Sunday, January 15, 2017

A couple of layout visits

As part of my trip to Florida for this year’s Prototype Rails meeting at Cocoa Beach (which I described at some length in a previous post, which can be found here: ), I also visited a couple of layouts to operate. In the present post, I will say a little about each.
     In the time before the Cocoa Beach meeting, I visited Mike Brock’s impressive Union Pacific layout, depicting the Laramie area and parts of Sherman Hill. Mike has rendered the scenic appearance of that area wonderfully well. As usual, he had set up a sequence of trains, and a number of us participated in the operation. One of my tasks was the yard switcher, 0-6-0 no. 4466, fun to run with full sound.

Also seen switching was Bruce Smith at Buford, where he was organizing a string of stock cars with a 2-8-2. Here again, the DCC and sound made this fun.

Waiting at Buford (just out of sight to the right in the photo above) for a green signal was 4-12-2 no. 9003, an example of the kind of massive steam power appropriate to and practically required for a Sherman Hill operation.

     After the meeting, I traveled to Athens, Georgia to operate on Jared Harper’s layout, modeling the Alma (Kansas) branch of the Santa Fe during World War II. Jared has researched a great deal about the area in which the layout is set, including interviewing residents of the area, and thus the operation can mimic the actual train procedures on this branch quite closely. For more about the background and specifics of the layout, you can read about it in the Model Railroad Planning issue for 2009. Included there is the modified John Armstrong track plan that Jared has built.
     I was pleased that an old friend, Scott Chatfield, was able to come over from Atlanta to join our crew. Scott is not only very knowledgeable about freight cars, but worked as a professional railroader at one time, and thus brings a strong dose of reality to model operations. Also present was Claus Schlund, a San Francisco resident but able to join us from his Florida vacation home. Here is the photo Jared took of our crew. That’s me at left, Claus in the center, and Scott at right.

     Traffic on the prototype branch, 33 miles long, is dominated by livestock, as every single town has a stock pen. There are also bulk oil dealers (one of my favorite subjects) in all the larger towns. But my favorite scenic area was Eskridge Hill, which the train climbs just west of the town of Eskridge. Here is a view of the lush spring grass on the hill (it’s May of 1943).

Once the crew has traversed the entire branch and done all the trailing point switching on the way to the branch end at Alma, the locomotive is turned on the wye and returns to the starting point, Burlingame, now doing all the remaining switching, which is now also trailing point. Here is our train, with stand-in locomotive 9441 on the point, crossing Bridge 3-A as it nears Burlingame.

    Both these layouts were visually interesting and fun to operate. Both are very much in progress, with areas still needing work, but nevertheless plenty well enough developed to enjoy, I had fun at both of them, and thanks again to both hosts for putting on the sessions.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Another Hendrickson car project

Among the modeling items I inherited from Richard Hendrickson were several in-progress car projects. One of these was a W&LE gondola, which I described completing in an earlier post (you can find that post at: ). Another project I showed, though I have not completed it, was a 65-foot mill gondola. I presented the project as it currently stands, including a special tool, in a post last July (it is at this link: ). The present post describes a third such project, a rebuilt automobile car, which required some sleuthing.
     (For anyone not sure who Richard Hendrickson was, or why I have so much respect for him and his modeling, you might wish to read my tribute to him, published as: .)
     The reason for the sleuthing was that the model had reached a state of having the body almost completed, mostly needing detail parts, but I could not figure out what prototype was being modeled. But at Cocoa Beach last week (see my post about the meeting: ), John Barry provided a probable prototype, the Santa Fe rebuilt automobile cars, and upon returning home, I turned to my copy of Richard’s book,  Furniture and Automobile Cars, Volume 3 of the series, Santa Fe Railway Rolling Stock Reference Series, published by the Santa Fe Railway Historical & Modeling Society, 1997. I quickly discovered that John was right. The model Richard was building was going to be a car of Santa Fe Class FE-25.
     This class began life as the Santa Fe FE-Q cars, 500 cars built by Pullman in 1924. Shown below are FE-Q builder photos, which clearly depict the sectional sides, fishbelly underframe, and 7-5-5 corrugated ends of these cars. The plate steel doors only cover a ten-foot opening. It is not easy to see in the side view, but the trucks are the Andrews U-section cast-steel design. (You can click to enlarge.)

These Pullman photos are from the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM).
     In wartime 1943, Santa Fe was able to obtain some steel for rebuilding cars, and rebuilt the entirety of the surviving cars of FE-Q into more modern automobile cars. They got new steel roofs of the straight-panel design; new sides with an interesting side-sheet pattern, completely replacing any trace of the original sectional sides; new doors; and the original ends were extended in height, but kept the original underframe. The result was the FE-25 cars. Shown below is a detail from a Virl Davis photo of one of these cars, clearly depicting the added top rib on the 7-5-5 original ends. You can also see the Ajax hand brake added in the rebuild. The shadows show that the brake step and running board are wood planks.

     Late in the 1930s, some buyers of 50-foot automobile cars changed from the first design of 50-foot double-door cars, which had four side sheets to the left of the door opening and six to the right (called 4-6), with additional panels (and interior supporting posts), in a 4-7 arrangement, with unequal panel widths to the right of the door. In 1942, this became the AAR Recommended Practice, and though not all railroads followed it, clearly the Santa Fe did. The FE-25 rebuilds had the 4-7 pattern. This is shown below in a Santa Fe photo from CSRM.

     Richard’s model of this Santa Fe class began with an Athearn automobile car. He kept the floor and sides, which are the correct 4-7 pattern, with three narrower panels to the right of the door opening (see photo above). He acquired but had not added a replacement straight-panel roof (since the Athearn roof has one too many panels). Ends of course had to be replaced, and the wider car body also meant that the surviving underframe had a side sill narrower than the new body, a common situation in rebuilds of older cars.
     I won’t show all those model features in this post, but will present a side view to illustrate the 4-7 panel pattern. Note also the AB brake valve located near the side sill (indicated by the arrow), as can be seen above in the photo of ATSF 9967. The fishbelly underframe, derived from an Athearn gondola, is also visible.

     I am now at work with the effort needed to complete this model project as a Santa Fe FE-25. I will show additional work as it progresses, in future posts.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cocoa Beach 2017

 Last week the 16th annual Prototype Rails meeting was held at Cocoa Beach, Florida, in the same Hilton Hotel we have used every year, and once again under the able direction of Mike Brock, Jeff Aley, Marty Megregian, Scott Dam, and a crew of volunteers. I always enjoy this meeting and look forward to it every year.
     As always the model displays were a lot of fun and endlessly interesting and informative. I will show here just a few of the models I photographed. First up is an impressive HO scale model of an SFRD reefer of Class Rr-33, modified from a C&BT Shops kit. The open door reveals crates of produce inside. The fine model is by Ed Martin.

     Another model that caught my eye was one of the old Red Ball depressed-center flat cars, a straightforward kit but in this case beautifully weathered with light rust. It was shown by Steve Priest. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

     Also, I should mention the new Rapido model of the Budd RDC cars, particularly the Southern Pacific car, no. 10. Here it is in the original paint. Having picked it up and examined it on all sides, including the underbody, I can tell you this is a beautiful model. Kudos to Rapido!

     I always enjoy those whose modern modeling does include graffiti, as these are so prevalent today. In fact, anyone modeling a time in the last 25 years who does not have freight cars with graffiti can fairly be accused of not being prototypical. This one I thought was really fun, and the prototype photo is right in front of it.

      Most modelers who bring things “in progress” also provide a brief description of what they are doing. This model by Bill Welch (who styled himself “The Reluctant Weatherer”) is a good example. I was especially interested in this particular kitbash because I want to make some of the SP gondolas of Class G-50-20 by a similar method.

      Once again, as in the past, this was a great meeting and I really had fun. I should perhaps mention also that I did present a clinic at the meeting, on “Wine Tank Cars,” and that of course was the reason for the prior post in this blog (you can read it at: ). I am sure I will plan to continue making the long plane flight to and from Florida in future years to enjoy this meeting.
Tony Thompson

Friday, January 6, 2017

Handout for wine tank cars

This is a handout for a clinic about tank cars used to transport wine. It represents a kind of second edition of a clinic presented in 2010 by my good friend Richard Hendrickson. He and I had shared ideas and resources in developing that talk, but the final product then was entirely Richard's and was presented by him. But some aspects of the topic, such as information about the wine business and about modeling of wine tank cars, did not get included. I wanted to round out the talk with those topics inserted. Having retrieved Richard's talk files from his computer, I reorganized the material somewhat and added the parts I felt were missing, resulted in the current talk.
      I have written two earlier blog posts which relate to the topic of this clinic. One of them was focused on the subject of wine as an industrial commodity, since understanding the wine business itself is essential to understanding the rail shipping side of the topic. That post should provide additional background to material that was presented in the talk (here is the link: ). A follow-up post had a simplified introduction to the subject of wine tank cars, prototype and model, and it can be found at this link: .
     Next, I would like to provide links to some of the sources of the products mentioned in the clinic. To start, I showed a reprint of the 1955 tank car tariff. This can be obtained at at this link: . The Gibson Wine cars I showed can be modeled with Protocraft Decals; see . The frangible-disk type of safety vent, upright or elbow,  is available from Owl Mountain Models in HO scale; see their parts page at : .
     I only had a few moments to talk about Chateau Martin and its wine cars. For a really complete and interesting description, you may visit Jim Lancaster’s excellent web page on this topic, which may be found at: .
     Having said a little in the talk about scratchbuilding a wine tank car, the basic method used was described fairly thoroughly in my article in Railroad Model Craftsman, in the issue for January 2012.
     Finally, I mentioned the ex-Proto2000 insulated tank cars now sold by Walthers. This was a convention car for the NMRA National Convention in Sacramento in 2011, and was produced for the convention committee. A few of these convention cars are still for sale, at a reduced price of $10 plus shipping. To buy one, go to this site: . These ready-to-run cars offer an easy way to get some wine cars on your layout, and are easily relettered.
     Richard had also drafted a text summary of his talk but not finished it; he had also started to add some modeling photos to the talk. I took on the challenge of completing and updating these materials, along with adding the extension topics I put into the talk. I show the two pages of our text below. You can click on these to enlarge them, and can download for your own use if you wish.

    It has been interesting and fun to fill out Richard’s talk to reach the vision he and I had discussed originally. I hope this handout version is helpful and extends some of the content of the oral presentation. As I did at the talk itself, I will be happy to take questions.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A beet loader model

This post is to show photos of a beautiful model of a sugar beet loader, built in HO scale by John Tabler and loaned to me for photography by Chuck Catania. The model follows the structure at Sargent, California, still standing today though extensively vandalized and graffitied. Similar beet loaders were found in many growing areas. This one was owned by Union Sugar, and has their typical medium blue paint scheme.
     There have been some excellent prototype photos over the years of beet loaders, including several in my book about Southern Pacific gondolas (Volume 1 of the series, Southern Pacific Freight Cars). I will shown one example, from the Union beet loader at Cooper, near Salinas, California (Southern Pacific photo, 1948). You can click to enlarge.

Note you see here the entire sequence: a truck body being dumped at right, with the triangular frame of the lifting cable above it, the office just to the left of the truck, and beets falling from the top of the loader into a gondola. 
     Here is a photo of a different Union Sugar facility, at San Ardo, California, and it shows the “office” where truckloads were checked in for unloading. The sign contains the Union logo and the building is the usual blue color. (My own photo, from 1987.)

     The Tabler model is exquisitely rendered. Here is a view from what would be rail side of the structure. The lifter for truck bodies, and the receiving bin, are at left.

The other side, with the concrete truck driveway, looks like this.

Next, here is an overhead view to show the relationships among the components more clearly.

This next view from the end of the model nicely shows the structure at the top of the loading conveyor.

Finally, here is the model office structure, which was off to one side from the loader.

     I really have enjoyed having time to examine this fine model and to photograph it. John Tabler deserves a lot of credit for the excellent modeling of this sugar beet loader.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Progress at Santa Rosalia

I haven’t written about the town at the end of my mythical Southern Pacific branch line, which is Santa Rosalia, for some time. In fact, the last post about it described building Willow Lake Road (that post can be found at this link: ). But things have been progressing there, as I describe in the present post.
     That previous post showed the layout edge as raw plywood and Homasote. It did remain that way for some time, as complications in electrical power management delayed final arrangements. But finally I was ready to go ahead with some additional fascia to give the Santa Rosalia area a better look. As usual, I cut a piece of tempered Masonite and shellacked both sides before installing. Here is that piece, at the far end of the layout. The depot has been temporarily removed during work.

Note the bare spot at the left of the new fascia piece. The piece of L-girder sticking down below the layout edge is the support for a forthcoming control panel. The small black area on the fascia at right is a piece of Velcro.
     The small control panel will be for electrical management of the three-way turnout which can just be seen, right above the panel location. That electrical challenge is interesting in itself, and I will return to it in a future post. But for now, I am just discussing the fascia.
     I designed the control panel to fit in the empty space you see in the above photo. Without going into the electrical side of what is controlled, I will just describe the panel itself. I began with another piece of tempered Masonite, and painted most of it deep yellow. I then masked off what would be the track diagram on the final panel, using drafting tape.

This photo also shows the holes drilled for eventual layout attachment, at top, and the two holes for the control switches. The next step was to paint the panel black, and remove the tape. Here is the result at that point:

     For lettering, I simply laid out some yellow lettering on a black background, printed it out on heavy paper, and glued the resulting legends in the appropriate places. (I will describe the panel operation, and thus the labeling of the switches, in another post.) The panel could then be installed in the gap in the fascia, shown at the top of this post. In the photo below, the depot has also been restored to its regular location.

     Note here that I have added also the town name at center, so that visiting operators know which direction is east or west. (You can click to enlarge.) I also added the name of Willow Lake Road right under the road end. Any geographic feature which intersects the fascia, whether creek, road, or whatever, is named in this way, so operating crews know where they are.
     As I have done with other geographic features on the layout, I have chosen road and creek names from actual features in the area I model, even though there was no actual SP branch line in the area. Use of locally familiar names is another way to help “set the scene,” so to speak.
     This step completes the fascia in the Santa Rosalia area, and thus for the entire layout, since it is the last area being completed. I will return to progress here in future posts.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Locomotives for the layout

I have written several posts in the past about my choices for model locomotives to operate on my Southern Pacific branchline layout. One starting point for these choices has been the prototype SP locomotive assignment records (see my post at: ). I followed up that post with one which showed more about those assignment records, and illustrated it with photos of one of my model locomotives, SP 2592,  which was chosen because of its assignment to San Luis Obispo (the post is at: ).
     In the present post, I want to show more of my model locomotives.One of them, SP 2829, is distinctive because it received a rectangular tender at one of its shoppings, a tender type originally assigned to SP Twelve-wheelers. Locomotive 2829 was assigned at San Luis Obispo for many years, and I have shown a prototype photo of it in a previous post (see that one at: ). One reason I liked this engine is exactly that distinctive tender, and I borrowed such a tender from a brass Max Gray 4-8-0 so I could reproduce the look of SP 2829. Here it is in action, backing across Nipomo Street in my layout town of Ballard, as part of a switching move.

This locomotive, incidentally, often drew the yard job in San Luis Obispo, and as Mac Gaddis told me in an interview, the same “old head” crew ran the engine for years. The fireman on that job had one of those inimitable railroad nicknames; he was called “Numbnuts” (this interview can be found at: ). 
     Note that the previously mentioned model of SP 2592 also used a different tender than the one that came with that particular brass engine. Though a Key engine, the tender is a Westside product. The SP mixed and matched tenders, and modelers may have to do the same to produce a particular model locomotive.
     Also among the familiar San Luis locomotives were two of the Mikados assigned there, Class Mk-6 engines 3251 and 3264. The Mk-6 class was built by Lima in 1914. I have a model of 3251, converted by Al Massi from a Hallmark T&NO Mk-5 by adding a sand box, replacing the feedwater heater and changing some other details, to make it a Pacific Lines engine. I also had to do a tender swap on this locomotive, as the Hallmark T&NO version had a doghouse on the tender. I applied a 10,000-gallon Vanderbilt from one of the Consolidations mentioned above, which had themselves received new tenders. Here’s an Alden Armstrong photo of 3251 switching near the depot at San Luis Obispo.

     I use SP 3251 sometimes for the Surf Turn on my layout, though the turn was often handled by Consolidations. A common assignment of the San Luis Mikados was the King City turn, since they would have the power go up Cuesta, unless that train was light enough for a Consolidation to handle. But of course the Mikados were used elsewhere as needed. In this photo, 3251 is at Shumala on the Coast main line, just passing the depot as it arrives.

     The foregoing might sound like you have to do a tender swap for every SP steam locomotive, but of course that’s not so. One of the Class C-9 Consolidations I have on the layout, SP 2752, is yet another long-time denizen of San Luis Obispo, and had an entirely conventional 10,000-gallon Vanderbilt tender, which came with this Key brass model in the first place. Shown below is 2752 at the engine terminal in Shumala, with the caboose track in the foreground.

As with all my steam locomotives that have Vanderbilt tenders, I have relied on Al Massi to open up those tenders and install DCC and sound hardware. I owe him a real vote of gratitude for making these engines look and run as well as they do.
     This is not my entire locomotive fleet, but gives some idea of my choices for steam power, based on San Luis Obispo assignments in the early 1950s. Obviously I am assuming that power that worked on my mythical branch line at Shumala, only about 20 miles south of San Luis, would be drawn from the power that was assigned at San Luis Obispo. I have enjoyed researching that power, finding prototype photos of the engines in question, and then acquiring models to duplicate them for my layout.
Tony Thompson