Tuesday, October 17, 2017

An op session with through trains

I hosted operating sessions on my layout on October 14 and 15, and re-introduced a feature not included for a number of sessions, namely through trains operating from staging. I want to say a little about that feature in addition to describing the sessions.
     On October 14, the crews who were marked up were Bill Kaufman, Jon Schmidt, Leo Pesce, and Chuck Hakkarinen. This was the first time on the layout for Leo and Chuck, and being experienced operators, they did just fine. Bill and Jon are, if anything, even more experienced than Leo and Chuck, and they too handled all the assigned work with aplomb. Here are Bill and Jon (left to right), organizing the paperwork at Shumala. Bill was the conductor and is figuring out the moves that will be needed.


Meanwhile Leo and Chuck were taking care of the switching at Ballard. Here we see Leo uncoupling a cut of cars, while Chuck, who was engineer, looks on.


     The second day, October 15, saw five crew members signed up, Ray deBlieck, Otis McGee, Seth Neumann, John Rodgers, and Pat LaTorres. John was a little late arriving, through no fault of his own, and took turns in the two-man crews. Below are shown Ray and Otis (left to right) at Shumala, with Conductor Ray studying a waybill.


The team on the other side, at Ballard, were, from left, Pat, Seth and John. The scenic divider between the two halves of the layout intrudes into the photo at left. Seth is completing a switch list, by the look of it.


     Most aspects of the session went off smoothly, but as notoriously happens with guests present, some new layout gremlins reared their ugly little heads. Luckily none were serious, though they all pointed to more maintenance needs. I think a few of the track problems probably stemmed from some high daytime temperatures we had last month, and I am already working on them. Problems such as an area of tight gauge in the track, where none has been present for years in that area, clearly reflect some kind of layout structural change or shift.
     Now how about the through-train part of the story? I previously had constructed a timetable for the Guadalupe Subdivision of the Coast Division, removing many station names remote from the area of my layout, but keeping all the train times. I showed this as Figure 12 in one of my “Getting Real” columns in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for October 2014 (you can download or read on-line this or any issue of MRH, for free, at their website, www.mrhmag.com .) That column also presented numerous details about the rest of my timetable document. Reproduced below is that compacted timetable.(You can click on the image to enlarge it.)


     With that timetable in mind (and in the hands of the crews), our railroad starting time was 9:30 AM. This meant that mail trains no. 71 and 72 had both departed, along with freight no. 911 which followed 71. There were no more trains before the westward Daylight at 12:26 PM, except freight no. 914, which is the through train that I operated.The rear of that train is shown below as it entered Shumala, with the four automobile-type cars prominent in this view (along with the large gondola load of a green tank, seen just ahead of those cars).


     I will have more to say about development and use of through trains in my operating scheme, and will return to the topic in future posts. For now, though, I’ll just say that it was fun to include them in last weekend’s operating sessions.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Mind the gap, Part 2

Using as my title the phrase familiar to anyone who has traveled on the London Underground (or on other British train systems in more recent years), I described how I undertook the correction of a rail gap between my staging drawer and the main layout. That post can be found at the following link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/10/mind-gap.html . But as I knew even when making the rail gaps shorter, as described in that post, it is still essential in HO scale to align the rails even more perfectly.
     I already had an idea of how to achieve that better alignment. It is not an original idea at all, but is something I observed on Roger Nulton’s S scale layout in Tacoma, Washington, when I operated there last year during the SoundRail event (see my description at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2016/03/soundrail-2016.html ). Roger has a sort of “drop door” section to allow entry into the layout interior, and when the door is raised to close it, alignment of the rails is completed by sliding a sturdy wire “bolt” through tubing that is soldered to the outside of each rail on each side of the gap. I didn’t get a good photo of the arrangement, but Roger was kind enough to send me one. As you see below, his arrangement has the further complication to be located in a scenicked area.


     I have now shamelessly stolen Roger’s idea, and have added essentially his arrangement to some of the tracks on my staging drawer, and may eventually add it to all of them. For this design, I used K&S brass material, first their 3/32-inch x 0.014 inch round tubing (stock no. 1144), and for the “bolt,” their 1/16-inch brass rod (stock no. 1160). Once the tubing is cut into appropriate lengths with an abrasive cut-off disk, and the ends cleaned up, the pieces can be tinned, along with the rail sides. (Some pre-fab track has high spikes which may need to be cut away for the tubing to fit.) In HO scale, this 3/32-inch tubing fits nicely alongside Code 100 rail, which is what I have on my staging drawer. In the photo below of the right end of my drawer, the nearer track (the staging drawer side) has tubing attached, as does the far track (the layout side).


The drawer of course has not been aligned with the layout trackage, but is positioned for photography only.
     I then experimented with the 1/16-inch rod to make various “handles” for the sliding key. My first try at the key or “bolt” part has a small “handle,” as you can see in the photo below, but there is no reason for it to be this small. These tracks are at the left end of the staging drawer.


To make all this work more conveniently,  I simply made new bolts with longer handles, similar to the one shown on Roger’s layout. They looked like this (and yes, that’s a train at right):


When connected,  my tracks then look much like Roger Nulton’s arrangement, as displayed in the photo at the top of the present post, as you can see in the photo below. I sometimes use a small flashlight to get a good view while connecting these, as the lighting in my staging area is not the greatest. Below you see the right end of the staging drawer as connected.


     This system works great and so far has not caused even a single derailment (knock on wood!), and of course that means I’m really satisfied. I think this easy connection could work in lots of layout situations. Lastly, let me say one more time that this is not my idea at all, but was totally copied from the way Roger Nulton does it on his layout.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Produce shipping boxes, Part 4

The previous post in this series presented a source of information, entitled Containers in Common Use, about the dimensions of prototype shipping boxes for all kinds of produce, from all corners of the United States. It also contained some illustrations of California boxes (you can see that post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/08/produce-shipping-boxes-part-3.html ).
     On the other hand, a number of vegetable types were shipped in a more upright-shaped box, including carrots and celery. The label below shows the proportions of the box end since of course the label was meant to be readable with the box in its preferred orientation. Like the tomato label in the previous post, this is a scan of an original label in my own collection.


As this label illustrates, one naturally needs to know the kinds of information about size and shape of shipping boxes that is available from the Containers in Common Use booklet cited in the previous post (see link in the first paragraph, above).
     I spoke about making stacks of shipping boxes, as would logically be present at a packing house before loading into reefers. But how about individual shipping boxes? At least for orange crates, they are available in 3-D printed form. Created by Ken Harstine, they can be purchased from Shapeways through the following link: https://www.shapeways.com/product/X7NBJNAAQ/orange-shipping-crate-set-ho-no-lids?optionId=59187209 . I bought a set of these crates, and they look very nice. When I get them painted them to represent new wood, and have added their labels, I will show the results.
     I might mention at this point that during the early 1950s (I model 1953), the changeover from wooden shipping crates and boxes, to cardboard cartons, had begun.  I want to include at least some cardboard cartons on my various shipping docks, and will the method to make them that was shown in a previous post (it is at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/09/modeling-cardboard-cartons_29.html ).
     Finally, I have assembled some styrene boxes to look like stacks of shipping crates.  I just used 0.040-inch Novelty styrene sheet (Evergreen no. 4083). The material’s indented grooves look like the spaces between side pieces on wooden crates. The styrene box stacks were dimensioned to match the end of the stack I showed in my first post on this topic (see it at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/08/produce-shipping-boxes-in-ho-scale.html ). The size of the box representing a stack is obviously multiples of the dimensions of individual boxes. For example, I chose to make a stack four boxes wide and three high, for the Bikini labels shown in the post just cited, and two boxes deep. I then painted the “wood” areas with Star Brand No. 11, “Natural Wood” color. Here is that stack, with the appropriate number of the labels on one end.


     I chose this smaller stack (compared to the images I originally created, of 5 x 5 stacks) to fit realistically on the platform at Phelan & Taylor in my layout town of Shumala. Even so, the relatively narrow loading dock of this model is pretty much blocked by the stacked crates (see photo below). Of course workmen loading reefers need not pass by the stack, and could take crates to load from one end of the stack, but it still might look better if the stack were only one box deep. I plan to make more Phelan & Taylor stacks that have that depth.


     It has been fun to research packing crates and their labels, choose some suitable ones for my layout locale, modify them if need be for my model packing houses, reduce to HO scale, and build box stacks on which the labels are applied. I plan to develop a number of additional labels this way, and particularize them for others of my packing houses,  and will show them in future posts.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A few more Richard Hendrickson models

Last month my wife and I paid a visit to Ashland, Oregon, to take in a few plays in the superb theaters of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival there. For our visit, we were able to enjoy the hospitality and guest room of Richard Hendrickson’s widow, Sandra, as we often do when visiting Ashland. That personal connection is part of our pleasure in such visits. (Anyone not knowing, or not remembering, much about my good friend Richard may like to read my tribute to him in an earlier blog post, which can be found at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2014/07/in-memoriam-richard-hendrickson.html ).
     After Richard passed away in June 2014, his collections of freight cars and other rolling stock models, his layout and workbench, his books, and his huge photo archive were cleared out of the house (and passed on or donated), but a few mementos, a short train and a structure, were left behind, as Sandra had requested. With the passage of time, though, she felt those reminders had done their job, and it was time for them to go, and she asked me to take them. I thought it might be of interest to show what they are.
     I will begin with the locomotive, something I know was of great sentimental value to Richard, because it is a very accurate model of an individual Santa Fe Mikado, from the 3160 Class, one he had memories of from his days hanging around the Santa Fe operations in Oceanside, California. It’s a Key brass engine, with full cab interior (and cab curtains), crew, working lights, and white flags.


As a Southern Pacific modeler, I can’t really operate this on my layout (ah, but maybe an excursion?), but it can occupy a place of pride in my display case.
     One of the cars was a handsome tank car model of Richard’s, which began life as an undecorated Tangent model, their three-compartment General American tank car. The model was painted and lettered with Black Cat decals to represent a car repainted before 1946 with lines above and below the reporting marks and numbers, lettering features not originally offered by Tangent. Weathering includes dirty wheels with treads polished, rust
stains around the tank bands, chalk marks, spillage on the domes, and rusty couplers. This model was also shown in Richard’s article on multi-compartment tank cars in the February 2015 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist (this and all other issues of MRH can be downloaded or read online, at any time, at their website, www.mrhmag.com ).


     There was also an interesting 44-foot high-side gondola, kitbashed from origins I don’t know, with a full load of what looks like iron scrap. It has braced plate ends and a lever hand brake, both interesting details of appearance. It represents part of a 700-car series, built by Standard Steel Car for the Erie in 1923-24, cars 44000–44699, with drop doors. They were rebuilt in 1937-39 with solid steel floors and new AB brakes, and renumbered 45000–45699, as you see here with the model of car 45061. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)


     Another model was a largely stock Proto2000 model of a Mather reefer. Richard supplied much of the information used by LifeLike in producing their excellent series of Mather cars (stock cars, box cars, and reefers), and naturally he had a full set of them. This one is nicely weathered, with noteworthy features being the scuffing in the dirt above the ladder rungs, caused by trainmen’s boot toes when climbing the ladder, along with his usual chalk marks, route cards, and repainted reweigh and repack data.


     Finally, there was a structure, to the best of my knowledge the only one Richard ever built. It’s the Santa Fe depot for Rivera, California (located in Pico Rivera). I know he worked with the kit manufacturer, Laser-Art Structures, to produce this kit, and it’s understandable he built it as soon as he received it. It was located on the Third District of Santa Fe’s Los Angeles Division, the exact area he wanted to model on his layout, which is why he encouraged Laser-Art to do that particular structure. It is very nicely assembled and painted.


Again, this one will have to be a “display only” for me, but here too, I’m proud to have it.
     I was happy to accept a few more of Richard’s models, once Sandra no longer wanted them in the house, and will strive to give them the best home I can.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Interviewing for oral history

I have had a couple of questions about this topic recently, and was able to answer on the basis of my own experience, interviewing Pacific Fruit Express retirees for the PFE book (Thompson, Church, Jones, Pacific Fruit Express (2nd edition), Signature Press, 2000), and also interviewing various former Southern Pacific employees for understanding of SP practices. In this post, I will pass along some of those experiences.
     I began this kind of interviewing while I was collecting material for the PFE book. I had arranged to fly out west (I lived in Pittsburgh at the time) to meet up with, and interview, Pete Holst, long-time Assistant General Manager of Car Service for PFE. It occurred to me that I needed to know more about the interviewing process I was going to attempt, and accordingly consulted a colleague in the Department of History at Carnegie-Mellon, where I was teaching at the time, to give me some pointers.
     He told me that he believed there were three keys to effective interviewing of this kind. First, do record the conversation; it seems vivid while you’re hearing it, but it fades terribly quickly. Recording can be an issue, because some interviewees are made nervous or uncomfortable if they are staring at a recording device. He suggested simply putting it under a coffee table, or on the floor alongside a chair, to get it out of view of the interviewee.
     Second, he urged me to take along lots of PFE photos, nice big 8 x 10-inch prints if possible, because these really stimulate the memory of the person you are talking to. I did this, and just as he had stated, almost every one brought forth a story. This little technique is something I have used in every interview since, and it always works very well.
     One of the photos I took along to show Pete Holst was a Don Sims print of icing in progress (shown below), and it triggered tremendous memories for Pete. He must have gone on ten minutes or more, with all kinds of reminiscing about icing, car supply, and perishable trains, and naturally on his first glance at the photo, he correctly recognized it as El Centro, California.


I’ve always loved the clerk at the bottom of the image, holding a clipboard and chalking info onto the cars.
     Third, my historian colleague warned me that at least 90 percent of the “facts” I would be told would be wrong. Yes, the person interviewed may know a great deal about how things were done, and why, and of course that is information you can get nowhere else. But facts? He said that we all remember things far less well than we believe. Someone will say, “we did that shop program in 1938, and I know the year, because my sister got married that summer.” Sounds like a strong memory, right? But it will turn out his sister didn’t get married that year, or if she did, the shop program was a year later. So he urged me to let the conversation flow however it would, and to not worry about chasing down any facts, but let the stories give you the “how and why.” You can get the facts later with your own research.
      To my surprise, he was entirely right about the bad facts. Both with Pete Holst, and later with Earl Hopkins, retired Chief Mechanical Officer of PFE who knew car design and construction forwards and backwards, there was just a whole series of wrongly-remembered numbers and dates and places. But as suggested, the “how and why” was terrific. I hadn’t set out to collect that kind of thing, but I feel lucky to have had the guidance, so that I did get some great information.
     My longest interview with an SP person was Malcolm (Mac) Gaddis. I filled up two 60-minute tape cassettes and we ran a little beyond even that (memo to self: take far more recording capacity than you expect to need). I was especially interested to interview Mac about San Luis Obispo, where he had worked in the early 1950s, and had lots of 8 x 10 prints to spread out on his coffee table. Wow, did we ever cover a lot of ground! Here’s one I remember he really enjoyed, a Richard Steinheimer photo of the blue flag being taken down from the Daylight’s helper at San Luis Obispo before departure (from the DeGolyer Library, used with permission).


     When I got back to Pittsburgh after that first interview with Pete Holst, my colleague told me there was a fourth thing to face up to: I needed to transcribe the entire tape of the conversation. It’s fine to have that tape cassette there on your shelf, but access to the contents is really quite limited. Transcribing a tape or any other audio file is pretty tedious, and I just drove myself to put in the time to do it. And it’s worthwhile to do this soon after the tape was made, because there are always mumbles or unclear words or both people talking at once, and while your memory is fresh, you probably will remember what was being said at such points.
     I will be quick to admit that at the end of the transcribing you have something far more valuable than the tape itself — the conversation is entirely in words on paper, and you can read and refer to it easily. I later donated copies of all my PFE transcripts to the California State Railroad Museum, so that these records are available to other people besides me.
     With the Gaddis interview, I have extracted several relevant sections that have some bearing on the modeling I describe in this blog, and have put them out in previous posts. Here is a set of six links to those posts:

http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/modeling-freight-traffic-coast-line_19.html

http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/05/san-luis-obispo-operations.html

http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/06/san-luis-obispo-operations-2.html

http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/08/san-luis-obispo-operations-3.html

http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/08/san-luis-obispo-operations-4.html

http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/01/san-luis-obispo-operations-5.html

These segments do not exhaust anywhere near the entirety of my interview, but they are perhaps the most interesting in terms of my modeling of the SP Coast Route.
     I offer these pieces of advice from my own experience with interviews. They worked for me, so I wanted to pass them on to anyone thinking of doing such interviews. These interviews are in many ways priceless windows into a vanished world. If you get the chance to do one, don’t pass it up.
Tony Thompson

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mind the gap

This phrase, “mind the gap,” is familiar to anyone who has been to London, as it appears on station signage throughout the Underground system, warning you to be careful crossing the gap between platform and passenger car. One can even purchase T-shirts in London with this phrase on them. But in the present case, I am using it to refer to an unwanted gap that has developed in my staging system.


     I showed, some years ago, the development of my “staging drawer,” effectively a transfer table, underneath my layout town of Ballard. This idea came from something similar that was built for John Signor’s layout, as I indicated in my first post about my staging (that initial post from 2010 is at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2010/12/staging-trackage-installation.html ). Eventually my drawer held 12 tracks, and is seven feet long, as I showed in my fourth installment about the construction of it (see it at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/02/staging-trackage-installation-4.html ). When first built, this worked very well, and I operated test trains into and out of all twelve tracks without problems. Shown below is a view of the drawer pulled out to show its contents, with the town of Ballard above.


     But the entire drawer, or staging table, is built of wood, with 1 x 4-inch joists underneath and a 3/4-inch plywood base, supporting a Homasote track board. In hindsight, I suppose it was inevitable that this structure would shrink and distort as it continues to dry out. It still works all right, but increasingly there is a gap between the rails on the main layout, and the rails on the staging drawer. That’s the gap referred to in the title of this post. Here is how it looked recently, with the gap to the left of the photo. The staging table is on the right side of the gap.


Track 2 is aligned with the layout here, and you can see that the width of the gap exceeds an eighth of an inch. This can easily cause rolling stock to lose track gauge and catch a flange in the gap. I do have rerailers on each side of the gap, but these do not always suffice to correct derailments occurring at this large gap.
     I had several thought about how to correct this. But the simplest was to unsolder the rail joints at the inner edge of the rerailer (at the right edge of the photo above) and move the entire end piece of track toward the left. This worked well, as you can see in the view below. The gap is now less than one-sixteenth of an inch, and locomotives like this Consolidation, and all cars, roll smoothly over it.


     This correction will enable me to return to operation of mainline trains during operating sessions. I have often operated such trains when running the layout by myself, and could “baby” the equipment over the old gap. For an op session, though, I want to be able simply to run the train when desired, without the need to creep across the gap and manually re-rail any mistakes. The gap turned out to be fairly easy to repair, and I’m glad I could correct this problem.
Tony Thompson

Friday, September 29, 2017

Modeling cardboard cartons

There have been all kinds of wooden crates offered in HO scale over the years, along with barrels, boxes, drums, and trunks. But by the 1950s, when I model, the use of corrugated cardboard cartons was becoming established, and many products were so shipped. On the various loading docks of the industries on my layout, I would like to be able to show such cartons. Surely there is a practical way to make these details.
     This idea had percolated around in my head for some time, until I had one of those “Eureka!” moments. Ordinary brown paper bags are exactly the same color as most corrugated cardboard. They do come in a variety of weights, and for this use I prefer the lighter or smaller bags, like the one below. It’s about 9 inches long and the width shown is about 5 inches.


All that is needed here is to cut out and fold up some carton-like shapes.
     The first step is to decide what approximate size you want. Let’s say you choose a carton that is 2 feet by 3 feet by 4 feet. A simple drawing can be laid out in seconds. It might look like this, with dimensions in scale feet:


To assemble this kind of box, flaps to be glued are useful, and one can add them (shown shaded below) in somewhat arbitrary shapes. The flaps don’t have to be trapezoids, and in fact real cardboard boxes have them as rectangles.  For a box shown as partly open, the flaps must be rectangles, But these trapezoids are just easier to assemble, if the final box is to look closed.


I omitted flaps on one side, thinking that that side could be the bottom of the box.
     This kind of shape is easily cut out with scissors, and when all folds are made, the rough box, ready to be glued, looks like the photo below (a test in white paper).


     All folds need to be crisp and fully 90 degrees. Then glue the flaps — I use canopy glue. The process is a little like origami, but with patience does work. If the first box isn’t great, keep practicing (ask me how I know). Here’s a brown-paper box of the dimensions shown in the sketches above, and also a smaller box ( 2 x 2 x 3 scale feet), glued so the flaps are open, as with an opened and discarded box.


If you find difficulties getting boxes to stay square, you might try a heavier-weight bag for the raw material. I have learned to work with the light paper, but some may prefer something stiffer.
     Many shipping boxes carry the names and emblems of the shipper. I have experimented with logos of appliance manufacturers, for example, as instances where a large carton might be used. Such logos can be added in several ways, but I won’t get into that in the present post.
     These boxes are quick and easy to make, to any desired size, and are a good scenery detail to include at suitable places on the layout.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Punch list? What punch list?

The marvelous TSG video of Jack Burgess’s layout, and incorporating an extensive interview with Jack, is well worth viewing for anyone who hasn't seen it. It can be purchased as a DVD for anyone who would like to own it (you can visit TSG Multimedia at: https://tsgmultimedia.com/product-category/dvds/ ), and the full 43-minute video can also be viewed on YouTube (here is a link to that video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHGkZHLqALY ). Jack’s re-creation of the Yosemite Valley Railroad deserves attention from everyone.
     What does that have to do with my post title, about punch lists? About six and a half minutes into the video, Jack describes having responded to the then-upcoming NMRA National Convention of 2011, to be held in Sacramento, with the thought that he ought to get more of the layout done for visitors. When he looked over his list of remaining things to be done, he realized he could complete it all, and found himself one day checking off the last item on his to-do list. At that point, as Jack puts it, the layout was done.
     This made me think a bit. Not because my layout is that close to done, but it’s not extremely far off either. I do write punch lists from time to time, but usually ones that are conceived far more narrowly. That raised the possibility of seeing if a list like Jack’s was practical: everything I want or intend to do to complete the layout.
     Like most people, often when I’m busy I will jot down an “immediate“ list to work on. It might look like this recent one:

You can see that I have written various things on the list after it was first made, everything from crossing out the tasks already done, to adding more tasks, along with some dimensions on something that I already forget what. This is an “everyday” kind of list, familiar to practically everyone.
     I have long maintained (and of course updated) a longer-term list of things I would like to get done on the layou. This is kind of a running list of things I need to do, but not immediately. Here is an example of a past list, which happens to be from November 2014,


More of the tasks on this list have now been completed, beyond what is crossed out above, in the time since I last used it to direct my work on the layout. But even as an old list, it illustrates the point.
     But whether current or not, this is a very long ways from a “finish the layout” punch list. That may come down the pike one of these days, but right now I have lots still to do, and feel no urgency to do so. Much as I admire Jack Burgess — and his ability to declare his layout “done” — I am by no means close to reaching that point, and I don’t foresee a punch list like Jack’s anytime soon. And since I host several operating sessions a year, the layout is already doing its most important job — serving as the foundation for realistic 1950s SP operation.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Restoring an ancient Varney car to service

I kind of like historic HO scale car kits, at least the ones that can be upgraded to be presentable models (some, of course, are hopeless). This post is about one of the salvageable kits, originally released as a wood and cardstock kit by Varney in 1947 (a full 70 years ago). Before World War II, Varney offered quite a range of cardstock kits, and this one was kit number R-19, that is, the 19th refrigerator car kit offered by them. It was near the end of the time Varney made kits of this kind; they discontinued cardstock kits about 1949. (Thanks to Denny Anspach, for help with details on the history of this kit.)
      The kit models a dry-ice car owned by the Liquid Carbonic Corporation of Chicago. These were heavily insulated for their very cold cargo, and most cars for this service had distinctive details. The Varney car was intended to represent one of 11 cars in a 1934-built car series, numbered 1000–1010. The cars were originally classified in AAR Class RC, for carbon-dioxide refrigerators, but this type of car was later moved into AAR Class L, for special car types, specifically Class LRC, for carbon-dioxide cars. And by the way, all 11 cars of this series were still in service in 1953, the year I model. Here is an AC&F builder photo.


You can see the silver color of the car, including the roof, and the slight taper of the upper half of the car sides (also visible, of course, on the ends). The volume of insulation is indicated by the fact that although the car was 44 feet long inside, it only had a cubic capacity of 703 cubic feet. Calling it a “refrigerator” is a bit of a misnomer, of course, since it only carried the refrigerant as a cargo, but it is certainly within the general characteristics of insulated house cars, like reefers and insulated box cars.
     I have seen a number of these Varney models at swap meets over the years, often badly assembled or dented from rough handling, and not attractive to try and rescue. The car sides and ends are foil-covered cardstock, and do dent easily. But eventually I found one in good shape, and decided to give it a go. The overly heavy grab irons and the sill steps made from staples were removed, along with the dummy couplers on the car. Here is the state of the car at that point.


The car is missing the side ladder below the door, and the foil on one end has separated from the underlying cardstock (easily re-glued). You may note that Varney did not deign to reproduce the side taper, an omission I can live with. The lettering scheme is a later one than the scheme in the builder photo shown above.
      I needed to clean up and repair the roof, and of course add a running board. I also added wire grab irons and Tuttle sill steps, and a ladder under the side door, with an accompanying sill step under that ladder. The as-built kit is close to weightless, so I glued some sheet lead to the floor on either side of the center sill. I also added end lettering, as well as reweigh and repack paint patches (the black rectangles below) and lettering from Sunshine data sets.


     I researched the operations of Liquid Carbonic to find out where they had plants around the country to manufacture dry ice. Their real focus was originally on “carbonic acid,” which is carbon dioxide in water, supplied under pressure to get more CO2 into solution, and used to make carbonated water for soda fountains (for a nice summary of their role here, see this: https://www.drugstoremuseum.com/soda-fountain/liquid-carbonic-co/ ). In fact, Liquid Carbonic manufactured complete soda fountains for years. When they started producing dry ice, they took advantage of their name recognition, and called it “carbonic ice,” as is lettered on this car. Later they got into the supply of many industrial gasses. Their main plant was in Chicago, so I decided to have my on-line shipments arrive from there. Here is one of the waybills I use.


     This was a fun project for me, bringing an ancient Varney cardstock freight car up to a level that I could use it on my layout. There are only a few cars this classical in my freight car fleet, but I am glad to have them and, what’s more, to operate them.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Modeling freight traffic, Coast Line, Part 13

In a previous post, I showed elements of Southern Pacific’s “Condensed Perishable, Merchandise and Manifest Train Schedule No. 15,” published for Pacific Lines, which went into effect on March 5, 1954, thus very close to my 1953 modeling era. The post is at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/01/modeling-freight-traffic-coast-line.html . That post covered mainline freight trains, except perishable schedules, and I discussed the complexities of perishable traffic in a separate post, which can be found at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/modeling-freight-traffic-coast-line_17.html .
      It is interesting to compare those 1954 listings with later schedules, for additional insight into some of the trains. The Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society magazine, Trainline, recently published the entirety of Timetable No. 17, of June 23, 1957. (It is in the Trainline issue for Spring 2017.) Here is the header for that document (you can click to enlarge):


These schedules in that period were on a single large sheet of paper, about 17 x 22 inches. The Coast Route part was only a small section of the total.
     The Coast schedule itself, like those for each Route, was presented in ordinary timetable fashion, giving the times at only a few principal points, though in fact these listed times were only “guidelines,” not rigorously timed schedules.


     The real meat of this information is in the so-called Notes, at one side of the schedule, which describe actual train goals and operation for each Route. These notes are the core of what we want to learn as modelers of prototype operation. Much of this material is like the Notes for Schedule 15, on which I have commented in that previous post (see paragraph at top for link). Here are the Schedule 17 Notes.


     The interesting point here is to compare this information from Schedule 17, to that in the Schedule 15 I showed in that earlier post (see link in first paragraph, above). Nearly all the trains remain the same, with the same symbols, though the MM and MX of Schedule 15 have gone, and now the “Overnight” has a companion “Advance Overnight” as well.
     More interesting, perhaps, is that the schedules of some trains are significantly speeded up. The general or manifest trains were the LA (Los Angeles Manifest) and the Sunset East or SSE eastward, and the GGM (Golden Gate Manifest) and SF (San Francisco Manifest) westward. The LA has been greatly speeded up in Schedule 17, compared to No. 15, and now is described as handling auto parts and automobiles out of Gemco in Van Nuys. But the other train Notes remain much the same, though departing and arriving in entirely different parts of the day.
     The more important point is that in either schedule, there were trains that took many hours to traverse the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Daylight could cover this route in a little under 10 hours, but there were freights scheduled to take fully 30 hours. There is an image in the popular imagination of the “red ball” freight, thundering over the road with vital cargo, hitting every station with split-second precision. On the Coast Route, the two Coast Merchandise trains, CME and CMW, perhaps fit this description; these were the trains nicknamed “Overnights.” But the manifests on the Coast Route were practically the opposite.
     Back in 1953, all four manifests (LA, SSE, GGM and SF) had very long schedules, and each had at least one intermediate point where the train was scheduled to be for hours. For example, for the SSE and GGM, it was 5 to 8 hours at San Luis Obispo; for the LA, 4 hours at San Jose and 2 hours at Watsonville Junction. All four trains are faster in 1957’s Schedule 17, though only the LA is significantly faster.
     Of course these station times were for switching and re-blocking the train, perhaps setting out some cars and collecting blocks of others. At San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, and sometimes also at other points, power and cabooses would be changed and crews changed. But the point is, these were not “hot” trains in schedule terms.
     I have described all these freights in previous posts, based on the timetable instead of the Manifest Freight Schedule. For example, this one: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/modeling-freight-traffic-coast-line.html . This is the kind of information I like to have in designing operating patterns, even though I don’t directly model the change in train numbers at San Luis Obispo. Anyone researching comparable mainline freight operations might likewise find it essential to try and understand actual freight schedules.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, September 17, 2017

VanRail 2017

For those who don’t know, VanRail is an operating weekend held in Vancouver, British Columbia in odd-numbered years. It is a wonderful event, with full Canadian hospitality, fine layouts, and accomplished layout owners. All in all, a real delight to attend, as I did this year on September 8 through 10.
     There was a pre-VanRail session on September 7 at Al Frasch’s excellent N-scale BNSF layout on Whidbey Island, Washington, which I had very much looked forward to. I had met Al when he operated on my layout last spring during our BayRails event, and he and I had talked about a variety of waybill and freight car routing topics. The most striking thing to me about Al’s layout was how very “industrial” his industries looked. I know, that sounds a little redundant, but I was struck by the good looks of industry after industry. I did photograph a lot of them, but will only show one instance here, Skagit Bulb Company (flower bulbs). I like that box cars are spotted inside the building, yet the reporting marks are visible outside, a “just right” design.


I really like some of Al’s approaches to informing crews about how to spot cars at industries, and will be writing a future post about both Al’s method, and how I want to implement something similar on my own layout.
     The first Vancouver layout I operated on was Greg Madsen’s freelanced HO scale Spokane and British Columbia Railway, and as it happened, Al Frasch was on the crew. Here he is, bringing a train into Grand Forks yard (where I was working as yardmaster at the time). Behind him is Doug Lee, the third operator that day.


I had communicated with Greg over the years about freight car forwarding, and was intrigued to see the system he is developing for this layout.
     On Saturday, I had the genuine privilege to operate on Scott Calvert’s layout, the Canadian Pacific Boundary Sub in HO scale. My assignment was working at Nelson yard. Though much remains to be built on this layout, it is already strikingly good, with a very strong design concept and fine implementation so far. The photo below shows the trackage at Castlegar as it now stands. I regret not getting a better photo at Nelson, where I really enjoyed the challenge of switching the west end of the yard.


     I wrapped up the weekend at Brian Morgan’s interesting N-scale layout, the Great Northern Seattle Terminal. I really liked his industries and switching assignments (all the operators essentially have switch jobs). One example of the well-thought-out design is this flour mill, a very large industry with five tracks in all, three running deep behind the rows of black tanks (that’s my switcher in the foreground). Obviously one cannot see what is back in there at the mill.


But Brian provided a very helpful laminated map, with car numbers written on it, as shown below. Note also the small “sticky dots” for those who would like to tag cars with original positions, so the ones not being pulled can be spotted back where they came from. I found I could use just the map to do all that, but it was nice to have two options.


At the end of the session, Brian used his tripod to take a picture of the three operators and himself, as you see below. From left, we were Seth Neumann, me, Travers Stavac, and Brian.


     This was a great weekend. I really enjoyed the beautiful city of Vancouver and all the layouts, and was very pleased with the cordial hospitality of our Canadian hosts. I hope to attend this event in future years.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Building the Owl Mountain flat car

The announcement of this new HO scale kit for a “Harriman” flat car, very numerous in the Southern Pacific freight car fleet, was posted recently (you can read my introduction to the kit at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/08/new-flat-car-kit-from-owl-mountain.html ). Having said all those introductory things, I now want to describe building the kit.
     To begin, I want to repeat my general approach in describing kit building. When steps are simple and straightforward, there is certainly no need for me even to mention them. Only if something in the instructions is hard to understand, or if I deviate from or work beyond the instructions, do I see any need for comments. So this post does not constitute a step-by-step kit build, just a kind of “highlights as I saw them.”
     Step 1 in the instructions is to prepare the deck. I like styrene flat car decks, because they are much easier to distress and age in a convincing way, and there is no enormous, out-of-scale grain of “real wood” to hide. I cut some gouges and scrapes with the corners of an X-acto chisel blade, then roughened the entire surface with 60-grit abrasive paper. Here is how it looked; you may wish to click on the image to enlarge it.


Although by the time I model, 1953, cars like this were decades old, the deck probably would not be as old. Flat car decks took a real beating in service, and were replaced whenever sufficiently decrepit. For a car like this, one could model anything from nearly new, to falling apart, or anything in between, and still be reasonably “correct.”
     After Step 1, assembling the basic parts (instruction Steps 2 through 9) is very simple and straightforward. The first time I had any challenge was in Step 10, attaching the beautiful little brass castings of the distinctive Harriman roping staples. The pins that are supposed to fit into holes in the side sill are tapered, not cylindrical, and it took some judicious filing of those pins to get them to fit. Alternatively, a person could simply drill the reception holes a little larger. Do check that the parts fit flush against the side sill, and nestle into the side sill notch at the attachment location.


Note the center and end sills are gray on my model. I received a gray test shot of this sprue but the production kits have this sprue in boxcar red.
     The next step might make some modelers quail, bending your own grab irons. But don’t feel that way. The kit supplies a little bending jig for this purpose, and it works fine. If you have any problems installing the grabs, you might wish to drill the holes a little larger; and if inserting small wires into small holes in a dark material is challenging, use a stronger light. Also, the kit instructions specify the height of the grab iron to be the thickness of an X-act blade, and you should recognize that on the side grabs, this means the height outside the stake pocket. Otherwise, of course, an HO scale brakeman couldn’t use the grab iron.
     With all grab irons installed, I went ahead with the brake system details, steps 12 to 17. These went smoothly, and upon completion, here is the underbody appearance. The white styrene is the 0.010-inch shim.


After this point, I only need to add coupler box lids and the very nice sill steps, before doing the painting. Simply putting the car on its back, as you see above, one automatically “masks” the top of the deck, and can quickly airbrush boxcar red onto the underbody. I intend to make the deck boards look like SP’s typical untreated wood, suitably weathered from use. Certainly as late as 1960, SP definitely did not use creosoted wood for flat car decks. Pressure-treated wood, yes; creosoted, no.
     Upon completion of painting the underbody and sides, I gave the sides a coat of clear gloss for decal application. The kit instructions contain an excellent lettering diagram, particularly helpful with a car like this one, with most lettering quite small. As a person who enjoys applying decals, I found this straightforward, but some may find it a little fussy. Still, it all works, and looks good. The decals were protected with clear flat, then the car was weathered with my usual method using acrylic tube paints, a mix of primarily Neutral Gray, Black, and a little Burnt Umber. This is intended to represent a well-used deck (for more on flat car decks, you may wish to read this post: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/05/weathering-flat-car-decks.html ). This Owl Mountain deck was made more gray and less brown than a newer deck would be.
     Here is the completed kit, with trucks and couplers installed, and the brake staff added in the final step (as the kit instructions recommend). I installed Reboxx wheels in the kit trucks. You can see I numbered the car as SP 43419, Class F-50-12.


     On balance, I think this is a great kit. It goes together very well, and the accomplished design becomes evident as you assemble the parts. And as I stated in my introductory post, it is a much-needed kit, particularly for SP modelers, but also for anyone modeling up to the end of the Transition Era, with lumber loads. (Owl Mountain has announced a load kit just for this model.) Carrying those loads, and many other typical flat car loads, these cars went everywhere in the country. You do need this car!
Tony Thompson

Monday, September 11, 2017

Weight of loads, Part 2

Awhile back, I showed the calculations I have done for some of my open car loads, including one load of steel bar that would be too heavy for a 50-ton car, but would have to move in a 70-ton car (that post can be seen at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2016/11/open-car-loads-weight.html ). In the present post, I want to continue this topic.
     Years ago, I bought some cast white metal models of steel coils. These are the kind of coils that in later years moved in specially equipped gondolas, and later still in purpose-built coil cars. But in the early 1950s, when I model, they were often simply loaded into gondolas, either in wood cradles built for each coil, or laid down on their sides. I don’t really remember the source of these coils, though Red Ball sticks in my mind. The coils look like this, before any painting:


I will paint the coil steel gray (a bluish-gray color) and paint the strapping black.
     Just to illustrate, here are the dimensions of one of these coils in scale feet and inches. The outer diameter is 6' 3" and the inner diameter is 3' 7", with a height of the coil at 2' 9". One can readily calculate the gross surface area of the entire top of the cylinder, and subtract the inner diameter or hole, to get the net area of the circular coil. Then multiplying by the height gives the volume in cubic feet, which I obtain as 56.6 cubic feet. Since the density of steel is 490 pounds per cubic foot, the weight of one of these coils would be 27,750 pounds. I have three of the coils, which looks a little sparse in a 40-foot gondola, but in fact three of them would weigh 83,250 pounds, quite a respectable load for a 50-ton car. Here are those three coils in a gondola.


In the foreground you may note one of SP’s standard speed signs. I have discussed those signs in a prior post, and shown this specific sign (see that post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2014/03/speed-signs.html ). As the milepost on the phone pole in the background indicates, this is mile 270 on the Coast Route. In another previous post, I described the SP standards for such signs, and showed this one in place (the post can be found at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2014/03/milepost-markers.html ).
     Another example is one of the excellent Duha loads from the Czech Republic (these have been imported for several years now by JWD Premium Products in Maine). It appears to be represented as steel plates, about 2 scale inches thick, with five longer plates and two shorter plates, the latter also a little narrower. What appear to be 2-inch plates may be intended as pairs of 1-inch plates, or even packs of thinner sheet. But for calculating density, it doesn’t much matter. Here is its appearance.


The sag in the upper stack does suggest sheet rather than 2-inch plate.
     One can readily measure the plate (or sheet stack) thickness, then the plan dimensions, all in inches, multiply by 87 to obtain HO scale dimensions, then multiply dimensions together to get the volume of each plate in scale cubic inches. Then using the handbook density of steel, 0.2904 pounds per cubic inch. one arrives at the total weight of each plate. The long plates weigh 21,000 pounds and the short plates about 12,500 pounds. This makes the total weight of this load about 125,000 pounds. This is just above the typical load limit of SP 40-foot gondolas, which was about 119,000 pounds. Thus such a plate load should either be placed in 70-ton gondolas, or else on 50-ton flat cars, which usually have a load limit more like 130,000 pounds.
     Most loads for open-top cars would not have weight issues, but when masses of steel are depicted, it seems to me worth checking what the actual weight of such a load might be. When the load is too heavy for some cars, I simply restrict use of that load to appropriate cars. But this Duha load is a good illustration of an obvious point: since it’s a great-looking load, many modelers will be happy to put it in whatever car they have handy.
Tony Thompson