Monday, August 20, 2018

An excellent new Southern Pacific book

Just now available is an excellent new book from Shade Tree Books. Author David Coscia’s title is, Southern Pacific in the San Fernando Valley, 1876-1996. This is a big book, 480 pages, hardbound in a horizontal format, with approximately 8.5 x 11-inch pages. The cover image is a Rod Aszman painting of No. 60, the West Coast, passing Burbank Tower.


Cover price of the book is $89.95, and among other places, it is available (or will be shortly) on the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society web site, at this link: https://sphts.myshopify.com/ . You should also be able to find it at hobby shops and railroad museums that sell fine railroad books.
     It might seem like a quite restricted geographical area, but in a way, this frees Coscia to delve into considerable detail. As he did in his 2011 book Pacific Electric and the Growth of the San Fernando Valley, he provides extensive historical information about the development and industry of the San Fernando Valley, which gradually in the 1950s became filled with private homes as Los Angeles suburbs, after a 19th-century beginning as a farming area. Even as late as 1950, the outer (northwestern) end of the Valley remained agricultural, but that was soon overwhelmed by housing developments.
     The depth of SP detail is considerable here. Author Coscia has included many accident reports and other kinds of incidents, quite a few of which provide interesting insights into the methods of the time. A number of maps by Jonathan Signor enliven the text. In addition, it’s a pleasure to see the fine photographs of Ralph Melching included, along with numerous aerial photos of the area from different periods. These visual resources really enrich the text.
     It is probably unavoidable in a book as dense in information as this one, that a few errors crept in, though none are of great consequence. Only the seriously detail-focused would quail at the identification of a Class P-5 Pacific as an F-5 (a misreading of the photo) on page 197, or mis-identification of the PFE ice plant in the background at Taylor Yard (page 213) as being the diesel shop. As I said, these hardly detract from the overall quality.
     I should probably confess to a special intensity of interest in this book, having grown up in the area described and having family history there too. As a young teenager, I often rode my bike down to the depot in Glendale, and when I got a box camera, began to take photos. Below is an example, with Consolidation 2827 on the point of the Burbank Local. They were stopped behind the caboose you can see at right, and the engineer told me the train ahead, No. 831, had a red board and everyone would just have to wait. It’s a better picture than almost every train shot I took in those days — for the simple reason that the subject was stationary!


A year or so later, I had the marvelous opportunity of riding a short ways in the caboose of the Burbank Local, but that’s another story.
     I really am enjoying this book and have already learned a lot of information I didn’t know. David Coscia is to be congratulated on an excellent book, and I recommend it highly.
Tony Thompson

Friday, August 17, 2018

Tank car loading platforms, Part 4

This series of posts is about kitbashing the Walthers kit no. 3104, the “Oil Loading Platform,” to make two platforms, each one single-sided (the Walthers kit structure is intended to be two-sided) and to accommodate a single tank car per platform. The first post (which is available at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2015/03/tank-car-loading-unloading-platforms.html ) was about the general need for platforms like this, and showed the beginning of my separation of the Walthers parts into two structures.
     The second and third posts continued the description of  developing these platforms. In the second post, I showed my two basic platforms, and described how I used the kit railings for the two separated platforms (see: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/02/tank-car-loading-platforms-part-2.html ). In the third post, I completed the platform intended for the winery in my layout town of Ballard, and showed it in place at that industry (that post is at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/02/tank-car-loading-platforms-part-3.html ).
     The second platform was intended to serve my chemical repackaging business on the layout. (I have discussed and explained this type of business in a previous post: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/02/a-chemical-repackaging-business.html .) Although it is in some ways just like the winery platform, shown completed in the third post, it also is different in significant ways. First, and most significant, this is an unloading platform, while the winery platform already completed is a loading platform.
     A second difference is that I planned to have the platform piping emerge from the ground, making some piping extending away from the platform itself. Third, I wanted to use the kit access stairway on this platform, and it extends some ways beyond the end of the platform. I gave some thought to using some kind of base for this platform.
     But first I had to complete arrangements for piping. As the piping arrangement worked out, the manifold connections were farther to one side of the drop-down walkway opening in the side railing. Since that manifold should be supported at the top of the platform, at the height of the top of the drop-down walk opening, I needed to extend the top bar there. I used a short piece of 0.040-inch square styrene “Microstrip” from Slater’s to match the top bar, then spliced it with a full length of Evergreen scale 2 x 4-inch strip behind it. (The Slater’s strip is close to HO scale 4 x 4.) You can see my extension in white in the photo below.


Of course, you might not need to do this if you were careful to align the piping closer to the drop-down walkway.
     Once I had the extension done, as shown above, I went ahead with choosing a base. I decided to represent the entire structure as placed on a concrete pad. This would tie all its elements together, and also further separate its appearance from the previously completed platform at the winery. For the concrete pad, I chose Evergreen “Sidewalk,” in 3/8-inch squares, their number 4517. Once I glued the platform to this pad, I could quickly add the pipes coming from the ground, and the stairway at the other end.


As you can see, all elements of the model are now supported on the single base, making it much sturdier overall. The base has yet to be painted a concrete color. You can also see the small white shims needed to fit the stairway railing to the railings on the platform.
     I decided to represent my three delivery pipes to be color-coded, and used colors I saw in an on-line article, namely two of them red and one light gray. I painted the pipes those colors up to the valves, but not onto the manifold above it. I then drilled each valve body with a #73 hole, to accept the wire I decided to use as hoses. (In fact, you can see the holes, if you click to enlarge the image.)


In this photo, the base has been painted a concrete color.
     For a high-pressure unloading station, as this is intended to be, it is necessary to model a set of three hoses to connect to the unloading outlets on an ICC 105A tank car. I have described this process in some detail and illustrated how it works in a previous post (you can read the post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/02/unloading-high-pressure-tank-cars.html ).
     For hoses I used no. 24 wire, with black insulation. I also used some 1/16-inch brass tubing to represent hose fittings; these slip onto the end of the stripped wire and are secured with a drop of CA. Then each wire was gently formed so that it draped over the railing.


The hose attachments are not as obvious in the photo above as I’d like, so here is a view from the other side, looking down into the platform. This is, however, not a view that will be available on the layout.


     With a coat of flat finish to make the appearance consistent, the rack was ready to take its place at the high-pressure car unloading spot at the Pacific Chemical Repackaging plant in my layout town of Ballard. Here we see it in place, though work remains to be done on the plant’s equipment in the background.


     It has been fun to research, understand and build an unloading facility for high-pressure tank cars, something I had wanted to do for some time. Now I have one in service.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Still more thoughts on frittering

I have written several posts over the years spanned by this blog, about the general topic of planning, and about getting things done. One obstacle for many of us, certainly including me, is what I call “frittering,” meaning occupying oneself with lots of little and moderately necessary tasks, instead of digging into big ones. (One example of a post on this topic is here: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2014/06/more-on-planning.html ).
     One thing that, at least for me, tends to generate frittering is a looming need to work on some big project, but there is some barrier, or series of barriers. Probably everyone knows this kind of situation: I need to paint the trim in the spare room, but first I need to buy the paint. Or first, I had better check if we have any of the old paint, and see if it’s still usable; if not, find the paint number so I can buy new paint. I should check to see if we have primer, too.
     But before I go ahead and get the paint ready, I had better make sure the scrapes and dents in the woodwork are patched. And to do that I need to buy some more plastic wood or other suitable patching material. And before I can do that I need to examine all those scrapes and see if any need deeper sanding or repair before I patch them. And before I start on that I better make sure I have fresh sandpaper of different grades before I start. And to do that I better survey the sandpaper stock in the garage . . . grumble, grumble.
     All those steps, and it begins to seem like a big mountain to climb. But then I realize, if I go look over the sandpaper stock, I will actually be getting started on the project. Once I’m underway, the project takes on a life of its own, and will keep going.
     This is a good example of a principle that is called “finding the next action” in something, and it can take a bit of a think sometimes, to realize what that “thing before all the other things” actually is. But often it is very positive to do so, because that great big project can actually get underway with something relatively small and easy (like checking on the sandpaper supply). And now you’re off and running.
     I use the “next action{ indirectly, too. I learned long ago that I hate to start modeling projects without all the needed detail parts and materials, because finding them missing when I’m actually working really brings things to a halt. Or at least it does if you don’t live near a local hobby shop. So I sometimes go to the opposite extreme and buy parts for projects that never get started . . . but I prefer that situation to the discouragement of having to stop work in the middle of something.
     Like most modelers, I recycle old kit boxes for parts collections and incomplete projects. Some of them have been in that use for quite awhile, as is evident from the box ends, revealing long-gone kits or companies, or obsolete box decorations. Here’s an example.


Many of the boxes have strips of tape used for writing the contents, indicating that they have contained a variety of things over the years.
     Is this about frittering? Well, yes, indirectly, because getting going on a project of some ambition requires that you make a start, however small, and whatever that takes. Frittering is really a way to kill time while avoiding that big project (and looking busy . . . how can I start that big project while I’m tied up with this other stuff?). You have to recognize that you are kind of constructing a reason why you can’t get to the starting line on that project. That killing of time can include a long exploration in finding the “next action.” So I have found that I had to learn not only to plan thoroughly, and find the next action for each step, but also be sure not to get lost in the planning — or lost in the little steps before getting to the big steps in a project. That can easily turn into frittering.
     I might paraphrase an old saying, and remark that “the price of avoiding frittering is eternal vigilance.” I would hate to have to admit how often I've realized I was happily diddling along with some little project, thereby postponing the bigger one, and actually it was just frittering. So if you’re like me, keep your eyes open, and check from time to time to be sure of what you’re really doing.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Video of an operating session on my layout

Last spring, one of the young operators in our area, Adam Palmer, did a school project to make videos of operating sessions at some local layouts. All have now been posted on YouTube. Mine is at the following link (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1vlr50Htrw ), and in addition you will readily find Adam’s other videos, of Ed  Merrin’s Northwestern Pacific, Bill Kaufman’s State Belt, Tom Swearingen’ Cal-P, and a pair of videos on Jim Providenza’s well-known Santa Cruz Northern. I have waited to post anything about the video because I wanted to be sure Adam had finished all the projects, beyond my layout.
     Adam had an interesting idea of how to film these videos. He essentially worked an operating session himself, filming all the moves, and writing a script as he went along. He then had the layout owner narrate from this script, so that the entire operating session is explained and described by the layout owner, not by Adam. I think he did a great job of the video creation, and showed good angles of train movements and switching. If I had a criticism of the video of my layout, it might be the sound, which is often not very crisp and can be a little hard to understand in some stretches (including parts where I appear to be mumbling somewhat), but at least the script is clearly written.
     He began with the work of the Santa Rosalia Branch local, switching industries at Ballard and Santa Rosalia, such as this reefer to be picked up at the Coastal Citrus Association warehouse.


     After completing the work of the local train and returning to the mainline junction at Shumala, Adam then did the usual switching tasks there. These included putting together the cars for the Branch local for “tomorrow,” as well as switching the industries there, including setting out the car of lumber you see below.


     I had not actually realized what Adam intended, and when he set a date to come over and do the video recording, I was in the process of re-setting the layout from a prior operating session. So I created a kind of interim or partial session, using the cars then on the layout. Of course that didn’t matter for Adam‘s purposes, and he carried out the entire session very smoothly. He is a perceptive and fairly experienced operator, so had no trouble with the logic and procedures of doing an entire session alone.
     Anyway, I appreciate the considerable effort by Adam, to figure out how he wanted to film the operations, taking all the video, creating a script in essentially “real time,” and then all the editing to stitch it together into a whole. It’s a little long at 27 minutes, but it does give a fair representation of what it’s like to participate in an operating session on my layout. And you can’t ask for more than that.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Union Oil gas station, Part 2

In Part 1 of this topic, I described some of the corporate background and history of the Union Oil Company and its marketing look (see that post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2015/12/modeling-gas-station.html ). In that post, I identified the City Classics kit, the “Crafton Avenue Gas Station,” as the starting point I wanted to use. I have also delved into Union Oil in connection with the Union bulk oil dealership that I modeled on my layout (such as: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2015/09/modeling-union-oil-dealer-part-2.html ).
     Shown below is the kit as one would purchase it (this one is the upgraded version with more oil company signs — the red notice at mid-package announces this). The previous post showed the earlier kit package without the red notice.


     The first problem I encountered in preparing to use the kit is that the footprint of the building only just fits my space on the layout, without adequate (or realistic) space for the gas pump island and parking by the restrooms. Shown below is the actual layout space, between my stock pen at right, and Alder Street at the left. This street corner between Alder St. and Pismo Dunes Road, foreground, would be a classic location for a service station, so I will have to adjust the structure to fit.


     I decided I could readily kitbash the structure to fit. In particular, I decided I could cut down the two service bays to one. The way to do this is to use the panel lines already molded into the kit walls as guides. You can just discern these below (you may wish to click on the image to enlarge it). The critical wall piece is at top left of the photo, where the middle service door would be cut so as to match it up wit the end of the building, in effect cutting away the outer door.


 The two arrows show the selected panel line, which happens to lie at the midpoint of the leftmost windows in each door.
     This cutting deserves care and that means slow, attentive work, but it is not difficult. I used a razor saw. Note that the only critical part is the front wall, shown above. The back wall also needs to be shortened, of course, but is a plain brick wall and any trace of a cut will not be prominent. Here are my cuts:


I cleaned up the cut surfaces with a file before joining, but minimally so, as the saw kerf has already removed material. The main point is to make sure the cut surfaces are perpendicular to the front of the building. Then I make sure the edges to be glued are well softened with the glue, so that they can be pressed together to squeeze out any irregularities and make a good “welded” joint. Here is my assembled front wall:


     At this point, following the kit directions would mean assembling the building. But since stations like this usually had some kind of color trim, this would be a good time to plan for that. Searching on the Internet for photos of Union 76 gas stations does yield plenty of images, but the decoration scheme varied widely.
     Here are the general patterns as I read them. First, I have never found a vintage 76 station with any color trim around the bottom of the building (though many oil companies did paint this area with a company color). The mid-1950s photo below shows an example. This photo is from at least 1954, since that’s a 1954 model Chevrolet. It’s surprising that “new gasoline” is still being touted, as Union decided to call its “high-test" gasoline Union 7600 in 1947. Note also that the pumps are white, with a color halfway up the sides. Color photos show that this side color was always blue.


When color accents are seen on vintage 76 stations at all, they are an orange stripe high on the building (including the canopy, if one is present, as in the image above). A fine public-domain 76 image from the early 1950s was used by Wikipedia as an illustration of a gas station (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/76_(gas_station ); the tower is a feature of some stations built before World War II, but clearly the building is white, with a high orange stripe.


Noteworthy here is the “semaphore” traffic signal, classically associated with the City of Los Angeles in this era.
      I will figure on a high, orange stripe around my gas station, and will arrange it before assembling my structure.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Adding 40-foot flat cars, Part 3

I began this thread with a description of parts of my fleet of flat cars, and the desire to add some 40-foot flat cars with fishbelly side sills. One example is the USRA flat car design, which I had in the form of a very nice kit by Red Caboose. (My assembly of this straightforward kit is not being described, only the changes or extensions I have made, relative to the kit directions.) Then I followed that first, introductory post with discussion of several additional considerations on prototype details. You can read that second post at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2018/07/adding-40-foot-flat-cars-part-2.html .
     Before I begin this post, let me address an interesting question I received, that deserves a response. How many of the issues I am raising with kits for this car, would be relevant in a ready-to-run version (currently about all there is)? Obviously the issue of inadequate weight is the same — and has the same solutions. Whether one wishes to address the various detail questions, especially brake gear, is an individual choice, but the same changes certainly could be made to the RTR models.
     An important point in any freight car assembly, including these Red Caboose flat cars, is how you intend to install trucks and couplers. I really prefer machine screws for truck attachment, instead of the self-tapping screws in the kit. and accordingly tapped the truck screw hole 2-56, using a “bottoming tap” to get threads nearly to the bottom of the hole. I also dislike (based on experience) coupler boxes with press-fit lids, as this kit provides. I used the kit’s self-tapping screws for this job, after drilling out the lids, but this is not a great solution. (Whenever I do find myself having to use a press-fit lid, I generally use a Kadee whisker coupler.) Here you can see the 3/16-inch brass 2-56 screws in the trucks.


Personally, I do not run plastic wheels on my layout, so the wheelsets have been changed out to Kadee. These are not great fits with the kit truck frames and may be replaced with Reboxx.
     One point I should make before continuing is that Red Caboose, like so many manufacturers, has not only decorated this kit for actual owners of the USRA 42-foot design, but has added a whole bunch of popular railroads which never owned this car. That’s okay, it is just the reality of commercial products, but one should always check appropriate sources to know whether a particular railroad really did buy these cars. The best source I know of is a comprehensive article by Richard Hendrickson and published in Railmodel Journal (“USRA-Design 42-foot Flat Cars,” Vol. 8, No. 8, pp. 53–59, January 1997). The article includes an extensive roster of roads that owned these cars, as well as cars very close to the USRA design.
     One railroad for which Red Caboose decorated kits is Southern Pacific. But SP most certainly did not own any cars close to this USRA design. Accordingly any of the Red Caboose SP-decorated kits is just plain bogus. I bought one, mainly to save someone else from perhaps believing it was an accurate kit, and I will be repainting part or all of the sides. Here is how it looks, in stock form:


As I said, not close at all. And this car number,  42718, would actually be a member of Class F-50-9, a design which had straight side sills:


This actual car class is very accurately modeled by the Owl Mountain kit, cited in the first post in this thread. Obviously it is not remotely like the Red Caboose model. Well, that’s a little strong. After all, it is about 40 feet long.
     The Red Caboose car is also lettered as Class F-50-4, of class of not at all the same appearance, and an entirely different number series to boot. So this lettering is totally imaginary. Like I said, understandable as a commercial strategy, but no connection to prototype modeling.
     I simply painted out the Southern Pacific road name and number, and other SP specifics, such as the class identification. Then, as I mentioned in Part 2, I chose to letter the car for Chicago & North Western, a road that owned 1200 or so of these cars. I had some old Champ decal road name sets on hand, and chose a car number from the 1925-built series of 500 CNW cars, numbers 41501–42499 (odd numbers only). Here’s my ex-SP model, prior to weathering the deck.


Note that I have added a brass (Precision Scale) brake wheel, soldered to brass wire, to make a durable vertical-staff handbrake.
     Last came weathering. I have expounded elsewhere about flat car deck weathering, and that discussion will provide background if you like (that post is at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/05/weathering-flat-car-decks.html ). I used the same method here. One point to recognize: many prototype photos show that although flat car decks were not painted, the deck edges often did get painted when cars were repainted. So feel free to leave the kit paint on the plank ends above the car side. The two cars with decks weathered are shown below.


     At this point, reweigh and repack data need to be added, but there is nothing noteworthy about those well-documented details, so I will leave the project here. I now have the two additional flat cars I wanted, to diversify further my fleet of flat cars.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Terrific new book on freight cars

I have just received my copy of Steve Hile’s new book on UTLX tank cars. It is a superb collection of information and photos, and anyone interested at all in steam era and transition era freight cars will find it both interesting and most informative. The publisher is Speedwitch Media and the cover price is $85. The cover is shown below. You can purchase the book online at the Speedwitch site, www.speedwitchmedia.com .


This is an 8.6 x 11-inch hardbound book, with 278 photos and 36 drawings (complete cars and car details) in its 246 pages. It covers the span of time from the beginning of the 20th century, to 1952.
     Why is this book important? For one thing, in 1950 the UTLX fleet was the largest group of tank cars in North America, with about 38,700 cars. General American, then the predominant leasing company, was right behind at 37,500 cars, with Shippers Car Line (the leasing arm of American Car & Foundry) a distant third at 7,500 cars. (The largest railroad fleet at that time, Santa Fe, was a mere 3,570 cars.) Within the UTLX fleet, one design type, the Class X-3, comprised about 18,000 cars, nearly half the fleet, though these cars were of several different sizes. A car fleet like this simply begs to be described and understood.
     Union Tank Line, as most readers know, was an important component of the Standard Oil trust before its breakup in 1911. Thereafter, Union continued as an independent company, but like many of the “baby Standards” after the breakup, retained very cordial relations with its former Standard brethren. For decades after 1911, many refineries of Standard Oil descendants continued to be served almost exclusively by UTL tank cars.
     Steve Hile explains in the book that he did get some research assistance from Union Tank Car Company, still in business today, though most of their older records are long gone. They did provide a substantial number of excellent photos, nearly all of which are previously unpublished. The roster information in the book, a great assist to the prototype modeler, had to be pieced together from a variety of sources, because the original UTL data no longer exist. But the rosters are a great addition to our knowledge, even if a few gaps remain in the information.
     The book has only a limited amount of color photography, though for subject matter which was painted black, this is not a serious limitation. Photographs in the book are printed at a size which is very helpful for studying details. I show below a sample spread across two pages (pages 86 and 87), and you can see the point I am making.


     There are so many things that a tank car enthusiast can learn in this book, more than I could begin to present here. But I will show one example of a favorite photo in the book, taken at Frankfort, Michigan about 1950. It shows a workman placing the sump pipe into a tank car for top unloading at an oil dealer, using the standpipe behind him. Note that the standpipe has a red pipe and a green pipe, presumably for different products. In the foreground is a 1947 Ford truck, lettered for Standard Oil of Indiana, which may have brought the workman to the site. (The photo is from the UTLX Collection.)


     In his acknowledgements, author Steve Hile credits the late Richard Hendrickson with getting him started on an interest in UTLX cars, as well as supplying information and photos for the book. The result of Steve’s work is a book that Richard would have been delighted to see. It is exactly what he believed the hobby needed: complete and accurate information on the prototype.
     This is a great book for freight car people, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Publisher Ted Culotta of Speedwitch, along with author Hile, deserves great credit for bringing this book to us all. Warm thanks to you both.
Tony Thompson