Saturday, July 20, 2019

Weathering a freight car for 1999

This subject, a freight car in 1999, may seem wildly improbable for a 1953 modeler like myself. But it was a challenge I took on for a friend, Seth Neumann, who models part of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999. He wanted to have a model on the layout of a freight car, quite old by 1999, which could be on its way to the Western Pacific Museum in Portola, California. He chose a Kadee PS-2 two-bay covered hopper, a Western Pacific car built in 1958.
     Obviously the first issue was how it might have deteriorated in service (externally) after some 40 years on the rails. Small (by subsequent standards) covered hoppers like the 2003-cubic foot PS-2 were originally mostly used for cement service, but were superseded in the early 1960s by larger-capacity cars, and many were re-purposed for other cargoes. The Southern Pacific, for example, reassigned many cars of this size to carry chemicals or rice. I know that at least some of the WP cars were similarly re-purposed. I decided to model that kind of car instead of a cement car.
     Shown below is the manufacturer’s photos of this model. Obviously work was needed to reflect its 40 service years.

     The first thing of course is the weathering degree. I decided to begin with acrylic washes to provide a base of general dirt. I then applied a light coat of gloss and applied rust streak decals. These were the same Weathering Solutions decals I used and written about before (see my post about them at: ), I didn’t want this to be too heavy or extreme, just enough to suggest a car late in its life.
     Next, I needed to deal with all the changes in car maintenance lettering over the years after 1958. Cars had to be reweighed periodically until the 1970s; cars with plain bearings like this car had to have them repacked periodically; brake gear had to be oiled and tested; and in the late 1960s there were ACI labels applied. I needed to reflect all these things. I’m not a historian of the post-1960 era, but will summarize below what I think I know (corrections or additions welcome).
     The ACI (Automatic Car Identification) labels were introduced in 1967, and it was mandatory for all railcar owners to apply them, although as late as 1975 only 90 percent of all cars had the labels. But by that time, it was already evident that the system could not continue. Dirt accumulation on the labels caused false readings, as did physical damage like scrapes. Railcar owners were supposed to have an active maintenance program for the labels, but that didn’t really happen. The system was abandoned in 1977, but labels, evidently applied with a really good adhesive, remained visible for many years after.
     In 1972, a  consolidated stencil was introduced by the AAR for air brake maintenance, and was called a COTS label (Clean, Oil, Test, Stencil) to record work that was done. This was a single black box, and was adopted slowly. In 1974, a two-box label that added lubrication information for the wheel bearings was introduced, and the Federal Railroad Administration made it mandatory for all cars. But the exact format varied from railroad to railroad. There is also a 3-box version used by some railroads.
     Finally, cars had been required for decades to be reweighed periodically to determine light or tare or empty weight, but as all-steel cars became predominant, weight variations essentially disappeared, and in the 1970s the reweigh requirement was eliminated. Of course this 1958 car would have been reweighed multiple times, and should display a 1970s date as its last one.
     As an illustration about these various elements, shown below is a  photo I took in 1981 in San Luis Obispo, California, of a car in a passing train. It’s SP 400502 (SP Class H-70-8, originally numbered 165077), and exhibits the color-bar-code ACI label, and one of each of the COTS stencil types, all in three adjacent panels. This car happens to be heavily cement-stained, but that wasn’t the look I was aiming for. Instead, as mentioned, I wanted to do more of a general service car.

You may also notice above, the ‘yellow dot” U-1 wheel label. These were the result of a 1978 program to identify safe (yellow dot) and “unapproved” (white dot) car wheels, and were mandatory for a short time, but were never required to be removed. They were often painted out or had COTS stencils put over them in later years, so I decided not to add a U-1 label.
     A variety of modern freight car decal sheets have some or all of these elements, so I dug into my collection and pulled out a few. Where do they go? Perusal of 1980s and later freight car photos shows the ACI labels, and COTS stencils especially, in all kinds of locations on cars (the photo above is definitely only one example). To illustrate this point, I can show photos of covered hoppers with the ACI label in the rightmost panel, in the second panel from the right, and in the third or fourth or fifth panel from the right. I just chose a few suitable places.
     Once I had applied all the rust streak decals, and the various special stencils just described, I went back to the model with some acrylic paints and dry-brushed things further to make sure the older elements (such as ACI labels) were suitably dirty, and to increase the “crud” buildup around roof hatches. Here is the model at this point.

     Last comes the issue of graffiti. I know many modelers truly detest this aspect of modern railroading, and have banished any hint of it from their layouts. But to me, it’s just plain old reality, folks. Modern freight cars without graffiti are as unrealistic, to my eyes, as modern freight cars with pristine paint schemes and no rust or dirt. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I know it isn’t universal. So I contacted the owner of this model, Mr. Neumann, and asked if he wanted some graffiti added. He said, “In 1999? Sure.” I just used felt-tip pens to approximate some of the lettering I have seen here in the Bay Area, not the full-car, many colors, shading galore kind of artwork, but just lettering, along with a few tags.

Incidentally, the word “Nesta” is Bob Marley’s middle name, and is frequently seen locally. It seemed to me that the other side might as well be different, so I added the tag “OAKT” that one sees being used to suggest Oaktown, the residents’ tongue-in-cheek way of referring to Oakland (sports fans will know that one of the Warriors’ jerseys in recent years was lettered “The Town” with the same idea).

     Remember, this car is supposed to be a retired car, on its way to a railroad museum for restoration and display. But hopefully it looks like it has some history.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Waybills, Part 65: Why the fuss

In the previous post, Waybills Part 64, I described the main reason I think a modeler might be interested in prototypical-looking waybills: for the same reason as having interest in prototypical-looking timetables or train order forms or switch lists, or for that matter, any other railroad printed matter. Here is a link to that post: .
     But as I noted in that post, this is only one aspect of the question as to why one might want to use prototypically designed waybills. There is a second aspect too: what do such waybills accomplish on the layout (beyond their appearance)? So in this post I will address that question.
     Of course, in one sense, all model waybills do what any car forwarding system does: direct the car to its destination. This is as true of the 1961-era Doug Smith car cards, as for any more modern version of car cards and waybills, and the same is true for any switch-list procedure. In that sense, there is nothing distinctive about “realistic” waybills.
     But when a switch crew, for example on a local freight train, looks at the paperwork for what they need to do, compare the following possibilities.  First, this is Allen McClelland’s minor 1970s modification to the original Doug Smith idea, described in Model Railroader in 1961 (“Card Operations,” Dec. 1961, p. 52). It’s a 3 x 5-inch card.

The blank car has been typed at left with car information, and at right, inserted into a taped-on plastic sleeve, is a waybill, also typed. It does give an origin and a cargo, but for a switch crew, most importantly gives the destination, the freight house at Ballard. (I used this system when my layout was in Pittsburgh, that is, prior to 1994.)
     On other layouts, a switch crew might be working with this:

This is the familiar four-cycle waybill, originally described in print by Don McFall (Model Railroading, Vol. 13, Fall 1982) and available commercially from a couple of sources. It only gives a destination and a cargo, though origination points could be added. Car routing could also be added, though I have rarely seen that done. The particular destination shown here is actually a staging yard.
     Neither of these, of course has resemblance to the prototype waybill (the point I made in the preceding post), nor does it contain the kinds of information in a prototype waybill. I have discussed prototype and model waybills in a number of blog posts, and also in published articles on waybills, such as my update in the January 2018 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH (you can download that issue, or read MRH on-line, for free, at their website, ). So I will just summarize.
     Shown below is an example of the waybills I use in operating my layout, continuing with the same Milwaukee Road box car shown in the previous examples. This time the car is destined to the House Track in Shumala.

     Obviously the document above contains far more information than the preceding examples. It may be worthwhile to clarify what some of this information is, with the annotated example below (taken from the MRH article just cited), for a different freight car. Indicated on it are the various items of information, some of which identify the shipper and consignee, along with other parts of prototype waybills. (You can click on the image to enlarge.) Note that car routing is included. The car in this example is destined to the Team Track in Shumala.

You may also notice some hand-written marks on the bill, as was common with the prototype.
     This bill, as I mentioned in the previous post (see link in the top paragraph in the present post), has the virtue of looking like the prototype document. But in operational terms, it provides little more than the other two waybill types shown above (other than routing), and indeed, provides no more directional instruction than could a switch list. The example shown below can direct cars as required just as well as any sort of waybill.

The missing part of a switch list, of course, usually is car routing, if yard work needs to be done, but as you see above, a column on the list for “destination” can even do that part of the work.
     Operationally, then, a prototypical waybill does not do more to direct switching work than would the earlier, more primitive waybill types that do not resemble the prototype. But they have the advantage of realism, looking like an actual railroad document instead of a card you might draw while playing a board game. Whether that’s important to you is a personal decision.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, July 14, 2019

“There should be something there.”

The simple sentence of the title  is one I often heard from my friend Richard Hendrickson, when we discussed modeling. What did he mean? He was referring to smaller details, things that weren’t major features of a model, but nevertheless could be noticed. (For anyone who doesn’t know or may not remember who Richard Hendrickson was, I wrote a memorial post about him, which is here: .)
     One detail about which he used the sentence, was cast-on grab irons. He maintained that the lack of a separate, free-standing grab iron was secondary to the fact that there was a linear, three-dimensional object in the right location. I emphasize “right” because that was the key point about this principle. The viewer’s eye sees something in the right location and moves on — provided, of course, that it isn’t a major detail. And naturally, modelers may differ about which details are “major.”
     Back in the day, before resin models or high-quality styrene models from InterMountain and others (not to mention Kadee, Tangent, or others that we have today), freight car modelers mostly had to start with the simplified products available in the Athearn “Blue Boxes,” and their equivalent from other manufacturers of the time. And these had cast-on grabs and ladders, not to mention seriously oversize sill steps.
     I mention those details because they became a topic of genial disagreement between Richard and me. I invariably would carefully carve off the cast grab irons and install a wire replacement, but leave the sill steps because I wanted them to be durable. Richard, by contrast, would often leave a cast grab iron in place but without fail would replace the sill steps with metal parts, equally durable as the originals and far better looking. Here’s an example (you can click to enlarge if you wish):

This is Richard’s conversion of a standard Athearn 40-foot box into a 40-foot auto car. In hindsight, I think I agree with him that the cast sill steps were more obvious than the cast grabs.
     Of course there is no “right” answer here; the preferable decision was to replace both the grabs and the steps. And in later years, both Richard and I went back and completed the redetailing of most cars like this, so that eventually all had both wire grab irons and metal sill steps.
     But the idea that “there should be something there” had gotten established in my mind, and I soon realized that Richard applied it in a whole bunch of areas. A dramatic one was repacking data. For those not sure what or where this is, I show below a photo detail. This car has had old repacking stencils painted out over some length, then the new one added just above the sill, right next to the ladder.

 This car is SP Class B-50-28, photographed in the summer of 1952. (For background on what this repack data block describes, see my post here: .)
     Here is another example, a T&NO car showing a very different appearance of a paint patch for application of repacking data. These two photos are probably the extremes of length and height of such paint patches, though prototype photos certainly show a very wide variety of such patches. The good news here is that the modeler is free to pretty much do what is convenient. (detail of Paul Dunn photo, Sheldon King collection)

     Before there were decent decals of the 1-inch lettering used in repack stencils, it wasn’t clear what to do in representing “what should be there.” Richard for some years used N-scale dimensional data decals, cut to the right size and then applied upside down so there was no risk of reading them. Again, it would be nice to have “correct” lettering for repack data, but the most important aspect is that there be “something there.”
     I recently replaced a terrible-looking running board on a friend’s model, not a great model but a rather ordinary commercial product. Rather than install wire corner grabs, I followed the principal of there being “something there” at the corners of the lateral running boards (the new boards are styrene strip). I used shaved-off corner grab moldings from old plastic running boards. It looked like this before painting.

When painted, the intent is that the viewer’s eye will see something there at the corner, where there should be something.
     I don’t advocate this kind of modeling in general, though there are times it may be appropriate. But just like Richard’s upside-down data decals, things like this are definitely better than having nothing there at all, and do most of the job of convincing the observer that where something is expected, indeed, there is “something there.” I’d bet that most modelers can extend these examples well beyond what I’ve described!
Tony Thompson

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thoughts on John Allen, Part 2

At the risk of beating this topic from the past to death, I do have a few additional comments I would like to make about John Allen and his legacy, following my first post on the subject (that post can be seen at this link: ).
     Some additional aspects of his modeling deserve emphasis, and I will begin with another of the famous back-cover ads from Model Railroader of the 1950s. (There is an irony here, in a way, because all of these famous ads were photographed before John began his final version of the layout, the one that became so famous in later years.)

This ad was on the back of the February 1953 issue of MR. Allen had become a friend of Gordon Varney and photographed Varney products for the ads, but note, for example, that the Varney 4-6-0 locomotive in the background of this photo is not lettered. Like Varney’s diesel locomotives and streamlined passenger cars included in some ads, Allen did not actually run most of these products on his layout and didn’t letter them for his railroad.
     The ad shown was intended to promote the steel refrigerator cars spotted at the ice deck, and the stock car in the foreground. Note that the stock car is lettered for Allen’s railroad, the Gorre & Daphetid (intended to be pronounced “Gory and Defeated,” a too-cute name Allen was to regret for years), but the car was never available from Varney in that scheme. More about that in a moment.
     In the prior post, I mentioned the dinosaur switcher that Allen had invented, named Emma. He even used Emma in one of the Varney ads, here promoting the separately available power truck and twin geared drive truck from the diesel switcher shown at right, tellingly still lettered New York Central. This was the back cover in April 1953.

     In the previous post, I mentioned that Allen had a locomotive roster that was well weathered, and it was entirely steam (except for a gas-electric . . . and a streetcar). One of the illustrative photos is the one below, of the garden tracks of his engine terminal at Great Divide on the layout, showing an entirely weathered fleet. This photo, like some in the previous post, is from the Kalmbach book, Model Railroading with John Allen, by Linn Westcott (1981), and is used with permission from Andy Sperandeo. Some of these engines are modified from the locomotive kits of the day, others are modified brass imports. All had working headlights, a far from universal feature in those days.

You have only to read issues of Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman as late as 1970 to notice that very few others were accomplishing this kind of appearance.
     Some years ago I decided I wanted to have some sort of G&D freight car in my fleet, and I turned to the Varney ad you see at the top of this post to know what to do. I used some of the graphics Allen had published to make tiff images, and reproduced them on a laser printer, then applied them to a Train Miniature stock car (frankly, it’s a better model than the Varney stock car). Here’s the result, and you can compare to John Allen’s version in the photo at the top of this post. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

I will admit that this car is rarely part of an operating session, but it was fun to create, and occasionally appears on the layout.
     John Allen’s legacy is now receding into the past, and I know that most younger modelers have little interest in Allen’s layout or photographs. But he was one of the pioneers of much that we do today, from weathering to completed scenery to realistic operation and photography, and his accomplishments certainly have my respect. Of course I recognize the caricatures, some of which do grate a bit, and not all the humor is very funny; those things have to be balanced with the positives. And I guess it’s a kind of tribute that I have a G&D stock car in my own car fleet!
Tony Thompson

Monday, July 8, 2019

Modeling highway trucks, Part 5

Awhile back, I wrote a group of posts for this blog, about ways I have approached the modeling of highway trucks. One of the posts was entirely about semi-trailers, mostly Ulrich metal models, and in it I introduced a source I have really valued for truck graphics, Graphics on Demand (you can visit them at: ). You can read that earlier post at: .
     I followed that post with two additional posts, merely giving more examples of the truck lettering variations I chose to apply. Those posts can be found by using the search box at right, with the search term “modeling highway trucks.” In most of the models I used the Graphics on Demand lettering, which to be clear, is not a water-slide decal but is thin, clear vinyl that is peel and stick. With a coat of flat over it, you would find it hard to detect the lettering sheet.
     Previous posts have been about box vans and closed semi-trailers. I wanted also to model a tank truck, partly so I could represent another regional oil company. Of course there were many cargoes in tank trucks other than petroleum products, but that was one goal. I was able to find an Ulrich tank trailer on eBay awhile back, and cleaned it up preparatory to a coat of primer. I then added Reefer Yellow to the trailer. I think the prototype trailers were probably a lighter yellow, but decided to go with the bright color anyway. Photos of Signal highway equipment vary considerably in paint scheme details, so it does not appear that any one scheme is essential. Below is an internet image of one example, with a black underbody. This tractor is yellow, but Signal used black tractors too.

     With the tank body yellow, I applied the Graphics on Demand lettering for Signal, a little different from what you see above, bu certainly in the same ballpark. I also added Signal Gasoline emblems on the sides and rear. With a coat of flat over this, the glossy stick-on graphics pretty much disappear.

The trailer is shown here with a Mini-Metals International Harvester tractor, not one that I might necessarily pair with this trailer on the layout, but one that was handy for the photo.
     I have continued to develop other semi-trailers, as in previous posts. One example is the Denver Chicago Trucking body, which I showed in a previous post to have been painted with a blue roof by some prior owner (see that post at: ). The Ulrich roofs are held on with a single screw from the bottom, so I could remove it and repaint aluminum. This becomes an attractive trailer, with these original Ulrich graphics on the body.

I don’t know for sure that this company used aluminum (rather than green) roofs, but the photos I was able to find on the internet for this prototype were ambiguous, so I am going with this.
     One trucking line I especially wanted to represent on the layout was one that was very familiar to me, growing up in Southern California. It was Pacific Intermountain Express, or PIE. Their huge lettering on trailers, decades before the era of “supergraphics,” were really eye-catching. Graphics on Demand offer this scheme, so I added it to one side of a silver-painted Ulrich trailer:

This semi-trailer, pulled by an Ulrich cab-over tractor, is shown on Pismo Dunes Road on my layout.
     These new trailers add variety to my fleet of these models. I like to have a whole group of tractors and semi-trailers that can be mixed and matched on the roads of my layout, and can be varied from operating session to session. This is part of making sure the layout looks at least a little different every time people visit.
Tony Thompson

Friday, July 5, 2019

What can you say about John Allen?

Recently I was digging out an article from a Model Railroader (MR) issue of the 1950s, and happened to look at the Varney ad on the back cover. It took me right back. In those days, these rear-page ads were often built around John Allen photos of his layout. They were always interesting, and I know from speaking to lots of people who remember them, inspirational to many. I show an example below, and will comment.

This was on the back of the September 1953 issue of MR. It was promoting the newly released Varney flat car, and of course one of Varney’s mainstay products, the Dockside 0-4-0.
     Today, with many, many fine layouts around the country, it might be asked why this photo would be inspirational. The first reason is that the modeled area shown was completely scenicked, and also has quite a number of HO-scale figures. All you have to do is look at the layouts featured in MR in those days, or at the “Trackside Photos” section of each issue, to realize that this degree of completeness was pretty unusual. Secondly, it depicts a railroading scene, not just rolling stock, which of course was staged for the photo, but nevertheless dramatic. And third and not least, it’s an excellent photograph (Allen was a  professional photographer), and far beyond most of what was published in those days for layout photos.
    But even before the Varney MR ads, which began in June 1952, Allen was already a familiar name and image to modelers, because his photographs had created an impact in the hobby. His professional ability to photograph under strong light, to make it look like daylight, and to choose low viewing angles, along with his use of realistic sky backdrops, made the photos a revelation in that era. I will just use a single example, from Allen’s “tabletop” period, before he had a layout. In the 1950s, this was one of the most familiar photographs in model railroading. (Used with permission. Years ago, Andy Sperandeo told me I could use some Allen photos for this blog.)

The figures, incidentally, were mostly made by John himself, using wax over a wire armature. And yes, that’s another photo including a Varney “Li’l Joe” Dockside.
     This brings me to the point of Allen’s legacy. He died way back in 1973, so he has been gone a long time, but to older modelers, his memory is indelible. It is probably best captured in a Kalmbach book, assembled by Linn Westcott from Allen’s photos and with Allen’s own comments from many letters and articles. I show the cover below of the original 1981 edition. This was reprinted a few times, and eventually re-issued as a hardback in 1996.

It has now even  been re-issued in an “expanded” edition by Benchmark Publications, in 2011 (with a few added photos). There also exists a DVD of visitors’ film clips. You can buy any of these items from on-line sellers.
     In addition to his photos, the other matter that had made John famous was the engine house he submitted for the 1948 national model contest that MR used to run. It’s a marvelous structure, mostly made of cardstock with big windows and skylights for viewing the detailed and lighted interior, but it caused a stir (to put it mildly — you should read the letters to MR!) because John not only weathered it, but added bird droppings along the rooftop and model pigeons (though they are not in this photo). John was not the first to weather structures, but as a contest winner, this instance got a great deal of attention.

In this particular image, John added track and two figures that are O-scale in the foreground, to accentuate the perspective.
     Something else that got a lot of attention directed to John was his whimsy, usually expressed on his narrow-gauge railroad rather than on the standard-gauge part of the layout. For example, he described the yard crew finding a stegosaur in the woods and pressing her into switching service. Allen said that she “wasn’t very smart but was obliging and very strong,” while having the further advantage that she could switch narrow-gauge and standard-gauge cars equally well. Unfortunately, she  never learned to use the ash pit. Here is Emma at work.

John liked to say that he had things like this on his layout, “because they amuse me, not because I don’t know better.”
     Less recognized by most (though included in Westcott’s book) was Allen’s interest in prototypical operation. His operating sessions were well-known for his insistence that crews understand and use prototype procedures, long before most modelers even could have understood “operations” beyond the kind of session where “Joe, you run the passenger, and Stan, you follow him with the coal train,” or equivalent. Allen doesn’t often get credit on this front, but he was a true pioneer of realistic operation.
     Now his nay-sayers will get exercised about what can be called his “caricature” scenery (including some mechanically dubious bridges), and certainly a lot of it was exaggerated. Also often raised is the issue of the dinosaur switcher and other foibles. But the idea of a completely scenicked layout, operated in a quite realistic way, was far beyond his own time. As I said, you have only to read MR issue from the 1960s and even into the 1970s, both the articles about layout visits and in the tell-tale “Trackside Photos,”  to know what I mean.
     I guess on balance I have great respect for what Allen showed the hobby, about scenery, photography, and operation. He used heavy weathering of buildings and equipment when few did, built many fine structures and pieces of rolling stock, was a creative modeler, and explored scenery techniques long before most of his hobby. Yes, there is caricature in some of what he did, but for me, the positives deserve as much emphasis as the negatives.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The 36-foot box car

As early as the turn of the 20th century, there were some railroads that began building 40-foot box cars and never looked back. These included the Harriman roads, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific. But other major railroads, such as the New York Central, built many thousands of 36-foot box cars in the early 20th century, and some roads continued to build them into the 1920s.
     But most of these cars had wood superstructure frames and many had wood ends, which would shorten their lives. Already by the beginning of World War II, much of the 36-foot fleet nationwide had been scrapped or rebuilt into other forms, and by 1950, few were still in service.
     Still, there were cars like this in service in my modeling year of 1953. Why am I mentioning this? Because my car fleet should contain at least a couple of these cars. Rarities by 1953 they might well be, but certainly not all vanished. Thus my interest in the Accurail offering of a variety of 36-foot box car models in HO scale.
     These models were first announced at Trainfest in Milwaukee in the fall of 2015. At first, only a limited number of paint schemes were made available, but gradually there have been more and more of them introduced. Within the Accurail 36-foot car offering are four body types: the 1300 series, with steel outside metal roof, steel ends, and an underframe with a fishbelly center sill; the 1400 series, the same as the 1300s but with a straight steel center sill; the 1700 series, with the steel outside metal roof, wood ends, and a fishbelly center sill; and the 1800 series, the same as the 1700s but with a straight center sill. You can see current paint scheme offerings at the Accurail website, at: .
     Ray Breyer has done a superb job of summarizing each of the Accurail series, in terms of the prototypes that used the cars, and their lifetimes. These reviews are available as PDF documents at Eric Hansmann’s site, which is located here: . You will see separate PDFs for each of the Accurail number series just listed. These are great sources of information, and I recommend them highly. And thank you, Ray, for the help!
     I approached the potential acquisition of one of these Accurail cars in just the way I described in an earlier post about choosing new cars for the fleet (you can read that post at: ). But the number of useful cars for modelers of 1950 or later comprise a rather short list. Moreover, perusal of Ray’s document shows that very few Western railroads were indulging in 36-foot cars of this kind.
     Anyway, I went ahead and studied Ray’s information, and then I could list the following prospects for my 1953 modeling year: 1300 series, Missouri Pacific (photo below); 1400 series, L&N and maybe D&RGW (the latter requiring a bit of a time warp); 1800 series, D&H. But as it happens, Accurail to this day has only listed the L&N and D&H paint schemes as future releases; neither has actually appeared. So that leaves me with this prototype (photo from Ted Culotta collection):

A distinctive feature here is the reverse corrugated end, nicely modeled in the Accurail kit.
     The Accurail kit for this car is no. 1303, and as Ray Breyer points out, it is a fairly close match except for the fascia board on the MP car. I acquired one and assembled it, a simple process with Accurail kits (aided by the Ray Breyer “tutorial” on the underframe, on the same Hansmann-site page as the car summaries). I installed Kadee no. 158 “whisker” couplers to avoid the reported size problems with the Accurail coupler box.
     I then proceeded to weather the car in three stages. First, a light weathering with acrylic washes, and a coat of flat. Then, some very slight emphasis of individual boards, suing Prismacolor art pencils, followed by another grayish wash.

Completing the car included reweigh and repack data patches and a few chalk marks. The route cards remain to be added in the photo above.
     I also have one other 36-foot box car in my fleet, an L&N model inherited from Richard Hendrickson. I don’t know how he modeled it except that I remember he had mentioned once that he had kitbashed it. It’s from a group of L&N cars that was rapidly shrinking in Richard’s model year of 1947, and in fact gone by 1953, the year that I model. But I’m keeping it anyway, at least for now (there’s that time warp again).

     So what’s next? I may choose to build the Accurail 1800-series car lettered for D&H, whenever it’s released, or I may decide that two 36-foot cars is about the limit for 1953. But in either case, I have a very small representation in my fleet of the disappearing 36-foot box car in 1953, and that was my goal.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Comments on truck maintenance

By “truck maintenance,” I primarily mean correcting any deficiency in how an in-service model freight car truck operates, but it may be almost as important to recognize the need to get new trucks into suitable operating condition. That could then become part of what I’ve called a “rookie test.”
     I have posted several comments about my concept of a “rookie test,” meaning the testing I do with new freight cars entering service. The components are obvious things like freedom of truck swing, coupler centering, coupler height, trip pin clearance, and coupler knuckle spring operation. That test and some ways I implement it were described in the first of these posts (see it at: ).
     I have expanded on the original description of my rookie test in a couple of places. Perhaps the most relevant to the present post is at this link: . I’ll show a photo similar to one from that post to show an important part of my car testing:

What you see in the lower part of this “aerial” view of Shumala on my layout is a test train, backing through the reverse or diverging side of three turnouts, two of them no. 5.
     This test has become an important part of what I now do as part of a rookie test or else a “return-to-service test.” I couple up a string of cars, some that are being tested, along with some already qualified, and use a locomotive to run them back and forth through a sequence of the diverging sides of turnouts, at slow speed and then at faster speeds, to see if they behave. And when that test goes all right, I rearrange the car order and repeat, and then maybe create a third or fourth ordering of the cars and continue testing.
     What has caused me a certain amount of heartburn is that freight cars that easily pass the normal rookie test may not consistently pass the test shown in the photo above. Yet they are consistent in another sense, in that they continue to pass the rookie test. The question becomes, why can’t they pass this “running test?” Repeated examination of cars, and repeated testing (I am giving a short version of this, believe me) has shown that the problem almost always lies in the trucks.
     The truck problems are usually one of two issues. First, the truck molding may be a little warped, so that all four axle ends are not in the same plane. This tends to raise one wheel a little, and over curved track, especially turnouts, this drives derailments. You can detect this if all four wheels do not sit flat on a surface, but do this with the truck both right side up, and upside down, because the axle-end hole in the truck is bigger than the axle end.
     I have tried heating up warped truck moldings in very hot water and trying to bend into correct shape, but this nearly always fails. A truck like this just has to be replaced.
     The second problem that I have seen is when one of the axles in a truck doesn’t roll as freely as the other, and I mean a big difference. This may also arise from a somewhat flawed original molding. My test is to spin each wheelset and see how freely (and how long) it spins. It looks a little like this:

     Usually all four wheelsets in the two trucks are the same. But not always. When one wheelset doesn’t roll freely in curved track, where the two ends of the wheelset have to travel different distances, this too can facilitate a derailment. I have tried “cleaning out” the journal hole in such trucks, which rarely helps. Usually the dimensions are at fault, and a wheelset that is shorter will fix the problem.
     An example recently was a truck with wheelsets with 1.015-inch axle lengths. Three of the wheelsets worked fine, and spun freely in the journals. But one of them would hardly even rotate. Experimentation showed that in that journal pair, only a Reboxx wheelset, of 1.000-inch length, would work. With all four axles now spinning freely, the truck worked fine.
     This of course is the great advantage of Reboxx wheelsets: they come in a range of lengths, and I have been surprised how widely the journal width of commercial trucks varies. I have improved many poorly performing trucks, just by replacing the wheels with proper-length Reboxx wheelsets (you can visit their site at: ).
     Wheelsets over the years have been taken for granted, in the sense that we expect them to fit any truck we happen to pick up. But of course experience will soon teach that it just isn’t so. A wheelset that runs freely and smoothly in Truck A may hardly rotate in Truck B, and might be so short as to almost fall out of Truck C with no urging. I happen to like the Kadee Code 88 replacement wheelsets, and have used a lot of them in various trucks. But though Kadee doesn’t tell you so, their length over axle tips is 1.020 inches. That’s fine in many trucks, but too long for others. Again, Reboxx supplies an answer to this.
     Some readers at this point may be muttering, “Why don’t you just replace the entire truck and be done with it?” and sometimes that is indeed the only solution. But if the truck has a sideframe design you can’t readily duplicate, and it’s correct for the freight car in question, you need to try and save the truck. Or if the truck mounting boss on the freight car is not friendly to any other truck design, you just have to figure how to make that bad truck work.
     Incidentally, I should mention that I wrote a related post recently, entitled “Improving Model Freight Car Trucks” about primarily improving the appearance of model trucks, but the present post is more about the operational quality of trucks.  (If interested in the previous one, here is a link: .)
     So even though my rookie test reveals lots of problems with freight car operation, issues in the trucks can be too subtle to be entirely visible that way. More analysis, of the kind described in this post, may be necessary in addition.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Modeling SP Class G-50-20, Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, I showed close-up photographs of prototype car ends to illustrate what was needed to model correctly the reverse-Dreadnaught end used on Southern Pacific’s Class G-50-20 drop-bottom or GS gondolas. I also showed my basic approach, to modify existing commercial ends of the Improved Dreadnaught style to create a reverse Dreadnaught. (That post can be viewed at: .)
     Part 2 of the series showed progress with the modeling, getting the modified Detail Associates ends to fit onto a Red Caboose car body, and installing them and adding corner cover plates. This is the majority of the modeling work for this conversion. (Consult that post at this link: .)
     The present post completes all model work and then addresses paint and lettering. The last of the modeling challenges for this model car body is the brake step. Red Caboose provides a clunky styrene part intended to represent the metal-grid brake step on the prototype (though it hardly does so). I replaced it with an etched metal brake step that comes with Plano etched-metal running boards.

You can see that I also used the kit support pieces for the brake step, modified to fit with its location. Still to add in this view are the drop-door operating rod handles at each sill corner.
     A detail requiring caution for the less-experienced modeler is the operating mechanism cover on the car sides, what the kit parts list calls a “side mechanism cover,” part no. 20. Here is a close-up of the prototype to show the correct orientation, which the kit does not clearly show you. It’s the circular-shaped bulge above the sill step:

     After this, the main remaining challenge is painting and lettering. The kit is factory lettered with the right kind of scheme for the prototype Class G-50-23. But as it happens, Pressed Steel Car Company delivered the G-50-20 class that I am modeling with an obsolete paint scheme. The photo below, a detail of the same view from the beet-loading set taken at Cooper, California (SP negative N-1672-15), included in Part 1 of this series, clearly shows the initials and car number in the first full panel at left. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you like.)

The capacity data also were placed in that first full left panel and in the adjoining panel, as you can see here.
     Southern Pacific had discontinued periods in its reporting marks in 1931. And the spelled-out road name had been substituted for initials in 1946. How that information failed to reach Pressed Steel Car, for cars that were manufactured in 1948, is certainly not clear. But that’s what the cars looked like. Thus we cannot save the kit lettering, but have to start over.
     I airbrushed the car with Star Brand “SP/UP Freight Car Red,” paint no. STR-30. For decals, I used Microscale set no. 87-911 (“Southern Pacific Single-Sheathed Wood Box Cars”) for the car initials, the car number, the 1-inch stripe below them, and the end numbers. Finally, for capacity data and the class number, I used the very valuable Champ “Super Set” SHS-144, which will do several classes of SP GS gondolas.
     Here is the model, freshly lettered. It still needs reweigh and brake service dates, along with weathering, and of course addition of trucks and couplers. It is supported on my “interim truck support blocks,” an idea described in a prior post (see it at: ). Compare the photo just above.

I added Kadee no. 58 couplers and Kadee trucks; the trucks had view blocks added to help conceal the thin springs (see my blog post on this subject, which is at: ).
     Weathering was with my usual acrylic washes, following a coat of flat finish to cover the lettering. This car is only five years old in my modeling year of 1953, so is not represented as terribly dirty. Lastly, I added a few chalk marks and route cards. Here is the completed model.

I should also show an end view, since the ends were the entire motivation for the project in the first place. Here is the A end reverse Dreadnaught as completed:

     I have had this project in mind for some while, and frankly wasted a lot of time trying to use car ends that I thought would be “easier” to modify than the Detail Associates ends. When I just gave it at try with the DA ends, it went pretty smoothly. I’m glad to add this car to my SP car fleet, and will probably do at least one  more car of this class, to balance all the G-50-23 models I already have.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Improving model freight car trucks

I wrote, a few years ago, a three-part series of blog posts about trucks for model freight cars, emphasizing what often needs to be corrected in such trucks, and also wrote a full article on the topic for Model Railroad Hobbyist (the issue for September 2016); you can download that issue for free, or read it on line, at the MRH website, .
     Only the first of my three-part blog series really applies to today’s topic, but for convenience, listed below are links for all three blog posts.

     What is the prototype issue here? I show below a photo (at left) of a prototype truck, with its spring package removed and placed in the foreground. This is a typical “five-spring” package with cap plates top and bottom, held together by a center bolt. At right is an enlarged view of one of these springs, that looks like an individual spring in the spring package, but clearly can be seen to actually comprise two springs, with opposite twist. The point is that there is absolutely no way you can see “through” the springs in the prototype truck.

     At the risk of somewhat repeating what is the first of the blog posts above, and in the MRH article, let me show a single example of a so-called ”real springs” model freight car truck. I put the term in quotes because although the springs are certainly physically real, they don’t actually provide any spring action unless the model freight car weighs most of a pound, luckily a rare event in HO scale.

This is a Kadee truck, chosen simply for illustration, but should not be perceived as a criticism of Kadee, who have been gradually replacing all their “sprung” trucks with solid-sideframe trucks, which look far better.
     But what happens when we have an older truck that, for whatever reason, we would like to keep in service? There are usually two issues, one of them being the highly unrealistic open springs, and usually a second issue, very poor wheelsets, often with huge ‘pizza-cutter” flanges. Here’s an example, of an old Athearn metal truck with springs. You can see the giant flanges, too.

Even older Kadee trucks, like the one shown in the next photo above, still need to have something done about the thin springs, even though they have excellent wheelsets.
     What can be done here? Probably the most obvious thing to do is to put a view block behind the springs. They will still be far too thin, but it will be a lot less obvious. My friend Richard Hendrickson used to glue a piece of strip styrene behind the spring area, as you see on the far side of the truck in the photo below.

But this can be done even more simply. I just use a piece of black construction paper. Equally effective as a view block, and no need for painting. Also, in the “sprung” truck shown below, I have replaced the original wheelsets with Reboxx sets of appropriate axle length. Springs and wheels remain to be painted, but the black paper view block works just fine. You can see the paper on the far side of the truck.

     Making this kind of modification will help your model trucks look a lot more like the prototype. I show below a photo of workmen changing out a truck from a box car (it’s an SP photo), and all I urge you to do is just look at the truck springs. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.) Note, incidentally, that they look pretty compressed, even though not under load, so obviously they are short-travel springs. And you sure can’t see through them.

     I should emphasize here that I rarely follow the procedure just described, because I prefer to install modern trucks (Tahoe, Kadee, Rapido, etc.) in most cases. But sometimes an ancient “sprung” truck needs to be kept in service. So whenever I have to retain an old truck in use, I don’t hesitate to change out the wheelsets (if possible) and add a view block behind the springs. They then look much better, and operate better too.
Tony Thompson

Friday, June 21, 2019

Waybills, Part 64: what’s all the fuss?

As readers of this blog know, I have written dozens of posts about various aspects of prototype waybills: how they come into being, what information they contain, how they are handled, and what they accomplish. I have also written a number of times about how the prototype waybill can be modified or used in model railroad settings. (You can find all these posts by using “Waybills” as a search term in the search box at right.) But I continue to be asked for an introduction to this topic.
     Upon reflection, I think there are two aspects to that request. First, why should anyone even care about a prototypical-looking waybill? The second aspect, as I understand it, is something like, what does such a waybill accomplish on a layout? In this post, I will address the first of those aspects.
     When one visits a layout that uses a timetable type of document, the layout owner has either used the look and format of his prototype, say, Santa Fe, or if a freelancer, has chosen a prototype to copy closely. Why? Because most of us know what these prototype employee timetables look like, and we want that additional piece of prototype realism.

Shown here are, from left, the La Mesa Club timetable for the Tehachapi layout, David Parks’ WM timetable, Mike Burgett’s C&O timetable, and my own SP Coast Division timetable, all closely following the prototypes.
     Operating on a layout that uses Timetable & Train Order (T&TO), track warrants (TW) or Direct Traffic Control (DTC) to control train movements, one will see that the layout owner has either reproduced the prototype document (modified to suit his layout’s operating situation) or, if freelance, has chosen a prototype document of modify. Why? Because we know what these documents look like, and we want to add that bit of prototype realism.

Shown here are, from left, Bill Darnaby’s Form 31 train order, for his freelanced Maumee Route, Mike Burgett’s C&O clearance form, and my own (modified) SP train order form.
     On a layout that uses switch lists to direct the work of train crews, prototype modelers will provide the prototype switch list form, perhaps somewhat modified, and likewise the freelancer will create a prototype-looking form. Why? Same reasons as above. I won’t show examples, but there are plenty of them out there.
     Given those examples, why do modelers provide their visiting operators with a waybill that looks like this? (Though this example is modified from a particular layout, the owner of which may recognize it, the criticism is not directed at that individual, but at the practice in general.)

This is of course the familiar four-cycle waybill, available from Old Line Graphics or Micro-Mark, and it is, to speak as kindly as possible, remote from the prototype.
     Let me illustrate. Does the above model waybill, however familiar, look anything like the prototype example below? (You can click to enlarge if you wish.)

I would be so bold as to suggest that the model example above bears essentially no resemblance to the prototype. Most of my blog posts on this topic have been aimed at getting model waybills just a little closer to the prototype.
     I should hasten to say that I realize not every layout owner uses or wants to use waybills for car forwarding, and of course that layout owners can decide for themselves how prototypical they want to be, and in which areas. My only point here is that there does exist a prototype waybill, and using something that doesn’t remotely resemble it inevitably detracts from a layout’s overall credibility.
     I will say more about this in a following post, when I address the second aspect of model waybills, the question about what they accomplish on a layout.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

WOOPS 2019

The title refers to “Western Oregon Ops,” an operating weekend event in the area of Portland and southward. It was held during June 12 to 15, with about 70 attendees. This was the first time I had attended, and I enjoyed the fine layouts that I was assigned to operate. I was somewhat familiar with the area, because we have a son in Portland, but the layouts were all new to me. I’ll just say a few words about each of them.
     The first layout I visited was a “bonus session” on Wednesday, June 12, before the event officially began. It was at Jay Becker’s layout, called the Tillamook, Bay City and Garibaldi. I worked the Tillamook Paper plant and the Bay City harbor area. This is a switching intensive layout, with very nice industrial buildings, and everything ran very well. I especially liked the harbor warehouse at Bay City, shown below, with an incoming car barge at left.

     My first layout the next day was Jerry Boudreaux’s Santa Fe (Pasquinel Division), in a large dedicated building. Still under construction in some areas, there is already some spectacular Arizona mountain scenery, as I show below. This largely freelanced layout is quite large, has several interesting switching areas and a large yard, and moves plenty of long trains. All in all, a very nice experience.

     That evening, we visited Chuck Clark’s version of the Southern Pacific Modoc Division, substantially freelanced but with excellent switching locations and fine scenery on a big, double-deck layout. I worked the White Line switching job, and really enjoyed it. The view below, of one end of White Line, also shows an example of the fine backdrops.

     Next, I was assigned to Gene Neville’s version of the SP Modoc Division (which he calls the Great Basin & Pacific), quite different in appearance and style from Chuck’s, though less complete scenically at this point. One exception was the excellent town of Gomez, which you see below with the local freight I operated, doing some switching. The sagebrush is really nice!

     There were layouts available for visit during an open-house period, and I particularly enjoyed Tom Dill’s Ashland Subdivision of the SP. Tom was a locomotive engineer for SP in his career, so knows well what railroad property looks like, and you can certainly see it in his layout. It is simply excellent scenery in a modest-size layout. Below I show a perspective of his version of Ashland in the transition era.

     The last layout I operated was Bill Decker’s very large Cascade Subdivision of the SP, set in 1984. The track is nearly all installed, though most areas have only the beginnings of scenery. But the operation was most impressive, with immense staging areas and a very long run for mainline trains. This is already quite a layout and can only get better as scenery and structures arrive. I worked one of the switch engines at Eugene Yard, shown below from the east end. The area in the photo is only one part of the layout, which gives some idea of its size.

     This was a very nice, well organized event,  and I truly enjoyed every layout that I visited. I will look forward to attending WOOPS in the future. But this presentation of particular layouts isn’t just to tell you about the WOOPS event. I hope it might suggest to you that you seek out and participate in operating events in your area. You will see and operate layouts you might not otherwise ever visit, and you are pretty likely to have fun doing it. I know I always do.
Tony Thompson