Saturday, June 30, 2012

Another milestone

The first post in this blog was in early December, 2010, and a year later I posted a comment to memorialize the anniversary (here’s a link to that post: ). Among other things, I noted in that post that—to my amazement—there had been more than 50,000 page views in that first year, enormously beyond anything I had expected.
     It’s now been about six and a half months since that first anniversary, and I just noted in the statistics that Google provides its bloggers, that my total page views now exceed 100,000. For me, this is even more amazing, in a year and a half, to have doubled already what happened the first year. I can recall my own expectations for the blog (something like “maybe a few guys out there will read it occasionally”), so I guess I should just say “thanks” to everyone who’s still reading it.
     In the earlier days of the blog, there were several comments posted to some of my posts, but more recently most comments have come in the form of personal e-mail to me. That’s fine as feedback for me, but other readers don’t see the comments, so whenever it’s appropriate, I add a comment or post an update of my own to reflect the substance of the commentary, and my response, if any. I hope this broadens the original posts in helpful directions.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Helium cars, Part 2

In my first post on helium cars, I provided a brief summary of historical background, including some photos, and showed how I approximately reproduced the distinctive 100-ton trucks which were used under these cars. At that point the next step on the AHM model was that the body needed some upgrading of details. (Here’s a link to that previous post: .)
       To complete the model truck comments in the prior post, I used Reboxx wheelsets in the trucks, and found for these Model Die Casting trucks that I had to use the rather short 0.980-inch axle length to get free-rolling performance.
      For upgrading, I replaced the grab irons on sides and ends with wire. Side grabs are standard, meaning that the molded-on bolt heads are 18 inches apart, which is a widely used grab iron size. However, each end of these cars had distinctively different locations and styles of grab irons, as can be seen below in a photo of a B end from the clinic handout by Jay Miller. (His page is at:  and at that site you can also download his handout.) Note that the grabs are painted black, in contrast to the medium gray body. All my model grabs were made from brass wire and secured with CA; side grabs were standard Westerfield 18-inch width but a few end grabs had to be custom-fitted using 0.012-inch wire.

Not all details visible here will match the AHM model, as this photo shows the end of a 1960-built car, but safety appliances appear to be the same. The Universal brake wheel in this photo is not typical of cars built before 1960, when most helium cars seem to have had Ajax hand brakes. I used a Kadee Ajax wheel.
     Sill steps were replaced with A-Line “Style A” steps, using the bracing block technique I described in an earlier post on installing metal sill steps (if interested, see: ).
     In the 1950s, these cars still had wood running boards. I used a surplus Red Caboose “wood” running board, which just barely fits the AHM car body. The model was now ready for painting. (I will remove the lame lettering before doing any painting.)

In this next view you can see the end grab irons and brake gear better.

Since my modeling year is 1953, well within the Navy ownership period of the helium cars, I will be painting my car light gray (with black accents, as noted).
     I have been jockeying several projects to set up efficient use of spray booth and airbrush time, so hope to get this model painted in the next few days.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

BAPM (Bay Area Prototype Modelers) - 2

I wanted to add a few model photos to my previous post about the BAPM event on June 23. These are only a few of the models I admired and photographed. Three other people, Rob Sarberenyi, Harry Wong and Cyrus Gillespie, all took more extensive photos, so if you want to see more comprehensive coverage of the model displays, their photo sets are at, respectively: (Rob); (Harry); and (Cyrus).

     As I mentioned in the first post on BAPM (which you can view at: ) there was a good crowd all day, circulating among the displays and schmoozing in the aisles. I really liked seeing Paul Chandler’s method for building lumber loads in an efficient manner (I won’t go into it here because it may be appearing in the Southern Pacific Society’s magazine Trainline). Here is a flat car with two of Paul’s lumber stacks:

Notice the markings crayoned onto the loads, a familiar sight on the prototype. The car carries the SP Society’s 1949 bulkheads.
     I really liked Mike Faletti’s Milwaukee mill gondola, modified from the recent Athearn offering, with terrific representation of rust on the interior. The photo conveys the overall impression, but in person it was extremely realistic.

Dave Pires showed some nice open-car loads, pipe and so forth, and here is just a sample of what was there:

     Harry Wong had an in-progress SD9 to show, and I wanted to include this as a representative of what many modelers do at RPM meets: bring in-progress models. Such models are of course most revealing in that they show all the detail parts and modifications which have been made (so far) to the base model. (Click to enlarge.)

     Tim Keohane has been duplicating prototype graffiti on modern freight cars for some time. He showed a number of fine examples, in each case with the prototype photo right next to the model. I will just show one example, from an Athearn kit:

Finally, I wanted to show one of the few non-HO scale models displayed (the paucity of N scale was especially surprising). This is Bo Liljeberg’s O scale hopper, built from a Henry T Productions epoxy kit.

     This small sampling can only suggest the richness of the entire display, and if you want to see more, I urge you to visit any of the three links provided in the first paragraph at the top of this post, where very many more photos are available.
Tony Thompson

Monday, June 25, 2012

BAPM (Bay Area Prototype Modelers)

Saturday, June 23, was the date of this year’s prototype modelers’ meet in the San Francisco Bay Area, called BAPM (Bay Area Prototype Modelers). This is an annual event and has been held for several years now. Saturday there were about 110 people attending, a good turnout, and many tables filled with models. I wanted to add some impressions of this local meet to the posts I’ve written before in this blog about regional and national RPM (Railroad Prototype Modelers) meets. These have included the big fall meeting in Naperville, Illinois [held one-time-only last year in Lisle, Illinois]: ; Mike Brock’s January meeting in Cocoa Beach, Florida: ; and Greg Martin’s meet in Salem, Oregon, 2011: .

     The big attraction for most people who come is to see all the fine modeling on display. Eras ranging from the 1940s to recent years were all on display. The large function room at St. David’s Church in Richmond was thronged with people most of the day, circulating among the tables.

     There was also a clinic program. Three talks were given: in the morning, I spoke to present the joint clinic Richard Hendrickson and I prepared, about weathering transition-era rolling stock, using acrylic washes and airbrushing. (The handout for the talk is available elsewhere in this blog, at: ) After lunch, Bob Rohwer spoke about modeling Amtrak’s California Zephyr (2009 version), emphasizing repowering locomotives and accomplishing good lighting in cars, and then Scott Inman gave a talk about modeling the twilight years of SP steam, focussed on his newly completed skirtless Daylight locomotives
     If I had any complaint about the venue, it would be the room used for clinics, since it can’t be made very dark and has a fairly small screen (see photo below). The result is that slide projection accomplishes less than a speaker would like, but since the room isn’t too big, most people can see all right.

     For many attendees, the event is an occasion to see friends and acquaintances from around the area, so the camaraderie in the aisles was a feature of the meeting all day. And folks came from surprising distances, indicating how attractive a meet like this can be: a few long journeys, such as Paul Chandler from Tucson, Arizona, and Mike Faletti from Washington state, and longer (but on business) journeys, including Blaine Hadfield of ExactRail from Utah (that’s Blaine at the podium above), and Bill Schaumburg of Railroad Model Craftsman, but folks were also there from Southern California, from the Sierra foothills, and from northern Nevada. As a one-day meet, it works really well, and I think it illustrates the attraction that RPM meets can exert in any locality.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kitbashing a PFE R-40-26: update 2

It’s been pointed out to me that I was remiss in not commenting on the paint scheme for the PFE Class R-40-26 cars. I did show a prototype photo of a new car in my original post on this topic (you can view that photo at this link: ) but I didn’t comment beyond that.
     This PFE class of 2000 cars was built between July 1951 and May 1952 at PFE shops, the first 1175 cars at Los Angeles and the balance at Colton. They were numbered 8001 to 10000. In terms of my proportioning of my model reefer fleet to the prototype PFE fleet, at one model for each 1000 prototype cars, I would need two R-40-26 models. I discussed that proportioning of 1 to 1000 cars in an earlier post, which you can read at: .
     In June 1950 PFE adopted a paint scheme with the Union Pacific emblem, formerly painted in red, white and blue, in black and white only. In June 1951, right before the start of R-40-26 construction, further changes were made. First, the entire car side, including side sills and sill steps, was orange, with no black trim (except for the black fan plate). Second, the SP emblem was placed toward the B or brake end of the car on both sides of the car, its traditional location before the 1946-1951 period (during which the SP emblem was to the left, the UP emblem to the right, on both sides of the car). This meant, of course, that the two car sides were not identical after June 1951, but had the SP and UP emblems reversed from one side to the other.
     Here is the Accurail website photo of their new plug-door model as decorated for PFE. The SP emblem is located correctly in this view, but since only one side is shown, I can’t tell if it is properly reversed on the other side. As I mentioned in my initial post about these cars (link in the first paragraph, above), the orange color isn’t correct. And note that the sill steps are black instead of orange.

     Note also that this Accurail lettering does not have the 1-inch stripes above the initials and below the car number, as all or nearly all the PFE R-40-26 cars did have when built. The use of these stripes would be discontinued by PFE in the spring of 1952, about the time construction of R-40-26 cars was completed. It is not completely clear whether the last cars built received stripes or not. Those cars were LA Shop cars, roughly in the 9000-9175 series, so it is possible that the Accurail scheme is correct for an as-built car numbered 9047, or could represent a repaint.
     As I mentioned in the first “update” post, Microscale set 87-501 has all the lettering you need to reletter this car if you have repainted it after correcting details, or if you have added details to an undecorated car. I’m personally not thrilled with Microscale’s lettering in this set, as it looks too thin to me, compared to prototype photos, but at least all the elements are there.
     One other detailing point: I can’t tell from the Accurail photo above, what the running board type is. But most if not all of the PFE R-40-26 cars had Morton running boards.
     Incidentally, for those who may not realize it, PFE paint schemes are described in some detail, and extensively illustrated, in the PFE book, with a summary and paint chips on page 418 (A.W. Thompson, R.J. Church, B.H. Jones, Pacific Fruit Express, second edition, Signature Press, 2000, and available for direct plurchase on the website at:
Tony Thompson

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kitbashing a PFE R-40-26: update

Several comments have been sent to me about this Accurail kitbash project, two of which are important enough that I decided to do this additional post. Here is a link to the previous post on this project, based on the new plug-door reefer model: .
     First, the side sill of the Accurail plug-door car has guides on the back to facilitate cutting out the sill for a “tabbed sill” (as on the PFE car). I knew about this, but did not mention it initially because, not having seen the model itself, I don’t know that the provided guides match the PFE side sill contour. To the extent that they do, of course, this will be a help for side-sill modification. I would say that this means that modelers can either carefully follow the PFE prototype photo in the previous post for guidance, or else decide that any sort of tabbed sill will do the job, and simply use the Accurail guides and don’t worry about an exact match.
     I was also reminded of a second important point: the Accurail model reefer design has separate sides, which click neatly into place on the body, with pegs molded on the back of the side fitting into locating holes on the body. Here is an example, using an undecorated wood reefer kit with yellow sides and a black body; you can see the locating holes at the right edge of the black body:

     This is a great feature for two-color paint schemes, such as the PFE cars with boxcar red roof and ends, and orange sides. Any modifications to the car sides, following by repainting, requires no masking as part of the paint job. I had recommended new placard boards, a dummy fan plate, and a fan control box should be added, along with possibly adding the second rivet rows on the car sides with Archer rivets. Most of those changes would require repainting. Since the color of the plug-door PFE kit is wrong anyway, you might as well go ahead and make as many detail changes as desired, and then repaint those sides. Or, of course, you could start with an undecorated model.
     I have been encouraged to receive several messages from modelers who do plan to try this kitbash. I hope to hear from some of them as to how the models turn out.
Tony Thompson

Friday, June 15, 2012

Kitbashing a PFE R-40-26

Here is an attractive project I haven’t done, but got interested in researching after Arved Grass sent me some information and some questions (for which, my thanks). It all relates to the new Accurail HO scale steel refrigerator car with plug (or sliding) doors. The car is intended to represent a Fruit Growers Express car, but has a lot of similarities to PFE’s Class R-40-26, the first plug-door production cars built for PFE.
     Right away, some will have a question: is the similarity a coincidence? Was the car perhaps a builder design, purchased by both PFE and FGE with a few buyer-specified details? Or did one of them design it, and the other company borrow the drawings? I don’t know the answer for certain, but when I interviewed Earl Hopkins some 20 years ago (he had retired as PFE’s Chief Mechanical Officer), he went through the list of PFE car classes with me and identified which ones were PFE designs, and which were car-builder designs.
     Among the ones he specified as PFE designs was Class R-40-26. So did FGE have access to that design? Earl made it plain that the mechanical forces of PFE in the 1940s and 1950s had a warm relationship with their counterparts at FGE, partly because the two competed directly almost nowhere, and also because, as Earl put it, the mechanical staffs of the two organizations hit it off and got along well together.
     Among his examples of this cooperation was a very extensive and complete sharing between the two organizations of designs, developments and improvements in the early mechanical refrigerator cars, extending to test results on mechanical components by both staffs. I would guess that if FGE wanted to examine or even build the PFE design for plug-door cars of Class R-40-26, they would readily have been granted access. I don’t know the car history on the FGE side, so I have no idea if FGE followed PFE’s design, but I am sure it would have been possible.
     Getting back to the Accurail model, here is the car side, as represented in their on-line artwork from a forthcoming car:

It is striking that many details and dimensions do match the PFE R-40-26. But there are some differences, too. To see them, compare the artwork above with this photo of a new prototype car (PFE photo, my collection):

The side sill of the PFE prototype is “tabbed” rather than straight, which is easy to fix with some judicious cutting and filing of the model’s side sill. The PFE car has a round black “fan plate,” a dummy reminder that the car had fans, and a fan control box below the side sill. It also has differently located placard and route card boards. Each of these details would need to be added to model the PFE car.
     What may not be noticed unless you click on these images to enlarge them, is that the Accurail car side has single rivet rows at each side sheet panel edge, while the PFE car has double rivet rows (there was a hat-shaped post behind each PFE panel seam, and the side sheets were riveted to both “feet” of the hat). For many modelers, this would definitely be something to ignore, but it too is fixable.
     The answer is Archer rivets. These are three-dimensional resin objects deposited on decal film. You apply them like any decal (taking care not to knock them off the surface). The set that has the closest wider-spacing rivet rows is Archer HO Surface Details 25 (there is also a set 30, which is for Alternate Center Rivets as on box cars). You can purchase them on-line at:
     If you were doing all these corrections, you would probably have to repaint and reletter the model. I have not yet seen the Accurail model decorated for PFE (their model number 8504) but two different modelers who have one of the models say that the color does not match the color chip for PFE orange in the back of the PFE book (Thompson, Church and Jones, Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd Edition, Signature Press, 2000). An Accurail representative has confirmed the incorrect color (and apologized). If that is bothersome, you may want to repaint anyway. 
     Incidentally, if you do repaint, you can re-letter with Microscale decals. Set 87-501 does a good if not great job. They are currently in stock at Microscale, and you can purchase them on-line if your local hobby shop does not stock them; go to and click on the railroad cars at upper right.
     After all that commentary about the car sides, what about the roof and ends? The roof is the correct diagonal-panel design, with the right number and style of panels, and the end is actually very good overall. I show below photos of the model and prototype ends. The only discrepancy is that the Accurail end has poling pockets, while the PFE car does not, and they are easily removed from the model. The prototype end view is a PFE photo from my collection, and the model end sprue photo was provided by Arved Grass.

You can readily see that the ends match well, including the rarely-modeled top major rib in ends like this, which has a flattened bottom edge, rather than being symmetrical like the other ribs. Kudos to Accurail for getting this right.
     I have a couple of models of Class R-40-26 already, a Challenger brass car (received in recognition of information I supplied for making the model), and an Athearn kitbash using Frank Hodina resin moldings of doors and roof, but the latter car will likely be retired in favor of a so-far-partly completed Sunshine resin kit. So I don’t know that I will attempt this Accurail kitbash, but it’s a relatively straightforward project for anyone wanting models of this significant PFE car class. And by the way, I will probably describe this project in briefer fashion for my modeling column in the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society magazine, Trainline.
Tony Thompson

Monday, June 11, 2012

Railroad stories

Probably everyone has seen some of the books and articles out there about the experience of working on the railroad, in a variety of jobs, from switchman to brakeman to engineer, and also including operators, road foremen of engines, and others. I want to mention here a few books which I’ve found especially interesting or memorable. Readers of this blog will already know the segments I’ve posted from my long 1990 interview with Mac Gaddis; you can search the blog under that name to find the posts to date.
     As an enthusiast of freight cars and freight operations, I have always had a soft spot for Ralph E. Fisher’s book, Vanishing Markers (The Stephen Greene Press, Brattleboro, Vermont, 1976; page size, 7 x 10 inches). It contains a wealth of fascinating material, but the best to me is the account of operating a freight over a division, at night, and all the experiences and problems which can occur (Chapter 8, “Night Freight”). I have gone back and re-read Chapter 8 again and again, and it remains a pure pleasure. The railroad happens to be the Boston & Maine, but the book contains a first-person quality which transcends any particular railroad or geographical region.

     Another favorite, because the stories are colorful, is Larry E. Marnes’ book, Doubling Over (Carlton Press, New York, 1987; page size, 5.25 x 8 inches). I have found that enthusiasts of this kind of writing rarely know this book, but though slim, it is well worth seeking out. Stories are almost all from the Delaware & Hudson, but as with Fisher’s book, the stories are universal.

     A third book, though entirely about an earlier era, is a collection of stories by the great Harry Bedwell, entitled The Boomer (now available as a trade paper reprint from the University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2006; page size, 5 x 7.5 inches). The stories are from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s, and were first printed in hardback in 1942. Bedwell knew railroading intimately and the stories, though dramatic, convey a spirit of their age like no others I know.

     A more recent author with Southern Pacific stories is Dan Rehwalt, who has self-published several books. I’ll just show one here, which is largely autobiographical (it’s from Grizzly Press, Oakridge, Oregon, 2003; page size 5.5 x 8.25 inches). Among his other titles are Westsider (about working the West Side Line of SP’s Portland Division) and The Hill (about the climb over Cascade Summit). Signature Press is working toward reprinting these works in a single volume, which I hope will happen later this year. Dan is a skillful writer who has the knack of making you feel like “you were there.”

     Rather than show more volumes, I will just list a few additional titles which I’ve found especially valuable and interesting, and which stick in the memory. Foremost among these are Linda Niemann’s works, especially Boomer (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1990), which are strong descriptions of work in recent decades. I’m not particularly a narrow-gauge enthusiast, but Josie Moore Crum’s monumental work, The Rio Grande Southern Railroad (San Juan History, Durango, Colorado, 1960), is a rich and truly astonishing account of working on that line. And lastly two collections of working men’s stories, one from the 1920s and 1930s (Workin’ on the Railroad, edited by Ralph Rinehart, American West Publishing, Palo Alto, California, 1970), and a fine collection of interviews with a wide range of Western Maryland employees, Working on the Western Maryland (edited by Wes Morgenstern, Western Maryland Historical Society, Union Bridge, Maryland, 1999).
     Examples could be further multiplied, but these are books I’ve especially enjoyed and found both instructive and very interesting. I commend them to anyone who likes this kind of history.
Tony Thompson

Friday, June 8, 2012

Another small personal note

I recently had one of those conversations modelers often have, when a non-modeler asks you how you got interested in trains. That stimulated the thoughts leading to this post.
     In my own case, I seem to have been wired from the beginning to find trains interesting. My parents told me that as soon as I could recognize a train, I liked to look at them, and that this took place when I was quite young.
     As it happens, there is documentation. The photo below was taken in front of the depot at Cotulla, Texas on February 25, 1942. My dad was working as an exploration geologist for Humble Oil (he worked all over west Texas and into Louisiana and Alabama), from about 1936 to 1942. That’s why we were in Cotulla (which lies between San Antonio and Laredo).
     That’s me, of course, a few weeks shy of my second birthday, fascinated by what must have seemed an immense I-GN Ten-wheeler (the I-GN initials are right below the engine number on the cab). You can see the “M” of “Missouri Pacific Lines” in the upper right corner, on the tender.

With this background, it’s easy to answer how I got interested in trains: I was interested in them almost as soon as I could talk.
Tony Thompson

Monday, June 4, 2012

The bill box -- update

Awhile back I posted some information about depot bill boxes, which were used to communicate between train crews and agents when they were not able to do so in person (for example, when the agent was off duty). I also showed photos of the SP bill box I purchased at Winterail this year. The post can be viewed at this link:
      Last weekend I was at a layout operating weekend called SoCal Ops 2012, in Burbank, Simi Valley, and Santa Barbara, California. As part of our activities, we visited the preserved and handsomely restored SP Santa Susana depot in Simi Valley (it’s the widely seen Common Standard 22 design). On the outside, to my delight, was the original bill box. It is slightly different dimensionally from mine, but is certainly identical in concept. Here’s a photo, kindly provided by Seth Neumann, who was there with a camera phone:

The box is painted with the depot trim color, which SP called “Light Brown.” This is an example of one kind of color scheme for these boxes.  In later years, they were often painted aluminum, but some were red. Mine was red, though the paint is much the worse for age. This photo, repeated from the prior post, shows that the bottom opening arrangement, and the hasp for a switch lock, is the same:

This is a detail which needs to be added to many model depots, as well as a feature which can be used in model layout operations.
Tony Thompson