Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Modeling SP tank cars

Back in 2002, I published a short article in the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society magazine, Trainline (issue 71, Spring 2002), on the method I use to model SP tank cars in HO scale. The recent release of a decal set for such tank cars (see: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/05/sp-tank-car-decals.html), combined with some changes in modeling practice since 2002, suggest that an updated and improved version of that article could be useful. This post is that update.

     A noteworthy part of Southern Pacific's freight car fleet until the 1970s was the 12,500-gallon tank cars. The distinctive size of these cars, large among American tank cars prior to the 1950s, made up 98 percent of SP tank cars in the early 1950s. In this particular case, SP modelers in HO scale are lucky, because the Athearn tank car is clearly modeled from an SP prototype. With simple modifications, this model can be very accurate.
     Several earlier classes of the same gallon capacity had tank sheets with seams running around the circumference of the tank, but in 1928 General American built SP’s Class O-50-12 class cars (O for oil car, 50 for 50 tons capacity, 12 for twelfth class), numbers 58400–58574. These cars were the first with longitudinal tank seams, and this is what the Athearn model has. A very similar class, O-50-13, was built by General American in 1942, numbers 58575–58774. A builder photo of the left side of one of the -13 class at the General American plant is below.


     There are several minor discrepancies between the SP car and the Athearn model. The most evident is the height of the dome. Also evident are different hand brake equipment and safety valve arrangement. All are easily changed. Other details, such as grab irons and underbody parts, can also be improved. The subtle change, not evident in every photo, relates to dome walkways. The SP cars only had walkways on one side, the left side as viewed from the B or brake end of the car (as shown in the photo above). This change is also easily made to the Athearn model.
     The various improvements can be made on a painted and lettered car, although fresh paint and lettering may be easier (and the stock Athearn lettering is not accurate). The dome is a good place to start. The Athearn dome, about 10 scale inches from the top of the tank to the top of the cylindrical part of the dome, should be about 21 inches. Also, there should be two safety valves, not the three that are on the Athearn dome, and they should be paired behind the manway hinge, not spaced evenly around the circumference of the dome.
     It appears that the single-dome Athearn tank car was derived from the triple-dome kit. The giveaway is the pairs of rivet rows around the body on either side of the dome, which represent the location of tank dividers in a triple-compartment car, but which should not be present on a single-compartment car with one dome. The low dome height and single safety valve per dome of Athearn’s triple-dome cars would be correct for such cars (if the Athearn triple-dome car had a prototype), but a higher dome and two valves are needed for the single-dome car. The triple-compartment origins of the model also show in the outlets. There should only be one, but an Athearn underframe has three.
      Increasing the dome height is surprisingly easy. This method, shown in a sketch below, was developed from the ideas presented by Richard Hendrickson (published in Western Prototype Modeler, Vol, 3, May-June 1977, p. 17). 


Here’s how it’s done. First, pry the manway cover from the dome of the car you are modeling and set it aside.  Second, carefully shave all the safety valves off, with a chisel blade for example, and save them also. Next, turn to a sacrifice body for another dome. Triple-dome bodies may no longer be available from Athearn to be purchased new, but it is often as cheap or cheaper to purchase assembled cars at swap meets. Saw off an end dome as close to the tank top as possible. Try to retain the full dome height if at all possible in this process.


Then lightly file the cut surface of this dome top flat and level, again keeping as much dome height as possible.


This will sit right on top of the existing dome of your model, with one further piece of work. This is to shave the inside of the additional dome top to a tapered shape, which fits atop the existing dome (see sketch above). I use a hobby knife:


Here is the final product. The taper need not be exact, only enough to clear the curvature of the dome top onto which it will be placed.


Before attaching the new dome top, shave off and save its safety valve also. Styrene cement attaches the new dome permanently. Fill any gaps with a model putty such as Squadron Green. Glue on the best two of the safety valves you shaved off the two domes, positioning them behind the manway hinge and symmetrically on either side of the centerline. When the tank top section is assembled to the tank bottom (later), the safety valves will be toward the B end. Also, shave off the molded grabs on the new dome, and replace. They must be curved to match the dome curvature, so I make them from suitable wire. Most SP tank cars only had a dome grab iron on the side of the dome above the walkway, so usually you only need to make one.
     The extraneous rivets running around the body should be shaved off, and then sanded smooth. Also shave off the right side dome walkway and its supports, then sand that area smooth. Here is a body with rivet rows and one walkway removed, and the new dome top attached (a little putty was needed):


At this point, I also shave off the molded grab irons on the tank ends. Since these have to be curved to match the tank curvature on most SP tank car classes, wire replacements work best.
     The underframe can be much improved by adding brake piping and rigging with brass wire. These parts are very visible on a tank car, and the model benefits greatly from their addition. The Athearn underframe already has brake levers and acceptable brake gear (some modelers may wish to replace the brake gear with better detail parts; the Tichy tank car detail set contains excellent examples). The outboard tank outlets should also be removed, leaving only one at the underframe center.


     The Athearn side walkways are smooth, but these wood parts tended to weather heavily, and this is one time in modeling when a heavy wood grain can be correctly simulated. Drag course sandpaper or a razor saw blade along the walk, then sand lightly to tone down the effect. The Athearn placard boards are acceptable, but can be replaced with the much more refined (but more fragile) Tichy parts in the detail set. Fill the slot intended for Athearn’s handbrake stand with styrene or model putty. Finally, drill the B end walkway for a wire brake staff and add a brake wheel. I use Grandt or Tichy brake wheels.
     My normal practice is to use Kadee No. 58 (“scale head”) couplers whenever I install new couplers or replace them. The Athearn underframe cover plate is all one piece with coupler box covers, designed for a press-on fit of the covers, but for maintenance access, I prefer separate coupler box covers. I simply drill through the assembled underframe coupler box from the top (where there’s a helpful dimple) and tap for 2-56 screws, then cut the Athearn cover away from the underframe cover plate. The visibility of the wheels on a tank car mean (for me) that it’s worthwhile to install narrower wheels, and I mostly use Reboxx wheel sets for this, in Athearn or other sideframes.
     At this point, I would assemble the two tank halves and mount the underframe. Assembly of the tank to the underframe has just one point of importance: the outlet should end up toward the A, not the B, end of the car. This should also place the dome-top safety valves toward the B end. The Athearn handrail supports look all right on a black car, but on a silver or yellow car, I recommend the exquisite Precision Scale parts. A ladder is only needed on one side, and either the Atheam or another ladder can be used. 
     Here is a list of the parts mentioned in the article:
Tichy tank car detail set, part no. 3007

Grandt brake wheels, part no. 5067
Precision Scale handrail stanchions, part no. 32110

     The painting and lettering which you apply to your model obviously depends on the car being modeled. Cars in revenue service or company fuel service were black with white lettering. Some cars were painted yellow (Colonial Yellow, the same color as SP depots) with black lettering for gasoline service; tank bottom sheets were also yellow on these cars. After 1948, as diesel locomotives arrived in quantity, some of the cars were assigned to diesel fuel service. These were at first all silver with black lettering, but in the late 1940s a new scheme was introduced for diesel fuel cars, black with a wide silver stripe on each end. Both these diesel fuel schemes continued in use throughout the 1950s.
     Lettering on SP tank cars differed from most other SP freight cars. Although most SP freight car lettering had 9-inch high reporting marks, 7-inch car numbers, and 3-inch characters for the capacity data at the left edge of the car side, and for end lettering, it is important to recognize that tank cars had 7-inch lettering for both the road name and the car number. There were 1-inch stripes above and below the reporting marks and numbers until 1952.
     There have been no commercial decals specifically intended for any of these schemes, and in the past, modelers used various decal sets for most of the lettering, particularly the Champ lettering in set SHS-144 (intended for gondolas). The new tank car lettering set from Jerry Glow (visit http://home.comcast.net/~jerryglow/decals/full.html and scroll down to “Southern Pacific”) solves all these problems and permits lettering several cars from any of four paint schemes, though to do so requires both the set with white lettering, and the set with black lettering. Here are several of the paint schemes (the yellow car is a Pecos River brass version of Class O-50-12; the others are modified Athearn). Visible here are car sides both with and without the dome walkway.


     Since these cars often handled commodities which were spilled on the exterior during loading, and were rarely washed or repainted, you can feel free to go heavy with your favorite weathering technique. I like acrylic washes because of the excellent streaking and subtle color variations, which are possible. Your model is now ready for service as a veteran SP tank car.
Tony Thompson





Sunday, May 29, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet-11: reefers

I’ve postponed touching on car plans for refrigerator cars and box cars for my layout, in part because I have (and need to have) so many of both types. This post addresses reefers.
     The core of my reefer fleet is necessarily the cars of Pacific Fruit Express (PFE). I have already discussed my approach to the PFE part of my reefer needs, in an earlier blog post (see: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2010/12/choosing-model-car-fleet.html). This approach takes proportions of the model fleet directly from the prototype car fleet. I expanded on the era characteristics and layout needs I personally have in a follow-up post (http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2010/12/modeling-pfe-reefers-in-1953.html). Accordingly, my PFE car fleet is simply proportioned by (approximately) one model for each 1000 cars in the prototype PFE roster, thus a total of around 40 model cars. Within these 40 model cars, I am trying to achieve a close approximation of the number of cars per prototype class, again at one model per 1000. This looks like it will come close to working out.
     I should also mention my post on reefer weathering, which although directed to PFE cars (http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/03/modeling-pfe-reefers-in-1953-2.html), certainly has application to other ice-cooled reefers, and realistic weathering of this kind of freight car forms an important part of my model car fleet planning.
     That leaves the other railroad-owned cars, and privately owned cars. I will discuss the railroad-owned cars first. We know that SP had friendly connections with both NP and IC, both of which owned their own reefers, and these can be expected to show up to some extent in California; but the organizer of reefers to deliver to shippers was PFE, not SP. The PFE had arrangements with some other reefer owners to share cars back and forth, in each company’s off season, and these included ART, BAR, FGE, and to some extent MDT. That is why it was very interesting for me to analyze the conductor’s time book for the Salinas Subdivision of the Coast Division (reported in a previous post, at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/02/modeling-freight-traffic-coast-line.html), since shown there is actual reefer traffic.
     In that post, I described the large presence of ART cars in the particular seasons reported in the time book analyzed (it’s known that use of foreign reefers on the lines of SP and UP was very seasonal). Photos of California yards and trains do show both ART and MDT cars; and in early fall, pretty much the peak harvest season in the Far West, BAR cars were commonly seen. Conversely, there was a concerted effort on the parts of both SFRD and PFE not to load each other’s cars, but to return empties promptly to their owner. That doesn’t mean that no SFRD cars will be seen on my layout, only that any such cars will be loads headed to their destination, not empties for loading.
     Now I turn to privately owned reefers, which includes leased cars as well as meat reefers. My plans for meat reefers were described earlier (http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/02/modeling-meat-reefers.html) and I wouldn’t yet add anything to that. Here’s an illustrative photo of an URTX car, at my wholesale grocer, Peerless Foods, in Ballard:


Operating detail: it’s behind the car, but the car is spotted at Door 2. A large warehouse like this often has specific door spots for particular cargo such as the meat in this case. My Peerless waybills direct switch crews which door spots to make for each particular cargo.
     Other leased cars include URTX, NRC, GARX, NADX and so on, owned by produce shippers and others. Altogether, I have several cars in these leased categories, and probably won’t need more.
     With my layout’s California location, a Chateau Martin wine car is almost obligatory, and I’ve restored a Laconia kit for one of these cars. The distinctive virtue of the Laconia version is an accurate “claret red” color, not the horrid deep purple of a more recent commercial model. These cars are actually AAR Class BMT (tank) cars, not reefers, but externally look like other reefers. Ordinarily they are used as insulated box cars in service, in other words not iced.
     Finally, there should also be a certain number of passenger reefers, AAR Class BR. The BR cars of course include PFE cars but also express cars from others in the REA pool, including REX, GN and NRC cars, along with MILW cars which were seen in SP trains in California.
     The relatively large proportion of reefers in my model car fleet of course reflects the territory I’m modeling. I will report more as details of my fleet develop further.
Tony Thompson

SP tank car decals

The artwork I created and had printed to do my models of SP tank cars is now being produced as HO scale decals by Jerry Glow Custom Decals (Jerry’s site is at at: http://home.comcast.net/~jerryglow/decals/full.html ). Examples of these SP tank car models were shown in an earlier post (at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/tank-car-projects-for-cocoa-beach-3.html ), and here’s the same photo shown earlier:


     This decal set is available in both black and white. Both sets are necessary to do SP’s distinctive aluminum-end-stripe tank cars, assigned to diesel fuel service, because both black and white lettering was on those cars. The sets can also be used for plain black cars in general service, and for both all-silver fuel cars (not pictured), and yellow gasoline cars. Each set has enough material to do multiple cars.
     Here is the summary comment I provided to Jerry to circulate with the decals. There is also a lettering drawing provided; it is shown below the text.

     “This drawing shows one version of SP tank car lettering. It contains details for the scheme with a 41-inch high aluminum stripe on the car ends, and the legends DIESEL FUEL OIL SERVICE on both sides and ends. All lettering is white except for black lettering on the aluminum stripe.
     “The text block headed INSTRUCTIONS TO SHIPPERS was placed at the location on the tank indicated by Note 7 on the drawing.
     “Cars in general service were the same as this, omitting the end stripe and the legends about DIESEL FUEL OIL SERVICE.
     “All-silver SP tanks were assigned to diesel fuel service also and were lettered the same as this diagram, except the entire tank was painted the same color, no end stripe, so all tank lettering was black.
     “From 1928 until the 1950s, SP also rostered a hundred or so yellow tank cars for gasoline service (the color was Colonial Yellow, the same color as SP depots). This diagram shows placement of all lettering (black) on such tanks, except that instead of DIESEL FUEL OIL SERVICE, the cars were lettered on the sides FOR GASOLINE SERVICE.
     “The diagram shows the road name, SOUTHERN PACIFIC, spelled out. This kind of spelled-out name was introduced in 1946. Prior to that time, initials only (without periods) were used as the reporting mark. In 1952, stripes above and below the road name were removed, as this diagram shows. All these variations are possible with this decal set, using both black and white letters.
     “Detail point: every car had a slightly different volume, which is why each car had to be tested and the exact number lettered on the car end, and why the decal set has a whole bunch of numbers near 12,500 gallons (all taken from actual SP tank car photos). The car test data blocks, for the right end of the car, are taken from SP photos also and from different eras. As with so many things, prototype photos are the best guide to specifics.
     “For photos and more information, see Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Volume 5: Hopper, Covered Hopper and Tank Cars, by Anthony W. Thompson, Signature Press, 2008.”

     The drawing referred to is part of the SP drawing shown on page 326 of my book, and it shows sizes and locations of all lettering.


This should be a useful tool for those wanting to do SP tank cars of various paint schemes, in the transition era.
     The one scheme not possible with my original decal set was the liquid sugar scheme with the large white diamond on the dome, surrounding a black letter “S.” I have used the Microscale decal set MC-4044 for this diamond-S, but Jerry Glow will try to include the equivalent in the new decal set he will sell. The Microscale set also does include the lettering for these cars, common in the 1950s though uncommon in later years, which stated “FOR LIQUID SUGAR LOADING ONLY.”
      For all these specifics, my book on SP tank cars, cited above, is a good source of the photos which must be the ultimate authority for any lettering decisions.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet, Part 10: ore cars

There was little usage of “classic” Missabe-Range-style ore cars in the Far West, particularly on SP’s Coast Division, but there definitely was a certain amount of mining activity. I have only a few ore cars and don’t want more, partly because of the ubiquitous SP GS gondolas which are known to have been used for such service. For what traffic could I use the classic ore car?
     Among the minerals found in many parts of California is chromite. In high-grade form, it can be smelted to yield chromium metal, but the California deposits are well below that quality. Their main use, therefore, was twofold: smelting for ferroalloys (mixtures of iron with other elements, which in turn were used in making alloy steels), and use in refractory brick. Chromite is a temperature-resisting mineral and “chromite” brick, as it’s called, is a premium refractory used in extreme conditions. This latter usage is appropriate for shipments of chromite ore.
     In one of my posts containing part of a Mac Gaddis interview, he mentioned chromite shipments near San Luis Obispo (link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/modeling-freight-traffic-coast-line_19.html), so this is part of my thinking. There was a company called Monarch Mining at one time in the central coast area, and it was involved in the chromite traffic. I can use GS gondolas, as Gaddis mentioned, or perhaps an ore car or two in Monarch lettering. (I should mention that I have no evidence that Monarch in fact ever owned any railroad cars.) The likely destination of the chromite would be the Kaiser refractory brick plant at Moss Landing, near Watsonville. Kaiser made magnesia brick there, and magnesia-chromite brick is a common type.
     In the central coast area of California, there were also low-grade deposits of lead-zinc ore. This was mostly smelted at Selby (along Carquinez Strait) at the American Smelting & Refining Company (Asarco) facility. Whether I will eventually model any traffic of that kind, I haven’t decided.
     Incidentally, for California or anywhere, there are extensive research resources on mineral deposits and usage. (The term “mineral deposit” is used rather than “ore,” because the definition of an ore is an “economic mineral deposit,” and of course what is economic in one time or place may not be in another.) I have used the following for my own research: J.S. Diller, Guidebook to the Western United States, Part D. The Coast Line, Bulletin 614, U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, DC, 1915. Also of value was The Central Coast Geologic Guidebook, Bulletin 61A, Division of Mines, State of California, Sacramento, 1937, and an older but still interesting volume entitled California Mines and Minerals, Calif. Miners Association, San Francisco, 1899.
     One model of a Monarch car, using MMCX reporting marks, is shown below. (In 1953, there was no assigned holder of an MMCX reporting mark.) It is built from an old Model Die Casting white metal kit. It is depicted coupled to an Ulrich gondola model, lettered for Utah Coal Route. Both open-top cars contain removable loads, built on balsa wood platforms which are fitted to the particular HO scale car model, with real mineral glued to them. Switching at Shumala is Class C-10 Consolidation no. 2836.


I mentioned the reasons for coal traffic in my post about my gondola fleet choices, available at:  http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/04/choosing-model-car-fleet-8-gondolas.html.
     Thus although my needs for ore cars hover dangerously close to zero, I will probably roster and operate a few of them, in keeping with what I know about central California ore deposits and mining.
Tony Thompson

Monday, May 23, 2011

San Luis Obispo operations

I want to take the opportunity to include some more of my 1992 interview with Malcolm “Mac” Gaddis. I visited him at home in San Jose, mostly to ask about operations on the Coast Division. I was well aware, from talking with academic colleagues about oral history, that “facts” which may be stated in such interviews are often erroneous. But factfinding is not the primary reason for an oral interview. The great potential value lies in the fact that only someone who was there can tell you how and why things were done.
     Another segment of some of Mac’s comments was in an earlier post (here’s a link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/modeling-freight-traffic-coast-line_19.html). Mac went to San Luis Obispo as an electrician in September 1951. I began by asking him about cabooses.
     Gaddis: I was responsible for the cabooses. We had about 30 cabooses assigned, probably six to ten wooden cabooses used strictly for locals, like the Surf turn, King City turn, Guadalupe local, all wooden cabooses. Steel cabooses were about half and half cupola and bay window. All the steel ones were equipped with electric generators, 1 or 1.5 kW engine generators, and that’s the reason I went up there. That’s also about when the radios started on the Coast Division. I was involved in putting radios in F units at Los Angeles, all F units in those days. Later we got those SD9 engines and later the GP9.
     Thompson: As I read the timetables, it looked like train numbers were assigned by the subdivisions, and each one terminated, then got a new number to run to the next terminal. Is that right?
     Gaddis: Right, the trains had a number series, 800s or 900s, I’m not sure I can recall exactly. But they were scheduled.
     Thompson: Well, mostly 800 numbers. I noticed in the timetables that usually there is a long time between a scheduled arrival time of a freight, and the time the next one in that direction leaves. Why was that?
     Gaddis: Well, a train came in, they would switch it out, maybe shorten it to go up the hill, or make it bigger to go south. If you had really low-priority cars sitting in the yard, like empty drop-bottom gondolas, they might sit awhile before you had space on a train to move them out. Hot cars like perishables of course would go right out, usually on the WPB [Watsonville Perishable Block] if they were eastward loads.
     Thompson: Did the WPB operate extra, or did it have a scheduled number?
     Gaddis: Oh, it was a scheduled train. Other symbols were in use too. At the time of the earthquake in ’52,1 really worked a lot of hours, and I had to ride the WPB down to Santa Barbara, and come back on the Starlight or the Lark.
     Thompson: What about other hot cars? Would they go in the WPB too?
     Gaddis: I don’t know, but hot cars would have been in one of the manifests. Of course we had the “Zippers,” No. 373 and 374, sometimes 50 cars. [The “Overnight” trains.] We had 71 and 72 [the “Mail”], now 71 used to pick up strawberries in Santa Maria, Guadalupe and take them to Oakland. One time I was there, I just happened to see these express reefers come in on 71, then I rode the Lark to Oakland, where I boarded the City of San Francisco. I happened to see that those same two reefers were in the City when I got to Ogden, and when I got to Chicago, they were still at the head end. So they moved them right along, they were a hot cargo.
     Thompson: Were there express cars on 72? like milk from Oxnard into LA? There are photos from the 1930s that way, but I wondered if that continued in the 1950s.
     Gaddis: I don’t recall that, but of course that was on LA Division. But 72 was usually equally heavy as 71. That was the one the Superintendent usually had his car coupled to. That was Jimmy Jordan, he was Super for years.

     After relating some stories about Jordan, we looked at some more photos I had brought, showing the San Luis roundhouse and shop area.

     Thompson: You had a real car repair facility down there at the south end, I guess.
     Gaddis: Well, cabooses were up there on the caboose track. We had 15 or 18 machinists, but I was the only electrician there for several years, so I had to do all the annuals for electric components. Then there were three or four boilermakers too. We mostly did light repairs on locomotives. We had a pretty good size car shop, probably 75 or 80 people just in the car shop alone, working on car repair.
     We had inspectors in the yard. The unfortunate thing was that the inspectors were very fussy. It was a way to keep their job, you know, so they looked at everything. It was a 200-mile inspection at San Luis, so that’s where they inspected every car, lifted every lid, you know. But that was just on the day shift. Of course, there were just as many cars went through there on the afternoon and night shifts, as in day shift. So the carmen didn’t really have it covered as well as they thought.
     I guess there were nine or ten carmen in the yard, they did all the inspections on the through trains, and locals too, of course. And we had about a three-car rip track there too, in the shop area. You could change out couplers, you could change out trucks. We had several programs on cabooses, where they changed wheels, heavy repairs, and do some other improvements, even painted them.
     Thompson: I didn't know they did painting there.
     Gaddis: Oh, yeah. It was amusing, they had a thing called a “bazooka,” in five minutes you could paint the whole side of the caboose. That was after you masked all the windows and that. We had a relief outfit there too. I knew that fellow quite well, Lawrence Lightner, who was the crane operator. That was his primary job, running the crane, and he spent all this time fiddling with it. And he had a tool car that went with it, then in addition there was a kitchen car, and a flat car with three or four trucks, brasses, parts, all that. Sometimes there would be a car with ties and track parts. It had a tank car for water, because it was a steam crane, but I don’t remember how it was connected up to the crane.
     Cars in the relief outfit, whatever kind of car they were, were lettered as “tenders.” Some of those tenders that carried the trucks, they had small tanks on them too, just 4 or 5000 gallons of water.
     The MOW department would have their own Burro cranes, they would not use the relief train equipment except very exceptional conditions. They would have their own string of work cars, 3 or 4 or more cars, a locomotive and caboose, and would go out and do the work on their own, the work they needed to do, pick up rail and ties, do repairs.

     This concludes this excerpt from my interview with Mac Gaddis. Fascinating stuff if you want to model San Luis Obispo, or operate it, or both. I will post more of the interview material in future.
Tony Thompson

Friday, May 20, 2011

Waybills, Part 7

Operating my layout has revealed an issue I had not thought about previously. This is the problem of waybills for cars in through freights. On the SP, these moved between division points with no switching along the route. (Switching along each division was the job of locals and turns, not through freights.) The cars in these through trains still possess car sleeves, in accord with my original plan (see, for example, my article in Railroad Model Craftsman, December 2009). The problem is what kind of waybills should be in those sleeves.
     They could, of course, be waybills like any others. But these would have to reflect both shipping and receiving industries throughout the U.S.A., not just shipping or receiving industries on my branch line. In other words, they would have to be waybills originating off the layout and terminating off the layout. The thought of generating that many waybills, for through trains which are not switched, was daunting. I might still attempt to do such a project some day, if an efficient way to do so should suggest itself, but in the meantime I decided to experiment with alternatives.
     One simple alternative which occurred to me is simply to use regular waybills, from a variety of railroads, but not filled out, that is, blank forms. That way, a quick glance at car sleeves for a through train would show an appearance superficially resembling trains which are switched. By use of Empty Car Bills for empties, the load vs. empty difference could be maintained also. The result would be something like this:


I did try out this approach, but when encountering a car sleeve like this, found myself thinking “this is a mistake,” and sometimes looking on the back to see if the waybill was merely turned around. (Even though it’s my own system.) I’m guessing that visiting operators would have a similar reaction. Then I thought, why not just use a plain card (though still with the usual color codes, pink for perishables, yellow for empties, and white for regular bills). That way, it doesn’t look like a failure to fill out the waybill.
     Here’s such a sleeve, representing a perishable load with pink:


But in a way this is even worse. Now you really tend to turn it over to see where the “real” waybill is. So I think this looks even more like a mistake.
     My next idea was to try something I’ve seen on a few layouts: the waybills which are for cars not switched are entirely different. For my purposes, these are the “through cars” that won’t be switched on my layout (though of course they are switched in staging). I tried this idea out using a light green waybill, quite different from all other waybill colors:





As you can see, I chose a number of “off the layout” destinations, north (Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, Roseville, Ogden, Portland) and south (Los Angeles, Colton, Tucson, Tucumcari, El Paso) for variety. Now when these are in the car sleeves, it’s clear that they are a different category of waybill.
     This doesn’t seem like an entirely satisfactory solution, because now these cars don’t have prototypical waybill-like documents. Also, this bill looks something like an Empty Car Bill, but in green, suggesting perhaps that it’s a different kind of empty. I will continue to explore ways to deal with this through-car problem, hopefully an improvement over the green through-car bills, although these are effective in the short run. One thing I plan is to try making some complete waybills for through cars, for the destinations and origins I know, such as auto parts, and see how well a partial set works.
     I also wanted to try out caboose cards and caboose car sleeves, so that all cars in a train would be represented in a train packet (or a handful  of waybills). Again, I chose a color not otherwise in use for waybills, a light blue. Here’s what they look like:


By the year I’m modeling, most SP divisions, including the Coast, had relegated most wood cabooses to local service, and mainline service was nearly all accomplished with steel cabooses. Thus my car sleeves indicate “road service” for all general-service cars, and “local service only” for restricted cars. I also want to explore assigned cabooses, as most cabooses in 1953 were still assigned to individual conductors. One use for such assignments would be for local trains, which tended to be operated by crews with high seniority, who would likely hold caboose assignments.
     These ideas are very much a work in progress, and I don’t regard any of them as final solutions. But they are working all right as interim measures. I hope to post in the future about improvements in these ideas.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Weathering flat car decks

In discussing my car fleet plans for flat cars, in an earlier post (available at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/02/choosing-model-car-fleet-5-flat-cars.html) I alluded to the need to weather flat car decks in a realistic way. Now I want to illustrate a couple of examples. They are all taken from the same starting point, the fine Red Caboose model of SP’s Class F-70-7 cars in HO.
     These cars have been available with either plastic decks or real wood decks. Some modelers feel that real wood is the best medium to reproduce wood parts in HO scale. However, I don’t agree. If wood grain patterning is visible in your wood, it is way out of scale, and if you distress the deck, the splinters and gouges are likewise way out of scale to what would happen in the prototype. Lastly, a freshly decked flat car might look like raw wood (many railroads, including SP, did not use creosoted decking), but after a few years of hard use, along with sun, rain, and dirt, a car deck does not look remotely like new wood.
     This sounds like a strong preference for plastic decks, and indeed, that’s my position, but it’s worth looking at how to weather both types. I’ve had to do so because I’ve been helping with the weathering needs of Otis McGee’s freight car fleet, and it is a large fleet. His layout models the SP’s Shasta Division in 1952, and he correctly has a mammoth number of SP flat cars to carry lumber, a very large traffic segment on that line at the time. (The layout was featured in this year’s issue of Great Model Railroads from Kalmbach.) Why am I mentioning that? because quite a few of Otis’s flat cars have wood decks.
     The starting point for Red Caboose decks is either styrene, which is delivered painted boxcar red (and SP did not in general paint its flat car decks), or natural wood. Either way, I like to distress them before weathering. A trip to your nearest yard or siding to view a prototype flat car will typically show considerable damage to the decking, more than is easy to represent on a model (and this isn’t a modern problem; the same is true for period photos of steam-era flat cars). But I do gouge and scrape different areas, and also roughen with coarse sandpaper. If it’s a wood deck, I would then go over it with fine sandpaper to remove fuzz and out-of-scale splinters. On a plastic deck, styrene debris should also be smoothed and cleaned up.
     Here is a wood deck, sanded, scraped, scratched and gouged (in moderation), and with all fuzz and splinters carefully removed. You may wish to click on the image to see it larger and examine any details of interest. I have done decks more heavily distressed than this, and some with less or minimal distressing.


Once decks, whether wood or styrene, have been appropriately distressed, I paint them with acrylics. I like to use a mixture of Ivory Black, Neutral Gray, and Burnt Umber. I partly blend these on a convenient piece of scrap cardboard, and as I paint the deck (all strokes crosswise to the car), I remix and re-blend to get color variation from place to place. I may add a little “wet water” (water with a single drop of liquid detergent) to dilute and mix the colors. At the end of the process, I often go back and add additional color to some areas.
     I should mention that this isn’t a very “wet” process, which would potentially be bad on a wood deck, and could result in warping. The amount of water I use is small, and the painting is primarily a straight pigment mix.
     The intent is that no two flat cars are the same, and I think I achieve that, both because of the variation in color mix during painting, and because I rarely do more than one car in a particular session. Here are three completed car decks.



The top car in this photo has a plastic deck. The car in the middle has a wood deck and is the one seen above in unpainted condition, and the bottom one is another wood deck done earlier. The upper deck happens to be more of a gray tone, as one sees on older wood decks, while the lower two have a darkened look, like a more recently renewed but weathered car deck.
     Once you have modeled a few flat cars this way (or if you have looked carefully at prototype flat car decks), an unweathered or “body color” deck will look really wrong. Luckily this is an easy and quick technique. And it has the advantage that if you don’t like it while it’s going onto the car, it rinses off with water; and if you don’t like it later, just repaint over it. Try it, and I think you’ll like the results.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet-9: tank cars

In the entirety of the North American freight car fleet, tank cars were about 8 percent of the total number of cars in the early 1950s. The great majority of these were in private ownership and thus primarily in lease service. That means they did not run freely and were not confiscated as empties, but would have been returned empty after unloading.
     The bulk of the privately-owned cars were the property of the “big three” leasing companies, General American (GATX), Union Tank (UTLX), and Shippers Car Line (SHPX), with other lessors such as North American (NATX) far down the list. Many individual companies owned a few tank cars, but typically a dozen to a hundred cars at most, compared to thousands owned by the leasing companies. The major exceptions were big oil companies like Sinclair, Shell, Phillips, Tidewater, and Gulf. Texaco’s cars were part of the GATX fleet by 1950 (though many still carried TCX reporting marks), and UTLX continued to provide most tank cars needed by the various “baby Standards” across the country.
     A minor fraction of the national fleet was in railroad ownership, and about three-fourths of that fraction was owned by just three railroads: ATSF, SP and UP. Both Santa Fe and UP used their cars heavily in company service, including water service. By contrast, SP only used about a quarter to a third of its tank cars in company fuel service, with the remainder available for commercial use.
     This means that SP modelers do need SP tank cars for both fuel and other cargoes. Luckily, the old Athearn single-dome tank car can be converted fairly readily into an accurate SP tank car. My article about such a conversion appeared in the SPH&TS magazine Trainline, published in issue 71, Spring 2002. For views of some recent modeling using my method, see my post entitled “Tank car projects for Cocoa Beach--3,” at http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/tank-car-projects-for-cocoa-beach-3.html.
     Beyond the SP cars, I see two kinds of needs for tank cars on my layout. One, of course, is to serve industries on the layout. The other is for cars which appear in mainline trains but will not have destinations on the layout.
     In the first category, tank cars for on-layout industries, I have both petroleum-product cars for bulk oil dealers (in my case, Associated, Union, Richfield, and Standard of California) and non-petroleum cars. The latter include wine cars for a winery, and chemical cars for a chemical repackaging company. Chemical repackaging may simply involve packaging of bulk material, but may also involve blending or even formulating the chemicals to be packaged. The variety of inbound cargoes thus can be considerable.
     In the mainline car category, I want to concentrate on Western car owners and industries, with a predominance of plain-Jane black cars, as was the reality in the steam era. Practically every modeler loves vivid tank car paint schemes, including me, but in the real world these were unusual, and I want to restrain myself with my fleet choices. I  already have a number of UTLX, GATX and SHPX cars in plain black paint for mainline and other use. I have only once seen a Santa Fe tank car in a photo of an SP train or yard, so am not sure whether to keep or sell the model I have. I do have a car lettered for PMEX, the Mexican national oil company, having seen such a car in a Taylor Yard photo.
     I intend to roster about four cars for each of the bulk oil dealers on my layout, meaning Associated (AOX, TWOX, TIDX), Richfield (ROX), Union (UOCX) and Standard (UTLX) cars. For some of these, I will need custom decals, artwork for which is under development. One of my dealers, Associated, is modeled as selling LPG for home use, so high-pressure LPG cars are needed there. I also have some mainline oil company cars, such as Sinclair, Continental, and Phillips.
     I need a variety of chemical cars, from ICC 103 and 104 to pressure cars, ICC 105, for my repackaging company. I’m concentrating on such Western chemical companies as Stauffer and Brea, and companies with Western plants, such as Hooker, Hercules, and Dow. Other possibilities from farther afield include DuPont, Eastman Chemical, Allied Chemical, Becco Peroxide, Warren Petroleum, and Columbia Southern. Models of some of these cars were shown in an earlier post, at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/tank-car-projects-for-cocoa-beach-2.html. More creative modeling is going to be needed to achieve the mix of car types I want.
     Wine cars were almost all leased cars. Modelers think first of six-compartment cars, though in fact cars with one, three and four compartments were also common. A major Western lessor of these cars was California Dispatch Line (CDLX), along with GATX, NATX and SHPX. Unfortunately, these are currently hard to model. Many of them were 6000 gallons or less, almost always jacketed, and there simply is no suitable starting point today for such cars. One option is a model from the distant past, the Thomas Trains wine car, a metal model. Here’s one of them picking up bulk wine at Ballard on my layout:


     In all, I have about ten SP tank cars and about 30 cars of other reporting marks, several of which are “unusual” cars which will only run occasionally. Probably the “plain black” part of the fleet will be enlarged in the future. I believe this will reasonably represent what is needed for my era and locale.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SP steam power in the early 1950s

As a follow-up to my post on “Choosing a 1953 locomotive roster” (here’s a link:  http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/04/choosing-1953-locomotive-roster.html), I thought it might be of interest to show information for other parts of the Southern Pacific system (Pacific Lines) to illustrate how unevenly steam and diesel locomotives were assigned across divisions, during the transition era.
     The data I show below are from the SP Locomotive Assignments brochure dated June 30, 1951, which I examined at the Library of the California State Railroad Museum (CSRM) last week. It’s among very many SP documents and records amongst their holdings. I haven’t reproduced the data for all divisions, but have chosen what I thought were the interesting parts of the information. An explanatory note: by “Diesel freight,” they meant road diesels of 5000 or less horsepower, such as the Baldwin AS-616. By “Diesel 6000 hp” they meant A-B-B-A sets of F7 units.


It is striking that the Salt Lake and Los Angeles divisions had the lion’s share of the F-unit sets, and that the three biggest California divisions had the bulk of the steam power. Diesel switchers were very unevenly assigned as well. I combined the Tucson and Rio Grande divisions because they were about equally provided with each type of power.
     In my previous post on this topic, I only wrote about the Coast Division (which had 121 steam locomotives assigned on July 1, 1952, versus the 147 listed above for June 30, 1951). I also looked ahead in time to January 1, 1953, and at that time the Coast Division actually had a few more steam engines, 124.
     One point to be drawn from these data, I suppose, is that in the transition era on the SP, how one chooses the balance between steam and diesel power, and which classes of steam or diesel engines to model, depends very strongly on the time chosen to model, and of course on the particular division.
     Now of course I realize that there are modelers who will tell you that they “model the 1950s” or even that they “model the early 1950s.” If one actually wants to model realistically (a big assumption), such a broad choice of modeling era simply isn’t an option. I made the same point in my article in Railroad Model Craftsman about reweigh dates for freight cars (for a corrected version, see http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/03/reweigh-article-from-rmc.html). And if you research a variety of eras, you will find that this conclusion can be drawn for most of them, not just for the early 1950s: a great deal was changing over a span of years, and juggling all of it simply can’t be realistic.
     There’s a philosophical point to be made here, which I’ll state briefly. I do recognize that everyone pursues their hobby in their own way, and having fun any way you want to have fun, is entirely the point of a hobby. I have no wish to criticize anyone’s choice of how to approach this or any hobby.
     But I would just take the position, well articulated by Tony Koester among others, that we can reasonably separate the hobby of “model railroading,” in which real railroad equipment, practices, places and operations are modeled, from the hobby of  “playing with model trains.” If you aim at the former hobby instead of the latter, I cannot make a stronger point than Mr. Koester has done: “You cannot hide behind the oft-heard mantra that ‘It’s my railroad, and I can do anything I want!’ No, you can’t – not if your goal is to convince the viewer, not to mention yourself, that you’ve done a credible job of depicting a specific place and time.”
     ’Nuf said.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Modeling details, SP cabooses, 1953

I was looking over my caboose fleet the other day (a mixed bag by any standard), and thought about what is and isn’t needed to model these cars accurately.
     The big picture is that the Class C-30-1 cabooses, far and away the largest class of cabooses ever on the SP, amounted to around 620 total cars, about 470 of them for Pacific Lines. Prior and subsequent wood caboose classes were considerably smaller. Among steel cabooses, the C-40-3 cupola car (185 Pacific Lines cars) and the early bay-window classes, C-30-4, -5 and -6 (135 Pacific Lines cars total) were also prominent by 1953. I’m only briefly relating the history because much more detail, and many photographs, are in my book on SP cabooses (Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Vol. 2, Cabooses, Signature Press, 2002).
     What stimulated me to examine my models more closely was one of the Walthers models of Class C-30-1, which has the curved side handrails and the body-mounted end handrails painted white, but with the end-beam handrails not white. I have never seen a photo of an SP caboose so decorated. The standard was to paint the outer part of the handrail on the end or buffer beam, along with the curved side rail, white. This is the most common arrangement seen in photos after 1948 (when the white trim was introduced). Sometimes the outer part, and sometimes all, of that body-mounted end rail is white, but it’s unusual. And the end-beam rail is always white in every photo I’ve seen of a post-1948 caboose, up into the early 1960s.
     Let me illustrate this. First, the upper left corner of the lettering diagram (the entire diagram is in the book), describing what was to be painted white.


Second, here’s a photo, taken by Al Phelps in May 1951, showing the arrangement of white handrails that the drawing describes.


     A further point relates to the presence of black roof color on wood cabooses. The cars had a structural wood roof which was covered with canvas and tarred. It was maintained with black roof cement, sometimes applied with a mop, and roofs were accordingly black until about the end of World War II. Thereafter, spray painting of older cars was usually done over the entire car, making it all “metallic” or boxcar red, and gradually causing the fleet to lose many of the black roofs. Accordingly, I have only done a few of my cars with black roofs. Those I’ve done were deliberately brush painted and none too carefully, thus giving some of the unevenness of the mopped car cement.
     Perhaps it’s obvious, but all of the all-steel cabooses had boxcar-red roofs when built and thereafter. This description of black caboose roofs applies only to wood cars.
     Car numbers: the Pacific Lines Class C-30-1 cars built during 1917-1924 were placed in the number series 586-899. Thereafter, lower numbers in the roster which had become vacant were applied to new C-30-1 cars, car numbers as low as the single digits. In all, there were 155 out of the 470 cars in this class which received re-used car numbers smaller than 586. I wanted to model at least one or two of those car numbers, in addition to the commonly-seen modeling of cars 586-899. (Incidentally, SP reserved the 900 series for inherited and non-standard cabooses. In the 1920s, it was nearly filled with former EP&SW and Arizona Eastern cars.)
     I also wanted to model an example or two of the older lettering style, with initials instead of spelled-out road name, placed lower on the car side. Cabooses with this pre-1946 lettering do show up in photos from the early 1950s. Here’s one that I did, and it also illustrates the white handrails and grimy black roof. It’s a Precision Scale brass model, which I painted and lettered.


I’ve now corrected the handrail colors on my Walthers C-30-1 car, and have added a black roof to another car to improve the balance among roof colors.
     If nothing else, a caboose fleet should be consistent within itself and with historical evidence for the various visible details. I will discuss steel SP cabooses in a future post.
Tony Thompson