Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Southern Pacific fire-service car

A couple of years ago, Albrae Models released some beautiful brass models in HO scale of SP fire service cars (which, as Albrae notes, were called “water cars” by SP). They did two different cars, following prototype photographs carefully, with the two cars having rather different overall appearances. (SP practice with such cars was enormously variable and rarely can you find two alike.) You can see the Albrae web page about these models at this link: .
     (A word on the nomenclature: from early in the 20th century, cars obviously equipped with hoses, pumps, pray nozzles, and so forth, and clearly intended for fire-fighting duties, were lettered as “water cars.” This can be seen over a range of these years in my Volume 5 on tank cars, in the series Southern Pacific Freight Cars [Signature Press, Berkeley and Wilton, 2008]. In the very late years of SP, some such cars did get lettered as “fire service,” but this was the exception even then, and certainly not the rule.)
     I purchased one of the cars with wood-plank walkways, painted Smoke Gray, the SP maintenance-of-way color after 1959. But since I model 1953, of course, this wasn’t going to work. I simply airbrushed boxcar red onto the entire car. I then substituted solid-bearing trucks for the roller-bearing trucks supplied with the model, another essential back-dating detail. Then a coat of gloss permitted application of SPMW decals from Microscale set 87-155. In all candor, this is not a great set, seemingly based on only a few prototype cars, with some odd-sized letters and numbers, and missing a lot of what a modeler might want for MW models. But it does have nearly everything that was needed for this tank car.
     The decals were protected with an overspray of Dullcote, then I used my standard acrylic-wash weathering procedures (see the link to my weathering pages at the top right of this blog page, or you can go directly to them at: ). These cars stood out all year in the sun and weather, but were returned to the shops annually to be checked over and to make any repairs that were needed. After all, a fire service car needed to be in complete working condition to do its job! These annual visits, at least in the transition era, seemed to result in paint jobs from time to time, unlike most MW equipment, so photographs show that these cars were usually not particularly faded or dirty.
     In later years, the cars seemed somewhat more neglected, and often exhibited very visible rust stains, very evident of course on the light gray paint. Here is an example, SPMW 5493, from a series of photos I took at Roseburg, Oregon, in 1994.

Note here the rust staining on the tank, and the cloth cover on the hose reel, not sure why. In this case, as was standard for SP water-car conversions, the dome has been cut off; thermal expansion of water does not require an expansion dome or safety valves.
     For another example in the same string of fire-fighting equipment on the same day, here is SPMW 7894:

This is a different tank car body, with circumferential rivet seams, and has a different walkway, with two different widths; it also has a lot of what is presumably oil and grease staining below the water pump, as well as a very rusty tool box.
     And shown below is a third car from that string, SPMW 5898, even more rusty; this would most easily be modeled with the excellent rust-streak decals from Weathering Solutions (see my post about their decals at this link: ).

Note here that all three cars have different topside arrangements, in location of the tool box, water pump, and hose reel. But all three are lettered “water car.”
     My own model, being boxcar red, will not show this rust staining nearly as much. But I did try to show some such markings.

My choice of car number, SPMW 7715, was based on the need to find an SPMW number for a tank car with circumerential rivets at the time I model. This car, SPMW 7715, was converted to MW water service from SP 48396, a member of Class O-50-8, car series 48200–48399, built in 1918 by Ralston. (I used the 1956 MOW roster from the SP Historical & Technical Society.) Ralston is an unusual builder for tank cars and so much so, that in fact Ralston subcontracted the construction of the tanks, and only built the underframes for these cars. But they were pretty standard SP 12,500-gallon tank cars.
     It has been fun to research these cars and to decorate one to serve on my layout. I have an “outfit track,” as SP called them, on which various SPMW cars are spotted at various times, along with contractors’ work cars and occasionally a Western Union work car. This adds variety to the routine round of freight cars moving to and from industries, and conveys even more Southern Pacific spirit in the look and operations of my layout.
Tony Thompson

Monday, April 16, 2018

Hendrickson auto car, Part 4

This series of posts is about a partly completed model of an automobile car that I inherited from Richard Hendrickson. It is a considerably altered model from any of its components, but I was able to identify it as intended to represent Santa Fe’s Class FE-25. The most recent post in the series about completing this model showed how far I had gotten at that point (see it at: ). Only a couple of problems remain, and here I’ll deal with the first one.
     This problem is that a full-length Athearn steel weight was glued into the car, and at this point, with the underframe work completed, would hardly be practical to remove. With it in place, I would either have to drill and tap the steel strip for 2-56 screws to attach coupler boxes, or else attach an Athearn-like coupler box arrangement (referring to the type with the steel clip cover). I do know that Richard was okay with the Athearn boxes, and used them on several models. Here is how this car looked at this stage; note that Richard left the stub of the original black underframe extending to the left of the temporary truck support block.

Other added details like sill steps are readily visible here, as well as the scratchbuilt side sill.
     The reason for the state of the model that you see above is easy to determine. I had an Athearn gondola underframe of my own (that was Richard’s basis for this auto car underframe) sitting in my parts collection, and when it’s compared to what Richard did, you can see what resulted. First of all, the model of the automobile car is just a little longer than the gondola underframe. I set the gondola part on top of the auto car to show this.

If Richard had installed the gondola underframe without change, the coupler pockets would not reach the end sill. This means, of course, that the truck-to-end sill dimensions are different on the Athearn gondola and on the Athearn 50-foot automobile car (the basis for this car body). Note also that the middle crossbearer of the stock underframe was removed, as the corresponding Santa Fe underframe only had the two outer ones.
      In addition, the crossbearer shape is fairly different on the auto car, compared to the gondola, and obviously Richard simply cut down the Athearn crossbearers to match the strongly tapered shape needed for the auto car. You can see that in this angled view with the extra frame alongside.

With these observations in mind, I think it is pretty clear that Richard intended to add coupler pockets from a second gondola underframe. I decided to do the same here. (I only describe all this because it may be of interest to others using parts like the Athearn underframe.) I went ahead and cut off the coupler pocket ends from the Athearn gondola  frame:

     When fitted to the underbody of the model, the coupler box now comes right to the car end, as it should. This confirms my judgement that Richard intended to follow this same procedure.

     This car is proving to be an interesting challenge, not only to use my own knowledge and ideas to complete the model, but to try and grasp what Richard was probably going to do. I wouldn’t feel a need to slavishly follow his exact path (if I knew it, that is), but since I don’t know it, I have the experience of mixing my and his approaches to finish the car. I will continue with this project in future posts.
Tony Thompson

Friday, April 13, 2018

Pacific Coast Region convention, 2018

I occasionally write about my experiences at conventions held by various regions of NMRA (the National Model Railroad Association). This is not because they are earth-shaking events, but because I think they represent the best of what the NMRA does. These conventions encourage modelers throughout a geographical region to come together in several ways: socially of course, but also as model contestants or exhibitors, audiences at clinics, shoppers in vendor rooms or swap meets, and participants in layout tours or prototype tours. These all enhance and enlarge our mutual information and enjoyment of the hobby.
     During the first week of April I attended the Pacific Coast Region (PCR) convention for 2018 at Rohnert Park, California, a suburb of Santa Rosa. We were headquartered in the Doubletree Hotel there, a striking facility in several ways, including the dramatic fieldstone wall behind the breakfast bar.

     The entire event began with a reception at the nearby Bear Republic brew pub, a pleasant event with excellent beer and food. Shown below is a snapshot of this event, with Chris Palermo at far left (who organized the event), and next to him, long-time PCR stalwart Bill Scott. Behind them are Mary and Gus Compagna, equally long-time active PCR participants. It was fun to kick off the convention this way, and . . . in case I forget to mention it, the beer was excellent.

     A focus of these meetings is always modeling, and in addition to a goodly number of quality contest entrants, there were also a bunch of models that were entered for exhibition and therefore not judged. James Keena brought several, all very nicely done models. Here is one:

This is a reworked Train Miniature plastic car, with the underbody support truss moved back under the body where it belongs, and upgrades of several details, along with nicely done paint and weathering to depict PE 6241, a Hart convertible gondola of a type once prevalent on the SP.
     There was also an extensive clinic program ( I gave two talks myself). A noteworthy presentation was Jim Providenza’s “24th anniversary” presentation of his clinic on Realistic Operation, a talk which has motivated countless modelers, in PCR and beyond, to focus on how their layout is or could be operated. Here is Jim standing in front of (and slightly discolored by) his title slide.

     Last but (for me anyway) far from least was a chance to have lunch and, yes, an excellent beer, in the form of a visit to the Russian River Brewing Company brew pub in downtown Santa Rosa. Though fairly small, this brewery has achieved a kind of cult status in some circles with its outstanding IPA creations in limited editions, both Pliny the Elder in bottles, and (for a few weeks every February) an even better IPA called Pliny the Younger.
     It not being February, we were nevertheless happy to settle for “the Elder,” and Ray DeBlieck even picked up a 12-pack, You can see he was pleased with his purchase, and there’s a good reason. Except at the brewery, retail shops have such limited supply that purchasers are normally limited to two bottles. That makes a 12-pack quite a score.

     This was neither a great nor an ordinary PCR convention, but somewhere in the middle — one that could be truly enjoyed and even savored. Savored . . . well, yes, Sonoma County is perceived in the greater world as wine country, and rightly so; but nowadays it is beer country too.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Proposed paint schemes

Every modeler with a little experience knows that railroads, over the years, have occasionally done test applications of paint schemes for freight cars, passenger cars, and locomotives that ultimately were not adopted. Sometimes these only take the form of an artist’s rendering, but other times they may be painted on actual rolling stock as a test. But when disapproved by management, they disappear. Still, their often exotic appearance has an irresistible appeal for many modelers.
     Some of these proposed schemes are well known. For example, the Southern Pacific considered painting its new loader-equipped box cars, that had Hydra-Cushion underframes, in the same scarlet and gray paint newly being used on locomotives in 1958. They went as far as to paint one car, and spot it at the Beale Street team track, a couple of blocks from SP headquarters in San Francisco, as you see in the photo below (SP photo from the Shasta Division Archives).

But this was not to be; executives did not approve the scheme (perhaps not surprising, as passenger car and locomotive paint schemes were considerably simplified in this same year of 1958). So SP box cars continued to be painted pedestrian boxcar red, with the special equipment lettering in yellow, as shown by this additional member of SP Class B-50-47, at the same location as the above photo (and also from the Shasta Division Archives), a few months later.

Cotton Belt did paint one group of box cars in this scarlet and gray livery, but parent SP did not. So even though the scarlet-gray box car is very attractive, it is not a paint scheme that ever saw service, beyond that single test car, SP 651596, which did run for several years in that paint.
     Another example that perhaps deserves emphasis is the “curved corner” paint scheme tested by Pacific Fruit Express. As shown on the model below, it had a kind of streamlined appearance, with the top corners boxcar red and the bottom corners black, and the PFE name in a script lettering. This paint scheme is prototypically accurate, even to the car number; and in fact this is the only car on which this paint scheme was ever lettered.

     So the good news is that this at least does represent a single real car. The bad news is that the scheme was disapproved by management after a brief test, and PFE records indicate that after its application in June 1938, it was removed before October of that year. So if you model the particular four months in 1938 when this prototype existed, you are fine; otherwise it is definitely what we call a “foobie.” (A definition of that term can be found in a previous post about a similar subject: ). But I would hate to tell you how many layouts I have visited that had this PFE model in plain sight.
     A more exotic example, perhaps, is shown in a pencil sketch sent to me some years ago. It depicts a tank car of the Union Oil Company, painted orange and lettered in blue (the company’s colors for many years), including the company’s “76” trademark. But as far as I have ever been able to determine, no Union tank car was ever painted this way in fact.

The orange here looks faded toward yellow, but close examination of the original clearly shows that it really is orange.
     My good friend Richard Hendrickson used to hate discovering images like this, fearing not only that some manufacturer would quickly decorate models this way, but that modelers everywhere would snap them up, and we would be seeing them on layouts for years to come — even though no prototype ever existed, even briefly. (Kind of what happened with the PFE curved-corner scheme.) Let’s hope this one doesn’t have that history.
     Better known, but still totally bogus, is the Union 76 paint scheme decorated by Athearn on numerous models over the years. It’s shown below on the grossly oversize Athearn three-compartment tank car, a car body which has no known prototype anyway.

In a way, the imaginary paint scheme is kind of perfectly suited to the imaginary tank car body . . .
     I often say to people that my advice is, “don’t model the unusual, model the typical,” but the subject of the present post goes beyond that — these aren’t just unusual paint schemes, they truly are, in practical terms, non-existent ones. Anyone with a remote interest in prototype modeling would, I hope, never allow any fellow modeler to see that they owned one of these beauties.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Layout goals

Layout goals can be fuzzy or specific. For many layout builders, goals are pretty general and not especially focused. In most cases, that’s no problem. But the ambitious ones among us frequently do have very specific goals. The point of this commentary is to offer some observations about how those goals differ, and why one might care. The point is very much not to rank or critique these goals relative to one another.
     One type of goal is to reproduce with great accuracy a particular place or group of places, say for example Potomac Yard in Washington, D.C. and its environs. This kind of goal obviously calls for a great deal of research and exploration of all kinds of resources, just to find out what was at the chosen place or places in the year or era of interest.
     It usually also calls for considerable modeling effort, since few if any structures will be buildable without scratchbuilding. In addition, the effort usually also requires good judgement in making the many compromises required by the inevitable selective compression to get a layout into a manageable size. And ordinarily the same efforts in research and model building will underlie the rolling stock that will have to be acquired to populate such a layout. This type of layout can be visually stunning and often represents superb modeling, though operation is not always a major part of the product.
     At what could be called the other extreme is the layout built with focus primarily on an operating goal, such as sufficient running distance and towns to permit challenging timetable and train order (T&TO) operation. Or perhaps combinations of single and double track, controlled by a CTC panel, or in a more modern era, track warrants or the equivalent. Achieving this kind of goal can result in a superb operating experience for visitors.
     The “operator’s” type of layout has been entirely freelanced in many cases, but can reflect prototype locations too, though often freely interpreted so as not to conflict with the operating goals. Even a prototypical layout location may be part of a layout with challenging operation, for example the Pennsylvania Railroad heading westward from Harrisburg up the Juniata River. (That kind of layout set in the transition era would have to reproduce phenomenal traffic densities, of both freight and passenger trains, to be prototypical in operation.) Layouts of this general type are definitely fun to operate, but may be less appealing to the casual visitor, who sees only the physical plant.
     My model railroading goal has always fallen between these two extremes. I want to reproduce the railroading itself, as it was conducted at the time I chose, particularly on the freight side, both as far as operating arrangements and also with regard to equipment. I find locomotives interesting, as do most modelers, but freight cars are an even greater interest. I have a reasonably large freight car collection, nearly all of it appropriate for my modeling period. The layout, of course, should display these freight cars in appropriate context. Here is one of my PFE refrigerator cars, spotted at the Coastal Citrus Association in my town of Santa Rosalia.

In the background is the SP water tank, and at left is the Richfield bulk oil dealership, a model I described  modifying and building in earlier posts (see the final one at: ).
     Another goal I have always had is to convey accurately the era of my modeling and my layout environment. I chose 1953 as my modeling year, and have been careful with not only freight cars and paint schemes on rolling stock, but industries, highway vehicles, and even advertising such as billboards. All these factors combine to emphasize the 1953 year. As an example, here is the Chamisal Street crossing of the SP Coast Route, in my mythical town of Shumala. The SP depot is at left.

Southern Pacific modeling has always been taken pretty seriously on my layout. This depot, for example, is scratchbuilt from the SP plans for its Sylmar depot, as I described in some detail in one of my columns in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for November 2012 (you can read any issue of MRH on line, or download it,  at any time, for free, at their website, ).
     I don't model a specific prototype place nor specific buildings, though my layout is set in a particular area of California. I greatly respect and admire those who choose one particular town or towns and attempt to reproduce actual buildings and track arrangements. But that's not my area of interest, and in any case the very large amounts of selective compression required in most cases bothers me.
     Instead, by choosing a rural area with small towns and small industries, such as packing houses and bulk oil dealers, I can get closer to realistic sizes of buildings. To approach my goal of reproducing railroading on the Southern Pacific, I don’t feel I have any need for strict devotion to particular structures or specific towns. Instead, in what can be an even more challenging goal, I try to capture a more general spirit of the time and place. One example is conveyed by this photo looking up Willow Lake Road in Santa Rosalia, with the familiar SP depot design, Common Standard No. 22, at left, and the offshore fog bank evident beyond the waterfront, on the horizon at right.

     I always enjoy visiting layouts with obvious goals, even ones that are not entirely successful, because there are always fascinating insights into how the builder approached, and tried to solve, the various challenges that arose in the process. I hope visitors to my layout have the same feeling,
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Modeling SP passenger cars — Part 8, more baggage cars

In this post I want to continue with my comments on the cars needed for a Southern Pacific mail train, specifically the “Coast Mail,” which ran in daylight hours on the main line portrayed on my layout. My first post in this series (see it at: ) described the operation of this train. In this post, I describe additional baggage cars.
     The main source of my 60-foot baggage cars is the old Ken Kidder brass models. Some of these have inaccurate roof vent arrangements, and I have either modified the cars that are wrong, or have chosen to live with them. I introduced the topic of these cars in a previous post in this series (which can be seen at this link: ). I went into more detail about the Kidder roof arrangements in a post about modeling one of SP’s 60-foot arch roof coaches (read it at: ).
     The most common Kidder baggage car has 5 unevenly space Globe vents on the roof center line, then three more Globe vents spaced along both sides of the center line, 11 vents in all. This is closest to the early Harriman-era steel baggage cars, such as Class 60-B-1. But photos of these 60-foot cars over the years show that roof vents were often rearranged when roof work was done, especially the removal of electrical conduits along the roof, and in many cases Utility vents were installed in place of Globe vents. These kinds of changes are amply illustrated in the “bible” of this topic, published by the SP Historical & Technical Society, Volume 3 in the series Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, and subtitled “Head-end Equipment” (SPH&TS, Pasadena, CA, 2007).
     The photo below shows the stock roof of a Kidder baggage car of the kind just described. I have largely chosen to leave these as they are, rather than rearrange vents or replace Globe with Utility vents, though those would be very appropriate modeling changes.

I will have to admit to feeling that these cars, because they will operate only in passing trains on my layout’s main line, don’t need to meet the same criteria as my best models. To repeat the way I classify my freight cars, either they are suitable for all service (including switching, where operators have a chance to peruse their details), or they are classified as “mainline” cars, meaning cars which are less well detailed or have other stand-in qualities, and enjoy mainline operation only. These Kidder baggage cars are definitely mainline models. This is SP 6048.

     To go the other extreme from mainline cars, I also included in a previous post some remarks about the imported brass head-end cars, then forthcoming from The Coach Yard (those remaraks can be found at: ). Those cars were from the consist of the “Coast Mail,” and as I mentioned, I had made a purchase reservation.
     Unfortunately, though, my reservation got lost at The Original Whistle Stop, and the cars all were quickly sold out, so I didn’t get one that way. I share some of the blame for the problem, because instead of checking up on progress and making sure I was in the queue, I trusted in the system. Lesson learned, I suppose. But eventually I did find one of the cars from that train, the handsome baggage-horse car, Class 70-BH-1, for sale elsewhere. I promptly purchased it, so now I can add that car to my train. Here is a photo of this fine Coach Yard model.

The only real need here before the car operates is to paint wheel faces grimy gray. Otherwise this paint scheme, a relatively new “pool” scheme in my modeling year of 1953, can be operated in a pristine condition.
     A brief word on paint schemes (for much more detail and excellent illustrations, strongly oriented to modelers’ needs, see the SPH&TS book by Jeff Cauthen and John Signor, Southern Pacific Painting and Lettering Guide, Locomotives and Passenger Cars,  SPH&TS, Upland, CA, 2013). It was during 1954 that SP decided to eliminate the Dark Olive Green paint scheme used for much passenger equipment for decades, and instead use a Two-Tone Gray scheme, much like the Lark and (former) Overland schemes.
     But prior to this time, there had been a practice of painting “pool” equipment in one of the passenger schemes, but without train logo. For example, a relief lounge car for service in one of the Daylight trains (Coast, San Joaquin or Shasta) would be painted in Daylight Red and Orange, but without train logo. That is essentially what the photo above, of SP 7216, represents for my 1953 era, though of course it’s a pool version of Two-Tone Gray, not Daylight.
     Getting more of my rolling stock in place to operate a “Coast Mail” on my SP main line on the layout is progressing nicely, and I will likely report in a future post how the train turns out.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Representing screened doors and windows

I have frequently thought through the problem of modeling a window screen or screen door in HO scale. The problem, of course, is that true scale screen would be made out of human hair-size filaments and would have a mesh size too small to be recognizable, But screened openings are certainly prototypical for some structures and even for caboose doors or for bunk cars. So how do we model them?
     The answers that have been offered over the years range from just using a clear but clouded material, to make it slightly less transparent, to simply using an oversize screen so as to suggest what is really supposed to be there, even if far too big. Modelers have seized upon many different kinds of fine screens for this purpose, as a quick check of the indexing of any model railroad magazine will tell you.
     I had simply avoided this topic for years, on account of not having a solution I liked, until recently, when I replaced the coffee filter basket in my coffee maker. These screens are relatively fine, and here was one right on my kitchen counter, begging to be tried out. Otherwise, it was headed for the trash can. I decided to give it a try.
     First step was to use some strong shears to cut the screen away from its frame. This worked fine, and I think any solid pair of scissors would work too, though perhaps at some cost in the sharpness of the scissors, Here is the frame with its screen cut out.

     Next I wanted so see how this material would stack up when used as a window screen for something on my layout. I happened to have a candidate on my work bench. Work has been progressing slowly on an old Train Miniature work car, being modified to serve as an SP car on my layout, and it was an opportunity to try the coffee screen.
     I had bought the car at a swap meet, with a number of changes already made by a previous owner, including wire grab irons (good) and filled window openings (not necessarily good). I simply cut a rectangle of the coffee screen to fit an open window, and glued it in place with canopy glue (if that adhesive isn’t familiar to you, and it should be, you may wish to read my write-up from a few years ago: ). Here is how it looked, as installed in the opening to the right. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

The screen is pretty shiny here, but with a coat of flat will look better, though still rather silvery. Better still might be to airbrush the screen with a flat light gray.
     Of course, the one advantage of real screen is that it can let some light through, if there is any light on the other side of it. In this work car, there will be little, so probably the screen will look better on an internally-lighted structure or comparable application. I have a couple of test applications to try on some of my layout structures. But I think the real conclusion is that I like this coffee filter screen well enough to use it on future projects.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, March 29, 2018

More gondola loads

The great thing about open-top cars is that they not only can carry neat loads, but also that those loads can be interchangeable. That is the main reason I rarely glue a load into a car, so that other loads can also be used, but of course a removable load also enables the car to run empty.
     One example of a load that isn’t necessarily simple, but was easy for me, was a pair of bridge girders. These are actually the girders that I originally built for the Chamisal Road overcrossing in my layout town of Shumala. But they were too deep, as explained in a post about replacing them (see that post at: ). The excessive depth resulted from simply cutting Atlas bridge girders to length (not exactly how engineers design bridges). But the effort I’d made to complete a pair of girders with rounded top corners, and overlays with impressed rivets, seemed like something I did not want to waste, and accordingly I dismantled the original model bridge, saving only the girders.
     In an earlier post, back in 2012, I showed the loading diagram for girder loads, and illustrated its use with a couple of model loads (that post is at: ). I followed the same approach with these reclaimed girders, arranging the girders upright, with diagonal braces to keep them that way. My first step was to set the girders on scale 6 x 6-inch wood supports.

The next step was diagonal braces to keep the girders upright in transit. These are also made from 6 x 6 stripwood. The load is now a self-contained unit and can be simply set into a suitable gondola.

     Some time back, I acquired a handful of fancy plastic skewers, used at a reception for raw vegetables intended to be eaten from the skewer. For some time, I wondered how best to use these, and finally decided to make a gondola load. They looked a little like some decorative lampposts I once saw, so I decided to identify them that way. I cut them down to fit into a 40-foot gondola, glued them to 6 x 6 lumber as in the preceding girder load, and spray painted them medium gray.

Again, this is a load that can simply be dropped into a gondola.
     Finally, I made a load of aluminum pipe some time ago, using actual thin-wall aluminum tubing. I added Alcoa logos to the load. I recall such loads being so placarded when I worked in the summers of my college years at Alcoa in Vernon (Los Angeles County). These placards are actually little aluminum lapel badges handed out at Alcoa, presumably in the hope that employees would wear them in their personal lives. Let me digress a moment about Alcoa logos.
     From the 1920s until about 1951, when long-time Alcoa chairman Roy Hunt retired, Alcoa used a kind of shield logo, with stars on it (see left-most graphic, below). But after World War II, as both Reynolds and Kaiser aluminum products were being marketed to the general public, Alcoa began to recognize the need for a more distinctive logo for public consumption. At first they adopted a pair of triangles, either in black or in red and blue (middle graphic below; note that the old shield is there in miniature). Finally, in 1963, they moved to a logo that essentially has been used ever since, originally red-blue but in more recent years all blue; and you can see the original pair of triangles inside this logo (right-most graphic below). I suppose the white shape is kind of a letter “A” to represent Alcoa’s name.

My lapel badges had the color version of the 1951 logo, so I liked using them on this load, even though they are probably oversize by a fair amount. Here is how the load looks.

     These kinds of loads are pretty quick and easy to make, and permit variety in what kind of work your gondolas do on your layout. That’s something I always enjoy in setting up an operating session.
Tony Thompson

Monday, March 26, 2018

Collecting, operating, and all that

Some while back, I wrote a brief discussion of the somewhat opposed instincts of model railroaders, the instinct to collect things on the one hand, and on the other hand, to assemble a group of models for realistic operation (you can read it at this link: ). A few years later, I returned to that topic, emphasizing how a modeler who is starting a layout may progress from an “anything goes” kind of modeling for fun, to focusing on what is needed for that layout. That post is here: . Then a couple of years after that, I again visited this topic, this time recognizing that there are “impulse purchases” in my past, as is true for many of us, but also adding that sometimes a model gets built just because it looks like it would be fun to build (see the post at: ).  Modeling challenge is certainly an ongoing motivation as part of my car fleet decisions, and I want to expand on that point, and clarify some terminology too.
     Most of my modeling is oriented to my main interest, freight cars. I already have a pretty big car fleet (see photo below of my staging tracks), so it’s certainly not the case that I particularly need more cars. But I often like to add variety or extend examples of a particular prototype.

Visible here are nine of the twelve tracks on this “transfer table” style of staging. This is just one part of where I store and how I  manage my oversize freight car fleet, as I described at some length in a previous post (at this link: ).
     The commentary in my opening paragraph was stimulated by my recognizing that I have a variety of projects in place on three different work benches, some barely started, others almost complete. I decided to make a list of what is underway, hoping not only to bring to the foreground some long-dormant projects, but also as a way of prioritizing projects that need to be done, as opposed to those that will merely be fun to do (that sounds a bit like that first paragraph, doesn’t it?).
     Quite a few of the projects turned out to be really just from the side of things that adds cars to the collection, maybe a car I didn’t have, maybe as part a particular car group, or a paint scheme I didn’t have. These of course are partly fun, but not primarily that. There were a few projects that were purely fun, and naturally I may get these done first! And there were a few that actually contribute to the operation of the layout. Naturally some projects were rated with more than one of these categories, but I tried to list the major aspect of each project first.
     I even found a few projects that didn’t quite ever start because some needed information couldn’t be found, or vital parts weren’t located. For the most part, these have simply been retired and the various components returned to storage boxes. But I did have the joy of finally finding the second half of a long-stalled project (stalled because I could only find half of it), and that one is definitely going back onto a front burner.
     This kind of self-examination leads also to looking at the stash of unbuilt kits, and many of the same kinds of identifications and conclusions can be reached. These kits too include a range of objectives, from fun to collecting to operating, but I realize with many of them that, at this point in my life, they simply have no urgency. In fact, they are what I call “some day” kits. They are cars I would like to build . . . some day. Most of mine are in the shelves shown below, along with some former kit boxes used for storing parts.

This photo also shows a souvenir beer can from Pittsburgh Brewing (makers of Iron City beer), one of the then-annual cans of “Olde Frothingslosh” (the beer so light, the foam is on the bottom), and also a souvenir baseball. Your storage shelf doesn’t have to be all kits!
     There are also a certain number of kits that I usually call “cannon fodder,” a term from back in the day, when we had few plastic kits to start from, and accordingly had to do varying degrees of kitbashing and modifying of that plastic to obtain acceptable models of particular prototypes. Like many modelers in that period, I periodically would pick up the generic kits of the day, such Athearn Blue Box tank cars or box cars, so as to have a stock on hand of the stuff that would have to be kitbashed, etc. Thus the term "cannon fodder,” though today RTR has really changed all that. Most of my cannon fodder is now surplus.
     Probably most modelers have a variety of stalled or postponed projects — likely I have more than my share — but it is always helpful to make a list, so all of them can be looked at in one place, and some evaluations made. I know it worked for me.
Tony Thompson

Friday, March 23, 2018

SoundRail 2018

The title here refers to an operating weekend held in the Seattle area in even-numbered years, this year being the fourth in the series. I attended this event in 2016, and wrote about it afterward (you can read that post at: ). And during March 6-10 of this year, I attended again. And as before, it was an impressive event.
     A priority for me was to operate again on Al Frasch’s excellent N scale layout, the Pilchuck Division of the Burlington Northern, at his home on Whidbey Island. This was not only because I had such an outstanding experience operating there on the way to VanRail 2017 (for a post about that, see here: ), but also because Al is moving to Tucson soon, and these SoundRail sessions would be the last operations on his layout. Finally, I still owe Al a debt of gratitude for his ideas, shamelessly stolen for my own layout, on ways to guide crews to correctly switch “sure spots” at industry layouts (see that post at: ).
     My experience working Al’s Delta Yard, under the direction of yardmaster Henry Freeman, was excellent, as I had expected it to be, and once again, I especially enjoyed Al’s fine touch with making realistic industrial structures. This is of course an advantage of N scale, that buildings can be realistically big enough to justify rail service, but even his smaller ones looked great. Here is just one example, his Grizzly Tools warehouse.

     The following day, one of the layouts I enjoyed was Gary Jordan’s O scale Gilpin Tram. I happened to draw the yard at Golden, Colorado (where the Colorado & Southern standard gauge interchanged with the C&S narrow gauge), and especially like his large photo backdrop at this location, which is actually a photo of the ghost town at Bodie, California, but sets an excellent scene for thinking of a mining town in mountain scenery. That’s the standard-gauge switcher in the foreground.

     On the last day, I had the great experience of operating on Jim Younkins’ Mud Bay and Southern Railway layout, a superb N scale creation. This is a layout I had visited and admired, so was delighted to receive an assignment to operate. I got the Mud Bay switching job, an excellent blend of considerable switching along with careful planning to get everything to work. One focus of this job is the car ferry, which delivers cars for local destinations, then gradually is reloaded with local outbound cars waybilled via the ferry. It’s at lower left in the photo below. Three flat cars are used to reach onto the vessel to load and unload cars.

Partway through the session, naturally, the car ferry you have been loading is taken away, and a whole new ferryload of cars arrives. Perfect staging!
     One of the pleasures of this layout is that every town has a clear and most helpful map, indicating not only all industries, but car spot identities, such as Track 2 or Door 4. Here is one example.

This is a big help when you have a truly complicated and challenging job, such as the Simpson Lumber plywood mill at Shelton, shown below. This is another example of how N scale permits industrial switching with a much bigger scope.

     This was such a great event — great meet, great layouts, some rain (Seattle in March, who knew?), and just well run overall. Even the local microbrews were excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will certainly plan to attend in future years.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Correcting a ready-to-run car

My good friend Richard Hendrickson used to say that "ready to run” or RTR models were misnamed. They should really be called “ready to correct,” because many such cars have minor compromises, compromises that the serious or committed modeler may wish to correct. This post is in the spirit of those remarks.
     My model car fleet contains quite a few Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars, and they are definitely needed on my layout, because I have several active packing houses that are served by these cars. Unless practically the exact same PFE models are used in every operating session, I need to marshal more than the bare minimum of these reefers in my fleet.
     I am also aware that I probably have too many cars with older PFE paint schemes, including the red-white-blue Union Pacific emblems. Although those emblems were only replaced with black-white ones after June 1950, I know from PFE painting statistics and from numerous period photos that an awful lot of PFE cars were being painted in the early 1950s, and they were receiving the new black-white UP emblems. So I need to have a fair fraction of cars with those emblems.
     This being the case, you can understand why I jumped on an RTR model discovered in a recent hobby shop visit, an InterMountain Class R-40-23 car with the right black-white UP emblems, and bought it. And if it’s RTR, that’s great, because with a touch of light weathering, it can go right to work on the layout, right? Um, no. Here’s why.
     Shown below is a photo of the model as it comes from the box. Right away the knowledgeable PFE modeler will notice a problem. The model has black grab irons and ladders on the car side. But all side hardware on PFE reefers had been standardized as orange in January 1948, well before the introduction of black-white UP emblems.

     Obviously at least one change I had to make, then, was to paint those grabs and ladders Daylight Orange (an exact match to PFE orange). But there’s more. By the time the SP and UP emblems on the car sides had been rearranged so that the SP emblem was toward the B or brake end of the car on  both sides (making the two sides no longer identical), as the model is lettered, all side hardware, including side sills, had been changed to orange. So side sills need repainting too. I have gone through this reasoning process before, for a similarly decorated PFE car (my post on paint fixes is at: ).
     (At this point, I should mention that although most of this information can be found by digging around in the freight car chapters I wrote for the PFE book [Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000]. it is far more accessible and systematically presented in the paint and lettering descriptions prepared by Dick Harley for the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society book, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide [Dick Harley and Anthony Thompson, SPH&TS, 2016]. Unlike the PFE book, the SPH&TS book is very much oriented toward modelers’ needs, and I highly recommend it.)
     So at least I need to paint the grab irons, ladders, side sills and sill steps orange, a fairly easy task with a small brush. Is that it? Well, not necessarily. In the photo above, you can see that the model’s  PFE reporting marks have neither periods between the letters, nor 1-inch stripes above the initials and below the car number. The periods in the reporting marks had been removed at the same time as the side hardware was all made orange, so that is consistent. But the 1-inch stripes continued into early 1952.
     I went ahead and brush-painted the grab irons, ladders, sill steps, and side sill tabs with Daylight Orange, using Star Brand paint no. STR-27, an excellent match for the InterMountain paint. In addition, the wheel faces on these RTR cars are way too shiny, so I painted the wheels dark gray (for this application, I like Tamiya no. XF-63, “German Grey”). Then I added the 1-inch black stripes, using Microscale PFE set 87-414. This set has been around for over 20 years under the same number, but was recently revised, updated and corrected with Dick Harley’s artwork, so if you have an old set with this number, I advise replacing it. Here’s the car at this point.

Light weathering is still needed, even though this paint scheme is only two years or so before my modeling year; these light-colored car sides did show the dirt. But I’ve covered weathering numerous times in multiple venues, so I won’t go farther with that here.
     With these simple changes to an RTR car, making its paint and lettering accurate, I have an additional model to help serve the many perishable shippers and receivers on my layout. I look forward to seeing it in service for my next operating session.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, March 17, 2018

How old is my layout?

Some time back, I wrote a short summary of the survival of parts of my present layout, from the layout I had in Pittsburgh prior to moving to California in 1994 (that post is at: ). I followed up that post by showing a few more photos of various locations around the old layout, as well as some period photos of myself, a few months later (see that post at: ). There isn’t too much more to be said on that topic — except that I am often asked, especially at open houses, how long I have been working on the layout.
     That isn’t an easy question. The layout was always conceived of being built in sections, and the oldest section is what is now the town of Shumala, called Jalama on the Pittsburgh layout. That part of the layout was started as a shelf switching design when I lived in Thousand Oaks, California, prior to moving to Pittsburgh in 1977. Yep, that is more than 40 years ago. At that time, the section didn’t have more than a fraction of the track now present, but its underlying structure is indeed that old.
     Well, have I been working on the layout for 40-some years? Not really. After settling in Pittsburgh, it was almost five years before the layout at that time really began construction, that is, around 1982, when I got back from a year’s sabbatical leave in England. (I was then employed at Carnegie Mellon University.) Much of the layout was then built in a few years, and though little scenery was completed, I had a long mainline run of the Southern Pacific Coast Route, a mythical short line, the Lompoc & Cuyama, as a connection, and extensive staging. It was located in a basement room that was 16 by 19 feet in size.
     The layout, as it then was, enjoyed a portrayal in a story for Railroad Model Craftsman (or RMC) in the issue for June 1990 (pages 64 to 69). Actually, my layout was featured on the cover of that issue, as part of the coverage to promote the NMRA National Convention in Pittsburgh in 1990. That cover is shown below, with a photo taken at the town of Jalama.

I’m proud to have had my layout on the cover of RMC, and have this cover framed in my layout room today.
     Though I couldn’t have known it when completing that story, the layout didn’t progress much beyond what was shown in the article. I had another sabbatical the following year, and then became involved in looking for a new job. And when I found one, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at U.C. Berkeley, we moved into a fairly small Berkeley house with an attic not very suitable for layout construction, and everything remained in storage (in that attic). It wasn’t until 2005, when we moved to a bigger house (with a bigger yard to give scope to my wife’s intensive interest in gardening), that I finally had a good layout space.Even then, it ws two years getting settled in the house before I began to reassemble the surviving layout sections in my new layout room.
     So you could say that I did a lot of layout construction, including structures and scenery, from about 1982 to 1990, and then nothing until 2008.Moreover, of the layout peninsula that I salvaged from Pittsburgh, a number of changes had to be made. For example, here is the end of the town of Ballard, farthest from Jalama, as I began scenery work in May of 1990.

There is a wye at the rear of this area (thus the signal tower you see, just right of center), and a road bridge was being added to disguise the backdrop opening for one leg of the wye. The scenery in this area was made more complete in time for the NMRA National that summer, and as you can see below, I added my Union Oil bulk depot and a California Division of Highways garage (in the distance). Both these industries are still at Ballard, though differently located.

The scenery at rear is more complete, and a bridge is in place over the rear leg of the wye. But the Union Oil tank car paint scheme that you see here is bogus, and has since been repainted black.
     These were only some of the changes at Ballard. A view back in the direction of (railroad) west shows a Lompoc & Cuyama train, passing two industries no longer located where they are in this view.

The nearest industry, right behind the column of smoke, is a brass foundry, now at the rear of Ballard, and the building just beyond it has moved over to about where the tower is located in the color photo above. The depot has been repainted from its L&C paint scheme into SP’s Colonial Yellow and Light Brown, and the roof redone as Moss Green. The left foreground now contains packing houses.
     So the layout definitely is different than it was in Pittsburgh, and continues to change as it nears completion. And how about that question, how many years of work? At this point, I would add the eight years in the 1980s, to the time since 2008, and make it 18 years total, and some of that was in fact consumed in rebuilding and restoring the parts I had moved. Perhaps 15 years is a more realistic number of actual layout progress time.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

More changes in an operating session

On March 4th last, I hosted an operating session on my layout. For the layout in its present form, this is the 29th session, as far as I can figure. As usual, I had four visiting operators, working as two crews of two people each. But very much not as usual, or at least not as previously done, I made a number of session changes. One was to operate in “timetable afternoon,” that is, as though we were on the prototype timetable but in the afternoon (previous sessions utilizing the prototype timetable were set during the morning). This of course altered the mainline trains that could pass on the Southern Pacific’s Coast Route. We then used “real time,” that is, actual 1:1 time.
     A second change was the use of my staging drawer, a transfer table I have described in previous posts, to operate an extra train of passenger equipment, baggage cars and deadhead Pullmans, in a westward direction, and also picking up and dropping off an express refrigerator car. The strawberry season is just beginning on the California Central Coast in early March, and this fruit is moving to eastern markets in express reefers. The photo below shows this train on the staging track nearest the bottom of the photo, with the Guadalupe local on the track just above it.

     This was also my first invited session in which I put in place the “advisory” notices I copied from the example of Al Frasch’s layout (with Al’s permission; see that discussion at: ). These simply clarify where particular cars are spotted at the industries requiring a “sure spot,” that is, spotting at a particular door or unloading equipment. The Ballard ones are shown below; you can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

     My crews this time comprised Larry Altbaum and Vicki Newcomer, who operated together, and Dave Stanley and Byron Henderson, the other crew. Shown below are Byron (at left) and Dave hard at work in Ballard, getting the first part of the switching duties completed. Byron, being a very experienced layout designer, naturally had a number of questions for me relative to the layout’s design, about what worked well and what I wished I had done differently, and they were thought-provoking questions. In fact, I am still mulling over some of them, and may write a blog post when the “mulling” is complete.

     Meanwhile,  Larry (at left) and Vicki were doing the car sorting that is an essential part of the Shumala switching. Vicki is a novice operator but is learning fast, and she enjoyed seeing this kind of intensive switching operation, as well as learning how it is done. Larry, as an experienced operator and also with prior experience on my layout, was an ideal mentor.

     The sessions went well and I was happy how the various changes worked. The crews did a good job, as usually happens, and I think everyone was entertained and had fun. And after all, that’s really the goal of all this.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, March 11, 2018

More about freight car placards

Back in 2013, I wreote a couple of blog posts about placards on freight cars. The first of the posts was about prototype placards, with a number of examples (see it at: ). That was followed by a post about ways to model these placards, primarily showing application to model cars (it’s at this link: ).
     An important use of placards is for hazardous cargoes, particularly in tank cars. I have written separate posts concentrating on the tank car part of the topic, beginning, again, with the prototype (this post can be found at: ). And here again, I followed with a post about modeling approaches, which is one way to show that a closed model tank car is in fact loaded or empty (read that post at: ). I mention this for completeness, since the present post is only about tank cars in passing.
     One example of my topic is the placards used for refrigerator cars when car heaters were placed in the ice bunkers (obviously in sub-freezing weather). Whether the heaters burned charcoal or a liquid fuel like alcohol, there was a tendency to consume a lot of the oxygen in the car, so that continued combustion began to produce carbon monoxide, a deadly poison because it can’t be seen or smelled. The required placard on car doors (sent to me by Bill Jolitz) looked like this:

     Those who model territories that might include operation of reefers with heaters on board could easily reduce a placard like this to HO scale size and place on some cars.
     Most of us are familiar with the idea that some boxcar cargoes were loaded in a way that blocked one of the side doors, so that the car had to be placarded (on each side) to inform crews of this fact. Then they could correctly orient a car for spotting at the consignee. Naturally one side would have a placard saying “Unload This Side,” and the other side’s placard would read “Unload Other Side.” These were supplied by each individual railroad to its shippers. Here is a Southern Pacific example.

Note that this placard is yellow, though many were manila in color. This one is from my own collection. Here’s an example of the one that might be on the other side:

     There were also a variety of diamond-shaped placards. We normally associate these with tank cars, where the diamond shape was standard. But these diamond placards could also be used on house cars with certain kinds of cargoes, not only flammable or otherwise dangerous cargoes, but also fragile ones. This example from the Nickel Plate shows what I mean; the original is 8.5 inches square, smaller than a standard 10.5-inch tank car placard. (You can click to enlarge, to read the small print.)

     Another Nickel Plate placard, for poisonous material, looks somewhat like a tank car placard, but is in fact not the standard tank car placard for this kind of cargo. Instead, it is intended for house cars. Chemicals were shipped in barrels and other kinds of packaging in box cars, not only in bulk in tank cars, and this placard was used for those kinds of shipments. Like the one above, it is sub-size relative to tank car standards, being only 8 inches square.

     All these placards are interesting as well as relevant to model railroad operations, and I have used a number of them already on my layout. You might consider doing the same.
Tony Thompson