Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Helium cars, Part 3

In my original post on this topic, I summarized some of the history of the helium cars and provided a link to a very useful web page by Jay Miller. I also described the early part of the modeling project to upgrade an AHM model to “layout quality” for my use. An important part of that early modeling work was kitbashing to create suitable trucks. That first post may be viewed at this link: .
     In the second part, I described the completion of detailing, including replacement of poor details on the original AHM model. Completion of those detail upgrades made the car ready to paint. Here is a link to that Part 2 post: .
     It has been some six months since I last posted about this project. Though I will confess that some of my projects do take this long or longer, this one was held up in making sure I would have accurate and complete decals for lettering. More on that in a moment.
     Since my modeling year is 1953, which falls during the Navy ownership period of the helium cars, I used Floquil “SP Lettering Gray” for my car. Probably the paint was darker gray than that when new, but cars in service awhile definitely were faded, so this color seems all right to me. I hand-painted all safety appliances black, including brake wheel and the ladder stiles and rungs, sill steps, and end surfaces of end sills, as shown by the prototype photos in both previous parts of this series, cited in the paragraphs above.
     Here is the car at this point, painted gray overall, with its modified and painted trucks and the black trim applied.

     Next comes lettering. Below is Jay Miller’s lettering drawing for the Navy era. The same drawing is available at higher resolution for download on line at: . Scroll down to about the middle of the web page to see the download of Jay’s clinic handout. Note in this drawing the length over running board ends, 42 feet, 6-3/4 inches.

     I was lucky in having picked up one of the brass helium cars from Pecos River Brass (representing a 1961-built car), and the decal set included could be stretched to do more than one car. But I preferred a new set for the USNX reporting marks. Commercial decals were first produced by Jerry Glow, and these are shown in a low-resolution version below. Tichy Train Group has now purchased all of Jerry’s decals. If you want a set of these, they can be purchased from Tichy’s web site, which is at the following link: .

I went ahead with these decals to letter my model, following the lettering drawing shown above for major components of the lettering. The decals are designed for, and I wanted to letter my car for, the batch of helium cars built by General American between November 1942 and August 1943, 66 cars numbered 1013–1078, the largest group among this car fleet. The handout by Jay Miller, cited above, contains a complete roster.
     As I said, I lettered the car in accord with the drawing, but I did make an exception for some minor items of lettering, which I positioned according to photos. In addition, I added fresh dates to the repack and air brake service blocks, since these would certainly not be neglected in the time from building the car in 1942, until my modeling year of 1953. I used a Sunshine “reweigh and repack” set for PFE, thus obtaining the needed black lettering. Lastly, I applied a light coat of Floquil Dullcote to protect the lettering.
     At that point the car was ready to be weathered. I accomplished this with my usual method of washes of acrylic colors, as briefly described in the handout to Richard Hendrickson’s and my weathering clinic, which is available at: .
     Once weathering was complete, I added route cards to the route card boards (see: ) and also added a placard for Compressed Gas to one side of the car, with an Empty placard on the other (I discussed the use and application of model tank car placards in an earlier post, at: ). I completed these steps with a final overcoat of Floquil Dullcote.
     The completed car looked like this, on the side with the “loaded” placard. You can click to enlarge the image, and see the modified air brake and repack stencils.

The hand-painted safety and door hardware came out looking all right, in my opinion. Here is a view of the A end. The B end can be seen above.

     This has been a satisfying project, to create a reasonable representation of a helium car. Helium carriers like this were certainly not common in most of the United States in the transition era, but a number of coastal areas in which Navy blimp patrols operated did receive helium, as did many parts of the aerospace and scientific research communities. The prevalence of these cars in the Far West in particular is well known, so this car will be most welcome among my freight car fleet. And warmest thanks to Jay Miller and Jerry Glow, for their contributions.
Tony Thompson

Monday, November 26, 2012

Operating on Tehachapi -- Part 2

In my first post about the experience of operating on the Tehachapi layout of the La Mesa Model Railroad Club in San Diego (available at this link: ), I gave a simplified description of the very long freight trains which run on this layout. In this concluding post, I want to say a little more about switching.
     The heart of the layout in terms of freight train operations is Bakersfield, with a truly large SP yard (and now coming into operation, a smaller but vital Santa Fe yard as well). Here is a view looking westward along the SP yard.

In this view can be seen Don Mitchell, long-time leader and inspirational operations expert of the club, standing at right; at left, Bob Hanmer, acting as Kern Junction operator; and Henry Freeman, standing, Bakersfield yardmaster. The long structure toward the right of this photo is the ice deck. A long perishable train is about ready to depart for the climb up the north slope of Tehachapi.
     One switching job run out of Bakersfield is the Arvin local, which does the switching for the potato packing sheds on the Arvin Branch. I have often volunteered to do this job, which has about as much switching as anyone could want, even a switching enthusiast like me. Typically the job heads from the Bakersfield yard to Arvin with thirty empty reefers, and proceeds to switch out loads and set empties to the sidings of every packing house. This first switching cycle will typically take two to three (actual) hours to complete.
     The Arvin Branch was jointly owned by SP and Santa Fe, and the arrangement was for each railroad to operate the branch in alternate years. The Tehachapi historic operating sessions are set in 1952, and that was a Santa Fe year on the branch, so all refrigerator cars and locomotives operated there are Santa Fe-owned. To learn more about this, and for that matter about all of Tehachapi, I cannot recommend anything better than John Signor’s outstanding book, Tehachapi (Golden West Books, 1983).
     I will show an impression of what the Arvin job entails. The photo below shows the far or Arvin end of the switching district, with Gold Ribbon Potatoes against the backdrop and Arvin Potato Packers in the foreground. Both have triple-track sidings and can load reefers three abreast. The road-switcher doing the work is coupled to a cut of empties, about to be spotted, in the foreground. And a switchlist being compiled is sitting on the benchwork (more about that in a moment).

     The rest of the Arvin district has White Wolf Potatoes along the backdrop, and Diamond Potato Packing along the front, both with triple-track sidings. A switchlist is propped against the backdrop, and the engineer’s throttle is in the foreground. Obviously none of the sheds has been modeled yet, but door numbers and spots are identified for switch crews to observe.

And at the far end of the benchwork is the town of DiGeorgio, where we find Trino Packing and  the DiGeorgio shed of Arvin Potato Packers, again situated along the backdrop and in this case only having a single siding (the six cars nearest the camera are empties not yet spotted).

     Just to illustrate that the triple-track sidings at these packing houses are prototypical, here is a Santa Fe Railway photo of a potato shed at Arvin.

     As I said, the first cycle of switching usually takes two to three hours (actual time; this layout is sufficiently big that a fast clock is not needed, and actual time is used throughout). Then another turn arrives at Arvin with thirty more empty reefers, and picks up the loads already pulled. By this time, the cars spotted early in the morning, or left over from the previous night, have been loaded, and once again, loads have to be pulled from all the packing houses, and more empties spotted.
     In a session which goes smoothly, in midafternoon still another turn then arrives at Arvin, picking up all the loads just pulled and providing another batch of 30 empty reefers to spot for evening loading. You can well imagine that this job readily consumes an entire day, actual time, to complete.
     Let me say a little more about how this works, an interesting scheme devised by Jason Hill. Not one of the 90 empty reefers which are delivered to Arvin are destined to any particular packing house; after all, they are all 40-foot cars, identical inside, and are entirely interchangeable (aside from a few express reefers, likewise interchangeable with each other). Instead, the conductor on this job works from a car order list for all the packing houses, stating at what time empties are needed, and at what time loading will be completed and the corresponding load ready to pull. Moreover, most cars are destined to go into particular perishable trains at Bakersfield, and these are shown in the order sheets (in lieu of waybills). So the conductor has to make up a switchlist, and write the car numbers corresponding to each of those picked-up cars and their outgoing train assignments, for use of the Bakersfield yard crew. It’s a complex and engrossing job of switching, and one I enjoy greatly.
     But of course for many visiting operators (and spectators) the real attraction of this layout is moving prototype-size trains over a stretch of mountain railroad. An extra like this eastward Santa Fe train at Caliente, with big cuts of perishables and probably including a group of cars from the Arvin potato sheds, is receiving orders (note that the order board at the depot is set to “stop” so orders can be delivered).

As this train departs Caliente and heads around the loop there, the sheer size of the train is evident. Note the mid-train helper in the foreground; there is a second one 14 cars ahead of the one in the foreground, and each has its own engineer.

Of course, SP trains are as numerous or maybe a little more numerous on Tehachapi than Santa Fe ones, and watching them traverse the curves, for example here at the lower end of Allard siding, is pure pleasure. This is a view only train engineers and conductors will see, as it is largely concealed from the viewing public.

     I hope this brief and cursory presentation conveys a little of the excitement and pleasure of operating on the La Mesa Club’s Tehachapi layout. Even if you don’t have a chance to operate there, be sure to make time for a visit to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum if you are anywhere in the San Diego vicinity.
Tony Thompson

Friday, November 23, 2012

Operating on Tehachapi

For a number of years, the La Mesa Model Railroad Club, located at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park, has convened 1950s operating sessions every November, on their superb layout depicting Tehachapi Pass. That’s what I meant in titling this post as “Operating on Tehachapi,” because again this year, I attended, and as usual, thoroughly enjoyed myself. And by the way, you can read about the background and goals of this outstanding layout on the club’s web site, at . For video of club operations, merely Google the club name and you will find lots of YouTube video files.
     Anyone who would like to know more about the Tehachapi prototype, and see a great many outstanding photos of operations through the years, should consult John Signor’s book, one of his best, simply entitled Tehachapi (Golden West Books, 1983).
     Rather than try to illustrate the entire layout, which would be a pretty daunting task, I will just show a few highlights. One of the nerve centers of the railroad, and a great spot for railfanning on the layout, is Caliente. Among other things, that makes it a prized assignment to serve as an operator. Here is Richard Hendrickson, holding down that duty at Caliente, in a quiet moment between trains.

Incidentally, the La Mesa layout models Tehachapi in springtime, thus the landscape is correctly green.
     The very long trains operated on Tehachapi are not excessive by prototype standards of the time modeled (1952) but are far beyond practically any home layout. Here is one illustration at Caliente, with an SP freight in the foreground siding and a long Santa Fe freight passing on the main (the Mountain Local was also in town, and its power can be seen at right). Boy, anyone liking to watch passing model freight cars can really get the full experience here!

     One interesting problem that can arise with the very long trains, is that they may not fit either of the two sidings at Caliente, and thus have to be doubled into the second track. That is what is happening below—the uphill SP freight obviously is too long for the siding (its tail end extends around the curve in the distance), and an approaching Santa Fe downhill freight can already be seen on the hillside above Caliente.

When this happens, the helper engineer (or engineers, if there are two rear helpers) have to cut off sufficient cars to clear the main, and place them on the center siding. Here Richard Hendrickson, having completed his half-day as Caliente operator, is a rear helper engineer, and has cut off enough of the trailing part of the train to clear the main; you can see the cut-off section backing down to gain access to the center siding.

Once this is done, the SP train is in the clear for the approaching Santa Fe freight, as seen here.

After completing this meet, the SP train continues up the grade, as we see here at the nicely modeled location of Bealville.

Considerably farther upgrade, the famous Tehachapi Loop is reached (relatively recently modeled by the La Mesa folks), and very long trains like this can occupy the entire loop. In this view, some Santa Fe helpers, descending as light engines, are in the siding at left.

     These views should give some idea of the size and complexity of freight train operations over the Tehachapi main line. I will also add a second post about switching opportunities on this layout. But I think you can probably already see why the chance to operate on this layout is so attractive to me.
Tony Thompson

Monday, November 19, 2012

Vehicle license plates in HO scale

Last year, I wrote a general post about choosing, and then modeling, a specific era. One segment of that post (if you wish, you can view it at this link: ) was about vehicle license plates. In my post today, I will expand on this topic.
     As I said in that previous post, there are excellent resources on the Internet about vehicle license plates for all states and all eras. My own modeling is set in California, and there is a useful and quite complete Wikipedia entry about history and use of California plates, including my modeled year of 1953 (see: There is also a site offering reproduction plates for many states and many years, available at:, and this site not only has a lot of history for a wide range of states and eras, but also has good images of license plates to view. The site used to include California plates among all the others, but for some reason they do not do so at the moment. If that’s what you want, you might check back from time to time to see if they are restored to the site.
     But for whatever state you model, or whatever year, you can have accurate automobile and truck license plates—if you wish. Obviously if you model “the 1950s,” there is no license plate that fits the whole decade, and you might just as well omit license plates altogether. But if you want to have them, it may be helpful for me to describe how I made mine. First, the history.
     In brief, until 1942, California issued complete new plates every year. Then from 1945 into the late 1950s, new plates only came out every several years, and metal corner tags were issued for each intermediate year. This corner tag covered up the year stamped in the original plate, and contained the current year. As it happens, California had issued a new plate in 1951, which was black with yellow numbers. In 1953, a lower right corner tag of stamped metal was issued, white in color, with the number “53” on it, covering up the “51” part of the year on the original stamped plate. Thus by 1953, all 1951 and 1952 plates carried white corner tags for 1953. But new plates issued in 1953 did have the 1953 date stamped in. That means I need a mixture of some new 1953 plates, and a lot of corner-tag plates, since all cars older than 1953 would have the 1951 plates with corner tags.
     To illustrate, here is an image of a California plate with a 1953 corner tag.

This could be a 1952 or, more likely, a 1951 plate, with the 1953 tag. In that era, there was also a different format with fewer characters, such as this new 1953 plate:

Either of these formats would be appropriate for my models. I wanted also to have an occasional out-of-state plate, though in 1953 I would guess these would have appeared rarely along California’s Central Coast, fairly far from the main tourist areas. Here is one example, a Colorado plate for 1953, with a nicely contrasting shape and color, compared to the California plates.

Finally, commercial vehicles received a different plate in California in those years, such as this example, which I will use on a delivery truck. These also had corner tags for the same reason as automobile plates.

     In 1951, the California plate was 6 by 14 inches, which you can learn from several web sites, and I can verify since I was able to find an original 1951 plate in an antique store. In HO scale, this is one-eighty-seventh as big, or about 0.07 by 0.161 inches. So if you have digital images of plates, simply reduce them to these dimensions (other states and other years had different proportions of width to length). I recommend setting them to 2000 dpi if you can do so, since otherwise they will not be readable. I then placed a whole bunch of different plates on a single layout page, and had them printed on glossy paper at my local copy shop, which has a high-resolution digital color printer. Cut them out and glue them onto your model trucks and automobiles.
     Here is a photograph of some of my HO vehicles with their license plates. You can click on these images to see more detail.

And yes, they are indeed readable, a you can see in this close-up, though the model 1953 Chevrolet doesn’t look too great from this angle. This plate is of course a new 1953 plate with no corner tag.

     I know there are those who regard the whole topic of HO-scale vehicle plates as way excessive refinement, but I have found it fun to research, learn about, and create accurate automobile and truck license plates for my modeled era and locale. The specifics of my 1953 California plates are only presented to illustrate what can be done if you wish.
Tony Thompson

Friday, November 16, 2012

Modeling SP passenger cars -- the “Coast Mail” train

In prior posts, I have discussed modeling the various head-end cars which ran in SP’s mail train on the Coast Line. This train, numbered 71 and 72, was officially titled in employee timetables as merely Passenger, but many employees (and railfans) called it the “Coast Mail.” I began discussing the broad topic of SP passenger car modeling, with an introductory post (at: ). Then I presented some specifics, along with model photographs for a few individual cars of the Coast Mail, in a follow-up post, at: .
     The Coach Yard has now announced the upcoming delivery of an entire Coast Mail consist of eight cars, and all cars will also be available separately, with a variety of paint and lettering options available (Dark Olive, Two-Tone Gray, Daylight, etc.). You can see the announced car descriptions at this link: . These of course will be all-brass models, no doubt with the excellent detail for which Coach Yard models are known, so they will not be cheap. Prices have not been announced as yet, but it is not too soon to reserve these cars with your favorite dealer.
     Speaking for myself, I will certainly want to choose a couple of these interesting head-end car choices, especially the 70-foot baggage-horse car which will be included. These were almost always present in the Coast Mail, judging from photos and from information in Ryan and Shine’s book, SP Passenger Trains: Vol. 1, Night Trains of the Coast Route (Four Ways West, La Mirada, CA, 1986). SP owned both 70-foot and 80-foot BH cars, and here is a chance to get a fine model of one of the short ones.
     Specific information and good photos of those cars can be found in the SPH&TS book, “Head End Equipment,” Volume 3 in the series Southern Pacific Passenger Cars (2007). Chapters 11 and 12. Like all five volumes of this series, Volume 3 is an excellent resource for modelers. Among other things, it shows that most head-end cars until the mid-1950s were painted SP’s Color No. 1 in the Common Standard No. 22 color series, named Dark Olive. It really is a dark color in indoor lighting; here is the drift card and its Bowles envelope. (I presented some background about drift cards and the Bowles Corporation in a previous post about SP colors; here is a link: .)

     For those who already have, or are looking for, unpainted SP head-end cars, the question naturally arises as to how to duplicate SP’s Dark Olive color. There are at least three ways to go. First, several versions of Great Northern “Empire Builder Green” match well to the SP color chip. Many GN fans will tell you that this color is merely Pullman Green, but the true Pullman color lacks the brown and yellow tones of olive green, and does not match the SP chip. Second, military Olive Drab paint is often quite close to the SP chip, especially the current Floquil enamel color.
     But probably the best solution is approach number three: Star Brand paint from P-B-L, item STR-29, which is matched to the SP and UP chips for Dark Olive. I like this paint, and it goes on smoothly with an airbrush, so I would recommend applying it that way. This paint can be purchased on-line from P-B-L, at: . To see the paint list, click on “online catalog” and then in the “Categories” window, select “paint / cement,” and scroll down to STR-29.
     I have also been asked to recommend decals for SP heavyweight equipment (and particularly the head-end cars I’ve been discussing). By far the best HO decal set in my opinion is the Thin Film set HO-160, described as being for Harriman-era cars but in fact for heavyweight cars generally, in Dulux Gold. These are normally available only through hobby dealers, but you can see the catalog at this link: . Here is a low-resolution scan of the decal sheet (the set contains two of these):

Much of the sheet is occupied by a fine selection of SP-appropriate Pullman car names (lower part of the sheet) but practically any other passenger car type can be lettered with this set. Do note, however, that you can really only letter one car per decal set, though you will have lots of lettering left over.
     As mentioned, the color of this lettering is Dulux Gold, which became SP’s standard lettering for Dark Olive cars in about 1936, replacing the former gold leaf. (Thus modelers of the post-1936 SP will not want to use “metallic gold” decals.) As most modelers know, this is not a metallic color, but is a paint intended to convey the tone of gold-leaf lettering. I have heard the statement that “Dulux” is a shade of gold, but actually it’s a DuPont trade name for a particular formulation of paint. All the colors in that paint line have their name prefixed by “Dulux.” Thus there would be a Dulux Daylight Orange, Dulux Daylight Red, and so on.
     I have a couple of SP head-end car bodies which need painting, and when I do that project, I will probably write a post about how it goes. Until then, the foregoing should give you enough background to get started.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Shumala extension

I have long planned to make an extension to my town of Shumala, so that the overall arrangement of it would be kind of an L shape. This post describes the early steps in building this extension.
     There is a brown bookcase along the end wall of my layout room, with its top below the level of the layout. Accordingly, I screwed some segments of L-girder to the top of the bookcase (this would be easily reversible if ever necessary). Each riser was then raised in height with a second segment of L-girder, glued back to back with the first ones. The back-to-back arrangement maximizes access to the screw attachment points, if I ever needed to do that. To determine the final height, a correct-thickness board was placed atop the clamped pieces, and carefully leveled. Then these second pieces were glued and re-clamped, at the final height needed for these risers, while glue was still wet. Here is how it looked when done.

     I cut a piece of 3/4-inch plywood to fit this space, and checked its fit and height to make sure it was okay. I have occasionally been asked why I use 3/4-inch plywood, and I usually give Tony Koester’s response to the same question: “because I couldn’t get 1-inch plywood.” Structural stiffness is important in layout performance, and thicker plywood is an easy way to increase stiffness. Here is the new plywood piece in its place, at left.

You can see that there are a couple of irregular pieces of plywood at the right of the new board for the extension, where the main line curves away to the right. This entire area needs to receive a surface layer on which to lay track, for which I like to use Homasote or its equivalent. (“Homasote” is a trademarked name for a construction board made from recycled paper by the Homasote Company; you can learn more about them at their website, at .)
     My next step, then, was to cut some Homasote pieces to provide the level ground surface. Some pieces were simple rectangles, but others, at the right in the photo above, had to be irregular. I made a template with a piece of newspaper, and cut and trimmed the paper until it matched the shape I wanted. I then used a utility knife to cut out the Homasote piece, following the pattern. Here is one pattern I used:

The piece cut from this pattern is shown below, in its approximate position on the track board, though not yet glued down. The mainline track is at right.

     This piece, and others, were arranged so they have joints in quite different places than the underlying plywood. (Compare the photo above to the one above the pattern, to see how this overlaps.) I glued these pieces down a couple at a time, using yellow carpenter’s glue. I generally clamp the materials when gluing Homasote to plywood, to ensure a good bond and a smooth surface. Here is some of the gluing in progress, with a generous number of clamps in use (note wood clamping pads to minimize indentation into the Homasote):

When gluing was complete, my new extension area looked like this (obviously some of the Homasote pieces were prepainted white on one side).

     Some gaps and cracks between Homasote pieces were present, and those areas were filled and roughly contoured with Sculptamold (a product of American Art Clay—you can see their entire line at their website: ), including aligning the new diverging track ballast edge, as seen here. I just use a putty knife for these kinds of rough contours.

Once I have general contours with Sculptamold, I like to refine the surface with smaller tools and with a much finer-grain papier maché, widely available from taxidermist supply houses. My favorite is Brandt’s Compound, from Robert Ruozzi of Irwin, Pennsylvania.
     I will describe track arrangements, scenery, and industries for this layout extension in subsequent posts.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Visiting the area you model -- Part 2

I introduced this topic with an explanation of my belief that you can only create convincing scenery, including many details as well as your backdrops, by knowing the area you model. This applies whether you freelance or not. In my first post, I talked about photographing the area in which my imaginary towns of Santa Rosalia and Ballard are located. You can view it at this link: .
     I also visited the nearby town of Oceano on the same trip, but this time to photograph the remaining packing plants there. I knew the historic Phelan & Taylor plant was still standing, though out of business, and here is a photo from my visit last month:

I am modeling an additional Phelan & Taylor facility, which I locate in an adjoining town (Shumala), so it won’t look the same as this, but the company name is clearly set in this region. I showed a historic Phelan & Taylor box label in a previous post, at .
     In addition, one sees other signage of interest, in thinking about model industries for this area. I liked this packing company name:

Like many business signs, this one is clearly the work of a sign painter, not a printed graphic, and suggests how such signs ought to look, whether or not I have a packing shed with this particular name.
     Walking along Railroad Street to the west of the SP main line (now UP, of course), I came to a suitable supporting business for all this produce packing. I had not intended to model a box company, but it would certainly fit in.

And also on Railroad Street, a short ways away, was another packing house with a good regional name. The town of Pismo Beach is a short ways north of Oceano, and much of the shoreline nearby is within Pismo State Beach (“Pismo” is derived from the Chumash Indian word “pismu,” meaning “tar;” there are oil seeps nearby).

     As I said in presenting my photos of the landscape near Guadalupe and Oceano, these photographs don’t have great significance in themselves, but I chose them to illustrate how a little looking around in the area you model can yield lots of interesting industrial names and ideas.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Visiting the area you model

Most of us have a specific area or region in mind when we build a layout, even if it is a freelanced location. And if the representation of that area is to be convincing, it has to have the “look” typical of the prototype region. I am often surprised how many modelers just start whipping down scenery on such a layout, without too much effort to analyze and interpret the prototype.
     This idea, that one should “observe and learn” from the prototype, as much for scenery as for rolling stock or structures, seems pretty obvious when you state it. But as I said, it is a far from universal approach. I first learned this from Don Cassler in Pittsburgh, when I lived there. Don is an outstanding modeler, and many scenery details on his B&O layout “ring true,” because they are based on actual prototype landscape details. My friend C.J. Riley in Pittsburgh also exemplifies this approach to layout scenery, for everything from how streams look, to vegetation patterns, to rock outcrops and more. C.J. is writing a book about this, to be entitled The Art of Illusion, which I hope reaches the market one of these days, because I always have found his scenery techniques extremely effective.
     How can one make a start on this approach? Thinking about this, I was reminded of a story told me by another friend, Ken Harrison, from when he was in the East Bay Model Engineers Society, then located in Emeryville, California (now in Richmond). Scenery builders on their layout knew Ken often visited the mountains, and thus asked him questions about vegetation, soil colors, etc. for the Sierra foothills, since part of their layout was to represent that area. Ken replied that they really ought to invest in a two-hour drive and go visit the area, rather than rely on a second-hand description. That may sound like a simple suggestion, yet it goes beyond what many modelers actually do.
     This brings me to my own layout, modeling the Central Coast of California near Santa Maria. The recent SP Society convention was in Ventura (I wrote a brief description of the model contest at the convention, in a previous post at ). That location is south of Santa Maria, which meant that during the drive home after the meeting there could be some time to visit the Santa Maria area, particularly the areas along the SP between Guadalupe and Oceano, where most of my layout is sited. I’ll show just a selection of my photos.
     We started at Guadalupe, then drove over the Santa Maria River on Guadalupe Road (California Highway 1) to the area where my freelanced Santa Rosalia town site would be, near the end of Thornberry Road. One objective is to see what the horizon looks like. To the south, there are the Casmalia Hills, which look like this from where Santa Rosalia would be. There is a field of vegetable plants in the foreground.

     I am not sure how I will orient the backdrop at Santa Rosalia, so I also took a photo northwestwards (with another field of winter vegetables in the foreground). There is no distant feature visible here, since the Pacific Ocean shore is not far beyond the line of dunes and trees.

     Next we drove a little northward on Guadalupe Road and soon passed a precooling plant for produce. Today these produce shipments are by truck, but back in the 1950s precooling plants prepared produce for shipment by rail. This company was not located here at the time I model, but the company name is strongly regional and thus is a candidate for a layout industry name.

     At this point, Highway 1 is called the Cabrillo Highway, aligned just west of Nipomo Mesa. My layout site concept is that the Mesa could be visible from my town of Ballard, so I wanted to photograph the horizon eastward from that location. Here is a view of the western edge of the Mesa, looking in a southeasterly direction from Cienega Street, almost on the outskirts of Oceano. Again, note the row crop in the field. Any agricultural modeling I do will have to be these kinds of low-lying vegetable rows.

Next I turned to my left, so I could photograph the horizon in an approximately northeasterly direction, showing the distant grass-covered hills (the southern end of the Santa Lucia Range) and, of course, the ever-present foreground fields.

These views are taken from a location somewhat north of where I envision Ballard being located, but they do provide some horizon and foreground views. Right at the Ballard location, there are lots of eucalyptus trees, so those will have to be added to my Ballard site.
     I was also interested in the packing houses still in business (or at least still standing) in Oceano, but will cover those in a future post.
     I show these photos not for any great value they have themselves, but to illustrate the kind of observation of a locale which can determine vegetation as well as the appearance of the horizon. Modeling any geographic region will be more realistic if this kind of information can be gathered.
Tony Thompson

Monday, November 5, 2012

A new depot for Shumala -- Part 2

One of the distinctive characteristics of any railroad location was its depot. So part of creating a believable branch line of any railroad is to make sure depots are typical in style, or even are exact copies of standard depots. That was my goal in replacing the former Shumala depot, as I described in my first post on the topic. You can view it at: .
     In that post, I mentioned that the construction process for the structure would be written up for my November column in the on-line magazine Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH. That issue has now been published, and can be downloaded free at: . In the present post, I will mention a few details of that work.

     Model materials. This depot was sheathed with “rustic” or drop-lap siding, 8 inches wide. Evergreen makes a novelty siding with 0.083-inch spacing which is 7.25 inches in HO scale, close enough. The SP plan then enables one to lay out the window locations and cut them out. I also used a number of sizes of Evergreen styrene strip on this structure, as listed in the column. All the Evergreen materials can be seen in their catalog listing at:
     Good approximations of all the windows are available from Grandt Line. You can view the architectural details part of their catalog on-line at: . And the roof was made from Pikestuff shingle material, which I think gives a realistic “snug” shingle appearance, unlike the uneven look typical of applying Campbell shingles or equivalent. I used their part no. 1015. The entire listing of the Pikestuff (Rix Products) catalog is available at: .

     Construction. I won’t say more about the construction process, as it was pretty fully described and illustrated in my MRH column. But there is one detail perhaps worth mentioned, which didn’t make it into the column. Though I am a firm believer in the old adage, “measure twice and cut once,” I nevertheless managed to mess up and cut the left-hand piece of the depot front wall too short. The fix? Rather than make a new, longer piece for the freight house section, since I had already cut out the door and window openings in the short piece, I just spliced on an additional piece of the Evergreen siding.
     I glued the extras piece as a butt joint, lining up the boards on the front, then, on the back of the sheet, I added a splice piece of scrap material (the piece to the left—the extra piece on the right is the freight door):                                                                                                                              

The front of the wall section now looked like this (the original wall had been prepainted before assembly):              

The joint is pretty tight, but to avoid any chance of it showing in the final model, I simply placed the downspout at this location, a trick learned from my friend C.J. Riley many years ago. Then I painted the new piece. Here is how it looked without the freight platform. Note the bill box just to the right of the bay window.

          Colors. The colors used were described in my post on this topic, at: . Latest news from Tru-Color Paints is that they now plan to issue all three of these major SP colors, Colonial Yellow, Light Brown, and Moss Green, as additions to their line. To see their on-line catalog, you can visit them at: .

     This depot project has been an interesting and also satisfying piece of modeling from scratch. The availability of Grandt Line doors and windows which are similar though not identical to the SP items means that the project was pretty straightforward. The structure is now in place on my layout, including that vital bill box on the front wall.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Layout visit -- interesting industries

Last weekend I joined about 25 others for an operating meet called “Desert Ops 2012” in Phoenix, Arizona. I really enjoyed the four layouts on which I operated, all of which were switching-intensive, exactly my preference. They were these: the late Gary Gelzer’s Great Northwest Coastline, David Doiron’s Southern Pacific, Rick Watson’s Southern Pacific–Exeter (and vicinity), and the Pebble Creek Club’s Great Lakes Western. I had a great time at each of them.
     What I want to show in this post are a couple of interesting industries at David Doiron’s layout, primarily a cotton compress called Le Sueur, which had inbound and outbound tracks of a couple of kinds. He built it from the Walthers modular structure components, and though it isn’t finished, he allowed me to photograph it and describe it here.
     This first view shows the side of the building where inbound light cotton bales are unloaded (the foreground track is a team track).

     On the other side of the long building is the loading of outbound heavy (compressed) bales under a canopy, as well as a supply spot at the end of that siding, here occupied by a double-door box car. The nearer track in front of the box car is a cottonseed oil spot. The overhead bridge between the two buildings adds interest.

Finally, this third view shows the heavy-bale covered spot more clearly, with two box cars spotted. Even in an unfinished condition, this is an interesting and good-looking industry. Dave has also modeled the equipment inside the long building, with removable roofs so it can be viewed.

 I liked the overall complex and thought it was interesting and convincing.
     Behind the compress in the second and third photos above is O’Malley Hardware, a nicely done cut-off structure with three boxcar spots. Here is the building front on the track side. The opposite side has a clear plastic sheet over it, and the entire interior is detailed and open to the aisle behind it.

     This was part of the area I switched while at Dave’s layout, and it was a fun part of my job. I’ve often commented that I’ve never visited a layout that didn’t give me a couple of ideas for things I could do, and this weekend was no exception.
Tony Thompson