Sunday, September 16, 2018

Big Sky Ops 2018

Last month, John Rogers organized an operating weekend for visiting operators, for layouts in and around Missoula, Montana (and one in Whitefish). This wasn’t really a formal ops weekend, so the name in the title of this post is unofficial. Seth Neumann and I from California were among those invited, and enjoyed our visit. The six layouts on which I operated all had impressive qualities, though naturally different from each other, and I will only be able to convey a hint of their character in this modest amount of space.
     The first layout I operated at was Larry Brumback’s, modeling an area of Montana in which both the Milwaukee Road and Northern Pacific operate in close proximity. Larry is a skilled layout builder, and I really enjoyed working a town job in his scheme. Shown below is a view of one of the layout areas, where Milwaukee Road electric service operates under the overhead visible in the foreground, and NP power is visible at the engine terminal in the background. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     The next day we operated in the morning on Bob Estes’ layout. It is compact but interesting and challenging. One of the most striking thing at Bob’s layout is his effective use of background photographs to indicate industrial areas and also, of course, to expand the layout visually. As the photo below shows, Bob’s layout is primarily oriented to Northern Pacific, and is primarily set in the 1970s.

     Our third visit was to the almost overwhelming layout built by Kirk Thompson. He has a separate building something like 65 feet long, for his representation of NP’s Mullen Pass. His usual operating sessions are modern-era, but he has the equipment to be able to operate a 1950s version also. (I would really enjoy being part of that one!) The very large layout space means that really long trains can be operated, and staging has to be commensurate with that — and it is! I shared a yard job with Travers Stavac in the early part of the session, but later was assigned to a mainline train headed over the pass. I managed to find a vantage point where I could show the entire train (empty oil cars) as it climbed toward the summit. Power here is Montana Link. I really admire the realism of Kirk’s scenery.

     Next we took a full day to drive to Whitefish, operate on Jim Ruffing’s layout, and return. I knew Jim years ago when we both lived in Pittsburgh, PA, so it was a pleasure to see how Jim’s modeling is progressing. He has chosen to model Montana in 1969, as though the BN merger had occurred in 1968 – as it almost did. That means, of course, a thorough mix of NP, GN, CB&Q and SP&S motive power and rolling stock, an interesting and challenging modeling project. I shared the Whitefish Yard job, just one element of a very ambitious operating scheme. In the view below of this very large yard, our host and organizer, John Rogers, stands in the aisle. You can see also there is not only an upper deck, but an intermediate deck (or “mezzanine”) of staging.

     On the following day, we visited Dave Mitchell’s nice layout. Not overly large, it has excellent scenery, much of courtesy of skilled builder Larry Brumback. Again set in the modern era, and with several interesting switching challenges, we all enjoyed the chance to operate. I especially liked the touch of a displayed steam locomotive alongside the depot.

The town switching job I had on this layout was really fun and departure time came too soon for most of us.
     The final layout on which I operated was Dave Heckeroth’s Milwaukee Road. Set in the late electric era, when most power was diesel, it is a nicely conceived and beautifully operating layout. I took the Missoula Yard job, an interesting and complex challenge, which included some industrial tasks. The biggest was the Intermountain Mill, handling all kinds of forest products. An overview of this industry is shown below, and you can also see the very clearly labeled and mapped control panel, with all turnouts powered from this point. Easy to understand and easy to operate.

Dave also has a really interesting car movement system, and with his permission, I will devote a separate post to it in the near future.
     This was a great weekend, in an area not usually even thought of in terms of operating layouts, but all six of these were well worth the visit, not just to see them, but to have a chance to dive into serious operating. Great fun — and warm thanks to John Rogers for organizing the event, and to all the layout hosts for their hospitality and terrific layouts!
Tony Thompson

Thursday, September 13, 2018

J-strips for waybills

I have seen the use of plastic J-strips all around the country, used to hold waybills, car cards, or whatever the paperwork is, for the particular car-movement system, in a way that is visible and easily sorted. But the term “J-strip,” though it simply refers to the cross-section shape, can refer to a variety of sizes and shapes, and in home construction there are dozens of products called J-strips. The ones I mean do fit within that description, but at the place that sells the ones I have, TAP Plastics, they are called “frame strips,” their part number SKU #07129.
     This kind has 3M adhesive on the back and thereby is readily glued to fascia or other layout edge treatments. The strips are clear acrylic plastic, are 24 inches long, and the depth of each “J” channel is 1/4-inch. Here is a link to the product as sold by TAP Plastics: .The photo below shows an end-on view of the product I am using.

Note that there are actually two J-strips here, and the strip I am holding can be split down the middle. Thus the 24-inch strip actually is 48 inches of J-strip.
     These are designed so that even a thin card slipped into the “J” is gently gripped by the strip. That makes it easy to slip waybills etc. in and out of the strip, when in place on the layout. I have installed several lengths of this J-strip on my layout. Below are some examples.
     The part of the layout with a considerable depth of fascia is at Shumala. I was able to install the J-strips there at a height that keeps waybills below the level of the layout edge.

Note that no J-strip is installed under the push-pull controls on the fascia, since naturally those should remain uncovered by waybills. The Bill Box, in which crews receive the waybills for their shift, is on the shelf below.
     At Ballard, my fascia is much narrower, because the staging transfer table is below it, and there simply isn’t clearance for any deeper fascia. The J-strip location in this case causes the waybills to protrude above the edge of the layout, not an appearance I like, but still better than leaning each waybill against its car.

     The J-trip is pretty flexible. I haven’t tried to find out its minimum radius, but it easily fit to the broad radii of my fascia. An example is below, where the fascia curves toward East Shumala.

     I like these J-strip additions to my layout, and experimenting with them so far has been what I hoped it would be. I was familiar with them, since, as I said, they are used on layout all over the country, and that familiarity is why I decided I too could benefit by installing them. They haven’t yet been used in an operating session, so I look forward to that test, later this month.
Tony Thompson

Monday, September 10, 2018

Walkways and sidewalks, Part 3

This series of posts in my blog addresses the topic of the paved walkway areas (sometimes in the role of sidewalks) that most of us need more of on our layouts. The previous post in the series (you can read it at this link: ) was about the Pacific Chemical Repackaging industry (PCR) on my layout, to create walkways for workmen using the doorways and equipment around the main building. I had already been thinking about additional concrete pads for storage tanks at this industry, when a comment to that previous post raised exactly that issue (the comment is appended to that post, cited above).
     Looking at several industries on the layout with storage tanks, I could see right away that I needed to add some concrete pads. I began by evaluating further needs at PCR. In my usual fashion, I took some scrap paper and sketched what pad sizes would work at each location. The paper patterns were then placed under the various tanks, and the fits adjusted as needed. Then I cut out styrene “Sidewalk” (Evergreen sheet, either No. 4517, 3/8-inch squares, or No. 4518, 1/2-inch squares), following these patterns. Lastly, I painted each new pad with a “concrete” color.

The white pieces at right are the patterns for the PCR pads, alongside the finished pads.These are of course just rectangles, but by cutting paper patterns and checking them for fit, I could be sure I would be making the right styrene pieces.
     I like to keep many of my structures unglued to the layout surface, to facilitate both minor rearrangements as needed, and also so a bump by a careless elbow has less chance of significant damage. But in a few cases, I do like to make a complete unit of multiple items, as I did for my high-pressure unloading rack at PCR (see, for example, this post showing the concrete pad: ). I decided to do the same with the tanks on the larger of these new PCR concrete pads. They were simply attached with canopy glue.

This is the larger of the two pads shown as patterns in the uppermost photo in the present post. The smaller pad was used under the vertical tanks and a material bin at the left edge of my PCR property. (I will be adding a fence along this side of the property. Here is how it looks now.

     A second place I know has needed walkways is my caboose service facility, alongside the caboose track at the Shumala engine terminal. I have a couple of service buildings, one of them a former box car, but have not had any walkways. These should be there, and I want to add them. (For more on what caboose servicing was, in Southern Pacific terms, you may enjoy reading this post: .) In a later post than the one just cited, I described selection of the service buildings for the caboose track (you can find it at: ).
     An overhead photo of the caboose service area (below) shows what is needed. A walkway along the track edge, in front of the buildings, is the first step, and a walkway between the buildings is also logical, to reach the engine service area and turntable behind the caboose track.

     As usual, I measured the area and made patterns, but these are not very interesting patterns, and they are simply slender rectangles. But they need to be assembled into a “T” shape.
     In a situation like this, whenever it is necessary to splice pieces together, I simply use styrene glue to butt-joint the pieces to be joined, then add a splice on the underside, made from Evergreen No. 9009, which is 0.005-inch styrene sheet. It is not enough thickness to alter how one of these walkways will lie on the layout surface, but solidifies the joint. Here is the caboose-service walkway, butt-glued and with the splice strip underneath, and painted a concrete color.

As is probably evident, this walk is made from the Evergreen sheet with 1/2-inch squares.
     This design works well alongside my existing service buildings. I will be adding detail appropriate to caboose service. As cited above, examples of that detail from the SP prototype were shown in an earlier post (here is a repeat of the link: ). Here is the walkway in place:

     These two additions of walkways and sidewalks improve the realism of how my structures look, at least to my eye. I am still identifying more such needs, and will report them in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Additional layout improvements

Thinking ahead to upcoming layout operating events, I am continuing to make small and large changes to improve my layout. (Starting with my version of “management by walking around,” as I described in an earlier post; it can be found at: .) This post describes a few of them.
     I have an ongoing project to install Bitter Creek ground throws wherever feasible. I first mentioned these fine products in a post a few years ago (you can see it here: ), and have continued to gradually replace the original Caboose Industries throws, most of them installed decades ago when the core of the layout was new. I prefer Bitter Creeks wherever appropriate, both because of the far smaller size and less obtrusive appearance, but also because of how well they perform (I’ve explored those aspects previously, in a post at this link: ).
     The replacement process continues, with the latest replacement on the ice track switch in Shumala on my layout. I included the Bitter Creek package label in the photo; you can see and purchase their products at this link: .

I placed the removed Caboose Industries monster alongside at right for comparison.
     Now to Hussong’s Cantina. I remember as a teenager in Southern California, seeing occasional roadside signs reading “Visit Hussong’s Cantina,” and stating its location as Ensenada, in Baja California, Mexico. One time during my teenage years, our family included a driving trip to Baja California as part of our beach vacation to Balboa, and I persuaded my dad not only to drive past Hussong’s, but to allow me to go inside.
     Today I know that Hussong’s is really a historical survival, founded in 1892 and still located in the same building, with about the same decor, in central Ensenada. And on the historical side, one of the contenders for the distinction of having invented the Margarita cocktail is a Hussong’s bartender, Juan Carlos Orozco, who invented it in 1941 at Hussong’s in honor of a visit by the German ambassador to Mexico and his daughter, Margarita Henkel. (Founder John Hussong was a native of Germany.) As there are a number of such claims for the origin of the Margarita, this one is only an additional curiosity.
     But what about the roadside signs? I decided to make one, and add it alongside the busiest road on my layout, Pismo Dunes Road. Here’s the sign itself:

and here it is in place, alongside Pismo Dunes Road in East Shumala.

It’s fairly unobtrusive but does add some regional color and history.
     Last in this topic is the drapes under my layout fascia. I have long had a black cotton drape, sewn by my wife in several sections, and attached with Velcro. It was originally made for my layout in Pittsburgh, and since my current layout is smaller, I just used sections that approximately met the outline of my layout peninsula, but these sections did not allow me to connect the legs of the “T” to the sections along the wall, nor did they cover any of the bookcase which lines the wall. An example is shown below.

Most of the piled boxes at right are empty boxes for brass models, and don’t have to be stored here; I left them in place to indicate the kind of appearance I want to hide. You can see the existing black drape under the fascia at left.
     Since I still had a number of now-unused black drape sections, the obvious answer was to attach some of the surplus material to the drape sections already in use. My wife did this task, including putting additional Velcro “loop” sections where I marked them to be needed. I then used thick-formula CA to glue the second or “hook” Velcro type to the bookshelves as appropriate. Here is the result for the area shown above (I also extended the drape on the other side of the layout).

     It has been satisfying to add these small improvements to the layout, because even though each is small separately, together they amount to something. Maintaining progress of this kind eventually adds up to significant steps forward
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Southern Pacific’s postwar flat cars

By “postwar,” readers of this blog will likely realize I mean after World War II, since I model 1953. At the time of the war, Southern Pacific had a large but aging fleet of flat cars built in the 1920s, many of which were only 40 feet long. Current practice by this time had pretty much standardized on a length of 53 feet, 6 inches. Moreover, SP’s older cars were almost entirely of 50-ton capacity, while the national standard was becoming the 70-ton size. During World War II, SP built about 250 flat cars in company shops at Sacramento, and bought 300 more from Pacific Car & Foundry, spread over three car classes. All were 70-ton cars and most were 53 ft., 6 in. long (some were 60 feet long).
     But these new cars did not come close to meeting needs, especially for lumber shipments. Lumber traffic was booming after World War II in response to a national home-building boom, particularly in the Far West. In 1948, SP turned to American Car & Foundry for  more cars, and the car design seems to have been largely by AC&F. The first 500 new cars (Class F-70-6) included 100 cars for T&NO. That class was followed by the huge Class F-70-7, 2050 cars built between October 1949 and April of 1950, all for Pacific Lines. They were largely indistinguishable from Class F-70-6, so the two classes, totaling 2550 flat cars, are essential to an SP freight car fleet.
     Here is an interesting photo of one of the F-70-7 cars, in service with a partial load of Allis-Chalmers tractors. The tractors are loaded alternately facing in each direction. It appears that a full load would have been ten tractors; six remain. Modelers not wishing to model a full load of this kind can accordingly just model as many as convenient. (Photo is from the Arnold Menke collection, taken at Ithaca, New York on April 16, 1950.)

     Sandwiched between those two purchases of 70-ton cars was a class of 50-ton cars, Class F-50-16, this time 600 cars with 100 of them for T&NO. Their overall appearance and design was just like the two classes of 70-ton cars, but they were only 40 feet long. And at the end of 1953, SP company shops embarked on construction of another 70-ton class, Class F-70-10, totaling 1000 cars. These were copies of the AC&F-design F-70-6 and -7, but all-welded instead of mostly riveted in construction.
     (All this history and more is encapsulated in Chapter 12 of the third volume, “Automobile Cars and Flat Cars,” in my series, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, published by Signature Press in 2004. Unfortunately, it is currently out of print, though obtainable on the used book market.) Shown below is a summary table of these flat car classes. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     For modelers, it is vital to recognize that Red Caboose produced an excellent model of Class F-70-7, and sold them for some years in lettering for both pre-1956 car numbers, and post-1956 renumbering. (I reviewed this kit when it was released, in an article in Railmodel Journal, January 2005, pp. 14–17.) This kit can of course also be lettered for Class F-70-6. When Red Caboose went out of business, much of their line was absorbed by InterMountain, but in the case of these flat cars, the dies were purchased by the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society (SPH&TS).
     The Society has not only produced cars from time to time, but has also produced kits for the bulkheads applied to these cars in various years (see for example the prototype information and also examples of the SPH&TS bulkhead kits, in my post at: ). A photo of one of the Class F-70-6 flat cars, with the 1949 bulkhead design on it, is below.

The plasterboard load was made by Jim Elliot.
      The SPH&TS has offered a kit for the piggyback hardware used on these cars. The SPH&TS has also produced a kit for the F-70-10 welded cars, and currently markets a kit for that car with piggyback gear included (the announcement can be found at this link: ).
     If you scroll to the bottom of the page in the link just cited, you will also find kits for both 1953 and 1956 number series on the F-70-10 flat car itself, for an undecorated F-70-7 car, and for a piggyback-hardware version of the F-70-7. There also are available kits for the two later designs of flatcar bulkheads, the 1956 and 1962 versions; scroll down a ways on this page: .
     Shown below is one of the kits, which happens to be a Class F-70-7 with piggyback gear. It comes with all parts, in a plastic bag as shown.

     Lastly, I should say a bit more about the F-50-10 class. Although, as I stated above, SP copied many features of the F-70-7 cars, they made one significant change. They lowered the sills, relative to the trucks, so that the deck could be flush with the top of the bolster. This meant that the top of the bolster and draft gear box were exposed on the deck. You can see this in the photo below (SP photo), showing car 563220, built as SP 143008. Again, you can click to enlarge.

This means that the F-70-7 and F-70-10 do not only differ by the presence of rivets in the former, but also in the deck. You cannot model a -10 car simply by shaving the rivets off of a -7 model.
     Another point about modeling is that you can fairly easily cut down a Class F-70-7 car to make a 40-foot car of Class F-50-16, but that’s a topic for a future post.
     My main point in this post is that the very important postwar SP flat cars, of classes F-70-6, F-70-7 and F-70-10, can readily be modeled with the various products of the SPH&TS. This includes not only the general service flat cars, but also the bulkhead cars and the piggyback cars. This is a major part of the SP transition-era flat car fleet and, as I said, essential for SP modelers of that era.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Union Oil gas station, Part 3

I began this series of posts with background about Union Oil, including information about how its service stations looked, in the first post (you can see it at this link: ). Then I began the modeling work of kitbashing a City Classics gas station kit, to fit the site on my layout. That post is available here: . In the present post, I continue with modeling.
     My first step in assembling the building was to glue the three “outside” walls, the front and both sides. These are the three sides represented as having the porcelain-enamel steel panels as sheathing, and thus the part that can receive a color stripe. After carefully filing away the draft angles on the sides and bottom of each wall, I glued them together with conventional styrene glue, making sure joints were thoroughly wet so they could be squeezed together and make a tight joint. I did this with a machinist’s square inside each corner, with the walls sitting vertically on a flat surface. This kept the bottom edges of all the wall pieces in a single plane.

The back wall, not shown, has also been cut down to fit into the shortened building, but I wanted to do the color stripe just on these parts, without having to mask or worry about the back wall, before inserting that wall.
     Meanwhile, of course, the kit base has to be adjusted in size to match the building. A concrete “pad” is pretty standard under service station buildings like this, even today, and this kit nicely indicates ramps into the service bays. This is the way to locate the cuts in the front part of the base, making sure the ramp lines up. A square cut and the usual glue procedure gives you the shortened front base.

     I used the excellent Tamiya masking tape to mask off the narrow panel above the windows on the station building (for more about Tamiya, see: ). This tape is very flexible and readily can be pressed down into narrow gaps or around protrusions. I then sprayed a deep orange, to reflect the usual Union Oil color. I considered a wider stripe, but decided this would suffice as an accent.

     Before going further with the building itself, I decided to make sure the site is all right. A key point with any commercial structure like this is that it sits at the height of the sidewalk, that is, above the curb height, rather than on the ground at road level. Below I show a photo of a service station near my home, to illustrate. The wide driveway has red-painted curbs at each edge, which helps them stand out.

The station shown above has concrete driveways and sidewalk, but is asphalt-paved inside the station, except for right between the pump islands. Other stations may have a complete concrete pad within the station property, like the one shown here. This curb is fairly low.

     To create a platform for this station, I used some sheet styrene, 1/16-inch thick. In HO scale, that’s a little under five and half inches, not a high curb. After looking carefully at the site, I decided to double this height by laminating another piece of the same styrene on top of it. I then marked about where the driveways ought to be, and began filing down the edges of the styrene in those locations to make the appropriate breaks in the curb line. Here is how it looked after a coat of primer:

     I will continue my description of modification and completion of this kit in future posts.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A shout-out for Tamiya products

This all started with filler putty. As a long-time user of Squadron putty (of both kinds), I have been loyal to the product, and have gone through several tubes of the green version. I have liked it and relied on it. But a friend who is a plastic modeler (non-railroad models) recently stated to me that he thought the Tamiya gray putty was finer grained, or smoother, or something like that, and it filled gaps better, especially small or narrow gaps. I decided to give it a try.
     But before continuing, I should mention that hobby shops that specialize in model railroading usually only carry a limited range of Tamiya products. Many shops have discovered the excellent Tamiya paints, but the Tamiya line extends far beyond that. (You might benefit from browsing a little on their web site, which is at: .)
     The place to find a wider selection of Tamiya products and supplies is at a hobby shop selling plastic models, from race cars to armor to airplanes to ships. They will have plenty of Tamiya’s famously excellent plastic kits for those subjects (just read the reviews in any issue of Fine Scale Modeler), and will have lots of Tamiya’s ancillary products too. (And while you’re there, it’s a great place to pick up some canopy glue, too.)
     I’m mentioning hobby shops. You can of course buy Tamiya products on-line, but I urge you to resist the temptation unless your “local” hobby shop is many miles away. Or someday that local hobby shop won’t be there.
     I bought a tube of the gray putty, in the package as shown below. As soon as I used it, I liked it a lot. It was everything my plastic modeler friend had claimed. I still have my most recent tube of Squadron Green on the bench, but . . .

this stuff is just great.
     Tamiya are also a source of a superb masking tape for modeling. I have used it, and found it really ideal for flexibility around corners and edging up to details. I’ve been using it for awhile, and this new package is about my fourth roll. Note that it comes in a nice dispenser.

     They also offer brushes to go along with the paints, and several tools of specialized use. For example, there is a really nice tool for bending etched metal parts, a type of detail part which we railroad modelers have in common with both airplane and armor modelers.

The jaws have a triangular cross-section, and thus are considerably stiffer than you might guess from looking at how long and slender they appear. I have used these very successfully.
     Oh, and did I mention paint? Comes in bottles, solvent based but water clean-up, and in spray cans too. Rattle cans have a bad rep, but Tamiya spends a little more money to give you a much better spray nozzle. I have never had the burps or blorts that are familiar from Testors products or, for that matter, the spray paint you get at big-box stores. Shown below is their outstanding thin-coat primer, that has become my standard for priming anything.

Incidentally, I included at right a can of Tamiya color TS-1, called “Red Brown,” and it’s a pretty decent box car red, though doubtless intended to match some other color.
     Let me close by saying that I suppose it’s obvious, but this is a Japanese company, founded in 1946 to make wooden models, and changing over to plastic in the 1950s (you can read more of their history on Wikipedia, at this link: ). They are perennial winners of “Model of the Year” awards from model magazines in a number of countries. Their reputation for quality is enviable.
     Well, I sound like a Tamiya sales guy here, but I have absolutely no connection of any kind with them. Just a truly satisfied user of everything I’ve bought with their name on it. And of course, that means I am ready to trust one of their products I’ve never used before. I know their quality by experience.
Tony Thompson