to me about Al’s layout was how very “industrial” his industries looked. I know, that sounds a little redundant, but I was struck by the good looks of industry after industry. I did photograph a lot of them, but will only show one instance here, Skagit Bulb Company (flower bulbs). I like that box cars are spotted inside the building, yet the reporting marks are visible outside, a “just right” design.

I really like some of Al’s approaches to informing crews about how to spot cars at industries, and will be writing a future post about both Al’s method, and how I want to implement something similar on my own layout.
     The first Vancouver layout I operated on was Greg Madsen’s freelanced HO scale Spokane and British Columbia Railway, and as it happened, Al Frasch was on the crew. Here he is, bringing a train into Grand Forks yard (where I was working as yardmaster at the time). Behind him is Doug Lee, the third operator that day.

I had communicated with Greg over the years about freight car forwarding, and was intrigued to see the system he is developing for this layout.
     On Saturday, I had the genuine privilege to operate on Scott Calvert’s layout, the Canadian Pacific Boundary Sub in HO scale. My assignment was working at Nelson yard. Though much remains to be built on this layout, it is already strikingly good, with a very strong design concept and fine implementation so far. The photo below shows the trackage at Castlegar as it now stands. I regret not getting a better photo at Nelson, where I really enjoyed the challenge of switching the west end of the yard.

     I wrapped up the weekend at Brian Morgan’s interesting N-scale layout, the Great Northern Seattle Terminal. I really liked his industries and switching assignments (all the operators essentially have switch jobs). One example of the well-thought-out design is this flour mill, a very large industry with five tracks in all, three running deep behind the rows of black tanks (that’s my switcher in the foreground). Obviously one cannot see what is back in there at the mill.

But Brian provided a very helpful laminated map, with car numbers written on it, as shown below. Note also the small “sticky dots” for those who would like to tag cars with original positions, so the ones not being pulled can be spotted back where they came from. I found I could use just the map to do all that, but it was nice to have two options.

At the end of the session, Brian used his tripod to take a picture of the three operators and himself, as you see below. From left, we were Seth Neumann, me, Travers Stavac, and Brian.

     This was a great weekend. I really enjoyed the beautiful city of Vancouver and all the layouts, and was very pleased with the cordial hospitality of our Canadian hosts. I hope to attend this event in future years.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Building the Owl Mountain flat car

The announcement of this new HO scale kit for a “Harriman” flat car, very numerous in the Southern Pacific freight car fleet, was posted recently (you can read my introduction to the kit at: ). Having said all those introductory things, I now want to describe building the kit.
     To begin, I want to repeat my general approach in describing kit building. When steps are simple and straightforward, there is certainly no need for me even to mention them. Only if something in the instructions is hard to understand, or if I deviate from or work beyond the instructions, do I see any need for comments. So this post does not constitute a step-by-step kit build, just a kind of “highlights as I saw them.”
     Step 1 in the instructions is to prepare the deck. I like styrene flat car decks, because they are much easier to distress and age in a convincing way, and there is no enormous, out-of-scale grain of “real wood” to hide. I cut some gouges and scrapes with the corners of an X-acto chisel blade, then roughened the entire surface with 60-grit abrasive paper. Here is how it looked; you may wish to click on the image to enlarge it.

Although by the time I model, 1953, cars like this were decades old, the deck probably would not be as old. Flat car decks took a real beating in service, and were replaced whenever sufficiently decrepit. For a car like this, one could model anything from nearly new, to falling apart, or anything in between, and still be reasonably “correct.”
     After Step 1, assembling the basic parts (instruction Steps 2 through 9) is very simple and straightforward. The first time I had any challenge was in Step 10, attaching the beautiful little brass castings of the distinctive Harriman roping staples. The pins that are supposed to fit into holes in the side sill are tapered, not cylindrical, and it took some judicious filing of those pins to get them to fit. Alternatively, a person could simply drill the reception holes a little larger. Do check that the parts fit flush against the side sill, and nestle into the side sill notch at the attachment location.

Note the center and end sills are gray on my model. I received a gray test shot of this sprue but the production kits have this sprue in boxcar red.
     The next step might make some modelers quail, bending your own grab irons. But don’t feel that way. The kit supplies a little bending jig for this purpose, and it works fine. If you have any problems installing the grabs, you might wish to drill the holes a little larger; and if inserting small wires into small holes in a dark material is challenging, use a stronger light. Also, the kit instructions specify the height of the grab iron to be the thickness of an X-act blade, and you should recognize that on the side grabs, this means the height outside the stake pocket. Otherwise, of course, an HO scale brakeman couldn’t use the grab iron.
     With all grab irons installed, I went ahead with the brake system details, steps 12 to 17. These went smoothly, and upon completion, here is the underbody appearance. The white styrene is the 0.010-inch shim.

After this point, I only need to add coupler box lids and the very nice sill steps, before doing the painting. Simply putting the car on its back, as you see above, one automatically “masks” the top of the deck, and can quickly airbrush boxcar red onto the underbody. I intend to make the deck boards look like SP’s typical untreated wood, suitably weathered from use. Certainly as late as 1960, SP definitely did not use creosoted wood for flat car decks. Pressure-treated wood, yes; creosoted, no.
     Upon completion of painting the underbody and sides, I gave the sides a coat of clear gloss for decal application. The kit instructions contain an excellent lettering diagram, particularly helpful with a car like this one, with most lettering quite small. As a person who enjoys applying decals, I found this straightforward, but some may find it a little fussy. Still, it all works, and looks good. The decals were protected with clear flat, then the car was weathered with my usual method using acrylic tube paints, a mix of primarily Neutral Gray, Black, and a little Burnt Umber. This is intended to represent a well-used deck (for more on flat car decks, you may wish to read this post: ). This Owl Mountain deck was made more gray and less brown than a newer deck would be.
     Here is the completed kit, with trucks and couplers installed, and the brake staff added in the final step (as the kit instructions recommend). I installed Reboxx wheels in the kit trucks. You can see I numbered the car as SP 43419, Class F-50-12.

     On balance, I think this is a great kit. It goes together very well, and the accomplished design becomes evident as you assemble the parts. And as I stated in my introductory post, it is a much-needed kit, particularly for SP modelers, but also for anyone modeling up to the end of the Transition Era, with lumber loads. (Owl Mountain has announced a load kit just for this model.) Carrying those loads, and many other typical flat car loads, these cars went everywhere in the country. You do need this car!
Tony Thompson

Monday, September 11, 2017

Weight of loads, Part 2

Awhile back, I showed the calculations I have done for some of my open car loads, including one load of steel bar that would be too heavy for a 50-ton car, but would have to move in a 70-ton car (that post can be seen at: ). In the present post, I want to continue this topic.
     Years ago, I bought some cast white metal models of steel coils. These are the kind of coils that in later years moved in specially equipped gondolas, and later still in purpose-built coil cars. But in the early 1950s, when I model, they were often simply loaded into gondolas, either in wood cradles built for each coil, or laid down on their sides. I don’t really remember the source of these coils, though Red Ball sticks in my mind. The coils look like this, before any painting:

I will paint the coil steel gray (a bluish-gray color) and paint the strapping black.
     Just to illustrate, here are the dimensions of one of these coils in scale feet and inches. The outer diameter is 6' 3" and the inner diameter is 3' 7", with a height of the coil at 2' 9". One can readily calculate the gross surface area of the entire top of the cylinder, and subtract the inner diameter or hole, to get the net area of the circular coil. Then multiplying by the height gives the volume in cubic feet, which I obtain as 56.6 cubic feet. Since the density of steel is 490 pounds per cubic foot, the weight of one of these coils would be 27,750 pounds. I have three of the coils, which looks a little sparse in a 40-foot gondola, but in fact three of them would weigh 83,250 pounds, quite a respectable load for a 50-ton car. Here are those three coils in a gondola.

In the foreground you may note one of SP’s standard speed signs. I have discussed those signs in a prior post, and shown this specific sign (see that post at: ). As the milepost on the phone pole in the background indicates, this is mile 270 on the Coast Route. In another previous post, I described the SP standards for such signs, and showed this one in place (the post can be found at: ).
     Another example is one of the excellent Duha loads from the Czech Republic (these have been imported for several years now by JWD Premium Products in Maine). It appears to be represented as steel plates, about 2 scale inches thick, with five longer plates and two shorter plates, the latter also a little narrower. What appear to be 2-inch plates may be intended as pairs of 1-inch plates, or even packs of thinner sheet. But for calculating density, it doesn’t much matter. Here is its appearance.

The sag in the upper stack does suggest sheet rather than 2-inch plate.
     One can readily measure the plate (or sheet stack) thickness, then the plan dimensions, all in inches, multiply by 87 to obtain HO scale dimensions, then multiply dimensions together to get the volume of each plate in scale cubic inches. Then using the handbook density of steel, 0.2904 pounds per cubic inch. one arrives at the total weight of each plate. The long plates weigh 21,000 pounds and the short plates about 12,500 pounds. This makes the total weight of this load about 125,000 pounds. This is just above the typical load limit of SP 40-foot gondolas, which was about 119,000 pounds. Thus such a plate load should either be placed in 70-ton gondolas, or else on 50-ton flat cars, which usually have a load limit more like 130,000 pounds.
     Most loads for open-top cars would not have weight issues, but when masses of steel are depicted, it seems to me worth checking what the actual weight of such a load might be. When the load is too heavy for some cars, I simply restrict use of that load to appropriate cars. But this Duha load is a good illustration of an obvious point: since it’s a great-looking load, many modelers will be happy to put it in whatever car they have handy.
Tony Thompson

Friday, September 8, 2017

Precooling as an industry

The term “precooling” refers to the treatment of produce to get its temperature down to the desired shipping temperature prior to loading for transportation. It applies to any mode of transport, whether highway trucks or railroad cars, but naturally I am interested here in the rail side of it. In particular, I want to talk about how this might be represented on a model railroad.
     [I should point out that an ice refrigerator car, supplied empty to a shipper but with ice in the bunkers, has not been “precooled,” it has been “pre-iced.” In other words, cars are pre-iced and produce is pre-cooled, not the other way around. That was the language in the perishable tariffs, and it seems to me appropriate that modelers use the same terminology.]
     Up until about World War II, normal practice in produce shipping was to load produce into reefers at ambient temperature, even if still warm from the field or orchard. Then the load would gradually cool in transit, with the absorbed heat melting the ice, and calling for a substantial re-icing within 24 hours. This mostly worked, but it meant that produce was above shipping temperature for some hours, and more seriously, all parts of the load inside a car of, say, 462 crates of oranges would not cool equally quickly.
     Starting in the 1930s, the USDA (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture), and also perishable car companies such as PFE, recommended to growers that they invest in pre-cooling, and thereby gain control over these potential temperature variations. They would thus achieve more consistent shipping conditions, leading of course to more consistent condition of the produce on delivery. Pre-cooling by growers steadily increased, and was widespread by the early 1950s. But an alternative to the grower doing the pre-cooling, was to pay a pre-cooling company to do it for them. That is the topic of this post.
     Precooling methods were described in some detail in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Anthony Thompson, Robert Church and Bruce Jones, Signature Press, 2000, still in print as of this writing), so I will only summarize here. The simplest precooling process was simply to put the produce in a refrigerated room, in which the filled shipping boxes could be stored until cool. More rapid precooling of dense, convex products like citrus, apples or melons could be achieved by immersing them in running cold water. For leafy vegetables such as spinach or lettuce, vacuum precooling is effective. In this method, the produce is misted with water, then exposed to a partial vacuum, which very rapidly evaporates the water, with attendant cooling.
     Now I want to turn to pre-cooling as a separate business. I will begin with a specific company, Guadalupe Cooling, which I wrote about in a prior post (see it at: ). This company post-dates significant rail shipping of produce from this area, but happens to be located quite near the former SP Coast Line tracks (now UP). The sign at their gate on the highway looks like this:

(Guadalupe Road is California Highway 1 in this area.) Like the half-dozen or so other precoolers in the area, they offer warehouse cold-storage space as well as precooling service, and the various growers who use the facility can then ship directly from there. There are 15 or 20 truck loading bays at the facility, so this is not a small operation.
     For layout design, this means that a pre-cooling operation would be a significant source of refrigerator car traffic, and moreover that waybills would identify a wide range of individual growers who would ship from the pre-cooler, taking advantage of the pre-cooler’s warehouse space. If the pre-cooler operates as a forwarding operation, however, the waybills would show the pre-cooler as the shipper. If a Shipper Guide is available for the railroad of interest, it could be determined whether the shipments would originate from growers or from the pre-cooler. Such a Guide shows shippers, so would make this distinction.
     One reason I have been thinking about this topic is that one of the packing houses on my layout, Guadalupe Fruit Company, handles tree fruit, and accordingly only actively ships during part of the year, even if I add early spring strawberries. But if the facility became a pre-cooling company instead of a packing house, I could ship practically year-round, because the vegetable crops in the area I model are indeed harvested all through the year.
     I could even be more flexible than that. I could make a stick-on sign for Guadalupe Cooling, simply taken from the image of the prototype sign you see above, and attach it atop the existing sign on Guadalupe Fruit Co., whenever we are outside the tree fruit and strawberry seasons. Here is the existing sign on the building (I showed this photograph in a prior post: ).

Since this photo was taken, I have added a decorative parapet around the top (you can see that post at: ). Since the sign is framed, it would be easy to insert a same-size sign atop it, with, say, Post-It adhesive. I am thinking about this option.
     For any area that ships produce, a pre-cooling company is a very flexible kind of shipper, being capable of handling a range of produce, and will also ship in larger volume than most individual packing houses. It is worth considering if you are looking for more produce shipping.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Figures and layout details, Part 8

I wrote several posts about HO scale figures earlier this summer, then wrapped up that topic for the moment in Part 7, which was about figure placement (the post is at: ). I have since received a few comments on the topic, along with some questions about specifics, so I want to address those areas in the present post.
     One perceptive comment on Part 7 was the observation that the folks sitting at picnic tables by my Dolphin & Anchor tavern had nothing to drink. The tables were visibly bare. I was aware of that, but hadn’t gotten around to doing anything about it. But upon reading that comment, I thought, “I can’t be the first person with this problem — somebody must have made beer or cocktail glasses in HO scale.” Then it hit me. It is the makers of figures and layout details in Germany who have produced practically everything under the sun that you could imagine. Surely a serious beer-drinking nation like Germany must by now have created an answer to my problem.
     After a brief Google search, of course I found out I was right. Here is one of the products that came up, from Busch. They are mugs, rather than glasses, and note that they come in beer-colored yellow, clear like an empty glass, and gray for stoneware mugs, as are common in Germany.

In the package photo, the beer glasses have white tops, suggesting foam. The model glasses don’t come that way but it would be easily added with white paint.
     I immediately ordered a box of these, and so was quickly able to give those folks at the tavern a little something to drink. And by the way, with 44 glasses of each color, I could equip several taverns! And each of the three moldings even includes a couple of beer taps for the bar, if you have one. (You can click on the image to enlarge it)

The woman using a hand mirror while she fixes her hair is a Preiser figure.
     I also wanted to include a few more comments about figure placement and groupings. I especially like to use figures as part of industrial situations where workmen could be present, ideally doing something that fits with the particular business. Here is a workman moving barrels at my Wine Growers Association building in my layout town of Ballard. In my era, lots of blending wine was shipped in large barrels like this.

     I am careful not to use figures in “dynamic” or exaggerated poses. The workman in the photo above may be in the process of moving a barrel, but might just be pausing in that process. The same would go for any figure shown as walking. As long as they appear to be moving slowly, I don’t feel such figures are out of place. Here is a workman leaving the Guadalupe Fruit Co. building, alongside a truck delivering field boxes of fruit.

     These kinds of details are easy to arrange, and if you put a base on each figure, as I do, they are easy to re-arrange or replace. I like to move figures around on the layout, so the same workman or bystander isn’t always doing the identical thing at the identical location. (But of course some of them are sufficiently suited to particular locations that they do tend to remain there.) Still, with many other figures moving from time to time, I believe an overall variety is created. I guess the point I want to make is that details like these do matter, and are worth a little time and thought to get right.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Reciprocal switching, Part 2

Having had a few questions over the years about switching districts and reciprocal switching, I posted a description and explanation of several aspects of reciprocal switching in Part 1 of this series. (You can read that post at this link: .) In the present post, I want to explore some aspects of this topic further.
     I showed a page from a tariff book in a prior post about resources, and it was a page listing the industries in a reciprocal switching district in Norfolk, Virginia (that post can be found at: ). These districts, of course, were everywhere in the U.S. To cement that statement, here is a page from the Western Pacific document I described awhile back (see that post at: ), for Oakland, California. In that prior post is page 52 of the document, including the Oakland abbreviation key. Below is page 57. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

Note the various railroads identified (OT = Oakland Terminal, HT = Howard Terminal, ABL = Alameda Belt Line, ATSF, abbreviated AT, SP, WP; no SN on this page, though appearing elsewhere in the Oakland listing). The numbers in parentheses identify WP switching zones in the Oakland area. A few Oakland-area substation names are also given (ALA = Alameda, BERK = Berkeley, EMY = Emeryville, FRT = Fruitvale, MEL = Melrose, STKYD = Stockyard).
     Given the variety of railroads shown, this Richard Steinheimer photo from Oakland in 1953 might represent a car being moved by an SP 0-6-0 under reciprocal switching, though the location is so near West Oakland yard that it could be a yard move. The photo, taken from Magnolia Tower.  is used with permission from the DeGolyer Library.

     One can naturally ask what special paperwork might be associated with car pickup or deliver within a reciprocal switching district. Answer is, not much. You may recall from the first post on this topic, that the line-haul railroad prepares the waybill. That means that an industry such as the Eldorado Division (previously El Dorado Oil Company), shipping vegetable oils and located on the WP, might have a tank car of oil moving on an SP waybill if the SP were to handle the transportation service. At the time I model, El Dorado was still independent, not yet taken over by Foremost Food and Chemical of Oakland, so my waybill might look like the one below. There is no sign in this paperwork that the El Dorado Oil spur is part of the WP, as we saw on page 57 of the WP Guide.

Some readers may remember that I have made a model of a General American tank car leased to El Dorado, based on a prototype photo by Wilbur C. Whittaker. I showed the model in a previous post (see it at: ), and also wrote it up in an article for Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, in the issue for July 2011.
     In the other direction, a load inbound to a reciprocal switching district would likely not identify the road performing the final switch; that road simply acts like a terminal railroad. It has no share of the line-haul revenue and its switching charges and per diem reclaim are paid by the line-haul railroad, as I explained in Part 1. The only place one might think special paperwork would be used would be for the railroad supplying an empty for loading to use its own Empty Car Bill. But that could readily be used (or replaced) by the switching road. I will consider this further in a future post.
     If for no other reason, it is helpful to understand how reciprocal switching works, so that when confronted with any railroad’s Shipper Guide, you know what it means for industries to be located on one railroad’s system but be in a reciprocal district, thus able to have its loads waybilled by a different railroad. Whether you have the space or inclination to include such a district in a model railroad is up to you.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

New flat car kit from Owl Mountain

There have been rumors swirling around for some time, at least in the Southern Pacific modeling community, that the “Harriman” flat car was finally going to be produced. A couple of resin kit producers were said to be considering the car, as were at least two producers of injection-molded styrene kits. But reality has finally arrived, and it is Jason Hill, of Owl Mountain Models, who has actually gone ahead to complete this project. I have just received a pre-release kit, and want to describe it in this post. My main goal is to make readers aware of this new kit, and only secondarily to offer a few comments about how the kit builds.
     The kit release is “imminent,” probably within a week or two. But the way to find out the actual release is on the Owl Mountain website, which can be found here: . Right now it just shows news about the kit, but will soon have both an official release date, and also information on how to order kits.
     I will start by showing below a typical flat car of the type modeled in the new kits, SP 38892, a Class F-50-8 car built for Pacific Electric in 1923. (The 126 surviving F-50-8 cars were transferred to SP in 1951 and numbered into the 38840–38985 series.) The car was photographed in San Diego by Chet McCoid in September 1954, and the photo, from the Bob’s Photo collection, is used with permission. Clearly visible here is the wood blocking under the edges of the deck.

     Packaged with the new Owl Mountain kit is a nice summary of the prototype history, well abstracted from a book on the subject by some guy named Thompson. (To be more precise, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Volume 3: “Automobile Cars and Flat Cars,” Signature Press, 2004.) There were some 4100 cars built to this basic design, starting with Class F-50-4 in 1910 (eventually 1800 SP cars, including 250 for Atlantic Lines, and 300 UP cars).
     The single-center-beam Bettendorf underframe design of Class F-50-4 had problems in service, so subsequent classes had double center sills. There were five more classes of these cars built after the F-50-4 cars. These five later classes can be divided into two groups: first, the cars of classes F-50-5, -8 and -9 (1650 cars, including 575 for Atlantic Lines) and a second group, classes F-50-10 and -12 (950 cars). These two groups differed most visibly in a change from T-section trucks to ARA cast-steel sideframe trucks.
     But the design of the straight side sills, with distinctive wood blocking under the overhanging deck, continued in use through the last such flat cars, Class F-50-12 in 1929. In fact, it is evident that all these later cars were built to the same fundamental design, because all were built to the same Common Standard specification, CSF-307. Thus the fundamental Harriman Common Standard design of Class F-50-4 continued in use for almost 20 years, justifying the use of the “Harriman” name for all these cars.
     Owl Mountain is introducing kits for all three of the variations among these cars: kits 2002 and 2003 are being released first, for the two groups within the five later classes. Kit 2001 for the Class F-50-4 cars, with a different center sill, will be released later. Below is their ad which will appear in the October issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. (You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you like.)

     Here is the kit as it is supplied, stapled in a plastic bag.

The brown envelope visible in the kit bag contains precision-cut lead weights, and these are designed to hide neatly inside the underframe; they bring the car weight to around 3 ounces, a most welcome feature.
    Opening the kit, there are four sprues, one in gray plastic, which is the plastic deck, and three in boxcar red (one comprising the underframe parts, the other two the side sills, and a variety of detail parts). There are also trucks, the lead weights just mentioned, a set of decals, and a small bag of detail parts, including some excellent brass parts, and Kadee couplers. Directions are detailed and very clear, with numerous drawings showing how parts go together. The assembly process is well thought out, and easy to follow.
     This post is only intended as an announcement of the kit’s release. But to get some feel for how well it goes together, I decided to go ahead and start the construction. I won’t describe that process here, but will reserve it for a future post. I can tell you, though, that the precision kit parts go together beautifully, reminding me of the better Tichy kits. Do read the instructions carefully, especially regarding what not to file off. The kit has several “locator” parts that must be left in place, well identified in the instructions.
     This kit makes up into a car that is a long-needed part of the Southern Pacific freight car fleet. I would expect that many SP modelers of the period before, say, 1956 will need more than one of these cars. You will enjoy building every one.
Tony Thompson