Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Choosing a model car fleet-9: tank cars

In the entirety of the North American freight car fleet, tank cars were about 8 percent of the total number of cars in the early 1950s. The great majority of these were in private ownership and thus primarily in lease service. That means they did not run freely and were not confiscated as empties, but would have been returned empty after unloading.
     The bulk of the privately-owned cars were the property of the “big three” leasing companies, General American (GATX), Union Tank (UTLX), and Shippers Car Line (SHPX), with other lessors such as North American (NATX) far down the list. Many individual companies owned a few tank cars, but typically a dozen to a hundred cars at most, compared to thousands owned by the leasing companies. The major exceptions were big oil companies like Sinclair, Shell, Phillips, Tidewater, and Gulf. Texaco’s cars were part of the GATX fleet by 1950 (though many still carried TCX reporting marks), and UTLX continued to provide most tank cars needed by the various “baby Standards” across the country.
     A minor fraction of the national fleet was in railroad ownership, and about three-fourths of that fraction was owned by just three railroads: ATSF, SP and UP. Both Santa Fe and UP used their cars heavily in company service, including water service. By contrast, SP only used about a quarter to a third of its tank cars in company fuel service, with the remainder available for commercial use.
     This means that SP modelers do need SP tank cars for both fuel and other cargoes. Luckily, the old Athearn single-dome tank car can be converted fairly readily into an accurate SP tank car. My article about such a conversion appeared in the SPH&TS magazine Trainline, published in issue 71, Spring 2002. For views of some recent modeling using my method, see my post entitled “Tank car projects for Cocoa Beach--3,” at http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/tank-car-projects-for-cocoa-beach-3.html.
     Beyond the SP cars, I see two kinds of needs for tank cars on my layout. One, of course, is to serve industries on the layout. The other is for cars which appear in mainline trains but will not have destinations on the layout.
     In the first category, tank cars for on-layout industries, I have both petroleum-product cars for bulk oil dealers (in my case, Associated, Union, Richfield, and Standard of California) and non-petroleum cars. The latter include wine cars for a winery, and chemical cars for a chemical repackaging company. Chemical repackaging may simply involve packaging of bulk material, but may also involve blending or even formulating the chemicals to be packaged. The variety of inbound cargoes thus can be considerable.
     In the mainline car category, I want to concentrate on Western car owners and industries, with a predominance of plain-Jane black cars, as was the reality in the steam era. Practically every modeler loves vivid tank car paint schemes, including me, but in the real world these were unusual, and I want to restrain myself with my fleet choices. I  already have a number of UTLX, GATX and SHPX cars in plain black paint for mainline and other use. I have only once seen a Santa Fe tank car in a photo of an SP train or yard, so am not sure whether to keep or sell the model I have. I do have a car lettered for PMEX, the Mexican national oil company, having seen such a car in a Taylor Yard photo.
     I intend to roster about four cars for each of the bulk oil dealers on my layout, meaning Associated (AOX, TWOX, TIDX), Richfield (ROX), Union (UOCX) and Standard (UTLX) cars. For some of these, I will need custom decals, artwork for which is under development. One of my dealers, Associated, is modeled as selling LPG for home use, so high-pressure LPG cars are needed there. I also have some mainline oil company cars, such as Sinclair, Continental, and Phillips.
     I need a variety of chemical cars, from ICC 103 and 104 to pressure cars, ICC 105, for my repackaging company. I’m concentrating on such Western chemical companies as Stauffer and Brea, and companies with Western plants, such as Hooker, Hercules, and Dow. Other possibilities from farther afield include DuPont, Eastman Chemical, Allied Chemical, Becco Peroxide, Warren Petroleum, and Columbia Southern. Models of some of these cars were shown in an earlier post, at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/01/tank-car-projects-for-cocoa-beach-2.html. More creative modeling is going to be needed to achieve the mix of car types I want.
     Wine cars were almost all leased cars. Modelers think first of six-compartment cars, though in fact cars with one, three and four compartments were also common. A major Western lessor of these cars was California Dispatch Line (CDLX), along with GATX, NATX and SHPX. Unfortunately, these are currently hard to model. Many of them were 6000 gallons or less, almost always jacketed, and there simply is no suitable starting point today for such cars. One option is a model from the distant past, the Thomas Trains wine car, a metal model. Here’s one of them picking up bulk wine at Ballard on my layout:

     In all, I have about ten SP tank cars and about 30 cars of other reporting marks, several of which are “unusual” cars which will only run occasionally. Probably the “plain black” part of the fleet will be enlarged in the future. I believe this will reasonably represent what is needed for my era and locale.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony,

    You mention developing artwork for custom decals for tank cars and I presume other types of rolling stock as well.

    I follow your blog diligently and I'm trying to assembling an accurate stable of HO cars for the SP in 1952. I already own several undecorated Detail Associate gondola kits and Athearn tank cars but have no decals for any of them.

    With the emphasis on accuracy and fidelity to the prototype, I certainly would feel more confident if I had the years of research you have before providing Rail Graphics with artwork I generated. Is there a way fledgling modelers like myself can avail ourselves of your artwork/decals?

    Am I advocating for a source of accurate decals for SP only rolling stock? Ah, why not!

    George Corral

  2. George, you ask a good question. I have supplied my artwork also to an independent decal maker, and he is deciding whether to produce the SP tank car decals. If he does so, I will post it here, and likely also make an announcement on the Espee list in Yahoo!Groups.

    For DA gondolas, you will not do much better than the old Champ super set, SHS-144, but they may be hard to find.
    Tony Thompson

  3. Great news about tank car decals - if it happens.

    As to the gondola decals, I now own your Vol. 1 as well as Vol. IV and will make a feeble attempt at creating my own artwork for DA and other gondolas since, as you say, SHS-144 decals are pretty scare.

    Thanks a bunch!
    George Corral

  4. The tank car decal production has now been arranged, by Jerry Glow Custom Decals. Jerry's web site can readily be reached via Google. These will letter a wide variety of SP tank cars. I will write a separate blog post to describe what is available.
    Tony Thompson
    May 29, 2011