Sunday, July 31, 2011

Waybills, Part 9

It’s been awhile since I commented about waybills. That’s mostly because the system in use on my layout seems fairly mature and successful. But there’s nothing like a jolt to your thinking to bring out all sorts of new ideas and insights, and that is what this post is mostly about.
     First, though, I want to mention that a book I’ve cited in my magazine articles and promoted in my clinic presentations is now available as a Google digitization, on the internet. The book is Eugene W. Coughlin’s work, entitled Freight Car Distribution and Car Handling in the United States (Association of American Railroads, Washington, DC, 1956). Coughlin was a manager in the AAR Car Service Division, and his book is an immensely revealing description of many of the operations we as modelers want to duplicate. He even includes a detailed description of one railroad’s course of instruction in the Car Service Rules, for those who’d like to learn more about that subject. The book is readily available from used book dealers on the internet, often for prices like $15, but you can now read it on line, at:
What comes up is the outer cover, followed by some blank pages, but keep scrolling down and you find the entire book.
     Now to the waybill “impact” I mentioned. I’ve been suggesting to Otis McGee that he could do better with the waybill procedures on his fine Shasta Division layout (see the 2011 issue of Kalmbach’s Great Model Railroads). He presently uses the traditional “mini bill” or, as some call it, the "MicroMark bill” in the usual four-cycle implementation.
     To use a waybill procedure like the one I use, with clear plastic sleeves to hold the paperwork, it was essential for Otis to retain a waybill of the same width as his current ones, since his waybill filing slots are cut into the layout fascia and thus not amenable to changes in dimensions. This immediately brought to mind the plastic sleeve used by Tony Koester, chosen for the same reason of being a bit over two inches wide. This vinyl sleeve is a commercial product. Otis bought his sleeves from Everyday Plastics, whose web site is at:  Here is what they look like:

The sleeve is four inches high and has the long side open (you can see that the upper sheet is slightly narrower than the lower sheet to facilitate access at the right edge). The three closed edges are sealed and crimped for reinforcement.
     The key point is not that the sleeve is different in size and proportions from the baseball-card sleeves I use. The point is that Otis wanted to see if we could dispense with having to put car initials and numbers on the sleeve itself (in other words, for the sleeve not to act as a car card). That, of course, also describes the procedure Tony Koester is using.
     We are still exploring all the ways to make waybills to take advantage of the plusses of this sleeve, and ways to counter the disadvantages. For the moment, I want to just show examples of what we are now looking at.
     First, a straightforward waybill, for a load of cement in a covered hopper. 

This is straightforward because the car can return empty to its origin for reloading, and then return again with another load of cement. In other words, all we need to put into an unmarked sleeve is this waybill, backed by an Empty Car Bill. The two bills alternate being uppermost in each direction, and the car’s actions are simple and prototypical. Here is the Empty bill: 

Note that both the waybill and the Empty Car Bill have an important feature which reproduces the prototype: the car initial and number are at the top of the bill.
     In the waybill first shown, it may be noted that I have increased the amount of information from the prototype waybill form, both the “STOP AT” notation, used for LCL and other partial shipments, and also increased the spaces for car routing, instructions, and descriptions of cargo (because the waybill is taller). To take advantage of the “stop car” entry, waybills have been devised which direct use of car stops for unloading partial shipments, in this case cartons of shoes:

The waybill provides that this SP box car will be spotted at the freight house in two towns, Dunsmuir and Mt. Shasta, for partial unloading at each place, before moving to the final unloading at Klamath Falls. This adds switching moves, among other things.
     As more of the plusses and minuses of this sleeve and waybill arrangement become evident, I will add posts on this topic to explore them.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet-SP box cars, update

I received a comment via e-mail, entirely appropriate, asking why I had not included car numbers in my original post about SP box cars (the AAR cars from 1936 to 1953). You can view it at: It is certainly true I didn’t include them, unlike my original “car fleet” post about PFE, and unlike my Part 2 on SP box cars.
     The reason was that there are a lot of car classes, and some of the car numbering is complicated, so I was trying to keep the table compact. No doubt I was also hindered by thinking that many people who are serious about SP box cars of this period likely have my book (Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Volume 4, Box Cars, Signature Press, 2006) and thus could find far more detail that I could readily provide here. But both reasons are kind of weak.
     Accordingly, here is a more complete table, with essentially the same information as before about numbers of cars in each class, but adding the numbering data, and separating out the T&NO cars in separate lines.

The core idea of the table changes little with this version, except it may be easier to compare the table to numbers on your models, if you’re working from that end.
     There is a second point about which I’ve been asked. There are classes, such as B-50-25, for which there is no model, but possibly a B-50-26 model could be used for it, because they are both 12-panel box cars, and InterMountain, after all, makes such a box car and sells it in lettering for Class B-50-26. How about it?
     The most visible difference between most of Class B-50-25 (which is a big class, after all) and the B-50-26 class is the car door. The so-called “interim improved Youngstown door,” which the 1946-built cars of the -25 class shares with the famous “Overnight” cars of Class B-50-24, is not offered by InterMountain, so they are right not to letter their model for a class they can’t quite represent.
     But this door does exist as a commercial product. It’s made by Southwest Scale Productions (visit their web site at: ) and will drop right into place on an InterMountain box car model. (You want the one for a 10' 0" inside height car.) So yes, you can model the -25 cars of 1946 (1600 cars) with Intermountain models, by changing the door.
     Is that all? Well, running boards and hand brakes did differ amongst various parts of the B-50-25 and -26 orders, and if you want to get those details right also, I’m afraid you will need to consult the very detailed tables in my book. At least it is convenient that all the cars of these two classes got the same trucks, ASF A-3 “Ride Control” trucks, and we have lovely commercial versions of that truck from Kato and Kadee, and now from Tahoe Model Works.
     In 1947, 1000 more cars of Class B-50-25 were built, without the wide-seam door. These are the highest 500 car numbers for both SP and T&NO. This door, no longer “interim,” is in fact close to the door InterMountain puts on their models. The 1948 construction of Class B-50-26 was exactly like the 1947 cars of Class B-50-25. (But again, specialties other than doors did differ.)
     On my part, I’ve ended up with too many InterMountain models of B-50-26 cars, so some of them will be renumbered for the 1947 B-50-25 cars, and others, in kit form, will be built with the Southwest Scale door to make 1946 cars of B-50-25. Most will also get correct running boards and brake gear.
Tony Thompson

Choosing a model car fleet-SP box cars, Part 2

In the previous post with this title, I discussed SP’s box cars of AAR design, 40 feet long, spanning the years from 1936 to 1953 (see: ).
     In this post I address the cars which preceded those AAR-design cars, and for simplicity will only include those which survived in significant numbers by my modeling year, 1953. These would be classes B-50-12 through B-50-16. As I have done before, I show below a table of the cars and car numbers in each of these classes, along with a column entitled “Needs,” which means the rough number of cars I would want to have in my total car fleet, at a rough ratio of one model per 1000 prototype cars. Here is the table:

     It’s worth mentioning that in this table, I listed the numbers of cars originally built, partly to provide comparison to the table I showed in the previous post by this name. But with older cars like these, as-built numbers are potentially misleading, because my own model fleet should reflect 1953, not the original fleet as it was built in the 1920s. That’s why there is a column for 1953 survival.
     It can be seen immediately that the B-50-13 and -14 cars, nearly identical body styles as originally built, were built as 3700 + 3300 cars, a total of 7000, a very substantial group of cars and almost evenly divided between the two classes. But it should be noted how much attrition there was among the B-50-13 cars.I will comment below on modeling these.
     Second, the B-50-15 and -16 cars, with similar though not identical bodies, originally totaled 3900 + 1000 cars, 4900 total cars and like the -13s and -14s, a considerable group which has to be modeled, though in this case dominated by B-50-15. And these classes had significantly less attrition that B-50-13 and -14.
     Lastly, the Class B-50-12 group, which originally was the USRA single-sheathed design, was rebuilt to all-steel (and quite different looking) cars in 1949.
     To summarize the modeling approaches which are possible, the B-50-12 cars as rebuilt have been done in resin by Sunshine and in brass by Challenger, both beautiful renditions. The B-50-13 and -14 cars have been done in resin by Sunshine, with most of the variations in roofs, doors and ends encompassed by the prototype. And the B-50-15 cars, originally wood sheathed but later mostly steel-sheathed, have been done in brass by Challenger and in resin by Sunshine, again, outstanding models in both media. The B-50-16 class, admittedly smaller, has not been done to date, as far as I know, but since it differs in having a Dreadnaught end instead of the corrugated end of Class B-50-15, could certainly be kitbashed from a Sunshine kit.
     To illustrate results, I will show a brass car and a resin car. First, the resin, which is a typical B-50-14 with the Dreadnaught ends added in the early 1930s to almost all of the class, in the form of a Sunshine model.

The brass one is a Challenger B-50-15, and here I’ve chosen a T&NO car to illustrate the class:

     Comparing my present car roster to the table above, I still need two cars, chosen from B-50-13 and -14, for my fleet, and will probably try a kitbash of a Sunshine B-50-15 kit into a B-50-16, since I already have the entirety of the “needs” identified in the table above, for Class B-50-15. And that, by the way, is one advantage of doing a “fleet analysis” of the kind I’m showing here: it tells you what you do not need. I guess I’ve reached the point where that’s as welcome a message as finding out what I do need.
 Tony Thompson

Monday, July 25, 2011

A few words on packing houses and produce shipping-3

In my previous post on this topic, I discussed pre-cooling, pre-icing, and related issues for refrigerator car service (see: This time I am going to say a little about car loading for shipment.
   I mentioned in my first post on produce shipping that the containers used for various fruits and vegetables varied in size, but all were optimized to fit into the standard refrigerator car interior, and also be appropriate for the particular kind of produce (see: Here is an illustration of a load of containers as packed into an ice refrigerator (the drawing is from the SP Bulletin, 1928):

Note that in the car center, spacers have been placed both to complete the filling of the load space, and to make it easy for workmen to get into the car for unloading. Air flow for ventilation service is illustrated.
     Depending on the shape and size of containers, the produce would be stacked various ways in the car. It can be noticed in the drawing above that the load does not reach the ceiling, largely to ensure good air flow. The same was done with orange crates, as shown here (it’s a Sunkist photo from my collection):

This image dates from the 1920s and shows the hand truck so often used for loading in early days. Note also the so-called “car strips” in the doorway at right, used to make sure that the load fit firmly into the car interior. The bulging crates are a deliberate feature, to provide some “spring” in the load tightness. Also evident here is the square end shape of the crate.
     A similar but larger crate was used for lettuce. Here is a view from the 1950s of lettuce loading at Salinas (this is a PFE photo from my collection):

The roller trays used to deliver crates to the loading spot are very commonly seen in photos. These crates also have some “spring” to them.
     A leafy vegetable somewhat like lettuce but shipped as upright plants is celery. Here is a later view of celery crates, being loaded by fork lift truck into a later car with load dividers (the image is from southern California, a UP photo provided by Terry Metcalfe):

The crates are taller than they are wide, in keeping with the shape of celery in its shipped form.
     My last loading example is cantaloupes, shipped from the Coit Ranch in Firebaugh, California. Again, the crates are a different shape, and are stacked in the car on edge. The ice bunker wall has a portable fan mounted for air circulation during loading, likely implying that the car has been pre-iced. This photo is from the Railfan and Railroad magazine collection.

     Most of these crates are not widely different from square in the end view. But several other crops used quite different crate shapes. Both tomatoes and pears, being more fragile produce, used a very flat crate, as can be recognized from this pear box label (from the days when the region was called the Santa Clara Valley, not yet Silicon Valley):

     These examples, largely drawn from the PFE book though cropped somewhat differently, should suffice to illustrate that modeling shipping arrangements requires knowing the crate size and shape for the produce you are modeling.
Tony Thompson

Monday, July 18, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet-SP box cars

As I’ve described in earlier posts, my approach to my model car fleet is to start with the proportions of prototype car fleets. This becomes particularly relevant with the car owners which are represented on my layout with numerous cars, namely SP and PFE. I discussed the issues involved in the PFE fleet for 1953 back in December (see: and in this post, I describe the corresponding issues for SP box cars. (Other SP car types may be similarly treated, but in the early 1950s the SP fleet was about 57 percent box cars, so these are by far the biggest part of the topic.)
     I might begin with 40-foot box cars of AAR design. SP bought an awful lot of these (more than 22,000 cars), in their various permutations, from 1936 until 1953. My starting point, then, is the prototype roster. A full roster is available in my book on SP box cars (Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Vol. 4, Box Cars, Signature Press, 2006) and an abbreviated version, including car number series, is in my clinic handout on Google Docs. Here is the link:

As with the PFE fleet described in the post cited in the first paragraph, above, I plan to roughly proportion my SP box cars at one model per 1000 prototype cars. Then a simple listing of the sizes of car classes shows directly how many models I need of each car class. Here is a table of the ones I’m talking about.

The right-hand column shows “needed model cars” Where denoted with two numbers, they represent “SP, T&NO” respectively. It will be noted that one cannot exactly choose one car per 1000 prototype cars for car classes with 1500 cars, which is why the table shows entries like “1 or 2” in some cases.
     What this table doesn’t show is what physical models are needed for the various classes, but the six “body styles” which describe these 14 classes and 22,300 cars are listed in the clinic handout, available in the Google Docs link shown above.
     One can immediately note in this list that the cars following Class B-50-26 were quite numerous (more than 7800 cars). The bad news is that there is no styrene model correct “out of the box” for any of those classes. There are Sunshine resin versions of both B-50-27 and B-50-28 classes (and classes B-50-29 through -33 were very similar to -28), and various styrene models can be kitbashed simply to yield this car body (see below), but there is no correct styrene model.
     Why not? What distinguished these SP box cars from others being built after World War II? It was the car height. For its own reasons, SP continued to buy (or build at Sacramento) cars with 10 feet interior height (IH), while practically all other railroads went to 10 feet, 6 inches IH after the war. Well, what’s six scale inches between friends? I’ll agree that in most situations, 6 scale inches is insignificant in HO scale, but in this case, it changes the appearance of the car end, removing what would be the top rib on the end of a 10' 6" box car.
     Many modelers won’t care, which means that conventional models of 10' 6" postwar box cars can be acceptable stand-ins for them. Unfortunately, I’m not in that group. On most railroads’ box cars, I certainly try if possible to get things like car ends right, but the SP is not “most box cars” for me; instead, it’s more a case of “must be right” unless the modeling demand is excessive.
     I said there is a simple kitbash. Here it is. Take any 10' 6" postwar box car, with correct roof for the SP car class desired. (If the roof is a separate part, glue it on.) Then use a razor saw to slice off the roof and top of ends right at the eave line, taking care to keep the cut neat. Gently sand the two cut surfaces to clean them up, and re-attach the pieces with styrene cement. The saw kerf has removed almost exactly six inches of height, and all or most of the original top rib on the end. You now need to add the correct top rib, if any, and voila, you have a pretty good 10' IH car.
     Here is a photo of a B-50-27 car created this way, starting with the old C&BT Shops car kit, shortened as described, and then replacing all, and I do mean all, of the clunky detail parts provided in the kit with aftermarket freight car parts:

The top rib on the end is styrene strip, and a 7-panel Superior door has been fitted. The same process works with other postwar box car models. Incidentally, the idea for this process came from Richard Hendrickson, who had already performed it and convinced himself it would work. (Then he had to convince me that it would work.)
     Where am I with my own SP box car fleet needs? Naturally, I have too many of some classes and too few of others. My intent is to correct these existing imbalances gently, because the table shown above is only a guideline. But in acquiring additional SP box cars, the table, combined with my current roster, does show me exactly what (and what not) to buy.
Tony Thompson

Friday, July 15, 2011

SP freight cars you can model

The title of this post is that of a clinic I’ve been giving for a couple of years, both at NMRA conventions (including the just-ended one in Sacramento) and at other meets, such as the Naperville and Cocoa Beach prototype modelers’ meets and the SP Historical & Technical Society convention.
     The idea behind the clinic is that there are many important classes of SP freight cars which are now readily modeled in HO scale. Some are styrene or brass models which are correct or close to correct right out of the box; some are resin or styrene kits which can be built to be correct; and some require a little kitbashing. And there are even a few classes which can’t be modeled at present with real accuracy, but a reasonable stand-in can be created.
     I’m posting the handout for this clinic via Google Docs, so that the outline of the presentation is available, listing the car classes shown in the clinic and including a bunch of details on box and automobile cars, along with some web and print resources for further study. Here is the link:

Some of the cars listed on the first page of the handout have already been touched on in this blog, and some more may be described in later posts. This handout is (or will be) also available on the web site for the X2011 West (NMRA) Sacramento convention, at:
Simply scroll down the list  of items to my name.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A few words on packing houses and produce shipping-2

My previous post with this title was presented last month, and it briefly touched on what packing houses do, and on packing box labels. To view it, go to:
     Now I want to address issues of refrigeration for the produce shipments. As mentioned in the “Western Perishables” chapter of the book I co-authored, Pacific Fruit Express (A.W. Thompson, R.J. Church, and B.H.Jones, Signature Press, 2nd edition, 2000), there are considerable formalities to tariff and regulatory aspects of railroad refrigeration. But to summarize briefly, empty reefers were delivered to shippers either with ice already in the bunkers (called pre-icing) or without ice. Which one was specified by the shipper depended on the crop being shipped, and of course on the climate at that point in the harvest season. After loading, nearly all produce cars were iced (called initial icing) unless moving in ventilation service.
     Part of the decision on a shipper’s part about pre-icing was whether the produce could be cooled before loading (called pre-cooling). If the lading could be pre-cooled, then it was not usually necessary to order a pre-iced car, not only saving the icing cost but assuring the shipper better control of the shipping temperature of the cargo.
     The reason for the latter statement is that any produce needed to have the “field heat” removed. This heat was composed of both the obvious thermal heat, from sunshine and warm air, and also the biological heat from ongoing life processes in the fruit or vegetable, processes that did not stop immediately upon picking. Removing the field heat slowed or stopped ripening and assured that the produce would reach its destination in condition to be sold.
     Putting produce into a reefer direct from the field or orchard meant that field heat had to be removed during the first 24 to 30 hours of shipping, as ice melting gradually absorbed heat from the warm air rising from the cargo. This was speeded if the ice melt did not also have to absorb heat from a warm car body, thus the desire to pre-ice cars if there was a chance the empty car might be warm when delivered.
     Note the terminology, taken from the perishable tariffs: cargoes are pre-cooled, cars are pre-iced. Modelers sometimes mix the terms, but I prefer to rely on the terminology actually used in the period I’m modeling.
     Shippers might also choose ventilation service instead of refrigeration, in other words to have the ice hatches latched open so that surrounding air would blow through the car in transit. Obviously this would only be done if temperatures en route were expected to fall into the desired range.
     So what was pre-cooling? It might be nothing more than placing the packed produce in a cooled room overnight. For dense produce like melons or citrus or apples, dunking the produce in a stream of cold water before packing might suffice for pre-cooling. With leafy vegetables like spinach or lettuce, misting them with water and then subjecting them to a partial vacuum would provide greatly accelerated evaporation and thus cooling (called vacuum pre-cooling). The shipper, of course, chose what was feasible and economic for his particular crop.
     To sum up what is being described here, empty cars might be pre-iced (meaning they had to be set to an ice deck before spotting at the shipper’s loading dock), or not pre-iced, and then would normally be iced again on departure. Alternatively, they might move in vent service, with hatches latched open and no icing.
     En route to destination, cars were usually re-iced at intervals such as 24 hours (shippers could specify any interval they wanted). Often the 5000 pounds of ice in each ice bunker would be depleted by 1000 to 2000 pounds in 24 hours during normal summer transit weather. The bunker would be refilled and the shipper billed for the amount of ice used.
     Just to provide a model illustration, here’s a PFE reefer at the ice deck in my town of Shumala, with a flat car being picked up from the team track in the background. In this particular case, the car was being initial iced before departure.

In the background, you may notice the Giant Orange stand, and a billboard made from an actual cantaloupe box label.
     These refrigeration details are important on my layout, due to multiple packing sheds, and I’ve tried to make them consistent with real railroad practice.
Tony Thompson

Monday, July 11, 2011

NMRA National Convention, Sacramento-3

In this brief post, I want to allude to a panel discussion held at the NMRA Convention, organized by Jack Burgess, which was conducted by Jack, Tony Koester, Kyle Wyatt of CSRM, Richard Hendrickson, and myself. The topic for the panel was how to do research on the prototype.
     We covered such subjects as photo collecting, the Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER), federal resources such as the ICC Valuation records, maps and aerial photos, railroad industry (trade) publications, railroad historical societies, original railroad documents and records, and more. Each of the panelists contributed a few Powerpoint slides to a combined presentation, which we all took turns using as we spoke in sequence. Tony Koester wrapped up our presentation by showing how he has used many of these same research approaches and techniques in creating and improving his own model railroad.
     Some of what we presented is doubtless known to many, but I am confident that some of the insights and recommendations will be new to a lot of people. It is always difficult to summarize such information in an abbreviated text, which naturally served originally as a set of reminders for an oral presenter, but it’s what we have tried to do.
     Jack turned our collective information into a handout-like document which is now available on line at the convention’s website, at:
You will need to scroll down the listing to find the one under Jack Burgess’s name. The one for our panel is a 6-page document summarizing the factual parts of what we presented. It includes an evidently complete list of railroad historical societies and their web addresses, compiled primarily by Richard Hendrickson.
     It’s worth mentioning that a number of the “handouts” on that web page are actually the Powerpoint presentations themselves (in PDF form), so you can view what the convention attendees viewed (though of course without the presenter’s narration). For example, the clinic presentation by Rich Malone about building working frog-eye markers for SP cabooses (a post-1961 topic) is very interesting and complete. But many presentations include material such as photographs or items of artwork which have copyright restrictions and, though permissible to use in an oral presentation, cannot be “published” on the Internet unless permission is obtained.
Tony Thompson

NMRA National Convention, Sacramento-2

The 2011 NMRA National Convention, named X2011 West, is now history, and I felt it was an excellent and well-run convention. A very busy and professional clinic program (with which I helped, so I’m not objective), a very large list of both prototype and model layout tours, and good space at the Sacramento convention center. We ended up with more than 2000 attendees, a huge number compared to NMRA conventions in the last decade. All in all, I agree with many attendees who rated it one of the best NMRA conventions they had attended.
      I was able to sell about 25 surplus freight car kits and some other rolling stock in the auction, which was a nice relief to my kit storage area, and also generated some revenue, though that wasn’t the main objective.
     The RPM (Railroad Prototype Modelers) room, hosted by Tim Costello, was the usual nice social environment, along with displays of quite a few outstanding models, but the turnout was not as big as hoped or expected. This was likely affected by the short time the room was open--just two days--and by the residual resentment I know exists on the part of many RPM adherents toward the NMRA, stemming from bad treatment at past conventions. There was certainly no hostility from the Sacramento committee, indeed much the reverse, but it takes time to overcome bad experiences.
     Unfortunately, there is no way to predict the situation at future NMRA conventions for RPM, as each new committee re-invents the convention structure and accommodations. The NMRA contest folks are trying to do something similar to RPM in having a model display area in the contest room. They have somewhat fatuously renamed the contest the “celebration of models,” but much of the flavor of historic NMRA contests remains. Future directions remain unclear.
     The National Train Show continued the trend to fewer and fewer manufacturer booths each year. There were some major players not represented, and a number of smaller ones missing too (booths are admittedly not cheap). But some interesting new products were displayed, including Athearn’s new C-50 caboose for SP (the booth staff were quite vague about delivery schedules) and Tangent’s latest run of SP gondolas, this time Class G-70-8, originally delivered in black paint. Athearn also showed the version of the Mountain locomotive with skyline casing, which looked very nice, and is due any day in stores (or so we are told). Of freight car interest was nearly-final test shots of Rapido’s forthcoming meat reefers, which look awfully nice.
     On my own part, I gave clinics on “SP Freight Cars You Can Model,” and on “Improving Waybills: Adapting Prototype Paperwork,” twice each, along with a single presentation of “PFE Operations and Modeling.” All were well attended, and I gave out an awful lot of handouts. I will probably post some of the handouts as Google Docs items, and will identify them in individual posts. There are a few electronic versions of handouts already on the X2011 West convention web page, but not too many.
     Like most NMRA Nationals, this was a long and tiring week, but very rewarding in terms of information gained, friends greeted, models and clinics seen, and that feeling of contributing, in my case in the form of clinics presented. I don’t go to anywhere near all NMRA national conventions, but I did enjoy this one.
Tony Thompson