Monday, August 27, 2012

My renumbered SP wood caboose

My recent post about the preparation and use of background flats (see: ) showed a photo of a Walthers HO scale model on an SP caboose, Class C-30-1, which I stated I had renumbered to a low but correct number. Since I have received two e-mails asking for clarification, I will oblige with a brief discussion.
     The common perception is that this very numerous class of SP wood cabooses, Class C-30-1, was numbered in the 600s, 700s, and 800s. This is true, but is only part of the story, as I explain below. But first, let me say that I have covered all this in some detail in Volume 2 of my series, Southern Pacific Freight Cars, subtitled “Cabooses” (Signature Press, 2002), in an entire, long chapter about this class. But I realize there are plenty of folks out there who don’t have this book, thus this post.
     When SP began production of the C-30-1 cars at Los Angeles General Shop in 1917, there were already system cabooses numbered into the high 500s and even a few in the low 600s. So the first cars of C-30-1 were numbered 586–625 and 641-670 in 1917. In the following six years, through 1924, car numbers continued from 671 up to 899. Since the 900 number series was reserved for various miscellaneous, inherited and converted cars in caboose service, the SP began to re-use lower car numbers that had been vacated through scrapping. During 1925 through 1927, 180 more Pacific Lines cars were built in Class C-30-1, all with numbers lower than 640.
     The table below contains the car numbers I was able to determine from the surviving caboose car cards at the California State Railroad Museum. In addition to the numbers shown in this table, SP also finally used car numbers 626–640 in 1926. Thus there were a lot of C-30-1 cabooses with numbers lower than 586. The total number of cabooses of this class appears to be 620 cars, 158 of them for NWP, SD&A and T&NO, the balance for Pacific Lines.

    So with about 165 cars out of about 460 for Pacific Lines being numbered below 586, I felt I had to model a few of these cars among my group of C-30-1 cabooses. The one shown in the photo, in the blog post cited in the first sentence at the top of this post, is SP 239. You will see this car number in the 1927 group, in the table above.
     Incidentally, the history of all the cars that carried the numbers in this table before those numbers were used for C-30-1 cars is also included in my Caboose book, but I won’t address that aspect in this post.
     A further point which may not be immediately evident in that caboose photo is that I revised the white safety handrails as provided by Walthers. The way they painted the handrails is not impossible, but is fairly unusual. I simply revised it with some boxcar red paint, to the most common pattern for these handrails, as can be seen in this photo. Note: the car is not yet weathered.

The background is one of those KingMill flats I discussed in my original post which had the caboose photo.
     So that’s what I was talking about, renumbering a Walthers caboose to a lower but correct number. If you operate very many C-30-1 cars yourself, you may wish to do the same.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Background flats

I’ve experimented over the years with background flat structures, and quickly realized that you need to choose structures with appropriate roof lines, or else control the angle from which a viewer can see the flat. I do have some truncated buildings on my layout already, and one more under construction, but at the moment don’t have a true flat.
     My entire thinking on this topic was turned entirely around during one of the layout tours at the NMRA Convention in Milwaukee in 2010. One layout had a long yard, bordered by a stunning set of flats of brick warehouses and factories. Several of us on the tour all said, “What the heck are those?” The owner told us they were products of KingMill Enterprises (you can visit their site at: ). Well, when I got home I browsed through their extensive selection and chose a few to try out. The selection includes non-railroad-served buildings as well as obvious candidates as factories and warehouses to place along sidings.
     The KingMill flats are photos of actual buildings, and thus include weathering, electrical wires, fire escapes, plumbing, and other details that look terrific, and as background, of course, it’s not obvious that they are not three-dimensional. The core of the line is HO scale, but they also have N scale products. They are printed on heavy card stock.
     These fine flats speak for themselves, but I thought I would show preparation of one of them, to use as a photo backdrop. I have a small “photo bench,” behind which I usually simply place a sky-blue card, sometimes trees and bushes, but it would be nice to have alternatives. My first KingMill flats, then, were intended as these background buildings, not an industry.
     Preparing the flats is pretty easy, if you follow their directions. The first step is to cut out the artwork with a sharp blade. I used a new single-edge razor blade. I have a couple of long stainless steel rulers which are ideal for this job. The particular sheet shown in this photo is from KingMill’s current “Radical Flats” series.

As you can see, this is KingMill’s sheet “Side Street #2,” which has two buildings on it.
     Next a support of some kind is recommended, such as foam core board. The building flat could be attached directly to your layout backdrop, but if you apply a support backing, it allows other placements. (Some KingMill items are meant to have short, vestigial sides so that they have a little three-dimensionality, and these of course require support.) Here is a crucial point: water-base adhesives must not be used with KingMill flats. They recommend rubber cement or spray adhesive, and are specific in warning that white glue or comparable products will damage the flats.
     Having worked with rubber cement a lot in my professional life in days gone by, I felt comfortable with that option, and purchased a fresh can from my local art store. While there, I bought some foam core board too. Then I cut the foam core pieces a little smaller than the KingMill buildings.
     Using a light coat of rubber cement on the foam core, I then let it “dry.” As soon as it looks less shiny, it has a tacky surface on which you can position your cut-out, and then lift it and re-set it to re-adjust if necessary. This tacky but removable surface is the key to effective use of rubber cement.

     This next photo shows the back of the completed assembly of foam core behind the KingMill cut-out. Since it will be used as a photo backdrop, I did not bring the foam core to the edge of the cut-out.

     Just to show results, here are these two backdrops in use for a photo shoot. First, the building with the fire escape, with an unweathered Walthers SP caboose on the track (it’s been renumbered to a correct, lower number).

Second, a mill gondola, which is a kitbash by Richard Hendrickson. He described it in his by-now-classic articles on modeling various mill gondolas by kitbashing Athearn gondolas. This was a two-part series in Prototype Modeler, in the September-October and November-December issues of 1982, pages 31 and 12, respectively. As seen here, it has a large tank load which Richard built, and he was kind enough to give me this model. You may wish to click on either photo to enlarge the image.

Incidentally, there’s a photo of an EJ&E gondola I kitbashed myself from Richard’s articles, some years ago, in a previous post. Here’s a link: .
     These quickie photos can only suggest how good these flats look, and I intend to use a few on my layout, especially for the large brick cannery at Santa Rosalia on my layout. Now that I have made these, I’m still as impressed as I was on my first impression!
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

SP communications -- update

After I posted my description of 1950-era SP forms used for internal communication, I learned from John Signor that he uses a somewhat different and later form on his 1960s-era SP layout. This post is about the form John sent me.
     My first post (which you might like to see for background; view it at: ) described Telegram, Mailgram and Airgram forms with circa 1950 adoption dates (shown in most SP forms in the upper left corner). John’s Mailgram form is dated 12-59 and has a much paler and wider blue stripe than the Mailgram form of 1950 which I showed. John has made up a bunch of these forms to use for agent and other communications to train crews on his layout.
     So for anyone modeling a layout with an era like John’s, 1960 or later, this Mailgram form would be appropriate. The original was the half-page size I mentioned in my previous post.

As I mentioned previously, pads of forms like this were in many employee’s desks, and were used for all kinds of handwritten and typed communication among employees, whether in the same building or far away across the system. They are ideal for model layout operations for communications with train crews.
Tony Thompson

Friday, August 17, 2012

Internal SP communications

I have mentioned the ways employees and managers communicated in previous posts, particularly through my interest in the bill box and the messages that were transmitted via that box, usually from a local agent to a train crew, sometimes in the opposite direction. I gave some Illinois Central examples in this post: .
     In the present post, I give examples of the three kinds of forms SP used internally for a number of years. These were called Telegram, Mailgram and Airgram, named for the way in which they were expected to be transmitted (“air” refers to air mail). But in fact pads of these forms were in many desks, and it’s clear from many surviving examples that messages were typed on whatever was handy. Especially as telegrams became uncommon as communication, all those pads of blank telegram forms became, in effect, memo pads.
     I have seen all three of these SP forms as plain paper forms, and as tissue versions for carbon copies. There seems to have been a color code, with Mailgram forms having blue stripes along each vertical edge, and Airgrams having green stripes in the same place. Sometimes the colors were dark, sometimes rather light, but all the Mailgrams and Airgrams I’ve seen were on white stock. I have not seen a Telegram form with color stripes, but I have seen the tissue Telegram forms in white, yellow and pink.
     Let’s look at some examples. All are from a file about temporarily renumbering some “rough loading” cars from revenue numbers to SPMW numbers for company lumber loading (SP file number 413-014). Here is a pink telegram form, clearly an original from its typing, but on tissue. There was some cellophane tape along the left edge, which has discolored to a yellowish color.

Note in the upper left corner is a code which contains the adoption date of this particular stationery item: 2-50.
     Here is a Mailgram, a carbon copy on tissue. Below it is an Airgram, also on tissue stock and a carbon copy. Their adoption dates are, respectively, 5-50 and 1-49. You may click to enlarge these if interested in the content.

The Telegram form is 8 x 5.125 inches, and I have seen both Mailgram and Airgram stock of the same size. The “full-page” forms are 8 x 10.25 inches, so that the smaller stock is half a full page.
     Aside from the intrinsic interest in seeing these company communications, might there be something for the modeler to use? Indeed there is. I have made up a set of Telegram blank forms, drawn from the form shown above, for use in bill-box messages from agent to crew (again, see my discussion at; ). Here is how my form looks ( I chose not to use a colored stock):

     This shows a way to approach railroad-company messaging other than plain paper, or the familiar train order. Even if a layout does not use bill boxes, some kind of message to crews may have to be provided, and this kind of form is one way to do so.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Railway Accounting Code Numbers

I have shown a couple of times on this blog the list I made of AAR code numbers for “selected railroads,” which are the numbers shown next to railroad names on waybills and other accounting documents. These numbers were assigned by the AAR and were mandatory for use on AAR forms such as waybills. But the “selected” names I chose are a small fraction of all the railroads in the AAR list. This post provides a link to the complete list.
     I have scanned the 15 pages of the list from the AAR book Railway Accounting Rules (1950 edition--numerous editions exist), and provided a PDF document on Google Docs. Here is a link to that document:
     Thus in a form like the one below, which is a corrected waybill from the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton, the code number, alongside the railroad name at the top of the document, is 208.

But if you don’t have such a form, which would give you the code number for that particular railroad, simply consult the AAR list provided above.
Tony Thompson

Monday, August 13, 2012

Upgrading old models -- Athearn reefers

One feature of my previous layout was that I had extensive staging and could stage fairly large trains, and inasmuch as the layout setting was SP’s Coast Line, where there is a lot of produce traffic, I needed not only refrigerator cars for local industries, but entire trains of them to run as “Salinas vegetable blocks” eastward, and so on. It’s hard to remember today, but back 20 or so years ago, the Athearn steel reefer was the most prototypical thing out there. So you can guess the situation. Yep, I built whole trains of them.
     Now I didn’t just “shake the box”and put ’em on the track, I did various detail upgrades. The dreadfully thick and minimally rendered Athearn running boards and brake wheels went straight into the bin, and the grotesquely sized Athearn ice hatch hinges and latch bars followed right behind. I applied wood or etched metal running boards, wire grab irons, and Walthers white-metal brake wheels, along with cleaning up the ice hatch area, and painting the over-door roof-interlock piece orange. This did make them visually much better. To show the ice hatch treatment, this roof photo should be illustrative. I’ve pulled off one hatch to show the filler in the former hinge holes, and you can see the small styrene patch over the latch-bar hole.

     I also renumbered most of those Athearn cars, since I had far too many more cars than Athearn’s limited range of PFE car numbers, and also wanted to suggest a range of car classes. Unfortunately, just as there weren’t better models available, the best decals of the day were very much not correct PFE lettering. Still, with a bit of weathering, in a passing train they made a decent impression. This one had decal additions as a post-1951 repaint, and obviously still has its original sill steps.

     Here’s one example of a disappointing result. It’s been renumbered as Class R-40-10, though of course the ends are wrong--at the time there weren’t correct ends available that would fit--and the added digit “3” is clearly different from the rest of the car number. But as I said, these served as kind of “mainline” cars which filled out trains which ran from staging to staging.

     Today, of course, we have superb PFE models in HO scale in abundance. The InterMountain R-40-10 and R-40-23 are extremely well-done models, the Red Caboose wood-side cars are not far behind, the Tichy R-40-4 kit is excellent, and with outstanding parts from the late, great Terry Wegmann, InterMountain has been able to bring in ready-to-run cars of classes R-30-18, -19, and -21. The Sunshine resin kits for a whole range of PFE classes also make excellent models, as do some other conversions such as Wegmann’s R-30-16.
     I have been sampling all of the above myself, replacing old models right and left, and usually selling off the discards. One project, building the Wegmann R-30-16 conversion, was the subject of a prior blog post, at: . So what about the remaining Athearn cars in my storage boxes? They are actually not too bad a representation of PFE’s Class R-40-23, but certainly they can’t begin to compete with InterMountain’s version of the same class. Could they have any use?
     One possible use relates to the “missing classes” in the foregoing list of current models: PFE classes R-40-14 and R-40-20. There were 1000 cars in each class. These classes were built in 1941 and 1945, and thus had W-corner-post ends, which are different from either the -10 or -23 ends. Such ends are not offered on any commercial reefer kits other than Sunshine resin. I remembered that Richard Hendrickson’s long-gone Westrail company had made a resin W-corner-post end to fit the Athearn body, and was able to acquire two pairs of these ends. Fitting these to the Athearn bodies, the roofs and sides of which are very close to R-40-10 and -23, along with further detail upgrades, would be a reasonable use for a couple of cars in my Athearn roster, and at the same time would dispense with one of those cars’ drawbacks, the cast-on end ladders and brake staff.
     The process is simply to disassemble the Athearn car, and saw the ends away from the roof. (The roof shown in the first photo in this post is in fact separated from its former ends.) The roof still will be automatically centered on the body when reassembled with its interlocking over-door center piece. The new ends can be built and painted as separate parts, then glued onto the body.
     Another feature to be modeled is placard board position. As I showed in a post mostly about route cards, but clearly showing placard boards also (see it at: ), the R-40-14 and -20 classes had distinctive placard board locations as delivered, but if repainted later, the boards were often moved to whatever was the current location. Accordingly, I added placard boards to one of the cars shown above, PFE 43702, in the original R-40-20 locations, and oversprayed it (and another car destined to be an R-40-14) with Floquil’s SP Lettering Gray, both to cover the old lettering and serve as a primer. This car will have to have its as-delivered paint scheme, because of the placard board location. Built in 1945, it’s reasonable that by the year I model, 1953, the car might well still have its original paint.

Note that I have already added the Westerfield grab irons to this car. Since these cars were built without fans, there is no need to add fan equipment.
     With this primer coat completed, my next step would be to spraypaint the bodies Daylight Orange. I use Floquil, not generally known for consistent color, but I checked the current bottle I have of this color against the PFE drift card, and the match is all right, so I am okay for now. Some Floquil colors seem pretty close from bottle to bottle, others, well, look out. You just have to check.
     Building and painting the ends will be covered in the following post on this topic, along with lettering and weathering of these cars.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Choosing a model car fleet -- update

In a number of prior posts, I have discussed my choices in building up a model car fleet. There are a bunch of posts, so I won’t cite all of them, but here is an example: . This example was chosen because it touches on one aspect which is important to me, namely trying to proportion the car fleet in a realistic and prototypical way. This post is to describe what’s been happening with my model fleet in recent months.
     Realistic car fleet proportioning, I believe, should follow the Gilbert-Nelson approach where it applies. This idea, named for Tim Gilbert and Dave Nelson, who developed it, is that free-running cars like box cars and many gondolas and flat cars, moved all over the country as needed, resulting in the proportion of such cars in any locality being the proportion of their owner’s car fleet in the national fleet. This seems counter-intuitive to many, since it’s natural to imagine cars mostly moving regionally, but Gilbert and Nelson produced extensive data supporting the idea. I discussed this idea and its ramifications more extensively in a prior post; you can check this link: .
     One important and ongoing change in my fleet is the replacement of older models, which are usually less well detailed, not quite as accurate as I’d like, or both. Another is the addition of new models to fill gaps or complete needs. Although I try to keep it under control, I do have a collection-building instinct. This may lead, for example, to the desire to roster both a prewar and postwar box car for Illinois Central or Seaboard, regardless of whether cars of those railroads are necessarily needed in the fleet. That’s okay as one more aspect of hobby fun, but may not fit my other criteria (gaps, or Gilbert-Nelson needs), so I try to maintain a “fleet-wide” perspective on all such decisions.
     As older models, some of them stand-ins, are superseded by better cars, the replaced ones may get sold or given away. Some are not bad looking at all, and sell readily at swap meets or auctions. A few of the older cars are retained, and have been or will be upgraded to current freight car standards. There are even a few which simply get scrapped.
     Below is one example of a stand-in, FGEX 57390, representing a Fruit Growers rebuild, now replaced with a redetailed Accurail reefer. This car served on my old layout for a number of years as a “mainline” car.

The model is an old Mantua reefer body, with a replaced underframe and brake wheel, but little else done to it. The cast-on running board, grabs and ladders remain, as do the filled-in or solid sill steps. But note that I painted the interior of the steps black, so that they look like actual sill steps.
     I suppose most modelers are continually involved in improving their car fleet, including discarding models which are superseded for some reason. But I’m emphasizing here that it’s useful to maintain that “fleet-wide” perspective when doing so. I might also mention that I often find upgrading to be a more interesting and challenging process than replacement. As I proceed with upgrades, I will report, in future posts, any which seem to me to be projects of interest to others.
Tony Thompson

Monday, August 6, 2012

Simplified underframe brake gear

I have described previously one of the ways I detail underframe brake gear, in connection with the project to upgrade an old Athearn metal box car model (available at: ). In response to a couple of requests, in this post I will try to make that description clearer.
     Underframes of model freight cars are not usually very visible when on the layout in normal position (upright), and my thinking is entirely directed at that situation. I know of course that there are train lines and brake-system piping on freight cars, but on many car types (house cars, flat and gondola cars) it isn’t at all easy to see. My simplified brake gear therefore omits that piping.
     Some readers will be “shocked, shocked” that I omit major (if invisible) portions of brake gear on many models, and I should say that occasionally I do get excited about really doing a particular model with full detail, and then I include the train line and all piping. But usually if I sit down, that impulse will pass.
     But let me be clear: simplified brake gear is definitely less appropriate for tank cars and hopper cars (including covered hoppers). They are different in that the piping is visible on an upright model, so in those cases I would include it.
     For my simplified brake gear, the basics are of course the three elements of an AB brake system, reservoir, valve and cylinder. I would also normally include enough of the brake rodding to be noticeable in a side view. That “side glimpse” is what I want to reproduce on most cars, though any car with a fishbelly side sill will conceal even that much of the brake system. Sometimes I even omit rodding, but on the model for this post I will include it.
     I show my approach on a model car with no original underbody detail beyond a center sill, bolsters and crossbearers (it’s the old LifeLike reefer). I am adding AB brake gear and enough rodding to be visible in a side view. The rodding will only be enough to look right, and I will add no piping.
     The AB brake set here happens to be Cal Scale (set 283), which has brackets for the valve and brake cylinder. I simply drilled the floor #53 for these parts and installed them with styrene cement. Then I applied supports for the brake levers. The floating lever at the cylinder has a pair of supports, the fixed lever only has one. (These lever supports are sometimes called “lever guides,” sometimes “lever carriers.”)
     For the lever supports I often use preformed grab irons. The ones you see here are old Northeastern steel-wire grabs, which I no longer use on car sides. They are attached with CA, and the pivot block for the fixed lever is a piece of scale 4 x 4-inch styrene (it’s just above the reservoir in this view). Kadee #58 couplers are temporarily installed here.

I photographed the gear on this reefer because its white floor shows up the brake gear well. The grab irons used as supports look like this in a side view, before applying levers and rodding. You can just see the pivot block (you can click on any of these images to enlarge them).

     I like to let the adhesives set fully before proceeding, so I would usually set a model like this aside for a few hours or overnight.
     The installation of levers goes easily. With a Cal-Scale set, you get a nice pair of styrene levers, and they have holes already in them for wire rodding, if you choose to use wire. An alternative, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is simply to trim a piece of scale 1 x 6-inch styrene strip to a lever shape (it just takes a few strokes with a file), and attach with styrene cement. For this post, I show below two different reefers, one with Cal-Scale brake parts and levers, the other with Athearn caboose AB brake gear, and white levers made from 1 x 6 styrene.
     Last, I add rodding, either brass wire (usually 0.012- or 0.015-inch diameter) or 0.015-inch styrene rod. The small styrene rod sizes can be purchased direct from Plastruct or from on-line suppliers of their products. The styrene rod has the advantage that it attaches easily with styrene cement. I usually flatten one or both ends gently with pliers so it will not roll during cementing. Again, the examples below show brass wire in one case, white styrene rod in the other.

The point of these particular details is to achieve the proper profile view of the brake gear, shown here prior to painting. This is the view I want from the side of my model. Rodding will be more evident when painted a dark color.

      The last step is painting. Normally I would airbrush an underframe like this with body color or with a lightened black such as Floquil Grimy Black, but on occasion I have brush painted them also. Either one works, and you have a simplified but good-looking representation of the underframe parts that ought to be there.
Tony Thompson

Friday, August 3, 2012


Many modelers take model railroading fairly seriously, and lots of the time I do too. But not always. Sometimes humor just sneaks its nose into the tent. This post is about a few of those noses.
     What was probably the first of these little events was inspired by some of my fellow modelers in Division 2 (Pittsburgh) of Mid-Central Region of NMRA. Division 2 had and still has an annual “Jamboree” each March, and a few people had been bringing humorous display models. I was about the only SP modeler for many miles around, and my idea resulted in this model:

The SP decals were intended for an Alco PA, and fit perfectly on the GG1 body. But the real fun came after I put it on display in the model room.
     Part of the intent of my GG1 was to tweak the many Pennsylvania Railroad fans in our division (Pennsy enthusiasts being noted for entirely lacking a sense of humor about their railroad). And the very first person I saw, minutes after anonymously putting my model on display, was one of those serious Pennsy people. I was the first person he ran into as he came striding out of the display room, and he immediately went into full rant mode.
     “Did you see what some person did to a GG1? in the display room? I can’t believe someone would do that . . .” and all this time I could see the little wheels going around in his head. The rant sputtered to a stop and he looked at me as if seeing me for the first time, and the penny dropped. “It was you! it was you!” he exclaimed. “Yes, it was,” I replied, “and you just did what I hoped somebody would do!”
     About that same time I had been told by a West Coast modeler that SP and Santa Fe employees at the time liked to pronounce “Union Pacific” as though the first two letters were the prefix “un–” instead of the usual “you-n.” So to capture that pronunciation, I decaled up a box car as “Onion Pacific,” doing the two sides differently—I even modified the UP shield to reflect the spelling change (click to enlarge).

I used to slip this car into trains at the old Pittsburgh Model Railroad Club on Pittsburgh’s North Side, and was pleased that usually somebody noticed.
     I happened to be planning to attend the Santa Fe Modeling Society convention in the summer of 1995, the year of the merger of Santa Fe with Burlington Northern to form BNSF. I thought it might be fun to spoof what Santa Fe fans could expect with the new regime, so cobbled up a “warbonnet” paint scheme on an F unit, but in BN colors. This is what it looked like:

But the joke, such as it was, fell kind of flat, and no one at the convention seemed to find it too amusing. At the time, my own favorite Southern Pacific hadn’t yet fallen to Union Pacific, so perhaps I didn’t appreciate the depth of feeling that can accompany such an event.
     There was another event that wasn’t intended as a spoof, but suddenly I could see it coming, right before it happened. It came about this way: my Pittsburgh layout featured a freelance short line, the Lompoc & Cuyama, which interchanged with the SP’s Coast Line (that aspect was written up in the article about my layout, in the Railroad Model Craftsman issue for June 1990, pages 64 to 69). I wanted to choose a “standard caboose” for the L&C, which I thought should be a Western prototype and not too large a car. Both Westside and Beaver Creek had imported brass models of the Yosemite Valley caboose no. 15 in brass. It just struck me as a good-looking caboose, so I chose it, and was able to buy a bunch of the cars from a dealer at a modest volume discount. Naturally I started painting them up for L&C, and gave them various numbers in the 50 series. Here’s how they looked, with the L&C’s only diesel in the background:

     So why could this turn into a spoof? At the 1990 NMRA National Convention, which was held in Pittsburgh, my layout was on tour, but even before tours started, I was one of a few layout owners who hosted operating sessions for clinic presenters (as a kind of thank-you for their contribution). One who came to my house was Jack Burgess, rightly famous for his superb layout which represents the Yosemite Valley. It wasn’t until Jack was on the way down to my basement that I suddenly realized what was going to happen when he caught sight of my caboose track – because it looked like the photo above, with a line-up of YV no. 15 cabooses painted L&C.
     Sure enough, Jack spotted the cabooses right away and kind of gagged. “But,” he sputtered, “there was only one of those.” Struggling to keep a straight face, I answered, “Well, not on the Lompoc & Cuyama.” I really think the look on Jack’s face was as close as you can come in modeling to undisguised horror at the sacrilege. But maybe I was over-interpreting.
     As I said at the outset of this post, I’m usually reasonably serious about model railroading, and try to follow prototype examples as much as practical. And my layout no longer features an imaginary short line. But every now and then, I just can’t resist something a bit less solemn.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A modeling journal

What’s a modeling journal? It’s like any other journal, but about modeling ideas, plans, and projects. A journal is kind of like a diary, but for many purposes need not be kept daily, as is implied by a diary. In fact, there’s no reason entries can’t be quite irregular. The only time you need to make a journal entry is when something seems worth recording.
     Like many modelers, I tend to jot down things on scraps of paper, and maybe or maybe not get them transferred to something more permanent. Of course, lots of those jottings only relate to something happening right now, but some of them are ideas you may later wish you could still consult. What kind of trucks was I going to put under that box car . . . ?
     Even when I do something more extensive, such as develop a list of freight cars that need repair, or sketch a change in an electrical circuit, or doodle ways to arrange structures along a siding, probably on a proper pad of paper, the resulting pages can still end up almost anywhere. I finally had the recognition that a journal might be a way to keep this stuff together.
     I would distinguish a journal from a systematic record or notebook. I have always carefully sketched and written down benchwork connection details (if you ever need to get it apart again) and wiring arrangements, especially which colors of wire do what and go where, and which terminals on a terminal strip do what. I’ve kept these notes in a three-ring binder or two in the layout room, and am sometimes surprised how often I need to look stuff up. But that’s a systematic record, an archive, which I call the “layout notebook,” and to me is not the same as a journal.
     Just for clarity, my notebook pages are standard commercial 8.5 x 11 notepaper pages, three-hole punched. Here is an example of a page from the wiring section of the layout notebook, identifying where feeders and gaps were located in this block, how turnouts and feeders were named, and identifying wire colors for each.

These pages are usually kept in pencil and are easily revised or added to, thus constituting a relatively permanent record of how and where things are done.
     But a journal is different. My entry pages tend to be “no two alike,” but here are two pages from last year, with a typical range of content, obviously a spiral-bound book (pages here are 5.5 x 7 inches each)

     For my journals, I have tried different kinds of books. I used to like spiral-bound books, and these are fine if you keep them on a shelf. But when I travel I like to take these along, since one often has a chance to think things through on airplanes or in hotel rooms. The spiral-bound book tends to take a beating in backpacks or luggage, so I’ve changed to the glued-signature style of book, the best-known brand being Moleskine. These are available at good bookstores, and they are well made, durable, and come in a range of sizes to suit your preference. If you don’t already know about these, they have a web site ( ) and even rate a Wikipedia entry.
     Here is a photo of both types. The blue spiral-bound is 5.5 x 7 inches (the same one whose interior is shown above), the Moleskine 5 x 8 inches, but size is a matter of individual preference. You can just see the elastic closure band on the Moleskine book.

     The journal idea has served me well on many occasions, and if you haven’t ever done something like this, I recommend giving it a try.
Tony Thompson