Sunday, May 22, 2022

Updating the car fleet plan: flat cars

 One of the least common freight cars in the national fleet in 1953, the year I model, was flat cars. However, it’s important to realize that this varied greatly by region, and Southern Pacific handled huge quantities of lumber shipments in that period, which explains the large SP flat car fleet.  

To illustrate, here are bar-graph representations of the national car fleet (left) and the SP car fleet (right) in 1950. Both graphs show the car types in same order, in order of descending size for the national fleet, then in the same order for the SP fleet to dramatize its differences. Note that flat cars made up 9 percent of the SP fleet, while nationally, flat cars were just 3 percent. (You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish.)

As part of a multi-post effort back in 2011 to present all of my car fleet plans, separated by car type, my fleet plan for flat cars is at the following link: .

It’s interesting to look back at that 2011 plan and note that I only had two special-use flat cars, a depressed-center car (AAR FD) and a 4-truck car. The balance were 20 “general service” cars, AAR Class FM, though 5 of those 20 were unbuilt kits and five more were stand-ins, due for replacement. 

Today the number of unbuilt kits has risen slightly (though not the same ones!), most of the stand-ins are gone, and there are a number of new cars. And today my overall fleet of flat cars is about 7 percent of the total fleet, probably about right for SP in 1953.

In that 2011 post, I noted that lumber was a major category of flat car loads for SP in the 1950s, and I’ve posted several descriptions of such loads I’ve built for these cars (see for example: ), or one of my posts about the lumber loads that Richard Hendrickson built, and which I inherited (available at: ).

I also described, in a later post, the variety that ought to be present in lumber loads, as to both height of lumber stacks, and size of lumber in the stacks. These aspects of course varied from carload to carload (that post can be found at: ).

Thke latter topic is only one part of the broad subject of open-top car loads, about which I have written frequently; to locate any of those posts, I would recommend using “open-top car loads” as the search term in the search box at the upper right corner of this post.

I continue to enjoy open-top cars, of course including flat cars, because of the variety of loads they can carry. An example is below, a car and load currently operating on the layout, an ancient Athearn 4-truck car (not really quite correct, but . . .) with a large casting load (for more on the load, see ). 

Most of my loads, including the one shown above, are removable, permitting their use on a variety of flat cars (or, in some cases, also in gondolas). For another example, this short girder, braced according to the AAR loading rules, is shown on the Pennsylvania F30A flat car I recently discussed  ( ). Background on the girder load can be found at this link: .

Flat cars remain, as they should, a minor part of my overall freight car fleet, but I think my earlier 2011 goals for sizes, types, and railroad name variety are being met.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Getting the car you want, Part 4

 This series of posts is about modeling a car from a specific number series within the Pacific Fruit Express Class R-40-10 refrigerator cars, 4700 cars built during 1936–37 and numbered 40001–44700. The InterMountain Railway Co. kit I am building has been renumbered and details modified in previous posts (see the last one: ); prototype photos were provided in earlier posts in the series.

In the last installment, car body details wee complete, except for the roof. The first decision to make about the roof is the ice hatches. The original fabricated steel hatch covers remained on many cars throughout their lives, but when needed, they were replaced in many cases with the later-design one-piece formed steel hatch covers.

Below is a photo clearly showing these hatch covers, though the car shown is from the later Class R-40-23, obviously with a Morton running board, and with the dot over the reporting marks that designated the presence of fans. The photo is from General American, author’s collection.

Partly because the molded hatch covers in my kit had warped (and were brittle, thus not straightenable), I decided to replace them with the formed steel variety. I had some in my parts stash, I think made by Red Caboose, and nicely including the short hand grabs on the inboard side of the hatch (see photo above). I applied these to the roof, followed by the corner grab irons, the running board (with scribed board divisions added), and end running board supports, latter two things attached with canopy glue. I also applied the hatch cover latch bars from the kit (note how prominent these are in the photo above).

Next came weathering and finishing. I gave the car a final coat of flat finish, then turned to my usual techniques with acrylic tube paints, applied as washes. (For more detail on all that, see my “Reference pages,” linked at the top right of every blog post.) The car at this point is shown below. Note that during the application of washes, I used a Q-tip to “wipe clean” the reporting marks.

Next I added a patch of clear gloss at the points that would receive a reweigh patch, then added the paint patch with a small rectangle of orange decal. Then old Sunshine reweigh lettering was added. 

Lastly, a route card was added on the route card board on the bolster end at the left of each car side, and a few chalk marks were added with white Prismacolor pencil. A final dusting with flat finish, and the car was ready for service. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

This was a simple and fun project, upgrading and renumbering an otherwise standard kit, while making some decisions about age of the paint scheme, etc. The car will definitely be active in my next operating session.

Tony Thompson

Monday, May 16, 2022

Another NMRA regional convention

 This spring, with the pandemic at least less evident, regional conventions of the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) have resumed in many parts of the country. Not long ago, I wrote about attending a convention of that kind in my home region, Pacific Coast Region (you can read that post at: ). Last week I attended another, that of an adjoining region, Pacific Northwest Region (PNR). It was held in Eugene, Oregon.

Because PNR is nearby, I have attended a number of their conventions, and thus know a fair number of people in the region. This makes it fun to attend, and this iteration, even though sparsely attended in comparison to pre-pandemic events, was enjoyable. I also gave two talks, one of them a new clinic, whose handout was posted recently (the handout is available at: ).

One of the pleasures of this convention was a reunion with an old friend, C.J. Riley, who I first met 45 years ago when we both lived in Pittsburgh. Together with the late Larry Kline (see my remembrances of him at: ), we formed a tight group of three, not only traveling to NMRA conventions together but getting together weekly for operating sessions or work sessions on our three layouts.

As it happened, C.J. was giving a clinic at this PNR convention, on the subject of his recent Kalmbach book about scenery and detailing techniques. It’s a fine book and I recommend it highly; he had copies with him and sold a fair number to clinic attendees. (For a review of the book, see this: ). Below is C.J. at right, with the first slide in the clinic.

There were some excellent models in the contest room at this convention. A number of them were fine models that were shown for display only, not contest entries. One of them was Greg Kujawa’s very nice box car, SP&S 13421, which was well rendered with weathering, chalk marks and route cards.

The contest entry that impressed me the most was Ted Kruysman’s Southern Pacific dome car, SP 3600, partly because he had to do an awful lot of work. He started with a Rivarossi passenger car, filled almost all the windows, and cut into the roof so that parts of a two Life-Like domes could be inserted. He then cleaned up the body and repainted, also adding working diaphragms, and passengers inside. Very nice workmanship and a polished final product.

Lastly, I enjoyed the HO scale sectional layout set up by the South Rogue Model Railroad Club, led by Dave Olsen and Bryan Orisen. It’s quite large, filling a lot of a hotel ballroom. Though it wasn’t possible to photograph the whole thing, here’s a view from one corner. Having once been part of a modular group, I admired their scenicked return loops, each comprising several sections. Just visible near the door at photo center is one of their signature scenes, a bascule bridge section.

Here’s a close-up view of this operating bridge (they raised it from time to time). Nice attention-getter!

Like I almost always do, I enjoyed attending and participating in this regional convention. And I’ll repeat my frequent suggestion: if you have never been to one of these, you ought to give it a try.

Tony Thompson

Friday, May 13, 2022

Handout: layout operations

 This post constitutes a handout for a talk on operation of my layout. I have come to prefer a handout in this form because it can easily be updated or corrected, even in real time, and can contain live links to a variety of on-line resources, neither of which is true of paper handouts. In addition, it can readily include color graphics and other resources that get complicated to reproduce on paper. 

This particular talk is about my layout goals, both the prototype aspects and the modeling goals. It also includes a segment on the waybills I use, as a route to more realistic operation. This means finding out about freight traffic on the prototype. I have benefited by the information in an SP conductor’s time book, as shown here:

My layout design and goals are derived from the SP prototype. Below is one example (Dallas Gilbertson photo, Tom Dill collection) of the kind of operation I want to model. It shows the Guadalupe Local, at Hadley as it departs San Luis Obispo, with Consolidation 2752 operating tender-first. The crew had to choose which direction they would operate in this configuration, as there were no turning facilities at Guadalupe.

For background on my layout locale and modeling approaches, for the Southern Pacific Coast Division in 1953, I would recommend these two posts:

For more on waybills, there are numerous sources, including an article in Model Railroad Hobbyist. Below are a couple of links, the first to the MRH article description, but these extend far beyond these two write-ups. Sub-topics within the subject of waybills can readily be found by using the search box at top right of all posts, and selecting a search term for the specific interest that you have.

Below is a summary, showing all the information contained in my model waybills. This closely mirrors the prototype waybill.

When all these elements come together — the prototype-oriented layout design, the trains and the freight cars, and the waybills that make it all function —  can enjoy something like the photo below, a Santa Rosalia Branch local, having finished its work on the branch and returning westward with the cars it picked up, heading to Shumala.

This talk has been interesting to prepare, as it brings together several threads of topics long discussed, but usually only separately. It has been a pleasure to look at all of them at once, and bring them together into a presentation.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The new Rapido Pennsy flat car

 Rapido Trains has recently released a distinctive and well-made HO scale model of a Pennsylvania Railroad Class F30A flat car. It’s distinctive because it was a one-piece freight car: the entire frame, side and end sills and even stake pockets all comprised a single General Steel Castings (GSC) product. This made the car extremely strong and durable, and they survived for decades.

For information on these cars, I naturally turned to the superb book by Elden Gatwood and Al Buchan, entitled Pennsylvania Railroad Flat Cars (Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society, Kutztown, PA, 2008), which I’ve mentioned it before: , and will say again, it’s one of the great freight car books. 

The F30A cars were built during 1933–34, assembled at PRR’s Pitcairn Shops, a total of 1500 cars. This was by far the largest flat car class ever on the PRR.  It was just 50 feet long (in later years, 53 feet, 6 inches became a de facto standard length), but in the 1930s, 50 feet was a long flat car. They had 70 tons capacity, again, large for that day. Below is a prototype photo (PRRT&HS Archives). Note how thin in the side sill.

The one-piece frame/body casting from GSC is shown below (PRR photo, Dave Sweetland collection), whitewashed for visibility. Photo is dated April 18, 1934. You can see that stake pockets were cast onto the body.

The Rapido model is cast metal, thus heavy. (It weighs fully 3 ounces!) It also reproduces beautifully the prototype underframe complexity, as you see below.(You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish.)

The prototype car was strong enough that it could be built at the absolute minimum height, which is the top of the standard draft gear. As you see below, this was evident on the model (and prototype, of course) as the top of both bolster and draft gear were flush with the deck. This arrangement became a familiar sight in later years, especially after World War II, when many railroad bought similar cars, but this was a pioneer.

The trucks are another impressive part of this model. The PRR used a somewhat unusual truck for these cars, called 2D-F10, similar to the standard 2D-F8 PRR freight truck, but with a wider spring package to accommodate a leaf spring between the two outer springs in the spring package. The spring rate of the two spring types differs, minimizing harmonic “bounce” with these trucks. Below are the prototype truck at left, and the model truck at right. Obviously the latter has been tooled specially. Impressive work, Rapido!

Part of the long-term survival of these cars was their adaptation in later years for several other uses, including trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC) service in the 1950s, including 250 cars of Class F30D built in 1951 with the same underframe design. Rapido offers this variation too (see examples on their site, at: ), though most are now at dealers; I got mine at a hobby shop. Some of the TOFC cars were later sold to Trailer Train.

This is a really nice model, and will certainly find work on my layout! If you find freight cars interesting, even if you aren’t a PRR fan, you might like to pick up one or two of these fine models yourself.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Waybills, Part 97: waybill roles

 In the previous post in this (long) series about waybills, I took up the topic of the various roles that waybills may play in operation of model railroads. In my view. such roles ought to mimic, at least to some degree, the role that waybills play in prototype operation. You can read that preceding post at:

One can route freight cars in a layout operating session in a number of ways, of which waybills are only one. I personally think that some form of waybill, in model usage, captures an aspect of the prototype that is useful and appropriate to include in layout operations, for any era before the 1970s. But if some see it as too complex, what ways can simplify it s help to the reluctant? I mentioned color coding, with stripes or dots on the waybill, in the previous post. 

(Below is an experiment I did for the late Otis McGee to consider for his layout. This was to label through cars with a blue stripe for eastward destinations, pink for westward — this idea was rejected by both of us in favor of just training operators. I will say more about that training presently.) But if not color stripes or dots, what else might be done?

One possibility is to code waybills for destinations, particular trains, or even just direction of movement. For example, you could add a code as well as a color block it to use the block at the top left of a prototype waybill (which is labeled “Place Special Service Pasters here). Such a “service paster” might well be in color, so this location could be used very flexibly, as Frank Hodina did in the example below. Note that this form closely follows the AAR prototype.

Another possibility is to use a code on the waybill, and to highlight such codes to make it even easier for an operator to find. Below are two examples from Ted Pamperin’s Chesapeake & Ohio layout, with codes at top left for through trains eastward and westward (E and W, in the yellow blocks). This approach has the advantage of using soft colors, thus minimizing any intrusion.

These are only a few examples of ways layout owners have chosen a prototype-looking waybill design, but with some “help” addition, often in color, to make it easier to use. I personally admire Frank Hodina’s clever use of the “service paster,” and commend any approach that is similarly  of minimal intrusion on the prototype appearance. 

But my personal preference is to avoid color codes  — I would rather figure out how to make the waybill more comprehensible — and I will take up further possibilities in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

ProRail 2022

The title, as many will know, refers to a nationally invited operating weekend where something like 60 operators gather for three days of operation, typically one layout on each of three days. This happens to have been the 50th anniversary of the first such event, held by “RailGroup” in Chicago in 1972, and so this 50th anniversary was very appropriately held in Chicago. “ProRail” stands for “Prototype Railroad Operations.” For more on the history, you may visit the site: .

I enjoyed this event once again, and had the good fortune to operate on three fine layouts. The first one was Jerry Zeman’s Spokane Southern Railroad, an amalgam of Great Northern and Northern Pacific operations in 1952 in the Northwest. My assignment was Worley Yard, along with Travers Stavac, who was yardmaster. In the view below, Travers is in the distance in the dark shirt. Just behind him is Doug Harding, engineer of an arriving train.

This is a very large layout, not only occupying a large floor space but parts of it built on three levels, connected by a 12-turn helix. One feature of Jerry’s layout that I found ingenious and effective was his method of protecting the operating knobs for the Blue Point push-pull switch controls. He simply added a drawer pull outside of each one, neatly preventing inadvertent bumps.

The second layout I visited was Lou Steenwyk’s relatively new layout, modeling a free-lance railroad serving Minnesosta iron ore country in 1959. The foundation is the Ashland & Iron Range, though two other railroads are also modeled. The large yard at Ashland, Wisconsin is in two parts, and I handled one of them, while Henry Freeman handled the other. Below is a shot of the yard I worked. This is not one of the ore yards, but handles general freight and a number of local industries, some of which are visible along the backdrop. I liked the layout, which operated well and has comfortable aisles.

The last day, I operated on John Goodheart’s LECS (Lake Erie, Columbus and Southern), modeling the former Erie Lackawanna line from Columbus to Cincinnati, Ohio, and set in 1969. It’s a large layout, about 1100 square feet, and was enjoyable to operate, with a very long run to cover the entire layout on its two decks. The large yard on the layout is shown below, with Phil Monat at left, working the yard, and beyond him, John Bauer. At right is Paul De Luca, engineer on a passing train.

This was, as usual, a very pleasant and invigorating ProRail. I was pleased to be invited and greatly enjoyed operating on the three layouts to which I was assigned. I look forward to next year in Kansas City!

Tony Thompson