Sunday, May 22, 2016

Vehicle loading on flat cars

This post discusses one approach to the interesting issues and challenges when various kinds of vehicles are loaded on railroad flat cars. One can rely on prototype photos for how this is done, or if one has access to them, one or more of the Loading Rules books. Rules for loading open-top cars with a variety of cargoes were originated by the Master Car Builders’ Association or MCB in 1896, first as recommendations, then advanced to Standard in 1908. Thereafter, revisions were issued from time to time by the American Railway Association (ARA), whose Mechanical Division was the successor to the MCB. In 1934, when the Association of American Railroads (AAR) succeeded the ARA, these rules became AAR rules.
     In an earlier post, I showed one of Richard Hendrickson’s flat car loads, with surplus Army trucks on a flat car (you can find it at this link: ). Richard owned a full set of AAR Loading Rules booklets, and always was careful to use those loading diagrams for loads like this.
     Many years ago, I acquired a white metal kit for a Euclid scraper. It was simple to assemble, but a challenge to paint in the prototype’s light green. I had a good, well-lighted photo of a prototype Euclid machine and finally got my model to look like the same color. I can’t possibly describe the mix, I made so many additions of tiny amounts (“too light,” “no, too dark,” aw, too yellow,” etc.). The kit also included Euclid decals to complete the model.
     The Euclid Company of Euclid, Ohio introduced its first scraper in 1924, and prospered with a series of models thereafter. In late 1953, they were purchased by General Motors, which wanted to get into more earthmoving equipment, a deal finalized on January 1, 1954. This means that my model year of 1953 would still feature Euclid-built equipment (though GM continued to use the Euclid name as long as they owned that company).  Next, I wanted to have my model on a flat car, being shipped.
     One can find out how this would be blocked by looking at the ARA or AAR Loading Rules. Shown below is a diagram of how equipment like this was to be shipped, dominated by wheel chocks. Shippers were permitted to add tie-downs or other extensions of the loading diagram, but the diagram shows the required minimum.

     I show below a prototype photo of something like this, though unfortunately the scraper is not in the immediate foreground. But you can see the blocking on the road grader nearest the camera. This is an SP company photo, taken in 1943 (Arnold Menke collection). Here, side strips have been installed alongside wheel chocks.

     My own scraper model was easy to set up this way. I used a set of resin wheel chocks produced by Heiser Models (the military models firm), chocks which follow the rules for loading of armor and heavy vehicles, but they were usable here too. I haven’t been able to find out if these chocks are still offered by Heiser. They are easy to make from stripwood, however, as I have done for other loads.
     In addition to the wheel chocks, I added a crate of spare parts (or parts not installed at the factory). This was just one of the crates in the very useful Tichy set, “Wood Crates,” no. 8174. The crate also has hold-down strips on its sides. Here is the complete load on an SP flat car.

The scraper has the chocks glued to its wheels, but it is not glued to the flat car, nor is the crate. This way, I can have the scraper shipped on another flat car if desired.
     I have additional vehicle loads to set up with appropriate blocking and tie-downs, and look forward to seeing them on the layout. If any go beyond the simple approach shown in this post, I will report further.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Route Cards — 10: Southern Pacific

This post is connected with, but not about, waybills, so I have not treated it as a segment in my ongoing posts on waybill subjects. Instead, it is about routing cards.That’s a topic I introduced some time back, in a general post about these cards (see that post at: ). Once introduced, I went on to provide more history and details as I discovered them; here are  links to two of the nine previous posts in the series. Others can be found using the search box at the right of this text, key words “route cards.”

     Most if not all railroads had a system of using route cards in major and many minor yards, to facilitate switching and train make-up. I have wondered for some years if I could find out anything about the Southern Pacific system, though for a long time I could turn up nothing. Finally a friend sent me a photo of a switchman’s pocket card, summarizing routing numbers for various destinations out of West Oakland Yard. It appears to be a 1936 document. I still don’t know what the route cards themselves looked like (see post no. 8, link above, for some examples from other roads), but at least I know some codes. Here is the photo I received:

You can see that it is folded to make four pages, and is pocket-size. Visible here, though hard to read, are page 1 on the right, and 4 on the left. Below is shown one of the interior pages, page 2. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

     This page is more readable than most of this document, so I have transcribed the entire list, shown below as a jpeg (I can send you a PDF if you like). Some readers may be surprised at the railroad place names in a few cases, but a careful study of a Western Division map, such as the one on the end sheet of John R. Signor’s book, Southern Pacific’s Western Division (Signature Press, 2003) will locate them. A few locations, like Tie Pile for destination 77, are located in West Oakland Yard (see the map on page 95 of the book just cited). The “Desert” in destination 44 refers to Desert Yard. You can click to enlarge, or download to enlarge as you wish.

     I don’t know what these SP route cards may have looked like, but a reasonable guess, from a very simple perspective, might be something like that shown below, adopted from one of Keith Jordan’s cards shown in Part 8 of this series (link near top of the present post).

     I would love to find information from more terminals, or actual SP route cards, and will continue to look for examples.
Ton Thompson

Monday, May 16, 2016

That “bad decal” project, Part 2

In the previous post ( ), I showed the reason why I was replacing some bad decals, “bad” because the numerals included in that set were very unlike the prototype. The replacement decal set, the modern Microscale 87-0414, is highly recommended to anyone still hoarding an old version of this set, because the old version simply has the wrong characters.
     I will show here a few of the cars I did this replacement on, without bothering to show the old lettering — that was clearly depicted in the previous post, in my opinion. And although in what follows I will provide brief historical background on each car, there is far more in the way of specifics and photos in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, A.W. Thompson, R.J. Church and B.H. Jones, Signature Press, Berkeley and Wilton, CA, 2000).
     First, let’s look at the car whose number replacement I showed in up-close photos, PFE 46743. This is one of the 2000 cars of PFE Class R-40-23 built in 1947 and numbered 46703–48702. The paint scheme depicted is the original. Since I model 1953, the car is moderately dirty, but I would remind those familiar with PFE practice to recall that PFE washed many thousands of cars each year in this era, so that age of PFE paint scheme often does not correlate well with dirtiness of car.

I have added fan shafts, grab irons, and other details to these cars, in the general way described in other posts about upgrading Athearn reefers (see: ).
     After the first 2000 cars of PFE Class R-40-23 were numbered up to 48702, PFE decided to number the remaining 3000 cars of the class into the series 5001–8000, by this time occupied by few if any cars, and those very elderly and ready for scrapping. I modeled two of these cars, PFE 5135 and PFE 6352. The latter was modeled with hatches open, as described in an earlier post (at this link: ), using flat brass strip to make sturdy latch bars.

     Next I show one of the cars in rebuilt Class R-40-24. These 2610 cars were rebuilt in the 1947–1948 period, mostly from older R-30-13 and R-40-4 cars. Their car numbers ranged from 65921 to 68532, and were all originally rebuilt with plywood sides. That is what is depicted here, by the simple expedient of removing the rivets on the Athearn sides. The Athearn molding has a slight ridge marking panel lines, which is a lame depiction of overlapping steel sheets, but turns out to be just about right for the metal seals PFE used to try and seal its plywood sheet joints. I also replaced the Athearn steel-car door hinges with long-strap wood-car hinges (the hinges PFE preferred on wood-sheathed cars). This model approach does not give quite the correct plywood panel widths, but does convey the general appearance.

This paint scheme is that of 1949, when most side hardware became orange instead of black, but the UP emblem remained in red-white-blue.
     The plywood seemed to work out well at first, but with time in service, water began to work into the seams between sheets, and gradually caused the plywood to swell, delaminate, and curl. At first, plywood sheets were replaced, but before long, the directive went out that any car with failing plywood sheathing was to be re-sheathed with conventional tongue-and-groove (T&G) siding. I decided to model one such car, using the Athearn wood-sheathed reefer as a stand-in (several of its features don’t rally match PFE practice), and it looked like the photo below. Athearn’s rendition of T&G siding is really coarse, but as a stand-in, I decided it could remain in service.

     Last, I modeled PFE 5135, one of the R-40-23 class in the number series 5001–8000, with hatches not glued in place. The loose hatches can be simply set so that they are resting in place to look closed, as in this photo:

But they can also be laid on their backs, as they would be during icing, so that an icing scene can be photographed with open rather than closed hatches. Note that hatch plugs have been placed inside the hatch covers, and locking hooks (as the hatch plug/cover assemblies for Class R-40-23 did have) are also modeled.

     These five cars, though not as well detailed as other possible sources of PFE cars, such as InterMountain for Class R-40-23, and the Terry Wegmann/InterMountain models of Class R-40-24, or for a number of good resin kits (Sunshine and Stan Rydarowicz, for two), can serve as part of a much larger PFE fleet on my layout. And now that I have fixed the poor car numbers shown in the prior post (cited at the very top of the present post), I can put them to work.
Tony Thompson

Friday, May 13, 2016

Replacing bad decals

In my title, I don’t mean “bad decals” in the sense that they have come apart, or detached themselves, or gone all silvery. Those things are bad, but not what I mean in this post. Here I refer to decals which are bad representations of the correct lettering. The specific case I will comment on has luckily been addressed, and the decal maker now makes a correct set or sets, but unfortunately I applied some decals from a prior set. I decided to replace them.
     The decals are for a Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator car. Just to clarify things, shown below is a detail from a prototype photo (PFE photo, my collection) which clearly shows the lettering style, and in particular the numerals, which in typographic terms are relatively condensed, compared to the alpha characters.

This is a steel ice car of Class R-40-20, one of the 500 cars built by General American in the 1000-car order. Note that the numerals in the car number are not perfectly spaced; these were done number by number in a hand-held stencil.
     The offending decal set is the 1980s version of Microscale set 87-0414. It was evident even then that the lettering was not really right, but there were no good alternatives, including the Champ set of the day, for some items in the Microscale set. Here is a photo of a model with the lettering from this Microscale set; a comparison with the photo above should clarify the problem. The “PFE” initials are also a little small here.

The lettering is too light overall, and the numerals in particular are too extended. I would submit that the differences are evident even if you don’t find type interesting. (By the way, the capacity data are different quantities and differently arranged because there are two different car classes shown, though there is a missing digit in the Load Limit. For photos of all relevant PFE car classes, please see the book, Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Signature Press, 2000)
     Having some otherwise okay models which I didn’t like to operate because this lettering bugged me (to repeat an earlier confession, I’m a bit of a type geek; see: ), it was time to replace the bad decals. The simplest way is to just paint over the offending car number, but this is also an opportunity to replace all the capacity data (also deficient in the old 87-0414 set), as the prototype did when lettering was deteriorated. I used fresh Daylight Orange to paint a block on the car side, either to cover just the car number, or to cover the number and the entire data block, or to cover the car number and selected data replacement, as happened sometimes when a car was reweighed. I did all three on different cars.
     Here is the new car number for the car shown in the photo above. I have left the too-small PFE initials alone.

I submit that even a cursory comparison of the three photos in this post clearly shows what I am talking about for the car number. I have four other cars with the old Microscale numerals and will replace the car numbers on all four.
     The current version of Microscale set 87-0414, meticulously researched and drafted by Dick Harley, is impressively complete and correct. I naturally turned to it to replace the bad old lettering shown above. As I have said before, should you happen to be hoarding an old Microscale 87-0414 set, trash it at once and buy a current version. The new lettering is just so much better.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

An operating weekend

About a week ago, I enjoyed an operating weekend in San Diego. I won’t bore you with a personal account of each day, other than to offer some appreciation of the layouts I enjoyed. It’s always a revelation to visit someone else’s layout, even if not for the first time, especially if you get to operate, and this weekend was no exception.
     One of the layouts was the La Mesa Club Tehachapi layout, an icon of our hobby and an unequaled monument to what is possible in model railroading. The layout now has its main line complete (some 30 years after construction began), and it is a remarkable accomplishment, even with some scenery and cosmetics still to be completed. I volunteered for one of the jobs I really like on the layout, being an operator, and was delighted to be assigned to Woodford. Located a little below Tehachapi Loop, the scenery from the operator’s chair is outstanding and because it is a busy railroad, there are plenty of trains in a typical operating session.
     Here is the operator’s position, a suitably old desk, with headphone, scissor-extension mouthpiece, levers to operate the train order board at the depot (the black square at the back of the desk, photo center), and of course the timetable, train record sheet, and pads of blank train orders and clearance cards. There is also a foot switch for “push to talk” conversation on the party line with the dispatcher.

The view from this position is excellent, now that the scenery in the area is well along. The roads continuing onto the backdrop from the three-dimensional scenery look poor at this angle, but from a straight-on view in the aisle, are well aligned and look fine. Note the depot train order board, set to “stop” in both directions, as was SP practice.

     Just uphill from the operator’s position is the Loop, and when two large trains are meeting at Walong, as you see here (you can click to enlarge), it’s a scene almost impossible to duplicate anywhere in model railroading. A great experience to be there and be part of operations. If you have never been there, do not miss a chance to see this layout.

     The other layout I want to mention is Jay Styron’s re-creation of Southern Pacific’s Friant branch. Though not a large layout, it captures a number of elements very well, and our crew had fun operating the trains. I will just show a few views. The main town on the branch is Clovis, nicely rendered with plenty of space between the industries, as is realistic in a small town like this.

Here is another view within Clovis, showing how nicely rendered the scenery is. This alone makes a layout fun to operate, though Jay’s layout ran well and had a good amount of switching (which I like). Most, maybe all, of the Clovis industries are named for actual ones in the region.

Last, I will show what I thought was an excellent treatment of the space inside a loop, always an interesting challenge in layout scenery design. Jay has modeled a field with plants just sprouting, located in a way typical of this area, above an embankment, as you seen here. It’s a superb example of something often seen but not often modeled. (The depot just beyond the field is at Friant, end of the branch.)

     This was a great weekend in a number of ways, not least the two excellent layout I’ve shown here. There were a number of others, either operating or open for tours, but I decided to concentrate on these two. They illustrate what you can learn from visiting as well as operating.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Electrical wars: Part 9: contacts for a turnout

Nearly all the turnouts on my layout are hand-thrown, and most rely on point-to-stock-rail contact for electrical continuity of the route through the turnout. In almost all cases, this works all right, with some need before each operating session to carefully clean that contact area where the points and stock rails touch. But in a few cases, contact is stubbornly bad, or worse, bad sometimes and fine other times. This post is about one solution to the problem, without resorting to a switch machine.
     I should mention that I prefer hand throws on other than mainline switches, because that was how the prototype worked. Naturally a turnout far from the edge of the layout, that would require a long reach among structures and other scenery, to operate a hand throw, is an obvious choice to operate with a switch machine, but other than that, I want to retain hand throws as much as I can. I am gradually changing over my old Caboose Industries “giant” ground throws to the smaller and better operating Bitter Creek ground throws (see my post evaluating these ground throws at: ).
     In the post just cited, I also discussed adding electrical contacts to ensure reliable behavior of a turnout, in that case alongside the track but concealed inside a structure. But one does not always have a handy location for such a concealing structure. Instead, the contacts have to be placed underneath the layout. This post shows how I did that recently for one of my problem turnouts. But the challenge was, the turnout is already installed and ballasted. There was no hole beneath the throw rod for an operating rod to contacts underneath.
     Creating that hole seemed like the first order of business. As I have done in other such cases, I first drilled a hole a ways from the location of the throw bar, 2-3/4 inches to be precise.

Afterward, the hole was easily plugged with some Sculptamold and a little ballast.
     Next, I could clamber under the layout and carefully measure 2-3/4 inches from the initial hole, thus hopefully locating the center of the throw rod, and then carefully drill upward, watching the chips fall from the drill bit. First they were plywood, then Homasote, then a bit of cork (I had used cork roadbed in this part of the layout). Now I knew I was up to the layout surface, while avoiding drilling up into the throwbar. The hole was fairly small diameter (same as the one shown above), so I enlarged it with a 1/4-inch drill bit, being careful again not to drill into the throw bar above.
     Now I was ready to assemble the various parts of the arrangement. First of all, I needed a set of contacts. This is easy in my case, because some of the twin-coil switch machines used on my previous layout had been replaced due to inconsistent performance, and I could harvest the nice contacts provided on them. Here is a photo of the elderly Kemtron machine I cannibalized (written on it is “bind,” which is why it was surplus):

Part of the machine can be disassembled by removing the screws that hold it together, but the pivot at left is riveted, so I had to use a hacksaw and cut off one end of the machine base, then cut underneath the contacts. When that was done, and the cuts filed clean, I had the part shown below.

The cut edge is toward the lower right. The mild steel plate here is all one piece, and was kept because it also mounts the contacts.
     There also has to be a pivot plate to provide a positive motion of the bottom of the operating rod in response to hand-throwing the turnout above. This plate can be a simple square of brass sheet, with a hole suitable for the operating rod. I fumbled around in my materials box and found some thin brass sheet, and drilled a hole in it for the “music wire” I chose for an operating rod. Here is a view of the plate, installed with a single screw, covering the hole drilled up to the throw bar. Actual size of the brass piece is about 1/4 x 3/8 inches, obviously not critical dimensions. The hole is a bit larger than the diameter of the operating rod.

     The contact installation described above ended up in a narrow corner, which I just can’t seem to photograph clearly. Accordingly, I will show a nearby one of the same type, though with a different set of contacts. I particularly wanted to show the end of the operating rod, which shows better in the alternative one I photographed. The end of the operating rod seems to get bent to a little different shape in every installation like this, because I just do what seems best at the time. Below is a clear photo of that nearby installation, with the rod slipped through a hole in the center of a trio of contact arms. (You may click to enlarge.)

In this view, the red and green wires at the bottom of the photo are not part of the contact installation; the other wires are the track feeders connected to the contacts.
     This kind of contact installation allows the turnout on the layout to still be thrown by hand, but ensures good electrical power to the frog and point rails. My new installation seems to be working correctly (touch wood), and it will be an improvement if it remains solid.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

More about caboose cards

As part of the development of waybills, many modelers also include locomotive and caboose cards. These obviously have no equivalent whatever among freight waybills, but may still have some use in model operations. Locomotive cards, for example, can contain DCC information, such as the decoder address (especially when different from the locomotive number) and identification of function keys, such as, F2 blows the whistle, etc. It would be my view that if such cards are included in train packets along with waybills, they should be a distinctive color, so that they are obviously not waybills, and might also be a different size or shape.
     Then what about caboose cards? Again, they are clearly not waybills in any sense, but do provide an identification of that car in the train. What form could they take, to have at least some prototype character? I was asked by Otis McGee to create some caboose cards to replace his old ones (which were simply blue versions of his old car cards from Old Line Graphics). My first thought was to just make plain cards with car number and little else (something like that has been tried; see: ), but then it occurred to me that cabooses had equipment record cards, and had a number of regular inspections when in service. Why not create a model version of an equipment or inspection card for each caboose?
     One starting point would be the information on prototype caboose record cards, of which the SP maintained a file into the mid-1960s. Shown below are both the front and back of one of these 5 x 9-inch cards (these cards are at the California State Railroad Museum, and this particular card was shown in Appendix 2 of my book, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Volume 2, Cabooses (Signature Press, Berkeley and Wilton, CA, 2002). The car, SP 33, second of that number, was built at LA Shops as Class C-30-3 in October 1930, and scrapped in April 1964. (You can click to enlarge.)

Among the interesting and/or useful information on the front of this standard card are built date and place, car class, trucks, brakes, and numerous special appliances. On the back is essentially a repair and paint record.
     Though this is an equpment record card, not something ordinarily carried in a caboose, it could be so managed on a layout. Then as much of this form as a person wanted to include could be used to create a caboose card. Here is an example I experimented with.

To do this kind of card correctly would require looking up the various prototype data on the actual SP cards at CSRM (corresponding to each model caboose number), which anyone could do. I did look up one of my model cars, and here is how the above form would look, filled out for it.

As seen above on the caboose card for SP 33, many entries are hand-written, which I tried to reproduce in this example.
     Another simple approach would be to create something which looked like the inspection cards inside every caboose, as I mentioned. This could have lines for inspectors to sign and date. I made up such a card for Otis to use with his caboose fleet. Here is a blank card:

Then I initialed and dated several different versions, so that it would be hard to find duplicate parts of any one date or signature. Here is one example of the bottom part filled out.

I made five sets of these, mixing and matching dates and signatures. Here’s an example for one particular caboose on the layout. Note that it has only the "interior" inspection signature and date in common with the bill shown above.

A caboose assigned to a particular terminal can then be restricted in the trains to which it can be assigned. Cabooses assigned to the terminal from which a train is departing can move in either direction. But a caboose assigned to the next division point in either direction can only move toward that division point, not in the other direction.
     These are two approaches for those who may want to use some kind of caboose card, but would like the card to reflect something about the prototype.
Tony Thompson