Thursday, November 15, 2018

Trackwork wars, Part 3

An important part of maintaining a layout over the long term is, kind of surprisingly, trackwork. That’s surprising because, yes, you built it carefully and it has operated well for years. And then something — ah, if only one knew what that something was — goes wrong. I have alluded to this point in several previous posts; the most recent in my “wars” series was last July (the post is available at this link: ). And as it happens, that previous post was about track gauge in a Peco turnout.
     Most recently, in my last operating session a month or so ago, I had a different Peco turnout go bad, largely from the gauge getting tight. This was a surprise, as the turnout was installed in early 2015 and has performed flawlessly ever since. But in operating a locomotive and cars in all areas that have ever given any problems, I started getting derailments on this turnout. I usually do this testing before an operating session, but in this area, in the town of Santa Rosalia on my layout, I was doing it the day before the session, since I had not anticipated a problem.
     I tried to file the rail within the turnout, to widen the gauge that had narrowed. But I quickly discovered that the gauge had only narrowed in one part of the turnout and was, if anything, wide in the remainder of the frog area. I attempted to nudge the offending rail into position and add more spikes to hold it, but this was not working very well, With the operating session imminent, I had only one choice, and that was to make one side of the turnout “out of service.” I did so with the notice below.

This is my usual form of my messages from a station agent to the operating crew, using the SP company telegram blank (since agent’s desks in the 1950s had heaps of pads of these telegram blanks, and agents often used them for notes).
     As I reported for that particular operating session, everything planned worked out all right (my post describing that op session can be found at: ), and crews switching at Santa Rosalia simply had to plan ahead to position cars in the train they took there from Ballard, as the switch being out of service in the normal position meant that there was no longer a run-around available at Santa Rosalia.
     But of course this was only a temporary solution. The switch had to be replaced. I did communicate with the Technical Advice people at Peco, who are always responsive, as to whether I might have done something wrong in installation, to cause the track gauge to change. They replied that they did not think so, and asked me to return the offending turnout to them for examination. I went ahead and mailed it to them. Meanwhile, I pulled out the turnout, as you see below. Luckily, only part of it was ballasted, making removal fairly easy.

     The next step was to purchase a new switch. Although Peco might have replaced the switch, I decided not to wait for the outcome at Peco, and bought a new one. (Ultimately Peco did not offer to replace the switch.) There is inevitably a bit of jockeying to fit a new switch into existing trackwork, to make sure all the abutting tracks line up smoothly, and this took some time. But I finally got it into place.

This photo show the switch in place, though rail joiners are not yet soldered, nor is the feeder (blue wire, near right center of photo) attached yet. Obviously the rail will need to be painted also.
     Once the turnout was in place, the rest of the installation was completed easily. All rail joiners that previously had been soldered were re-soldered, and the feeder was re-installed. Then I used Tamiya “Red Brown” (No. XF-64) to paint the rail sides. Here you see me in the process of painting.

The building at right is Pismo Marine Service, a ship chandler in my town of Santa Rosalia. It was described as part of another post about use of KingMill photographic flats (that post is at: ). 
     This problem has been solved, though it was more trouble to do than I expected. I have no idea what was the cause of this defect, but the important point is to fix it, not to diagnose it. I just hope it won’t recur. I really don’t like having to fix track that gave every indication for several years that it had been installed well in the first place!
Tony Thompson

Monday, November 12, 2018

The newest Tony Koester book

As many have no doubt noticed, new Kalmbach books from author Tony Koester come along pretty regularly. This is not an accident, as Tony is under contract to produce these books at an agreed-upon interval. But with his authorial skills and generally outstanding photo selection, they tend to be excellent books, regardless of the subject of any individual one.
     The newest is about engine terminals. and it is indeed as good as we would expect. I show the cover below, identified as part of the series, “Layout Design and Planning,” and indeed, the book is packed with ideas for how to arrange the necessary facilities for model engine terminals.

     A modeler may think, “I already know what engine terminal(s) I need,” and probably he or she already has a good idea of what should be included. But there are a great many details in this subject, and a book like this can help ensure that nothing essential is omitted. And of course you may get ideas for how to model particular details.
     The book covers its subjects in nine chapters. from initial chapters about fuels and roundhouses, to chapters about mainline servicing, diesel houses and car barns, and what’s called “the short, the narrow and the regional,” referring of course to the facilities  of smaller and financially strapped railroads. Concluding chapters describe how power was fitted to assignments, how engine servicing gives rise to model layout jobs, and finally a nice pair of examples in which prototype facilities are adopted to model use. A concluding photo gallery adds still more information.
     In most books, I find at least one photo that really jumps out at me (not always for the reason intended by the author). Sometimes it’s just an image I like. But when these favorite images suggest something I can benefit by doing, or change something I already do, they are doubly valuable, In this book, one of the prototype engine terminal shots caught my eye, not for its intended meaning, but for something included in the photo (photo by Chris Guss). It’s the Lake State Railway in Saginaw, Michigan.

The reason I like this? Note the weeds growing around the edge of the turntable pit, and the scattered grass or weeds growing around the garden tracks. (You can click on the photo to enlarge it if you wish.) This looks so good, that it cries out to be modeled, and any modeler would envy the look, yet it would be very easy to do. You just have to notice this detail in the photo, and realize you could do it too. When a book gives you, not just one, but several such inspiring images, it is worth far more than its mere purchase price.
     As you can tell, I have enjoyed reading, and even more being inspired by, this book. Like practically all of Tony K’s books, it’s excellent value, and I recommend it highly.
Tony Thompson

Friday, November 9, 2018

Southern Pacific F-units, Part 3

I have described in previous posts some of the background history of the huge fleet of Electro-Motive F units on the Southern Pacific. The railroad, including its T&NO and Cotton Belt subsidiaries, owned 573 F units, over 15 percent of all F units produced. I began with some info on the prototype (that first post was at: ). I followed up with a Part 2 post, describing my modeling of SP’s F3-Phase IV units (as railfans termed them), starting from Athearn F unit A and B models (that post is at this link: ).
     (Incidentally, for background on the Phase designations of EMD F3 units, entirely a creation of railfans and diesel spotters, not EMD factory descriptions, you may benefit from the Wikipedia entry on this point, which is at: . Unofficial they may be, but these Phases are helpful identifiers of visual characteristics of these locomotives.)
     As it happened, the first five SP sets of F3 units were early Phase II, with high fan shrouds. The five sets of four units each, A-B-B-A, were sent off to the T&NO within two years of delivery, on account of their high-speed gearing, a bad combination with the steam helpers still in use.
     The remaining 15 sets of that first purchase were Phase III units, with low fans but still with the characteristic roof “slots” for dynamic brake heat exhaust, and “chicken wire” over the upper carbody openings. Four of those sets also were later sent to T&NO. Once renumbered in 1949, the remaining Pacific Lines group of 14 of these F3-Phase III units were mostly B units, 12 of the 14. I’ve long wanted to model one of them.
     There were at one time Highliner kits for B units like this, and luckily I stockpiled one, along with a set of the etched screens for the “chicken wire” over the openings. Here is the box, now brought onto the workbench to build this unit. (The Highliner dies were bought by Athearn, and now furnish the parts for their Genesis F units. But kits or dummy units are no longer sold by Athearn.)

     The design of these Highliner units is very clever. They are molded with all possible bracing in the upper carbody openings, and then a series of pieces is provided to fill in the areas that changed as EMD modified the design over a span of years. The same is true on the roof, where various fans or dynamic brake slots can be added. Here is the unmodified shell, out of the box.

     The kit directions then indicate which filler pieces to add in the upper carbody openings for each locomotive Phase. I decided to double-check this against an SP prototype photo. In Joe Strapac’s excellent series of books on Southern Pacific Historic Diesels, Volume 10 (Shade Tree Books, 2003) covers EMD freight F locomotives. Here is a Robert A. Smith photo, depicting one of the B units from the first SP order from EMD, that did remain on Pacific Lines. It is pictured at Colton on April 6, 1950.

     The appearance of the carbody openings here agreed exactly with the Highliner kit directions, so I went ahead and modified the openings accordingly. I also added the correct 36-inch fan base and the roof panel with slots for dynamic brakes. You can compare this state of the model with the prototype photo above.

     Next I will install the lift rings and etched fans on the unit roof, then paint it, with the “chicken wire” added after painting. All handrails will also be added after painting. These units had a stunningly simple paint scheme, all black with a Daylight Red frame stripe and no significant lettering other than the unit number. All that will be covered in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Rapido's new NP box car

The latest HO scale freight car from Rapido Trains is a distinctive (and numerous) box car built by the Northern Pacific. This particular group of cars has become well known to freight car modelers because of its size and, especially, its longevity. I will say more about the prototype below, but this Ready to Run or RTR model represents a great increase in availability. Sunshine Models offered this car in resin kit form around 20 years ago, but now there is a readily accessible version for anyone.
     The Northern Pacific received no allocations of freight cars from the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) during World War I, but NP, like most railroads, was nevertheless greatly influenced by the USRA designs. In the middle 1920s, they purchased over 4000 box cars that followed essentially the USRA 40-ton box car design, though NP’s distinctive radial roof was applied (or, as NP called it, a “circular” roof). The USRA box car underframe was, in hindsight, rather over-designed, and accordingly had a long life. That’s one reason the NP cars lasted so long.
     The base group of these NP cars were numbered from 10000 to 13999 (the follow-on cars in the 14000 series were dimensionally identical). As an example of their remarkable longevity, 3809 of the original 4000 cars wee in service in January 1953, about 30 years after construction. Their wood-sheathed sides were unexceptional, as the image below demonstrates (from Bob’s Photo):

The paint scheme of this photo is that introduced in 1941, with the 36-inch diameter emblem.
     Like the USRA cars, the NP cars also had corrugated ends. The view below shows the end well, along with the roof contour (photo by M. Nierdieck, Richard Hendrickson collection). This car, NP 11237,  was photographed in 1957, but still has the 1941 paint scheme.

     The new Rapido model reproduces this prototype extremely well. I show below the car I obtained, with the 1941 paint scheme and AB brakes (suitable for my 1953 modeling year). It also has the lever-type hand brake which NP originally installed on these cars.

     The car is fairly glossy as received, so a coat of flat was my first step, prior to weathering with my usual technique involving washes of acrylic tube paints (for more on that, see the Reference Pages linked at the top right of this post). I also added my usual reweigh and repack stencils, along with addition of route cards and chalk marks, and also dirtying the overly pale rust color of the couplers. Here is the left side of the completed car.

     This is a very nicely done freight car model, and I commend Rapido for the quality. I will have it at work on my layout in the next operating session!
Tony Thompson

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Desert Ops 2018

An operating weekend held in the Phoenix, Arizona area for a number of years has more recently been called “Desert Ops.” This was the ninth iteration under that name. I’ve attended before, and this time got to see some different layouts. I won’t attempt detailed descriptions of any of them, but instead will just offer some general impressions.
    Four of us coming from the San Francisco Bay Area arranged an extra session in advance of the meeting, so we could operate on Paul Chandler’s outstanding layout in Tucson. Paul models the early 1950s and his layout is centered on Lathrop, California, with a variety of the SP lines in that area. Our session was mostly steam, and the excellent scenery Paul has created was an important part of our enjoyment.
     One thing Paul wanted to reproduce on the layout was the exchange of cars and mail between the San Joaquin Daylight and the Sacramento Daylight, which took place at Lathrop. Paul had seen and photographed this event in his youth, and now can carry out the same action on the layout. In the middle of this exchange, I took the photograph below. This is the mail exchange between the RPO cars. Next, three of the chair cars coming from Bakersfield were cut off and added to the train going to Sacramento, while the rest of the original train continued to the Bay Area.

     We also had a kind of extra session at the Scottsdale HO club. Like nearly all club layouts, it represents numerous compromises among members’ desires and goals, but is fully scenicked (it’s open to the public for many hours a year) and much of it ran well. Shown below is fellow attendee Al Daumann in the middle of a switching move. You can see in the background the size of the building, which also contains N scale and O scale layouts.

     Our first formal session was at Rick Watson’s fine SP Exeter Branch layout, where we had operated before. Rick tries to make sure people do different jobs each time they visit, and this time I got to switch Exeter and Lindsay, a pretty interesting and switching-intensive job. One thing I like on Rick’s layout is that he has used numerous paper buildings made from printouts, in lieu of conventional model structures. For switching, they work fine. Shown below is the large Sunkist packing plant at Lindsay, with Seth Neumann at left and Mark Schutzer in the background doing other jobs, as I worked Lindsay.

     We operated ar Roger Brendecke’s layout next, and the layout recently was largely torn down and rebuilt with wider curves and wider aisles, so much of it was not too suitable for photography. One striking feature is that he has three levels of large yards, with the middle level being a working yard and the top and bottom levels being staging. It accommodates an impressive amount of equipment, and we exercised it pretty well in our session.

     The final session in this weekend for me was at Dave Doiron’s huge layout. I had not been there for four years, and I would be quick to say how impressed I was with the progress on the layout. A lot more is operating, and a lot of very good scenery is in place. I happened to draw the Creamery Branch job, centered around a large creamery structure. It’s shown below, and its oddly angled sections are a faithful reproduction of the prototype structure. The photo backdrop is also shown to good advantage.

     The weekend was fun and several of the layouts outstanding, each in a different way. This is, for me, the great strength of these events, to see how varied are layout designs and implementations, and of course to experience how they are operated. If you haven't been to an event like this, check the listing at the NMRA Operations Special Interest Group, or OpSig, site (the open listing is at this link: ) and see if there is one near you.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Blue flag awareness

I have previously posted several comments about blue flags in model railroading. I began with some discussion of the prototype use of blue flags for various kinds of safety notification (that post can be found at this link: ). I followed up that post with a description of how I produced a set of blue flags to use on my layout, along with illustration of the insertion points I created (between pairs of ties) so that the flags could be placed for operations (see that post at: ).
     But I quickly discovered two things about using these flags in an operating session. First, they are scale size and a medium-hue color, and are accordingly all but invisible under ordinary layout operating conditions. Crews have in fact run cars or locomotives right over the flags. The brass wire stanchions of the flags can be straightened and repainted, but the point is that the flags aren’t serving their warning purpose very well. I realize they are pretty small. The photo below, in my layout town of Ballard, illustrates the visibility problem (check the left-hand track).

     Some of the problem may be location. On Seth Neumann’s layout, blue flags are important for switching his NUMMI auto plant, and his taller flags, with plainer scenery around them, do seem more visible. Not sure how I can do that part better, since I would prefer not to make oversize flags. (Photo below supplied by Seth.)

     The second point I recognized is that there is not a good way for crews to know either that flags are in place, or a time when the flags might be removed. One possibility here is to use the method that Seth uses on his layout, simply to tell crews that if they encountered a blue flag in the way of a movement that they needed to make, they should consult the Superintendent (Seth) as to when the blue flag might be removed. I could do the same, but was searching for a more “paperwork” way to accomplish something similar.
     A couple of weeks ago, during my visit at the 25th Anniversary RPM meeting in the Chicago area (I posted some comments about that trip at: ), I operated one evening at Bob Hanmer’s layout. The job I drew this time was one I had done before, the switching at Grand Rapids, Minnesota, including the large paper plant. No blue flags were in use, but there was a system of “lockouts” for most tracks. Each track had a form like this (you can click to enlarge):

Though not based on an actual Great Northern form (it was created by Bob Hanmer), it has a realistic look to me. The entire header may be hard to read; here it is in close-up:

     I thought that this might be a way to inform crews about blue flags. Bob’s form shows a fixed length of lockout, four hours in the case of the particular form shown above, but I don’t see why there would be a fixed time for most shipper situations. Instead, I would think the agent, appropriately notified by the shipper, would give a starting and (estimated) ending time for the lockout, thus notifying the crew when the blue flag should be lifted.
     Of course, on arrival, they might find that the shipper or consignee wasn’t quite finished with the car, and would need to wait. I have heard former employee stories like that, of having to wait for the loading dock foreman to give them the “okay” to move a car. I will have to mull over ways to do that in an operating session. But a form like the one Bob Hanmer created will be a welcome step in the right direction. I will have to put some thought into the precise format I want.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Upgrading an old model, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I showed the assembled Ulrich gondola model I purchased from Chuck Hitchcock, along with photos of the Santa Fe prototype, to indicate a few things I wanted to upgrade so I would feel  comfortable operating the model in my fleet. (You can read that post at this link: .)
     As I mentioned in Part 1, the most glaring deficiency (to me) about the Ulrich model was the hand brake location on the drop end. It needed to be mounted to the corner post, with the brake wheel parallel to the car side. I dug into my parts stash, and found the Cal Scale brake set that has an Ajax brake mechanism, with attached chain, very handy. I simply mounted that mechanism to a small piece of 0.010-inch styrene sheet.  I chose the Kadee Ajax brake wheel as by far the best available today. Here are those parts at this point.

Note in the photo that I left a small edge margin to the left of the brake mechanism. This was to provide a gluing surface for CA adhesive to locate on the inside of the corner post of the car. I have also angled the chain toward the car’s end sill.
     Next I went back to the Cal Scale brake set and selected a retainer valve to add to the car side, then also added a 0.012-inch brass wire for the retainer line. With that done, I could glue the hand brake assembly to the inside of the corner post. At this point, it looked like this:

     Now, of course, I needed to paint the new parts, as well as touching up the car end where the old Ulrich handbrake parts had been. My late friend, Richard Hendrickson, as dedicated and serious a Santa Fe freight car modeler as you could find, always used Floquil “ATSF Mineral Brown” paint for his Santa Fe models. The problem here, however, is that the original Ulrich paint is quite brown, more so than the Santa Fe color. I had to fiddle with paint mixes to get close to a match. My starting point was Tamiya XF-64, “Red Brown,” but I had to darken it a bit for this model.
     With the addition of a few chalk marks, reweigh and repack stencils, and a route card, the car was almost ready to enter service.

     But there is one more correction needed. Because this model is numbered for the cars that were part of Class GA-63, and that class was delivered with National B-1 trucks, I need to replace the trucks shown above. With that change made, and a (removable) load of pipe included, here is the car as completed. (You can click on these images to enlarge them if you wish.)

     I continue to enjoy owning and operating some of the pioneer freight car kits of the hobby, as is the case for the Ulrich heritage of this particular car. Moreover, its connection to Chuck Hitchcock makes it especially welcome in my layout’s freight car fleet.
Tony Thompson