Sunday, November 27, 2011

Freight fleet rosters

I’ve discussed in several prior posts the approach I have taken and continue to take to developing a freight car roster. In particular, there are two parts to the problem: the mix of foreign cars, and the proportion of home-road cars. I follow the Gilbert-Nelson idea for my fleet of foreign cars (see my post at: and have settled on about one-third of all freight cars to be home-road cars, based on conductor’s time books for the Coast Line (using data presented, analyzed and described previously at: ).
     But beyond the railroads which are chosen, what cars and car types should that fleet of foreign cars contain? In this post, I discuss my approach to analyzing my various groups of foreign cars.
     Gilbert-Nelson tells me what proportions of foreign cars to have, but does not tell me which cars. My choices, then, are based on several factors. First, numerically important car groups of various foreign railroads. Just as Gilbert-Nelson suggests that the total number of cars of a foreign road should be in proportion to their proportion in the total national car fleet, it seems reasonable to assume that the more numerous groups of cars would similarly be most visible. Second, available models: in most cases, I am not sufficiently fascinated by foreign roads to want to scratchbuild freight cars for them, though kitbashing is within the bounds of feasible work, to me.
     A third factor is car types. Gilbert-Nelson, as often observed, ought only to work for free-running car types, meaning box cars, gondolas and flat cars, provided of course that the cars have no special equipment. Other car types have to be selected based on what is known from photographs and time books, along with expected industrial needs on my particular layout, leavened with some sense of what is a rarity and what is merely unusual.
     For example, I have a photo of San Luis Obispo yard in the 1950s which includes a MKT stock car; similarly, there is a Morris Abowitz photo at Los Angeles in the late 1950s of an empty Reading hopper car. I conclude that both are genuine rarities, and I have decided to model neither car.
     On the other hand, despite the absence of specific photographic evidence, I know from interviews and other documents that domestic coal (widely used on the SP in the 1950s for everything from section houses and cabooses, to depots, foremen’s houses, and sandhouse sand driers) came largely from eastern Utah and western Colorado. The mines were served by D&RGW, UP, and Utah Coal Route (UCR), and most of this traffic at this time was carried in drop-bottom (GS) gondolas. I am developing a number of such cars to handle my layout coal shipments.
     (I made this point about coal traffic and GS gondolas in my post about my freight car fleet of gondolas; see the post at: That post also contains a photo of a UCR gondola.)
     My basic roster analysis is to break down my fleet by railroad, and look at what I have (and plan to have) for each individual road to see if it makes sense. I will use D&RGW as an example. Though a Western road, it had a tight relationship with Western Pacific and Missouri Pacific for long-distance traffic, and thus minimal interchange with SP. But of course its cars still carried traffic into SP territory, and California photos do confirm the presence of D&RGW box and stock cars, as well as coal cars, in the early 1950s.
     My roster, existing and planned, for D&RGW looks like this. I have a Westerfield single-sheathed box car, representing the 1916-built cars which were a mainstay of the Rio Grande fleet, and a Sunshine kit for the 1941 steel box cars, which may be enough for that car type. My stock car is an illustration of the pitfalls of trying to achieve accurate models. Combining reading about Rio Grande stock cars, and looking at a variety of photos, I concluded that I could model one of the cars D&RGW modernized with steel ends and roofs.
     Here’s what I did. The sides of the modernized Rio Grande cars look a lot like the Athearn stock car, but as is well known, the Athearn stock car’s diagonal-panel roof has a reversed panel arrangement, and in any case is too new for the D&RGW cars, as are the Improved Dreadnaught ends of the Athearn model. I simply cut the sides from an Athearn stock car and from an Athearn box car, and put the stock car sides into the box car ends and roof. Why is this wrong? What I didn’t realize from the photographs I had examined is that the Rio Grande cars had corrugated ends, not Dreadnaught ones like the Athearn car. Sigh. Here’s a photo of my model:

I had to carve off the Athearn molded-on lettering boards, and decided to model a single broken board just left of the door. (Though I’m not sure a car inspector would have passed such a car.) The car continues in service on my layout, but is definitely a stand-in.
     I have three cars for Utah coal, a pair of MDC triple hoppers (not quite correct but adequate stand-ins) and a 47-foot GS gondola, a brass W&R model. The old Ulrich D&RGW GS gondola I used to employ as a stand-in is only 40 feet long and thus not at all correct for the D&RGW cars, and is in my “sale” pile.
     This is a comparison of the 40-foot and 47-foot cars. The proportions are quite different.

I’ve added an InterMountain early covered hopper and a Proto2000 53-foot flat car to round out my D&RGW fleet. So to me it looks like finishing that Sunshine boxcar kit will complete an adequate Rio Grande car fleet. I don’t have anything really surplus (except that Ulrich car) and don’t need any additions.
     This kind of analysis is slowly being extended to other railroads, in each case looking to see whether I have too few or too many cars. The ultimate goal is a fleet of foreign freight cars which is at the same time representative of each foreign railroad, of an appropriate size, and of appropriate car types.
Tony Thompson

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