Saturday, May 25, 2019

Sure spots, Part 5

In the previous post on this topic, I complained about failure to read (or take seriously, or perhaps even understand) instructions for car spotting at industries. I showed the kind of information that switch crews have at their disposal, but nevertheless sometimes manage to misunderstand or ignore. That post can be found at: .
     But I also recognize that there are some other spotting issues, beyond those in the previous post. These are in areas where I need to figure out how to convey information better. It seems obvious, at least to me, that a box car to be unloaded, for example, needs to be alongside an unloading platform, yet model railroad crews will sometimes spot the car well down the spur, away from the loading dock.
     Now in the prototype, of course, such a car can be moved by local workers. One person I talked to told me that prying under a wheel with a crowbar would suffice to start a car moving, then it can be kept moving by a couple of men shoving to the desired spot. But you can be sure that the workmen would greatly prefer the car to have been spotted correctly in the first place, and if not, you can be sure that the local train crew will have been told about it.
     A particular problem is spotting at house tracks and team tracks. By definition, a house track is located at a depot or freight house, and has an unloading platform or warehouse door. So when I have a waybill specifying spotting at a house track, the car should be spotted at the depot (my layout has no freight houses) and alongside the platform so that it can be unloaded. The example below is at my layout town of Santa Rosalia, and the Erie box car was supposed to be spotted at the house. Instead, it is really spotted on the team-track portion of the spur.

Obviously the house, meaning the freight section of the combination depot at right, is well away from the spot of this box car. So what did I want the crew to do? To spot the car at the loading dock so its cargo can be easily unloaded and taken into the depot.

I have seen prototype waybills destined to the “agent, house track” or sometimes just “agent” at the town in question. This usually implies spotting at the house track, and the agent is to take custody of the cargo, likely having it moved inside the depot until the consignee can pick it up. But I prefer to identify the consignee on the waybill, as indeed is usual prototype practice.
     This is something I emphasize in my briefing before an operating session. Consider the waybill below.

A switch crew may cry out, “I can’t find the Torlaksen Construction siding anywhere,” and I quietly point out to them that the waybill does say “team track” right on it.
     This waybill, as it happens, is a good example of where a crew can usefully think about what they are doing with this particular load. By definition, a team track is a place where consignees can unload freight cars into or onto their trucks or other conveyances. (And, less commonly, to load their goods into freight cars for departure.)
     This obviously means that there is flexibility in such spotting, even on our model team tracks, that are typically far shorter than the prototype. But even so, spotting a car so that it overlaps a nearby industry, or is virtually at the fouling point of the switch into the team track, would certainly limit unloading convenience. I only ask that crews take a tiny moment of thought to recognize how a car would need to be unloaded.
      The waybill above describes a load that might be unloaded directly onto a truck, so it would be helpful to spot the car alongside a truck in the vehicle area at the team track, if one is already there, or alongside the obvious loading area. Shown below is an example of what I mean; the flat-bed trailer might well be in place to receive the pieces of granite. The car could have been spotted with its door alongside the trailer, acting as a loading dock. But of course, the truck can move as needed.

Visible at right, incidentally, is the very small freight shelter that I built for this team track, as described in an article for Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH, in the August 2018 issue (that issue of MRH can be read on-line, or downloaded, for free from their site at: ).
     So instead of the truck, a crew might think that the small loading platform at this team track might be used by the unloading personnel, for convenience in moving the cargo. In that case, they might spot the box car as shown below. In this case, at least, either arrangement could work.

But as I’ve already mentioned, too often crews don’t think about spotting locations.
     So enough complaining: what can be done to help? One option is to define sure spots within  locations such as team and house tracks, which would direct crews as to what to do. But as far as I know, this is entirely unprototypical. Instead, I will modify my briefing to direct them to try and recognize how a car will be handled. Certainly local crews did so; they very much had the convenience of the shipper or consignee at heart, and if they did not, their supervision would soon set them straight.
     What else might I do? One possibility, beyond the briefing (which realistically has a limited impact), is to emphasize the use of the "information cards” for each town (for my prior description of these, see the third post in this series, at this link: ). I will have to try this out and see how well it works for team tracks.
     I will also expand the ideas behind my agent’s messages to crews, to make sure they correctly spot certain cars. This is prototypical, as an agent’s way of correcting crew errors in the past, sometimes very explicitly. I gave a number of examples of such messages earlier; you can visit my post at: .
     Although I continue to regard these ideas about spotting cars as mostly common sense, I realize that not every operator has thought or is going to think about the needs of a shipper or a consignee at various locations, especially “indefinite” ones (as someone once said) like team tracks. I will continue to see how I can better convey these ideas to operators.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Fixing Athearn tank car coupler pockets

I have modified a fair number of Athearn "Blue Box” tank cars over the years, both the ordinary type with a single dome (but which I raised in height to make it prototypical — see for example my post about SP cars at this link: ) and the “chemical” tank, as Athearn calls it, the insulated high-pressure car.
     These models are an artifact of an earlier era, and cry out for lots of upgrades, many of which I’ve made. But in the present post, I am only discussing one aspect of these cars. The Achilles heel of these models for operation is the coupler box arrangement. It often develops into “coupler droop,” not at all good for operation.
     Let me begin with the underframe itself. This is probably familiar to most modelers, a two-part design in which the cover plate, as we may call it (the upper part in the photo), mates with the main frame (lower part) and, among other things, forms the couple box lids at each end. The ends of the cover plate are a friction fit between the support braces at the car end, which is the source of the problem. That friction is not always maintained over time.

What is needed is a positive closure to the coupler box lid, so that it maintains its location, and also will also permit maintenance of the coupler, if needed.
     Below is a close-up of the coupler box when built as Athearn intends (though with a Kadee coupler). When new, this arrangement usually works fine. It is what develops over time that becomes a problem.

     Doubtless there are many solutions to this problem, including installation of a completely new coupler box to fit the chosen brand of new coupler. My choice is to fix the Athearn box. First, I use a razor saw to saw through the cover plate, somewhere between the car’s body bolster, and the back of the rivet row which “defines” a coupler box. That gives me a separate box cover.
     Next, I carefully center punch (or scriber indent) the center of the coupler post in the box, and drill it out. Usually I drill it No. 75, then follow with a No. 51 drill, and tap 2-56. This gives me the threaded hole that will accept the future screw closure.

Note here that you can see right through the drilled and tapped hole, and the tank handrail is in fact just visible through the hole. The Kadee spring is in place here also.
     Next, I drill the now-separate coupler box lid with a hole for a 2-56 screw. The hole center, of course, must be located first. There are two ways to do this. One is to use an existing drilled box lid, and just use it as a template. But how do you create the first one?
     That’s the second way to locate the hole. I disassemble the model and remove the underframe from the car, after drilling the coupler post as described above. Then placing the coupler box lid in its normal position in the frame, I drill down through it No. 51 from the top, that is, from the top of the frame as seen on an upright car. Then the hole can be enlarged to a No. 42 clearance drill with the cover away from the frame, or it can be left as No. 51 and tapped 2-56 so that the closure screw holds everything together. Either method seems to work.
     I then reassemble the coupler, the box lid, and a 2-56 screw closure, and paint the screw head black or dark gray or whatever color suits the model. When all this is finished, the only clues to the change are the screw head, of course, and the saw cut where the box lid was separated from the rest of the cover plate. That cut is just visible here as a dark line between the rivet row at the back of the “box” and the bolster.

     Nowadays I would do this conversion as part of any work on an Athearn “Blue Box” tank car. But back in the day, I didn’t always do this part of the project, and have had to go back to some of the older Athearn tanks in my fleet and fix them. But it’s worth the effort. The couplers then stay where they are supposed to be, and the cars operate as they should.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Promontory 2019

As most railfans and modelers must surely know by now, May 10 of this year was the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, completing the first transcontinental railroad. I attended the commemorative event as part of attending the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society’s 39th annual meeting in Ogden.
     As always, it is a joy to be in the presence of the Wasatch Range, which looms over the Salt Lake Valley in dramatic fashion, especially in winter and spring when abundant snow caps the higher peaks. I love this kind of mountain presence, and when outdoors in this area, you can hardly turn your head without noticing the Wasatch. Here is a typical view in Ogden.

     As it happens, this event was a joint meeting with the Union Pacific Historical Society, so the two societies shared clinic access, vendor and model room, and buffet breakfasts in the convention center. And for our banquet Saturday night, the two societies were joined by members of both the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society (R&LHS), and the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS). That made the banquet attendance over 800 people (including a fair number of spouses). Shown below is only part of the room.

Note the large display screens. These were on both long walls of the room, permitting everyone to see the speakers, as well as keynoter John Gray’s slides during his talk.
     I suppose the core event was indeed the commemoration at the National Historic Park site. As had been predicted, it was over 20,000 people. They arrived, we were told, in more than 1500 automobiles and 81 buses. The SPH&TS and UPHS had organized 12 buses to take our members to the site, so at least we didn’t have to drive in the traffic. Naturally, not being VIPs, we did not get particularly close to the reproduction locomotives and the re-enactment of the spike driving, but we sure got the flavor (they had display screens and a PA system). They even had a U.S. flag flying with the correct number of stars for 1869.

     For many railfans, I’m sure the headline event was the arrival of newly restored UP 4014, the 4-8-8-4 nicknamed “Big Boy” from what was chalked on the smokebox of one engine at the Alco plant by an unknown workman. I rather liked the fact that the restored UP engine did carry this same chalked mark near the smokebox top (how it looked is known from a photo). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

I was intrigued with the details of the restored locomotive, many of which are modern applicances instead of restoring only the classic technology of 80 years ago. An example is this air tank.

     Also making a difference in the Ogden area was a street fair to mark the occasion of the 150th anniversary. The photo below, at the corner of Lincoln and historic 25th Street, is only a block from Union Station, location of the display of both the Big Boy and UP 844, plus the UP business train. There were crowds everywhere in this festival, which was fun to stroll through.

     Finally, I always try, when I visit the Salt Lake area, to drop in at one of my favorite bookstores in the world, the King’s English (see their site at: ). Co-founder of the store, some 42 years ago, was Betsy Burton, and she has written a marvelous book about the store’s early days and the adventures of booksellers. If you like books, you would love this one. It’s readily available on line, in either hard cover or softbound. Here’s one link: .

     It was a wonderful five days, and I really enjoyed practically everything about it. A great combination of interesting and engrossing activities, with enjoyable spring weather and marvelous mountain views.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Sure spots, Part 4

The concept of a “sure spot” means a particular point at which a car must be spotted, such as one particular spur, or a particular loading or unloading facility along a spur, or even a particular door at an industry. I wrote about these awhile back (see that post at: ) to define terms, and to describe some of the issues in my own layout operating sessions. The present post pursues this topic further.
     (Part 2 of the series can be found at: .) That post described the need for information cards at various layout locations, derived from the excellent paperwork provided to operators on Al Frasch’s old layout on Whidbey Island in Washington. I implemented Frasch’s ideas to make my own information cards, and then I showed some examples in Part 3 of the series. You can see Part 3 at: .)
     Let me illustrate a problem I am trying to solve (or at least make into less of a problem) with the model tank car shown below. It is an acid tank car, that is, without bottom outlet, which means it has to be unloaded through the dome. It is a 7000-gallon model from Tangent.

This car is classified in the AAR system as Type TA (where originally “A” meant acid, though eventually the designation came to mean any car without a bottom outlet).
     Next I show a possible waybill for this car. Most tank cars carrying chemicals on my layout will go to this same destination, Pacific Chemical Repackaging. Note that the car type, TA, is on the waybill, for those who might not recognize that this is an acid tank car.

Many waybills in my system do indicate desired car spots, but as you see above, many do not, as was prototypical. In part this was because crews that did the job every day knew very well where each kind of car would be spotted. The information card idea, described in the Part 3 post cited in the second paragraph of the present post, is an effort to encapsulate that kind of knowledge. 
     So for additional help when the waybill doesn’t specify the spot, here is my Frasch-style information card for that part of the layout:

     This should clearly describe how cars are to be spotted. Crews may also be using the schematic town map for Ballard, which shows the location of all industries and their designated spots. Shown below is the map portion relevant for Pacific Chemical Repackaging, and this clearly shows where Spot 2 is located on Track 3.

     Yet even with these information resources (the waybill, map and information card), crews do sometimes fail to correctly spot the car. A local crew may not recognize that this car has an acid-type dome, though the waybill directly tells them that it’s a Class TA car, and indirectly tells them that with its identification of the acid cargo. Moreover, the information card instructs that cars other than high-pressure (TPI) cars should go to Spot 2.
     My last backup for information is the agent’s message (see, for example, my description at this link: ). The agent’s message at Ballard for a recent session did specify placing this car at Spot 2. Yet despite all this provided information, the car was spotted between spots 2 and 3, as you can see below. On the prototype, that would mean that without moving the car, neither unloading spot could service the car. So despite all these kinds of guidance, there have still been occasions when the spotted car was like this photo.

Note in the photo above that there is a top-unloader fixture at Spot 2, which of course is what a Type TA car would neeed for unloading. Spot 1, to the right, has all the hoses to unload high-pressure cars.
     The photo above represents, I think, a failure to read (or perhaps understand, or take seriously) directions. I am considering ways to try and make matters even more clear, perhaps by improving the briefing I give crews before they start work.
     Prototype operation requires more than just attention by crews to paperwork. They also need to observe locations and the arrangement of each consignee siding, to determine what might be necessary for helpful and convenient spotting. I hope to convey those ideas to future operators.
Tony Thompson

Monday, May 13, 2019

Completing a REALLY old project

I have, from time to time in this blog, posted descriptions of completing projects that had languished for awhile. Well, my subject today is about a project of in-process antiquity unmatched in my experience. As it happens, it is a WestRail kit for an AAR 50-ton flat car. Now, many of us own ancient kits, still in their original boxes. But this kit is distinguished by the fact that I started building it as soon as I got it, back in 1988 . . . and then it got put aside.
     For those who don’t know, WestRail was a business run by the late Richard Hendrickson, with extensive help from his wife Sandra. WestRail began with several kitbashing projects, using as starting points, the “raw materials” of the day, mostly Athearn Blue Box models. After marketing several such kits, Richard brought out a mostly new car kit, using Athearn 50-foot gondola underframe center sills but otherwise new parts. The gems of the parts were the stake pockets. Richard had these cast in lost-wax brass, and they are exquisite.
     (As a further aside, anyone not sure who Richard Hendrickson was, may be interested to read my “in memoriam” post on his passing. It can be found here: .)
     I had gotten the hardest part of the kit completed, drilling all the holes for the mounting pegs on the stake pockets and getting the pockets straightened up square with the body and glued in place. I had also done the simplified underframe, omitting brake details that would be invisible. But there I stopped, and back into a storage box went the flat car. Here’s a photo of the bottom of the model at that point. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you like.)

You can see that I used a bunch of A-Line weights under here, as one of the biggest potential operation shortcomings of flat cars is inadequate weight. It has all been painted black because the intended prototype is Northern Pacific.
     The biggest challenge remaining was to make the deck. The decks on these cars were what is called “overhanging,” meaning that their width overhung the side sills and extended out to the outer edge of the stake pockets. That in turn means that the deck needs to be notched, if you will, to clear each stake pocket. This is a bit of a tedious task, but with a no. 11 X-acto blade it actually goes pretty quickly. The material I used is Evergreen V-groove sheet with 0.080-inch spacing. I then cleaned up the notches with a small flat file.

You can just see, about one-third of the way from the right edge, where I joined two pieces of the styrene sheet to make it long enough. The next step was to use rough sandpaper to give some texture to the deck, and to gouge some scars into it, reflecting the kind of hard use that flat cars get. I also used the corner of a razor blade to drag down some of the grooves, widening them. One often sees on prototype decks, that boards are distressed in this way.
     With work on the deck completed, I primed it with Tamiya “NATO Brown” (no. TS-62) as a base color, though it will be thoroughly weathered. It could then be glued to the car body. The body is a thick styrene sheet, with the car sides and ends along its outsides, and the Athearn center sills glued to the underside. I showed the bottom view in the first photo of the present post, and here is a view of the top of the car at this point.

If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see the angle-iron supports between each stake pocket, which will support the overhanging deck.
     Now I used styrene cement to glue the deck to the body, and left it under weight to dry thoroughly. When that was done, I used the Champ decal set provided in the kit, no. HC-639, to letter it for NP 62186 (the cars were in the number series 62000–62299), and added a brass wire brake staff, with the kit’s brass brake wheel soldered to it. Here is the car at this point, with my standard Kadee no. 58 couplers and the kit trucks, with Reboxx semi-scale wheels.

     The deck of course needs considerable weathering, which was done at the same time as the car sides and ends and trucks were weathered. I lightly weathered the sides with acrylic washes, then used pretty much straight acrylic paint out of the tube, in a mixture of colors, to do the deck. (At the top of this post, on the right-hand side, are links to my Reference Pages on acrylic weathering.)

     The completed car is shown below, together with  my other WestRail flat car, lettered for Union Pacific. (I started building the UP kit as soon as I got it, also in 1988, and actually completed it then.) Note that the UP car has a deck of a lighter color, suggesting that such a deck has been in service for a longer time. The two cars are of course identical in length, so the apparent difference is just one of perspective.

     As he did with all the WestRail products, Richard Hendrickson chose railroad owners of these cars carefully to correspond with the 50-ton prototype design. I am pleased to have these two WestRail flat cars in my fleet.
Tony Thompson

Friday, May 10, 2019

Modeling open ice hatches, Part 2

Some time back, I posted a description of both the prototype details of ice bunkers, and of open ice hatches on refrigerator cars, and also showed some examples of my modeling approaches (you can read that post at this link: ). The present post is to show some refinements and extensions of that earlier post.
     The first thing I want to emphasize is that ice hatches were part of a closure for the opening at the top of the ice bunker; that what modelers call the “ice hatch” is really just the hatch cover; and that this closure design included a plug. In earlier days, it was a separately hinged part, and when photographed, it was obvious that the hinges were located at slightly different places. This is quite visible in the view below, which shows PFE 91022, the first car of Class R-30-9 (PFE photo). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

Hatch closures with this arrangement present their own modeling challenge, but that isn’t the topic of the present post. 
     When steel hatch covers were first introduced, they likewise had separate plugs like the older wood hatch covers, but soon the cover was designed so that the plug was part of it. You can see that on the builder photo below of a new PFE Class R-40-23 car (AC&F photo for PFE).

     The car that I am working on modeling with open hatches has steel hatch covers, thus will have the plugs integral with the cover. As I showed in Part 1 of this thread (link to that post in the first paragraph of the present post), one can use the Red Caboose molding as-is, merely painting the plug part light gray. Then the underside of the sprue looks like this:

But as I also showed in that prior post, using the hatch covers this way ends up with almost an invisible hatch plug. I decided to try adding a rectangle of styrene to the bottom of each plug, and then again painting the plug light gray. They then looked like the photo below. Note that the plug edges are rather rough, but on the model they really are only “space fillers” under the open hatch cover.

     I have used a variety of methods to install open ice hatches on my reefers. I tried a new one on this car. The idea was to put a spacer under the hatch, raising it to the desired angle, and then glue the hatch hinges to the “hinge bar,” my name for Part #4 on the Red Caboose Sprue A (the sprue shown in the above photos). Those bars are visible to the upper right of the hatch covers in the sprue shown in the first sprue photo. Then let the glue dry thoroughly before adding the latch bar.
     My spacer was a Model Hobbies wood tie, as you see in the photo below. The tie is rectangular in cross-section, and I used it in the “tall” direction. That tie dimension is 0.120 inches, almost 1/8-inch, so any kind of wood or styrene piece of that size could be used.

Incidentally, this model is renumbered from the “bad” lettering on the original Red Caboose decorated model, which had the number SP 96763, as shown in my post complaining about poor manufacturer lettering (see: ). I renumbered it with Microscale set 87-501, with the excellent new Dick Harley artwork.
     With the method shown above, I was able to glue all the hatch covers at the same angle. As I have mentioned in my first post about open hatches (the one with the link in the top paragraph of the present post), the opening angle should not be too large, often of the order of only 30 degrees. Here is my final appearance of these hatches. I like being able to see the hatch plug like this. The model in this view isn’t weathered yet.

     Another detail worth noting on this model is that I used the running board end supports from a Plano etched metal running board set. I also used the steel grid brake step from this step, as you can see in the photo below of the model upside down. The running board support will of course be painted.

The next step was weathering. Since this is the 1950 paint scheme, and I model 1953, I chose to make the weathering fairly light. In fact, these cars got quite dirty, quite quickly, as former PFE employees told me in interviews, but as late as 1953, PFE was still washing cars. That means that for my reefer fleet, age of paint scheme usually will not correlate with degree of dirt on the car. Here is the finished car, with a route card and a few chalk marks.

     This model with open hatches joins several other cars of the same class, R-30-9. I am now nearly done with my efforts to model the very large R-30-9 class of PFE cars. In all, this class contained 7694 cars, more than the total fleet of most reefer owners. Most of them, over 6900 cars, were still in service in my modeling year of 1953, so I need to operate a bunch of them. I’m almost there.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

More on choosing a car fleet

I have written a number of posts for this blog on the subject of choices for freight car fleets. In addition to some rather general ones (for example, see this one: ), I wrote a series by car type, explaining how I chose cars for my layout needs (primarily on the basis of traffic). There were originally 12 of those posts, with five or more later add-ons to the original series, and they are most easily accessed by using “choosing a model car fleet” as a search term in the search box at right.
     But this was brought back to my attention by a recent email from a fairly experienced modeler who is only now embarking on building a layout. He has a fair number of freight cars already, but asked me what I would recommend as a general principle — or principles — in choosing more cars.
     I answered him by starting with the importance (to me) of era. I think it is essential to choose as narrow a time to model as possible. Though there have been some who have chosen a particular month (Richard Hendrickson chose October 1947) or a particular year, as I have done with 1953, some people want a little more flexibility, and choose a longer span of time.
     But as Tony Koester has pointed out this is a slippery slope. His statement of the problem is that if, for example, you say you are modeling the 1950s, what you are really doing is modeling 1959 badly.
     Having chosen an era, ideally not more than about a year, you need to have, or start to develop, a sense of what freight trains looked like at that time. By this I mean, first, color. For example, modeling an era of mostly boxcar-red cars had better have a fleet dominated by cars that color. For any era, it would help to have a sense of dominant colors.
     I still remember being struck by the wisdom of a comment years ago by Rick Tipton in a Model Railroader article (June 1977, page 94). He pointed out that the plainer the colors of the cars in a train, the longer the train would look, because your eye tends to see only the entirety of the plainer consist, rather than picking out individual cars to look at. We always have less layout space than we want, and have to run shorter trains than we want, so anything that makes them look longer is a benefit.
     In the steam era, this would mean a predominance of boxcar red cars, as I mentioned; in more recent eras, it might mean a lot of plain gray covered hoppers and plain black tank cars. The point is to avoid distinctive cars.
     The photo below shows a train on my 1953 layout, with pretty generic colors of boxcar red, orange and black, and one stand-out red tank car. The tank car paint scheme is accurate and authentic for its era (incidentally, it’s an old Athearn metal “shorty” tank car). And this single car does not make the train look odd. But more such cars, say three brightly colored tank cars, would make the train a little odd unless it serves a chemical plant. On the other hand, a 1960s freight train would show many more vivid paint schemes. So fleet color needs to be both period-correct and balanced appropriately.

     In the same vein, I think it’s preferable to keep car lengths to a minimum. Whether we are talking about 40-foot box cars (versus longer ones) or twin-pocket hopper cars or modern cement covered hoppers, the point is to get more cars per foot of train, to make the trains look longer.
     But in talking about how trains look, I also mean car types. Were there a lot of ice reefers, or mechanical reefers? What proportion? If there were covered hoppers, what type and what size? Striving to achieve freight trains that look like prototype photos of your era, in your location, is I think an important element in realistic modeling. Obviously some research is needed to find out what were typical car types in your railroad’s trains in your era and locale. (More on this below.)
     Then we come to a couple of age-old questions. What proportion of the fleet would be home-road cars, and what proportion foreign (non-home road) cars? And which car types? On home-road proportions, I am convinced there is no single answer, because differing circumstances on different railroads gave rise to different home-road proportions. Estimates have ranged from a quarter, to over half, of all cars in the fleet being home-road, and as I state, your answer will depend on your particular era and railroad. For my layout, I described what I need in a previous post (see it at: ).
     I have discussed in previous posts the Gilbert-Nelson idea about the proportions of railroad ownerships among the foreign cars in a car fleet (see the post cited in the first paragraph of the present post), and this can help in choosing railroad names for your freight cars. Most of us already have lots of freight cars we “like” for one reason or another. It takes concentration to decide on buying, and perhaps having to build, cars we don’t feel the same attraction to, just to extend realism. Obviously that’s an individual priority if you choose to follow it.
     Now let me return to car types. An issue of the ORER (Official Railway Equipment Register) for your era will show you the fleet content of your own railroad, and that of every other railroad you are interested in. The graphs below compare the car fleet of the entire United States in 1950, to the car fleet of the Southern Pacific in the same year (percentages are given above each bar). I believe the differences are readily seen to be considerable. This is, in my opinion, the kind of information you need for every railroad you model, and it’s easily acquired. (You can click to enlarge if you wish.)

     Within the topic of choosing foreign cars is the possibility of “signature” freight cars, that is, cars distinctive for and representative of, each railroad’s fleet. I wrote about this topic in two of my “Getting Real” columns for Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH, in the issues for April 2013 and March 2015. You can read on line, or download for free, any of these past issues of MRH at their website, .
     So choosing a car fleet, if you want to achieve some degree of realism relative to a chosen railroad, era, and locale, has several dimensions. Personally, I find learning about all these factors to be not only interesting but actually fun, and it informs how I work on my car fleet and on my layout, and how I set up operating sessions. If you haven’t delved into this topic before, I urge you to explore it a little bit. I think you may well find that you enjoy it.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Roco flat car, Part 6: more about half-tracks

In this series of posts, I am discussing a variety of military loads for the Roco (sold in the U.S. by AHM) 100-ton flat car with 6-wheel trucks. I replaced that model’s original trucks, cleaned up the deck of the second-hand car I acquired, and applied new decal lettering (a post about all that is here: ). In the previous post about the Army’s M3 half-track, I showed prototype photos, including the loading arrangements used when these vehicles were shipped on flat cars (that post can be found at: ).
     I began work by painting the tires on the front wheels of the half-tracks black. I also painted all the seats in the rear of the vehicle brown, as they were leather. I also want to indicate a little dusty appearance, which I will add with an acrylic wash before a coat of flat finish.
     I also left off all the ordnance provided in the Herpa parts bag, machine guns, mortars, etc., as these would not have been mounted in the vehicles during shipping in peacetime. The vehicles can be assembled with front-bumper winches, which only some of the half-tracks received, and some of the models come with a representation of a tarp or canvas cover over the top. Photos do show that some vehicles in transit were fitted with tarps.
     Next I addressed the blocking used to restrain the half-tracks on flat cars. Here the prototype photos in the previous post (link provided at the end of the first paragraph of the present post) were essential in deciding how to do this. I simply used scale 3 x 4-inch and 4 x 4-inch stripwood and attached short pieces with canopy glue.

There is blocking in front and in back of both the front wheels, and the tracks in back.
     Choosing which and how much lettering for these vehicles is an interesting challenge. Photos from wartime almost always show the white U.S. star on the vehicle sides, though training photos do not always show a star. The SP prototype photos in the previous post show no stars. Earlier era photos generally reveal the serial number on the side of the hood, but in later years these are either too dirty to show up in photos, or have been omitted. I will leave one side of each vehicle entirely without lettering, and the other side with some lettering.
     Putting two of the half-tracks onto the Roco flat car, which is where this topic started, gives the result below. As I  said in the previous post about these loads (Part 5), the standard weight of an M3 half-track was only about 9 tons, so two of them certainly would not require a 100-ton flat car such as the USAX cars modeled by Roco. But those cars belonged to the Army and would have been handy in many cases to move military equipment.

     I am happy with these distinctive vehicles as loads, both for my Roco Army flat car and for even a 50-ton or 70-ton railroad flat car, given the modest weight of the half-tracks. Next I want to turn to some armor loads, because those will provide a real need for a 100-ton car.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A follow-up operating session

A month or so ago, I hosted three operating sessions on my layout for the San Francisco Bay Area operating weekend, BayRails VIII (I described some of the aspects of those sessions in a previous post, which can be found at: ).
     I had introduced a number of new details in my sessions for BayRails, and naturally discovered also some problems, and wanted to follow up with session changes to reflect lessons learned. The perfect occasion was a visit by New Zealander Paul Hobbs and Canadian Greg Madsen, for whom I arranged a session on April 29. I added a preliminary session on April 28.
     As I had hoped they would, the sessions ran smoothly with the BayRails additions. One of my Frog Juicers had a loose wire, causing intermittent problems, but of course readily fixed — after the session. Otherwise, what I had designed for the operating patterns worked.
     Shown below are Paul (at left) and Greg, working in this photo at Ballard on my layout. At this point, Greg was the conductor and was managing the waybills for the local switching, while Paul was engineer.

     The two local operators who filled out the crew of four were Jim Radkey and Chuck Hakkarinen, whom you see below at Shumala. At this point, Jim (at left) was the conductor and Chuck was acting as engineer, as they organized the switching work before the arrival of the Guadalupe Local to exchange blocks of cars to and from the branch.

     This was the 48th session on the current version of this layout, and overall it went well. The corrections I made to the operating patterns after BayRails worked as I wanted them to, and most important of all, the visiting operators had a good time. That’s what it’s all about, for my money.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Another PFE Class R-30-16, Part 2

This post continues a description of building a Terry Wegmann / Red Caboose kit for PFE’s Class R-30-16 rebuilt refrigerator cars. The previous post presented the early steps to construct one of these kits, with some particular goals in mind for the completed model (you can read it at: ).
     The R-30-16 class is very interesting historically, as the first of the PFE rebuild classes in which the superstructure was steel-framed, though retaining wood sheathing on the outside. It also was the first rebuilt class with a “solid steel roof” (the PFE term), which is the vital addition that Terry Wegmann created for this kit. And finally, with 3554 cars in the class, it is not only ne of the larger PFE rebuild classes, but a survivor too, with 3400 cars still in service in January 1953. Since I model 1953, it was essential for me to add another model of this class, as I mentioned in the prior post.
     In the previous post (link provided in the first paragraph of the present post), the car body had been assembled and painted Daylight Orange. I now built up all the details on the kit ends. One thing to choose here is what kind of handbrake would be used. On its rebuilds, PFE often used Equipco power handbrakes, though not always. Shown below is an E.R. Mohr photo of two PFE cars at Salinas, California in 1958 or 1959, with the nearer car being a member of Class R-30-16 and providing a good view of its Equipco hand brake. (You can click on this image to enlarge it if you wish.)

Note, incidentally, that after PFE ceased washing its cars in the early 1950s, that they became rather dirty in a few years. Show this photo to anyone who thinks your weathering is “overdone.”
     Modeling this handbrake well is easy today, because we have the superb Kadee rendition of this brake wheel in HO scale. Below is my kit end with details added, including the Kadee hand wheel.

     I also decided to letter the car body while it was still unassembled. This is a particular advantage for car ends, because the separate end can be laid down flat on the workbench (as you see it above), instead of having to stand the car model on its end to apply decals.
     I next turned my attention to the roof filler strips at the ends. The stock Wegmann roof leaves a gap at the top of the car end, which has to be filled. The kit contains a piece of 0.040 x 0.080-inch styrene strip. My previous experience is that the gap may not be exactly this size, as I mentioned in describing a previous R-30-16 build (you can see that description at: ). In that previous build, I filed the roof so that the 0.040 x 0.080 strip would fit at both ends. In the present build, I used the 0.040 x 0.080 strip at one end, and two pieces of 0.015 x 0.080 strip at the other — in other words, the gap at that end was actually 0.030 x 0.080 inches.
     With the body in its correct Daylight Orange color, it was time for decals. True to the comments I made recently about PFE lettering (you can read post at this link: ), I used Microscale set 87-501 in the current version with Dick Harley’s excellent, recent artwork upgrading this set from older versions.

The 7-inch end lettering was applied, as it was still standard for wood-sheathed cars with wood ends in 1950.
     In the photo above, the fully lettered car is still on its interim truck support blocks but is otherwise ready to be weathered (I weather truck sideframes at the same time as the rest of the model). When first rebuilt, this class of cars largely retained their original T-section trucks, but as deadlines approached to remove these from service, more and more PFE cars got conventional AAR trucks. My model was equipped that way.
     All that really remains at this point is to weather the car, add some suitable chalk marks and route cards, and make a fresh paint patch where the reweigh data can be placed. Here is the result of those steps, pictured alongside the loading dock of the Guadalupe Fruit Company in my layout town of Ballard. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     I now have two model PFE cars representing the 3554 cars of Class R-30-16. That’s a good start, but still falls short of my goal of having one model PFE car for every 1000 cars in the prototype PFE car fleet. Luckily I have one more of the Wegmann / Red Caboose car kits for this class, and one of these days, I will add that third -16 car to my fleet.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A yard entry signal

My layout models a branch line of the Southern Pacific (a mythical one), and does not have a yard in the usual sense. But yard-like work has to be done at the branch’s junction with the Coast Route main line, despite the limited trackage, and accordingly the junction town, Shumala, is located in yard limits. On the main line, these limits extend beyond the modeled portion on the layout, but only extend a short way on the branch itself. There is a yard limit sign at that point, as I described in an earlier post (you can view it at: ).
     On the prototype, yard limit rules permit any train or engine to enter the protected yard, operating at restricted speed and prepared to stop short of obstacles. (Rule 93 for yard limits was quoted in the post cited just above.)  But in some circumstances, including limited visibility into the yard, a number of railroads provided a signal indication at or  near yard limits, to inform train crews as to whether the entry track was clear. I decided to do the same.
     Since dwarf signals are often used in yard situations, I decided to use that type of signal. And since my layout models Southern Pacific, I wanted to use an SP-style signal. For an example of how Southern Pacific dwarf signals looked, one can consult the ample prototype photography that exists. Shown below is a detail of a Robert Hale photo at Lathrop, California, taken during the transfer of the through chair car from the Sacramento Daylight to the San Joaquin Daylight in 1955. (The power on No. 52 happens to be SP 4449.) The dwarf signal is located between the tracks.

(The Hale photo is from the M.D. McCarter collection.)
     My dwarf signal is intended to control entry to yard limits when arriving from the branch. I decided that the right location would be alongside the yard limit sign. I made up a level pad on the hillside slope below the tunnel that leads to the branch, as you can see at the lower center of the photo below. The yard limit sign is across the tracks from the pad.

     Digging around in my catalogs of detail parts, I found a perfectly appropriate model, a Century Foundry kit for a Union Switch and Signal dwarf. Here are front and back views of the kit package, showing how the signal is intended to look when assembled. The sketch of the assembled kit, right, looks just like the SP prototype shown in the photo at the top of this post.

This kit originally contained clear plastic rod, intended as a light pipe so that the signal could be illuminated. But in my layout situation, the signal is aimed into the tunnel, so that approaching train crews could see it. That in turn means that model railroad operators cannot see it. I will need to provide a signal repeater panel for operators.
     This signal kit is still available, in the Century line now owned by Showcase Miniatures. They have revised the kit so that LED lighting can be installed right in the signal body, instead of with a light pipe, and it is now identified as kit no. 2194. You can see it on their website if you’re interested (the relevant page is at: ). This is the package label.

     The Century Foundry kit is simple, with just four parts. I cleaned them up with a small file, and assembled them with CA. I then painted the signal, and its junction box, with silver paint, to suggest the usual SP practice of aluminum paint on such appliances. I added an Alexander battery vault cover, their part no. 3110. Below is shown the installation. Because it needs to be aimed into a curved tunnel, it is some ways from the track, instead of right alongside, as it would be for tangent track.

     To portray the signal more in layout context, I took a photo looking down the track toward the yard, with the yard limit sign on the right. This is about the view that could be obtained standing on the hillside next to the tunnel.

     As I mentioned, now that the signal is installed, I need to make a repeater panel for the layout fascia, so that arriving train crews have a signal indication without craning their necks to try and see the signal itself. That repeater installation will be described in a future post.
Tony Thompson