Friday, March 23, 2018

SoundRail 2018

The title here refers to an operating weekend held in the Seattle area in even-numbered years, this year being the fourth in the series. I attended this event in 2016, and wrote about it afterward (you can read that post at: ). And during March 6-10 of this year, I attended again. And as before, it was an impressive event.
     A priority for me was to operate again on Al Frasch’s excellent N scale layout, the Pilchuck Division of the Burlington Northern, at his home on Whidbey Island. This was not only because I had such an outstanding experience operating there on the way to VanRail 2017 (for a post about that, see here: ), but also because Al is moving to Tucson soon, and these SoundRail sessions would be the last operations on his layout. Finally, I still owe Al a debt of gratitude for his ideas, shamelessly stolen for my own layout, on ways to guide crews to correctly switch “sure spots” at industry layouts (see that post at: ).
     My experience working Al’s Delta Yard, under the direction of yardmaster Henry Freeman, was excellent, as I had expected it to be, and once again, I especially enjoyed Al’s fine touch with making realistic industrial structures. This is of course an advantage of N scale, that buildings can be realistically big enough to justify rail service, but even his smaller ones looked great. Here is just one example, his Grizzly Tools warehouse.

     The following day, one of the layouts I enjoyed was Gary Jordan’s O scale Gilpin Tram. I happened to draw the yard at Golden, Colorado (where the Colorado & Southern standard gauge interchanged with the C&S narrow gauge), and especially like his large photo backdrop at this location, which is actually a photo of the ghost town at Bodie, California, but sets an excellent scene for thinking of a mining town in mountain scenery. That’s the standard-gauge switcher in the foreground.

     On the last day, I had the great experience of operating on Jim Younkins’ Mud Bay and Southern Railway layout, a superb N scale creation. This is a layout I had visited and admired, so was delighted to receive an assignment to operate. I got the Mud Bay switching job, an excellent blend of considerable switching along with careful planning to get everything to work. One focus of this job is the car ferry, which delivers cars for local destinations, then gradually is reloaded with local outbound cars waybilled via the ferry. It’s at lower left in the photo below. Three flat cars are used to reach onto the vessel to load and unload cars.

Partway through the session, naturally, the car ferry you have been loading is taken away, and a whole new ferryload of cars arrives. Perfect staging!
     One of the pleasures of this layout is that every town has a clear and most helpful map, indicating not only all industries, but car spot identities, such as Track 2 or Door 4. Here is one example.

This is a big help when you have a truly complicated and challenging job, such as the Simpson Lumber plywood mill at Shelton, shown below. This is another example of how N scale permits industrial switching with a much bigger scope.

     This was such a great event — great meet, great layouts, some rain (Seattle in March, who knew?), and just well run overall. Even the local microbrews were excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will certainly plan to attend in future years.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Correcting a ready-to-run car

My good friend Richard Hendrickson used to say that "ready to run” or RTR models were misnamed. They should really be called “ready to correct,” because many such cars have minor compromises, compromises that the serious or committed modeler may wish to correct. This post is in the spirit of those remarks.
     My model car fleet contains quite a few Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars, and they are definitely needed on my layout, because I have several active packing houses that are served by these cars. Unless practically the exact same PFE models are used in every operating session, I need to marshal more than the bare minimum of these reefers in my fleet.
     I am also aware that I probably have too many cars with older PFE paint schemes, including the red-white-blue Union Pacific emblems. Although those emblems were only replaced with black-white ones after June 1950, I know from PFE painting statistics and from numerous period photos that an awful lot of PFE cars were being painted in the early 1950s, and they were receiving the new black-white UP emblems. So I need to have a fair fraction of cars with those emblems.
     This being the case, you can understand why I jumped on an RTR model discovered in a recent hobby shop visit, an InterMountain Class R-40-23 car with the right black-white UP emblems, and bought it. And if it’s RTR, that’s great, because with a touch of light weathering, it can go right to work on the layout, right? Um, no. Here’s why.
     Shown below is a photo of the model as it comes from the box. Right away the knowledgeable PFE modeler will notice a problem. The model has black grab irons and ladders on the car side. But all side hardware on PFE reefers had been standardized as orange in January 1948, well before the introduction of black-white UP emblems.

     Obviously at least one change I had to make, then, was to paint those grabs and ladders Daylight Orange (an exact match to PFE orange). But there’s more. By the time the SP and UP emblems on the car sides had been rearranged so that the SP emblem was toward the B or brake end of the car on  both sides (making the two sides no longer identical), as the model is lettered, all side hardware, including side sills, had been changed to orange. So side sills need repainting too. I have gone through this reasoning process before, for a similarly decorated PFE car (my post on paint fixes is at: ).
     (At this point, I should mention that although most of this information can be found by digging around in the freight car chapters I wrote for the PFE book [Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000]. it is far more accessible and systematically presented in the paint and lettering descriptions prepared by Dick Harley for the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society book, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide [Dick Harley and Anthony Thompson, SPH&TS, 2016]. Unlike the PFE book, the SPH&TS book is very much oriented toward modelers’ needs, and I highly recommend it.)
     So at least I need to paint the grab irons, ladders, side sills and sill steps orange, a fairly easy task with a small brush. Is that it? Well, not necessarily. In the photo above, you can see that the model’s  PFE reporting marks have neither periods between the letters, nor 1-inch stripes above the initials and below the car number. The periods in the reporting marks had been removed at the same time as the side hardware was all made orange, so that is consistent. But the 1-inch stripes continued into early 1952.
     I went ahead and brush-painted the grab irons, ladders, sill steps, and side sill tabs with Daylight Orange, using Star Brand paint no. STR-27, an excellent match for the InterMountain paint. In addition, the wheel faces on these RTR cars are way too shiny, so I painted the wheels dark gray (for this application, I like Tamiya no. XF-63, “German Grey”). Then I added the 1-inch black stripes, using Microscale PFE set 87-414. This set has been around for over 20 years under the same number, but was recently revised, updated and corrected with Dick Harley’s artwork, so if you have an old set with this number, I advise replacing it. Here’s the car at this point.

Light weathering is still needed, even though this paint scheme is only two years or so before my modeling year; these light-colored car sides did show the dirt. But I’ve covered weathering numerous times in multiple venues, so I won’t go farther with that here.
     With these simple changes to an RTR car, making its paint and lettering accurate, I have an additional model to help serve the many perishable shippers and receivers on my layout. I look forward to seeing it in service for my next operating session.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, March 17, 2018

How old is my layout?

Some time back, I wrote a short summary of the survival of parts of my present layout, from the layout I had in Pittsburgh prior to moving to California in 1994 (that post is at: ). I followed up that post by showing a few more photos of various locations around the old layout, as well as some period photos of myself, a few months later (see that post at: ). There isn’t too much more to be said on that topic — except that I am often asked, especially at open houses, how long I have been working on the layout.
     That isn’t an easy question. The layout was always conceived of being built in sections, and the oldest section is what is now the town of Shumala, called Jalama on the Pittsburgh layout. That part of the layout was started as a shelf switching design when I lived in Thousand Oaks, California, prior to moving to Pittsburgh in 1977. Yep, that is more than 40 years ago. At that time, the section didn’t have more than a fraction of the track now present, but its underlying structure is indeed that old.
     Well, have I been working on the layout for 40-some years? Not really. After settling in Pittsburgh, it was almost five years before the layout at that time really began construction, that is, around 1982, when I got back from a year’s sabbatical leave in England. (I was then employed at Carnegie Mellon University.) Much of the layout was then built in a few years, and though little scenery was completed, I had a long mainline run of the Southern Pacific Coast Route, a mythical short line, the Lompoc & Cuyama, as a connection, and extensive staging. It was located in a basement room that was 16 by 19 feet in size.
     The layout, as it then was, enjoyed a portrayal in a story for Railroad Model Craftsman (or RMC) in the issue for June 1990 (pages 64 to 69). Actually, my layout was featured on the cover of that issue, as part of the coverage to promote the NMRA National Convention in Pittsburgh in 1990. That cover is shown below, with a photo taken at the town of Jalama.

I’m proud to have had my layout on the cover of RMC, and have this cover framed in my layout room today.
     Though I couldn’t have known it when completing that story, the layout didn’t progress much beyond what was shown in the article. I had another sabbatical the following year, and then became involved in looking for a new job. And when I found one, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at U.C. Berkeley, we moved into a fairly small Berkeley house with an attic not very suitable for layout construction, and everything remained in storage (in that attic). It wasn’t until 2005, when we moved to a bigger house (with a bigger yard to give scope to my wife’s intensive interest in gardening), that I finally had a good layout space.Even then, it ws two years getting settled in the house before I began to reassemble the surviving layout sections in my new layout room.
     So you could say that I did a lot of layout construction, including structures and scenery, from about 1982 to 1990, and then nothing until 2008.Moreover, of the layout peninsula that I salvaged from Pittsburgh, a number of changes had to be made. For example, here is the end of the town of Ballard, farthest from Jalama, as I began scenery work in May of 1990.

There is a wye at the rear of this area (thus the signal tower you see, just right of center), and a road bridge was being added to disguise the backdrop opening for one leg of the wye. The scenery in this area was made more complete in time for the NMRA National that summer, and as you can see below, I added my Union Oil bulk depot and a California Division of Highways garage (in the distance). Both these industries are still at Ballard, though differently located.

The scenery at rear is more complete, and a bridge is in place over the rear leg of the wye. But the Union Oil tank car paint scheme that you see here is bogus, and has since been repainted black.
     These were only some of the changes at Ballard. A view back in the direction of (railroad) west shows a Lompoc & Cuyama train, passing two industries no longer located where they are in this view.

The nearest industry, right behind the column of smoke, is a brass foundry, now at the rear of Ballard, and the building just beyond it has moved over to about where the tower is located in the color photo above. The depot has been repainted from its L&C paint scheme into SP’s Colonial Yellow and Light Brown, and the roof redone as Moss Green. The left foreground now contains packing houses.
     So the layout definitely is different than it was in Pittsburgh, and continues to change as it nears completion. And how about that question, how many years of work? At this point, I would add the eight years in the 1980s, to the time since 2008, and make it 18 years total, and some of that was in fact consumed in rebuilding and restoring the parts I had moved. Perhaps 15 years is a more realistic number of actual layout progress time.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

More changes in an operating session

On March 4th last, I hosted an operating session on my layout. For the layout in its present form, this is the 29th session, as far as I can figure. As usual, I had four visiting operators, working as two crews of two people each. But very much not as usual, or at least not as previously done, I made a number of session changes. One was to operate in “timetable afternoon,” that is, as though we were on the prototype timetable but in the afternoon (previous sessions utilizing the prototype timetable were set during the morning). This of course altered the mainline trains that could pass on the Southern Pacific’s Coast Route. We then used “real time,” that is, actual 1:1 time.
     A second change was the use of my staging drawer, a transfer table I have described in previous posts, to operate an extra train of passenger equipment, baggage cars and deadhead Pullmans, in a westward direction, and also picking up and dropping off an express refrigerator car. The strawberry season is just beginning on the California Central Coast in early March, and this fruit is moving to eastern markets in express reefers. The photo below shows this train on the staging track nearest the bottom of the photo, with the Guadalupe local on the track just above it.

     This was also my first invited session in which I put in place the “advisory” notices I copied from the example of Al Frasch’s layout (with Al’s permission; see that discussion at: ). These simply clarify where particular cars are spotted at the industries requiring a “sure spot,” that is, spotting at a particular door or unloading equipment. The Ballard ones are shown below; you can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

     My crews this time comprised Larry Altbaum and Vicki Newcomer, who operated together, and Dave Stanley and Byron Henderson, the other crew. Shown below are Byron (at left) and Dave hard at work in Ballard, getting the first part of the switching duties completed. Byron, being a very experienced layout designer, naturally had a number of questions for me relative to the layout’s design, about what worked well and what I wished I had done differently, and they were thought-provoking questions. In fact, I am still mulling over some of them, and may write a blog post when the “mulling” is complete.

     Meanwhile,  Larry (at left) and Vicki were doing the car sorting that is an essential part of the Shumala switching. Vicki is a novice operator but is learning fast, and she enjoyed seeing this kind of intensive switching operation, as well as learning how it is done. Larry, as an experienced operator and also with prior experience on my layout, was an ideal mentor.

     The sessions went well and I was happy how the various changes worked. The crews did a good job, as usually happens, and I think everyone was entertained and had fun. And after all, that’s really the goal of all this.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, March 11, 2018

More about freight car placards

Back in 2013, I wreote a couple of blog posts about placards on freight cars. The first of the posts was about prototype placards, with a number of examples (see it at: ). That was followed by a post about ways to model these placards, primarily showing application to model cars (it’s at this link: ).
     An important use of placards is for hazardous cargoes, particularly in tank cars. I have written separate posts concentrating on the tank car part of the topic, beginning, again, with the prototype (this post can be found at: ). And here again, I followed with a post about modeling approaches, which is one way to show that a closed model tank car is in fact loaded or empty (read that post at: ). I mention this for completeness, since the present post is only about tank cars in passing.
     One example of my topic is the placards used for refrigerator cars when car heaters were placed in the ice bunkers (obviously in sub-freezing weather). Whether the heaters burned charcoal or a liquid fuel like alcohol, there was a tendency to consume a lot of the oxygen in the car, so that continued combustion began to produce carbon monoxide, a deadly poison because it can’t be seen or smelled. The required placard on car doors (sent to me by Bill Jolitz) looked like this:

     Those who model territories that might include operation of reefers with heaters on board could easily reduce a placard like this to HO scale size and place on some cars.
     Most of us are familiar with the idea that some boxcar cargoes were loaded in a way that blocked one of the side doors, so that the car had to be placarded (on each side) to inform crews of this fact. Then they could correctly orient a car for spotting at the consignee. Naturally one side would have a placard saying “Unload This Side,” and the other side’s placard would read “Unload Other Side.” These were supplied by each individual railroad to its shippers. Here is a Southern Pacific example.

Note that this placard is yellow, though many were manila in color. This one is from my own collection. Here’s an example of the one that might be on the other side:

     There were also a variety of diamond-shaped placards. We normally associate these with tank cars, where the diamond shape was standard. But these diamond placards could also be used on house cars with certain kinds of cargoes, not only flammable or otherwise dangerous cargoes, but also fragile ones. This example from the Nickel Plate shows what I mean; the original is 8.5 inches square, smaller than a standard 10.5-inch tank car placard. (You can click to enlarge, to read the small print.)

     Another Nickel Plate placard, for poisonous material, looks somewhat like a tank car placard, but is in fact not the standard tank car placard for this kind of cargo. Instead, it is intended for house cars. Chemicals were shipped in barrels and other kinds of packaging in box cars, not only in bulk in tank cars, and this placard was used for those kinds of shipments. Like the one above, it is sub-size relative to tank car standards, being only 8 inches square.

     All these placards are interesting as well as relevant to model railroad operations, and I have used a number of them already on my layout. You might consider doing the same.
Tony Thompson 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Hendrickson auto car, Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, I identified the prototype of a partially-completed model freight car I inherited from Richard Hendrickson. It is clearly intended to model one of the Santa Fe’s rebuilds of old FE-Q class 50-foot cars, into all-steel automobile cars, in this case, Class FE-25. (You can read Part 1 at this link: .) I followed up that post with the start of modeling work to add to Richard’s beginning, by adding the nearly-correct double doors that are commercially available, and will be adequate for this model (that post is at: ).
     (For anyone who does not know, or has forgotten, who Richard Hendrickson was, it might be of interest to read the memorial essay of tribute I wrote after he passed away in June 2014. That essay can be found here: .)
     Richard had added weight to the car initially, both the usual Athearn steel weight, and also lead strip inside the fishbelly center sill.  So with no need to glue weights inside the car body, I decided to proceed with gluing on the panel roof he had chosen. I attached it with CA. 

The model in this photo is resting on the temporary truck support blocks I use before it is appropriate to add trucks, and also for support during painting. You can read more about these in a post I wrote about them (it is at: ).
     Since this model began with an Athearn 50-foot automobile car body, with a panel steel roof, one might wonder why the roof was replaced. The reason is that the original Athearn molding, for some reason, has an incorrect number of panels, twelve, instead of the correct thirteen. I showed this in a photo of correct and incorrect roofs in a prior post (see it at: ; scroll down the post). The replacement roof shown above does have 13 panels.
     To complete the roof, I will need to add a wooden running board, which is how Santa Fe rebuilt these cars in 1942-43. I have on hand a Proto2000 50-foot wood running board, removed from an SP automobile car so I could  install a Kadee Apex running board (see my description of this project at: ). Because at the time the  cars were rebuilt, Santa Fe still applied non-skid black coatings to car roofs, but not to running boards, I decided to avoid masking problems, and wait to install the boxcar-red running board until after painting the roof black.
     The model underframe was partly completed. Richard had added fishbelly center sills with  underframe parts from the Athearn gondola, suitably cut and fitted. He had also added the AB valve in the correct location, as I showed in Part 1 (link in top paragraph, above) and the cylinder. I added the reservoir, oriented transverse to the center sill, as was normal Santa Fe practice.

The brake lever at the cylinder is most of what would be visible on this model, so no other brake rigging is shown at this stage.
     As this and previous posts about this model show, Richard had detailed the ends of the car, but not the sides. I will be adding A-Line “Style A” sill steps, and ladders that match the end ladders. By “match,” I mean in rung spacing. On the prototype, rungs on sides and ends were aligned, so ladders in both locations need identical spacing.  Lastly, I also need to install grab irons. The Santa Fe rebuilt these cars with bracket grab irons.
     As it happens, I have an excellent source of such grab irons. Years ago, when Richard had become frustrated with the nicely molded but terribly fragile plastic version of bracket grabs, he had the inspiration that a sprue of these plastic parts could be used as “lost wax,” that is, surrounded with mold material, melted away, and then the mold filled with brass. I don’t recall who did the casting for him, but the minimum order resulted in a lot of grab irons. He gave me a handful of the brass sprues, and showed me that he had many times that many in his parts drawer. Here is what they look like (you can click on the image to enlarge it):

Note that there are a couple of bracket grabs for car ends here too. These are pretty easy to install, same hole alignment as on model with the plastic ones. I just drilled holes and installed with CA.
     To install the sill steps, I simply drilled into the car side from below, and then trimmed the A-Line steps to give the right amount sticking out. They were attached with CA. Note that, as in the prototype photo, the grabs angle outward somewhat.

     Next comes ladders. As I mentioned, the side ladders must have the same spacing as the end ladders, and rungs are aligned exactly at the same height on side and end ladders. As Richard had already installed end ladders, I need to match the spacing. I haven’t dug into my stash of ladders from various manufacturers yet, but I expect I will be able to find a match. I will provide the answer in a future post, along with finishing up other final details prior to painting.
     This model is an interesting challenge, because I don’t know what Richard exactly intended to do, so I just have to use my own judgement on a realistic path to an accurate Santa Fe Class FE-25 automobile car. I look forward to completing the modeling and moving on to paint and lettering.
Tony Thompson

Monday, March 5, 2018

Prairie Rail 2018, Part 2

I have already posted an abbreviated description of my experiences at the outstanding operating weekend event in Kansas City and surrounding areas in February of this year, called Prairie Rail (you can read my post at this link: ). As I mentioned in that post, there were a few really nice features on a few layouts, and I want to give them a little more space here.
     In my previous write-up, I mentioned how impressive Don Ball’s Stockton & Copperopolis layout is. Simply taking up the challenge of modeling 1895 is impressive enough. But the layout has a number of really nicely done features, and I want to show a couple of them here. First, Don has modeled a fruit shipping shed, with open sides as appropriate in California, and included stacks of shipping boxes. Readers of this blog will recall that I have put a lot of effort into the same idea, so I really admired what Don had done. Here is a shot of it (you can click to enlarge if you wish).

The boxes are just visible enough to be effective. And by the way, that vivid paint scheme on the California Fruit Express refrigerator car in the background is a well-known scheme of the 1890s, and commercial lettering was at one time available for it. Here are a couple more cars in the same paint scheme, spotted at an industry that remains to be built (and by the way, I entirely approve of indicating an industry in this way; far better for switch crews to at least envisage a structure where one is supposed to be).

     It might seem that an open-sided structure like the fruit shed in the upper photo has an unusual advantage in showing the goods being shipped. But of course one can always leave a building side open toward the layout aisle to accomplish the same thing, and Don has done that too, in the warehouse shown below, with lots of stacked sacks of grain. Notice also that including workmen in the interior really makes it come alive.

     Another really nicely done scene was one I found on Michael Borkon’s Union Pacific. It’s a scene of stock cars being given new bedding. Whenever stock was rested at an intermediate point, as required by federal law, the stock would be reloaded into a clean car with fresh bedding, not reloaded into a dirty car. Thus a resting stockyard, like this UP one in Wyoming, would have to be able to supply bedding, which could be straw or sand, as specified by the shipper. Here is Michael’s siding for the bedding of stock cars.

You can see sand, probably shoveled out of dirty cars, trucks of fresh sand, and also bales of straw, ready for use. A closer-up view, below, shows a few of the straw bales, and one of several workmen. This is great modeling because it depicts an important part of livestock shipping, yet one that is not often modeled.

     You can tell I really enjoyed seeing these layouts and having the opportunity to operate on several of them. These layout owners have just done great jobs with their modeling. That was only part of what was a great weekend!
Tony Thompson