Thursday, January 17, 2019

Cocoa Beach meeting 2019

Once again, the “freight car faithful” gathered at Cocoa Beach, Florida, last week, for the 2019 meeting of Prototype Rails. Since the first of these meetings was in 2001, this was the 19th meeting. Mike Brock and his experienced crew always keep the event running smoothly. I have attended all, or certainly nearly all of these meetings, and have greatly enjoyed every one. Last week was no exception. Attendance was about 240, which is about average for this meeting.
     The Cocoa Beach Hilton is a fine venue, and its ballroom is always an important focus for the event, with ample space for vendors, a large N-scale layout, and lots of models on display. Below is a snapshot of the crowd browsing the vendor tables and examining models.

An equally important part of the meeting, to me at least, is the clinics. The program is always strong, and seemed to me and others to be especially good this year. One I enjoyed was Bill Schneider’s talk about Rapido Trains: its models and its manufacturing adventures in China. He mentioned that their recent run of NP box cars sold out at Rapido in three days! Here is Bill about to begin his talk.

     The model displays are an important attraction, and there were lots of fine contributions, as there usually are. One I especially liked, because of its faithful reproduction of a prototype photo, was this box car by Butch Eyler, with photo provided. I would call this excellent modern modeling.

Another good example that I enjoyed was Steve Orth’s group of Union Pacific passenger cars. The one shown below, Portland Club, is illustrative. The model was built from Model Die Casting “Harriman” car sides, spliced to get the right window arrangement, with MDC and Branchline ends and a Branchline roof. The underframe was modified from Branchline parts. It also has a full interior.  The prototype operated in UP’s Portland Rose train. You can click on the image to enlarge if you wish.

     A really nice display was provided by Steve Hile, as a supplement to his fine clinic on Warren tank cars. The five models he has done (or nearly done, in one case) were shown, plus two domes in work, along with text explaining the prototypes and the modeling. Excellent presentation.

     I don’t always take models to this meeting, what with the complexities of air travel, but this year I did bring a few. Each has been the subject of a previous blog post. At left is a PFE Class R-40-20 car converted from an Athearn car (description at: ). The Rohm and Haas tank car is a Sunshine kit that I completed just this year (project information at: ). The third car is the automobile car, begun by Richard Hendrickson, that I recently completed modeling (see that description here: ). The covered hopper was rust streaked with decals (see my post at: ).

     Lastly, on trips I often buy a souvenir T-shirt, though never (so far) at Cocoa Beach. But in a shop window I saw one that was terribly tempting. Maybe next year.

     As you can probably tell, this meeting is a “must attend” for me every year. If you have never been to it, mark your calendar now for the second weekend next January. I am certain you would like it.
Tony Thompson

Monday, January 14, 2019

Lumber in gondolas, Part 2

In a previous post, I introduced the cast resin lumber loads from Fine N Scale Products or FNSP (they make these loads in both N and HO scales), and commented on the fact that they are a little too narrow for modern flat cars (that post can be found at: ). In that same post, I also mentioned the Owl Mountain lumber kit, which is full width, and now has a companion “narrow load” kit that I will review in an upcoming post.
     But narrow loads ought to fit nicely into gondolas. Rough or unfinished lumber was efficiently shipped on flat cars in the transition era, but when flat cars were in short supply, shippers did use gondolas, despite the greater labor needed to both load and unload them. I have posted before about lumber in gondolas (see it at: ).
     I went ahead with trying to see if the FNSP resin lumber stacks would work well as gondola loads. On the Southern Pacific, there were considerably more drop-bottom or GS gondolas than tight-bottom ones, so these would be a logical choice for lumber loads. I have a number of models of the composite classes of post-war SP GS gondolas, including the Red Caboose styrene ones, along with the Challenger brass models. Ideally these loads would also fit into models of earlier cars, such as the old Ulrich models of 1920s steel cars.
     I quickly discovered that the loads are not that narrow. I had to use thin lumber for the stickers between the lumber stacks, and I chose scale 1 x 4-inch strip. There was not a need for horizontal separators within stacks, as you can see in the loading diagram (a link to it is contained in the first paragraph of the present post). I then added scale 3 x 4-inch stakes and 1 x 4-inch cross-ties. I attached all these pieces with canopy glue. This makes a stack like this.

     Another point to recognize is that many GS gondolas had a slender slanted side right at the floor on the inside. This means that a separator stick under the load must not extend to the sides unless you want the load to ride on the top of that slanted area. I chose to add thicker pieces of stripwood under the load, both making it a little higher, and keeping the load off those slanted sides.

     I was of course checking throughout the process of assembling this load, to make sure it would fit into my GS gondolas. For example, here is one of the stacks in an Ulrich white-metal GS gondola.

     Once I was sure my choices of sticker and stake size would work, I completed the stacks, I ended up with fairly nice-looking load stacks, as you see in the photo below.

     This is certainly a good use of the FNSP resin lumber stacks, for gondola loads, though I should mention that older flat cars (built before about 1940) were a little narrower, and could well accept these loads also. But I will leave that topic to a possible future post. Certainly it is clear that these resin lumber stacks do work well for gondolas.
Tony Thompson

Friday, January 11, 2019

Roco flat car, Part 5: half-track loads

Among the numerous military vehicles that are candidates to be loaded onto the Army’s flat cars (as modeled by Roco) are half-tracks. These were very widely used in World War II by Allied forces, and many survived for use in the Korean War and thereafter. In particular, they remained in use in the U.S. for training purposes. Thus they might well be found on USAX flat cars like the one I have upgraded for use (you can see my previous post at: ).
     The military half-track was essentially developed as a prime mover for artillery, and as an armored personnel carrier, and though capable of carrying a lot less troops than a truck, had the advantage of being able to move over fairly rough ground and deliver troops closer to where they were needed, compared to trucks. The vehicle was developed using as many commercial truck components as possible, thus making production rapid and less expensive than a purpose-built military vehicle, and also facilitating training, as the vehicles were driven exactly like a truck.
     The photo below was taken by Alfred T. Palmer at Fort Knox, Kentucky, during training of troops in June 1942 (Library of Congress image LC-USE6-D-006148).

The original idea for usage of these vehicles for personnel was to carry the infantry attached to armored regiments, but they were soon used even more widely for mechanized infantry units. Because of their versatility, they were modified for many additional roles, including as gun, howitzer or mortar carriers, and as machine-gun carriers for anti-aircraft duty.
     [There are numerous sources of information about the U.S. military half-tracks. The most informative one I have is Steve Zaloga’s book, M3 Infantry Half-Track 1940–1973 (Osprey Publishers, London, 1994), because it contains a broad history.)
     Weighing about 9 tons in the unmodified state, these vehicles would not demand use of heavy-duty flat cars like the Roco model, but nevertheless might be moved that way for convenience. There happen to be some excellent Southern Pacific photos of these vehicles on flat cars, and these show clearly how they were secured for travel. Here is one of those photos at San Luis Obispo, summer of 1943; these are M3 half-tracks of the 7th Armored Division, which had been activated on March 1, 1942. The division would be re-activated for the Korean War and was then stationed at Camp Roberts, on the SP main line of the Coast Division.

Note here that some of the vehicles have canvas covers, perhaps how they were shipped, but as they are prepared for unloading, covers are coming off. The blocking on the flat car decks is quite clear.
     A view from the opposite direction shows the backs of the half-tracks, and clearly there are no additional tie-downs beyond the blocking. No lettering is visible either, except ID plates on the rear of each M3.

      There has long been a Roco model in HO scale of this half-track, offered over the years in a variety of configurations (it’s now sold under the Herpa name). Here is one of them, as it comes from the box (a few details have to be assembled). Obviously tires and tracks need to be repainted, and lettering is needed too. I will return to those aspects when I show the vehicles loaded on flat cars.

     The half-track was a distinctive vehicle of the U.S. Army in World War II, used much less in Korea, but still employed in training facilities in my modeling year of 1953. Thus this vehicle is definitely part of the military loads I want to model.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Operations: get this great publication

I have commented before on the Model Railroader Special Issue on operation,  entitled How to Operate Your Model Railroad. This is a superb collection of short pieces on all kinds of operation topics, most of them published in MR at various times, but all available here in one place. It’s great reading and a great resource to go back to, and will inspire you with operating ideas on many fronts. I reviewed and commented on it once before, but almost five years ago (you can read those comments at: ).

     So why do I bring it up again? At the moment, Kalmbach Publishing is having a brief (one-week) sale. Visit it at: , and scroll down to this title. To me, this looks like a great opportunity for anyone not already owning this publication. And it won’t be around forever. I have no personal connection to it, other than as an impressed and satisfied reader.
     I can’t recommend this magazine issue strongly enough. If you have any interest in operation, and would like to know even a little more about it, this is an inexpensive and outstanding collection of short, readable pieces on the topic. If you don’t already have this Special Issue, I urge you to take advantage of the sale price and buy it now.
Tony Thompson

Monday, January 7, 2019

Track car turnouts, Part 2: modeling

In the previous post on this topic, I showed the Southern Pacific Common Standard drawings for track car set-outs or, as SP termed them, turnouts. These were found all over the railroad (the previous post included a drawing note that these were to be placed about “two per mile”) and are one of those classic prototype items that are “often seen, seldom modeled.” You can read my previous post at this link: .
     To begin the modeling part of this story, I needed to find places on the existing layout where these turnouts would both fit the space, and be logical locations. Turnouts were often placed near bridges, tunnels, or long cuts, places where a track crew might need to get off the track with a train approaching, as well as commonly near road crossings. At a road crossing, a crew could pick up or drop off equipment or supplies with a highway vehicle. I simply made a cardstock rectangle, roughly 12 x 15.5 scale feet in size, to match the dimensions of the standard turnout outside of the rails, as shown in the previous post (link in previous paragraph) in drawing CS 551.
     For example, I looked at the crossing of Willow Creek Road in my layout town of Santa Rosalia, also near the town depot. The card rectangle shows that there is space here to build a turnout.

Another example is in Shumala on my layout, also near a road crossing. Again, there is clearly room for a turnout, and it would add some detail in an area otherwise represented as open ground.

Lastly, I have a tunnel on the main line of the Coast Route, near Shumala, and this is one of the logical locations for turnouts. There is a section house near the tunnel, and a track car turnout seems a logical addition.

     The way I built these track car turnout panels was to start with a styrene rectangle, the same size as the card rectangle I showed in the photos above. Then I laid out the arrangement shown in CS 551 (a drawing included in the prior post; see the link given in the top paragraph of the present post). This resulted in something like the photo below. On the left is the layout I used, first making a center line, then laying out the distance to the sides where the “runner” ties are centered, and a limit at the end. The latter isn’t really needed, because I just added one and a half ties on each side (as the CS 551 drawing implies), then capped it with a full tie across the end.

     As you see above, I started  out to use the full-cross-section Model Hobbies ties that I showed in my post about modeling tie piles (it can be found at: ). But I quickly realized that this will only work for my mainline track, which is up on more of an embankment and has higher rail.
     My branchline track is not only Code 70 rail but is much closer to ground level, and full-height ties would be too tall. For those situations, I would need a thinner strip to represent ties. I will try using some styrene 4 x 8 scale inches strip, or maybe even 2 x 8. This would give a lower profile (it is all ballasted around the “ties” anyway).
     I will come back to my “low profile” track car turnout panels in a subsequent post, along with installing these panels on the layout.
Tony Thompson

Friday, January 4, 2019

Lumber on flat cars

A very common load for flat cars in the transition era was lumber. Usually, lumber so loaded was rough lumber, while finished lumber was shipped in box or automobile cars. Of course there were exceptions, when shippers used whatever car they could get to move their lumber to market. Thus gondolas were used when there were not enough flat cars, though gondolas are less convenient to load and to unload. I have described the loading of lumber in gondolas (see it at: ).
     I have also commented on the wide range of forest product loads seen on flat cars (that post can be found at: ). One particular excellent lumber load is the Owl Mountain kit, that was reviewed earlier (find it at: ). My late friend Richard Hendrickson built a variety of lumber loads for flat cars, and I showed those models in a previous post (you can find it here; ).
     Although I continue to advocate for the Owl Mountain kit as the best lumber load out there, it is only fair to mention a couple of others that exist. One is the set of cast resin lumber stacks from Fine N Scale Products (yes, they make this load in HO scale as well as in N scale). The “Loads” page on their website shows the HO kit (no. FNL-1008) if you scroll down to lumber loads (see the page at: ). The kit package is shown below.

These are nice castings and look realistic, but they have one feature that can be a drawback: the stacks are a little narrow for flat cars. They do happen to be just right for gondola loads, and as I mentioned in the previous post on lumber in gondolas (link provided in the top paragraph above), this was fairly common in the transition era.
     The fundamentals of lumber loading, whether using flat cars or gondolas, were the same. Shown below is a 1926 ARA Loading Rules diagram for such loading, repeated from the gondola post cited in the top paragraph. You can click to enlarge if you wish.

     So how about if you want to use these FNSP loads on flat cars anyway? The simplest answer is to use a wider center spacing than was usual on prototype loads, wide enough to bring the outer edge of the stacks to the inside of the stake pockets. This is about a scale 10-inch or 12-inch timber. How does it lookk that way? Shown below are a set of these stacks, double high, with a 10-inch vertical spacer.

This really looks okay on a passing flat car, even if the spacer is actually too big for typical practice. Then of course you need to add stakes and cross-ties. You can use scale 2 x 4-inch lumber for this, though stakes were often 4 x 4 and cross-ties sometimes 1 x 4 instead of 2 x 4. For my first set of stacks, I used 3 x 4-inch stakes and 1 x 4-inch cross-ties. Note that the Loading Rules diagram calls for three sets of side stakes per lumber stack.

The spacing of the stakes is matched to the stake pocket spacing on the Red Caboose (now SPH&S) 53'6" flat cars that I use for lumber loads, most of them decorated for SP.
     Thus the use of these “too narrow” FNSP load stacks can be practical, if a little compromise on the center stickers is accepted. As you can see with the stack above, this is not terribly evident. I will return to other uses for these FNSP resin lumber stacks in a future post, along with additional comments on these stacks for flat cars.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Line-ups for operating

I have spent some time in recent years, pondering the best way, as part of an operating session on my layout, to inform my yard crew at Shumala about extra trains that they may encounter. They have a timetable for the main line (the Southern Pacific’s Coast Division) but no direct information about extra train movements.
     I have already tried a couple of options (more on that in a moment), but the new issue of Model Railroader magazine that just arrived at the end of December (the February 2019 issue . . . talk about a time warp!) contains a thought-provoking column by MR columnist Jerry Dziedzic. Jerry’s column is always interesting, and one of the first things I read in every MR, but this one struck a chord for me. It’s about line-ups.
     A line-up, for those not familiar with the idea, is a list of train activity, provided by the dispatcher, for use of anyone needing the information. One example might be hostlers at an engine terminal, who need to know when power is needed. As Jerry points out, another obvious example is track crews, who may be working some distance from any place where an operator could convey information to them, and they need some (dependable) source of information. A good summary of line-up usage is in Steve King’s section of the OpSIG book, 19 East, Copy 3 (by David Sprau and Steve King, Operations Special Interest Group, 2013), page 120.
     A line-up covers a specific stretch of railroad, and has a time of validity, such as 1 PM to 5 PM, chosen by the dispatcher, and of course appropriate to the needs of track crews or anyone else needing it. Obviously a dispatcher is quite careful in making up such a line-up, as it functions in effect as a timetable supplement, and it may underlie life or death decisions by employees out on the road.
     To illustrate a line-up, based upon my own layout’s Coast Division timetable from September 1953, a line-up might look like the following. I have used the Bell Gothic typeface here, which is quite similar to the face on billing typewriters used by SP agents. An agent would type this out for crews, after receiving the information from the dispatcher.

The information here is that two of the scheduled trains are running late, a normal occurrence for scheduled freights on the SP in this era, and of course the extra becomes visible. Since most trains take about 15 minutes from Guadalupe to Shumala, the yard crew knows when to expect Extra 2402. Note that the timetable is not superseded by this line-up, because the train times are only shown in relation to their timetable time. I like this because it is compact and is based on prototype practice.
     As I mentioned, I have already tried a couple of ways of supplying the same information. One option is to issue a copy to yard crews, of the order that authorizes an extra. I got this idea from Dave Sprau’s article in the same OpSIG book mentioned above, 19 East, Copy 3. He pointed out, page 31, that some ways of writing a Form G train order, authorizing an extra train, may need to be addressed to yard engines or yardmaster, and I picked up on that.
     I show below an example of such an order. As usual on my layout, the month and day of the order are those of the session, but in 1953. This is an order specifying leaving times, a standard variant of a Form G order (for far more on this topic, see the OpSIG book cited above). A separate order was evidently issued to the conductor and engineer of extra 2402; or they could have been listed as also receiving this order.

This order form is taken from an SP prototype train order form. At this time, SP did not label a “standard order” as a 19 order, since that was their usual form. They did use a form labeled as a 31 order for occasions when that was required. 
     Another idea is for the agent to hand a note to the yard crew, and this has the advantage that it can be done whenever the option of an extra train comes up. Agents did in fact prepare written messages to deliver to train crews for all sorts of reasons (especially when a verbal statement might not be reliable enough). However, I did not entirely like this method, as the written message to crews was most commonly done on the prototype when the agent was not available for verbal instructions. Accordingly, this seemed less desirable to me if used for a more routine matter during the day when an agent would be on duty.
     I am always trying to make my operating sessions as prototypical as possible, while making sure that paperwork is clear and simple. I think using a line-up will help with that approach.
Tony Thompson