Friday, April 22, 2011

Choosing a 1953 locomotive roster

My primary desire in all aspects of my layout is to reproduce actual operating practices and equipment for 1953, and many prior posts on this blog have dealt with that. Today’s post addresses steam (and to some extent diesel) locomotives as part of that goal.
     One reason I chose to model the year 1953 is that it was the last year in which steam was the predominant motive power on the Coast Line. The previous year, 1952, had seen for the first time approximately equal locomotive miles worked by steam and diesel power over the entire system (see the graph in my previous post, at: But this was a system-wide fact, and the best-performing steam locomotives had been migrating west into California and Oregon throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s as diesel power was primarily applied in desert regions of the SP. This is why steam in 1953 could be a minority of system-wide power but still dominant on the Coast Line.
     Turning now to the Coast Division, I have looked at several of the booklets issued quarterly by SP, entitled “Locomotive Assignments,” which list each division’s assigned power. Although it does not differentiate, for example on the Coast Division, between assignments in San Francisco, San Jose, Watsonville Junction, or San Luis Obispo, it still considerably narrows the entire motive power fleet.
     Reproduced below is the Coast Division page for July 1, 1952. It lists 24 diesel switchers in the topmost grouping, and 23 steam switchers (the following group). Diesel switchers included nos. 1019 (an Alco S-1), 1028-1031 (Alco S-3s), 1331-1367 and 1388-1392 (Alco S-2s), all wartime-built switchers, and also nine switchers among 1444-1461 (Baldwin S-12s), built in 1951. The only other diesels are the three 5200-series Baldwin AS-616s, and a series of EMD F7 cab units, 12 A and 12 B units. In the usual A-B-B-A formation, this is only six locomotives, but on the Coast three-unit and two-unit sets were also photographed with shorter trains, so the effective number was larger than six.

      I won’t say more here about diesel power, since I’ve pretty much already summarized my conclusions in a post about diesel locomotive chronology. It’s at:
     Of the 172 total locomotives listed, 121 were steam, vs. 51 diesels. Many of these steam engines were assigned in the San Francisco-San Jose commute pool, particularly the large numbers of Pacifics and Mountains. But the dominance of steam on the Coast Division at this time is clear.
     Because this divisional listing cannot identify locomotives which primarily served at one terminal or another, I have turned to roundhouse and yard photographs for approximately 1953 at San Luis Obispo, many of which were published in John Signor’s and my books about the Coast, entitled Southern Pacific’s Coast Line and Southern Pacific’s  Coast Line Pictorial, Signature Press, 1995 and 2000.
     I will just present a single example photo, a Mac Gaddis image from 1953 of the right or northern side of the San Luis roundhouse, where the smaller power was stabled in stalls 1 through 10. (In this instance, a 2-10-2 is in stall 10.)

     Here is a list of steam locomotives one sees again and again in photos taken at San Luis Obispo, some of which are visible in the photo above: Ten-wheeler 2344; Consolidations 2534, 2592, 2762, 2791, 2803, 2829, 2836, and SD&AE 103; Mikados 3251 and 3264;  and 2-10-2 “Decks” 3661, 3666, 3672, 3679, 3688, 3699, 3703, 3711, 3715. I don’t list power which often operated on through trains, arriving at San Luis directly from Los Angeles or the Bay Area and then returning, particularly Mountains, cab-forwards, and GS engines, since a wide variety of locomotive numbers of these types were seen in photos at San Luis Obispo.
     Checking my list of numbers seen in photos against the assignment sheet above will reveal a number of discrepancies. This can be for several reasons: power was only passing through San Luis at the time of a photo, rather than assigned there; power was photographed at a time different from the date of the assignment sheet above (assignments did change all the time); or power may have been temporarily assigned at San Luis, and photographed, and not ever shown in a quarterly assignment.
     I have chosen model locomotive classes, and individual locomotive numbers, from the combination of assignment sheet information and period photographs, but I do regard the photo as the ultimate authority that an engine did serve, even if briefly, at San Luis Obispo.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Modeling freight traffic: Coast Line, 1953-Part 10

Returning one more time to the conductor’s time book from the 1948-1952 period, I have looked this time at hopper cars (which wee nearly all SP ballast cars), foreign flat cars, tank cars, and some additional gondolas (not identified as beet cars). I introduced data from this time book in a prior post (, and have continued with subsequent posts in the same series.
     First, the flat cars. There are only five foreign cars identified. Interestingly, two were C&NW cars. The others were CB&Q, NYC, and UP. All were empty except for the Burlington car, marked as loaded with tractors. Some of the empties were destined to places like Salinas for loading (the NYC car).
     The gondolas not listed among the beet cars were interesting. (I analyzed data for cars identified as beet cars in a previous post, There was only a single tight-bottom or GB gondola, which was from Class G-50-14. All others were GS or drop-bottom cars. These were distributed as follows. There were 15 cars drawn from the 1920s Enterprise cars: six from Class G-50-9, four from -10, two from -11, and three from -12. These frequencies scale fairly well with the numbers of cars in each class. There were also four cars from the 1940s Enterprise GS gons, two each from classes G-50-15 and -18. A number were in large cuts of gondolas: ten loaded with manure for Chualar (already listed in post 8 from this series), and six empties destined San Miguel.
     Among the hoppers, six were from classes H-70-2 and -3, and one from Class H-50-6; all these are longitudinal-dumping ballast cars. There were also four covered hopper cars of class H-70-4. Most of these cars either carried sand loads, or were marked as empties for sand loading. Very interesting were two foreign hoppers, D&RGW 18371, a covered hopper, and PRR 146661, a Class Glca car of AAR class HM.
     Among the tank cars were eight SP cars, one each from classes O-50-9, -11 and -14, two from Class O-50-6, and three from O-50-13. It was interesting that some of these SP cars were empty but identified as destined to Manteca, presumably for loading.
     There were also 12 privately owned tank cars, with reporting marks AOX, CDLX, GATX, and SHPX. Information about tank cars can be hard to find, because listings in the Official Railway Equipment Registers are often superficial, but most of these cars (the five from SHPX and three from GATX) all appear to be 8000-gallon cars. Most were marked as “molasses to Spreckels,” which either means empties for molasses loading at Spreckels, or inbound molasses purchased by Spreckels to supplement their own production. I tend to think the latter is more consistent with how the time book appears to be constructed.
     There was also a single car of fuel oil to Spreckels, a 10,000-gallon car from AOX (Associated Oil Company). There were three empty CDLX cars (California Dispatch Line), all AAR class TMI (insulated but non-pressurized), which could be either ICC 103 or 104. CDLX did roster a number of asphalt cars, and these might be among them.
     Lessons learned: the SP cars in these groups very roughly scale by class sizes, indicating they were essentially randomly selected within their car types. This is what would be expected in most cases.
     There were surprisingly few foreign flat and gondola cars, which nationally are predominantly free-running cars and might be expected to show up more frequently in these data. But it should be emphasized that the conductor who wrote these data primarily worked only on local trains, and more specifically on haulers, not on through freights nor even on locals doing pickup and delivery of cars. Thus these data cannot reflect overall Coast Line traffic.
     But the cars that are identified do provide a guide to what is logical and reasonable to have in Coast Line traffic, even if they are necessarily only part of the total picture.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Small modeling project: Caswell gondola

Among the most distinctive cars in the Santa Fe freight car fleet were the Caswell gondolas. It is obvious that Santa Fe really liked this design of drop-bottom or GS gondola, as they bought class after class of them from 1905 to 1927. Moreover the cars lasted well, and photos of them exist from the 1960s. And being a distinctive prototype, they make great models.
     But this is an SP modeling blog, I hear you muttering. Indeed so, and I don’t think most SP modelers would want more than one or two of these cars; but they sure do show up in photos of SP yards and trains. Empty ones would have been returned to Santa Fe rails by the most direct connection, rather than being reloaded in SP territory, but I have photos of them loaded with both coal and sand on SP rails in California. So I wanted to add one, yep, one, to my fleet.
     Part of my motivation is that InterMountain has produced a superb model of this car design. (Just looking at one of the “ready-to-run” [or RTR] versions, with all its complexity, may make some modelers go pale when thinking about building a kit for this car.) The Caswell I purchased was in RTR form, and I immediately sat down with Richard Hendrickson’s “bible” on the subject of cars like this: Richard H. Hendrickson, Santa Fe Open-Top Cars: Flat, Gondola and Hopper Cars 1902-1959, published by the Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society, Midwest City, OK, 2009.
     I quickly found I needed to do some work on the model. I guess I could subtitle this blog, “another case where RTR is not ready,” or words to that effect. Let me explain. When delivered, the cars looked like this (a Santa Fe photo I got years ago from Frank Ellington):

This exact appearance and lettering were how my InterMountain car looked in its box, so obviously it was presented as an as-built car of 1920. But over the years, a number of things changed on these cars, most notably the lettering. In 1938, Santa Fe discontinued the use of the ampersand in their reporting mark, and in 1943 also discontinued the use of periods between the initials. Dimensional data also changed and was simplified between 1920 and the 1950s.
     In addition, in the 1930s and 1940s Santa Fe applied reinforcing members to the top chord of these cars, on the second panel from each end. So a typical car like this would look like this by my modeling year, 1953 (the photo, by Col. Chet McCoid, from the Bob’s Photo collection, was taken in Texas in 1952):

I set out to make these changes on my model. Richard’s book contains a bunch of additional examples of later lettering arrangements, which did vary somewhat among various cars, probably changing a little from year to year.
     I used an old Walthers freight car data set to letter the various dimensional data items, and a 9-scale-inch alphabet for the “ATSF” lettering. Then I used styrene strip,  scale 1 x 6-inch size, to mimic the top chord reinforcements. With lettering done and the styrene applied, here is how the model looked.

I then painted the reinforcements (white in the photo above) with boxcar red, weathered the car, and then made repaint patches over the weathering, so I could add an appropriate reweigh date and repack stencil. Anyone not familiar with reweigh dates might want to look at my recent article in Railroad Model Craftsman on reweighing, or better yet, at the corrected version presented in an earlier blog post, at
     This gives me a corrected model of a distinctive Santa Fe freight car, and one I know showed up regularly on the Coast Line. I will probably construct both a sand  load and a coal load for it.
     So why am I telling this story? Is this car that important? No. But I think the story does illustrate two important points: it’s always wise to check with the many great prototype resources out there to make sure your model is as correct as you want it to be; and RTR most definitely does not always mean “ready to put on the layout.”
Tony Thompson

Monday, April 18, 2011

Modeling freight traffic: Coast Line, 1953-Part 9

In my previous post describing the analysis I performed on box cars contained in a 1947-1952 conductor’s time book for the Coast Line (that post is:, I listed all box cars identified and compared the patterns to those of the Gilbert-Nelson idea for free-running foreign cars like box cars. I also observed that about a third of all the box cars were home-road cars, SP and T&NO reporting marks. In the present post, I analyze further the SP and T&NO cars as to car classes.
     Cars were distributed across many classes, but some interesting patterns did emerge. First, there were some heavily represented classes. The champion was Class B-50-26, with seven cars (two of them T&NO), and next largest were classes B-50-13 with six cars (two of them were T&NO), and B-50-24 (the “Overnight” cars) with five,. Then came Class B-50-21, with four cars (two of them T&NO). Following those were classes B-50-18 and B-50-25 with three each. Classes B-50-14, -15 and -16 were each represented in the sample with two cars, and several classes had one car each. These included classes B-50-12, B-50-14, and the similar pre-war all-steel classes B-50-19, -20 and -23.
     All but one of these classes can be modeled with either styrene or resin kits. I’ll show here some examples from my own car fleet. Here’s the champion in this sample, Class B-50-26, a distinctive 12-panel box car. It’s from an InterMountain kit.

Complementing it is a pre-war box car, Class B-50-23, in an IMWX kit with some detail upgrades. This class had the rounded steel end called the “W corner post” end, named for the shape of the structural member inside the car corner.

     Not previously analyzed were 12 automobile cars, six of them in general service as AAR class XM but having original double doors; the remainder were equipped with auto racks, AAR class XMR. There was one car each from composite classes A-50-2, -4, -7, -8, and -9 (the -7 and -8 cars were T&NO), along with steel cars of classes A-50-12, -13 and -16. Noteworthy were the three cars of Class A-50-15, and these are a particular modeling challenge because today there is no straightforward way to model them. I will just show a single example of an SP automobile car, a modified Athearn car, a stand-in in several ways but offering a general likeness to Class A-50-12. The white door stripe indicates the presence of auto racks.

This analysis of the time book data did not much change my goals for SP box cars, although it was interesting to see the number of B-50-24 cars. And I still want to create models of classes B-50-16 and A-50-15! More on that later.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Racks for sugar beets

In my previous post on modeling Coast Line freight traffic (, I discussed a little bit about the old Blackburn patent beet racks, which were a removable device attached to flat cars only in beet harvest season, and I also said a little about SP’s new (in 1948) Class G-50-20 composite GS gondolas, purchased largely to replace the Blackburn racks for sugar beets. Here I want to expand a bit on the racks, using photos from my book, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Volume 1: Gondolas and Stock Cars (Signature Press, 2002).
     Here is a three-quarter view of a rack on a flat car. The date of this SP photo isn’t known, but likely is from the 1920s. This rack is of the kind I described as having about 1800 cubic feet capacity. Side doors are hinged at the top, and there is an A-frame inside which allows the car to be self-clearing when doors are opened. This is the rack design followed by Pat Bray in his scratchbuilt version, shown in my post on my gondola fleet (at:

In later years, side boards were added at the top of the sides and ends to permit heavier loading of these racks. The larger extensions, having five boards above the door hinges, added fully 1200 cubic feet or so to the base capacity of the racks of around 1800 cubic feet, making the total around 3000 cubic feet. That this was well in excess of the cubic capacity of the unextended G-50-20 gondolas, which had about 1874 cubic feet level full, is evident in this SP photo, taken on the Coast Line in 1948.

Probably the actual loading of the G-50-20 cars amounted to something like 2000 to 2200 cubic feet or so; this SP image at a beet loader at Cooper (near Salinas) shows that it was routine to load well above the car sides. Note also the ART reefer in the background. It may be recalled from my post analyzing Coast Line reefer traffic ( that fully 11 percent of reefers listed in the 1948-1952 time book were ART-owned.

     This cubic capacity comparison may make it sound like the beet racks were actually a more capable arrangement, but the racks suffered a great deal of wear and tear in putting them off and on the flat cars every year, as well as requiring labor in the process. SP was able to use the gondolas outside of the beet harvest season for all the manifold cargoes that GS gondolas could carry.
     One more comment. In the conductor’s time book I analyzed, the numbers of beet racks and GS gondolas in the beet trains were roughly similar in 1948. Here is an SP photo taken at Spreckels, west of Salinas, in that year.

It contains 43 cars which can be clearly identified as either gondolas or racks, and 19 cars, or 44 percent, are gondolas, in rough agreement with the evidence from the time book.
Tony Thompson

Friday, April 15, 2011

Modeling freight traffic: Coast Line, 1953-Part 8

I have returned to the 1948 to 1952 conductor’s time book described in earlier posts in order to write today’s post. Previous analysis was on refrigerator cars ( and box cars ( In this post, I will discuss findings for both gondolas and other sugar beet cars.
     Prior to the arrival of the Class G-50-20 composite GS gondolas in 1948, SP moved its sugar beet traffic in Blackburn patent beet racks temporarily attached to flat cars (for a photo of a model of one of these arrangements, see Prototype photos and a diagram for this appliance are in my book, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Volume 1: Gondolas and Stock Cars, Chapter 8. The flat cars were drawn from a wide variety of classes, and these time book data offer an insight into which ones, and how many.
     Once the G-50-20 cars were on the property, they dominated the sugar beet rush, but some steel GS gondolas were also pressed into service. Some of these show up in the conductor’s book also. The old Blackburn racks had provided about 1800 cubic feet interior volume to carry beets; the G-50-20 cars had 1874 cubic feet level full (though often loaded above the top of sides, probably to around 2000 or so cubic feet of lading).
     These time-book data, from 1948 to 1952, entirely precede the modification to GS gondolas by SP to add side extensions for greater cubic capacity. Thus all the cars contained in this sample are “unextended,” stock gondolas. Sugar beet extensions would not be added to SP’s composite gondolas until 1957.
     The number of cars identified in the book as “beet racks” or as beet gons was 364 (the term “racks” was an obvious carryover from the Blackburn era, but continued in use for sugar beet cars for decades afterward). Of these 364 total cars, 243, or 66.8%, were from Class G-50-20. In addition, there were 27 steel GS cars from Class G-50-22, or 7.5%, and 15 cars (4%) from the 1920s Enterprise GS gondola classes, G-50-9 through -12.
     The remainder, 79 cars, were all flat cars with racks, amounting to 21.7% of the total sample. These were drawn from many classes but were dominated by these: Class F-50-12, 22 cars (6%), F-50-5 and -10, 13 cars each (3.6%), F-50-4, 12 cars (3.3%), and remarkably, 6 cars drawn from SP’s World War I truss-rod designs, classes F-40-6 and -7 (1.6%).  Interestingly, there were 8 T&NO cars (2.2%) and a single Pacific Electric car. I did not find a single foreign car listed among the beet cars.
     There were a handful of foreign-road gondolas in the overall sample but far too few to have much meaning. I have not analyzed them, nor have I analyzed the modest number of empty SP gondolas and flat cars in the sample which were merely moved as empties (nearly all the beet racks were moved in large cuts, and even when not so organized, were still listed in the book as beet cars). One example of loaded gondolas not carrying beets, was a cut of 10 steel GS cars (7 of them from Class G-50-22), all SP cars, carrying manure to Camphor.
     The data presented here, however, do indicate a way to proportion one’s sugar beet traffic. The caveat is that the Blackburn racks were only numerous in 1948 and somewhat in 1949. There were very few in 1950 and later data.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Choosing and modeling an era

I’ve mentioned several times in my posts that I have chosen to model 1953. There are a number of reasons, from locomotives to freight cars and to passenger trains. In this post I want to summarize how I’m attempting to achieve consistent modeling which reflects this choice of year.
     One aspect of era consistency is locomotives. I chose 1953 in part because it was the last year in which the majority of Coast Line power was steam. But the diesels which were present in that year are also part of era consistency. I described in a previous post the SP diesel chronology which is the basis for my modeling (see:
     On the SP as a whole, by 1953 the majority of locomotive miles were already powered by diesels (see graph below, from the 1954 SP Annual Report), but as dieselization progressed in desert and mountain territories, remaining steam migrated to California, where several divisions, including the Coast, continued to use a majority of steam power. Photographic evidence, along with conductor books and other historical material, support this statement.

     My own steam locomotive choices are derived from SP booklets of “Locomotive Assignments,” for the Coast Division in 1953 and thereabouts, but further refined with photos of specific locomotives seen multiple times at San Luis Obispo and thus likely candidates not only for mainline freights but for locals and for branchline service. San Luis was the closest division point to my branch line, and its roundhouse was the local servicing facility for locomotives assigned in the area. I will address specific locomotives in a future post.
     The choice of 1953 also constrains choices of freight and passenger cars. As others have observed, this can be liberating as much as constraining. Equipment delivered after the end of 1953 can be simply ignored in model form (unless I want to further populate my display case). I will say more about freight car selection in another future post.
     Another aspect, I think often neglected, is motor vehicles. Even those who could not name the year or model of any HO scale automobile by looking at it, nevertheless have a generic memory of automobile styles by era. The same goes for highway trucks, though truck models changed less frequently and often less distinctively. I have largely been careful to use only model autos and trucks of 1953 or earlier vintage. The exceptions are in some cases European vehicles (which I chose to have at least a vague resemblance to period American cars), and are always placed in background locations where they will hopefully attract less attention. I expect to eventually replace all of them.
     A further point to mention about cars is license plates. Yes, all automobiles had license plates, front and back, and of course they should be present on models. For any state or era, there are extensive and detailed Internet resources to provide both history and images of actual license plates, greatly simplifying the task of accurate HO scale license plates. For California, for example, the Wikipedia entry is extremely complete and helpful (see: There is also a site offering reproduction plates for many states and many years, available at:, and this site has good plate images to view.
     The bottom line for California in 1953 is that the license plate was black with yellow numbers; actually it was the 1951 plate, with a lower right corner tab of stamped metal with the number “53” on it, covering up the “51” part of the year on the original stamped plate. All older plates had been replaced in 1951, so regardless of vehicle age, it got a 1951 plate in that year. The exceptions in 1953 were new plates, which did have the 1953 date stamped in. Thus the plates on any vehicle would have looked like one of these two examples:

Accordingly, this is the format for my HO scale plates. Like so many things in modeling, you may think adding plates to an auto or two now, and a few later on, can be a progressive project, but once your eye starts to notice the plates, you find you just have to go ahead and make plates for all of the cars on the layout.
     There are of course other era-consistency issues to recognize. Company names and emblems on buildings or billboards should neither post-date your chosen era, nor be too old (yes, old posters sometimes survived, and if so should be in decrepit condition, but billboards were revenue-producers and were updated). In fact, such advertising is an opportunity to identify your modeled year, with things like ads for new cars, or for political campaigns. For example, an “I Like Ike” ad on a 1952 layout would immediately bring to mind the presidential campaign of that year. But for 1953, as on my layout, such a sign, if included, would be faded and dirty.
Tony Thompson

Friday, April 8, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet-8: gondolas

Gondolas pose a more complex problem in the far West than in other parts of the country, due to the substantial fleets of drop-bottom gondolas (AAR Class GS) used for bulk cargoes like coal and gravel, in addition to conventional tight-bottom (AAR GB) or mill gondolas. This is certainly true of the SP. Accordingly, my gondola plan has two parts, separating GS and GB car types.
     Traffic on the Coast Line in gondolas was heavily slanted toward sugar beets, mostly in SP composite gons. But the usual pipe, poles, and structural steel loads, along with crated loads and, many times, lumber loads, are also evident in period photographs of both GB and GS cars, and I intend to model them.
     Gravel, sand and ballast was also shipped in GS cars, as was coal. California is not a coal state, but as late as 1953 SP still relied on coal for fuel in section houses, depots, roundhouses and other on-line structures, as well as for use in caboose stoves. Accordingly, I will model some coal deliveries. This is the other part of the traffic discussed in the post on my plan for hopper cars (
     Mill or GB gondolas. These are largely free-running cars which could be and were used all over the U.S., often confiscated as needed for local loading. This in turn means that the Gilbert-Nelson hypothesis would be expected to apply: their representation should be in proportion to the national fleet of GB cars. Specially equipped cars or unusual cars such as 65-footers were exceptions, often in assigned service.
     As with other free-running cars, I expect around 30 percent of GB gondolas on my layout to be SP cars, with the remainder being a Gilbert-Nelson fleet. By far the largest gondola fleet in the U.S. was the Pennsylvania Railroad, followed by the New York Central (including such subsidiaries as the P&LE), so cars of those roads will be evident. I already have three PRR gondolas and two NYC cars, along with two P&LE cars, so probably I have enough of those. Others already rostered include Reading, B&O, DT&I, Erie, Southern, and EJ&E among eastern roads, and ATSF, CB&Q, UP and WP among western roads. These are balanced between 40-foot cars and cars of more than 50 feet; by 1953, the latter size predominated in the U.S. car fleet. I only have two 65-foot cars, as these were relatively rare; one is PRR, the other SP.
     This photo shows a “signature” SP gondola, Class G-50-13, in the form of the fine Speedwitch kit (an SPH&TS convention car a few years ago).

     Another distinctive GB gondola among the SP fleet was the War Emergency design of World War II, purchased by T&NO and obviously liked, as several postwar repeat orders were placed. Here is the Funaro & Camerlengo version of this car, which makes up into a nice model.

     Drop-bottom or GS gondolas. Here the percentage of SP cars is greater, because large numbers of GS cars were purchased after World War II, especially for sugar beet traffic, which was important on the Coast Line. I already have several of the superb Detail Associates SP GS gons and am adding a few Red Caboose cars. These are all of the post-1940 Enterprise gondola design. I also have a number of old Ulrich cast metal gondolas, typifying the 1920s Enterprise design and very visible on SP throughout the 1950s. The 1920s cars were all steel, but the later cars are a mixture of all-steel and composite designs.
     Here is one of the Ulrich cars, with added brake rigging. It is numbered for Class G-50-12 and thus has Dalman trucks (from Tahoe Model Works). The Ulrich models are often available at swap meets and may show up in some on-line auctions. One of the post-1940 all-steel GS cars, a Detail Associates model, was shown in one of my waybill posts (

     Other western roads with GS gondolas on my layout will include ATSF (Caswell design), Colorado & Southern, D&RGW, NP, Utah Coal Route, and UP. Here is one of the Ulrich models decorated for UCR (though a stand-in, as the real UCR cars did not look exactly like this) and, sure enough, carrying coal.

     For sugar beets, after 1948 SP moved the traffic almost entirely in composite GS gondolas. In addition to the Detail Associates and Red Caboose versions of these cars, Precision Scale did them in HO brass, and for variety I show one of those cars here, representing Class G-50-20.

     The sugar beet cars which preceded those GS gons were Blackburn patent beet racks on flat cars, racks which could be removed and stored outside of harvest season. Pat Bray scratchbuilt such a rack, and the model has been passed on to me. Even if slightly anachronistic in 1953, it’s such a nice model that I’ll have to include it in some beet trains:

     To recap, fully 20 percent of SP’s freight car fleet in the early 1950s was gondolas, coincidentally about the same percentage as in the national freight car fleet, so I am attempting to create a realistically large gondola representation among my own freight cars.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Imaginary branch lines

I’ve mentioned previously that my current layout models a non-existent SP branch line, an idea widely used in the U.K. for smaller layouts. (See my post at: The advantages are that a familiar prototype “look” is present in the railroad components--locomotives, cabooses, structures, signals, etc.--instead of freelancing those items.
     The year my family and I lived in England during a sabbatical was entirely eye-opening on the model railroad front. There seemed to be model railway exhibitions almost every weekend somewhere in the country, and the standard of exhibition layouts is very high indeed. We soon learned that with British roads and population density being what they are, the country is not nearly as small as it looks on a map to an American. Still, there were plenty of weekends when it was practical to seek out an exhibition, and I was rarely disappointed with the modeling on view.
     The layouts at exhibitions are of necessity portable. The usual layout is a small scene, frequently a non-existent branch, with a substantial fiddle yard to permit numerous locomotives and trains to enter and leave the scene. As I said, the standard of modeling was extremely high, not least in structures and scenery, and particularly in N scale. I had never before seen such quality modeling in N scale (this was in the 1980s). I had the good fortune to see one of the most famous N scale layouts in Britain, called Chiltern Green, and it was absolutely mesmerizing.
     But it was the idea of the imaginary branches that intrigued me the most. And looking through the various British model magazines yielded even more examples than I had seen at the exhibitions. More recently, applications of the idea to American prototypes have been explored by noted British modeler and author Iain Rice in several Kalmbach publications. I filed all this away with an eye to possibly using it myself sometime, and as stated, that’s now my approach to my layout.
     So you can understand that I was surprised and delighted to open my copy of Model Railroad Planning (Kalmbach) for 2011 and find an article about an impressive version of the U.K. style of this exact kind of modeling. The article is by John Flann, entitled “British OO scale railway packs a lot of action into a small space,” pages 22-27. It neatly encapsulates most of the ideas I’m talking about. The layout models the typical look of the Great Western Railway, one of the major railways created by the “Grouping” of many smaller railway companies in 1923 into four big ones, and is set in the 1930s. (In 1948, these four “great railways” were merged into a single national entity, British Railways.)
     My own use of the non-existent branch line concept is like that in Flann’s article, in that I embed the line firmly in the SP’s Coast Division and intend to adhere strictly to a 1953 modeling date. This gives a mixture of steam and diesel motive power, though dominated by steam, and of course incorporates standard depots and other SP structures, along with cabooses and work equipment typical of SP in that era. The intention is to achieve maximum credibility without confinement to a specific place. So far the idea is working very well for me.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Modeling an engine terminal

My town of Shumala already has the rudiments of an engine terminal. I’m now planning the additional features it needs. Anyone who is familiar with photos of steam terminal facilities, or diesel facilities in different eras, knows generally what is needed. But I supplemented my existing knowledge with Marty McGuirk’s fine Kalmbach book, Locomotive Servicing Terminals (Kalmbach Books, Waukesha, WI, 2001), which contains an excellent selection of prototype photos and some modeling suggestions. For SP practice, I examined several of John Signor’s fine books about different parts of the SP.
     The first thing I installed at Shumala was a Diamond Scale 88-foot turntable. This has worked well electrically and mechanically. Although I installed the Diamond Scale hand-crank mechanism on this table when I lived in Pittsburgh, I removed it for transporting the layout section to California. So far I haven’t re-installed it, relying on manual track alignment, and may continue to do so.
     In line with SP practice, I also have installed oil and water columns. I remember when the folks at Overland Models imported some brass Sheffield water columns, a type commonly used on the SP, but supplied them in a short height which might be suitable for eastern roads’ tenders but certainly would not clear the much larger tenders common on western railroads. I (and several others) let them know in no uncertain terms that these columns were not suitable, and lo and behold, they brought in an additional run of columns with 16-foot heights. Perfect!
     This photo shows the current state of the terminal. Still needed are an engine house or roundhouse, a sand house, and fuel and water storage tanks to feed the columns. I will also add a minimal diesel fueling capability and a small structure for the caboose service track. And I want to include a small shop structure with the engine house so that simple repairs can be conducted here.

In the photo, it’s obvious that the caboose track is at left, and the two turntable leads are at center, with fuel and water columns between them. The engine house or roundhouse will be beyond the turntable. The black tank near the turntable is an interim fuel storage tank.
     I’m still exploring engine house options, and one possibility is the Banta Modelworks laser-cut kit for the two-stall Port Costa SP roundhouse, reviewed by Jimmy Booth in the SP Society’s Trainline magazine (issue 104, page 4). I saw the parts for this kit before Jimmy built it, and they really looked excellent. Alternatively, a small, rectangular engine house may be more suitable, as SP built at a number of them at smaller engine terminals.
     The other significant structure is the sand house. I will likely scratchbuild a standard SP sand house, as shown in Bruce Petty’s Southern Pacific Lines Common Standard Plans, Volume 4. But an alternative might be the Port Costa sand house, if Banta gets around to offering that kit as part of their Port Costa series. As either of these project progresses, I will post about them.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Waybills, Part 6

An item omitted from prior posts on this topic is that of Bad Order slips or cards. The traditional ones in commercial form have two drawbacks for me: first, they don’t take advantage of the car sleeve, which after all provides the initials and number of the car in question, and second, they are usually pink; but that’s the color of prototype perishable waybills (which I use also), so I want to avoid confusion between those bills and the Bad Order cards.
     My first cut at this was to model the Bad Order card on the Empty Car bills I already have in use. The color I chose was salmon, a readily available colored paper stock, since I wanted these “cards” to be disposable paper and not cardstock. Here is the first result of this:

You may note that I modified the lower part of the bill’s text to reference bad order cars instead of empty cars. Then the use of this bill relies, as is conventional, on a handwritten description of the defect which occurred. Here is an example for a particular car and its derailment problem:

     Experience to date tells me I have a workable Bad Order slip and it is now in use on the layout. I’ve always used some form of this kind of document, because filing them (temporarily) provides info on repeats of the same problems with a car. If appropriate, I then document corrections on the car’s maintenance page. (I maintain a loose-leaf notebook with a page for each car, and repairs or upgrades can be listed as well as problem corrections.)
     Only issue I see so far is that the salmon color is not all that distinguishable from the pink perishable bills in subdued lighting. I will experiment with other colors to see whether something else works better, and if a color other than salmon is eventually chosen, I’ll post another message to report on it.
Tony Thompson