Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Blue flags

Most modelers know what a ‘blue flag” is. It is used to indicate people working in or around equipment, or some alteration or connection of equipment, so that the equipment should not be moved. Only the person who placed the blue flag can remove it, to avoid someone making an assumption that workers have left the area. In most railroad rule books, this is covered in Rule 26. In the 1951 Southern Pacific Rules, this rule reads in part as follows, and I quote:
     “26. When necessary to work under or about an engine, cars, or cut of cars for inspection, repair or servicing of any of them a blue sign reading ‘Men at Work’ must be displayed at each end unless standing on a spur track, in which event the sign will be displayed only on the end to which coupling can be made. If engine is attached to train, car, or cars, sign on engine end must be displayed on engineer’s side of cab of engine.
     “At night a blue light must be attached to each such sign as prescribed herein.
     “A sign may be removed only by the employee attaching it or by an employee authorized by him to remove it, and signs and lights must not be removed by any other person.”
     (I have abbreviated the rule in part, and have changed SP’s idiosyncratic spelling of “employe.”)
     For at least the last 50 years, these flags have normally been metal rectangles, of course blue in color, with appropriate legends on them. But if you go far enough back in history, the blue flag was literally a fabric flag. There happens to be an excellent photograph demonstrating this, from the Jack Delano photo series taken when he crossed the country in 1943. This view was taken at Santa Fe’s Corwith Yard in Chicago, and shows carman John Paulinski “blue flagging” a train for inspection (this is Library of Congress image  LC-USW 361-609).

     The blue flag is used also for tank car connections, since obviously a tank car being unloaded by gravity through its bottom outlet would be a bad idea to move. Many years ago (I hate to think how many), my very good friend, the late Larry Kline and I were preparing a joint clinic on “tank car basics,” as we called it. While out scouting train movements, we happened onto a tank car unloading spur, and C.J. Riley took the photo below. (We wanted to include this image in the clinic to show that we had done our field work.) That’s Larry on the left. This flag is a permanent sign, not a portable one, and is distinctly larger than the ones usually found on or in the track.

(For more about Kline, Riley and me, written before Larry’s passing, you might wish to read my blog post: . I also wrote an “in memoriam” post about Larry, including the above photo, and it can be found here: ).
     Back in the early 1990s I was doing a little railfanning around SP’s West Oakland yard, and watched a carman taking down a blue flag. I spoke to him about it, and when he saw I understood it and was interested, he gave it to me. I remember bringing it home (I then lived in Pittsburgh) on the airplane, simply putting it in the overhead bin. This was of course long before the security rigors we are familiar with since 9/11. Imagine trying to do that today! Here is a photo of that blue flag. It is 12 x 13 inches, and the staff has a hook for attaching to the cab side of an engine, as Rule 26 provides.

     Among the manufacturers of blue flag devices today is Western-Cullen-Hayes. You can look at their extensive line of railroad equipment, including such things as derails, bumping posts, and track tools, at their website (it is at: ). Shown below are three of the flags they offer. Shown at left is a device which is permanently installed, and is hinged so it can be folded down flat. At center is a flag with a clamp for attachment to a rail. At right is a flag with a pointed staff which can be inserted into ballast. (You can click on the image to enlarge.)

Note that there are three different legends on the three flags (different also from the ones shown in the preceding photos, above), just part of the possible range.
     Why am I presenting all these details? Because I want to add blue flags to my layout operation. I have operated on layouts which do include blue flags, and I wanted to do the same. Accordingly, I set out to see what might be a practical and convenient way to model blue flags. What I came up with will be shown in a following post.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The new Broadway Limited tank cars

As is common with freight car projects which involve assembly in China, the announcement by Broadway Limited of new 6000-gallon high-pressure tank car models in HO scale appeared some time back. Then, as is also common, the announced arrival time was moved back a couple of times. But they are now here, and believe you me, the wait was worth it. I received the four cars I had wanted, via a dealer who broke up the inconvenient “four-packs” in which Broadway chose to market the cars.
     These are beautiful models and are certain to be warmly received by knowledgeable modelers. We finally have a high-pressure tank car other than an LPG car with a correct-size valve bonnet and dome platform. (Incidentally, the dome platforms are floored in wooden planks, as was standard practice until steel grid was required for new construction, starting in 1948; retrofitting of older platforms was not required.)
     One thing to recognize with the cars is that the capacity in gallons is not marked on the car ends of the models that were produced with multiple car numbers. The gallonage marking was usual though not required. Clerks could readily look up the actual capacity in the Tank Car Capacities Tariff, which I have reviewed previously (see my post describing how to obtain it, at: ), I will give examples below.
     Perhaps Broadway omitted end gallon markings on the multiple-number models because each one should have been different! A car I received produced in a single number does have the end gallonage marked — and the Tariff shows it’s the correct value. One might think that the need to print different end numbers on the multiple-number models could have included printing the different gallonages. In any case, modelers who care can add decals for the end markings.
     Here is one of the cars I chose. The well-known chemical concern Penn Salt (the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Company) had a subsidiary in Washington state, called Penn Salt of Washington, located at Tacoma, and with separate reporting marks TELX (maybe for Tacoma ELectrochemical). The capacity of this car, TELX 224, was 5849 gallons, as listed in the Tariff.

And here is a closer-up view of the very nicely done valve bonnet and planked platform:

     Two of the cars I chose were the Columbia Chemicals and  Columbia-Southern cars. The background and history of these company names was summarized in an earlier blog post (you can read that post at this link: ). In brief, in 1899 Pittsburgh Plate Glass established a subsidiary, Columbia Chemical, to make soda ash, a component in glass-making. The soda ash process also had chlorine as a by-product, so Columbia sold both. In 1931, Pittsburgh Plate Glass or PPG formed another company, Southern Alkali Corporation, as a joint venture with American Cyanamid (in 1951 PPG acquired all of Southern Alkali). Around that same time, PPG combined its Columbia and Southern Alkali subsidiaries as Columbia-Southern. (In later years, that company would become a component of the Chemicals Division of PPG.)
     Both Columbia and Southern Alkali had owned tank cars to move their chlorine to market. The Columbia cars used the predictable reporting marks, PPGX, while Southern Alkali cars were initialed SACX. After the two companies were merged, it appears from Official Railway Equipment Registers that cars retained their original reporting marks, and the respective rosters did not change much over time, indicating little effort at re-initialing the SACX cars. Instead, most of the PPGX cars appear to have been disposed of, particularly their numerous, older 40-ton cars. By 1958 the Columbia-Southern roster was dominated by the SACX mark.
     The Broadway Limited models mirror the above history. As an example, here is SACX 680, the Tariff capacity of which was 5927 gallons:

Another beautiful model, with superb lettering and the same excellent details.
     I look forward to waybilling these cars and including them in future operating sessions. Broadway Limited has provided a very much needed model for those of us who like tank cars.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Building work carts

In photos of Southern Pacific work areas around steam locomotives, such as garden tracks, one usually sees a few small carts. These likely contain tools or  materials or spare parts, and because there rarely are two alike, I assume these are homemade in a shop. To illustrate, I show below a detail from a Richard Steinheimer 1950 photo at Taylor Roundhouse, with three carts in the view.

Each of the carts is a different size and shape, though all have a single pair of wheels (some photos show four-wheeled carts too). I decided to model a couple of these carts.
     To build a small cart, my approach was deliberately as simple as possible. Looking at prototype photos, carts appear to be three or four feet long and maybe two or three feet high. I decided to use styrene strip, and it looked like about 1/4-inch square would be a good cross-section. I didn't happen to have any Evergreen strip that size, so glued together two pieces of 1/8 x 1/4-inch strip. I made it three HO scale feet long.
     Next I needed to add wheels. Well, these wheels need not rotate, so can be approximated instead of accurately modeled. I took some 3/16-inch styrene tubing (Evergreen no. 226) and sliced off some pieces with a razor blade, quite quick and easy. I found it a little tricky to get fully parallel slices, but this goes so fast you can just keep cutting till you get enough for your project. I cut a whole bunch and rejected almost all of them, but probably did not consume as much as half an inch of the tubing. If one wanted larger wheels, of course, larger diameter tubing could be used.
     I wanted to avoid a real wheel center, so merely glued each tubing slice to the rounded end of some Evergreen scale 2 x 12-inch strip. This would look like the inside of the wheel, and would also be an attachment piece for the wheel assembly to the body of the cart. The photo below shows a cart at this stage, with one wheel added, and the second wheel on its backing strip. Note at the top of the photo, four additional tube slice of varying thickness.

     In addition, I wanted to model the kind of handles often seen on these carts, which are made to facilitate lifting the non-wheeled end of the cart to move it. Using a half-round file, it was easy to make an approximate shape of the right kind. The material used was Evergreen scale 1 x 6-inch strip (no. 8106). Here is how it looked when attached to the cart.

     The cart shown above has its axle at one end. Axles more in the center of the cart were more common, doubtless easier to lift and move. I decided to make a cart like that to accompany the one just illustrated. In some photos, one also occasionally sees four-wheel carts, so I decided to include one of these too. All materials were same as for the first cart, just modified for the different arrangements. Many prototype carts had end handrails for lifting and pulling, so I decided to add those to the additional carts, in the form of brass wire.
     Last, I assembled a pewter cart from a kit by BEST (Bollinger Edgerly Scale Trains; you can visit their catalog at: ), which I liked because it has much larger spoked wheels, visible in some of the SP service area photos. It is also an open-top cart. Here are all four:

     Color images from the steam era that show repair facilities are scarce, but I know of at least one cart like this that was orange (the color of much SPMW small equipment in that era), and one that was gray. A retired SP machinist told me he had seen both orange and yellow ones, along with gray. I decided to mostly do gray, and began by spraying all the carts with gray primer. I went back and painted the tires dark gray and one of the bodies a dirty orange.

     It has been fun and interesting to research and build these work carts, which are so very evident in SP shop and service area photos. I will be able to use them at my Shumala fuel and water facility, and around my roundhouse and shop.
Tony Thompson

Monday, April 17, 2017

A transitional operating session

I host several operating sessions a year on my layout, with the number varying from year to year. I have often shown photos from those sessions in posts to this blog. But yesterday afternoon, I hosted one that for me was a little different than any of the preceding ones. It comprised the usual four operators, formed as two two-person crews. But I had made a number of changes to industries switched (a couple were switched for the first time) and to patterns of switching at some established industries. This was also the first session for local Bay Area folks in which my sizeable industry at the town of Ballard, Pacific Chemical Repackaging, would be fully operational. (To see the way it used to be, with essentially only an inverted kit box serving to represent the industry, look at the first photo in my post from February, which is at this link: .)
     Here’s a view taken during the session, with switching underway in the foreground (coincidentally both the locomotive and the caboose of the branch local train are visible here).

Both the PCR building, at left center of the photo, and some of its tankage, can be seen here, and this is a considerable advance, at least in my mind, over the former kit box representation.
     One of the crews comprised Doug Smith (at left) and Richard Brennan, seen here planning a run-around move at Shumala. They were a careful and thorough crew all afternoon.

     Meanwhile, on the other side of the layout at Ballard, John Rodgers (at left) and Ray deBlieck were also hard at work. They were really efficient with the workload they were given, even though, as I said, patterns of switching from previous operating sessions had been changed.

     Another facet probably not evident to these crews, all experienced operators, is that I had altered a number of the waybills to conform to my current ideas on waybill content and management. But these changes too were taken in stride in this session, something encouraging and gratifying to me. The best kind of operating session for the layout owner is not only when things go well, but when improvements (hopefully they are improvements) can be introduced, and those changes fit in seamlessly, with operators working right through them. With all that going on, I really enjoyed hosting this session.
Tony Thompson

Friday, April 14, 2017

Moving produce to your packing house

Like many modelers, I am interested in produce packing, and perhaps I go farther than many, with six packing houses of different kinds on my layout. They are entirely appropriate for my layout locale, on the north edge of the Santa Maria plain in central California, where extensive growing of field vegetables continues today. The traffic to and from these packing houses is featured in my operating sessions, including appropriate produce shipments for each month of the year. (I have described that seasonal aspect in a prior post, which you can read at this link: ).
     As model railroaders, we naturally focus on loading of refrigerator cars. But of course the produce first has to be picked in the field or orchard or vineyard, and moved to the packing house. That was done with “field boxes,” used only for that transport to the house, and rather larger than the shipping crates that went into the refrigerator cars. As modelers, we tend to think about representing the shipping crates, standing on the loading dock ready to go into our reefers. But the field boxes were important too, and in this blog post I describe how I am modeling them.
     I had never really figured out how I was going to model field boxes, until Robert Bowdidge handed me a baggie of 3-D printed stacks of field boxes, at a meet one time (I think it was Bay Area Prototype Modelers, BAPM, held every June here locally). As he puts it, he was inspired by the field boxes designed and printed by Ken Harstine, and Ken’s boxes are available from Shapeways (here is a link to the relevant page: ).
     Robert’s boxes were similar to what Ken did, but were designed and printed by Robert. In a post two years ago, I showed Robert’s excellent 3-D printed freight cars (see it at: ), and these boxes are really a by-product. What I like about the field boxes, as opposed to shipping crates, is that they had no top, thus you can see the contents. Shipping crates or boxes were closed.
     The boxes Robert printed looked like this when I got them, and they needed to be washed in mild detergent to accept paint well. These stacks happen to be empty boxes, though most of the boxes Robert gave me were filled ones.

     Robert has made both single and double stacks of boxes, three, four or five high. My usual process (I have done several batches) is to wash, then use a light gray primer on these boxes, then hand-paint various raw wood colors (new or aged) onto the outside of the boxes, and choose various produce colors for the contents. Here are some examples.

I use orange for apricots or oranges, purple for plums or wine grapes, and a couple of different greens for vegetables like broccoli or cabbage. I also have boxes with yellow contents, for lemons, and red, for strawberries and cherries. I simply choose the proper crops for the month in which my op session takes place (see the link given in the first paragraph of this post), and put the corresponding field boxes on loading docks and in delivery trucks.
     Shown below are examples at my packing houses. First, my lemon association, with a reefer spotted at door 3, but with field boxes visible inside door 1. This is at my waterfront town of Santa Rosalia.

     In my inland town of Shumala, there is the Phelan and Taylor packing house, which mostly packs vegetables of various kinds at different times of the year. In this photo, there are stacks of both empty and full field boxes visible.

     I like the opportunity to show produce at my packing houses. I also like to show shipping boxes or crates, and will take up that topic in a future post. But these resin field boxes have been fun to decorate and use. If your layout has packing houses, you might consider doing something similar.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Building Guadalupe Fruit, an update to Part 5

In the previous post, Part 5 of the series, I showed my design and construction of the parapet to complete the main structure for Guadalupe Fruit. (You can read that post at: .) In the present post, I complete application of the parapet parts to this packing house.
     The parapet parts shown in the previous post were painted with Testor’s “Flat Aircraft Dark Gray,” their no. 1226, the same as doors, window frames, and all trim on the building. I had tried to make sure all four parapet segments were correct length to fit together properly, but (wisely, it turned out) did make most of them overlong. That allowed me to make final adjustments as each segment was glued to the structure. I should add that my idea to have an overlapping trim strip (the 1 x 10 piece), to provide more gluing surface than just a butt joint atop the building wall, really worked. The styrene cement securely attached each segment to the top of the wall.
     When completed, the parapet made quite a difference in the appearance of the building, at least to my eye. I show below the photo from the previous post, Part 5, of the building with no parapet.

     The following photo shows the building as completed with the parapet. Probably any architect would think the difference obvious and to be expected, but I was happily surprised to see how well the addition of the parapet completed the look of the structure.

     There are more things to do with this building, primarily roof details, as I mentioned in the previous post. But I am really pleased with the parapet addition, something I had long planned yet had long postponed, because I was not certain my planned construction method would work (it did) or that it would make much difference in the looks of the building (it definitely did). I guess that’s yet another indication that we all need to go ahead and try an idea, not agaonize over whether it will work exactly as desired. This one has certainly turned out for me.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Building Guadalupe Fruit, Part 5

In the previous post, I showed completion of the truck loading dock for this industry, arranged in the structure as an inset area. (You can read that post at: .) I didn’t show the assembled structure with the truck dock attached in place, so here is a view of that end of the building.

   Another missing part of the building at this point is the cornice or parapet, which hasn’t yet been installed. Although the building would look from street level as though it had a flat roof, most such structures in fact have sloped roofing, hidden behind the parapet. I may yet make this roof that way too, though that decision hasn’t been made. But for any roof decision, I needed to begin by building a decorative parapet, as was commonplace on older frame buildings. I wanted to keep this simple, but make a modestly decorative “cornice” look.
     My foundation material for the parapet was Evergreen styrene strip of the same thickness as the building walls, 0.040 inches. I chose a width of 0.188 inches, i.e. Evergreen strip no. 148. I decided that a cap strip would make it look more like a cornice, and chose scale 2 x 12-inch styrene strip., and to provide texture on the length of the cornice, I chose scale 4 x 4-inch strip (these are Evergreen nos. 8212 and 8404). Some 1 x 10 strip (no. 8110) was also chosen to make an overlapping strip with the building wall, to make a more secure glue joint when it was installed. The crude sketch below shows the cross-section I am trying to describe:

The building wall would connect as shown at the bottom of the sketch.
     The plan was to assemble these styrene pieces, then carefully fit all corners, then paint the darker gray of the trim color on the building. First, I assembled the strips with the usual styrene cement, leaving oversize material at each end of the four parapet pieces.

In this view, the 2 x 12 cap strip is toward the top of the photo.
     Next I cut and filed the ends to a suitable bevel that would allow them to match. As this structure has only two right-angle corners (see the post on its design at: ), this bevel fitting required frequent checking against the building itself. Here is one of the corners as beveled.

This beveling actually goes quickly and easily. The styrene strips making up the parapet are well welded to each other and can readily be cut or filed as a unit.
     Shown below is one of the parapet corners, as fitted, just held in place at one of the non-perpendicular corners of the building. You can see that this will pretty much work as desired.

     This structure is approaching completion. I have to paint and install the parapet, and get other details completed. I want to add a roof access structure and some vents, and some day I  may make a canopy for part of the rail loading dock. But I’m getting to where I want to be with this building.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Representing stucco buildings

In a recent series of posts, I showed my steps in creating an industrial structure for my layout, which was modified from a Design Preservation kit of a brick building, to try and represent a stucco exterior. (The post about the stucco part can be found here: .) I was happy with how the structure turned out, and have been thinking since about good and not-so-good ways that a modeler might represent stucco.
     The basic idea for what I did was not original with me. In fact, Richard Townsend was really responsible for what I did, not only remembering and mentioning an article by Kathleen Renninger, from the November 2001 issue of Model Railroader, page 104,  about applying a stucco-like coating to a brick building. He also was kind enough to send me a scan of the article, entitled “Hitting the Bricks with Stucco.” I went ahead and tried Renninger’s technique, using vinyl spackle instead of the drywall compound she used (I think either one could work just fine). I mentioned all this in the post about the structure, as cited in the preceding paragraph.
     I have since had conversations with several modelers, both in person and on-line, about the issue of how best to represent stucco. Some people focus on the fact that most stucco is very rough when seen up close, though of course a texture on that scale is going to be invisible at 1:87 or thereabouts. I know of modelers who have covered structure surfaces with sandpaper in an effort to capture that small-scale roughness. It’s an interesting idea, but to my mind it still isn’t going to work. If you can see the texture at all, I believe your sandpaper is too coarse (neglecting for the moment the issue of whether the surface is painted or not).
     Instead, I believe, at least in HO scale, that the scale of stucco roughness that is familiar to us on prototype structures should be ignored, and that we should instead try and capture the much larger scale irregularities also present in prototype stucco surfaces. That is what I did on my model, about which more in a moment. But first, let me show a few photos of what I mean.
     I have often noticed the kind of prototype irregularities just mentioned, and decided to try and photograph them. They are most evident in glancing sunlight angles, and I was able to find a number of examples right in the area of Berkeley where I live. Below is one such.

This is an older apartment building, likely dating from before World War II by the architecture, and clearly with irregularities over its entire front.
     A second example is from a much newer building, and in this case the lighting only showed the texture in one area, though up close it could be seen over most of the stucco surface.

     As a last example, I show a smaller area, small enough that the local roughness I mentioned above is evident, but my interest here is in the surface undulation, which is what would be visible in HO scale.

     These examples were of course photographed with a light angle which made them quite evident, but usually these features can be seen in any bright light, just difficult to photograph except in glancing illumination.
     The model I built has some of this character, though not deliberately introduced. Instead, I applied the spackle covering to the structure and intentionally did not try to accomplish perfectly smooth surfaces. The result was indeed some irregularity, as you can see on the end wall below, though, like the prototype examples above, it’s really only visible in glancing light. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

     I think the general problem of how to model a stucco building remains an interesting challenge, but I am happy with what I was able to accomplish with my model for Pacific Chemical Repackaging.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, April 2, 2017

More on my tank car fleet

Awhile back, I posted a series of descriptions about how I chose the model freight cars that I did, to make up my operating fleet. One of those posts was about tank cars, and was pretty basic in what it included. (You can read it at: .) Much more recently, I have posted about some of the additional issues that crop up for any tank car fleet (the most recent post is at this link: ).
     In the present post, I want to address some recent changes to my tank car fleet, going beyond the modeling points made in my article in Model Railroad Hobbyist, in the issue of March 2016 (you can read online, or download, any issue of MRH for free, at any time, from their website at ).
     One tank car I would like to show is a Tidewater Associated Oil car. As I have described in some detail, Tidewater Associated had three reporting marks in my modeling era: TWOX in the east, TIDX in the Midwest, and AOX in the far west (that post is at: ). Though each regional sub-fleet was intended to meet regional needs, there is ample photographic evidence that all three marks could be found in all three regions.
    I chose a distinctive car design to add to my group of Tidewater Associated cars. I decided to figure out how to build a model of an asymmetrical tank car, that is, with an original center dome and a single compartment that evidently had been added at one end. These were certainly unusual cars but several owners had them. A familiar example is this photo, from the Byron Rose collection.

Oil companies had a need  for the ability to deliver smaller amounts of petroleum products than a full tank car, thus the existence of two- and three-compartment tank cars in the service of many oil companies. This is just another example.
     The approach I took used a variety of commercial components, but with a scratchbuilt underframe and a tank made from a hardwood dowel. The underframe for my model was similar to the one built from wood and light, rivet-impressed cardstock that I showed in my MRH article in March 2016 (see second paragraph from top of this post); here is a repeat of the photo from that article.

The cardstock on the center sill here is from an envelope for an M.V. Products headlight lens. The dark gray plastic is Plastruct. The completed car is shown below at the Associated dealer on my layout.

Tydol and Veedol were trade names for lubricants sold by Tidewater Associated Oil.
     Recently I completed a car assembled by Dennis Williams, a Sunshine kit for a General American car with circumferential-rivet-seam construction, Sunshine’s kit no. 99.3. I chose the version with decals for Baker Castor Oil, a load which logically could be delivered to my layout’s chemical repackaging business (for more on such businesses, you may read wish to my post at: ). Here is that car, spotted for unloading at Pacific Chemical Repackaging. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

     Some time ago, I published a short construction article in Railroad Model Craftsman, about two tank cars I partially scratchbuilt. (That was in the RMC issue for January 2012, Vol. 80, pp. 61–66.) One of them, a Becco Peroxide car which I built to resemble the superb model built years ago by Mark Feddersen (his article was in Prototype Modeler, January 1986, pp. 16–19). But my car was not in fact quite complete when I photographed it for the article. I have added some needed details, including side ladders, along with representations of route cards and placards. In the 1950s, peroxide was placarded as a corrosive liquid, which is how my car is shown. Here is the car today.

Prototype photos of BECX cars were included in the RMC article.
     This car has a tank and dome made from tubing, with a shortened Tichy tank car underframe. Various suitable details were applied, as described in the RMC article. I sometimes hear the comment about this model, that the trucks are too big. No, the rest of the car is just smaller than the big model tank cars we are used to (its capacity is about 6000 gallons). The trucks are completely standard HO scale trucks.
     These three cars are all somewhat out of the ordinary for HO scale tank cars, which was part of my motivation to create them. I enjoy operating them at the industries on my layout.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Loads of scrap

We are all familiar with scrap as a load for open-top cars, usually gondolas. Scrap could be generated in a wide variety of manufacturing plants, and because it could readily be re-melted, had commercial value. Thus observing railroad traffic, for example in yards, would often reveal cars of scrap going and coming from all directions. Scrap was described by a grading system, and carloads of a single grade, for example, Grade 1 Heavy Melting Scrap, were of course worth more money. If carloads of a single grade weren’t possible, a shipper would at least strive to have carloads of all steel scrap, or all cast iron, or aluminum, or whatever they worked with. But even mixed scrap had value.
     Scrap was also an important traffic component, for any railroad with a major car shop. Repairing, upgrading or rebuilding cars naturally generated scrap, particularly when hundreds or even thousands of cars might pass through a particular shop in a year. Some railroads simply sold this scrap commercially, but those with the ability to recycle it, either by reclaiming individual parts or by remelting to make castings, would collect it from across the railroad.
     As a single example, Southern Pacific, possessed of several major car shops across the system and with a major reclaim operation at Sacramento, along with a foundry and forge shop, collected immense amounts of scrap annually. This was described from time to time in the employee magazine, the Bulletin. Shown below is a typical photo from the Bulletin.

Visible here are two GS gondolas dating from the 1920s, SP 92026 and 92362 (both cars happen to be members of Class G-50-10), seen in 1946 at Sacramento. Among the foreground materials is a pile of tie plates, which SP would straighten and re-use. The electromagnet being used on the crane was obviously a big help in unloading loads of scrap with every size and shape,
     Modeling scrap has long been made easy by commercial products representing loads of many kinds. Unfortunately, some makers of such loads apparently believed that the load should be “interesting,” and would add recognizable but unlikely items on the top of the load, such as an automobile body, or a complete cross-compound air compressor. Let us just tactfully say that such items are not very realistic (you can of course carve off the offending items and replace with something more pedestrian),
     On the other hand, some makers of scrap loads have done a good job of giving us realistic materials to put in our gondolas.  And if the coloration is not to your liking, you can repaint or highlight areas differently, or add additional “stuff” to the load. I have been struck by how much different a commercial load can look when repainted. For example, shown below is an old Chooch load, which came painted in a uniform rust red. I used a rattle can of light gray and “dusted” the load from a distance to change the main color of the load without reaching down into crevices. It looks really amazingly like metal parts. But you be the judge:

The model here is an old Ulrich GS gondola with upgraded details and new trucks and lettering. (An overhead view of this load is below.)
     One of the vendors offering much more realistic loads nowadays is Motrak (visit their website to see lots of examples; they are at this link:!/~/search/category=20386258&fieldScale=H%20Scale&fieldCategory=Freight%20Car%20Loads ). They have more than 15 screens of loads for a truly wide variety of HO and N scale manufacturers’ hoppers and gondolas. They are primarily coal, gravel (ballast), ore, scrap metal, scrap aluminum, and woodchips. Most are made from Hydrocal plaster, some are resin. Shown below is one of the scrap aluminum loads at bottom; above it is the Chooch load shown in the photo above.

     But you may need something different, or just not want to spend the money. Loads like this are easy to make yourself, using whatever kind of base you like for loads. I usually use sheet balsa, because my open-top cars are weighted to operate properly when empty, thus do not need any more weight in a load than absolutely necessary. I have rummaged around in my “too good to throw away” miscellaneous-parts drawer and chosen stuff to glue onto scrap loads. In the photo below are a bunch of those miscellaneous parts, most painted a rusty color to suggest old scrap, but ranging from orangish-brown to dark brown, all on a balsa base sized to the destination car.

     I also modify commercial loads, as I mentioned above. I show next two older Chooch loads that have had items I didn’t like carved off, and others added. Both are painted fairly dark to look like old scrap. The upper one is in a Details Associates gondola, for which it was cut to fit. I decided to paint one of the items of scrap, a yellow and white barrel, to make the rest of the load less interesting to examine.

     These are simple loads, either to buy or to make. They can offer immense variety in appearance, so can serve as a wide variety of cargoes to and from different industries. On my layout, I will probably add more loads to the group shown here (and a couple not shown). I believe that variety in loads is always my friend.
Tony Thompson

Monday, March 27, 2017

Waybills, Part 58: more on managing bills

I was sent an interesting question following a prior post. Andy Love asked about how my newer waybills have affected the process I use to handle waybills. (You can read his comment at the end of an earlier post, at: .) I have touched on this point in prior blog posts but perhaps never presented the full description of how I do that work.
     Andy’s first question was whether I still use the same plastic sleeves (baseball-card collectors’ sleeves). I do, partly to protect bills in handling, because I do re-use them, but also to permit pairing loaded and empty (or loaded and loaded) paperwork in that sleeve. The sleeve also permits use of “overlay” or short bills. I discussed those at modest length in previous posts, starting with this one: . That basic idea has been extended in other posts, but perhaps most clearly here: .
     I do use these overlays often, especially for my outbound perishable loads, which all are moved on Southern Pacific waybills and thus have a common header. The overlays, among other things, allow me to consistently ship seasonally-correct produce in operating sessions (see for example: ). But the overlays do not “live” in the sleeve. Instead, they are stored by industry (more on that in a moment).
     Andy also asked if there are multiple waybills for each car. Certainly for some cars, there are, but others have essentially singular application (such as a Union Oil Company tank car delivering to a Union bulk dealer) and could not readily support two or more different waybills. Free-running box cars, of course, are almost the opposite, and could in principle have many, many waybills each, though I have not followed through to make anything like those kinds of quantities. But any multiple waybills are generally not stored together in a single sleeve for a car. Let me explain.
     My core waybill management is by industry. So any car with waybills to or from more than one industry needs to have those bills separated. That’s because my whole management of car flow within and between operating sessions is a demand system, as I’ve outlined previously (see for example this post: ). Accordingly, I file all waybills by industry in a single box (you can click on the photo to enlarge it).

     The town dividers are the bright magenta cards that you see above, with separate industries between them. The right half of the box is just materials storage. This box, incidentally, happens to be a file box designed for baseball cards. These are available from several suppliers; I use BCW (visit  them at: for more info; there are four pages of box listings). They call it a “Shoe Storage Box,” and it is indeed reminiscent of a shoe box. It also has a lid (not shown). Any overlay or short bills are also filed by industry.
     My key “finding aid” for these waybills is a computer list, also organized by town and then by industry, much as you see in the bill storage box above. I call it a “pairs list,” because it lists pairs of load origins and destinations. I attempted to explain this, and how it works, in a post some time back (you can read it at this link: ), The example shown in that post was for Otis McGee’s layout, for which I first developed the idea, and now I maintain such a list for my waybills as well as the one for his layout. Shown below are a few selected entries (not complete for any of the industries, but chosen to show examples only). Here again, you may click to enlarge.

Entries within each industry are in order by AAR car type, then by reporting marks. Note the overlay bills, listed as a “half” here.  The column of entries in parentheses lists the location of the original file for each waybill.
     This being an electronic list, it is quickly and easily searched, for example by car number, or by reporting mark if I want to find all cars of a particular ownership, or even by AAR car type if I want to find, say, all the covered hoppers (AAR type LO). I can then go to the physical file box and pull the desired waybill(s).
     Even this modest sample of my pairs list should answer Andy’s last question, whether there are multiple waybills to or from any particular industry. There certainly are! Some, like the packing houses, are predominantly outbound; others, like manufacturing businesses, may have a balance of inbound materials and outbound products; and a wholesale grocer, like my Peerless Foods, has only inbound loads (over 80 at last count).
     I know from inquiring at many visited layouts over the years, that every layout owner evolves a method of accomplishing car flow, managing car cards or waybills, and storing and retrieving the cars themselves from storage. What is described above is just one such approach, one that I’ve found to work for me.
Tony Thompson

Friday, March 24, 2017

Chemical repackaging, Part 3

In the previous  post in this series, I had completed the Design Preservation kit (no. 103, “Cutting’s Scissor Co.”) that I chose as the structure for my chemical repackaging business (such businesses are described in my first post on this topic, which is at: ) and had applied vinyl spackle to it to represent a stucco building. Progress to that point was shown in the post for Part 2 (you can see it at: ).
     Once the building had been airbrushed with Floquil “Earth,” I brush-painted the window frames and doors with a dark brown color similar to “Roof Brown.” I then painted all the sills and lintels of the door and window openings with Floquil “Concrete.” When a stucco building is painted, such parts may or may not be included in the painting, and I chose to show them as unpainted. This gave a fairly nice looking building, in my opinion.

     Next I wanted to add a sign for the business. Not every prototype business sports a highly visible sign, but on my layout I want operating crews to know exactly what they are doing, to the extent possible. Making industry identification unmistakable is one contribution to that.
     After careful consideration, I decided to use an informal font for the company name, and chose to use Brush Script in a medium weight. The description of the work of the company was spelled out in News Gothic, bold. Laying this out in Adobe InDesign in an appropriate size, it was easy to make the type white and the background a medium blue. As I normally do with printing jobs like this, I went to my local copy shop which has a high-resolution color printer. Here is the resulting sign:

     [Incidentally for those interested, I have discussed a few typography considerations like these in a number of previous posts in this blog (for example, here: ), and have also commented on the specific topic of signs for several structures on my layout (you can read that post at: ). And if you find those discussions interesting, you would probably enjoy my description of a visit to a phenomenal printing museum; that account is at this link: .]
     The sign was then cut out and attached with canopy glue. Here is the building, as developed up to this point, in its approximate arrangement on the layout at Ballard. I have added a rooftop tank, a resin piece from a Chooch tank set, resting in scale 4 x 12-inch timbers. I still need a few additional details to complete this structure, but this shows the present state.

Note also the miscellaneous collection of storage tanks, deliberately differing in color. I have not yet made the final arrangements on those parts.
     I now have an interesting industry in model form to accept inbound loads, especially from tank cars, and also to load outbound cars with a variety of products. Chemical repackaging is a versatile and wide-ranging type of business, which I think could serve the same purposes on many layouts. It also has the great modeling advantage that it need not be a massive industrial complex.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

BayRails 2017

Among the 40 or so operating weekends that are held around the country is our local one here in the San Francisco Bay Area, called BayRails. It is offered in March of odd-numbered years, and this year was the 7th time it’s been held. The organizing committee of Seth Neumann, David Parks, Ray deBlieck, Jim Providenza, Ed Slintak, Paul Weiss and Larry Altbaum did an excellent job once again with all the arrangements. There were 24 layouts operated, and around 60 visiting operators.

BayRails is officially an “invitation-only” event, but anyone can request an invitation through the website for the event at: .
     For the first time at a BayRails, my layout was among those scheduled for operating sessions. I had a pair of two-person crews on two different days. My sessions were generally similar to previous sessions, though there were a few new wrinkles in switching patterns. As always on my layout, seasonal produce shipping was represented, appropriate for March, and involved express reefers this time.
     The layout generally ran well, though there were the inevitable small glitches here and there. Crews seemed to enjoy the switching challenges and worked steadily through the assignments. I won’t show all the crews doing all the work, but just representative photos.
     On Friday, March 17, my crew was Jason Hill, Al Frasch, Dave Clune, and an old friend, Gordon Geiger. Gordon and I are both retired metallurgists and have know each other for many years. It was definitely fun to have him operating on my layout. He formed a crew with Jason, and here are the two of them at Shumala. I apologize for taking the photo just as Gordon, at right, was asking a question. Jason, who is the conductor in this photo, is also someone I’ve known for years, and having both of them here was a treat.

While those two worked at Shumala, Al and Dave were switching at Ballard on the other side of the layout. That’s Al reaching for a ground throw at left while Dave studies their next move.

     On Saturday, March 18, my crew was Bill Jolitz, Calvin Sexsmith, Michael Cee, and Bob Hemmer. The photo below shows Bill and Calvin at Shumala, with Bill, at left, holding the throttle. That means Cal is taking a turn as conductor,

You can see in this photo what I can report was indeed present, a real sense of fun in working the switching problems they were given.
     I greatly enjoyed hosting two days' worth of operators at BayRails this year, and hope to repeat that pleasure at future events. Moreover, preparation for the event was the stimulus for me to extend construction in a couple of areas of the layout and to fix some existing problems; and not only that, the operators who were here, experienced all, had some very insightful comments and suggestions. I certainly learned a few things and have some new goals for the future. I know the visitors enjoyed this event, but it was very enjoyable and valuable for me too.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Electrical wars, Part 14: slaying an elderly dragon

Yep, even those dragons that are long in the tooth sometimes crop up on a layout and have to be slain in their turn. Most of my prior posts about my “electrical wars” have had to do with newly arising problems, but occasionally, as in the present post, it’s an old one that somehow managed to keep out of sight. (And by the way, the easiest way to read earlier posts in this series, should you wish to do so, is to use “electrical wars” as a search term in the search box at the right.)
     The “old one” I refer to was in a track segment that has been on the layout at least 30 years. In the early days, when the layout was in Pittsburgh, PA, it hosted several industries at the rear of the town I then called Jalama. It was a regular feature of operating sessions, because one of its industries was a busy citrus packing house. Here’s a photo from that era, when this track was operated by a mythical short line, the Lompoc & Cuyama:

This structure could just accommodate two reefers at a time for loading, so that helped keep switch crews busy. The small structure at the right of the photo is the yard office.
     When I moved the layout to its present home in Berkeley, I decided to put an Associated Oil Company dealership in the location where Coastal Citrus is seen the photo above, and to move Coast Citrus to the end of the branch line, at the Pacific shore, thus better fitting its name. (Incidentally, I published a full account of designing and building that dealership, in the March 2014 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist; you can read or download that or any issue of MRH, for free, at their website, .) That bulk oil dealership also got its share of switching work, on that same track. Here’s a view of that dealership, in a photo taken with the yard office in the foreground:

     What then happened wasn’t recognized at first. I decided to improve the wiring in this whole area of the layout, by isolating all turnouts and then separately feeding all track between turnouts (as I described in a post in 2012: ). This minimizes the role of turnouts in power routing, for one thing. I designed the new feeder locations carefully, installed them all, and then went back and cut all the new gaps that were needed. This was all fine, or seemed so. because, as I realize in hindsight, I was not very actively switching on the back track at Associated Oil. Very occasionally I would think of doing so, and would get a short, but since it wasn’t important at that moment, I let it go. “Must be something simple, it always worked before; I’ll fix that one of these days,” is the kind of comment I would make to myself.
     But when I got a little more serious, preparing for the BayRails operating weekend in recent days, I thought I surely could fix this little problem simply. But the short when the turnout was placed in the reverse orientation was stubborn. All gaps were clean, all power feeds in the right place — or so it seemed, as I checked and re-checked against my wiring notebook, where all electrical work and modifications are recorded. This turnout had its frog powered from a slide switch, thus electrically dependable, or should be.
     Suddenly I noticed that this particular frog wire was on the wrong side of a gap! The frog wasn’t being powered from the slide switch at all! I must have just missed the correct location when cutting that new gap. At least it was an easy fix. Snip off the feeder to the wrong place, re-locate and solder the same wire to the correct place. When done it looked like the photo below. The two gaps are indicated by the white arrows, and the purple arrow shows where the wrong frog wire went. The new frog wire, with yellow insulation, is obvious. With this change, the problem entirely disappeared.

I of course promptly painted that yellow wire a dark brown color to hide it.
     Though the eventual fix for my problem was easy, it was the devil to diagnose, as can easily happen with layout electrical problems. And in a way it was made worse by the existence of a wiring notebook, with careful sketches of exactly how the wiring changes were designed. Everything as written was impeccable. It just turned out that it was the implementation that was defective. Well, at least it’s a problem solved and maybe a lesson learned too.
Tony Thompson