Monday, November 12, 2018

The newest Tony Koester book

As many have no doubt noticed, new Kalmbach books from author Tony Koester come along pretty regularly. This is not an accident, as Tony is under contract to produce these books at an agreed-upon interval. But with his authorial skills and generally outstanding photo selection, they tend to be excellent books, regardless of the subject of any individual one.
     The newest is about engine terminals. and it is indeed as good as we would expect. I show the cover below, identified as part of the series, “Layout Design and Planning,” and indeed, the book is packed with ideas for how to arrange the necessary facilities for model engine terminals.

     A modeler may think, “I already know what engine terminal(s) I need,” and probably he or she already has a good idea of what should be included. But there are a great many details in this subject, and a book like this can help ensure that nothing essential is omitted. And of course you may get ideas for how to model particular details.
     The book covers its subjects in nine chapters. from initial chapters about fuels and roundhouses, to chapters about mainline servicing, diesel houses and car barns, and what’s called “the short, the narrow and the regional,” referring of course to the facilities  of smaller and financially strapped railroads. Concluding chapters describe how power was fitted to assignments, how engine servicing gives rise to model layout jobs, and finally a nice pair of examples in which prototype facilities are adopted to model use. A concluding photo gallery adds still more information.
     In most books, I find at least one photo that really jumps out at me (not always for the reason intended by the author). Sometimes it’s just an image I like. But when these favorite images suggest something I can benefit by doing, or change something I already do, they are doubly valuable, In this book, one of the prototype engine terminal shots caught my eye, not for its intended meaning, but for something included in the photo (photo by Chris Guss). It’s the Lake State Railway in Saginaw, Michigan.

The reason I like this? Note the weeds growing around the edge of the turntable pit, and the scattered grass or weeds growing around the garden tracks. (You can click on the photo to enlarge it if you wish.) This looks so good, that it cries out to be modeled, and any modeler would envy the look, yet it would be very easy to do. You just have to notice this detail in the photo, and realize you could do it too. When a book gives you, not just one, but several such inspiring images, it is worth far more than its mere purchase price.
     As you can tell, I have enjoyed reading, and even more being inspired by, this book. Like practically all of Tony K’s books, it’s excellent value, and I recommend it highly.
Tony Thompson

Friday, November 9, 2018

Southern Pacific F-units, Part 3

I have described in previous posts some of the background history of the huge fleet of Electro-Motive F units on the Southern Pacific. The railroad, including its T&NO and Cotton Belt subsidiaries, owned 573 F units, over 15 percent of all F units produced. I began with some info on the prototype (that first post was at: ). I followed up with a Part 2 post, describing my modeling of SP’s F3-Phase IV units (as railfans termed them), starting from Athearn F unit A and B models (that post is at this link: ).
     (Incidentally, for background on the Phase designations of EMD F3 units, entirely a creation of railfans and diesel spotters, not EMD factory descriptions, you may benefit from the Wikipedia entry on this point, which is at: . Unofficial they may be, but these Phases are helpful identifiers of visual characteristics of these locomotives.)
     As it happened, the first five SP sets of F3 units were early Phase II, with high fan shrouds. The five sets of four units each, A-B-B-A, were sent off to the T&NO within two years of delivery, on account of their high-speed gearing, a bad combination with the steam helpers still in use.
     The remaining 15 sets of that first purchase were Phase III units, with low fans but still with the characteristic roof “slots” for dynamic brake heat exhaust, and “chicken wire” over the upper carbody openings. Four of those sets also were later sent to T&NO. Once renumbered in 1949, the remaining Pacific Lines group of 14 of these F3-Phase III units were mostly B units, 12 of the 14. I’ve long wanted to model one of them.
     There were at one time Highliner kits for B units like this, and luckily I stockpiled one, along with a set of the etched screens for the “chicken wire” over the openings. Here is the box, now brought onto the workbench to build this unit. (The Highliner dies were bought by Athearn, and now furnish the parts for their Genesis F units. But kits or dummy units are no longer sold by Athearn.)

     The design of these Highliner units is very clever. They are molded with all possible bracing in the upper carbody openings, and then a series of pieces is provided to fill in the areas that changed as EMD modified the design over a span of years. The same is true on the roof, where various fans or dynamic brake slots can be added. Here is the unmodified shell, out of the box.

     The kit directions then indicate which filler pieces to add in the upper carbody openings for each locomotive Phase. I decided to double-check this against an SP prototype photo. In Joe Strapac’s excellent series of books on Southern Pacific Historic Diesels, Volume 10 (Shade Tree Books, 2003) covers EMD freight F locomotives. Here is a Robert A. Smith photo, depicting one of the B units from the first SP order from EMD, that did remain on Pacific Lines. It is pictured at Colton on April 6, 1950.

     The appearance of the carbody openings here agreed exactly with the Highliner kit directions, so I went ahead and modified the openings accordingly. I also added the correct 36-inch fan base and the roof panel with slots for dynamic brakes. You can compare this state of the model with the prototype photo above.

     Next I will install the lift rings and etched fans on the unit roof, then paint it, with the “chicken wire” added after painting. All handrails will also be added after painting. These units had a stunningly simple paint scheme, all black with a Daylight Red frame stripe and no significant lettering other than the unit number. All that will be covered in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Rapido's new NP box car

The latest HO scale freight car from Rapido Trains is a distinctive (and numerous) box car built by the Northern Pacific. This particular group of cars has become well known to freight car modelers because of its size and, especially, its longevity. I will say more about the prototype below, but this Ready to Run or RTR model represents a great increase in availability. Sunshine Models offered this car in resin kit form around 20 years ago, but now there is a readily accessible version for anyone.
     The Northern Pacific received no allocations of freight cars from the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) during World War I, but NP, like most railroads, was nevertheless greatly influenced by the USRA designs. In the middle 1920s, they purchased over 4000 box cars that followed essentially the USRA 40-ton box car design, though NP’s distinctive radial roof was applied (or, as NP called it, a “circular” roof). The USRA box car underframe was, in hindsight, rather over-designed, and accordingly had a long life. That’s one reason the NP cars lasted so long.
     The base group of these NP cars were numbered from 10000 to 13999 (the follow-on cars in the 14000 series were dimensionally identical). As an example of their remarkable longevity, 3809 of the original 4000 cars wee in service in January 1953, about 30 years after construction. Their wood-sheathed sides were unexceptional, as the image below demonstrates (from Bob’s Photo):

The paint scheme of this photo is that introduced in 1941, with the 36-inch diameter emblem.
     Like the USRA cars, the NP cars also had corrugated ends. The view below shows the end well, along with the roof contour (photo by M. Nierdieck, Richard Hendrickson collection). This car, NP 11237,  was photographed in 1957, but still has the 1941 paint scheme.

     The new Rapido model reproduces this prototype extremely well. I show below the car I obtained, with the 1941 paint scheme and AB brakes (suitable for my 1953 modeling year). It also has the lever-type hand brake which NP originally installed on these cars.

     The car is fairly glossy as received, so a coat of flat was my first step, prior to weathering with my usual technique involving washes of acrylic tube paints (for more on that, see the Reference Pages linked at the top right of this post). I also added my usual reweigh and repack stencils, along with addition of route cards and chalk marks, and also dirtying the overly pale rust color of the couplers. Here is the left side of the completed car.

     This is a very nicely done freight car model, and I commend Rapido for the quality. I will have it at work on my layout in the next operating session!
Tony Thompson

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Desert Ops 2018

An operating weekend held in the Phoenix, Arizona area for a number of years has more recently been called “Desert Ops.” This was the ninth iteration under that name. I’ve attended before, and this time got to see some different layouts. I won’t attempt detailed descriptions of any of them, but instead will just offer some general impressions.
    Four of us coming from the San Francisco Bay Area arranged an extra session in advance of the meeting, so we could operate on Paul Chandler’s outstanding layout in Tucson. Paul models the early 1950s and his layout is centered on Lathrop, California, with a variety of the SP lines in that area. Our session was mostly steam, and the excellent scenery Paul has created was an important part of our enjoyment.
     One thing Paul wanted to reproduce on the layout was the exchange of cars and mail between the San Joaquin Daylight and the Sacramento Daylight, which took place at Lathrop. Paul had seen and photographed this event in his youth, and now can carry out the same action on the layout. In the middle of this exchange, I took the photograph below. This is the mail exchange between the RPO cars. Next, three of the chair cars coming from Bakersfield were cut off and added to the train going to Sacramento, while the rest of the original train continued to the Bay Area.

     We also had a kind of extra session at the Scottsdale HO club. Like nearly all club layouts, it represents numerous compromises among members’ desires and goals, but is fully scenicked (it’s open to the public for many hours a year) and much of it ran well. Shown below is fellow attendee Al Daumann in the middle of a switching move. You can see in the background the size of the building, which also contains N scale and O scale layouts.

     Our first formal session was at Rick Watson’s fine SP Exeter Branch layout, where we had operated before. Rick tries to make sure people do different jobs each time they visit, and this time I got to switch Exeter and Lindsay, a pretty interesting and switching-intensive job. One thing I like on Rick’s layout is that he has used numerous paper buildings made from printouts, in lieu of conventional model structures. For switching, they work fine. Shown below is the large Sunkist packing plant at Lindsay, with Seth Neumann at left and Mark Schutzer in the background doing other jobs, as I worked Lindsay.

     We operated ar Roger Brendecke’s layout next, and the layout recently was largely torn down and rebuilt with wider curves and wider aisles, so much of it was not too suitable for photography. One striking feature is that he has three levels of large yards, with the middle level being a working yard and the top and bottom levels being staging. It accommodates an impressive amount of equipment, and we exercised it pretty well in our session.

     The final session in this weekend for me was at Dave Doiron’s huge layout. I had not been there for four years, and I would be quick to say how impressed I was with the progress on the layout. A lot more is operating, and a lot of very good scenery is in place. I happened to draw the Creamery Branch job, centered around a large creamery structure. It’s shown below, and its oddly angled sections are a faithful reproduction of the prototype structure. The photo backdrop is also shown to good advantage.

     The weekend was fun and several of the layouts outstanding, each in a different way. This is, for me, the great strength of these events, to see how varied are layout designs and implementations, and of course to experience how they are operated. If you haven't been to an event like this, check the listing at the NMRA Operations Special Interest Group, or OpSig, site (the open listing is at this link: ) and see if there is one near you.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Blue flag awareness

I have previously posted several comments about blue flags in model railroading. I began with some discussion of the prototype use of blue flags for various kinds of safety notification (that post can be found at this link: ). I followed up that post with a description of how I produced a set of blue flags to use on my layout, along with illustration of the insertion points I created (between pairs of ties) so that the flags could be placed for operations (see that post at: ).
     But I quickly discovered two things about using these flags in an operating session. First, they are scale size and a medium-hue color, and are accordingly all but invisible under ordinary layout operating conditions. Crews have in fact run cars or locomotives right over the flags. The brass wire stanchions of the flags can be straightened and repainted, but the point is that the flags aren’t serving their warning purpose very well. I realize they are pretty small. The photo below, in my layout town of Ballard, illustrates the visibility problem (check the left-hand track).

     Some of the problem may be location. On Seth Neumann’s layout, blue flags are important for switching his NUMMI auto plant, and his taller flags, with plainer scenery around them, do seem more visible. Not sure how I can do that part better, since I would prefer not to make oversize flags. (Photo below supplied by Seth.)

     The second point I recognized is that there is not a good way for crews to know either that flags are in place, or a time when the flags might be removed. One possibility here is to use the method that Seth uses on his layout, simply to tell crews that if they encountered a blue flag in the way of a movement that they needed to make, they should consult the Superintendent (Seth) as to when the blue flag might be removed. I could do the same, but was searching for a more “paperwork” way to accomplish something similar.
     A couple of weeks ago, during my visit at the 25th Anniversary RPM meeting in the Chicago area (I posted some comments about that trip at: ), I operated one evening at Bob Hanmer’s layout. The job I drew this time was one I had done before, the switching at Grand Rapids, Minnesota, including the large paper plant. No blue flags were in use, but there was a system of “lockouts” for most tracks. Each track had a form like this (you can click to enlarge):

Though not based on an actual Great Northern form (it was created by Bob Hanmer), it has a realistic look to me. The entire header may be hard to read; here it is in close-up:

     I thought that this might be a way to inform crews about blue flags. Bob’s form shows a fixed length of lockout, four hours in the case of the particular form shown above, but I don’t see why there would be a fixed time for most shipper situations. Instead, I would think the agent, appropriately notified by the shipper, would give a starting and (estimated) ending time for the lockout, thus notifying the crew when the blue flag should be lifted.
     Of course, on arrival, they might find that the shipper or consignee wasn’t quite finished with the car, and would need to wait. I have heard former employee stories like that, of having to wait for the loading dock foreman to give them the “okay” to move a car. I will have to mull over ways to do that in an operating session. But a form like the one Bob Hanmer created will be a welcome step in the right direction. I will have to put some thought into the precise format I want.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Upgrading an old model, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I showed the assembled Ulrich gondola model I purchased from Chuck Hitchcock, along with photos of the Santa Fe prototype, to indicate a few things I wanted to upgrade so I would feel  comfortable operating the model in my fleet. (You can read that post at this link: .)
     As I mentioned in Part 1, the most glaring deficiency (to me) about the Ulrich model was the hand brake location on the drop end. It needed to be mounted to the corner post, with the brake wheel parallel to the car side. I dug into my parts stash, and found the Cal Scale brake set that has an Ajax brake mechanism, with attached chain, very handy. I simply mounted that mechanism to a small piece of 0.010-inch styrene sheet.  I chose the Kadee Ajax brake wheel as by far the best available today. Here are those parts at this point.

Note in the photo that I left a small edge margin to the left of the brake mechanism. This was to provide a gluing surface for CA adhesive to locate on the inside of the corner post of the car. I have also angled the chain toward the car’s end sill.
     Next I went back to the Cal Scale brake set and selected a retainer valve to add to the car side, then also added a 0.012-inch brass wire for the retainer line. With that done, I could glue the hand brake assembly to the inside of the corner post. At this point, it looked like this:

     Now, of course, I needed to paint the new parts, as well as touching up the car end where the old Ulrich handbrake parts had been. My late friend, Richard Hendrickson, as dedicated and serious a Santa Fe freight car modeler as you could find, always used Floquil “ATSF Mineral Brown” paint for his Santa Fe models. The problem here, however, is that the original Ulrich paint is quite brown, more so than the Santa Fe color. I had to fiddle with paint mixes to get close to a match. My starting point was Tamiya XF-64, “Red Brown,” but I had to darken it a bit for this model.
     With the addition of a few chalk marks, reweigh and repack stencils, and a route card, the car was almost ready to enter service.

     But there is one more correction needed. Because this model is numbered for the cars that were part of Class GA-63, and that class was delivered with National B-1 trucks, I need to replace the trucks shown above. With that change made, and a (removable) load of pipe included, here is the car as completed. (You can click on these images to enlarge them if you wish.)

     I continue to enjoy owning and operating some of the pioneer freight car kits of the hobby, as is the case for the Ulrich heritage of this particular car. Moreover, its connection to Chuck Hitchcock makes it especially welcome in my layout’s freight car fleet.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The 25th “Naperville” RPM Conference

Last week was the 25th renewal of the Railroad Prototype Modelers (RPM) meet, initiated by Martin Lofton of Sunshine Models back in 1994. Held for many years in Naperville, Illinois, it is now held a few hundred yards away, over the line into the town of Lisle, and is becoming known as the “Chicagoland” meeting, perhaps a better name for attendees from outside the area. This has for most of its existence been known to many as the “Freight Car National,” and deservedly so, as the emphasis continues to be on freight car modeling. Shown below is the cover from this year’s program.

After Martin Lofton passed away, this meeting languished for awhile, but under the direction of Mike Skibbe it is now thriving.
     As always, there was an excellent clinic program, an extensive vendor presence in the hotel ballroom (accompanied by the fine HO and N scale Mod-U-Trak layouts), and a considerable model display. We also had the now-traditional Friends of the Freight Car dinner, part of which was a recognition for Tricia Lofton, Martin’s widow, and long the organizing and registration presence at the meeting when Martin was in charge. It was great to have her at the meeting, renew acquaintance, and have a chance to chat.
     The vendor tables were always busy if no clinic was in progress. Ted Schepf’s massive inventory was welcome, as always, with so much to browse through, and a number of manufacturers were drawing crowds, notably Pierre Oliver’s Yarmouth Model Works, with several new kits. At times one had to wait a turn to get up to a popular table.

     As is often the case at this event, Tony Koester gave one of his fine presentations, this one on “Realistic Operation,” a subject that never gets old. And though many of us have read enough of Tony’s writings to be familiar with most of the ideas, he always presents a talk in a way that holds your attention. In the photo below, he is talking about having places for the dispatcher and operators to do their work. Obviously Tony’s complexion is colored by the slide being projected, so don’t become concerned about his health on the basis of this view.

There were some other talks of interest, and I intend to return to at least one of them in a future post.
     Among the models I especially liked this year was an ART car by Jonathan Pansius, modified from a Westerfield kit with a new roof and ice hatches, and lettered for a 1930 appearance. (During the 1928–1931 period, ART cars had no initials above the car number, as Jon’s model shows; this is amply explained in the new book, American Refrigerator Transit, by Maher, Michels and Semon, Signature Press, and yes, my opinion on this is far from neutral, as I’m a partner in Signature Press.)

     Another car I liked was the one shown below, by Chris Vanko. Chris gave an excellent talk about weathering using oil paints and Pan Pastels, and this car is a product of that. The car is an InterMountain “Emergency” box car, with modifications to match the Wabash prototype.

     I have attended nearly every one of the 25 renewals of this event (missing the first one because I was in the process of moving to California), and have always found them to be outstanding meetings, among the best there is for freight car enthusiasts. I look forward to more of them in the future.
Tony Thompson

Monday, October 22, 2018

Small project: repurposing a covered hopper

I have purchased a number of the superb covered hoppers in HO scale produced by InterMountain Railway Company, or IM, and really enjoy the level of detail and the distinctive look of these square-hatch cars. They are essential parts of not only my Southern Pacific car fleet, but other western railroads as well, including Santa Fe and Union Pacific. Even the leased cars are interesting, and IM has produced a number of paint schemes for those cars too.
     But one of my purchases, admittedly probably an impulse event, was the leased SHPX car for the Sherwin-Williams Company. This particular leased car is a fine notion, but not one I can readily see a use for, beyond my mainline trains. Still, it’s one of the terrific IM models, and as a black car, I thought that likely I would figure out some other use for the car, either relettering it, or a full repaint.
     Deciding that if possible, I would like to keep all the dimensional and capacity data already on the car, I painted out the reporting marks (SHPX 25195) and the information about the Sherwin-Williams lease. That gave the appearance below.

     Next I had to choose a prototype. There are a number of railroads that painted their covered hoppers black, but most are eastern, and in my era, covered hoppers like this were mostly used for cement, and accordingly did not travel far. (Cement is cheap to produce, and heavy, thus costly to ship, so most travels only short distances.) But a leased car might be in almost any service. In particular, certain industrial lessees shipped dry chemicals in these cars. Since I have destinations on my layout which can receive chemicals, I decided to look for possibilities.
     Most leased cars of this type, like most covered hoppers generally, were painted light gray. But I did find a few General American leased covered hoppers that were black. Shown below is one example, from a group of five cars (GACX 40218–40222).

Photo is from General American, and appeared in Vol. 28 of Railway Prototype Cyclopedia in an article by Ed Hawkins.
     I quickly found that none of the alphabet decal sets I have were really the right size and style to match what is in the photo above. But an old Walthers alphabet set came close enough. I decided to go ahead and live with somewhat oversize lettering. In the photo below, you can see the AC&F builder stencil (visible in the photo at the top of this post, toward the right of the car side) has now been painted out.

     Next the car needed to be weathered, and acquire some reweigh and repack stencils. As is my usual procedure, I weathered first. Then rectangles of black decal were applied where the new stencils were located, and appropriate decals added. Here is a photo of the car in service, spotted over the unloading auger at Pacific Chemical on my layout (for more on the modeling of the unloading auger, you might wish to read my post at: ).

     This has been an enjoyable small project, turning a black covered hopper model that was kind of surplus, into something that can operate regularly on my layout.
Tony Thompson

Friday, October 19, 2018

Electrical wars, Part 16

In the previous post, number 15 in the series, I described adding feeders to a stretch of track which was exhibiting a really difficult defect: intermittent lack of power. An engine operating on this track would be fine for multiple moves in both directions, then the track would be dead for a  move or two, then the track would be live again. Though not certain of the reason for the problem, I attacked it with a solution that was shown in a previous post (you can see it at: ).
     There is another problem, possibly related to my intermittent power issue, which has arisen a few times on my layout, and I have become vigilant in searching out places where it could happen in the future. This has to do with electrical gaps. I always cut them very narrow, both for appearance and smooth operation over them. But this raises the possibility that thermal expansion and contraction of rail, as well as the thermal and humidity expansion and contraction of the layout structure from season to season, can close one of these gaps. It may,of course, not be visually obvious at all.
     I showed in a previous post in the Electrical Wars series how gaps can be secured with a small piece of styrene glued into them. This is a technique demonstrated on my layout by Jim Providenza, as shown in that post (it can be found here: ).
     My previous work adding feeders to my intermittent-power track section should fix the problem, but I could not rule out problems arising with the gaps which define the track. Accordingly, I went back to each of the gaps, verified that it was open at the moment, and began by gluing some styrene into the gap, using CA adhesive. I usually use Evergreen scale 1 x 4-inch strip, or sometimes scale 2 x 4-inch strip if gaps are wider, as in the photo below.

     I allow plenty of time for the CA to cure, then use a fresh razor or hobby knife blade to slice off the styrene right at the rail head. Sometimes I add a little CA to fill any gaps that may remain.

Any styrene showing on the gauge side of the rail is carved off, and the sides of the insert painted medium or dark brown. The white styrene at the rail head is not very noticeable compared to the silver appearance of the surrounding rail. Shown below is an example of these kinds of filled gaps, right about at photo center, demonstrating that they are close to invisible.

     I don’t know that there were any gap-closure problems contributing to my intermittent power issues on the track in question. But at least now I know that gap problems cannot be a factor in that area in future.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Another Kalmbach “industry” book

Way back in 2004, Kalmbach Books initiated a series of volumes entitled The Model Railroader’s Guide to Industries Along the Tracks, usually just referred by the last four words of the title, or by IATT.  These books were authored by Jeff Wilson, who did a really excellent job of providing brief but well-directed summaries of rail-served industries. I mentioned them in a prior blog post, which actually served as a handout link for a talk I was giving over the lat year, about railroad traffic (you can visit that post at this link: ).
     Eventually there were four of these books, each one covering six industries in 88 pages total. Given the need for front and back matter in a book, it’s evident that each industry could only receive a dozen or so pages of coverage, and given that the books were profusely (and appropriately) illustrated, text was necessarily brief. I show below the covers of these four books. 

All but the first of these is still in print at Kalmbach Publishing, or was when I checked recently.
     In that previous post (link given in the first paragraph, above), there is a list of the six industries in each volume, along with a fairly extensive bibliography of sources of information about traffic topics.
     Now the topics of industries are being revisited b Kalmbach, very appropriately, I think, in expanding upon what was in the earlier books. The new series has the title, Guide to Industries Series. The books continue to be well authored by Jeff Wilson. The one I’m commenting on today covers a subject I know well, from extensive research when writing the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd Edition, Signature Press, 2000). This book is about the produce business.

This is not only a comprehensive and accurate book, but contains many excellent photos. One of Jeff Wilson’s strengths is his photo choice (aided, of course, by the extensive Kalmbach photo collection), and it is a major contributor to the quality of these books.
     One thing I especially like in this treatment is that it contains a full chapter on harvesting and packing of produce. This topic is something often omitted in presenting the railroad side of this business, but it is covered well here. In fact, one of my favorite photos in the book is in this chapter (it’s from the Library of Congress) .

The photo depicts field boxes arriving on a flatbed truck at a packing house in Redlands, California. These are the boxes filled by field hands who picked the fruit, and are not the final shipping boxes that will go into refrigerator cars. The field boxes, of course, will go right back into the orchards for the next load. As with so much on this topic, modelers are often unaware of the role of field boxes.
     The book also has a fine chapter on the various owners of the major refrigerator car fleets, covers the operation of perishable trains nicely, and concludes with a very appropriate chapter on produce terminals and the destinations of the cargoes. All told, another fine effort from Jeff Wilson, and as I have said before, kudoes to Kalmbach for continuing this very useful series of books.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Upgrading another old model

I have written a number of previous posts about restoring and upgrading older HO scale models, to an extent that I can operate them on my layout alongside newer (and usually significantly better) models. These have ranged from Athearn metal box cars, through Thomas Trains metal tank cars, and several other models of various kinds. You can readily find them by using “upgrade old model” as a search term in the search box at the right of this paragraph.
     The one I am writing about today is a model I always had wanted to acquire as a young modeler, but never did: the Ulrich white-metal model of the “War Emergency” 52-foot gondola. Though lacking some details that would be expected today, it does have all the main dimensions and features of the prototype. Moreover, though it has cast-on sill steps and grab irons, it also has nice stamped sheet metal ends, permitting both sides of the end to have a proper appearance. Of course I know that Tichy now offers a kit for this car, a kit which results in a far better model. But I wanted to have one of the Ulrich versions also.
     My opportunity arose when Chuck Hitchcock was selling his rolling stock, in connection with tearing down his layout. There was one of the Ulrich gondolas in the list, and I signed up to buy it immediately. This acquisition doubles my interest: not only is it the Ulrich model I had long wanted, but I have immense respect for Chuck and his accomplishments in, and contribution to, the hobby. I looked forward to this car becoming part of my car fleet.
     Here is a photo of the model as it arrived from Chuck. Ii is intact in every respect, and an immediate candidate for service, so I looked to to see what changes I might want to make.

I realized right away that there is a problem with this model as built. It has the hand brake on the car end, but nearly all these “Emergency” cars had drop ends. That, of course, precludes mounting the hand brake on the moveable end. It is also has a pretty clunky white metal hand brake mechanism and wheel. I thought I could do better.

     What did the prototype look like? The Santa Fe bought two classes of these cars, classed as GA-61 and GA-63. Here is how the hand brake was arranged on the car side. As Santa Fe  nearly always chose in those days, the manufacturer of the hand brake was Ajax. Note also the retainer valve on the car side.

Note also that the Dreadnaught end is reversed, that is, that the major ribs or bulges face into the car. This was common on gondolas, as it was believed to be a stiffer end this way. Finally, there is a brake step, positioned level with the floor so it will not interfere with loads when the drop end is down.
     You can see in the photo above that the brake wheel lies in a plane parallel to the car side. A view from the other side of the car shows that the mechanism was mounted to a flat plate. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you like.) This flat plate is visible in the photo above, too, as a dark shadow below the brake mechanism.

(Both photos are from the Santa Fe, courtesy of the Richard Hendrickson collection.)
     For those interested, there is considerable information available about both the “Emergency” gondolas as a whole, and about the Santa Fe cars of that type. For the former, an excellent article by Ed Hawkins, in Volume 28 of Railway Prototype Cyclopedia, both illustrates and tabulates all the “Emergency” gondola designs of World War II. For the latter, Richard Hendrickson provided detailed coverage in Santa Fe Open-Top Cars: Flat, Gondola and Hopper Cars 1902–1959, part of the Santa Fe Rolling Stock Reference Series, Volume 7, published by the Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society, 2009.
     My modeling choices to upgrade this model began with a decision to replace the original Ulrich hand brake parts with a better Ajax mechanism, and a good wheel (note how lacy is the prototype wheel!). I will return to that modeling process, and other detail work, in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Electrical wars, Part 15

It occurs to me, in writing the title for this post, that it must say something about me and model railroad layouts, that I am up to the 15th episode in describing my efforts to conquer electrical problems of all kinds. But that is just how it has gone. For anyone interested in previous posts in this series, the easiest way to find them is to use “electrical wars” as a search term in the search box over at the right of this top paragraph.
     There were two electrical faults which showed up in my last operating session, one from some recent trackwork, but the other from track first laid (and powered) over 20 years ago.The event in more recent track occurred in a single rail within a three-way turnout, which had operated properly for several years, but suddenly became intermittently dead. This problem was easy to fix: I simply soldered a short wire to connect the offending intermittent actor, and the appropriate stock rail. In the center of the photo below, you can see the two ends of the wire because of its orange insulation. This will all be painted dark brown, of course, but I wanted to photograph it so it was evident what I did. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

In the background is the Common Standard No. 22 depot at Santa Rosalia on my layout, familiar to SP modelers as an American Model Builders kit (and a delight to build, as I described in a series of posts awhile back; the conclusion is at this link: ).
     The first of these problems, the straight track that has been in place over 20 years (actually closer to 30 years) was a slightly different problem. Try as I might, I cannot find a loose wire or cracked solder joint or any other explanation for intermittent power to this track. But whether or not there may be a  problem, the simplest procedure is to simply place new feeders to the track in the offending area. The arrangement of gaps and feeders are the same as in the second of two diagrams on a prior post (you can find that post at: ). I will repeat that description here.
     Here is how the layout was originally wired, with power routing through turnouts at the end of sidings. A full gap was cut at the center of sidings like this (using conventional symbols for gaps and feeders).

Especially if it is a long siding, it can become tedious to have to run down to the other end of the siding all the time, so that a turnout can be powered for movement in the middle of the siding. One also depends on the turnout effectively routing power every time. The simple answer, of course, is to replace the arrangement above with this:

     The first step is to cut the gaps, which I did with a cut-off disc in a  hobby tool. Then holes need to be drilled for the feeders that will be added.

Lastly, the wire feeds are soldered to the rails at each location.

     These additions should correct this track power problem, though since it has been intermittent during operating sessions, I can’t be certain yet. Next step will be to operate over the area as much as I can, and see if I can still obtain a failure. Of course, given the perversity of layouts (you know, of course, that they can smell fear), the next failure may simply wait for another operating session.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Riding a tourist train

I am not generally a huge fan of tourist train rides, partly because railroad museums often provide train rides that are pretty darn short. I realize that the 99.5 percent of the general public that is neither railfan nor modeling oriented wants it that way, and I accept that the museums have to cater to the bulk of their audience. But in any event, though I do enjoy them from time to time, it would be fair to say that I would usually just as soon pass on tourist trains.
     That said, there are occasions when it is fun and even interesting to take a tourist train. I recently did such a ride, on the California Western Railroad, westward out of Willits, California. The Cal Western or CWR was for many years a serious lumber operation, originally carrying redwood logs from the mountains to the large Union Lumber mill at Fort Bragg on the Pacific coast, and also bringing finished lumber from Fort Bragg over the coast range to Willits for interchange with the Northwestern Pacific of the SP. The CWR in those days was actually a division of Union Lumber.
     But closure of the Fort Bragg mill left the Cal Western with little to do beyond its existing tourist operations. These have been in place for decades, originally using an ancient Mack railbus. Because the railbus had smelly fumes, the nickname became the “Skunk Train,” and eventually that name became embedded in the Cal Western’s publicity, as it remains today. The logo, as included on the Wikipedia entry for the California Western, is shown below. As the logo suggests, a variety of motive power, steam and diesel, has been used to pull passenger cars, though one old bus, CWR’s M100, still runs.

     The occasion for my taking a ride was a fund-raiser for the Mendocino Land Trust. The trip was to include quite a nice lunch in the middle of the trip. Shown before departure at the former NWP depot in Willits is the train, two conventional coaches and a roofed open-side car.

We rode from Willits up to a new picnic site west of the summit of the range, a place named Crowley. Formerly a maintenance location, a meadow was created by cutting brush and trees and mowing the weeds. In this photo, the musicians for the lunchtime entertainment are detraining. The information tent for Mendocino Land Trust can be seen at left.

The hot lunch (along with extensive hors d’oeuvres) was a gigantic paella, prepared in the shallow pan you see in the photo below. The smaller dish in the foreground is a vegetarian paella.

     Our train remained on the main line during lunch. Here you see the power, a modified GP9, reportedly former SP GP9E no. 3411, now CWR 64.

     The trip was a fairly brief train ride (not a lot over an hour each way), and an excellent lunch selection which included complimentary wine or beer (the latter donated by North Coast Brewing Company of Fort Bragg). Moreover, our ticket prices included a nice donation to the Mendocino Land Trust, which has been instrumental in preserving old-growth redwoods in the Coast Range, including a tract surrounding some of the California Western trackage. We were more than happy to make that donation. So there are times that tourist trains can be a worthwhile experience, and this was certainly one of them.
Tony Thompson