Monday, December 30, 2013

Associated Oil Company — background

I have often said that regional oil companies are one of the ways to solidify the identity of the area you model. In my case, those are California companies, and in the 1950s, when I model, there was a kind of “Big Three” in California oil. They were Standard of California (now called Chevron), Union Oil (now part of Phillips) and the Associated Oil Company, the subject of this post. Associated is of particular interest because for a number of years, it was connected to the Southern Pacific. Understanding this company has implications both for bulk oil dealers and for tank cars, and I intend to model both; I am working on a model of an Associated bulk oil dealer.
     Finding good historical material on Associated is not simple, and some of what is on the internet at the moment is pretty garbled, including a few erroneous statements. I have been researching this topic at some length, and now have made a document with a set of facts referenced to authoritative sources (see bottom of this post). Over time, I hope to direct the attention of the owners of the erroneous pages to my document, in the hope that they will correct their misstatements, and I have made a few relevant edits to the Wikipedia pages on Associated Oil and on Tidewater Associated.
     Here is a brief summary. Around 1900, a number of small oil producers in the Kern River oil field, north of Bakersfield, experienced difficulties storing and marketing their oil once it was out of the ground. Standard Oil (Iowa), the name at that time of the part of the Standard Oil Company operating in California, was preparing to come in with all its known ability to dominate those parts of the oil business, so the small companies formed a new company to manage storage and marketing. They incorporated as the Associated Oil Company on October 7, 1901.
     Unfortunately, it was soon evident that they did not have even close to the amounts of capital required. In 1902, a new investor came on board: E.H. Harriman, buying enough Associated bonds to give him the dominant voice in Associated. He seems to have bought these bonds on his personal account, rather than for Southern Pacific. But in 1906, SP did buy the bonds from him, probably at his direction. In 1909, SP would sell some of the bonds, but buy 50.4 percent of the Associated stock, giving SP full control of the company.
     Southern Pacific also owned a lot of oil lands of their own, and had formed a subsidiary company to handle production and sale of oil, the Kern Trading and Oil Company. Some of the SP’s oil was sold to and refined by Associated, but SP also had a deal with Standard, to exchange crude oil for fuel oil (not one to one, but at an appropriate ratio to reflect the greater value of crude). Fuel oil was also purchased by SP from Associated and other companies.
     Starting in 1909, several government suits had gone after SP and other railroads, seeking to return granted land to the government if it contained mineral values. The suit against SP only caused a small proportion of the land owned to revert to the government, but SP decided the time had come to get out of the oil business.
     In 1919, they set up a complex transfer to accomplish this goal. A new entity, Pacific Oil Company, was created as of January 1, 1920. Pacific sold all its stock to SP, which in turn offered the stock to its own stockholders. In short order, nearly all the stock was sold, reimbursing SP for its stock purchase. Meanwhile, Pacific bought all of SP’s oil lands, and its stock in Associated Oil, using the money they had received from the stock sale.
     It seems likely that Pacific Oil was not intended as a long-term operation. After a few years, negotiations were completed to sell off all its holdings. The former SP oil lands and facilities were all sold to Standard Oil of California on January 1, 1926. This was the larger part of the Pacific Oil property.
     The rest of Pacific Oil, the controlling stock ownership in Associated, went elsewhere. California Standard did not buy it; instead it was sold to a new holding company, formed in late 1925, called Tide Water Associated Oil Company. This company also acquired at the same time the stock of the Tide Water Oil Company, a New Jersey company dating back to the 1880s. The largest stockholder in Tide Water for some years had been Standard Oil of New Jersey. It seems less than coincidental that both parts of Pacific Oil’s holdings went to Standard companies. Though broken up into “baby Standards” by an anti-trust suit in 1911, the original company continued to have a ghostly presence in the form of cooperation among the “babies” and in the use of Union Tank Line tank cars.
     Speaking of tank cars, here is a 1920s photo in central California of Associated tank car no. 147, an image from the Arnold Menke collection.

     When the Tide Water Associated holding company was formed, the immediate impact on the two components was minimal. Both continued to market in their respective territories under their original names. Tank cars of Associated continued to use the reporting mark AOX, as they would into the 1950s, and those of Tide Water used the mark TWOX. There was also a third mark, TIDX, used for the cars assigned to Tide Water’s refinery near Tulsa, Oklahoma.
     In 1936, the two companies, Associated and Tide Water, were merged into a single entity, Tidewater Associated Oil Company, and the formerly separate companies were dissolved. But the separate company names were still used for marketing. The new company operated with three divisions: Tidewater Eastern Division, centered on New Jersey; Tidewater Midcontinent Division, centered on Oklahoma; and the Associated Division in the far west. Again, these divisions used the TWOX, TIDX, and AOX reporting marks, respectively.
     Here is a photo of an AC&F-built Associated car at Tacoma, Washington, on February 19, 1955, taken by Colonel Chet McCoid, from the Bob’s Photo collection and used with permission. Note that the reweigh date on the car is April 1921.

     In this same period, J. Paul Getty was attempting to gain control of Tide Water Associated. It would be more than a decade before Getty would finally obtain control of the holding company which held Tidewater Associated’s stock, Mission Corporation, and thus eventually of Tidewater Associated itself.
     The trademark for Associated’s gasoline products had been “Flying A” since the 1920s.  Tide Water Oil had been using the trademarks “Tydol” for gasoline and “Veedol” for lubricants. Gradually these trademarks became used across the company. By the 1950s, Flying A was the name for gasoline sold throughout the system. The Tydol and Veedol names were also in use system-wide, both names now used for lubricants and other products. But on tank cars, the Flying A emblem was ordinarily used only on TWOX cars in this period. Here’s an example, again from the Bob’s Photo collection.

This is a General American tank car, built in June 1923 and still with that weigh date, although the photo dates from the 1950s (photographer unknown).
     My full document describing Associated Oil Company history, complete with citations to published sources, is available on Google Drive, at the following link:

Tony Thompson

Friday, December 27, 2013

A roundhouse for Shumala, Part 2

In the previous part, I described the rationale for the kind of roundhouse I was building, and showed the framing stages of assembling the fine Banta Modelworks kit for the SP roundhouse at Port Costa. You can read it at: .
     The next family of steps in the kit is the attachment of sheathing to the frames. But before doing so, I prepainted all window sashes white, and all window and door frames black. Based on photos I have seen of SP shops and roundhouses, I made my doors completely black, although the kit directions show them black with boxcar red trim. These parts are all backed with adhesive paper, so that they assemble in a peel-and-stick fashion, very quick and easy to do.

Here the far wall is being attached. The near side pieces above the boiler house have already been attached, as has the interior wall of the boiler house.
     One change I am making to this structure is the addition of a small machine shop behind the boiler house. This means that I need two side doors, one at ground level, via which coal is taken inside to feed the boiler, and one at platform height, so that parts and materials can be conveniently unloaded from freight cars and taken into the shop. To create this arrangement, I added a new ground-level door, and raised the double door at the kit location, by the simple expedient of cutting out the siding above the kit door opening, and moving it below the door. The joint there will be invisible when the loading platform is added.
     The new door is simply a piece of Evergreen car siding, their material no. 2037, framed with scale 1 x 6-inch styrene strip. Dimensions simply duplicate those of the kit double doors. When painted black, it will be indistinguishable from the kit door.

     Here are two views of the structure with almost all sheathing applied. The one sheathing piece not yet placed is the area where the machine shop addition will connect to the building. In the upper view, you can see the new door at ground level on the boiler house wall. Corner trim strips remain to be placed.

The gap between the clerestory siding and the building below is for the roofing pieces to fit. Several windows on the right side are partly open.
     Once the sheathing is all attached, the remaining step for the kit is the roofing. The kit is designed so that much or all of the roof can be removable, a good idea with rolling stock inside. My other remaining task is the design and building of the machine shop addition, which I will cover in a separate post.
Tony Thompson

Monday, December 23, 2013

Joining layout and backdrop

This is a challenging topic of long standing in designing layout scenery, and many books and talks about scenery present approaches to it. I just want to show one simple method I was able to use in a few places.
     Re-erection of my layout segments in California, after moving them from Pennsylvania, did not always result in a tidy fit between the pieces. In particular, I made an adjustment in table height (to raise the entire layout a little), and in the process ended up with my backdrop even higher, leaving an actual vertical gap between the bottom of the backdrop and the layout surface. But once in place, lowering the backdrop would not have been simple. So I set out to disguise the gap.
     Naturally hills or other terrain features, such as dense woods, could readily hide this gap. But those features did not make sense in some of my affected areas. Instead, I chose a really simple procedure to hide the gap. I just used pieces of manila folder, glued only to the layout, folded to extend upwards and cover the gap. Here is a view of a number of these manila pieces, and you can see how they are folded just high enough to cover the gap, which in this part of Ballard was about one inch.

     Once these were in place, I painted them my usual “ground” color, Rust-Oleum Nutmeg, which of course made them a lot less obvious. Here at Shumala, you may note some cut-outs of distant houses on the backdrop, and I have also glued some Woodland Scenics Foliage material to the backdrop to add some three-dimensionality to the area.

     In most places there will be structures or other “foreground” features in front of these manila areas, so I mainly wanted to indicate some kind of foliage back there. In my opinion, the last thing you want in this situation is an accurate or detailed or artistic piece of vegetation. Instead, I think you want just the suggestion that vegetation is what is there.
     I used acrylic paints, mostly Chromium Green, darkened in places with a little Black, and some Light Green and Ochre Yellow for highlights. Here is how my vegetation looks on the Ballard side. Remember, little if any of this will be directly visible.

Most of the space visible here will be occupied by the Peerless wholesale food warehouse, which is displaced at right to make room to paint. But if you manage to see over the warehouse, there will be something there.
     Behind part of Shumala, I did the same thing, although the gap was not as large. Here is the finished version. That’s a propane tank for the future bulk oil depot, an industry which will occupy most of the space you see in front of the backdrop.

     Simple but, I think, effective. That would be my summary on this little trick for hiding any gap between scenery and backdrop. Maybe it will give you some ideas, even if you can’t use it the way I did.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A roundhouse for Shumala

I have mentioned in a number of earlier posts about my layout, that Southern Pacific’s main line of the Coast Route in California has a junction with my imaginary branch line at Shumala, a little south of Oceano. Specifics of my layout locale were discussed in a prior post also; you can see those comments at: .
     An essential part of this junction is a small engine terminal (discussed earlier at: ). Considering the operation of several SP branches I know about, a number were operated with locals which simply originated at the nearest division point. Upon completing their work on the branch, they would then return to that origin. That would mean that branchline engines were housed and serviced at the division point. But when the run from the division point was lengthy, or when there was enough traffic, the branch had engine facilities of its own, naturally modest in size. Given that Shumala is not very many miles from San Luis Obispo, but wanting to include some engine facilities, my choice was clear: I surmised that there had been enough traffic (in the past) to require a branchline facility at my junction.
     Needing a small structure, and wanting it to be typical of SP practice, I chose the Banta Modelworks kit, no. 2097, for the SP roundhouse at Port Costa, with only two stalls. That should be sufficient for the needs of my branch. As I mentioned in the post about my engine terminal plans (the second one cited above), this Banta kit was reviewed by Jimmy Booth in the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society magazine Trainline, issue 104 (Summer 2010), page 4.
     I decided not to build the kit with inspection pits inside the structure, partly because they would be all but invisible with the orientation the structure will have on my layout. That freed me to depart from the Banta recommendation to build the structure on a base, which would make the tracks permanently attached inside the  building. I wanted to have the ability to easily clean tracks, which I can achieve with the lift-off roundhouse I will build.
     My first step, then, was to place the roundhouse tracks in alignment with the existing turntable. I used Micro Engineering Code 83 track, as Banta recommends, and attached it with Barge Cement.

The photo above shows the two converging roundhouse tracks, and outside of them, experimental placement of two additional tracks to the left of the turntable, one on each side of the roundhouse tracks. The tube of Barge Cement happens to be in the view also. At this point I dropped electrical feeders from the outer ends of both roundhouse tracks.
     The tracks, of course, are laid out so they exactly fit the roundhouse floor. Here is the floor shown in place. It has been rubbed with walnut stain, and dirtied with dark gray and black paint patches. The part nearest the camera is the office and boiler house floor, which will not be visible in the completed model.

     The first steps in adding parts to the structure are the various interior walls, ingeniously all laser cut from single pieces of plywood. I won’t spend time going through what is, after all, in the kit directions, but will show some in-progress views for flavor. Here is the first group of frames, all laser-cut as single pieces from thin plywood and remarkably strong.

You can see that I am using reversed clothes pins as clamps, as I usually do. They are so useful I find myself reaching for them on almost every project.
     In the structure shown above, the left-hand section contains an office for the roundhouse foreman and his clerks, a boiler room to provide steam for the roundhouse and garden track, and locker rooms for both roundhouse workers and train crews. I will add onto the structure in the form of a small machine shop behind the rear of the boiler house section.
     With all framing completed, it looked like this. The walls in the foreground are inner walls, and will have sheathing applied over them.

It’s worth mentioning that this kit goes together perfectly. Everything fit as it was supposed to, at least as far along as this point.
    Before attaching sheathing, I colored all exterior walls the same basic way I colored the floor, as a wiping stain, using a cotton cloth. The color is boxcar red. This gives a kind of faded color, which is probably appropriate for a structure like this one. At least as early as World War II, SP standard paint for utilitarian structures like roundhouses and shops was boxcar red walls, black trim around doors and windows, and white window sash.
     Prototype photos of the Port Costa roundhouse illustrate this scheme, showing lighter walls with black trim around doors and windows, and white sash. The detail of a Fred Matthews photo below of the roundhouse, taken in November 1956, is an example. It shows that there were garden tracks on both sides of this particular roundhouse  (photo courtesy John Signor); I will build similar garden tracks. You can click to enlarge.

Although this photo was taken very late in the SP steam era, there are four steam engines visible (and the smoke presumably indicates another one in the roundhouse), at least three of them 2-8-0’s, and no diesels in sight.
     My next effort is to add sheathing to the structure and add all windows and doors. I will illustrate that in my next post.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Repairing the Ballard hill — Part 5

The process of repairing this major scenic feature of my layout is finally approaching completion. Rather than give all the previous links, I will just cite Part 4, which in turn contains links to all the earlier posts. You can read Part 4 at: .
     Defining the subsidiary ridges on the “back” side of the hill, the side toward Ballard and away from the end of the peninsula, was approaching completeness in Part 4. As progress continued, here is how it looked from a high angle (a view which is not accessible as such to layout visitors). The tunnel area is about ready for installation of the portal. The upper part of the hill has already been painted the Nutmeg color.

     One of the last areas to be completed was the Ballard tunnel portal. You can see that area at left in the photo above. I first glued the portal to the supports, which were in place from the previous layout, then carefully applied Sculptamold around the portal to get a realistic cut into the hillside. It is shown below, partway along, with final surface refinement still to come. In the center background, additional Nutmeg has been applied to the ridge in the middle of the hill. The far ridge remains unfinished.

     Once all surface contours looked satisfactory to me, as refined with the Brandt’s paper mache, and painted Nutmeg, I proceeded to apply scenic materials to this entire job of repair and rebuilding. But before describing my process of applying these materials, I should make a couple of comments on the prototype that I am trying to depict. My layout locale is the central California coast, so I need to aim at the landscapes typical of that area. I wrote a blog post awhile back about this subject, which you may wish to read. It is at: .
     I will start with the oak woodland which is widespread in my area. Here is my procedure for that scenic type (this is simply an adaptation of the well-known Dave Frary “water-soluble scenery” method). I usually use a 1-inch brush to paint on Matte Medium, full strength or diluted about 2:1, Matte Medium to water, on a working area of a couple of square feet. On top of that, I like to sprinkle Woodland Scenics finer-size turf material for a base layer, primarily a fair amount of No. T42, Earth, T43, Yellow Grass (a little too yellow, so used sparingly), and some T44, Burnt Grass, with a little sprinkling in places of  blended turf No. T49, Green Blend. Once this application has been well misted with “wet water” (water with a drop of detergent) until it is soaked, I allow it to dry thoroughly.
     The second step is aimed at blending colors, and adjusting any areas that don’t look right. Here I thoroughly wet down the area to be worked with “wet water,” sprinkle adjustment colors as needed, and again use a sprayer, with a 50:50 mix of Matte Medium and water, to make sure everything will adhere, and allowed to dry. Finally, I go back and touch up any thin areas, and begin adding various colors of Woodland Scenics coarse turf, such as No. T60, Earth, and T65, Dark Green. This is glued down with Matte Medium to make clumps of small vegetation. Here is a view of one area (on the Shumala side of the hill) with the two applications done; the area at upper left is the painted backdrop behind Shumala.

There are as yet no trees or major shrubs applied, which come later.
     I should mention that there is none of the long “electrostatic” grass in this area. This is for two reasons. First, the kind of waist-high or higher grass applied by some modelers of other regions simply would be unusual on hillsides in California oak woodland. Second, I don’t want a detailed look to this hillside in any event, to help it look farther away. This applies also to refinement in trees and shrubs—not wanted in this area. But in areas closer to the viewer, I have used and will continue to apply longer grass, and more detailed trees.
     The other vegetation community I need to represent is the “coastal sage” community seen near the coast. This is a much darker family of vegetation and normally includes extensive chaparral as well. For this, my base layer is Woodland Scenics No. T41, Soil, and a modest amount of T49, Green Blend. The addition of coarse turf is mostly the T65, Dark Green. Finally, I add some well-stretched-out fiber foliage material, which from a distance suggests the chaparral part. Here is one area like this, just above the ocean beach, with the Masonite fascia in the foreground. At upper left is an N-scale farmhouse, to lend some forced perspective.

     Pending addition of final vegetation, and completion of ground cover on the Ballard side of the hill, these areas are approaching the overall look I want.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Constructing Santa Rosalia – structure

In the first two posts on this topic, I described construction and tracklaying for the staging tracks which are located beneath Santa Rosalia, and which therefore had to be completed before starting on the arrangement for the town itself. Those posts are at these two links: the first one about construction, ; and the second one describing installation of the track, ).
     The third post showed my switch machines in hidden trackage, using twin-coil switch machines, powered by a capacitor-discharge unit. That post is at: .
     I was now ready to proceed with the support structure for the town. Using the existing track supports (see the first post cited above), I added risers high enough for the support level of Santa Rosalia. This is essentially the same level as the adjoining Ballard track board. I made these using chunks of surplus L-girder, which provides more support surface for the new track board, and lengths of 1 x 3-inch wood.

     With these supports made, I clamped them at approximately the right height, preparatory to placing the track board over them to check height and level. Each support riser could then be adjusted to correctly support the track board. The risers must of course clear the staging track below. Here are three of them, B, C and D (the fourth one, A, is behind the camera). At left rear is the Ballard track board

     I used 5/8-inch plywood for the new track board, though 3/4-inch would have been fine too. I have supports fairly closely spaced, so the 5/8-inch will be plenty stiff enough. Much of my layout in Pittsburgh was 1/2-inch plywood, which is fine if supported at frequent intervals, say 14 to 18 inches. When supports have to be much farther apart than that, I believe 3/4-inch plywood is necessary. Santa Rosalia is an intermediate case.
     Here is the track board, temporarily in place to be tested for level, both crosswise and lengthwise. It is 7 feet long and 18 inches wide. I have a piece of Homasote already cut to match, which will be glued on top.

     With this board ready to go, I also tried the fit of my piece of Homasote. It looked good and was at the right height and level.

     While I was working on the track board, I also repaired some minor water damage in my ceiling. I only mention it because I used a model railroading solution. Part of a decorative trim had fallen out, as you can see here, when a water leak (since repaired) caused the ceiling plaster to swell. The smoke detector provides the scale.

I simply used Sculptamold paper mache, generously applied to the approximately mating surfaces, to “cement” the missing pieces back into place. It is very sticky stuff when mixed to a fairly stiff condition, and dries hard. I really tried it as an experiment, but it worked fine.

     The support structure for Santa Rosalia is now complete, though it needs some trimming for a pop-up access at the end toward Ballard. Next comes the backdrop transition, curved from Ballard onto the wall behind Santa Rosalia, and I will take that up in the next post in this series.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Repairing the Ballard hill — Part 4

In the previous posts in this thread, I showed part of the hill’s original appearance, and described the state of the hill before starting repair (see this one at: ), then showed my beginning steps with a screen-wire armature and a base layer of Plaster Cloth (a Woodland Scenics product). That post is at this link: .
     At this point, I did a test to see if saved pieces cut from the hilltop would fit onto my armature, and because it did, I was able to show the process of reinstalling it: . I then began repairing the joints between the scenery pieces, using paper mache from both Sculptamold and Brandt’s (a taxidermist’s product).
     Having done all that, the hillside contours on the front or peninsula-end side of the hill looked pretty good, and I began painting them a base color. I used a Rust-Oleum color called “Nutmeg,” which I have found does an adequate job representing dirt (though it will be covered up with ground foam and other materials in subsequent steps). Here is part of it (some areas remain unpainted). The repaired area may not be obvious but you can click on the image to enlarge it.

     Meanwhile, the back of the hill wasn’t nearly so well served by the saved pieces of scenery, because there was a major area for which those pieces were not worth re-using. Here is how it looked with that first coat of Plaster Cloth, and the old hilltop piece in place. Note at left that the tunnel portal area requires complete rebuilding, and that some sort of slope needs to be created at far right. The block of lead at lower center is holding down another glued section.

     I added some small pieces of screen wire to extend the armature over the tunnel portal area, and did the same at the far right, next to the backdrop. Then more strips of Plaster Cloth helped tie all this together. The tunnel portal is temporarily in place to indicate location. This is already better, though the slope at far right needs improvement. It is too steep at the top and doesn’t extend far enough to the right.

My next step was to add paper wads to areas needing greater height of surface. I only show this step because I have seen modelers wring their hands over exactly how to do this. My answer would be, just put almost anything you want, more or less where you want it, and don’t worry about the final result at this stage, because you can count on the ability to modify and improve it at later steps.

Hard to be more informal than the photo above! But it is all you need in most cases. This was followed up with more strips of Plaster Cloth, after water-spritzing all surfaces to be covered with the cloth. Below is the result. The slope at right is still not what I want, but looking better, certainly heading in the right direction.

Note also that I have now tied the top of the hill at upper right to the slope below.
     Now for a few general comments on contours, which is what I work on after the Plaster Cloth stage is finished. Real landscapes are predominantly convex, that is, curved outward. There certainly are concave areas, such as the bottoms of stream valleys, but convex dominates in most places. Basic hardshell, whether made my old way with paper towels, or now with Plaster Cloth, tends to be kind of “draped” over whatever is underneath. You may have wadded up newspaper (something I have done on several layouts), or made a web of strips of corrugated cardboard, or used various tricks with screen wire. But once you “drape” hardshell over it, you get dips, sags, wrinkles, folds, and other features which are utterly unlike real landscape.
     So the refinement process, for which I use Sculptamold, sets out to make all those unrealistic areas smoothly convex. I tend to make multiple applications of the Sculptamold as I get closer and closer to the desired appearance, and then to make a final, fine-grained surface with the Brandt’s paper mache. A putty knife is good for most application, but in places I then wet a finger and smooth/adjust the contour that way.
     Having said all that, if you look at the last photo above, you will see that the hillside just has a single slope, almost cylindrical. But I hope to give the impression that this hill is farther away that it really is, which I think would be conveyed if I add some subsidiary ridges. I added a center ridge, the same way as I showed above for the far-righthand slope: wadded up some paper, taped it down, and applied Plaster Cloth over it. Once that had fully set, I started smoothing out the contours with Sculptamold, as you see here.

Note also that with the hillside so steep above the tunnel portal, I decided to work in a couple of rock outcroppings. I had some old plaster rock castings, already colored to suit the coastal formation color, so simply broke a couple of pieces to fit, and faired everything in with paper mache.
     At this point, finishing the back or Ballard side of the hill is just a process of continuing to add paper mache (usually Sculptamold first, then Brandt’s), letting it dry, judging what else is needed, and adding more. So I will stop at this point, and defer conclusions to the next post.
Tony Thompson

Monday, December 9, 2013

Repairing the Ballard hill — Part 3

In the previous post, I described making an armature of screen wire to roughly define the desired shape of my new hilltop, and the application of the Woodland Scenics product, Plaster Cloth, to make a plaster shell. It can be seen at: .
     Next, I made contour adjustments with wadded paper, constrained with masking tape. As I mentioned in the previous post, it’s important to recognize that you don’t have to get your contours entirely right with the first layer. My goal here was to get the profile of the ridge top to look generally like the previous version, so that I could evaluate whether the surviving piece of ridgetop scenery could be re-attached and look right. Here are some of the wads, toward the left of the photo, in the last step before covering them up.

With these adjustments to the shape of the hill, it was time to try fitting the saved piece of hilltop to the new armature.
     I decided I wanted to try and “glue” the old material to the new plaster shell. To that end, I spritzed everything with a water spray, then used a putty knife to apply generous blobs of Sculptamold in the areas where I expected close contact of the old hilltop. Here you see me applying one blob; another is in the foreground. Photography, incidentally, was by my wife, using her iPad.

     My younger son Sylvan was in town for Thanksgiving, and I enlisted him to help me hold and move the large and somewhat flexible piece of the old hilltop. To my surprise, it fit really well to the new armature and matched up with the old edges where it had been cut. Of course this was the desired result, but I had really doubted whether it would work well enough to be worth the trouble. Here we are, in the process of wiggling it to get the best possible fit.

With the large piece in place and pressed down into the Sculptamold “glue,” I then went around the perimeter of the added piece and tried to get all edges stuck down and aligned as well as could be.

On the wall in the background, just above my wrist, is the John Allen Award, presented to me in 2009 by Coast Division of Pacific Coast Region, NMRA.
     As I mentioned above, the old piece of hilltop fit onto the new armature far better than I had any right to expect. I could then go ahead with filling gaps with more Sculptamold. At an intermediate stage in the process of suturing the scenery into one piece, it looked like this from above.

The white material is Sculptamold, the gray is the Brandt’s taxidermist paper mache I described in the previous post on this topic, a much finer textured material which makes a better final surface, and which I apply over the Sculptamold.
     More work is needed to close all cracking in the scenery, and to refine all contours to a realistic curvature and smoothness. (Later I will offer some general remarks about contour principles.) Then the paper mache can be painted brown, preliminary to adding ground foam and other scenic materials. But I will postpone those topics to a future post.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Third blog anniversary

This blog began with an initial post on December 8, 2010. There was no significance to the date, it just happened to be the day I decided to go ahead. A year later, to my considerable surprise, there had been a lot of posts written by me (126) and an astonishing number of page views (51,000). I commented on these numbers on the first anniversary in 2011; you can read about it at: .
     A year later, on the second anniversary in 2012, the total number of posts for the year was similar to the total for the first year, but the page views had jumped even farther, to almost 150,000 total, or nearly 100,000 in the second year alone. Again, I wrote a post about all that, which is at this link: .
     Now after a third year, the numbers continue to grow, again adding about 125 posts in the course of a year, or around ten a month, and again a big increase in page views, now close to 300,000 views, which means 150,000 in the past year alone, equal to the sum of both of the first two years. I continue to be entirely amazed by these numbers, far beyond anything I had ever imagined.
     Something I had noticed on the second anniversary is continuing to happen, that instead of comments posted to the blog site, most questions are directed to me personally via email. Often these are clarifications or corrections, and many are clearly connections to subjects beyond the post in question, a healthy kind of response. A few are what the questioner thought might be a “dumb question,” which the questioners seem to have thought not to be a good thing to display in public.  As a retired teacher, I subscribe to the old adage that there are no dumb questions, except possibly the ones you fail to ask. But I appreciate them all.
     Another thing I had noticed a year ago continues as a considerable part of the total page views. This is the readers coming to the particular post from search engines. This means the blog is functioning as an archival resource, which I had not really thought about. In fact, in some cases, it functions much like a FAQ (frequently asked questions), since people get referred to certain posts by others who already know of them.
     I continue to enjoy the writing and photography for the blog, something I was not sure would be true. But to date anyway, I am far from tired of it, and very much look forward to continuing.
     Between the (to me) huge number of page views, and the many questions, both posted to the blog and directly to me, I feel like my original objective of the blog is being realized—to inform and hopefully to inspire other modelers. Techniques of modeling, along with prototype information (and ways of acquiring the latter), are central to this. It’s what I had set out to do, and it still looks like it’s working.
Tony Thompton

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Repairing the Ballard Hill — Part 2

In my first post on the topic of my hill just west of Ballard (it can be viewed at: ), I described the problem with this hill. I needed to repair a combination of the damage due to moving from Pennsylvania to California, along with the results of having to cut off the hilltop for interim storage.
     As mentioned in that first post, the cut-off sections of hill were saved, but not all pieces looked like they could be re-used. One clear survivor was the bottom of the hill on the Ballard side, which was largely intact. I tried “gluing” it back in place, using Sculptamold paper mache, and it worked well. When mixed to be rather stiff, the stickiness of this material will indeed attach things together. The reason, of course, is that there is glue included in the mixture, along with clay and powdered paper, to hold the stuff together. I merely took advantage of the glue component. Here is a photo of the reattached piece. Note that the hillside no longer fits perfectly at the base. This will be easily repaired.

     Another problem was to tie together the pieces of screen wire which would underlay the new hilltop. I tried several ways to do this, including using Sculptamold as a glue, but the best procedure seemed to be weaving some fine wire through the edges of pieces to be joined, or else pinning pieces together with small finishing nails, just as you would pin two pieces of paper together. The exact shape of this screen armature isn’t important, because I know from experience that it will be necessary to make multiple layers of hardshell, paper mache, or both, to refine contours to the desired final shape. Accordingly, a more or less cylindrical shape is fine for now, and will permit closing the gap in the hilltop. Here is how the screen looked, in a horizontal side view from the outer end of the peninsula.

The previous hill had a bit of a saddle in the line of the ridge top, and it looked like the same thing can be accomplished again. You can also see some cracks in the old hillside.
     My basic plan for creating a shell on this wire armature was to start with the Woodland Scenics product, Plaster Cloth.

     This is a cheesecloth-like fabric impregnated with plaster. Their directions say to merely dip each length of cloth, not allow it to soak at all, and then apply. I used a wide Pyrex casserole dish, which made the dipping easy to do, and the wet strips were easy to apply, though keeping them from doubling and sticking to themselves takes some practice. With half a dozen strips of different lengths overlapped on the screen to form a foundation, here is how it looked from a high angle, again from the outer end of the peninsula. Some of these strips are overlapped to form a double layer, others remain single layers at this point. Screen along the edges is not covered yet.

     With this first shell in place, the next day I spritzed the first layer with a water sprayer (so that the dried plaster does not suck water out of the fresh plaster, causing it to set too fast), then added more Plaster Cloth strips over the top of some of them. In that way, I made sure at least a double layer of strips was everywhere, and I also extended coverage somewhat beyond what you see in the photo above.
     At this point, it is ordinarily necessary to adjust contours toward a more natural-looking hill. One way to do it is with wadded paper, held down with masking tape, then simply adding more Plaster Cloth over the wads. It’s important to recognize that you don’t have to get your contours entirely right on the first go. But I will come back to that point.
     I will continue with this project in a future post, in which I will describe my efforts to apply the old piece of hilltop, while making realistic contours on the skyline.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Route cards — 8

In my various route card postings, I began with some prototype photos and information, in the post entitled “Chalk marks and route cards,” available through this link: . I posted additional information on locations and size of route card boards in my third post, “Route cards-3,” which can be viewed here: . The most recent in the series was a post describing the physical size of route card boards (at: ).
     I do get questions from time to time, asking whether my model route cards have anything written on them. Given that they are three or four inches in size, roughly square, on the prototype, no! I don’t want to make up HO scale paperwork that size with lettering on it. But sometimes I add a pencil line on one of my cards if it is on the large side. You don’t have to be able to read it, only to perceive that there is something on it.
     Readers of this blog may be familiar with the “Patch” switching layout of Keith Jordan, set in downtown Los Angeles. Among the places it has been described is in GMR (Great Model Railroads), 2012, Kalmbach, page 34. Keith not only located some collected examples of route cards used in that area, but managed to interview someone who knew a lot about the switching process. Here are three of his tags, two denoting transfers (to PE and SP), one indicating a switching district.

Keith doesn’t apply these to cars as such, but uses them as switching aids while operating the layout. That is, he uses them full size (see the GMR article for more details on his system). But since they are based on prototype cards, they are informative.
     Recently Doug Harding in Iowa sent me several route cards from his area, all from the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway (M&StL), and they are a different type than the ones Keith Jordan uses. A very interesting one is a directional one, presumably for drag freights, but possibly also for some priority named “B”:

Doug also sent several M&StL route cards for cars to be interchanged with other railroads. This is a common switching situation and I would think most roads used tags like these.

It is intriguing that these three cards each show a different type face for the destination road, maybe a deliberate choice but more likely reflecting design of individual cards at different times.
     These card examples are only to illustrate what might be on a route card, though in HO scale they would be pretty hard to read—except maybe the M&StL “B” card. Remember, they are only about three or four inches square. For that reason, I will probably continue to use blank squares of paper on my models.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rebuilding my ocean beach

One of the features I had been pleased with on my layout in Pittsburgh was the beach scene, intended to typify some of the Southern Pacific’s seaside running between Ventura and Santa Maria, California. It also provided a distraction from the return loop on the main line, which was additionally hidden by being partly inside a large hill.
     Moving this section of the layout to California, with fascia removed, naturally was a touchy matter, since the projecting beach at the end of the peninsula was vulnerable to bumps and scrapes. So although it largely survived, it did get damaged, and in the new layout setting, certainly needed repair.
     The original water area was created with a shelf of Masonite, covered with soupy plaster to make a flat surface. That surface was then modified by adding a wave surge, using the taxidermist’s papier-maché (mentioned in a previous post: ), then sanding smooth, sealing with Matte Medium, and carefully painting blue-green in deeper water, shading to light green near the beach. Some dry brushing with white suggested foam along the wave top. A final coat of Gloss Medium completed the look of water.
     I suppose it’s obvious, but an ocean beach is not like the lakes or ponds many modelers have built. The water is not flat, but has wave action, and representing the ocean’s surface as flat simply won’t do. It doesn’t matter exactly what action is chosen, but some suggestion of water movement seems essential to me in modeling the ocean shore. I chose to model a small wave close to cresting.
     I don’t have a good photo of the modeled beach as it originally was, but more recently, in its damaged condition, I took a photo to show how it had ended up. (You can click to enlarge the image.) You can see that some pieces of the substructure have fallen out, and that the curve of the “water” edge no longer exactly matches the re-installed fascia.

The color of the rock, incidentally, was matched to samples of the characteristic Franciscan sedimentary formations along the central coast of California, and the tilt of the formation is also typical of the prototype.
     My first step was to repair the basic contours. I used Sculptamold for the rough work, and a fine-grained taxidermist’s material, Brandt’s Paper Mache Compound, to refine it. (Brandt’s is available from Robert Ruozzi of Irwin, PA.)  Once that was all dry, I sanded it smooth, sealed it, and was ready to paint.
     I don’t have any record of what colors I originally used, but that doesn’t matter, since I only want to (more or less) match what exists. In my repainting, I used Cerulean Blue, Light Oxide Green, Yellow Oxide and White, using the yellow very sparingly along with white to lighten the blue and green. Even in the bluest area of water, there is some green in the color. This close to shore, seawater really only looks green, but the more blue shade away from the beach is a concession to the mental image most people have, of “the blue of the sea.”
     As repainting was getting under way (you can see the overly dark blue at the outer edge, toward the left), the right side of the scene looked like this. The rocks will get more foam around them in the final version.

     The water surface, not being flat on account of the wave, is higher than the fascia edge in the center area. This makes a raised vertical edge which has to be painted to match the natural Masonite color of the fascia, as seen below. You can see the wave crest also, which looks like a gray line at this angle.

     Once the paint matching and blending had been completed for the water, I went back with Burnt Umber, lightening as needed with the white and yellow, to touch the vertical edges of papier maché which should match the fascia. (Natural tempered Masonite is usually not as dark as Burnt Umber.) The final look after painting was this, with a final coat of Gloss Medium still to come (to make the water is glossy instead of matte), and some fresh white foam highlights along the wave top and around rocks.

As usually happens, the old glossy surface had become dull with time. I gently washed it with a damp sponge, then went over the entire water area, new and old, with Gloss Medium. The final effect looks good to me.
     It is nice to have this scene restored. It doesn’t fit my layout’s geographical area very well, at least not as well as it did in the Pittsburgh version, but I have kept it anyway because I like the look, and it reminds viewers (and me) of SP’s many miles of seaside alignment in California’s Central Coast area. Now to add some bathers on the beach . . .
Tony Thompson

Monday, November 25, 2013

“Men in uniform” (railroading)

This title, “men in uniform,” refers not to uniforms such as conductors and brakemen on passenger trains wore, but the typical clothing of freight train crews, in my 1950s era. One sees it in many photos, but all too many times in model scenes, one doesn’t see it. Let me start with an example from the Bob’s Photo collection, located for me by Jerry Stewart, who also suggested it should be titled “men in uniform” (thanks, Jerry!). You can click on it to enlarge.

The location is readily identified; the cut is being shoved westward across the Los Angeles River toward LAUPT (possibly to the postal annex), on a rather foggy morning. The photo was taken from Mission Tower, and the train is on SP tracks, crossing the double track of the Santa Fe’s west bank line in the foreground. Unfortunately, the photographer is not identified.
     The two men atop the box car both wear fedoras, as was common in the late 1940s and into the 1950s for train crews. The man closest to the camera wears overalls and a denim jacket; the man behind him has on a plaid jacket which looks like wool. This is what Jerry Steward meant by referring to them as “in uniform.” These are the standard working clothes of the era.
     Note one important point. They are not wearing hard hats. Modelers of times like the 1950s often compromise by using scale figures with modern hard hats, but these were nonexistent in railroading at the time shown.
     Here is another example, with both caboose trainmen wearing overalls. The photo shows picking up orders on the fly at Burbank Junction (SP). It’s a Stanley Groff photo, which I obtained from the Rob Evans collection.

Here again, these are typical trainmen’s clothing, and the hats are a fedora and what appears to be an engineer’s cap in a solid color.
     Finally, one more photo (from Southern Pacific) of a trainman waving a highball with a lantern. In this case also, he is dressed in the common clothing of 1950s railroaders.

     The point? Your scale figures should wear clothing which matches the era. Some commercial figures are correct in this sense, but many are not, either because they are aimed at a later era, or because they represent European clothing. It’s not so true today, but 50 years ago, European and American clothing styles of working people were quite different, and many sets of scale figures are from European companies. Repainting incorrect figures, or choosing correctly dressed figures, is needed for a convincing historical appearance.
Tony Thompson