Monday, April 29, 2013

A visit to Oregon

Over the weekend of April 19–21, I visited Portland, Oregon, in the company of my wife, in part because our younger son and his wife live there. My motivation was to give an invited talk at the 2nd Division (Pacific Northwest Region, NMRA) meet on Saturday the 20th, and Richard Hendrickson rode along with us because he was giving a talk at the meet also.
     But the purpose of this post is to mention two other interesting parts of the trip. One of these was a visit to the new engine house of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, which was built to be the home for SP 4-8-4 4449, SP&S 4-8-4 700, and OWR&N 4-6-2 197. You can find out current information about ORHF at their web site, . I greatly enjoyed seeing the locomotives in their new facility, including work underway on the 15-year teardown and inspection of 4449. As a contributor to the ORHF fundraising efforts, which have successfully moved the locomotives from their old (and now demolished) home in the roundhouse at Brooklyn Yard, it was most gratifying to see the progress that has been made.
     We didn’t take any particularly good photos, but  here is a view of the building at the time of the dedication in September 2012, taken from the ORHF web pages.

In this view, the building doesn’t even have the name on the front yet! If you have a chance to visit, do not pass it up.
     The other intriguing point was discovered on our trip back south, when we stopped in Roseburg, Oregon for lunch. We ate in the McMenamins Restaurant, housed in what was formerly the Southern Pacific depot in Roseburg (and a nice place, by the way; you can see an exterior photo of it at: ). To Richard’s and my amazement, there were some fire cars parked on the track outside. The track has been operated since 1994 by CORP (Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad) over what was the SP’s Siskiyou Line from Black Butte, California to Springfield Oregon, along with SP’s Coos Bay Branch. (There is an unofficial web site for CORP, at: .) The CORP trackage was originally purchased from SP in 1994 by Railtex, then sold to RailAmerica, and is now the property of the short-line holding company Genesee & Wyoming.
     The fire cars are familiar as former SP fire cars, so why were we amazed? Because the cars are hardly altered from their SP appearance, and most remarkably, one of them is a circumferential-joint tank car. [For more on SP tank cars, you can consult Volume 5 of my book series, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Signature Press, 2008.] Below are photos I took of three of the cars at Roseburg; all three have received replacement roller-bearing trucks. This first one is a former Class O-50-12 or O-50-13.

Shown next is this classic fire-car conversion, with extensive spray heads. Its heritage is not obvious, though it is clearly a longitudinal-seam tank. That makes it a former O-50-12 or -13, though with the expansion dome cut flat.

Lastly, this one, which is either a former Class O-50-10 or O-50-11, with circumferential seams above the bottom sheet:

Note that a geared, horizontal-shaft brake wheel and housing has been welded onto the end of the tank. This car was built in either 1925 or 1927, so is now at least 86 years old. One just doesn’t expect to see railroad equipment this old which is in service.
     This just proves, once again, that driving down to the tracks on almost any trip can yield something interesting!
Tony Thompson

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Upgrading old models -- Athearn reefers, Part 2

I began this thread with some background on why I am choosing to upgrade a few old Athearn steel reefers as PFE cars; you can view it at this link: . The real point is that I want to have a car from each of two 1000-car classes, PFE classes R-40-14 and R-40-20, built respectively in 1941 and 1945. The Athearn car sides and roof are close to correct for these classes, so the project primarily requires new car ends, along with further re-detailing to upgrade the Athearn body. As the original ends are among the shortcomings of the Athearn steel reefer, replacing them is a positive step. In the previous post, just cited, I showed the replacement of my old Northeastern “drop” grab irons with Westerfield straight grab irons, and addition of correct placard boards, following by a gray airbrushed primer coat.
     I also needed to replace the rather thick Athearn sill steps. I used A-Line metal steps for this, and again employed my “filler block” technique, with small lengths of scale 4 x 4-inch styrene blocks, as I showed in a previous post (you can see it at: ).

Since the R-40-14 and -20 cars had center steps exactly like the corner steps, the A-Line parts were used for all three steps on each car side. Some overspray of the gray primer can be seen on the underbody. You can probably also see the new wire grabs.
      Meanwhile, the ends were cut from the Athearn roof-end part, since ends were to be replaced. This is a simple job and results in a clean, freestanding roof. Note here that I had earlier modified the Athearn ice hatches by cutting down their gross hinges and removing the oversize latch bars. Here one hatch is removed. I have already installed a Plano etched metal running board; all the classes I am modeling were built with this type of running board.

The previous post in this thread (cited at the very top of this post) showed a close-up of the ice hatch area of this same roof, so you can go to that post for more detail if you wish.
    The next step was to airbrush the sides Daylight Orange. As explained in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, by Thompson, Church and Jones, 2nd edition, Signature Press, 2000), this color was chosen by PFE in 1929 for refrigerator car sides, long before the color scheme for the Daylight train was even a gleam in the eyes of SP passenger train planners. But the more famous Daylight train naturally lends its name to the paint color.
     A genuine advantage of the Athearn reefer body design is that the separate sides are easy to paint a different color, no masking required. Here are the two car bodies with their Floquil Daylight Orange paint. The overspray onto the underbody will be touched up later.

     With this paint dry, and a coat of gloss for decaling, the cars can be lettered. And the roofs (with ends removed) can be reassembled to the bodies, leaving only the new ends to attach. But I’ll show that in the next installment.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My connection with Signature Press

Doubtless many people who read these posts are aware that I’m connected with the railroad history publisher, Signature Press. Actually, I’m a partner in that business, with Bob Church the other partner. He acts as business and advertising manager, I act as editor and supervise book design, layout and production. Here is some additional information, some of which can be seen on the “About Us” page on our web site at
     Signature Press was formed in 1993, so this is our 20th year, and our efforts since 1993 have  been to publish high-quality railroad history books. The Press is to some extent a successor and enlargement of Central Valley Railroad Publications, and has acquired rights to more than fifty former titles of Howell-North, Darwin and Superior railroad books. Both re-issues and revisions of some of those former titles have been published, as well as new books from a variety of authors. Both partners have a particular interest in the history of the Southern Pacific Railroad, but our list of titles, as we intended, ranges over many railroads and across the country. Some of our new book projects are described on the web site under “Forthcoming Books.”
     Our first book was John Signor’s Southern Pacific's Coast Line, published in 1995. Since then, we have issued two to four books per year, mostly new titles but an occasional reprint. The intent with previously published books is to reprint those which retain adequate market interest and value. Each reprint has been improved, expanded, or corrected as needed, often requiring a new edition.
     Quality books are the key part of our goals. This means not only excellent production values in layout, printing and reproduction of photographs, but excellent historical accuracy and value as well. The same standard is applied to reissued books as to new books. Altogether, we have published 43 titles as of April 2013, with half a dozen or so now out of print.
     Signature Press is proud to be a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association or IBPA (formerly Publishers Marketing Association or PMA). For information about IBPA, you may visit
     Here is a photo of the partners, Bob Church and me (shown above in the back row at right and left, respectively, with our order person and customer contact, Kim Stein, center front). Also in front are Bob’s wife Jeanne at left, and my wife Mary at right. This snapshot was taken at our book sales table at the SPH&TS convention in Ventura, California in 2012.

     The web site at contains the complete catalog of books presently in print, and secure individual orders can be placed there electronically. Orders can also be placed by mail to 11508 Green Road, Wilton, CA 95693, by fax to (916) 939-1960, or via toll-free telephone at (800) 305-7942.
     Bob and I have enjoyed playing a role in bringing to life (or back to life) the works of distinguished authors like John Signor, Jack Burgess, Richard Steinheimer, Ed Kaminski, David Myrick, Harre Demoro, and others, as well as publishing a few books by the two of us. Yes, in many ways it’s simply work, but in other ways it can be fun, and it’s always satisfying.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Handout for “SP Freight Cars You Can Model”

The title of this post is that of a clinic I’ve been giving for  several years, both at NMRA conventions and at other meets, such as a convention of the SP Historical & Technical Society, and the Naperville and Cocoa Beach Railroad Prototype Modelers’ meets.
     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 a revised version of the handout for this clinic via Google Drive. This gives the outline of the presentation, lists the car classes shown in the clinic, and supplies a listing and description of the “Body Styles” of SP steel 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 second page of the handout have already been touched on in this blog, and some more may be described in later posts.
     I posted an earlier version of the description of this handout and the link to it (see: ) but I have since updated the handout document.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Streets, roads, and all that, Part 3

My first two posts on this topic addressed street striping and road signs (first post, available at: ), and railroad crossing signs (in my second post; see: ).
     In this post I want to show a couple of additional items. First, Gene Deimling was kind enough to send me an SP Common Standard drawing of the standard crossbuck when it was all wood (I previously showed a later drawing of one with aluminum instead of wood boards). As shown in its upper right corner, it is a CS 13 drawing (CS = Common Standard). This is the original 1904 version, or close to it, and the legend, “Look Out for the Cars,” would be superseded by the words “Southern Pacific.” The one I showed previously was the 1970 drawing, numbered as CS 1320.

     In this drawing, the crossed boards are 10 inches wide instead of the later 9 inches, and the post is 6 x 8 inches (the broad face to accommodate the lettering) instead of the later 6 x 6-inch post. But essentially all the specifics shown here also appear on the 1970 drawing, CS 1320, which I showed in the previous post.
     I also wanted to show one of the earlier “railroad crossing warning” signs, in the style of times prior to the 1950s. These are available as Tichy part no. 8177. Tichy molds these on a rather slender styrene post, which I replace with a scale 6 x 6-inch styrene (or sometimes stripwood) post. In the photo below, the railroad crossing warning sign is at right.

Note the street sign toward the left, indicating Railroad Ave. All cars have California license plates except the travelers with the trailer. (You can click on these images to enlarge them.)
     I also added a directional warning sign at the base of the short uphill on Chamisal Road, as you see at right in this view. The street sign at the intersection, to the left of center in this image, is also visible. These are simply additional details, but they add to the overall impression. I still need to fix that sidewalk railing!

     I continue to add street and road details as I get a chance, since I think they make the layout more realistic. For any region or era modeled, I believe that researching and implementing details like these are both interesting and fun.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Modeling meat reefers --- Part 4

A minor but highly visible part of the national fleet of refrigerator cars was the cars owned or leased (and lettered for) the meat packers. Most of these were 36 or 37 feet long instead of the familiar 41 feet of most produce reefers, and often carried their owner’s or operator’s names in eye-catching graphics. Rapido Trains has announced that they will be doing the late 1930s version of these cars built by General American (you can see the announcement at: ), but these have been long delayed. Rapido’s Bill Schneider was at the Cocoa Beach meeting in January 2013 and was still saying that they are coming, but “not immediately,” so things remain open-ended for those cars.
     I have accordingly been working toward modeling a small group of these cars. In the previous post, Part 3, about meat reefers (you can see that post at: ), painting had been completed as far as gray primer, yellow sides, and Grimy Black underframes. The last paint step was to carefully mask the sides, using my normal choice of drafting tape instead of the stickier masking tape, and then airbrush boxcar red onto the roofs and ends of all the cars. Here is how the three cars with yellow sides looked (a fourth car has orange sides):

The trucks on these car are my “spray booth” trucks, used only while airbrushing a model, and will not be the final trucks.
     The final step in completing the meat reefer decoration was lettering. I used entirely Clover House dry tranfers. The set numbers used were 8830-06 (Armour), 8916-01 (Cudahy), 9300-12 (Swift, 1948 scheme) and 9416-01 (Wilson, small logo – this is the car with light orange sides). I mentioned the reasons for choosing these prototypes in my first post about modeling these cars, at: .
     As always with dry transfers, care in setting up the lettering sheets is essential. I use a small square to make sure everything is correctly aligned, then use drafting tape to keep the transfer sheet in place (again, spray-booth trucks).

It may be worth mentioning that with dry transfers, you spend all the time aligning the lettering (and taping it down) before you rub and apply it to the car side, while with decals, you put the decal onto the car side and then spend time adjusting the decal location until it is aligned correctly.
     I have used a variety of tools to “rub down” the lettering, but most often I use a dull lead pencil, maybe #2 hardness, which seems to work well. With scribed “wood” sheathing like these cars have, it is important to take care that the pencil runs along the grooves in the siding, to set down lettering into those grooves.
     Here are two of the cars, as lettered. Neither has yet received a reweigh date.

     I have always admired this 1948 Swift scheme, so am pleased to be able to add it to my reefer fleet. There is, I suppose, some irony in my choice of Swift lettering for this car, as the former LifeLike/Varney cars were manufactured with lettering for Swift, though in an incorrect paint scheme. You can see a photo of it at: .
     My last step will be weathering, and photos from the late 1940s and early 1950s often show cars like these being pretty dirty, so I plan to weather them fairly extensively. I will show some details of that process, and the finished models, in a final post.
     These cars are a fun project, though not necessarily an efficient way to acquire a decent model of a meat reefer. Some day we will have the Rapido meat reefers, and although the Rapido model cannot do all the prototypes I’ve addressed in this series of posts, it will offer a very good car body which could be modified for at least some of the cars I’ve done in this series.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Modeling some SP MOW cars, Part 3

My first post on this topic provided some general background on the SP maintenance car fleet, as well as showing two car types, a roadway box car and a water tank car. The post can be viewed at the following link: .
     In that post, I also showed a page from SP’s own roster of MW cars. That roster does raise a question: what are the definitions for “roadway” or “boarding” or other types of cars? No SP document defining these has come to light. But here are the definitions suggested by Ken Harrison, who is working with the SP records on the maintenance car fleet. This is not exhaustive; there are other car type names in the SP roster.

    “ that may be moved from place to place either in ordinary extra freight trains or in work extras, often to move MW equipment (including Burro cranes) and supplies from one place to another, available for general MW service., converted from either passenger or (more often) box cars, to provide accommodations for MW crews, including but not limited to sleeping, dining, cooking, shower, or other domestic use.
     MISC. (Box, flat, etc.) that are used for non-roadway use or unusual assignments, such as ice service, Lidgerwood unloaders, tower cars (for electric operations), rubbish service, etc., or which have no specific assignment. This often includes cars used for such purposes as tool storage. often assigned to the Stores Department and used in divisional supply trains, or to receive and distribute supplies to supply depots and commissaries.” 

     My second post about SPMW cars expanded the car coverage by showing a roadway flat car, and an ice service car. That post is available at: .
     This third post is to address car conversions. These vary considerably, but many involve adding windows and sometimes doors to existing box or other cars. Among boarding cars, the logical ones for me would be either a kitchen-dining car (added doors as well as windows), a bunk car (several windows), or a tool car (often only one or two windows per side), based on photographs. Here is but a single example, a box car of Class B-50-6 converted to a bunk car in December 1942. The photo is by John Lawson in 1951, from Wilbur C. Whittaker’s collection. Note the simple lettering and the “Danger” warnings next to the side door (click to enlarge).

I plan to attempt a car like this, using an appropriate car kit but simply throwing away the car sides, and using scribed styrene with all the window and doors added. This is probably simpler than removing the old side details, especially since the sides of a resin kit would be pretty thick for cutting of holes for windows.
      But back to the present project. An interesting variation of such conversions is the use of old passenger cars in various kinds of MW service. These ranged from ancient wood cars of all types, to more modern steel coaches and diners. Photographs of these are not plentiful. I have chosen to do a kitchen-dining car converted from a wood baggage car. For a starting point, I used the Model Die Casting old-time 50-foot “baggage car.” MDC chose to describe this as a baggage car, but the window arrangement is far closer to a postal car than a baggage car; you can see this is Volume 3 of the series, Southern Pacific Passenger Cars (SPH&TS, 2007).

The kit paint and lettering that you see in this photo was stripped before modifying the body, to ensure that nothing of the old lettering would show through the new paint.
     It was common in such conversions to blank one or both baggage doors, and often to insert a person-size door into that location, for side access. Windows were often blanked off or added, as needed for the interior arrangement in the car. For blanking purposes, I used Evergreen styrene sheet, No. 2037D, the HO scale car siding with 3.25-inch board spacing, 0.020-inches thick. This does not exactly match the board spacing on the MDC car body, but is similar enough to look all right.
     For the person-door and windows, I used, respectively, Grandt Lines parts 5131 (Door with Frame, Tongue and Groove Panels) and 5112 (Attic Window, Rectangular, 6 Light). Holes for these were cut into the blanking sheets by the same process I used in my styrene Shumala depot, described in an article for Model Railroad Hobbyist last November. [As with any issue of MRH, you can download it for free from their web site, at: .] Here is one side of the car with the added person door (black) at right, a blanked window, and blanked baggage door at left with an Attic Window (the other side is different and will be shown below).

     On the car’s roof, I installed the centerline vents provided in the kit, and at the kitchen end, added more vents and an exhaust stack (Walthers 941-847). These are white metal parts, from a stash of old Walthers passenger car parts. I glued in place the kit’s green acetate clerestory glazing, and painted over a number of the individual panes to suggest that glass had been replaced with something else. I also added a smoke jack for a stove above the dining area, using a passenger car steam trap (Alexander part 1701). I also brush-painted some Grimy Black patches on the roof to indicate repaired leaks.
     I added handrails alongside each side door in the finished car, and also added caboose-style curved handrails at car corners, as often seen on MW-converted passenger cars which retained end platforms. These are available commercially from Detail Associates, their part no. 6503, and the corresponding L-shaped handrails on the car ends are their part no. 6504. I made a drilling template from a small square of styrene sheet to speed up this job (both kinds of handrails fit the same template!).
     Next I worked on the underframe. I installed all the MDC kit parts essentially where indicated, but added brake rodding where it was visible. I mounted Kadee coupler boxes with 2-56 screws, under the end platforms, using long-shank No. 156 whisker couplers. The end railings provided by MDC lack the center stanchion common on SP railings of this type, so I added those with 0.019-inch brass wire.
     To show the handrail and end platform appearance I was attempting to create, here is a photo from March 1954 at Lordsburg, NM (photo by Chet McCoid, Bob’s Photo collection, used with permission), of a kitchen-diner assigned to the relief (wreck) outfit at Lordsburg. That’s why the car has the name “Relief Tender,” used on all cars in a relief train other than the crane, and all bear the crane’s number (here, 7035), followed by a letter. My car, however, is not a relief outfit car, and I didn’t try to model the window screens on this car!

    The modeling work was completed with the addition of A-Line steps under the doors on each side, and then I could airbrush the model with boxcar red. The trucks in the photo below are surplus parts, what I call “spray booth trucks,” since they are only used to hold up car bodies which are being airbrushed. (This is the “other side” of the car.)

     My next step naturally was lettering. Here again, I used Microscale set no. 87-155 and positioned the lettering similarly to the two SP prototype photos above: the initials and number toward the left end, the “danger” warning nearby (compare SPMW 74). There are photos of SPMW cars with no danger warning, with warnings in English only, and with one warning each in English and Spanish. The Microscale 87-155 set does provide these warnings, though the current set misspells the Spanish word for danger (should be “peligro” but they have “pelegro” – the old set was correct!), and the lettering is too large.
     The car number I chose was SPMW 1081, a kitchen-dining car converted from wood baggage car 6304 in 1929. This information is from the SPH&TS roster book, described in my previous post about modeling MW cars, which is at: .
     With an overspray of Testor’s Dullcote to protect the decals, I was ready to proceed with my usual acrylic-wash method of weathering. After weathering, I added another Dullcote overspray, and added window glazing. Here is the completed car on the “company track” at Ballard on my layout, where MW equipment is often spotted.

     This was an interesting project, and brings me close to completing the SP work equipment cars I want to have on my layout. I still need a bunk car and perhaps a tool car to complete my work string, so those may be the subjects of future posts.
Tony Thompson

Monday, April 8, 2013

More on chalk marks

I wrote previously on chalkmarks, along with route cards, as minor parts of freight car detailing. You can read that discussion in my post at this link: . That post includes a prototype photo of a car clerk writing on the side of a freight car with “railroad chalk,” as it was and is termed, a one-inch diameter stick of chalk.
     My purpose here is to go a little further with this topic, both for the prototype and the model. I was inspired by R.L. Kennedy’s explication of some of the chalk marks he was familiar with in Canada, which you can see at this link: . In particular, he indicates the various numbers used to indicate car destinations.
     On the model side, I have been asked about technique as well as content for chalk marks. Kennedy’s piece, cited above, gives a good set of examples of the meaning of chalk marks. Many others are obvious: “MT” for an empty car; “NY” or “LA” or “CHI” for New York, Los Angeles or Chicago; “OK” to mean just that; “LD” meaning “load this car;” and “BO” for a bad-order car. Often older marks were crossed out or partially wiped off, but often they were simply left in place if they did not conflict with new ones being added.
     I have mentioned previously (in the post cited in the first paragraph, above) that Clover House makes excellent dry-transfer sets of chalk marks taken from actual freight car photographs, and are thus entirely authentic, if often mysterious in meaning. They can also be created with a very sharp white artist’s pencil, for which I have found the Prismacolor brand most satisfactory. Then, of course, one can create any desired marks.
     Without attempting to be comprehensive, I thought it might be interesting to show some examples of the model chalk marks I have in my fleet. I do not add these marks to every freight car, nor do I add more than a couple to most cars, which is in accord with how I perceive prototype photos of freight cars in the 1940s and 1950s. Only an occasional car receives numerous marks.
     I will start with the Seaboard box car which was described in a previous post (see: ). It has a mixture of Clover House dry transfer marks, and Prismacolor pencil marks. Incidentally, note that the SP tank car at left has a chalk mark too, though many modelers seem to think that tank cars didn’t carry these. And notice the crossed-out mark above the left truck of the box car, something commonly seen in prototype photos; it’s from the Clover House set. You can click on these photos to enlarge them.

     Another group of cars, photographed at Ballard on my layout, shows somewhat different marks. The Illinois Central car was mostly lettered by John Golden, who sold the car to me, and he has used some complex chalk marks. (Note also that the car is now renumbered into the postwar 16000–16975 series, something I mentioned I would do, in my column in Model Railroad Hobbyist for April 2013).

     Lastly, here are two more box cars at Shumala, with a variety of Prismacolor and Clover House chalk marks.

     Note also in all the model photos that most cars have route cards as well as chalk marks, something discussed in the prior blog post cited at the very beginning of this post.
     I like adding chalk marks to models, both because it is a very noticeable feature of prototype freight cars in the transition era, and because it’s easy and fun to do. If you haven’t tried this yet, I urge you to experiment with it.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Modeling some SP MOW cars, Part 2

In my first post about this topic, I described some general background on SP maintenance cars, including the SPH&TS roster book, and showed models of two types, both essentially unaltered from their appearance when they were in revenue service, a “roadway box” car and a water tank car. That post is available at: .
     The SP Society roster book, now available after being out of print for a few years, is well worth its cover price. It includes passenger and freight equipment, as well as the maintenance of way equipment which is the topic of the present post. Just for reference, here is the cover of the present, spiral-bound, version.

     In this post I want to add two more car types to my previous description. One is the “roadway flat,” usually an unaltered flat car, used to carry materials, equipment, and supplies of all kinds. One group of such flat cars were the Harriman flat cars of classes F-50-1, -2 and -3, which were very nearly extinct in revenue service by my modeling year of 1953. Another group was the truss-rod flat cars built by SP during World War I, classes F-40-6 and F-50-7. Those two classes differed visibly only in the former having 12 stake pockets, the latter 13 stake pockets.
     Here is a photo of one such car, SPMW 810, a former F-50-7. It was photographed at Calexico, CA by Chet McCoid in 1955 (Bob’s Photo collection, used with permission). Note that the deck is flush, not extending out to the outer edge of the stake pockets. Flush decks were unusual among SP’s conventional flat car classes of the period. This car was originally SP 42470, and was assigned to MW service on August 28, 1951.

You may be able to see that it has six truss rods. Like most SPMW cars, it has little or no capacity or dimensional data lettered on the sides, although the old data from its revenue service days can still be seen.
     To model such a car, I fumbled around in my stash of old kits and came up with an Ulrich truss-rod flat car, with adequate looking straight side sills, flush deck, and 12 stake pockets. Here is my model, lettered with Microscale set 87-155:

The car has four instead of six truss rods, but this is not very obvious. In this photo, the car is coupled to an SP ballast car, but those cars were not “officially” work cars, and had revenue-service car numbers.
     Another SP maintenance car type was the refrigerator car, mostly in the form of old PFE cars but some of them were cars inherited from the EP&SW. The primary use of these was to move ice to depots at which passenger cars with ice-activated air conditioning had to be re-iced, or diners supplied with ice for their ice boxes. But ice was also supplied to those living in section houses, depots, and the homes of section foremen, signal foremen, and others. Here is a photo of one in passenger depot ice service, from Sheldon King’s collection:

This car was photographed at Union Ice Company in Oakland, CA, and was assigned to move ice to the passenger car icing facility at Oakland Pier, popularly called “The Mole.” Chalked under the white placard is “OAK PIER.” The car is a former PFE Class R-30-13 car.
     Here again, I saw this car type as an opportunity to build one of the fine kits on the market for cars too old for revenue service. I chose a Westerfield kit for a Harriman PFE car, Class R-30-2, ten of which were sold to the SP in the 1930s.  (I used kit No. 1802, but which 1800-series kit doesn’t matter, as it will end up boxcar red.) Some such cars in SP service did receive yellow paint on the car sides, but many, like the one shown above, were simply painted boxcar red all over. My model is lettered for ice service, which was correct for some of these cars.

This car is used on my layout to move ice to the storage building of the ice deck at Shumala. From SP records, I know this car was scrapped in early 1954, and another car received this same number, SPMW 2051, but on my layout, those events are still in the future.
     This post is far from exhausting the topic of modeling SPMW cars, and I expect I will put together at least one more post on this topic.
Tony Thompson

Monday, April 1, 2013

“Signature” freight cars

I have long been interested in the idea of “signature” freight cars for particular railroads. To me, the term “signature” in this context means something which is both distinctive and also characteristic of its owning railroad. An example would be the Pennsylvania Railroad’s X29 box car. This is essentially the proposed ARA 1923 all-steel box car, and other railroads also built cars to this design, such as B&O and CNJ. But the PRR built over 29,000 of them, and it is natural that they remain largely associated with that railroad. The quantity of cars here is not a detail. It isn’t just the car design, but the large population, which makes this particular car type say “Pennsy” in a loud voice.
     I have alluded to this idea indirectly in previous posts. For example, in a discussion of model car fleets, I mentioned two signature New York Central cars, in this post: . Like the PRR, the New York Central had an enormous fleet of freight cars, and one could choose any number of distinctive and numerous cars from their fleets. I may expand on this point in future posts.
     But a key point here, as mentioned, is the sheer number of cars. The larger railroad fleets will simply be more likely to appear in trains. This is the idea explored by Tim Gilbert and Dave Nelson, as I explained in a previous post (see: ). On that basis, one wants to look at car fleet sizes, and I showed, in the post just cited, a bar graph of the largest railroad fleets, adjusted in numbers by removing ore, hopper, and ballast cars, as those cars were proportionally far less evident in interchange traffic.
     Having referred in this post so far to several rather large railroads, it may be interesting to consider a much smaller railroad, the Western Pacific. Greatly outnumbered by the car fleets of Western giants like Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Great Northern, nevertheless there were some distinctive WP freight cars, although with only 5000 total freight cars in 1953, this was really a minor player among Class I railroads generally. The WP received 2500 box cars in the 1920s, numbered 16000–18500, all to the same double-sheathed design with steel ends and a steel underframe. These cars continued to form a major part of the WP box car fleet for many years. My example was built from Sunshine resin kit 59.3 by Dennis Williams and lettered and weathered by me. 

     I prepared an entire column for Model Railroad Hobbyist about this topic, with a wide range of railroads represented, from B&O and Milwaukee Road, to GN, NP, and Mopac, and even smaller roads like the Boston & Maine. It is in the April 2013 issue of the magazine. As with all issues of MRH, you can download it for free from their website. The April issue is at .
Tony Thompson