Saturday, September 26, 2020

Handout: PFE models

Today I have presented a talk in the virtual meeting, “Hindsight 20/20 RPM,” which has been a monthly all-day event of presentations via Zoom. My talk was entitled “Improving the Accuracy of Pacific Fruit Express Models.” I thank Ted Culotta and friends for making this happen.
     Virtual handouts like this one have the advantage that they can include live internet links and are thus much more convenient to use. There were a number of on-line resources mentioned in the talk, and a few tabular materials, so this handout is intended to provide them in convenient reference form.
     I summarized the history of PFE paint schemes up to 1960 somewhat quickly in the talk, and mentioned then that the summary list of schemes would be in the handout. Here is that slide:

This of course is very much “once over lightly,” and should not be a substitute by a modeler for information from the PFE book or the SPH&TS lettering book (both those citations are below).
     One thing I talked about was correcting commercial lettering on PFE models, not only the lettering that is delivered on ready-to-run cars, but decals as well. In recent years, Microscale had hugely increased the quality and accuracy of their PFE decal sets (with Dick Harley’s digital lettering), but at one time it was fairly lame.
     Below I show, at left, a 1990s model lettering job, at center the prototype, which has numerals visibly far more condensed that the stuff at left, and at right, correcting the numerals with the current Microscale 87-414 or 87-501 set. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     I have been giving various kinds of talks about PFE for probably 30 years, but have always concentrated on the prototype. And in this talk too, I certainly included some prototype information, while at the same time explaining that there is far more in published books than could possibly be in any oral presentation. To that end, I recommended two books and two articles in the on-line magazine Model Railroad Hobbyist (articles obtainable for free at ), as follows:

Anthony W. Thompson and Dick Harley, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide (SP Historical & Technical Society, Upland, CA, 2016).

Anthony W. Thompson, Robert J. Church, and Bruce H. Jones, Pacific Fruit Express (2nd edition, Signature Press, Berkeley and Wilton, CA, 2000).

Tony Thompson, “Pacific Fruit Express, Part One: Delivering perishables across the nation,” Model Railroad Hobbyist, “Getting Real” column, September 2013.

Tony Thompson, “Pacific Fruit Express, Part Two: Modeling PFE cars,” Model Railroad Hobbyist, “Getting Real” column, October 2013.

Note that the fourth of these, the MRH article from October 2013, is about modeling, and is fairly detailed.
     I will add links to a number of my prior blog posts about PFE models in a moment, but first, here is the table of car classes included in the talk.

This table contains the principal car classes in the PFE roster, as shown in the Official Railway Equipment Register, for January 1953, and shows the number of cars in each class at that time.
     The table includes a column at far right that shows how many models of each class you would need if you chose to model one car for every 1000 prototype PFE cars. That I have captured pretty much all of the PFE fleet is shown by comparing the total number of cars listed (37,684) with the actual fleet size, 38,565.
     One message I always emphasize about the table above is the very large size of Class R-30-9, some 7700 cars originally so classified and over 7100 even in 1953. I showed in the talk an example of a model of this class, in the 1946 paint scheme and presumably recently washed, by its clean appearance.

     As mentioned, I have posted frequently in my blog about all kinds of issues with PFE car models, and below is a fair (though not exhaustive) selection of them, in chronological order. You can find more of them by using “PFE” as a search term in the search box at the upper right corner of this post.

“Correcting a brass model of a PFE car,” May 25, 2013,

“Replacing bad decals,” May 13, 2016,

“The ‘bad decal project,’ Part 2,” May 16, 2016,

“PFE lettering after World War II,” June 26, 2016,

“PFE lettering post-WW II, Part 2,” June 29, 2016,

“Correcting a ready-to-run car, March 20, 2018,

“Small rant: manufacturer lettering, April 13, 2019,

“PFE paint schemes — again,” September 6, 2019,

     As always, I hope this handout material will enlarge whatever impression viewers have taken away from my talk, and will provide background and depth for the material I presented.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Resin box car build, Part 3

In the previous post in this series about building a resin box car kit (Sunshine no. 17.5, modeling Southern Pacific Class B-50-14), I had completed all model work and detailing. (You can read that post at this link: ). The next step was painting.
     As I have done for some years, my Southern Pacific freight cars are painted a color matched years ago to SP drift cards, namely Floquil “D&H Caboose Red,” which has a nice, rich chestnut tone to the boxcar red. Luckily I came across several bottles of it in a hobby shop some years ago and bought them all, so my stash endures. That’s the color of this model.

     The next step was to address lettering. As I mentioned in the first post in this series, in 1951 SP sold its Southern Pacific of Mexico subsidiary to the Mexican government, including a number of locomotives and freight cars. (For additional background on the Mexican subsidiary, see an earlier post: .) The railroad was renamed Ferrocarril del Pacifico, and at the very beginning, the reporting marks were F del P. Not long afterward, the usual abbreviation for the word “railroad” in Spanish, FC for “ferrocarril,” was adopted instead, making the mark FCP.
     For this model, I wanted to depict one of the first cars relettered, on the basis of the photograph below, clearly showing that the “S” in the SP initials had been painted out and replaced with “F del.” (Detail of a photo at Guadalajara, Mexico in April 1952 by C.W. Witbeck, Cyril Durrenberger collection) Note that all other lettering remains SP original.

This can easily be done withe Sunshine decals, because they include the “F del P” marks (though I must caution that the Sunshine set does not have correct SP numerals, like those you see above).
     So the first step is to fully letter the car, except for the “S” in “SP,” and also omit the initials on the car end. I used Microscale set 87-911 for all of this, including its correct numerals. (And by the way, do use the set revised in October 2007; earlier versions of the set are inferior and should be discarded). Here is the result.

At this point I like to install trucks. As most of the cars of this class continued to ride on T-section trucks until the end of their lives (especially the ones transferred to Mexico), I used Kadee no. 554 “sprung” trucks, and added rectangles of black paper behind the far-too-thin springs so one can’t see through them.
     Then I simply weathered the car as I normally would, using acrylic washes (the basics of this technique, and a number of specialized applications, can be found in the “Reference pages” at the very top right corner of the present post). I didn’t want extreme weathering, but did want a dusty and faded look.
     The next step is to apply “fresh paint” patches as needed, using Rail Graphics decal sheets, over brush-painted Gloss, then apply the “F del” reporting mark, and reweigh and repack stencils. Add a coast of flat finish, then some chalk marks. You can click on the image to enlarge it to see details, if you wish.

Incidentally, the same paint patch and replacement reporting mark initials had to be applied on the car ends, as you see  below.

    The finished car can now enter service on the layout. That may raise in some minds the question as to how freight cars of foreign railroads, in this case a Mexican railroad, were handled in the U.S., and what paperwork was required. I will take up that topic in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Monday, September 21, 2020

A CRP mill gondola

I should begin by explaining what “CRP” stands for, since I am sure that not all readers will know. It is the reporting mark of the Central Railroad Company of Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey (CNJ). It was organized in 1946 to own the lines of the CNJ in Pennsylvania, from Easton via Wilkes-Barre to Scranton. The intent was to avoid New Jersey state taxes, but evidently the CNJ’s tax attorneys were not as smart as the state’s people, because the effort essentially failed. In 1952, the CRP was folded back into the CNJ, and New Jersey state taxes continued to consume the major part of the CNJ’s revenue.
     But the lines of the CRP served a significant slice of the steel industry and ancillary businesses, centered around Bethlehem Steel, and accordingly the CRP owned the appropriate freight cars for that traffic. Of some 8200 cars of the CRP fleet in the spring of 1953, when I model, almost 2500 were mill gondolas, most of them 50 feet long or longer. (Incidentally, CNJ put most of its freight car fleet under CRP marks; in 1952 they only had 1750 cars of their own.)
     I happen to have inherited from Richard Hendrickson an HO scale version of one such CRP car, a 65-foot mill gondola. The model is a Precision Scale brass car, nicely detailed. It is fairly light in weight as it comes in the box, so Richard added lead weight in the underbody to make it more operable. He also tried the experiment (as he described it) of using a hammer and punch to try denting the side panels from the inside, as of course was the appearance of all such cars after a few years in service.
     I thought Richard had taken some photos of this denting process, and I have his binders of negatives, but haven’t found this particular project. So below is a photo of the final result, tilted to catch the light and show the denting.

     Richard painted and lettered the car after the distressing treatment, probably to suggest a 1930-built car receiving fresh paint after World War II (for his modeling time of October 1947). Since I model six years later, I needed to update the reweigh date. But the satin finish Richard chose should be retained, because if a model like this is given a coat of flat finish, the dents disappear. They are limited in visibility even with this finish; here is the other end.

     As I have mentioned before, brass freight cars usually are produced with springs on the truck screws which are stiff enough to essentially prevent rotation of the truck in model operation. Unless the model is just for the display case, something has to be done.
      My solution is one of two things: either cut the spring in half, which allows it to still restrain the truck but minimally, or to replace both spring and screw with a shorter, non-shouldered metric screw. With the latter solution, a washer has to be made, as I described in a recent post (see it at: ). In fact, the screw replacement pictured in that post was for this CRP gondola.
     This particular gondola was originally chosen to be part of a larger project Richard built some years ago, a trio of oversize loads that would require idler flat cars between a set of three gondolas.I showed the completed project in an earlier post (available at: ), and repeat the overall photo here (you can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish).

The CRP gondola that is the subject of the present post is at right. Below is a photo of the load you see above, installed in the car, with an idler flat, as would be needed with this over-length load. Here the pair of cars (both would be noted on the waybill) are being switched on my layout.

I can of course operate this pair of cars in any mainline train, without necessarily being part of the triple-car set that I showed above.
     It has to be admitted that the triple-car project, as pictured, does not operate well. Richard did not have an operating layout, so cannot have known that, but I would like to correct it. My efforts have been directed, first, at getting each of the gondolas to operate well, and second, to make sure the loads will all perform and pass all clearances. It’s still a work in progress.
Tony Thompson

Friday, September 18, 2020

Those pesky truck screws for brass models

Probably every modeler who has owned or worked on a brass freight car (and even some steam locomotive tenders) knows about the “standard” truck attachment used. It is a shouldered screw with a fairly long shank, and a coil spring around it. When the screw is tightened to where the bottom of the shoulder reaches the bolster of the model car body, the spring is compressed and holds the truck against the bolster.
     I show two examples below, along with one of those springs. The larger screw, on the left, has a 2.0 mm x 0.4 pitch thread, while the smaller one at right has a 1.7 mm x 0.35 thread. You can see that the spring is as long or longer than the shank, even without the thickness of a truck bolster in place, so it will be significantly compressed when the screw is tight. Rotation of the truck around the screw, for example as a model car enters a curve, then requires substantial force. And if you want to operate the model on other than straight track, that’s the problem.

     There are several solutioins to this situation. One is to clip off the spring to shorten it. I usually start by reducing it to about two-thirds of its height, then shorten further if needed. This can work, but you can see in the above photo that the original spring has a flattened turn at each end, keeping it from binding against or snagging either the screw head or truck bolster. Cutting off one end can lead to binding problems, but it’s a simple solution and may be worth a try.
     I’m sure modelers know right away that it can’t work to just omit the spring. We all learned to tighten truck screws down snug, then back off a quarter turn. But omitting the spring on a shouldered screw is like backing off 15 turns. Not okay.
     What I usually do instead is replace the screw. Metric screws with both these thread sizes are readily available for purchase on-line from a variety of hardware suppliers and (relatively expensively) from NorthWest Short Line (see them at: ). Problem is, they are small screws and don’t have wide heads like the screws shown above. So they can’t secure a truck with a bolster hole large enough for the shouldered screws.
     The answer is a washer, though I have not found any commercial washers the right size (doubtless they exist, but I haven’t found them). The easy answer is to make one from styrene. I just use a paper punch to punch out a disk from 0.030-inch styrene sheet. Paper punches are all different diameters; the one I use is just right for shouldered screws, 0.165 inches. Then I drill the disk with a #50 drill as a clearance hole for the 1.7-mm screws. That gives you a washer like what you see below, with its clearance hole for the metric screw at right.

     When installed, the replacement metric screw and washer work fine. The example below is a Precision Scale model car for which I abandoned hope of using the original brass trucks, and substituted Accurail solid-sideframe trucks and, as you see, old Kadee wheelsets. But the shouldered-screw attachment problem remained, and I used the system described above, in fact the same screw size, 1.7 mm. You can see the washer and screw head in the middle of the truck bolster. This finally permitted layout operation of this model.

     I should mention one other solution to this problem: just give up on the metric threads in the model bolster altogether, and drill and tap for 2-56 screws. As these screws are larger, it works fine to do this, and especially in stubborn cases where you don’t seem to be able to get the metric screw and washer method to work, it is a practical alternative. But it’s more work than what I show above.
     This substitution of a straight metric screw and styrene washer amounts to the best solution I’ve found for dealing with the unsatisfactory truck attachments of brass freight cars.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Magor dump car for the layout

Southern Pacific was among the many railroads that bought side-dump cars from the Magor Car Corporation (pronounced MAY-gorr). This car design had air-operated dump beds that could dump to either side of the car. Though these might normally only move in work trains, they nevertheless should be found occasionally on the layout, even if only posed on a siding, as well as being included in passing work trains.
     I had long been interested in having one of these cars in my car fleet, ever since overseeing the production of Ed Kaminski’s book on Magor’s history and cars, The Magor Car Corporation (Signature Press, 2000).  These side-dumps were a mainstay of Magor’s product line, though most railroads purchased them in small lots of at most a few tens of cars.
     As it happens, the SP cars were purchased in an order for 20 cars, numbered SPMW 2900–2919, in April 1929, under Magor Lot P-6945. This information is from the Magor book. I don’t have a photo of the SP cars, but here is a photo of the right side of a very similar Santa Fe car built in the 1920s (Richard Hendrickson collection). Note how dusty are the lower parts of the car.

     When models of these prototypes were produced in HO scale brass by W&R Enterprises, they disappeared quickly, and I didn’t manage to get one. But eventually it happened that I inherited one of the W&R models from Richard Hendrickson. Now I needed to paint and letter it.
     I proceeded to clean the model, then airbrush it with my best match to the SP drift cards, which is Floquil “D&H Caboose Red.” As I’ve often mentioned, I was lucky enough to buy a stash of this paint some years ago. Here is the left side, painted; you can see the resemblance to the photo above.

     After a coat of gloss finish, I was ready to decal, using the kit decals.The W&R model was provided with not only decals but also a lettering diagram. I knew that I could choose any car number in the full series, SPMW 2900–2919, because all 20 cars were still on the SP’s MOW roster in 1956. After decal application, here is the right side of the model with its large air tank.

Next came the vital step for a car like this, weathering. I used my usual technique with acrylic washes, heavy on the Neutral Gray to make the car look dusty. (For more on the acrylic wash technique, see the “Reference pages” at the top right corner of this blog post.) To add to the result of the acrylics, I also rubbed a little real dirt into the bed of the car, increasing the dusty look.
     Lastly, for operation, I added a pair of my standard couplers, Kadee no. 158 whisker couplers, and cut the truck mounting springs in half. The stock springs essentially are so stiff that they prevent truck rotation, perhaps a good thing for collectors, but I plan to operate the car. Here is the complete car:

The natural environment for a car like this is in a work train, or spotted at a location where track or right-of-way work is in progress.  From time to time on my layout, I operate a ballast train, often with other work cars in it, and here is the Magor car in such a consist, just as it passes my layout town of Shumala on the SP Coast Division main line.

     Though this is a nicely detailed and complete brass model to start with, it is an interesting project to paint and letter it, and to try and create a dusty, well-used look. Those were my aims here., and I think the results meet that goal.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Restoring an old brass automobile car

Recently a friend came to me with a derelict brass model, saying something like, “What is this? Can I use it on a 1956 layout?” I recognized the model at once as a Pennsylvania Railroad round-roof box car with double doors (thus, in AAR parlance until the mid-1950s, an “automobile” car, regardless of whether it carried auto parts or automobiles).
     Being a 40-foot car with double doors and a flush roof, I guessed it was probably an X31c, and so stated. These cars certainly were still around in 1956, though no longer in huge numbers. Later research confirmed that the car’s “flush roof,” i.e. roof curve blending smoothly with the side contour, does indeed make this a Pennsy X31c.
     “Well,” he said, “I don't have the original box or even the trucks.” I replied that I could supply trucks, and would be willing to clean up, repair, and paint the car for him. I guess this is my instinctive response to such challenges, since I recognize that I’m a sort of a “freight car guy” (see my earlier post on this subject: ).
     The car body was pretty tarnished, so my first step was to haul out my wife’s copper and brass polish and clean up the surface. Most of the tarnish came off easily, leaving the car body like this.

The floor/underframe part is a removable piece on this model. A “builder plate” underneath showed the model was built by KMT in Japan for Nickel Plate Products. Since the doors operate, the floor inside is visible with them open, so I could see I would need to paint the floor and the insides of doors.

I now wanted to prime the car. I used Tamiya “Fine Surface Primer”and applied only a light coat. I used a small piece of tape to keep the doors closed, applied inside at the top of the door pair, and primed most of the interior walls and doors also.

I followed the external primer that you see above with a coat of medium gray inside the car, so that with open doors that would be the interior color.
     Next came applying exterior car color. Though I am well aware of the orangish boxcar red used by PRR prior to World War II, the color became much more of a conventional boxcar color by the 1950s. In any case, I plan to weather the car substantially, so exact color not essential for this project. I was doing some other painting with old Floquil “D&H Caboose Red,” so used that. It is a richer, more chestnut-toned boxcar red. The painted body looked like this:

     This left only the floor/underframe part to be dealt with. This part only includes the floor from bolster to bolster. I painted the underside of it dark gray, and the upper side medium brown, so that with doors open it would look like wood flooring. Here is its appearance, mounted on Interim Truck Support Blocks.

     With these steps completed, it was time to add trucks and couplers, and begin lettering. But I will postpone those descriptions to a future post.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Another small personal note: poetry

Very occasionally, I indulge in a small personal note among these blog posts about modeling the Southern Pacific. This is another one, relating to poetry writing. It’s occasioned by the questions I get from time to time, about my poem, “Icing Reefers,” which appears on page 416 in the book, Pacific Fruit Express (Anthony W. Thompson, Robert J. Church, and Bruce H. Jones, Signature Press, 2nd edition, 2000), questions like, “where the heck did that come from?”
     I reproduce that page from the book below, for those not familiar with it. This happened to be a poem I had written awhile earlier, and thought it fitted with all the character of the book’s content. (You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish.)

     But that doesn’t answer the question about where that kind of stuff comes from. I have composed a Google Drive document to give a little personal history and background for my own writing, and then have included a number of pages of my poems, most of them published, with citations to the original sources. The page shown above is also there.

     This is not an important piece of this blog, nor of my personal history, but it is part of what I do and how I learned to write. If you enjoy any of the poems, so much the better.
Tony Thompson