Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Figures, Part 9

I have written a number of posts for this blog about the use of HO scale human figures on the layout, and this one is part of that series. You can readily find the previous ones by using "Figures" as a search term in the search box at right. The previous post in the series, number 8, can be found here: .
     The present post is about completing an idea I initially had many years ago, when my current layout was part of a larger layout in Pittsburgh. When I built the town area of Shumala (then called Jalama), I included a plaster rock casting representing a cliff toward the right edge of town. It’s just barely visible in many photos of the area, such as the one below. The cliff is between the billboard and the tower at right.

The view above doesn’t show it too clearly, though it represents the familiar background of that part of the layout. Here is another view of the cliff, near the tunnel entrance where the Santa Rosalia Branch leaves Shumala and heads for Ballard. The cliff is just to the right of the tree.

     The reason I included this somewhat sheer cliff face, though a hillside would have been fine, is that in those days I was just about at the end of many years as a rock climber, and wanted to add HO scale climbers to this cliff. Preiser then made a set — their number 190 — of people climbing (the set can still be found on eBay), and I bought one back in the day. By the way, don’t confuse this set with another Preiser set that contains 190 unpainted figures, a coincidental matching of numbers.
     I should mention that in much of the 20th century, traditional garb for rock climbing (and mountaineering) in ordinary weather was knickers, as seen in the image below. This is me, in the Matterhorn area of Switzerland, more than 40 years ago.

The corduroy knickers I’m wearing in this photo, and the long wool socks, served me for a number of years climbing. This clothing gives far more freedom of leg movement than long pants, and is quite warm.
     Happily the Preiser set represents its mountain climbers as wearing knickers, so I was delighted to retrieve that set from my stash and begin installing some of the figures. After experimenting with a variety of arrangements, I attached the figures with canopy glue. Here is what I ended up with (you can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish).

     The scene represents short-route or “practice” climbing, in which one climber reaches the top of the climbing route (or routes), secures himself to the rock, and then belays successive climbers as they make their way up each route. Climbing a single pitch or rope-length like this is often called “top roping” for obvious reasons. You can see that the rope from the climber is around the waist of the belayer at the top, as would normally be done. As the climber ascends, the belayer passes the rope continually around his back, and as in this case, may simply let it trail down the cliff.
     Around the base of the rock, climbers waiting their turn for the route up the “inside corner” that is being belayed, are “bouldering,” meaning trying out a few moves unroped, without getting far enough off the ground to risk injury in a fall. An additional coil of rope and some backpacks are also on the ground; these come in the Preiser set.
     It was fun to finally complete this small climbing scene, and to revisit a few memories of my own days as a rock climber.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Another Kalmbach “industry” book

In recent years, Kalmbach Books has published an impressive array of books about railroad-served industries and the rail equipment involved in that service, most of them written by experienced author Jeff Wilson. The latest one is an excellent addition to the series. The cover is shown below.

As you can see from the banner at the top of the cover, Kalmbach regards this as part of their “Guide to Industries” series, and it’s a most useful kind of information.
     The automobile industry has long been a central part of railroading. Carriage of high-value cargo with time-value shipping naturally means a good rate of return, and railroads have long given priority to automobiles and auto parts shipments. This makes the industry interesting for modelers, and offers many ways in which the modeler can represent auto traffic.
     This book divides its topic into nine chapters. These cover the history of rail and auto traffic; manufacturing plants; automobile box cars;  auto carrier containers and trailers; open auto racks; enclosed auto racks; distribution and reload centers; auto parts cars; and operations. Though history is given its due, the chapter topics clearly show the relatively modern content of the book.
     The new Wilson book has several strengths. As always, access to the Kalmbach photo archives and to  many rail photo collections means that this book is very well illustrated, many of the photos rewarding close inspection for details. Wilson does his usual good job of boiling down an immense amount of information into the essentials for modelers, while keeping the writing interesting. It’s a pleasure to browse, or to sit down and read whole chapters. And there are a great many useful modeling tips.
     As I have posted before to this blog, there has been for some years a very valuable Walthers book, entitled America’s Driving Force, a book with a strong content of promotion for Walthers structure kits related to the auto industry, but also with a tremendous amount of good information (see my post at: ). This 1998 book is long out of print but is readily purchased on-line from used book dealers.
     Some of the material in the Walthers book naturally is contained in the new Kalmbach volume, but most of the new book contains fresh material, and helpfully for modern modelers, brings the subject up to the current era. Unfortunately for transition-era modelers like me, that means somewhat less information about our chosen era, bu the book is so solid and complete, that I would recommend it for modelers of any era.
     In recent months, I have presented several times a talk about how we can effectively model the traffic that our model railroads may (or should) carry. One of the industries I discuss is the auto industry, and I recommend in the resources part of that talk, and in the talk’s handout, both the Walthers book and this new book from Kalmbach (my handout for that talk can be found at: ).
     I believe all, or nearly all, modelers need to learn more about the industries the railroads served — and that includes me. That’s why I like this book. It is a distinguished addition to Kalmbach’s “Guide to Industries” series, and I strongly recommend it for modelers of any era.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, March 14, 2019

More loading docks for my industries

I have written previously about building loading docks for layout industries. Many kits for industrial buildings do provide for rail-served loading, but when one has a structure re-purposed from something else, or scratchbuilt, there may be a need to add some kind of loading dock or facility. I showed my basic construction method in a previous post (you can find it at this link: ).
     In brief, I simply build a styrene box. Typically I use 0.040-inch styrene sheet, scribed if intended to represent a planked dock, plain if intended to represent concrete. I simply lay out rectangles or whatever shape is needed, of appropriate size to make a scale 3-foot tall dock, then assemble with styrene cement, applying 1/8-inch square strips inside the corners. An example is shown below (I will say more about this particular dock later in the post). Part of the right-hand wall is absent because that part of the dock will be against a building wall.

Really, any dock can just follow this same idea, with different dimensions.
     As I’ve progressed with getting my last group of industries in my layout town of Ballard into service, one thing that emerged right away was loading docks. I had not worried about this part of the structures because the track alignment was not quite permanent, and I felt I should match the size and shape of any loading docks to the relative location of building and track. But now that track, Track 7 in Ballard, has been put into service (as reported in a recent post, which is located here: ), and suddenly these docks are needed.
     One of the industries that needed a loading dock is my machine shop, housed in a Quonset hut. I built the model from an ancient Tru-Scale kit, as I related previously, and in the post about it, I mentioned that I would build a loading dock after the track alignment was established (see the post at: ).
     For this business, I decided to build a concrete loading dock with a ramp for fork lifts. This is still a styrene box, but with ramp sides made as described in the post cited in the first paragraph of the present post. As I usually do, I made the ramp at a 1:4 slope, as seems to have been common.

    Next came painting these docks. The dock shown just above was to be concrete, and though it is no challenge to paint something using a model paint called “concrete,” I wanted to show some variation in color, along with wear, weathering, dirt, and so on. I used Model Master “concrete” as a base, but varied it in some areas with my own mix of a warm gray, about as dark as the Model Master color but a little warmer. When that was dry, I used Prismacolor pencils to make a few streaks and dirty areas, and finally used an acrylic wash in brownish-gray to blend everything together.
     The dock serves the machine shop, and because heavy parts may be handled, a fork-lift truck is appropriate to be on the dock at times. That’s what you see here.

In the background you see the adjoining industry, California Airframe Parts, in the form of a flat made from a prototype photo of the actual building  near the Oakland Airport. I described the prototype and the making of this flat in an earlier post (see it at: ). 
     For the wood-surfaced dock going to Nocturnal Aviation (the dock shown in the first photo in the present post), I used a medium wood color from Testors, and painted the concrete sides of the dock the same way just described for the all-concrete dock. Then I used Prismacolor pencils again to vary the darkness and degree of brown of individual boards on the dock.
     This dock is shown below in completed form, with some crates on the dock, a workman present, and a pickup truck backed up to the side of the dock.

     Adding these loading docks was essential for being able to realistically switch the industries along Track 7, thus a much-needed project. The dock design and construction largely mirrors previous loading dock projects I have done, so it was straightforward to carry out. And it has been fun to get these industries ready to go to work.
Tony Thompson

Monday, March 11, 2019

More layout embellishments

In earlier posts, I have talked about various layout improvements I have been making, large and small. The present post is about a couple of small ones, though I am happy to have them completed.
    One small project I developed was tie piles and rail racks, following SP company drawings for same (my post about completing my modeling is here: ; that post also has a link to the original post with prototype information on the subject). Here’s an additional rail rack, alongside the “outfit track” (as SP called tracks used for work equipment), along with a pile of ties.

That’s an Albrae Models SP water car just above the rail rack. These models were imported in the light gray color SP used for maintenance equipment after 1959, but since I model 1953, I repainted it boxcar red and relettered. I commented on the model and its prototypes in an earlier post (it’s at: ).
     I also built and installed some facilities for track cars, such as speeders, to get off the rails (SP called these “turnouts”), and there too, I used prototype drawings to design and build them. (My post about the modeling is here: ., and that post has the link to the prototype drawings too.)  One turnout not shown earlier is just outside the mainline tunnel on my layout (a common location for these turnouts on the prototype, for obvious reasons). Here it is, with the tunnel just out of view at right:

     One more change that I think helps appearances is the extension of the drapes that hang under the layout, below the fascia. I have expressed earlier my belief that black is the best color for drapes, because of the theatrical truism that black is invisible (if you’re interested you can find that post at: ).
     Using the black layout drapes from when the layout was in Pittsburgh, PA had not covered all the areas I wanted to cover in the present layout, though I had additional old drape sections not needed in the current size of my layout. My wife was kind enough to lengthen the drapes in use, with the material from the old drapes. I already showed in a previous post that one end of my draped area was extended to cover a wide area (here is a link to that description: ).
     I also wanted to deal with the area under my layout town of Shumala. The photo below shows the area with the old drape. Note that it ends before the end of the fascia at right (and note how the black simply reads as emptiness). Not obvious is that there is a large opening into the area beneath the layout, between the bookshelves and the fascia, and this of course permits viewing the various kinds of “stuff” stored under there. I would prefer to conceal that opening.

With the drape extension completed, not only was some of the shelving covered, along with that opening into the sub-layout area, but the drape now formed a continuous line around past the end of the fascia, as I had wanted. I think this is a distinctly more finished look.

     These small embellishments to the layout are welcome, and show the value of pursuing small  project along with big ones. I try to keep an open mind whenever I take as step back to evaluate the layout, and see if there are more of these improvements that can be done.
Tony Thompson

Friday, March 8, 2019

Union Oil gas station, Part 5

I have been posting a series of descriptions of my work in modifying and detailing the excellent City Classics kit for a “Moderne” gas station. These were clad with enameled steel panels, so sometimes called the “icebox” style. The most recent post, in which I completed the interior of the station office, can be found at this link: . Having applied the dark gray roof without cement, and having added some details from the kit to the outside of the building, I wanted to try a test fit to my concrete pad with driveways, as I described earlier (see: ).

The location here is at the corner of Pismo Dunes Road and Alder Street in my town of Shumala.
     In the photo above, the island with gas pumps is obviously missing, as is major signage identifying the station as Union 76. My first challenge was the gas pumps. These are provided in the kit as matching halves, which are cemented together and the seam cleaned up. Next comes the challenge of adding gas hoses. Slender black wire is provided in the kit for hoses, but I was disappointed in my ability to get it to assume a relaxed loop of a hose not in use. I decided to use No. 24 wire with black insulation, though this is probably too thick for 1950s hose, and No. 26 or 28 might be better.
     I began by drilling oversize holes at the top hose connection, and at the bottom where the nozzle would be. I used a No. 70 drill, which made it easy later to fit the hose pieces. I drilled a very short distance into the pump body perpendicular to the surface, then changed the drill angle and drilled upwards at about 30 degrees to the surface. I then cut some lengths of wire and experimented to get the hose shape I wanted.
     Next I painted the pump bodies dark blue partway up each side, in accord with Union Oil practice in this era (see a color photo example in my first post in this series: ). A detail of this photo is repeated below to show the goal.

      I also painted the hose attachment parts of the gas pump a silver color. The painting was followed by gluing on the “meter” faces for the pumps, supplied in the kit, using canopy glue, and also adding small “76” emblems as can be seen in the image above. Finally, the formed hoses were attached with canopy glue. Here is the result. The hoses look oversize here, but are less evident in the completed model.

This permitted me to proceed with the gas pump island. For the light support, I used brass rod instead of the styrene rod supplied in the kit, painted it white, and installed it and the light shade, and painted the base “aged concrete” and the light shade dark green. Along with the stand holding cans of oil, painted in Union orange or blue, it looked like this:

I also added a “Union Oil Service” legend, lifted directly from an on-line photo of a Union station, and glued it in place on the orange stripe of my station building. Note also the soft drink machine and the displayed tire, plus a stack of canned products in the office window. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     Progress is good on this project, and I should be able to wrap it up with just a little more work. I can then people the scene, add vehicles, and of course a major sign with the “76” logo. I will report on that in a concluding post.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Putting my Track 7 into service

The last segment of track to be put into service on my layout is the “back track” in my layout town of Ballard, labeled in maps as Track 7. It has been some time since I showed a map of Ballard as it now is, so I include one below. I should mention that this track plan was derived with little change from a town on Terry Walsh’s layout, as I described in a post last year (that can be found at: ). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

Track 7 is the uppermost track in this map, and has four industries along it.
     The first step in being able to use this track was to power the turnout that leads to it, because the turnout is not readily accessible for a hand-throw device (I showed the installation of the necessary switch machine earlier, at: ).
     With that switch machine installed and working, I proceeded to get the track spiked down and electrical feeders installed. I then prepared a first segment of this track for service, reaching to the nearest industry on the track. I showed that feature in a post about a recent operating session (see that post at: ).
     What the photo in the post just cited did not show was that most of the Code 70 track remained un-leveled and unballasted. A slightly different photo angle makes this obvious:

The large facility of Jupiter Pump and Compressor is at right, with the brass foundry in the center, and Santa Maria Tool & Machine is in the Quonset hut beyond it (modified from a Tru-Scale kit!). 
    An immediate need was to level the track over a somewhat uneven landscape beneath it, and get it ballasted. I usually use scrap ties under whichever edge is low, and can quickly and easily file down the thickness of such a tie to get the right height. A small spirit level is essential here. Once the track is level across the rails, even if somewhat undulating along its length (it’s an industrial spur, after all), I apply some matte medium to the spacers to help glue them down before ballasting.
     The track shown above, ballasted only as far as the foundry, next had its leveling completed for the full length, and then was ballasted to the end. Here is a view in the spirit of the one above, looking along the track, past the Quonset hut. In the middle distance is California Airframe Parts, in the form of a flat that I described a few years back, taken from an actual building near the Oakland Airport (that post is here: ). 

A track bumper was installed at the end of track (just visible above), using an Alexander Scale Models #511 Hayes bumper, before completing the ballast.
     The view above has an angle that may be misleading. Below is a more overhead perspective, though this particular view is not available from the layout aisle without something to stand on. The greenish-gray building at left is the kitbashed “semi-flat” that I constructed when my layout was in Pittsburgh, and I described my approach to its construction in a post some years ago (you can read it at: ).

You can see that there is a stub of pavement extending off the main road (Bromela Road), and this stub will be extended across the track. The road surface will have to be adjusted so the road crosses the track at grade (at the moment the track is well above the road), but that’s a subject beyond getting this track into service.
     I am pleased to finally be able to use my Track 7 and to be able to switch its industries. Several of the structures need loading docks, and obviously the area is unscenicked outside of the track, but those are separate topics. For now, I am enjoying being able to operate on this part of the layout.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, March 2, 2019

How were SP branch lines operated?

I am interested in how branch lines were operated (my personal era being the transition era), because my layout is predominantly a Southern Pacific branch off the Coast Division main line. There isn’t much traffic on the branch, so it is served by one or two local trains a day. It does not have any scheduled trains, in common with most SP branches, as shown in division timetables.
     Recently an acquaintance (who shall remain nameless) said to me in a firm voice, “SP branches were operated under yard limit rules.” That means Rule 93. I was surprised at the generalization in the statement, but realized I didn’t know whether it was true for any branch lines, or true for some, or true for all. I first thought to check my 1955-edition SP rule book, and it simply gives a pretty standard version of Rule 93. There is no mention of branch lines. Here is the rule book statement:

     This is subject to Rule 81 or Rule 513, which are similar rules; Rule 513 is for operation in Automatic Block Signal territory. Rule 81 is the foundation of train movement rules. You can see below that it is the first rule in that section of the rule book.

     As I suspected from the start, the operation of branch lines would be spelled out, not in the rule book for the entire railroad, but separately for each division. And this might or might not be included in employee timetables for a particular division, but would certainly be included, if in force, in division Special Instructions publications. Here is an example of one of these, dated 1953, which were (as I understand it) issued in concert with new timetables, but only whenever revisions were made.

     Looking through lots of these for SP Pacific Lines divisions, my conclusion is that although a number of SP branches were indeed operated under yard limits, most were not, including some pretty long ones and a few rather short ones. (For example, the Kentucky House, Friant, Schellville, Oakdale and Ione branches, all quite long, were not in yard limits.) But although yard limits for each subdivision are spelled out in the Special Instructions only, they are always visible also in the timetable. Here is an example from Coast Division, the San Bruno Branch.

This branch left the main line essentially at San Francisco Yard (usually called Bayshore) and was entirely in yard limits; note along the left edge of the timetable that the yard limits are shown.
     Some well-known and busy branches were also operated under yard limits, such as the Arvin Branch. Like San Bruno, it was very near a major yard (Bakersfield), and here is its timetable listing.

Here again, the extreme left edge of the timetable shows the extent of yard limits. 
     So anyone with access to an employee timetable can readily determine which, if any, branches on a particular division were operated under yard limit rules, in the way shown above. But the Special Instructions also indicate all yard limits on each subdivision, under a Rule 93 heading. For the Guadalupe Subdivision of Coast Division, within which my layout is situated, here is the listing:

Note that the Lompoc Branch is listed, but that only 0.35 miles of the branch beyond its mainline junction at Surf is indicated. This of course permits switching at Surf and use of the branch switch, without entering the branch outside yard limit rules.
     I conclude that my mythical Santa Rosalia Branch would likely not have been operated under yard limit rules, and train orders and clearances need to be issued to branchline trains for authority to operate. I do have SP-origin forms for both clearance cards and for train orders (see my description at: ), so am ready to proceed.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A dress-rehearsal op session

As I mentioned in a previous post, the San Francisco Bay Area is hosting a nationally-invited operating weekend in March, called BayRails. It has been held every two years, and this will be the eighth in the series. (My post mentioning my layout work in preparation for BayRails can be seen at: .) As further preparation, I hosted two operating sessions last weekend, as sort of a dress rehearsal for how the layout will look for BayRails, and how it will operate.
     Some kind of “test session” was especially appropriate, because I am in the midst of introducing several new features in the operation. Probably the most visible new feature is that the final remaining uncompleted track on the layout, Track 7 at Ballard, is now partly completed, and the crews had a loaded car to pick up at one of the industries on Track 7, the Union Brass Foundry (a Classic Miniatures kit). You can see the location of this track in my schematic map of Ballard in an earlier post (you will find it at this link: ). Here’s the pickup, from the foundry at left, just passing Jupiter Pump and Compressor at right.

     Something I want to get right is that I am still learning how the “layout clock” works best. I described in a prior post how I want this to work, including my preference for “actual time,” that is, a 1:1 clock ratio (that post is here: ).
     The use of a clock set to a particular starting time, even if 1:1 speed, allows me to choose which parts of the timetable for the main line are active. I have discussed previously the way I can fit my operating session time requirements into the actual prototype timetable for the Coast Route (see that post at: ).
     I have done this “time slot planning” for previous sessions, and once again, it worked well this weekend, with some small tweaks to the details. I also used a line-up to inform Shumala crews, an idea I’ve discussed previously: ).
     And last but not least, I introduced the blue-flag paper work that I described in a recent post, intended to make operators more aware of the presence of the flags (you can read my prior post on this topic at: ). As it turned out, there were no critical flag-time issues in this particular session, so I guess it wasn’t really tested. But I was glad to include it, and it will continue in future sessions.
     As usual this weekend, we had duplicate sessions on Saturday and Sunday, with two two-man crews each day. I calculate these to have been the 42nd and 43rd sessions on this layout in its Berkeley form (there were a couple of dozen sessions when I lived in Pittsburgh). It was especially nice to have a first-time visitor present to operate, veteran modeler Verne Alexander, and he formed a crew with John Rodgers. In the photo below, John is at left while working at Shumala, evidently puzzling over a challenge in the paperwork. The photo includes the layout clock on the far wall.

     The other crew was Seth Neuman and Jeff Aley, pictured below when it was their turn to do the switching at Shumala. Jeff was the conductor and Seth the engineer in this view.

     On Sunday, two new crews took on a session of the same pattern, which is what I usually arrange. On this day, one of the crews was Jim Radkey and Bryn Ekroot, shown below at Ballard on the layout, with Bryn at right. It looks like Bryn was still developing his switch list in this view, while Jim appears to be in the middle of a switching move.

     The second crew Sunday was Pat LaTorres and Ed Slintak. They are shown below when it was their turn at Shumala.

     These two operating sessions of course tested once again, as all sessions do, the trackwork, electrical arrangements, rolling stock, and scenery, but as I described, a few additional features were included (and tested) as well. I was pleased with how well it all worked, and I’m looking forward to BayRails.
Tony Thompson

Monday, February 25, 2019

Restoring a Chateau Martin wine car

I have from time to time in this  blog posted commentary about wine, both as an industrial commodity that was shipped by rail (see that post at: ) and also several posts about wine tank cars. (The latter are most easily found by using the search box at right with “wine” or “wine tank cars” as search terms.)
     In the present post I want to report about my restoration of an ancient Laconia Industries HO scale car kit, decorated for Chateau Martin wines (incidentally, pronounced “mar-tinn” instead of “mar-teen”).
     (I have mentioned the background of Chateau Martin before, including mention in the blog post cited in the previous paragraph. To summarize, the Chateau Martin company, owned by Eastern Wine Corporation of New York, shipped bulk wines from California to be bottled in the Bronx. For much more on Chateau Martin, I highly recommend the web page Jim Lancaster has put together. Here’s a link, if you haven’t already seen Jim’s compilation: .)
     The Chateau Martin cars, painted a vivid burgundy color, are extensively pictured on Jim’s page, but here’s a photo he doesn’t include, by Morris Abowitz at Los Angeles in 1964, from the Bill Sheehan collection:

These cars contained internal tanks and thus were classified as tank cars despite their external appearance; the Chateau Martin former express reefers became AAR Class BMT. Such cars were not refrigerated — they were essentially insulated tank cars — and had no ice hatches.
     With that background, let’s return to the Laconia Industries kit, with its correctly-colored sides. The “Laconia” name is interesting. There was in fact a Laconia Car Company, located in Laconia, New Hampshire, building prototype railroad cars, in the years from 1848 to 1928. In 1939, ads announced a new Laconia Industries HO scale model manufacturer, whose kit designer was the last car designer at the Laconia Car Company!
     In 1951, the company moved to Stockton, California. In 1955, it merged with Binkley Models of Inglewood, California, though the two lines each continued to be offered under its own name. In 1962 both went out of business.
     Laconia Industries was probably best known for their foil-printed car sides, with full color paint schemes lithographed onto foil,which was in turn bonded to cardboard car sides. Most of the cars so treated were billboard reefers of the pre-1934 variety, but there were a few exceptions. This Chateau Martin car is one of them, since it represents a paint scheme that ran into the 1970s. Shown below is an Internet photo of a Laconia kit box from the days they were in Stockton. Different kits had different box colors.

     This car kit dates from the 1950s at the latest, and though upgrading details on old models can be nice, I think a case can be made for leaving a car like this as much in original arrangement as possible. That meant I would only be correcting a few of the coarser details of the model. But one defect was glaringly obvious. The car corners showed that the car sides and ends did not meet cleanly. I don’t know what the original kit directions intended to be done here, only that the model as I received it isn’t okay.

     One option occurred to me right away. I could place a square strip, perhaps of styrene, right in that corner to fill the gap, and make it look far better. But then I would have to match the paint color. And if I could match the paint color, that would also permit touching up a few spots where the color on the foil had been nicked. So I tried to see if I could find a match.
     The color of this model is always called “magenta,” and it certainly does look like that color.  So a first cut at matching would be to find a paint that is in fact called magenta. As it happens, there is an acrylic point  from Acrylicos Vallejo or AV (for more on these paints see my comments at: ), their no. 70.945 in the Model Color series, that is called “magenta.” And it actually does match pretty well. This is to some extent luck, of course, but it works out in this case.
     With ability to match the paint, I decided to place the styrene strips to fill the car corners. What would fit in each of my corners was a scale 2 x 2-inch Evergreen strip, and I attached it with canopy glue. Most of these corners were nicely filled with this styrene strip, though one of them required some sanding of the strip before installing it. Here is the car at this point.

     Then I brush-painted those corners, and the result is below. You can see that there is some magenta overpaint onto areas of the black hardware, from painting the corners, but it was easy to touch up those errors with black when painting was done.

I also want to add some streaking of dirt onto the roof, but will leave the sides as they are. The fading with age of the Laconia kit sides is probably realistic, and the car can start serving on my layout in that form.
     Many older models in HO scale look fairly crude by today’s standards, but some of them have qualities that still look good. In my opinion, this is one of them, and I will enjoy seeing this car in service on my layout.
Tony Thompson

Friday, February 22, 2019

Powering turnouts

I have a general standard as to how turnouts are thrown on my layout. I want them to be hand-thrown wherever possible. Most of my layout is a branch line, and certainly turnouts on such trackage were hand-thrown on the prototype. Even switches on the segment of the Coast Division main line that I model would have been hand-thrown in my modeling year of 1953.
     But sometimes one may not wish to use a “standard” hobby ground throw. I have mentioned previously that I dislike the immense and out-of-scale size of Caboose Industries ground throws, and have replaced them with Bitter Creek ground throws wherever possible. (see for example my post at: ). But there are still times when I don’t want visitors to have to reach too far into the layout to throw a switch.
     I haven’t described it anywhere in this blog (and perhaps I should), but I have built rodding for two mechanically operated turnouts, engaged by push-pull handles at the layout fascia. This approach works well when you  have a straight line, perpendicular to the track, that reaches the layout edge. Here is how that fascia area looks:

The two push-pins you see are the handles for push-pull controls for turnouts in the back part of this area of the layout. They are recessed into the fascia so as not to be accidentally bumped or bent.
     But sometimes layout geometry can fight you on this idea. That is my situation at the part of my layout where the town of Ballard transitions to Santa Rosalia, and track makes a 90-degree bend. Rigging manual throws such as shown above in that inside corner really is not workable; operating rods all converge in one area. Moreover, there is limited clearance under parts of that area, due to staging and other things beneath.
     Those problems rule out the very nice Blue Point device, marketed by A-Line, which is an excellent design but a little too big for this location. And as I mentioned, the layout geometry at this corner works against a straight-line manual operating rod.
     Originally in this area, I decided to use some old twin-coil switch machines that I had retained from my layout in Pittsburgh, back in the 1990s. In a previous post, I showed how I concealed one such machine (see it at: ). The Kemtron machine I installed was old when I installed it in Pittsburgh, and by now it was really old.
     These twin-coil switch machines are totally reliable in my experience, and the power routing they provide with their auxiliary contacts is effective. But they do throw with a loud “clack,” and the switch throws very fast. Not really the best combination of characteristics.
     Stall-motor switch machines have been around for decades. I successfully used an Electroplumbing machine from American Switch & Signal on my layout in Pittsburgh. More recently the Tortoise machine (produced and sold by Circuitron) has become almost ubiquitous on North American layouts. But the Tortoise is a pretty big device, and wouldn’t fit under the layout area in question.
     I decided to try some of the newer servo-type switch motors, like the ones sold by Model Railroad Control Systems. (See their product description at: which includes ordering capability, and, if you like, view also the manufacturer’s product brochure [made by a company called MTB in the Czech Republic] at: ). Here is what it looks like. The contacts in the green area are the wiring connections. The red part is the slider that moves the throw bar of the turnout. The whole device is only 1.5 inches square and less than 3/4-inch tall.

This machine is not a stall motor, but has limit switches that turn off the motor when a preset movement limit is reached. You can choose the amount of throw; I found the 3 mm setting to work fine on HO scale turnouts. 
     I installed one of these motors right where the Kemtron twin-coil used to be. Here is a view of it in place, with both the power wires for the motor, and the auxiliary wiring for track power to the frog, all installed. I have a simple SPDT switch to control this motor.

The wiring coming from two sides is derived from the locations of connections to the prior twin-coil machine and are not optimum for the MP1, but they work. And by the way, this machine doesn’t have to be surface mounted; it works equally well mounted under the layout. This one just happens to be in an area where under-layout mounting would be a challenge.
     The switch motor, of course, is not exposed like the above photo when the layout is being operated, but as was arranged for the twin-coil before it, resides inside a maintenance building:

     I will use this motor as part of an upcoming operating session, and will see how it performs. But in my own testing, it seems fine, and its advantages of small size, easy surface mounting, and convenient wiring connections seem good to me.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Refreshing the layout

There is something I always think about — but often fail to act on — before operating sessions. It has to do with the state of the layout scenery. There are usually a few areas where work is “in progress” and ought to be completed, and always a few areas where the scenic materials have not, as we might say, “aged well.”
     But as I said, all too often I have thought about fixing such problems, but plain old didn’t get to it. Now for a new stimulus. This March in our local area, we are hosting a nationally-invited operating weekend called BayRails. Envisioning visitors from this audience of experienced layout owners and operators makes the maintenance topic, especially scenery, a little more serious.
     In a reminder last fall to all the BayRails layout operating hosts, our organizers Seth Neumann and Jim Providenza sent out a write-up of things that would be useful to be sure about before the event. These ranged from better safety briefings, to clean sinks, to putting away tools, but included some comments on the state of our scenery. To quote the document section entitled ‘broken scenery,’ they said “Take a close look. Scenery gets old, colors fade, trees get broken. Is it time to refresh things a little? How about the ground cover at the edge, at places where people congregate and rub against it? Is the ground a little too bare?”
     Well, this one hit home. I kind of knew I had some worn areas, but until I walked around the layout and looked for them, I did not recognize how much of a problem I had. As one example, here is an area in my layout town of Shumala, where scenic materials have worn completely off the top of the Masonite fascia. Note also the area just below the track, where some paper mache is exposed.

As seen below, adding some of the usual scenic material to this same area not only covers the bare spots but adds some needed foliage. The somewhat larger bush is made from Woodland Scenics’ foliage material (Dark Green, no. F-63), which is easily teased into as much volume as you wish. I like to include these kinds of shrubs as layout vegetation, somewhere in the size scale between ground cover and trees.

      Another area distinctly showing wear, also on the Shumala side of the layout, was to the north of Chamisal Road (that’s the edge of the road at far left). Here again, you can see some bare paper mache in places.

I did a similar fix as with the first example, using scenic materials on hand, mostly Woodland Scenics, but some other makes too. (The tank car had been switched to its destination by this time.)

Then of course there are always other things needing fixing or repair. I noticed just the other day that one of the pit rails in my turntable had escaped its bonds. It’s the right-hand rail below.

This merely requires a little CA in the right places, re-curving the rail to the right arc, and placing a weight on it while it thoroughly sets. Not difficult, but certainly necessary — if we are to use the turntable. 
     All of these kinds of repair or upkeep are quick, simple, and effective. I must remind myself to do more of the same in the future!
Tony Thompson 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Timetable planning for operation

This post amplifies some topics I have discussed previously in my blog, having to do with how I have evolved my use of a timetable for operation of my layout. My layout is set within the Guadalupe Subdivision of Southern Pacific’s Coast Division. As I described in an earlier post (you can read it at: ), I made a modified timetable just for that subdivision.
     I explained in one of my Model Railroad Hobbyist (MRH) columns how I constructed all the various parts of my timetable, removing some station names from the actual Timetable 164 of September, 1953, but keeping the actual train times. I showed this as Figure 12 in the issue for October 2014 (you can download or read on-line this or any issue of MRH, for free, at their website, ).
     I also wrote a kind of introduction to that column for the blog, a post which can be found at:  Reproduced below is that compacted timetable.(You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

When we use this timetable, we refer to the clock in the layout room, which operates at a 1:1 ratio (that is, normal time rate) but is set to the desired starting time for the session, independent of actual time in the world.
     What is important in this timetable for my operation is that it contains trains I cannot run (a realistic Daylight or Lark would have to have a dozen or more cars, and  I simply cannot stage that big a train), or trains I can only run occasionally, such as the mail train, nos. 71 and 72, which was only occasionally during the year small enough that I can operate it. What does that mean?
     First, it means that I can set an operating session to start and finish (on the layout clock) outside the times in which those inconvenient trains would run. So, for example, I can operate a morning session, and would start it at 9:20 a.m., because at that time, no. 72 has just passed. However, no. 99 will be along about 12:30 PM, so either we would need to finish the session in three hours (usually it would take a little longer), or I have to issue a train order that 99 is running late. The morning schedule also includes through freight no. 914, though like most Coast Division freights, it often runs a little late. I might add an extra train or a second section of 914.
     These considerations mean that a crew working at Shumala, the junction on my layout between the Coast Division main and the Santa Rosalia Branch, knows at about 11 a.m. what train this is, and in fact they have been expecting it; from the example just given, it would be no. 914.

     A second option is an afternoon session, which would conveniently start on the layout clock at 1:50 PM, at which time no. 98 has just passed. This means that through freights nos. 912 and 913 would both pass Shumala during a normal session, but no passenger trains during the session. An even more “open” session can be conducted in the evening, say starting at 6 PM. Now the two freight trains that will operate are nos. 915 and 918, and there is no looming first-class train coming at us.
     There will normally also be one or more of the Guadalupe Local and/or Surf Turn trains passing by on the main line, and these usually drop off and pick up cars at Shumala, the interchange point for the branch line to Santa Rosalia that makes up most of the layout.
     So for any session, I need only to tell the operating crews whether it is AM or PM on the layout clock, and they can consult their timetables to know what to watch for on the main line. They may also be helped by having a line-up passed to them by the Shumala agent, as I described in an earlier blog post, which is at: .
     These time slots help define how I can efficiently operate my layout, subject to actual SP train scheduling, yet working within the constraints of my layout capabilities.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Union Oil gas station, Part 4

This series of posts is about modifying a City Classics kit for a service station to fit my layout and to serve as a Union 76 gas station of the 1950s. The preceding post, Part 3, was about assembling the station building and preparing a pad for it with appropriate driveways from street level (it can be found at this link: ). Links to the first two posts on this topic can also be found in that Part 3 post.
     In the previous post, I showed the assembled building without rear wall or roof. But the important part about the building at that point is that I had kitbashed it to be smaller and fit better into the space on my layout. (See the post about the changes at: ). That means that not only the rear wall, but also the roof provided in the kit would need to be modified for the smaller building. I went ahead and did those modifications. Shown below is the building (complete with Union 76 orange stripe) and roof piece. The roof is obviously unpainted, and not glued on at this point, as the window glazing and interior need to be added.

You will notice here that I painted the frame of the office windows light gray, to suggest an aluminum window frame. I also painted the restroom doors dark gray, as I recall that being the case at Union stations back in the day.
     At this point, I returned to the kit directions to make sure that I did everything that needed to be done before gluing the roof. As I mentioned, the directions recommend adding the window glazing and also the printed interior walls and floor for the office area in the station front corner.
     I began by attaching rectangles of clear styrene provided in the kit, at each window opening, using canopy glue. (this is a great adhesive for this application, because it sticks really well, doesn’t attack styrene, and dries clear. (For further comments about the value of canopy glue, see my prior post at: .) I then attached the printed floor with canopy glue also. Here is the floor in place. Note that I have not yet cemented the building to its base.

     Because my gas station will be fairly near the edge of the layout, and accordingly visitors will be able to see into the station office through the large windows, I decided to add a counter to the back wall inside. This is just folded paper, with the original counter front moved outward. 

     When the interior walls were added, I also placed a desk by the front window.Then I added small rectangles of paper on the surfaces, and a few miscellaneous objects, just so that there were “things” in view. I also added some color to the back wall.

     Next the module shown above was glued into the building, using the flaps that you can see at each edge, using canopy glue. This completed the interior work I wanted to do.
     At this point, I was beginning to think about the personnel that I could model at this service station. Like most oil companies in the early 1950s, Union Oil had a standard uniform for attendants. Certainly in an earlier era, this uniform for Union Oil had been all white, pants and shirt. They had nicknamed it “Minute Man Service,” and here is an example of a sign publicizing it. (internet photo)

Later in the 1950s, there was a change to dark blue pants with the white shirt, and I don’t know when this change was made. But here is a 1959 sign showing this changed uniform. The hat has changed also. I think the blue pants looks good, and will adopt that for my service station personnel, though as I said, I am not sure the change had been made by 1953. (internet photo)

     Next in line for the detailing of this gas station is the gas pump island and some of the other details provided by City Classics in this kit. I will address those in a following post.
Tony Thompson