Friday, June 23, 2017

Small project: upgrading running boards

Years ago, when the first etched-metal running boards became available in HO scale, I thought they looked quite nice, far better than the usual model boards of that day, which were typically plastic around 2 scale feet thick and with utterly minimal indentations to look like a metal grid. I wanted to try an etched metal version on a freight car in my fleet, and when I did so, I was happy with the result. I immediately planned to continue replacing one or two more at a time, as modeling priorities and budget would permit, and gradually upgrade the whole fleet.
     But that first car ruined the plan. It looked so good, and made the clunky plastic versions look so bad, that I simply had to buckle down and replace all the terrible old running boards. I did just that, and have kept to that standard ever since. (I said more about my freight car standards in an article for Model Railroad Hobbyist in the issue for February 2017; you can read online, or download, any issue of MRH at any time, for free, at their website, .) But that isn’t the end of the topic. This post is about a related problem I have with some of my freight cars, namely some SP box cars, and also about a different solution than what I’ve done in the past.
     First, the background of the problem. When SP first began to purchase the new 1937 AAR standard 40-foot box cars, they were built with wood running boards. This was classes B-50-18 and -19, built in 1936 and 1937. But when they resumed purchases of cars like this in 1940, the car end design had been changed to a rounded-corner design ( or W-corner-post), and also, running boards were chosen to be steel grid, usually Apex. These were classes B-50-20, -21 and -23. All this history and much more is in Chapter 11 of my book on SP box cars, Volume 4 of the series Southern Pacific Freight Cars (Signature Press, Berkeley and Wilton, 2006, revised edition 2014).
     The problem comes in the various SP models that have been produced, with car numbers lying in the W-corner-post car group, but with wood running boards represented. I have a couple of such cars, from Red Caboose or Innovative Model Works, and would like to upgrade them. Etched metal is of course an option, but Kadee now sells their superb plastic version of a steel running board, and I wanted to give this running board a try. That’s the “different solution” I mentioned. Here are two available colors.

As you see, the “red oxide,” Part 2000, and the “boxcar red,” Part 2001, come two to a tube and it turns out they are easy to fit to a car roof.You can learn more at their website, , and can purchase parts on-line if you don’t have a local hobby shop.
     Shown below is an as-built model of a T&NO car with a number falling into Class B-50-21, which I know from my book chapter to have had an Apex running board, which is what the Kadee board represents. My first step, then, was to remove the kit’s wooden running board.

I easily removed the kit board by slipping a razor blade underneath it to cut the plugs inserted into the roof. Here is the car roof after this removal. You can see the stubs of the roof plugs.

The Kadee “boxcar red” color was closest to my model, so I applied one of those. The new running board was attached with canopy glue.
     Of course the rest of the model is already weathered, so after removal of the old running board, the new one has to be given some weathering to match. I simply sprayed the new walk with Tamiya Clear Flat (which I really like, it is truly flat). to provide a working surface for my usual acrylic-wash methods (for more on that, see the reference pages at the upper right of this page). Here is the new roof appearance, before weathering.

The color of the new running board is in fact quite a good match to the original color of this model, as I was able to determine with the underbody paint on the car (this particular model had not had any weathering done on the underbody).
     This running board replacement was quick and easy, and I am happy with the Kadee running board on the car. It’s true that it has much heavier grid parts than the prototype, more so than the etched metal running boards, but it is fairly thin vertically, and you can see through it, as you should, so I feel it is acceptable, and it is very simple to apply. I am sure I will do more of these replacements.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bay Area Prototype Modelers 2017 meet

Once again, the annual June meeting called Bay Area Prototype Modelers (BAPM) has taken place, and it happened last Saturday, the 17th. The venue, for several years now, is a private school in Richmond, California and it serves very well for a meeting like this, attended by 150 to 175 people. There is a kitchen at one end of the multi-purpose room that we meet in, so that snacks and lunch are available too. This was the 14th such event in this series, and this year it included 17 vendors. The models displayed by attendees are naturally the centerpiece of a meeting like this, but vendors are an important added attraction, and this year had a good group of them.

     A highlight of every meeting is Elizabeth Allen’s diesel modeling. She always brings a number of completed locomotives, but to me the in-progress projects are in some ways more interesting. For one thing, you can recognize more easily the amount of work required for really accurate modeling of specific locomotives, and can also see her craftsmanship.

I know there are modelers who (mistakenly) believe that kitbashing diesel locomotives is not that big of a deal, but you only need to look at the Cannon doors neatly added to the long hood of this model in progress, to contradict that idea. Fit and location are simply perfect.
     I really liked the modern modeling of Jay Davis, who has added flamboyant graffiti to several models without exactly copying specific prototypes, I kind of admire the most artistic of these efforts in the prototype, so enjoyed seeing these models. Shown below are two examples of his work.

     One intriguing display was by Glen Guillot, whose flat car load is shown below. I watched a number of experienced modelers come up to it and wrinkle their brow in puzzlement for a moment, then smile in recognition. I had done the same, thinking “I know I have seen that somewhere before.”

It is of course the parts for an Imperial “scout walker,” from the Star Wars movie of the battle on the planet Hoth, fighting alongside the more familiar four-legged walkers. Here is a photo of one of the models used for filming. These machines were also featured in the film “Return of the Jedi.”

Upon discovering that the model parts happen to be pretty close to HO scale, Glen thought, “. . . why not?” I would have to say, “good one, Glen,” since viewers mostly didn’t recognize the parts immediately but did figure it out in short order. Another of those whimsy moments, I suppose.
     For myself, I brought a 15-car freight train with cars chosen from the models I illustrated in my two articles on “Signature Freight Cars” in Model Railroad Hobbyist, in the issues for April 2013 and March 2015 (you can read or download any issue of MRH at any time, for free, at their website, ). I gave a clinic at this BAPM meeting on the same topic, so wanted to show some of relevant cars. Shown below is the head end of this display train, behind SP Consolidation 2763. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

     The lead car here is a Sunshine model of a C&NW rebuild of one of their numerous USRA box cars. Second is a member of the huge NYC fleet of “USRA design” steel box cars, of which over 17,000 were still in service in 1953, when I model; it is a Broadway Limited product. And third is one of the thousands of Santa Fe box cars rebuilt from classes BX-11, -12 and -13 with raised roofs. It’s a Westerfield kit. All three were in the clinic and the articles. This is just a sample of the 15-car train.
     I would say this was another successful year for BAPM, and I look forward to more of them in the future. Like any regional RPM gathering, it is a great opportunity for serious modelers to meet and greet and, maybe, enjoy some humor like the Star Wars flat car load.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Figures, Part 6: placement

In the previous posts in this series, I have shown several aspects of figures, as I prepare them for use. (The most recent post, concluding my comments on painting, is at this link: .) But they also need to be placed on the layout in sensible and believable ways. I will try and illustrate what I believe is effective placement.
     First, the figure working alone, or standing alone, is perfectly realistic, provided the work being done looks all right in the “freeze motion” of figures on a layout. Just as the figure of a baseball player leaping to catch a ball looks odd when “frozen,” so does the track worker with a sledge hammer at the top of the swing. So the solitary figure should be doing something that makes sense, or else simply standing at ease.
     Second, a figure just standing, while perfectly possible, is a little odd for an extended time. I used to have a single person standing outside the waiting room of my depot at Shumala. This is an excellent Preiser figure. But one might wonder why he is standing there.

The best way to make this look all right is to add a second figure. It looks like they are conversing, a situation in which two figures may well stand still for some time.

     Workmen may well fit the same pattern, two people working together. You need to find two figures who can appear to cooperate in a task. I have posed two figures like this, on the loading dock of my depot at Santa Rosalia.

     Other groupings, not of workmen, may suggest themselves by the structures and businesses you include on your layout. I made some picnic tables for an outdoor serving area near my Dolphin & Anchor tavern (which I described awhile back, in this post: ). The tables were easy, just using scale 8-inch-wide styrene strip and arranging them exactly like the tables you might see in any park or campground, and glued together atop wax paper on a little sketch of the leg angles. Here’s a view from underneath which shows the construction.

I used a couple of these for my tavern serving area, and used figures from “seated travelers” sets to populate them. I do need to add a waitress here somewhere. But I think this does make a believable scene of tavern customers enjoying an outdoor seating area.

     No doubt most modelers could readily multiply examples of figure placement, good and bad, but I think it’s an aspect of using figures that deserves thought. I plan to return to this topic in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The excellent new OpSIG book

The Operations Special Interest Group or OpSIG has just published an outstanding book about prototypical operating practices and how to implement them on a model railroad. Its full title is A Compendium of Model Railroad Operations, but many are already referring to it simply as Operations. It can be purchased on their website at: .
     Shown below is the cover. The authors are a “who’s who” of model operations authorities, from Jim Providenza and Seth Neumann to Steve King, Brian Lundberg, Dave Clemens, Mike Burgett, Byron Henderson, and others. The ringmaster who brought it all together and edited the book is Phil Monat (who also contributed a chapter), together with his co-editor, Steve Benezra.

I must confess to a small personal role in the project, as some of the authors, as well as editor Phil, called me for photos they could use, and you will see a few images contributed by me in the book.
     This is really an outstanding collection of articles, one that goes far beyond anything previously published in this area.  The pioneer book for many of us was Bruce Chubb’s comprehensive volume, How to Operate Your Model Railroad. That book was succeeded in the Kalmbach stable by Tony Koester’s two editions, both entitled Realistic Model Railroad Operation ( I reviewed that book in a previous post, at this link: ), though Tony’s books. limited in length by Kalmbach marketing goals, are less detailed than Bruce’s book. I often advocate that beginners need both books. But this new OpSIG book carries things to a far more advanced (and thus interesting) level.
     Incidentally, this is the second book published by OpSIG. The first, “19 East, Copy Three,” is about timetable and train order operations. I have mentioned it in previous posts (for example, in my 2013 post at: ). The first printing of that book sold out, but it’s been reprinted and is also available for purchase at the OpSIG website. It is a superb complement to the Operations book just described, and I recommend it highly. Here is its cover.

     The new program of the OpSIG to publish operating information in book form is greatly to be commended. I am impressed at the ambition and successes of the program so far, and will look forward to what they can do in the future. And if you have any serious interest at all in model railroad operations, you definitely need to buy A Compendium of Model Railroad Operations.
Tony Thompson

Monday, June 12, 2017

An operating session with upgrades

I have been modifying the operating scheme I use on my layout, to add more realistic car movements and also to create more complexity in a few places. As visiting operators become familiar with the layout and its original simplified scheme, the operators have finished the sessions in less and less time. I therefore decided to remove some of the simplicities and see how it would go.
     But as happens all too often, in testing the various layout areas before the op session (once track is cleaned, I usually operate locomotives through all switches and sidings to ensure everything works properly), I found some problems. One was a dip in the track, the other two were areas where track gauge was too tight. Most of this track has been in place for years, and all three problems were new. I couldn’t help but remember the often repeated observation of Jim Providenza, who has hosted operations on his layout for many, many years: “Track will move around and change gauge. It happens. Layouts aren’t stationary.” He is of course right, and I am only one of the many who can validate his comment.
     Naturally I tried before the sessions to correct the problems I found, but was only partly successful, as the sessions would soon demonstrate.
     On June 10 and 11, I hosted the same operating session each afternoon. The operating scheme part of all the sessions went well and I had the impression that the changes that I had made folded smoothly into the overall operation. On June 10, the two crews were Seth Neumann and Mark Schutzer, and Bob Osborn and John Sutkus (seen below at Ballard, with John at left). All four are very experienced operators on numerous layouts, and I was confident they would be able to  handle all the changes. They did.

The second crew is shown below as they worked at Shumala; Seth is at left and Mark at right. They found a couple of my track problems (I had fixed one successfully the night before the first op, but the others remained).

     After the June 10 session, I worked late in the evening to try and fix a tight-gauge problem at Ballard, and though I made it better, there remained an issue with the rails not being quite all in one plane right at the points of a switch. All I could do was warn the crews on the 11th to watch the locomotive running through that area, and they did indeed have frequent problems there. On this day, one of the crews, shown working at Ballard, was Pat LaTorres (at left) and Ed Slintak.

The other crew on Sunday were Jim Radkey and Jon Schmidt (Jim is at left below, as they take their turn to switch at Ballard). Jim was a last-minute fill-in for someone who wasn’t able to attend, so I appreciate Jim’s willingness to join the operating session on short notice.

    I have been working on the Ballard track issue since the op session, and as solutions (hopefully) develop, I will write a post or two about them, if anything in the solutions is of general interest. I am also trying to avoid falling victim to what Paul Weiss calls “Host Flaw Hysteria,” in which a host imagines a small flaw in an operating session to expand so large as to eclipse everything that went well in the session. I know all these operators enjoyed most of their work in these two sessions, so I will try not to feel excessively disappointed about a couple of track problems. But I still need to get them fixed.
Tony Thompson

Friday, June 9, 2017

Riding trains in Japan

During much of the month of May, my wife Mary and I were traveling through Japan, starting in Tokyo and seeing much of central Japan, including the Japanese Alps, and then heading south and west to end our trip on the island of Kyushu, at Fukuoka. The long-distance and even some local travel was by train. That’s what I want to write about in this post.
     The bullet-train system of Japan, the Shinkansen (which just means “new trunk line”), has been around more than 50 years, with the first trains entering service in 1964. So it’s not exactly a new idea, but the Japanese have continued to innovate, improve, and increase speeds. Those are reasons the Japanese continue to be leaders in much of this technology.
     We first rode the oldest of the lines, the Tokaido line, which connects Tokyo and Osaka. Though it initially operated at 125 miles per hour, its speed has been progressively increased, with the current N700 trainsets normally running at 180 miles per hour.  Naturally these are now far more aerodynamic than the 1964 trains. Here is the end unit on an N700 trainset (both ends are the same).

     Perhaps the most surprising aspects of all these train are the passenger densities. They are very high on most lines, with the Tokaido line remaining the busiest, carrying more than 150 million passengers per year. At the busiest times of the day, morning and late afternoon, there are 13 trains per hour on this line alone, little more than 4 minutes between trains. These are 16-car trains, with 1323 seats per train, and it is indeed dramatic to witness the very rapid boarding and exiting of passengers. Here is a shot of a couple of the 16 cars in an N700 train.

     Of course Japan is not all Shinkansen trains. First of all, there are shorter routes of all kinds, along with local train service. The vast majority of Japan is still the 42-inch gauge recommended originally by British consultants when railway construction began in Japan (this gauge is rightfully called “Empire gauge” for its prevalence in many parts of the former British Empire). But the Shinkansen lines, specially constructed for the very high speeds, are all “global standard gauge” (4 feet, 8.5 inches). We rode a bunch of these local trains too, in many different areas. For example, here is the very nice “express” we took from Takayama to Kyoto. It was a six-car train, ad though most of Japan is electrified, it is diesel-powered.

The cars were a very familiar size from U.S. practice, 68-seat coaches, 17 rows of 2 + 2 seating. Like all the trains, they were clean and comfortable, and with very adequate leg room.

Probably among the most impressive things about Japanese railway travel is the number and length of tunnels. It’s a mountainous country, and every line we rode had tunnel after tunnel. The sheer investment is daunting. No wonder that tunneling is another technology in which the Japanese are leaders.
     The biggest cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, have “heavy-rail” commute services mixed in with subways. In Tokyo we rode the Japan Railways lines several times, and these were less crowded than the subway (at least when we rode the two modes). Here is such a train. In the lower right corner you can see the JR emblem.

The railway system in Japan was formerly government-owned and operated, under the name Japanese National Railway (JNR). Since 1987, however, it has been privatized into seven companies, but they adhere to strict rules on maintenance, operating practices, and cooperation, and are collectively known as the Japan Railways Group companies, all branded as JR.
     Most Japanese cities of any size have replaced their streetcars with subways, but there are exceptions. For example, here are typical streetcars in Hiroshima, modern and fairly quiet cars.

     Putting it all together, trains are really excellent transportation in Japan, fast, frequent and not excessively expensive. The only drawback for the traveler, as opposed to the commuter, is that hardly any trains have provision for luggage. The overhead racks are not large, and there usually is no luggage section at the end of cars. But all in all, we really enjoyed our train experiences in Japan.
     We also visited a superb railroad museum in Kyoto, which I will describe in a separate post.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The East Shumala stock pen, Part 4

Awhile back, I posted a short series of descriptions of work on the stock pen at East Shumala on my layout. The general background for small stock pens, and my design intentions, were presented in the first post in the series (it can be found at: ). I followed up that post with a second article about how I built the basic stock pen from a kit, with some added fencing (that post is at this link: ).
     I added two structures to the stock pen complex, a traditional California tankhouse and an office. Descriptions of the modeling work, or additional  links for those projects, were in the third post in the series (you can read it at: ). The present post shows completion of the complex by adding a third pen.
     As the two pens in the original AHM kit were about 15 by 25 scale feet in size, I chose to make the third pen the same size, even though this is smaller than most prototype stock pens. The simple way of making the added pen was to use sheet styrene for a base, and build fencing using styrene strip. That was the basic construction method of the added fencing for the AHM kit also. I showed the fencing method in Part 2 of this series, accessible at the link at the end of the top paragraph in the present post. In the photo below, the added pen has been assembled and given a primer coat of light gray. I added a watering trough with pieces of scale 2 x 12-inch styrene strip.

The next step is painting the fencing a weathered wood color, then adding soil to the “floor” of the pen. I will match the previous parts of the stock pen fencing by painting with Star brand "Seasoned Wood” brown.
     But before I went further, I had to face up to the topic of populating the pens with suitable animals. The area I model is one which includes ranching with beef cattle, so any modeled cattle on my layout should be breeds used for beef, not dairy cattle. The most prominent breed of dairy cattle in the U.S. is the Holstein, the familiar black and white “splotched” animals, so I wouldn’t use those. Beef breeds in the west are primarily Hereford, with some Angus. The former are reddish brown with white heads, stockings and bellies, while the latter are entirely black. I show below photos of each breed, found on the web.

     As it happens, Woodland Scenics makes nice sets of both Hereford and Angus cattle, and I bought some sets of each. I also had a few Holstein animals in my stash of figures, which I simply repainted to either Hereford or Angus colors. One has a base, and can be put just inside the front fence so the base won’t show. Any other bases were cut off.

I have been told that the old Weston cattle (offered by Campbell Scale Models) were excellent renditions of the animals, but I have none of those.
     Since my fleet of stock cars includes some double-deck cars, I will explore having some model sheep or hogs to substitute for cattle, when such cars show up in the operation cycle.
     To color the soil area inside the stock pen, I repeated what I had done on the pen floors of the kit parts, namely to use tube acrylics, mixing Raw Umber  and Yellow Oxide. I took advantage of the thickness of the paint in this form to make the soil area look a little less than flat.

     Finally, here is the added pen, in place at the stock pen location in my layout area of East Shumala. The tankhouse and office alluded to earlier are visible here. The area is still being scenicked, so does not look complete as to soil and vegetation. I have been waiting to do ground cover, bushes etc. until structures were all done.

     I am pleased to finally have my three stock pens, as planned, to serve at this industry. A full load of stock in a railroad stock car is more cattle or sheep than most people ever display in their layout stock pens, an effect I hope to minimize. Of course, stock might be delivered over a few days until the full load is ready to go, but there should still be more in the pen than a mere handful.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, June 3, 2017

White flags on extra trains

Most years I attend the Railroad Prototype Modelers fall meet in suburban Chicago (a meeting long known as “Naperville” for the then-site of the convention hotel, now called “Chicagoland” since it moved to a hotel a quarter of a mile away in the adjoining town). A highlight of these trips is a chance to operate on Bill Darnaby’s excellent layout, the Maumee Route. A couple of years ago, I filled the Yardmaster and Hostler jobs on the Maumee, and one part of hostling was the insertion of HO-scale white flags into flag stanchions on locomotives of extra trains. (Use of such flags is usually described in prototype rulebooks under Rule 21.) I thought it was a delightful touch of detail. Here is a photo of one of the Maumee engines, borrowed from Chapter 5 of Tony Koester’s book, Model Railroading from Prototype to Layout (Kalmbach  Books, 2010). The white flags look great.

     On returning home from these trips, I thought, more than once, “I’d like to do those white flags on my layout.” Finally reaching the point of action, I began to browse my various sources of SP prototype photos to see how the flags looked, and quickly realized that there weren’t any. The answer must lie in the SP version of Rule 21, I thought to myself, and therefore looked at my 1943 and 1951 SP rulebooks to see how Rule 21 was presented.
     Turns out the answer is interesting. Here is a slightly abbreviated set of rulebook pages, setting out the SP version of Rule 21. (You can click to enlarge.)

I have omitted the details for engines running backward, etc. Rule 21(B) clearly shows that the only trains which would display white flags are those powered by engines that had no indicators. Indicators were entirely standard on SP steam, so lacking them would an unusual situation except perhaps for leased locomotives.
     Rule 21 in the SP version clearly means that the indicators (often called “number boards” by modelers and railfans) were relied upon to designate extra trains, just as they were relied on for identification of all other trains. This is made more explicit on the page for Rule 21(C):

     This foray into the SP rules means, of course, that I am not going to have white flags on my SP locomotives. Still, my models do have indicators and will continue to display (as they now do), the engine number plus an “X” as depicted in Rule 21(C). Here’s an example, on Mikado 3251:

Note the headlight is illuminated, as SP Rule 17 required after World War II.
     In a way I am disappointed not to be able to carry white flags on the extra trains on my layout, but at the same time am glad to have learned the SP rule and what it means. And my operators will be able to avoid the rather fussy task of putting HO scale flags into stanchions!
Tony Thompson