Sunday, September 15, 2019

Modeling SP passenger cars, Part 9

I have done several previous posts about Southern Pacific passenger cars, as you can see from this being the ninth in the series, and there are even more if you include the ones about specific trains such as the “Coast Mail,” along with a kind of sub-series on SP sleeping cars, that included five posts. Lastly, there was a three-part series on making various heavyweight sleepers by modifying AHM cars  (you can find any of those prior posts by using “SP passenger cars” as the search term in the search box at right).
     My present post is about head-end cars, and accordingly follows on the Part 2 post, which began discussion of those kinds of cars (you can read the Part 2 post at this link: ). Then the most recent post in the series that treats head-end cars is the preceding post (see it at: ).
     I have acquired a couple more of the old Ken Kidder brass 60-foot baggage cars, and am gradually getting them fitted up for layout service. As I pointed out in previous posts. the Kidder roof meets the car side at an angle, rather than curving to be tangent to the side, but this isn’t evident in a passing train. Likewise, the Kidder roof vent arrangements are at best unusual for SP “Harriman” cars (I have been told they are accurate for several Illinois Central cars), but again, what matters in a passing train is that there are roof vents, not the exact arrangement (at least for those other than passenger modelers, of course).
     Shown below is the kind of underbody additions that I have applied to some of the Kidder baggage cars, with a battery box on one side, brake gear on the other side, with a reservoir. The lighting makes it look like it is a light color, but is actually dark gray. And yes, those are Central Valley trucks, of which I wish I had more.

     The photo below shows another of the cars being completed, SP 6206, in this case using Athearn 4-wheel trucks. I have experimented with a more faded green, both because some SP cars had that look, and in respect of indoor lighting. The full prototype color, Dark Olive Green, looks very dark indeed in indoor lighting and I have used it only for a few cars, to suggest recent repainting. The car below has been weathered, though I note that the trucks need some more grime.

     In most operating sessions, I do include a passenger extra, or a section of the “Coast Mail,” as suits the timetable. For this, I usually choose a Class P-4 Pacific, since the train is not very big. An example is shown below at Shumala. This particular train is mostly baggage cars, with an express box car (AAR Class BX) on the head end, an RPO car behind the baggage cars, and a dead-head sleeper on the rear. The express box car is from a Sunshine kit.

     Passenger operation is not a very important focus for my layout, but I do like to include this much of a passenger train presence. And it’s enjoyable to provide this kind of a variation in what is otherwise mostly freight car modeling!
Tony Thompson

Thursday, September 12, 2019

VanRail 2019

For a number of years, the modelers in Vancouver, British Columbia, have hosted an operating weekend in alternate years. If I’m counting correctly, this year was the seventh in this series. I attended, as I have previously, and as always, tremendously enjoyed a well-run meeting with terrific layous. This year, the group returned to the nice Accent Inn in Burnaby, not used in 2017 but familiar from prior years.

     Among the most ambitious and impressive layouts I know of in the Vancouver area is Scott Calvert’s Boundary Subdivision of the Canadian Pacific. As was the case two years ago, I worked one end of the big yard at Nelson, under the able yardmastering of Travers Stavac (it was pointed out that with Canada going metric, this job will eventually be retitled as the Metermaster). Right above the yard was the new second level, and we enjoyed seeing a train up there, one of the first to run on this very recent trackage. You can see the excellent rockwork and part of a snowshed, though scenery is clearly in its early stages.

Scott also hosted a very pleasant social evening on the Friday of the meeting. Thanks, Scott!
     My second layout was the Pacific Great Eastern of Doug Hicks. This is a remarkable layout in the amount of trackage that Doug was able to include in a modest-sized room, and the trackage all ran well, too. The scenery was nearly complete and quite nice, and that made it enjoyable to view and to operate. I ran the North Vancouver yard, compact and busy enough to be a challenge at times, but operating flawlessly. Here’s a view looking toward the rest of the layout (the relatively few cars that are visible show why I had enough time to take a photo).

Doug has made an interesting solution to knowing how a slip switch is lined, by adding LED lights that illuminate the chosen tracks. I totally relied on this in working the yard!
     On Sunday I had he privilege of operating on Mike Chandler’s Western Midland layout, set in 1938. Though work remains in some areas, the scenery is outstanding and so was the quality of operation. I had the fun of running several different way freights, with lots of very nice switching.
     One feature I liked, and it’s one you rarely see, is that the whole fascia was used as a kind of control panel. Below is part of the fascia at Black Mountain. The color-coded circles at mid photo, and corresponding plugs at the fascia bottom, are for DC operation, something Mike rarely does.

The white lines are essentially a 1:1 track diagram, making it easy to find the pushbuttons for track switches, and there are handy racks for paperwork (in use at the top of the photo). Boxes at right are for waybills, and you can see a hand-held throttle attached to Velcro at the left bottom. Nicely thought out.
     The scenery, as I said, is very impressive. Below is the summit of the railroad’s mountain crossing, at Lofty, with a wye that you can see, along with a stamp mill for a mining operation. Fun to switch as well as very attractive.

     I really enjoyed all three of these layouts, as you can probably tell. Even so, at most of these weekends, one has the experience of hearing multiple people rave about one of the layouts, inevitably one that you did not get assigned to. I just patiently make notes, so I will know to request that layout next time! Thanks again to the Vancouver crew, who put on a terrific event.
Tony Thompson

Monday, September 9, 2019

Handling ice on ice decks, Part 5

In the first post in this series, I described how ice was moved on the decks that were used for icing refrigerator cars in the prototype, and showed what the various systems for moving ice looked like (you can read that post at the following link: ).
     I followed that introduction with two posts about prototype icing and ice decks, emphasizing the part I know best, Pacific Fruit Express, but relating also to other companies around the United States. The first of those two posts was about the making and handling of the ice (that one can be found here: ), and the second of the two was about how icing was done, the tools used and the standards for ice size, etc. (that post is at this link: ).
     In the fourth post, I showed how I built the small ice deck on my layout, a typical deck of a local ice company, and showed it in its state before adding any capability for moving ice other than on the plain wood deck (that post is at: ). The real goal, of course, was to improve that deck for ice movement, as hinted in the first post of the series (cited in the first paragraph of the present post).
     Before going farther, I should mention that I have had an inquiry in a separate email, from a questioner who wanted to know if I could supply more information about icing as it was practiced on the prototype. I suggested that he might like to go back and read a post I made quite awhile ago, quoting part of my interview with Pete Holst, retired Car Service manager for PFE, and I think it does provide a lot of insight. The post can be found here: .
     Back to modeling of my icing facility. My choice to facilitate easier ice movement on this deck was to add a sheet-steel runner, with a raised back edge to act as a guide for ice blocks, as they are pushed or pulled along the runner by a workman. I chose to make this using a styrene strip, 12 scale inches wide, with a scale 1 x6 -inch strip glued vertically along one edge. The length I chose was simply most of the ice deck.
     Now to paint the runner. I began with a good base color for steel in the open, namely the Tamiya TS-38, "Gun Metal,” in a rattle can, The first time you use this, you will probably cry out "Aaack!’ upon viewing what you painted, because it’s a dark brown-bronze kind of color with a purplish overtone and little sparkles everywhere, and it’s glossy. But a coat of flat kills both the gloss and the sparklies. Here is how it looks at this point.

You’ll notice that at the left end, the outermost part of the runner, I angled the backing strip a bit toward the front.
     My next idea was to add a little rust — after all, this thing gets wet all the time — but more importantly, the 300-pound ice blocks sliding along it will result in shiny, silvery areas along much of the length, as they polish off rust and any old oxide.
     I added the silver color by dry-brushing. This used to be a standard modeler’s technique, but now seems out of fashion. All it is, is to wet a brush with the paint being used, and brush out most of the paint onto a piece of card or other handy waste, leaving just barely any paint on the brush. Now when that brush is applied to the model being painted, only a slight highlight is added. Obviously one experiments to apply the optimum amount for any particular painting project.
     Here is a view of the completed runner, just resting on the ice deck at this point. I placed a few ice blocks on the deck to illustrate.

This is about the right length and size for what I wanted on this runner.
     The view above may not clearly show where I placed the runner on the deck. For that information, the overhead view below should suffice.

     My ice deck scene is still not complete. I need to add a few more details, as I will relate in a following post. I should emphasize that I am not trying to model active icing, only a crew on the deck getting ready to ice cars.Most of the time in any operating session, that is the right posture for the deck crew to have, so I have modeled it that way.
Tony Thompson

Friday, September 6, 2019

PFE paint schemes — again

I have commented in a number of previous posts about paint schemes for Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars, especially about model manufacturers’ implementation of some schemes. Any of those posts can be found easily using a search term like “PFE paint scheme” in the search box at right. Of particular interest may be a predecessor of today’s post, which can be found at: .
     Let me begin by reviewing what is very well documented and should be well known. From the earliest days of PFE in 1906, car ends were painted boxcar red (which I’ll call BCR). Roofs then were an outside wood-sheathed design, and were BCR also. When metal-sheathed roofs were first applied, they were painted black, but around 1936 or so, they became BCR again. Roof and ends then remained BCR for PFE’s ice cars until 1962, when PFE decided that all its cars, ice or mechanical refrigeration, would have the same paint scheme, black ends and silver roofs.
     Much of this information is contained, in somewhat abbreviated form, in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000), but it is much more completely presented in Dick Harley’s excellent compilation, contained in the SP Historical & Technical Society book, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide (SPH&TS, Upland, CA, 2016). The book also contains a pretty complete guide for SP cars that I wrote.
     So what’s the problem? One issue is that exceptions to the standard paint did occur, especially in the latter part of the 1950s. Ice refrigerator cars were occasionally photographed with black ends, though they should have been BCR, probably having happened when the shops were painting mechanical refrigerators (which always had black ends) and just didn’t bother to change colors when doing the ends on an ice car. There is also at least one photo of an ice car with the lettering and railroad emblems of pre-1960 PFE, but with black ends and silver roof, again, likely a shop shortcut.
     Should we model these rarities? That’s a personal call, but relevant, because nowadays our good friends at InterMountain Models release some ready-to-run cars with black ends, or in the latest release of Class R-40-25 cars, a car with black ends, silver roof, and pre-1960 lettering, as I just described. Now I know how modelers often fall in love with weird or one-of-a-kind paint schemes, so I would guess that decorating models that way does produce sales, but the more careful modeler may wish to avoid such oddball paint and lettering.
     As it happens, I have a couple of the InterMountain-produced rare-scheme cars myself (one of which was given to me, and one that I bought without realizing the color of the ends). A car or two with black ends might be okay in the late 1950s, but I model 1953, when PFE standards were still pretty consistently observed. Here are those two cars, one wood-sheathed and one steel.

The Tichy-origin wood car in the background here, in addition to its black ends, has the oddball numerals that I think InterMountain inherited from Red Caboose. They really do not resemble the condensed numerals actually used by PFE. Some readers may recall that I have expressed myself previously on this topic (see the post cited in the first paragraph of the present post).

For an example of real PFE numerals, here is a detail of a PFE photo, repeated from the post just cited. It should clearly demonstrate what actual PFE numerals looked like (compare the numbers “2” and “9” in each image).

It may occur to you that I sound a little like a type geek here. Guilty as charged. And if all this sounds familiar, it should; I sounded off similarly last spring (see this post: ).
     To correct the car ends will require painting them boxcar red, thus obliterating the old car numbers, and since I am not delighted with the car numbers on the car sides anyway, the cars will both receive new numbers, in a correct size and style, of course.
     I prepared to paint by masking off the car sides and roof. Now masking over the side ladders and grab irons might seem a daunting task, but not so if you use a really flexible masking tape. I used the Tamiya 10-mm tape that I showed earlier ( ). It goes on easily and simply gets the job done.
     Next I airbrushed the ends boxcar red, using a color I like, Star Brand Paint STR-30, “SP/UP Freight Car Red,” and then hand-painted out the offending side lettering using Star’s STR-27, “S.P./P.F.E. Daylight Orange.” This paint dries glossy enough to accept decals with no other preparation. Lettering was done with the outstanding Microscale set 87-501, the recent version with the superb Dick Harley lettering. If you have a set with this number that’s more than, say, 10 years old, please, please, replace it with a new one. You will see the difference at once.

The photo above shows both cars with their new end lettering, and a bit of weathering to match the rest of the model. Note that the wood-sheathed car, as was standard in the early 1950s, has 7-inch end lettering, while the steel car has 4-inch end lettering. And yes, all that small lettering on the lower part of the steel end is available in Microscale 87-501.
     I am happy to have removed these anomalous (for 1953) black ends from these two cars, and can now happily use them in general service on my layout. I’m sure they will be rolling in the next operating session.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Car Service organization

Most railroads had an organizational entity that they called “Car Service,” and any one that didn’t, certainly had some kind of unit that did the same work, whatever its name. What was “car service” in this context? It was primarily car distribution, that is, getting empties to where they were needed for loading, along with the record keeping of car activity, and also reporting of car movements.
     It’s hard to believe that some of the record-keeping and reporting was even possible in the day of hand-written or typed records, but armies of clerks did all the work. For example, every freight car passing through a junction between two railroads was reported back to the car owner, reports made every day, which would permit tracing of cargoes or astray cars. In that sense, each railroad knew where all its cars were, or at least the most recent junction that each car had passed.
     Those cars passing through each junction had to be recorded for a second reason: if they were returned empty via their loaded route, the usual procedure for unneeded empties, they had to be routed back through each junction they passed when loaded. And if a railroad attempted to hand off an empty at the wrong junction, the receiving railroad could and did refuse it. That ensured that those who benefited from the car’s loaded revenue, would fairly share the expense of returning the empty.
     Perhaps the most important part of the Car Service responsibility was the delivery of empty cars, not just any cars but the correct cars, to where they were needed for loading, when they were needed. The responsible official at any particular location, usually a station agent, would call a Car Distributor, and he and his clerks, having collected requests from station agents all over their assigned territory, would arrange to send the needed empties.
     The main tool used to identify the “pool” of empty cars on the railroad was a report, filed every morning by every station agent on the railroad, giving the status of cars in that station’s territory, including those expected to be  made empty that day. This enabled Car Distributors to keep track of cars of every type that might soon be available for loading, in addition to empties already in yards. You can readily imagine the scale and complexity of this task.
     Last year I showed photos from an article in the Southern Pacific employee magazine, the Bulletin, about the Los Angeles Yard Office, and though that is a separate part of the paperwork connected with freight car movement, it does add something to this topic. (You can find that post at this link: .)
     Shown below is another of the many SP examples out there of rooms full of clerical forces dealing with freight paperwork and car distribution. This one was taken in San Francisco and appeared in the October 1951 issue of the Bulletin.

Here’s an additional example, taken in the Gerber, California yard office, and almost all of these people are clerks. The photo was in the April 1952 issue of the Bulletin.

     At this point I should emphasize that neither I nor practically any other modeler would wish to reproduce the mountains of paper records once created (and stored) by railroads, nor for that matter many of the individual documents making up those mountains. But I do want to suggest the existence of that paperwork in the way I operate my layout. That is the basis for my interest in waybills, which were indeed handled by freight conductors, and dropped off with or picked up from station agents.
     I have just placed an interesting document about the topic of Car Service organizations on Google Drive. It is an article, from the July-August 1970 issue of the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad employee magazine, Maine Lines, and was furnished to me by Ed Shoben, the source for the BAR article I posted last month as part of an article about the BAR reefer fleet being leased to Pacific Fruit Express (that post can be viewed at this link: ). Here is the link to the BAR item on Google Drive:

You may notice that this article also contains information about the lease of BAR reefers to PFE during the summer and early fall.
     As I stated, most of us are delighted to ignore, in our model worlds, the great bulk of the prototype’s paperwork, and not least, most of the activities and paperwork of a Car Service Department. But recognizing what that part of the railroad did is a help in understanding how freight cars were moved. And that’s something that a lot of us want to understand better, and try to model better.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Conveying one’s layout locale

I have written in previous posts, some time back, about the question of conveying to visitors, whether model railroaders or not, the locale that your layout portrays. The problem may be quite easy to solve, if for example you model the Burlington through the suburbs west of Chicago, or Chama, New Mexico, or the warehouse district of New Orleans, because almost anyone will know where those places are. Or if you model a famous railroad location, say, Hinton, West Virginia, people don’t need to know exactly where in West Virginia it is, because of its prominence in the lore of the Chesapeake and Ohio.
     But many of us model less well-known places or regions. My own layout is set in the central coast area of California, as it is known, and Californians know pretty accurately where it is when I say it is in the area of Santa Maria. Even non-Californians familiar with the Southern Pacific will have a good idea of my location when I say it is a ways south of San Luis Obispo.
     My first post about identifying layout locale included a simplified map of the imaginary branch line I model, showing its relation to the SP main line, and the map is simply modified from the SP’s own map of the Coast Division. (that post can be found at: ). That map at least shows the towns nearest my branch line.
     But even that interesting map has no context for many visitors. I recently noticed a map which showed its general area, then an enlargement of one segment. “Exactly!” I thought. I immediately created an outline map of California so I could show the area of my layout location, with the SP main line of the Coast Route indicated (the Coast Division extended from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, with remaining trackage into Los Angeles as part of Los Angeles Division). Here’s the result (feel free to click to enlarge the image, if you wish), with my branch line diverging toward the ocean.

The map alone, of course, does not portray anything about what I am trying to model in this locale, but at least does provide the geographic context of the layout I’ve built.
     I have recently been musing anew about how to describe my layout goals. In a way, of course, what I have done in building my layout expresses perfectly what my goals are, if you can just perceive them, but that doesn’t put them into words. So I have had, as Pooh would say, “a small think.”
     A few background remarks on this topic were included in a post that followed my “locale” post, and had as its main subject the always-vexing question of how one explains one’s layout goals. (You can read that discussion here: ). More recently, I expanded on this topic of layout goals, and how very many varieties of them one may encounter (see that post at: ).
     The just-cited post on layout goals presents my own personal goals at greater length, but to summarize, I am trying to recreate freight railroading as it was practiced on the Southern Pacific in 1953 in rural areas of the central California coast. For that goal, reproducing any one specific place isn’t vital and hasn’t been attempted. Instead, effort has been devoted to freight cars and locomotives that are accurate both for 1953 and for that part of the SP, along with typical products being both shipped and delivered, and operational procedures typical of SP that are the core of my layout operating sessions.
     Below I’ve shown a typical view at my layout town of Shumala, with the SP’s mainline Guadalupe Local, behind an Alco RSD-5, in front of a copy of the SP’s Sylmar, California depot, waiting for the local switcher to tack on the rear part of the train so the Local can depart.

To most people, those hillsides of golden grass in the background do shout “California,” even before they know more about the locale, and that’s a good start.
     As I’ve said elsewhere, the entire idea of modeling an imaginary branch line of a familiar and well-known railroad was something I encountered the year I lived in England, and went to many weekend model railroad exhibitions. The typical exhibition layout, small enough to be readily portable, is an imaginary branch line of the Great Western, or London and North Eastern, or whichever railway was chosen. I liked the way this works, in that viewers readily understand the context of what they are seeing, and I have ended up doing it myself.
     There is a sense in which generalizing how things looked and worked in a particular area is more effort than simply modeling what was there in a particular place and time. Maybe not less modeling effort, but in some ways more research and analysis effort. But I enjoy those things, and for the goals I have, it works for me.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Modeling highway trucks, Part 8

The topic of this series of posts was chosen in part to emphasize my belief that anything a modeler can do, that emphasizes regional and local identity, is a big plus in the realism of a layout. We are sometimes urged to show evidence of national brands (for example, Shell Oil or Coca-Cola), and these brands are recognizable and thus helpful, but I think regional brands are better still. To see previous posts in the series, I would recommend using “modeling highway trucks” as a search term in the search box at right.
     A couple of my earlier posts were about longer semi-trailers, especially the very nice ones once made by Ulrich in all metal. As one example, the previous post, Part 7, was about these trailers (you can read that post at the following link: ). But smaller trailers were also very prevalent in the 1950s, which I model, so this post is about them.
     Athearn for  many years made a 24-foot semi-trailer (these are still readily available via eBay and other on-line sellers), marred mostly by having dual axles at the rear, hardly needed on a small trailer. But in fact it is the work literally of seconds to use a razor saw to remove the forward axle in the dual-axle bogie, converting the trailer to something far more realistic (I first described this point on one of the earlier posts about highway truck modeling, which is here: ).
     I recently picked up a few more of the old Athearn 24-footers for conversion. Shown below is one of the original Athearn paint schemes, for International Forwarding, at left, and at right is a trailer that has had the lettering stripped, repainted with Tamiya “Gloss Aluminum”(TS-17), and lettered with an appropriate truck graphic from Graphics on Demand (see their web site at: ).
     The other trailer, at right, has not yet had its forward axle removed. I decided to letter that trailer for a very modern owner, Great Northern Brewing in Whitefish, Montana, which I only chose because I’ve visited there. But it’s out of era for my 1953 layout.

     Below are two more trailers re-lettered. I should mention again that the Graphics on Demand product is nicely printed on clear vinyl, and is a peel-and-stick sheet. With a coat of flat finish, it is all but undetectable on a model.  Here the companies are So-Cal Freight Lines and Coast Truck Lines. Awhile back, I did another trailer in the Coast lettering, but it was on the right side of a trailer, while this is a left side, giving me directional flexibility when showing this company on the layout.

     These are both regional companies. By the way, Southern California Freight Lines (its full name) has a long history, dating back  before 1950, but like many small companies from decades ago, it is hard to find much history on-line about most regional truckers. I recommend making the effort, but you may not find much in many cases.
      My final pair of trailer schemes also includes a left side of a scheme earlier done on a right side, for West Coast Fast Freight, and an elegant scheme for a company not done before, California Lines.

     All of these trailers are already in service on the layout, substituted for existing trailers to provide variety, which was the original purpose. I continue to seek out additional propsects for these kinds of trailer lettering, to extend further the variety I already have.
Tony Thompson