Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Canadian reefers with overhead hatches

Unlike U.S. practice, the Canadian railroads, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, built substantial numbers of refrigerator cars with overhead ice bunkers. There is no doubt, from the results of several testing programs, that overhead bunkers provided much better temperature uniformity throughout the load than end bunkers. But it turned out that car fans, first introduced at the end of the 1930s and widely used in American practice after World War II, can provide comparable temperature uniformity, even with end bunkers.
     So why did the Canadians continue to build overhead bunker cars, while U.S. reefer fleet owners did not? I explored this point at some length in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000, page 150–53), and will only summarize here.
     The Canadian railroads did handle produce in end-bunker reefers, but also had the problem of export meat shipments, in which cars might sit at the port for a time before their cargo was loaded onto a ship. The overhead bunkers did a better job of keeping cargo cold in those circumstances. Moreover, car fans were not as practical in a severely cold and snowy winter climate, as is true of much of Canada. But back to my own interest in the subject.
     I have a special interest in Canadian reefers, on account of something that happened when I was a teenager first getting interested in scale model trains. I had built a couple of car kits, but they were really chosen at random. Then I happened to be my local hobby shop of the era (the Brass Hat on Pacific Avenue in Glendale, California) and saw a new Varney reefer kit, for a gray Canadian National reefer. I was thunderstruck! I had just seen a car like this in Los Angeles while on an errand with my dad. My gosh! There were kits for cars just like the ones you could see on the rails! I bought one and built it, and was very pleased with myself.
     I know in hindsight that those Canadian reefers in Los Angeles were almost certainly carrying export beef, but of course in those days I had no idea about cargoes or car routing. But at that time, it was just a kit for a model which looked (to me) just like the CN car I had seen. It was gray, it had red lettering, it was a refrigerator car . . .
     Now in fact the Varney reefer is not really much like the prototype CN car. But at that point, I wasn’t sensitive to car characteristics, and almost certainly had not noticed the “extra” ice hatches on the roof of the prototype car, not to mention other features like the underslung heater. I was just delighted to have a model of a gray CN reefer that globally was like the prototype I had seen.
     I still have that model, and it still boasts its original Varney dummy couplers, evidence that I have never seen fit to upgrade the car to operate on any of my layouts since my teenage days (when all my cars had Varney dummies).

The weathering is brushed-on paint, not too terrific, and of course neither the boxcar-red ends nor the black ice hatches are prototypical — but I didn’t know that then.
     This is now a current topic because True Line Trains in Canada has recently brought in ready-to-run models of the steel overhead bunker cars. I chose one with the same paint scheme as in my historic Varney model. But of course the TLT car has all the right appliances, all eight roof hatches, and so forth. A big step forward as a model, but the Varney will live on in my display case.

This photo shows the side of the car with the underslung heater, just visible behind the center sill step. The model is weathered and has a route card.
     There have been kits through the years for the overhead-bunker reefers. Ambroid had one, and I think the Funaro & Camerlengo one is still available. But this one didn’t need to be built, and appears accurate to me. So that is why I am now happy to have a new and correct model of a car that has only had a pretty lame version in my freight car fleet for all these years.
Tony Thompson

Friday, July 26, 2013

That red ICFS truck

A couple of readers of this blog have sent me email to ask about the little red panel truck often visible in my layout photos. The truck is simply lettered “ICFS.” As an example, this otherwise innocuous shot of PFE 4305 being switched at the ice deck in Shumala has, sure enough, the ICFS truck back there on Railroad Avenue. So what the heck is that all about?

     Back in the 1980s when I lived in Pittsburgh, PA, I became friends with C.J. Riley and Larry Kline, and before long, we evolved into a round-robin work group on each other’s layouts, as well as fairly regularly repairing to local taverns for a beer or two. Well, any group eventually needs a name, and being that our group was so small, we felt it needed to compensate by having a correspondingly long name. We chose to call ourselves the “Iron City Ferroequinological Society,” or ICFS. We pronounced it “ick-iffs,” and still do. Heck, we’re all still around and still modeling, even though only one of us now lives in Pittsburgh.
     Among other activities back then, we were involved in NMRA contests at both the regional and national level, both as participants and judges, and we were particularly struck, in those pre-1995 days of the NMRA contest rules, that often a pretty darn good model would go nowhere in the contest competition, despite its good qualities, because it didn’t have enough scratchbuilding in its construction. In those days, prototype conformity counted for very little in the NMRA scale, so the kind of model which was kitbashed to a quite good representation of a particular prototype would simply not score well in the NMRA contest. Having seen some of the models up close during judging, we thought something ought to be done.
     [Small digression: we didn’t just “curse the darkness” on this topic. C.J. was an NMRA trustee at the time, and he successfully pushed to get the contest rules changed, greatly increasing the available points for conformity, largely at the expense of the points in scratchbuilding, while maintaining the original 125-point maximum score. That took effect in 1995.]
     Our solution back in the 1980s was to request permission from our NMRA region (Mid-Central) to present an additional contest award every year, which we called the Iron City Award. The sole criterion for the winning model was to be the “niftiest model in the contest.” Naturally we tended to choose models which didn’t do well under the NMRA rules, and the three of us just put our heads together in the contest room and looked everything over. We rarely had much disagreement about what was truly nifty.
     Our award consisted of an HO scale freight car, something big like a Center Flow covered hopper, or 50- or 60-foot box car, which we lettered for the Iron City Award and included a section of an Iron City beer label. The car was then affixed to a short length of track on a suitable pedestal. The plaque on it simply had the award name, the place of the MCR convention, and the year.
     Here’s what that logo looked like, though this isn’t one of our award cars.

By the way, Iron City (or as someone from the ’Burgh would say, “Ahrn City”) was a pretty tasty beer back in the day before there were many craft beers.
     What does this have to do with the truck? I had volunteered to make the award every year, and had been faithfully doing so, when C.J. Riley decided I should get some sort of reward for my work. The HO scale truck was my Christmas present that year. It is an Alloy Forms 1951 Ford panel delivery truck. Riley did some extra work, modeling the back door of the truck open, to accommodate some over-length lumber, along with the ladder on the roof.

The ladder on the roof is a reference to a kind of “inside ICFS” story. Riley often says that if you make a mistake in building a model structure, just put a man on a ladder in front of it, and no one will look past the ladder to spot your mistake. So the truck is on the way to supply such a ladder to somewhere it’s sure to be needed on my layout.
    Contrary to one comment I’ve heard, the ICFS truck is not in every layout photo. But since the truck does move about the layout, it can certainly show up almost anywhere.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Speaking up for PFE Class R-30-9

The subject class, PFE R-30-9, consisted of rebuilt cars, drawn from several prior classes. Not only the older cars of classes R-30-11, -12, -13 and -14, but even the 40-ton cars of Class R-40-2, were the raw material for these rebuilds. What all these classes had in common was wood-framed superstructures. During 1938 to 1940, fully 7694 cars were rebuilt and reclassified as R-30-9 (or if they originally had 40-ton underframes, they became R-40-9, but this was a small minority of the total cars in the class). All cars in the class retained their original underframe, whether 30-ton or 40-ton, whether built-up or commercial Bettendorf type. They were numbered from 91022 through 98718.
     The wood superstructure framing meant that the cars had limited lifetime, and by 1949, needed rework again. This time, all surviving cars, nearly 6300 of them, received the same kind of light steel framing in their superstructure as had many other PFE rebuilds, but receiving new wood tongue-and-groove sheathing. If you are interested in a more detailed account of this class’s history, or of PFE rebuilding in general, there is additional material in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, by Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000).
     The reason I am briefly describing the class and its history is because many modelers seem not to recognize the importance of this class. Many are aware of huge classes such as the steel R-40-23 cars, of which fully 5000 cars were purchased, and obviously an important class to model. But perhaps because they were not bought new, the R-30-9 cars, more than half again as numerous as R-40-23, don’t seem to get comparable attention. But in fact they remained in service a long time, and as late as 1958, the class still contained about 3000 cars.
     There is a good HO scale kit for this class, from Red Caboose, though strictly speaking, since it models a Bettendorf underframe, it can only model part of the class exactly. The class from which each individual car was rebuilt is tabulated in a PFE company document which is now at the California State Railroad Museum, so anyone wishing to choose entirely correct car numbers for their models can do so. When I worked on the PFE book, I made a copy of this document, so have checked my models in most cases to be sure they are of Bettendorf heritage. The car number for the kit described here is PFE 95740, a car which did have a Bettendorf underframe.
     This kit, as it happens, was a special-run lettering version for a past annual meeting of the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society. The kit makes into a nice model. I won’t talk about the assembly process, as it is straightforward. The only modification I made was to model the ice hatches as open, something discussed in a previous blog post (you can see it at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/07/modeling-open-ice-hatches-on.html ). Then of course the model had to be weathered. Since the paint scheme is fairly recent, I have only weathered the car lightly.

The car is shown behind the depot at Ballard on my layout.
     Under my scheme of rostering one model for each 1000 prototype PFE cars, this group of more than 7000 cars in my model year of 1953 obviously calls for seven models. I don’t yet have all seven built, but four cars are already in service, and three more in the form of kits are on the shelf to complete the class. I certainly won’t be one of those who overlook this large class of PFE cars.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, July 20, 2013

More on ice service reefers

In a previous post, I described the operation of PFE Ice Service cars, and showed my Red Caboose car in ready-to-run form. You can see it at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/06/ice-service-refrigerator-cars.html . As I said in that previous post, the source for all this information is the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000), though it is not all in one place in the book.
     I know from giving talks about PFE over the years that many modelers are a little unclear about the entire ice service process. And it is natural to think first about mammoth Ice Manufacturing Plants (or IMP, as PFE termed them) as the source of ice for a big ice deck. PFE did indeed build and operate such plants (Roseville was the largest artificial ice plant in the world in its day), but the great majority of PFE facilities were not like that. Even as busy a place as Watsonville Junction in California did not manufacture its own ice, but only had an ice storage house, from which the car icing operations were fed. PFE called such facilities “Ice Transfer Plants” or ITP, a good name because the ice came from somewhere else.
     An ITP might be built and owned by PFE, or it might be a commercial ice company, and if the latter, the ice deck itself might be built and operated by PFE or by the ice company. Evidently some ice companies did not want to be in the car icing business except to supply the ice itself. In the case of Guadalupe, California, the nearest facility to my layout location, Puritan Ice Company supplied the ice to a PFE-built deck, but Puritan employees iced the cars. It was a ten-carlength deck, pretty small in PFE terms but pretty darn big to model.
     My model for this post is a conventional Red Caboose kit for PFE Class R-30-9, the immense class of rebuilt cars numbered in the 91,000 to 98,000 series. I simply chose one of these cars, as an older car, to put into ice service, exactly as PFE did. I painted out the kit’s spelled-out road name, PACIFIC FRUIT EXPRESS, and substituted the 9-inch words ICE SERVICE from the Microscale PFE set 87-501.
     I also added the white decal placard indicating assignment to ice service which is in that new set 87-501. I used the “Los Angeles” assignment placard, as that is the closest large Ice Manufacturing Plant. Surplus ice might be available from a facility closer than Los Angeles, but obviously the supply would be largest from an IMP like the one at Los Angeles. I should mention that not all ice service cars were assigned to a particular ice source, though many were. You can easily model both types.
     The other change I made was to blank off the ice hatch openings. In my interviews with Pete Holst, retired from many years in Car Service at PFE, he told me that to make an ice service car, the vital thing was to remove the floor racks, so that ice could be readily moved into and out of the car, and usually to remove the ice bunker bulkhead for additional space (it could be replaced if the car had to be returned to revenue service). If the car was in the shop for this work, they would usually also remove the ice hatches and blank the openings.
     Here is the model, being spotted at the Western Ice Company storage house at Shumala on my layout. Consolidation 2829 has the honors. It may not be possible in this photo to read the white placard, but it says this: “P.F.E. Ice Service Return to Los Angeles When Empty.”

     A word on paint schemes. My model described in this post is from Class R-30-9, and had the 1942–1946 paint scheme. This helps identify it as a car which may have been assigned to ice service in the late 1940s, when it was nearly due for rebuilding again, and instead got the ice assignment.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Keeping those projects on track

I am sure I am not unusual among modelers, in that I often start projects before others are finished, and many times work on two, three or even four projects at the same time. I guess that’s a kind of multi-tasking. But inevitably some projects get held up. A needed part isn’t on hand, or the next required step is intimidating for some reason, or maybe the project just gets stale and enthusiasm wanes. Now what?
     Over the years I have evolved an approach to this situation which has proven effective (at least for me). I learned long ago that simply shoving the various bits and pieces of an incomplete project to the side or back of the workbench is asking for trouble — parts get lost or damaged, instructions can be mislaid, and worst of all, both the status of the project, and the reason for stopping work, have faded from memory. Now of course if it’s a commercial kit, one can usually resurrect or borrow the instructions, and by examining the state of the incomplete work, determine which step was the stopping point. But many projects may involve kitbashing or kit modifying or kit upgrading, and then the instructions don’t tell you where you were headed. And as I said, it may not even be a kit that was the basis for the project.
     My first piece of progress was to recognize when a project has stopped moving, and collect all the parts and pieces into a suitable box, often an old kit box, and put a piece of white paper tape on the end, where the project name is written. This does help, and avoids parts and instructions being scattered to the four winds. But it doesn’t help with that other bugaboo, the loss of the reason(s) for stopping work or of the original goals of the project.
     Here is a photo of one of my storage shelves, with a variety of project boxes of all kinds. There is nothing important about any of these, they are just shown as an illustration of what my project boxes look like.

Obviously there is a range of old kits represented by these boxes! I do tend to use whatever comes to hand.
     More recently, I have made what may sound like the obvious addition to the boxing up of the project. I write myself a note to put in the box with the project stuff. It might say something like, “wait for the new decals,” or “find out if kit matches prototype,” or maybe “see if Part 17 can be replaced with something better.” Or it might be more open-ended: “figure out how to put a new roof on this building.” Sometimes there is even an entire paragraph or two about what was holding up progress, or what went wrong, or what kind of new approach might be needed.
     Here  is an example, actually from the “kit” (actually just a set of parts from Frank Hodina and Terry Wegmann) for the PFE Class R-40-24 car with plywood sides, seen as the small square-ended box in the second vertical row from the left in the photo above. These parts were a gift and did not come with any instructions whatever. My notes suggest a sequence of steps to assemble this “kit.”

     These notes are backed up and supplemented, in many cases, by entries in my modeling journal. This is just a small notebook, which, at least for me, is a big improvement over lots of bits of paper of all sizes, left almost everywhere. Instead, the journal keeps everything in one place and at least a little organized. I talked about this idea in more detail, and showed some example pages from my journals in a previous post (which you might wish to view at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-modeling-journal.html ).
     The example shown above is a note for a freight car, but I do the same for structures and other projects. If I have thought through what will be needed to progress the work, or to finish the project, better to write it down than have to figure it all out again in the future.
     If construction of a model calls for anything out of the ordinary, especially any assembly steps which might have to be known to carry out repairs, I also make a “repair record sheet.” Though this is intended to keep track just of repairs, it obviously can be a benefit to know how a car was put together, whether kit or not. This includes which things were glued, and with which adhesives, along with identification of parts used, materials such as wire sizes, etc. And any time any model does need maintenance or repair, I create a “repair sheet” if one already doesn’t exist. Sometimes a fault will recur, and it’s useful to know that.
     Another thing I sometimes find valuable with a “repair sheet,” is to help remember a sequence of modification, or the specific part chosen for some reason. For example, in a later project, maybe I’m wondering, “what kind of replacement door did I put on that GN box car?’ because probably I now need the same kind of door for the current project. These details rarely remain in memory, but if recorded on a construction/repair sheet, can be retrieved. I make these by Xeroxing a simple header onto lined, 3-ring notebook paper, then keep them in a 3-ring binder. They are mostly used for rolling stock, but I have done them for a couple of structures too.
     Here is an example, a straightforward car kit with a few changes, and including a re-decal job. The decal set is identified, as are added detail parts. Note that I record the car weight. This is partly to ensure that I keep weights consistent, and partly as a troubleshooting aid if the car does not perform as desired.

     All these procedures help me sustain and finish modeling projects. Yes, some of it is paperwork. Now I can assure you, I do not relish paperwork and only do what I know from experience pays off. What’s described above is definitely in that category. I’ve proved that point to my satisfaction by re-starting a couple of truly old projects and discovering that I can pick up where I left off. If stalled projects are a problem for you, you might try some strategies like these.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Modeling open ice hatches on refrigerator cars

Many prototype photos of freight trains or freight yards reveal some refrigerator cars with ice hatches latched open. This represents what the Protective Services Tariff called “ventilation service,” and it meant that ice was not placed in the bunkers, but the cooling of outside air was considered sufficient for the perishable cargo. A frequent case was onions, which are preferably shipped at temperatures well above refrigeration temperature, and so will travel all right under vent service.
     in this connection, I can’t resist mentioning that contrary to modeling legend, cars with hatches latched open are not “empties being dried out,” but are loaded cars with cargoes in vent service instead of iced. In fact, three different retired PFE people I interviewed all said they had never even heard of cars being “dried out” that way. Some railfan photographers have also been guilty of this belief, and have captioned photos of cars in vent service as “empties.”
     That said, you may need a few cars exhibiting vent service, if you model a somewhat cooler part of the year (spring or fall), or model perishable traffic which falls into the frequent use of vent service. A longer discussion of this situation is in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, by Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000), but a brief summary was presented in a previous blog post, discussing packing house and shipping practices. I included the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture shipping temperature table (you can see it at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/08/few-words-on-packing-houses-and-produce.html ).
     So let’s assume you would like to roster a few reefers, whether PFE or not, which are visibly in vent service. There are two keys to modeling open ice hatches to make them look right. First, the hatch plugs should be evident on the underside of the hatch cover, whether it is wood or steel. The steel ice hatches in Red Caboose kits have a hatch plug molded underneath, which only has to be touched up with a canvas or light gray color (more on this below). Second, though only a glimpse of the car interior is possible, it is still necessary to install a view block to represent the bunker bulkhead (I tried to omit this on a previous model and was not happy with the result), and the bunker interior walls need to be gray (they were usually galvanized steel, which oxidizes light gray).
     Here are a few photos to show the prototype, all PFE photos from my collection. First, the interior of an ice bunker, sheathed with galvanized sheet. This is from a steel car, but wood-sheathed cars had ice bunkers like this too. The openings at the top are the external ice hatches. The racks at the bottom are for stage icing; they can be moved up to half height so as to use less ice (many PFE cars after 1940 were equipped for stage icing).

     Next, here is a view from inside the car during rebuilding, with the “bunker sheet” of steel in place, with air circulation vents top and bottom, but without the “pad,” the wood bulkhead with insulation and sheathing, which forms the inside bunker wall. The perforated steel sheet you see here is galvanized. When completed, this will be a “convertible” bulkhead, which can be rotated to one side to permit use of the entire car interior for loads in ventilation service, or for non-perishable backhaul loads. The photo was taken at Roseville on March 25, 1944, during rebuilding of Class R-30-19.

     When the hatches were latched open for “vent” (ventilation) service, they were not open very far. This photo shows a Class R-30-19 car, with the latch extended as high as it can go. Plugs are visible underneath the hatch cover, as are the hooks which permit locking the hatch from inside. Some modelers make the mistake of setting the hatches at 45 degrees or steeper, which clearly is not prototypical.

     Any number of refrigerator car kits down through the years have mentioned modeling the ice hatches open. I did that with a Tichy kit for a PFE Class R-40-4 car, and it looks all right, though to me has been a headache because the very thin hatch cover latch bars are fragile, and in ordinary layout operation, sooner or later some of them break off.

Seen in profile (below), the foreground Tichy latch is full length and looks great, but at the moment is the only surviving full-length one on the model. The angle here is about right, and thus the latch bar really is too long. Note plugs underneath.

     Another way to do this is to use something much stronger than thin styrene for latch bars. I used flat brass wire in modeling open hatches on an Athearn reefer. If anything, these are probably too steeply open.

And, as the next photo of the same car shows, I also added styrene blocks underneath the hatch covers to represent the plugs. The locking hooks were not modeled on this car, and again, the latch bars are too long.

Seen in profile, the angle of the open hatch is a little too steep.

     I mentioned the Red Caboose cars with steel ice hatch covers earlier in this post. I assembled a kit for one of these cars, a process in which there is nothing out of the ordinary, except that I chose to model ice hatches open in vent service. I will show how I did that. 
     I think that modeling the internal bulkhead is most easily done with a sheet of styrene, made as a slip fit into the car interior. Ice bunkers were about 3-1/2 feet long. I used 0.015-inch thickness sheet, with a corner reinforcement at the bottom. The photo below shows these bulkheads inside the car, notched to clear the roof, and already painted acrylic Neutral Gray. Also visible are my usual car weights, a pair of 5/8-inch steel nuts, which weigh about an ounce each, attached with canopy cement. (If you’re not familiar with this adhesive, you might like to read my discussion and explanation about it, which is at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-few-words-in-praise-of-canopy-glue.html .)

     As I mentioned, the Red Caboose steel hatches have plugs molded underneath. I simply painted these light gray while still on the sprue. To me, these are pretty thin and offer marginal realism, but at least they are there.

    I carefully built the roof subassembly with hatches open to the top notch on the latch bar. Again, this is probably too steep and I will adjust in future models.

Also evident in this view is the minimal thickness of the plugs, but again, they are okay to give the impression that something is under there. Next time, though, I will also thicken the plug area
     Probably the ultimate in this topic is hatch covers which are not even attached. Why model them that way? So I can show hatches entirely open, as for icing, or simply set them in place for closed hatches. This photo shows an Athearn car with the hatches closed at one end, open for icing at the other. All four hatches, as I said, are unattached to the car. You may wish to click on the image to see the locking hooks on the open hatch covers.

     This brings me to the end of what I wanted to say on these interrelated topics about ice hatches, when modeled in the open position. I enjoy having a few cars that way, though they can’t be spotted as empties to be loaded (the hatches would be latched open after the car is loaded). I have to stage them onto the layout, to serve as loaded cars to be picked up, or operate them in mainline trains only. But they definitely offer a nice variation in the reefer fleet.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Another update to Richard Hendrickson’s truck article

The outstanding handout by Richard Hendrickson about HO scale model trucks for freight cars, first posted last fall, has been updated with additional information  (in particular, inclusion of the new Tahoe Model Works Barber S-2 truck with spring plank, and a few corrections. It is now available on Google Drive at this link:

     This was a fairly large PDF when first uploaded in 2012, but subsequently we worked to shrink it, so it should download in a reasonable time. It’s a rich source of information for any freight car modeler, and well worth any annoying delay you might encounter in downloading.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Returning an Athearn metal tank car to service

A few years ago at a model railroad swap meet, I picked up an old metal tank car, assembled and with Mantua loop couplers on a “Talgo-truck” arrangement. It even has aluminum lettering, which I believe is correct for Crystal Car Line.

     The details and construction of this model convinced me that it is an Athearn metal car, of their “shorty” series, though it was sold without a box. Some details like grab irons are oversize, and some are crudely executed, but the model is solidly constructed and should, with replacement trucks and couplers, be able to serve on my layout, at least as a “mainline” car (meaning you will only see it in passing freight trains). It also needs a vertical-staff hand brake and some paint touch-up, plus the addition of end lettering.
     What would be the gallonage of this tank? Well, figuring that out is not difficult, as I posted previously (the post is available at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/10/naperville-tank-car-handout-part-2.html ), so here are the results. The tank is about 30 feet, 9 inches long over its cylindrical part, and about 7 feet, 4 inches in diameter, or 369 inches by 88 inches. Using the cylinder formula, this is 2,244,301 cubic inches, and dividing by the conversion factor for gallons in tank cars, 225 (as explained in the post just cited), it comes to 9974 gallons. This is quite close to 10,000 gallons, and being off by less than 1 percent, in fact is within the usual prototype manufacturing variation among nominal 10,000-gallon cars. But the actual Crystal Car Line cars, including number series 301–320, were almost all 8000 gallons, so this car is oversize. Again, as a mainline car on my layout, this is not a major problem.
     I started by removing the trucks. If anyone needs a pair of Mantua trucks like this, let me know.

     I soon found that the bolsters are conveniently drilled and tapped for 2-56 screws, my standard for truck attachment. For new trucks, I used a pair of Athearn sideframes on hand, with new Reboxx narrow-tread wheelsets. Width of wheel tread is especially evident on tank cars, and I think the improvement in appearance with narrower wheels is immediate.
     Then I turned my attention to the couplers. The vital point is to get the coupler pad height correct on an older car like this. I showed how to do this, and illustrated it with a photo, in a prior post (you can see it at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/03/replacing-snap-in-trucks.html). The original cast-on coupler boxes had been ground off to clear the Mantua couplers, but I still had to grind a bit more to achieve a correct height. I prefer to use Kadee coupler boxes, and chose to drill and tap for 2-56 screws to attach the new boxes for my standard coupler, no. 58.
     With those changes out of the way, I touched up all the paint, and added end lettering (the car as I received it had none). I used a Tichy tank car brake wheel and brass wire staff large enough in diameter to fit the tank car.

     As this photo behind Ten-wheeler 2344 shows, the car is now at work on my layout hauling edible oils, though since I have no such industries myself, it will have to be restricted to mainline service. And that service is just what’s appropriate to its level of detail, as I pointed out in the early part of this post!
Tony Thompson

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The new Microscale PFE decal set

Microscale has released a revision of the long-available decal set 501 (both 87-501 for HO scale and 60-501 for N scale), which is for PFE cars lettered after April 1950, when the black-and-white UP emblem was adopted. This is a huge improvement over the old set. Dick Harley did a great deal of research in putting together the artwork for this superb new version of the set, and it will be most welcome to many PFE modelers of the 1950s.
     The old set had a limited amount of some lettering, had way undersize capacity and dimensional data blocks, had somewhat wrong character shapes, to just mentions some of the shortcomings. It did have fairly good black-white UP emblems, which was mainly what I used to use it for. But this new set corrects all those shortcomings, even the UP emblems, and adds much more lettering. It is a great job by Dick Harley and will thoroughly serve anyone modeling PFE after 1950.
     In previous posts, I have described various ways of cobbling together car lettering for the post-1950 lettering scheme from various sets, including the old version of 87-501. For example, I did that in both my posts about PFE Class R-40-26, the kitbash car conversion (you can see that discussion at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/07/kitbashing-pfe-class-r-40-26.html ) and also the second post about correcting a brass model (at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/05/correcting-brass-model-of-pfe-car.html ). Some similar discussion was also involved in my description of how I lettered a PFE Class R-40-14 car, kitbashed from an Athearn model, which is at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/05/upgrading-old-models-athearn-reefers_9.html .
     Here is what the set looks like. This image is not very high resolution, having been lifted from Microscale’s web site, so clicking on it to enlarge it will not be very satisfying. But you can certainly gain an impression of all that is included. The set includes two copies of this sheet; six cars can be entirely lettered with the full set.

     You can see the set for yourself (and order it direct, if you wish) at this link:


I’ve already purchased two sets of these new decals myself.
        Whether your local hobby shop will carry this depends entirely on the shop. I know that many smaller shops have stopped trying to stock all available decals, but I bet they will order it for you, if you would prefer to support your local store.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Red Caboose “wine reefers”

Recently InterMountain has released a run of the Red Caboose PFE reefers lettered for wine companies. These are cars leased from California Dispatch Line (CDLX). Red Caboose has offered kits for its PFE Class R-30-12 cars with these same paint schemes for 15 years or so. From time to time, I am asked if these are “authentic” or are made-up lettering schemes.
     First, a couple of facts. During 1933–1935, PFE sold 41 cars to CDLX, cars from classes R-30-5 and R-30-6 which had been rebuilt in the mid-1920s with superstructures like PFE Class R-30-12, and had also been re-trucked with cast-steel sideframe trucks to replace their obsolete arch-bar trucks. The 41 cars purchased by CDLX were converted to tank cars, AAR classification TW, by putting wooden tanks inside them, six tanks per car, holding about 1000 gallons per tank. In other words, they became, in practical terms, insulated tank cars. They were numbered 277–317 by CDLX.
     Some but not all of the cars had ice hatches removed, with a simple steel plate covering the opening; others appear to have kept their hatches. But all had ice bunkers removed to provide more interior space (so obviously they would not be iced in service). They were also painted with a variety of schemes, reflecting the lessee’s names and products. Although we don’t know all the lessees, we do know a few.
     Wilbur Whittaker photographed two of these cars in Oakland in 1939, after the ban on billboard reefers had gone into effect. (For more on those cars, and the ban, see the book by Richard Hendrickson and Ed Kaminski, Billboard Refrigerator Cars, Signature Press, 2008). Those two Whittaker photos were reproduced in the PFE book, page 84 (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000). One was leased to the Bearcreek Vineyard Association of Lodi, California (CDLX 307), the other to Italian Swiss Colony Wines of Asti, California (CDLX 279).
     Here is an example, the Whittaker photo of the Bearcreek car, which has a repack date of October 1938. It appears to have orange sides.

     A third lease was to Roma Wine, which we know about because one of the cars was later sold to the Diamond Match Company, first for on-line use in their lumbering operation in the Sierra foothills, and then for insulated storage. A number of people photographed the car, which still had its Roma Wine decoration, in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, including color images.
     The CDLX 277–317 number group was still listed in the Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER) as late as 1950, but is no longer listed in the ORER in 1955. It may be wondered how these cars remained in service after the billboard reefer ban (as shown by the Whittaker photos), or if their paint schemes survived very long after 1938. At least some of the cars had simple lessee emblems and names on them, which were not banned categories of lettering. But in the absence of, say, late 1940s photos, we don’t know how they looked in later years. It is certainly possible that CDLX kept the cars in service without those interesting schemes.
     In any case, Red Caboose has offered cars with all three of the photographed paint schemes I have described, and all appear faithful to the evidence. I will show them below. In addition, they offer a white-sided Ambrose Wine Company car with CDLX markings, the accuracy of which I can’t confirm or deny. They also offer a silver-sided Scatena Brothers (Healdsburg, California) car, which is an authentic paint scheme but not, to my knowledge, leased from CDLX, but instead was from Keith Tank Line.
     Here are the models. The first two have been lightly weathered and have received a reweigh for the 1950s, as well as route cards.

The third scheme is the Italian Swiss Colony one, which I believe is much less likely to have remained in service, at least in this arrangement of lettering, much after the billboard reefer ban of 1938.

This one may end up residing in my display case.
    The simpler of these schemes, the first two I showed, will probably operate occasionally on my layout, picking up loads of bulk wine at my Zaca Mesa winery in Ballard.
Tony Thompson

Monday, July 1, 2013

Kitbashing a PFE Class R-40-26 refrigerator car

Some time ago I discussed a number of changes or improvements a person might pursue to make the recently introduced Accurail HO scale plug-door reefer into a more accurate representation of PFE Class R-40-26 (see: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/06/kitbashing-pfe-r-40-26.html ). In that post I mentioned that I already had a Challenger brass version of this class, and an in-progress kitbash project, using resin parts. For the first of these, in a recent post I discussed correcting, repainting and re-lettering my Challenger brass model of the -26 class (you can see it at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/05/correcting-brass-model-of-pfe-car.html ), and that post also contains prototype photos which are relevant to the project described in the present post.
     My planning for my model fleet of PFE cars was to represent the entire prototype fleet of 40,000 cars, by having one model car for each 1000 prototype cars, thus having car classes represented in proportion to their presence in the prototype PFE fleet. I discussed this approach in one of my first posts in this blog, and showed the size of various PFE car classes (see: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2010/12/choosing-model-car-fleet.html ). Since there were 2000 cars of Class R-40-26, numbered 8001–10000, I needed two models of this class. The brass car previously described is one of them.
     What about my second R-40-26? Way back when, probably at least 20 years ago, Frank Hodina cast some parts for converting an Athearn reefer to an R-40-26. Frank was then just at the outset of his long and excellent service as a builder of masters for Sunshine Models, and he and I had exchanged information on PFE cars. Frank made up the correct 1R+3/3 ends for the car (except that they should not have poling pockets—these are easily removed), along with a correct six-foot plug door and a diagonal-panel roof, and was kind enough to send me a set.

     The parts are pretty nice, and back when I received them, I started on a project to do the conversion. I got a lot of it done; here is an Athearn body with the door cut into the car side. The starting point was a car which I had renumbered as a stand-in for a Class R-40-14 reefer. Note that on the inside of the far wall, you can see I had to taper the top of the door casting to clear the roof. Some new styrene pieces are evident too, both to represent the top door track, and backing for a new segment of side sill (this is not the complete side sill replacement, as it will be longer when done).

As is evident here, I had not yet removed the over-thick Athearn sill steps, partly because at that time I did not know how I was going to represent the two-rung step beneath the door. Sides were drilled for Northeastern “drop grabs,” but I no longer use these on models, as they are not actually the shape of drop grab irons. In any case, from Class R-40-23 onward, PFE installed straight grab irons instead of the bracket style used earlier. I represent these with Westerfield brass wire grabs.
     The corner sill steps are the A-Line “Style C,” and the InterMountain refrigerator car detail set (part no. P40500-10) contains the wide, two-rung step under the door. That set also contains a fan control box, which goes on the left side only of Class R-40-26 cars. With all these side details added, I sprayed the car body with Model Master Primer Gray. This is the left side, and you can see the fan box at the far end. The added side sill length at center is still not final.

As always with gray primer, this can act as a “witness coat,” and is a great chance to check all modeling details and correct any flaws, before adding the final color. I added the route card boards on the left bolster “tab” on each car side, using scale 1 x 4-inch styrene. I did correct a couple of small “dings,” and then airbrushed the body with Daylight Orange.
     Meanwhile, I detailed up the Hodina ends, after removing the poling pockets. This class had Ajax hand brakes, so I used that item, plus the brake platform supports, from an InterMountain boxcar detail set. End ladders are InterMountain reefer ladders. Completed ends were then airbrushed boxcar red, along with the roof (including its Plano Morton running board, attached with canopy cement). Here are the ends: 

     Next came assembly. I carefully centered the roof lengthwise on the body, and since the roof exactly rests on the little ledge inside the Athearn sides, I could simply glue it on with canopy glue. I know this adhesive attaches dissimilar materials very well, and is quite strong once it has set for 24 hours. (If you would like to know more about this glue, I’ve described it a prior post; you can view it at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-few-words-in-praise-of-canopy-glue.html ). I went ahead and glued on the roof. Lastly, I completed the center segment of the side sills, using scale 1 x 6-inch styrene. The prototype photos, presented in the prior blog post cited at the very top of this post, show the side sill geometry well.

     The last assembly step was to add the ends, using canopy glue. You can see in the photo above that I had already attached the Athearn underframe, and had reversed the mirror-image Athearn arrangement of brake parts. (The Kadee No. 5 couplers shown will be replaced with No. 58s.) The last modeling task was the end supports for the running board. I usually fabricate these from Evergreen scale 1 x 2-inch or 1 x 3-inch styrene strip, and use the same for the running board crosspiece. This photo shows the first of the two diagonal strips at this end.

Here the end lettering can be seen; it was done prior to assembly of the ends onto the body, to permit decal application with the ends flat on the workbench.
     Next, the completed body was given a good coat of gloss finish to prepare it for decaling. The lettering scheme chosen postdates PFE’s discontinuation of the one-inch stripes above the initials and below the car number, which occurred in February 1952. The R-40-26 class was built over a span of time from summer 1951 into the spring of 1952, so the last cars built were painted this way. I only have a couple of cars in my entire PFE model fleet with this paint scheme, because I model 1953, but I do want to have a couple of them. Here is a prototype photo of the right side of an R-40-26, not a great image but it does show the lettering clearly.

The photo is from my collection, though I don’t know the date, location, or photographer.
     The kitbashed model was lettered much as the brass car described earlier, using a mixture of Microscale and old Champ decals. Once weathered, PFE 9071 looked like this, shown in a scene of switching in front of the Shumala depot on my layout, just at the Chamisal Road crossing. Alco S-2 switcher 1389 is the power. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

     And now I have the desired two models representing PFE Class R-40-26. As I mentioned at the top of this post, that’s the “right” number for this 2000-car class, for my scheme of rostering one model for each 1000 prototype PFE cars. The class is distinctive in my 1953 modeling era as the newest of the PFE cars on the railroad.
Tony Thompson