Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Gondola interiors

 Open-top cars, especially gondolas with tight bottoms, inevitably get considerable dirt, rust, and dunnage remnants accumulating in their interior. Anyone who has viewed prototype gondolas from above knows what I am talking about. Yet often this is not modeled, even for cars that would be far past their construction date on a particular layout.

Awhile back I read an interesting comment in one of the modeler forums on the Model Railroad Hobbyist site. Here is a link to the particular node: https://model-railroad-hobbyist.com/node/35193 . The person providing the images only identified himself as “Terry,” so I can’t give full credit. Here is one of the images, recently photographed, a Missouri Pacific car:

The accumulation of miscellaneous material, and the rusty floor, is evident. Another example was this GONX car. Here the rust is a little less evident, but the color, especially of the floor, is considerably different that the paint color.

I recently observed a whole fleet of superb gondola interiors on Bill Neale’s excellent layout depicting the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1939 (see my blog post about the layout, at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2021/11/attending-prorail-2021.html ). With Bill’s permission, I will show a couple of examples that I photographed. First, some black NYC gondolas, with interiors quite different in color:

Another example, this one a Pennsylvania car, shows an even more dramatic interior, though certainly well within the range of what one sees on the prototype:

And I will show a couple of cars in my own fleet. First up is a model I inherited from Richard Hendrickson, a B&O USRA gondola (Westerfield resin, I think), Class O-27, with distressed sides, some interior color change, and considerable remnant dunnage:

Another is a fairly recent Tangent model of the Pennsylvania G31C class, which would be recently built in my 1953 modeling year, with mostly dunnage inside but some rust developing on the interior of the sides:

Lastly, I wanted to try and get some of the tan “dirt” colors seen in the Bill Neale models. I tried using a mix of three acrylic tube colors: Neutral Gray, Raw Sienna, and a little bit of Burnt Sienna. This seemed to give a good “dusty” or sandy look. Below is an Ulrich GS gondola that I’ve operated for some time, with added interior color. I intend to try more intense versions of this.

All these cars show some of what I want to achieve, including the dunnage remnants and soil colors that I want, but I want to move further toward having some of my gondolas with truly rusty or sandy interiors. I will show some further results in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, November 27, 2021

The GSC flat cars

General Steel Casting Corporation (GSC), with facilities in Granite City, Illinois and Eddystone, Pennsylvania, was a major supplier of steel castings to the railroad industry, particularly one-piece cast engine beds for steam locomotives. They also produced all kinds of other steel castings, from small to very large, for railroad use. For background, I recommend the Wikipedia article at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Steel_Industries

Established in 1928 by co-owners Baldwin Locomotive Works, American Locomotive Company, and American Steel Foundries (a major supplier of truck sideframes), GSC built a new facility adjacent to the Baldwin plant at Eddystone, and a year later, acquired Commonwealth Steel Company, a major supplier of truck and other castings, in Granite City, Illinois. In 1961, the name would be changed to General Steel Industries.

In the 1930s, they worked with the Pennsylvania Railroad to develop a one-piece flat car frame and body, which the PRR designated as Class F30A. This was a 50-foot car, and was found to weigh less than a mechanically similar built-up and riveted 50-foot car. Moreover, it had a lower deck (which is why the top of the bolster was flush with the deck), and required a lot less maintenance.

Although the Association of American Railroads (AAR) proposed the F30A as a recommended standard in July 1941, few such cars were built outside of PRR during the war. But after the war, GSC refined the original PRR design, simplifying and lightening it somewhat and extending the length to the then-standard 53 feet, 6 inches. By the early 1950s, many roads had chosen this design for purchase, often buying only the casting and adding brake gear, trucks and couplers, and deck at their own shops.

Shown below is a GSC photo of one of these castings, from the 1953 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia. As is evident, stake pockets were cast integral with the body.

As a Southern Pacific modeler, I was aware that SP never acquired any of the distinctive GSC cars, though a number of major railroads did. (SP subsidiary T&NO did buy GSC pulpwood flat cars.) I wanted to include one of the general-service cars in my freight car fleet. Accordingly, I acquired a somewhat old Walthers kit (no. 932-3754, first produced in 1990) for a Santa Fe GSC car. These are readily purchased from on-line sellers.

The Santa Fe GSC cars are described in Richard Hendrickson’s book, Santa Fe Open-Top Cars: Flat, Gondola and Hopper Cars, 1902-1959 (Santa Fe Railway Rolling Stock Reference Series, Vol. 7, Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society, Midwest City, Oklahoma, 2009). 

The first of several classes was Class FT-W, 200 cars acquired over several months, starting in September of 1951, ATSF 93300–93499. Like so many railroads, Santa Fe purchased the bare frames from GSC and added everything else at their Albuquerque Shops, including ASF A-3 “Ride Control” trucks. (I mention the trucks because the Walthers kit supplies roller-bearing trucks, which have to be replaced.) Below is a photo of the first of the the Class FT-W cars (Santa Fe photo, CSRM).

 Kit assembly is quite simple and straightforward, except for couplers. I’ll return to them in a moment. The underframe as modeled by Walthers isn’t accurate, in that it omits quite a few lightening holes in the center sills and cross-bearers, but at a glance it certainly resembles the prototype, as shown in the first photo in the present post.

The coupler boxes are evidently designed for horn-hook couplers (that’s what the kit provides), but the posts in the boxes are too fat to allow a Kadee coupler to pivot, and even when slimmed down with emery paper, then expand considerably when the provided self-tapping screws are driven into the holes. I simply cut off the posts, drilled and tapped the hole for 2-56, and used a Kadee box lid (upside down) to supply the posts for No. 58 couplers.

(You can buy extra Kadee boxes and lids as their part no. 232, with 20 of each. I use a lot of the lids for coupler installations in all kinds of equipment.)

The trucks I used are the Tangent Scale Models 70-ton ASF A-3 trucks (item 100). Yes, 70-ton trucks are a little different from 50-ton trucks, and this is a 70-ton car. These trucks are a perfect fit for the kit. Here is the model at this point, still needing weathering, especially of the deck, and painting of the metal wheels. This photo clearly shows the distinctive bolster and draft gear tops flush with the deck.

It probably isn’t evident in the image above, but the Walthers molding includes no route card board (perhaps because different railroads had different preferred locations). In the Santa Fe prototype car photo farther up in this post, you can see the route card board to the right of the left-hand truck (you can click on any image to enlarge it). I simply added a rectangle of styrene, attached with canopy glue, to model this board. 

Next I weathered the car. It’s only a few years old in my modeling year of 1953, so not heavily weathered. The deck, molded in gray, only needed some darkening to represent wood in service. (Santa Fe used pressure-treated wood for flat car decks, but not creosote.) I have covered my weathering method extensively in the “Reference pages” linked at the top right of every post, including my treatments of flat car decks. Here is the car, including the route card board:

The addition of repack stencils remains to be done, but otherwise this distinctive flat car is ready for service. It does have molded-on grab irons and sill steps, but for my intended use as a “mainline” freight car only, I’m pleased to add it to my fleet.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Attending ProRail 2021

 I had the privilege of attending this year’s ProRail operating weekend, normally held in April but of course delayed by pandemic restrictions. It was held in the Detroit area, which is home to some excellent layouts. I was assigned to three fine ones, but today I want to offer an appreciation of just one of them. 

My favorite layout on this trip, among those I like best in the whole country, is Bill Neale’s layout depicting the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1939, in the tri-state area of western Pennsylvania, the West Virginia panhandle at Weirton, and into Ohio at Steubenville and Mingo Junction. Though it’s not a large basement, Bill has masterfully designed the layout to include a significant amount of mainline running and some excellent switching areas.

An important feature is the Pennsy’s Panhandle Bridge over the Ohio River. Bill has modeled a good representation of what is actually an immense structure. Still, this is about the limit of what is practical in model form, and it creates a real “signature” scene on the layout.

My job assignment in the morning was the Steubenville switcher, which is an interesting and challenging job. As with any local switch assignment, your first step is to find the runaround track(s) and identify any “spare” trackage where cars can be stashed during switching moves. A tidy Pennsy 0-6-0 was the power, seen here across the platforms of the Steubenville depot.

Matt Thompson took a photo of me, about photo center, working the Steubenville job. That’s Herb Biegel at right, in charge of the mainline train you see on Track 1 at photo center (and that’s Paul Dolkos in the distance). My switcher is at the far left of this view. 

What I was switching in the view above is the large Steubenville freight house, which has the freight cars spotted inside the building, creating certain challenges in figuring out what to pull and where to spot inbound cars. The building’s outside is shown below. Team tracks are in the foreground.

The modeling of the entire Steubenville scene is quite well done. To give a single example, I will show this street crossing through the yard. Bates Building Materials is at left.

There are a number of well-chosen and handsome industries around the layout. Weirton Steel is by far the largest, but many smaller ones are seen too. Shown below is Barrett & Son, a nicely rendered structure with excellent signage. We know exactly what this business does.

I would also mention Collier Steel (“fabrication and finishing”) which receives coils of sheet steel, but also receives coal for its furnaces. It ships out fabricated products. A classic type of industry in this region.

Bill has been one of my heroes in model railroading since his 2009 article in Model Railroader gave me the impetus to start designing prototypical waybills, because of his ingenious use of baseball-card collector sleeves. That was my inspiration on waybills. But his layout goes enormously farther that its waybills, and as I hope these photos convey, speaks for itself.

Tony Thompson



Sunday, November 21, 2021

Re-discovering a Tony Koester book

 Well-known modeler and author Tony Koester, once an influential editor of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine and then, for approximately the last four decades, a columnist for Model Railroader and an essentially annual author for Kalmbach Books, is a familiar name and face in the hobby. I think, though, that sometimes we may forget the scope of his contributions.

I was recently browsing in my shelf of modeling books, and my glance lighted on Tony’s 2010 book for Kalmbach, The Allegheny Midland: lessons learned. The book, of course, is about the layout that Tony built and operated over about a quarter century, before deciding he really wanted to model the Nickel Plate in the Midwest, instead of a Nickel Plate-lookalike in the Appalachians. 

(The book remains in print, a testimonial to its staying power, almost 12 years after publication. Here’s a link to buy it at $21.95 — you will need to scroll down the page : https://kalmbachhobbystore.com/catalog/books?filters=fad1ce900f1b40479549a4c670bb57de&sort=title_sort%20asc&page=3 .)

Isn’t an old layout kind of a dull subject? Wouldn’t we rather read about and learn from the new layout? Well, I guess I would have answered a qualified “yes” to both questions, except then I started browsing in, and then reading closely the Allegheny Midland book. Here’s what I found. 

Tony goes into considerable detail about the book’s theme, “lessons learned.” He is pretty candid about why design and construction decisions were made, how they were changed over time, and how well they worked out. Some of them he frankly admits were really mistakes (in hindsight). To me, this is fascinating material, of value to anyone about to build (or about to modify!) a layout.

The eleven chapters include  a wide range of topics. One that is well done but brief, Chapter 8, is about Appalachian scenery. As such, it is a brief prelude to C.J. Riley’s excellent Kalmbach book, Realistic Layouts: Use the Art of Illusion to Model like a Pro (Kalmbach, 2020). But for most of us, the first four chapters, explaining the design process and goals, will be the most interesting.

At some points, Tony distills an important principle just described as a “Koester Corollary of Model Railroading,” and they are numbered. But a proofreading blunder left Corollaries 3 and 5 the same (pages 33 asnd 58). I’m sure Tony has heard about that one many, many times. 

One subject he explores in several chapters is his debt to Allen McClelland’s Virginian and Ohio layout, and part of the concept of the Allegheny Midland was as a connection between the V&O and the Nickel Plate at Dillonvale, Ohio. It’s good to be reminded of all that McClelland accomplished, and how he has influenced layout thinking ever since.

A complication in the overall story is the modeling era, which first jumped forward in time, reaching the late 1970s, then back again to the transition era. But this didn’t happen in two or three steps; there were as many as six steps (depending on how you count), giving one a certain feeling of confusion in  looking back at layout photos from the various eras. 

Tony describes how this all came about, much of it caused by availability at different times of good-running model locomotives. He also acknowledges that his 1970s-era paint scheme for the Allegheny Midland, in partnership with McClelland’s Virginian & Ohio and Steve King’s Virginia Midland, was kind of a mistake. First, he wanted a dark red or wine red color, but ended up with New York Central “Pacemaker” red, a rather bright color (below). I never cared for it, either. He also used the Avant Garde typeface for lettering, which never seemed at all “railroady” to me.

Eventually, he realized that the “Allegheny Lines” merger of the three model railroads, while fun in some ways, was taking him away from what he really wanted to do: model the transition era. When Key Imports introduced good-running brass NKP steam, he returned to his original era for the layout, 1957. I can tell from how Tony writes about it that this was a “coming home” for his modeling. This photo, at the layout’s Sunrise, Virginia depot, typifies, I think, what he really wanted to do: strong Nickel Plate influence (the AM was connected), but hauling coal.

But whatever the back-and-forth on era or layout goals, it is ultimately a fascinating read, showing all the things he ended up liking, as well as what didn’t work, things that were modified or replaced, things he wished he had done. How rare to have this kind of insight and thoughtful reflection on a major layout — in fact, I can’t think of another. So I would urge you to read it if you haven't, and if you did read it years ago, like I did, you just might find that you enjoy it — and learn from it — all over again.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Completing a turntable, Part 2

 In the first post on this topic, I showed my mostly completed Diamond Scale turntable, a 90-foot version, and described what was needed to complete it. The critical next step was addition of handrails along the walkway on each side of the track. I also showed prototype examples of Southern Pacific turntables with wooden handrails along their walkways (see that post here: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2021/10/completing-turntable.html ).

I stated in that preceding post that although a number of SP turntables had wooden handrails on the outside of each walkway, it was also true that many did not. Instead, they usually had handrails made from pipe. Below is a 1938 example from West Oakland (R.J. McFarland photo, Arnold Menke collection). You may need to click on the image to enlarge it enough to see the handrails.

An even more relevant example is Port Costa, shown below with an Alco switcher, SP 1308, crossing the table (Bob Morris photo). It’s relevant because the roundhouse on my layout is the Banta Models kit for the Port Costa roundhouse (visible at left), so the turntable in front of it ought to look like this. And we may also note that this turntable has no arch, thus isn’t electrically operated in the usual way.

 That naturally made me feel that a pipe handrail was my preferred choice, and that I could omit the arch.

I should emphasize that for a realistic SP turntable, one could certainly choose either wood or pipe handrails. It seemed to me that for durability and relative ease of assembly, a pipe handrail made from brass wire would be straightforward to build, sturdy in use, and realistic. And it would be a suitable companion for my Port Costa roundhouse.

How might I make up such pipe handrails? The obvious way was to solder the posts and longitudinal pipes from brass wire, using a plan of the tie spacing. How could I make an exact plan, so that I could be sure of my post spacing matching the tie spacing? It’s simple. I just put the Diamond Scale turntable bridge on my flat-bed scanner and made an image of it, then printed it out full size. Here’s how it looks (reduced in size to fit here):

Of course, printing a scanned image like this might be off a few percent in some situations. So I checked the printed image against the actual turntable, and as you see below, the match is quite accurate. Thus I can be confident that the image can be used as an accurate template for the handrail assembly.

The wire size to be used for these handrails was the next issue. I first thought about an accurate scale size, perhaps in the range of 2 scale inches in diameter. Then I remembered that I have concerns about durability of these handrails. I feel pretty sure that pipe handrails modeled with brass wire would be more durable that wood ones (whether modeled in styrene or actual wood). After spending some time looking at my brass wire stash, I chose 0.029-inch wire, a little oversize but easy to solder.

The process of  building and installing these handrails is underway, and I will report on progress in future posts. Meanwhile, I went ahead and assembled the control cab. As I showed in the first post in this series (link provided in the first paragraph of the present post), the kit’s cab is quite similar to the one on the Eugene turntable.

The cab comprises four soft-metal castings for the four walls. I first cut and fitted clear plastic sheet for the windows, easy while the walls were flat, but waited to install them until after painting. I then assembled the walls with canopy glue, and painted the interior a light gray. I will paint the resistor grids a contrasting color, before painting the exterior. Here is the cab as it is at this point:

The turntable bridge has a pair of longer ties to support the cab, so it will be simple to install once the walkways are built. More later!

Tony Thompson

Monday, November 15, 2021

Out-of-town operating: conclusion

 This post concludes my series about the trip five California guys made to the Twin Cites and western Wisconsin for an intense week of operating as guests on a great series of layouts. (Here’s a link to the previous post: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2021/11/out-of-town-operating-part-4.html .) 

I’ve mentioned it before, but want to emphasize again, the enjoyable hospitality of our La Crosse-area hosts and of our primary Twin Cities hosts, Rich Remiarz (left) and Joe Binish, see below. They were instrumental in making it a great trip.

This final segment will emphasize Rich’s excellent layout, called the Great Northern Willmar Division, centered on St. Cloud, Minnesota. Rich’s layout is well along and is complete in many areas, with lots of highlights. I will just show a few. One of the most eye-catching is his granite quarry, a signature of the St. Cloud area.

The area around the quarry, as with a number of layout areas, is beautifully handled. with a range of vegetation and even a few flowers in the grass and weeds. The layout shows that Rich is a master in using static grass and other vegetation.

The same kind of care is visible in non-railroad structures like “Val’s Hamburgers” in the town of Monticello, complete with a typical 1950s “geometric” sign, shown below.

Lastly, here is one of Rich’s photos, of the industrial area just east of St. Cloud Yard (where I got to do some serious switching!). Here you see 0-8-0 GN 837 spotting an empty flat car at Royal Granite, as a big Class O-8, GN 3391, a 2-8-2, brings a freight into St. Cloud. An excellent layout to operate on or just to railfan.

One evening we had the wonderful opportunity to visit Dave Vos and his Cumberland Northern layout. This layout, in places, is more than 50 years old, and Dave has stuck to “what works,” even though some of it is perhaps startling to those not yet weaned from issues of Great Model Railroads. Old fashioned it may be, but it sure ran nicely.

Talking to Dave was half the fun, but looking over the layout and then getting a chance to do a little yard switching was even better. And one part of the fun for me was to see Dave’s well-worn car cards, immediately recognizable to me as the Allen McClelland modifications of Doug Smith’s original design (Smith, Model Railroader, December 1961; McClelland and Steve King, Railroad Model Craftsman, February 1978). I used the exact same system on my first large layout!

I’m sure you can tell from my enthusiasm that I thought it was a great trip. Our hosts were all so hospitable, and the layouts and operating schemes of such uniformly high quality and interest, that it was just a great experience. I’m already penciling in future operating weekends such as RiverRail in La Crosse, and MinnRail in the Twin Cities, as future priorities.

Tony Thompson

Friday, November 12, 2021

Why add a freight car to a fleet?

 Reading this title, many would say, “Oh, yeah. And why not? . . .” But I have around 750 freight cars in my active roster, so there are obviously no particular shortages. Or are there? 

At this point, my freight fleet being what it is, I do tend to add cars only for quite specific reasons. Maybe a model becomes available for a prototype I haven’t modeled, or one of my older cars really deserves replacement. But there is one other reason, too. 

From time to time, I scan through my “pairs list,” to see if there are any visible needs. (The “Pairs List” has been described in prior posts, such as: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/02/waybills-17-pairs-list.html , and was developed somewhat further in a later post, which is at this link: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/03/waybills-part-58-more-on-managing-bills.html .)

Recently, such a browse through the pairs list drew my attention to my fish cannery, in the layout town of Santa Rosalia. I would like additional inbound loads of vegetable oil, used for canning sardines. Much of the traffic from the cannery is outbound loads of canned food, as you see below with a divider-equipped box car spotted for loading. That’s the depot roof in the foreground.

But more variety of inbound tank cars of appropriate ownership would be welcome. One of the oils widely used for packing canned fish is soybean oil. Upon this thought, a faint bell rang in my memory, that I had a tank car kit for a car that would fit that load. I have for years maintained a written kit inventory (originally created to be carried on hobby shop visits, minimizing duplicate purchases), and sure enough, there it was, a Proto2000 tank car kit lettered for A.E. Staley.

This is a long-lived company, founded by the A.E. Staley of the name, in Decatur, Illinois. (Incidentally, Mr. Staley also founded a professional football team in 1919, called the “Decatur Staleys.” Not long afterward, they moved to Chicago under the direction of their coach, George Halas, and became the Chicago Bears.) This company originally specialized in corn starch, but broadened into a variety of corn and soybean products.

I built the kit per directions, so no description of that process is needed, except I substituted brass wire for the plastic handbrake shaft provided in the kit. Prior to weathering, the 8000-gallon car is shown below. It’s reassuring to know that this is a paint scheme documented for Proto2000 production by Richard Hendrickson.

With the car approaching operational status, it was time to make up a waybill. One of the ones that I created is shown below, with typical added marks characteristic of many prototype waybills, as I have shown in a number of prior posts.

Next I applied my usual acrylic wash weathering to this model (for a fairly detailed discussion and description of my methods, please see either of the two “Reference pages” linked at the top right of this post). Here’s the car, satisfactorily weathered, and with the waybill shown above as authority, being spotted at the cannery by Ten-wheeler 2344.


This car makes a nice addition to my tank car fleet, and of course likewise shrinks my kit stash by one. That’s how it’s done: one car at a time. And the original goal is met too: switching at the cannery gains some variety.

Tony Thompson