Wednesday, June 29, 2016

PFE lettering post-WW II, Part 2

In the first post in this series, I showed an example of a mixed-up and incorrect paint scheme on a model of a PFE steel ice refrigerator car, along with some of the information needed to correct it. You can read that prior post at this link: . The primary point made in that post is that PFE paint schemes with black side hardware cannot include black-white UP medallions, and vice versa. I hope the good folks at InterMountain and elsewhere will take this on board.
     Let me provide some background to my post-World War II time frame. I chose that marker, 1945, because at that time, the PFE shops were on the threshold of one of their busiest periods in the long life of PFE, when not only was much deferred maintenance from the war years being accomplished, but over 3500 older cars were about to be rebuilt to classes R-30-21 and -24, and 5000 new steel cars of Class R-40-23 were soon to be delivered. Among other things, this meant that practically all pre-war paint and lettering would have been replaced in the 1945–1949 period, except perhaps for a few steel cars built in 1941 or earlier. I will return to this point below.
     The paint scheme introduced in June, 1946 was applied to all these new cars and many repainted older cars. It had both railroad medallions on both sides of the car, for the first time, and the UP medallion continued to be red-white-blue. The SP medallion was next to the car door on both car sides, so that the two car sides were identical. All side hardware and side sill were black. This photo shows an InterMountain model of Class R-40-10, PFE 41546, as repainted into the 1946 paint scheme.

     In the previous post, I explained about the 1948 and 1950 paint scheme changes, and won’t repeat that material. But the next change, in June 1951, was to make two quite visible changes. First, all side hardware, now including side sills and center sill steps, would be orange. Second, the SP medallion was restored to its traditional orientation, located toward the B or brake end on each side of the car. This made the two sides of the car different, as they had been from 1922 to 1946, but was a change from 1946 to 1951, during which the two sides were identical with respect to medallions. Another way to describe the 1951 scheme is that the right side of the car continued to have the SP medallion nearest the car door, but the left side had the UP medallion nearest the car door. Here’s an example, on PFE 2561, an InterMountain model of PFE Class R-40-25.

But this paint scheme cannot have lasted long. Within a few months (maybe as much as six months, depending on which document you follow), PFE made another change, to remove the periods in the reporting marks (P.F.E.), and this led to yet another variation. This car, PFE 62580, is a Red Caboose body with Terry Wegmann detail parts, built by Jim Hayes and me, representing Class R-40-19.

     Finally, in the summer of 1952, PFE followed suit to many other railroads, including Southern Pacific, and removed the 1-inch stripes above the initials and below the car number. Likely this was because the AAR recommendation to use these stripes was discontinued in 1952. From that time forward, cars looked like the InterMountain model below. This is the model of Class R-40-23, PFE 48661, shown in the previous post with an incorrect combination of paint scheme elements.

In closing this depiction of models, I should emphasize that not one of the models shown was correctly lettered as originally produced. Each has had some degree of correction. One could wish that those producing ready-to-run models would take a little more care with their products.
     Before finishing, let me remind those who have not read (or don’t particularly remember) the PFE book, that the scale of car painting done by PFE was extremely different from the average railroad. Modelers are accustomed to think of freight cars being painted when new, and then serving for years or even decades with original paint, which naturally was getting dirtier and dirtier. But that is the not the PFE case. For a single illustration, consider 1949. In that year, PFE owned 8000 new steel reefers, and had about 30,000 other reefers, 6700 of them older steel cars, and nearly all the others wood-sheathed rebuilds from the previous 15 years. There was a lot of painting going on, most frequently on wood-sheathed cars, whose paint didn’t hold up as well. In the years 1945–1952, PFE painted 45,000 cars in its shops, nearly all of them those wood cars — in other words, on average the 23,000 or so wood cars had all been painted twice in those years.
     And that painting rate was not unusual. Looking back to the end of World War II, all early paint and lettering dating from before 1930 would all have been long gone.By my modeling year, 1953, there would not have been any pre-1942 lettering, and within a few more years, all UP medallions in the fleet would be black and white; during 1953–1955, PFE painted another 22,000 cars, which is well over half the entire fleet and naturally comprised replacing the oldest paint schemes.
     And painting was not the whole story. Until about 1950, PFE shops washed large numbers of cars every year, typically around a third of the entire fleet each year. This is another reason that the age of a PFE paint scheme need not correlate with how dirty it is.
     In conclusion, let me repeat that although most of the information conveyed in this and the previous post is in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000), there will be much more detail in the forthcoming book from the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society, entitled Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide, which includes PFE. I have written the SP part, and Dick Harley has written the PFE part. The book should be published this fall.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, June 26, 2016

PFE lettering after World War II

Because I model the Southern Pacific in 1953, I operate a considerable number of Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars, and it happens that 1953 was at the culmination of a series of small but evident changes in PFE car lettering. I need to reflect those changes in the variety of paint and lettering schemes on my PFE models.
     There are two different issues involved with portraying PFE paint schemes. One is the question of how many cars with a particular paint scheme would be in service in 1953, something for which there can be no exact answer but which can be answered in a general way. The second question is what exactly were those paint schemes and the dates they were applied.
     I summarized all this information in the PFE book (Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Thompson, Church and Jones, Signature Press, 2000), but recently have been examining the information in much more detail. The reason is the forthcoming book from the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society, entitled Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide, which includes PFE. I have written the SP part, Dick Harley has written the PFE part, and of course I have cooperated with Dick on his part. The book should be published this fall.
     So what’s the modeling problem? I will start with accurate schemes. After World War II, there was a change to PFE paint and lettering almost yearly from 1948 to 1953, and individual models ought to reflect one and only one of these at a time. A number of ready-to-run models, which naturally are assumed to be correct, have not been correct. Here is a single example, which happens to be an InterMountain model, though InterMountain are certainly not the only offenders; this is just an illustration.

 The model has black ladders and grab irons, but orange door hinges and latch bar. There was no such PFE paint scheme. When side hardware became all-orange during 1948, it included grabs and ladders, as well as corner sill steps. The model also has black-white UP medallions, introduced in 1950, and on each car side, the SP medallion is toward the B or brake end, a change made in 1951, by which time the side sill and center sill step had also become orange. This particular model is not so hard to correct; I will simply paint the offending black parts with Daylight Orange.
     There are additional aspects of this particular model which I will return to in future posts, and I will also show the corrected model at that time.
     For an example of the 1948 scheme correctly rendered, this photo of plywood-side Class R-40-24 shows the features of that scheme: color UP medallion, SP medallions still alongside the car door on both sides of the car, but all side hardware and corner sill steps orange. This is an upgraded Athearn model. The decals are a previous-generation Microscale product, with SP medallion taller than the UP medallion, but the prototype medallions were the same size, each 45 inches high.

     In June of 1950, the color UP medallions were changed to black and white, as mentioned above. These are easy to recognize, even in a black-and-white photo, because the word “Railroad” was added in the upper field.  Here is a good example of that 1950 scheme, on Class R-30-9 car PFE 98444 (George Sisk photo, from the Charles Winters collection — this photo is in the PFE book). The distinctive orange corner sill steps are evident, UP medallion is black-white, and the SP medallion is next to the door, toward the A end.

      Here is a model example of the 1950 paint scheme shown above on PFE 98444. This Class R-30-9 model is a Red Caboose product, and the corner sill steps were not painted orange in the original kit; that detail has been added in preparing the model for service.

     These examples will suffice to show that there are readily identifiable details of the 1948 and 1950 paint schemes which are easy to duplicate in model form or, if necessary, can be achieved by correcting commercial paint and lettering. With these examples in mind, I will continue to more details of these and succeeding paint schemes in a following post.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Prototype parts storage vs. junk

Modelers sometimes like to pile “junk” around buildings on the layout. That may be okay, since certainly there are plenty of instances in the prototype of piles of junk. But when it is done around a manufacturing facility, shop or roundhouse, or repair track of the transition era, I think it neglects the reality of how such facilities work. In fact, parts, even parts on the way to the discard pile, are usually stacked fairly neatly, and are segregated by type. New parts to be used, are almost certain to be neatly organized.
     A good example I noticed recently was in a Jack Delano photo from December 1942, taken at C&NW’s Proviso yard in Chicago. It is from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) series before it was merged into the Office of War Information (OWI) during World War II, so it has an FSA control number in the Library of Congress collection (fsa1992000737/PP), but its Library of Congress series number, often more useful in finding photos on the LoC site ( is LC-USW-36-721. The storage I’m interested in is in the foreground of the image; you can click to enlarge.

But maybe it is easier to examine the foreground part of the photograph if I show an enlargement, while also lightening the somewhat dark image. Now you can clearly see the neat stacks of sideframes.

These are  truck sideframes at left, alongside what is clearly a repair track, and between the sideframes and the lumber pile at right are some truck bolsters. The leftmost car on the repair track is up on stands, with its truck rolled out to the right, and you can see that both wheelsets have been removed from the truck for whatever servicing is being done on the truck. I have already discussed wheelset modeling in a previous post (you can view that post at: ).
     First, note the state of the sideframes. They have an empty opening where the spring package and bolster would be located in an assembled truck. (Springs and spring packages were illustrated and discussed previously, at: .) Most of these also have the journal box covers missing. It occurred to me that I could use a variety of old metal “sprung” trucks as a source of sideframes; many of my oldest trucks like that have experienced bolster failure due to what is called “Zamac disease,” in which the Zamac alloy swells and cracks with corrosion. Removing the springs and broken bolster gives you an open sideframe.

     I wanted to include a stack of stored sideframes, and chose to align them on some planks (scale 2 x 8-inch size), and painted the frames a mostly rusty color. These are just glued into a stack with canopy cement. The planks keep the frames together, though in the prototype photo above, there does not appear to be anything under the sideframe stacks.

     The prototype photo also shows some stored truck bolsters, obviously necessary if truck are to be re-assembled from the sideframe stacks. An obvious problem in using model truck bolsters, such as those that might have been removed from the model sideframes shown above, is the immense (relative to the prototype) center holes, for our equally immense truck screws. This does not really look much like a prototype bolster.

     Prototype bolsters varied widely in design and shape, and certainly were different in different eras, from the earliest riveted steel bolsters at the end of the 19th century, to modern one-piece cast steel parts. But they almost always have a greater center depth, since they act as beams. Here is an example of an American Steel Foundries bolster of the late 1920s; this is an ASF photo from the 1928 volume of the Car Builders’ Cyclopedia.

      The requirements for converting a model bolster, if it is anything like the model part shown above, are to remove the side bulges of the center hole, make new side pieces, and then cover the center hole on top with something which represents a center plate, with a 2-inch (scale) hole in  it for the kingpin. Sides and hole cover can be sheet styrene. Without going into detail, the bolster can then look like this:

     These elements, sideframes and bolsters, can serve to model the kinds of stacks of parts that you see in the prototype photos at the head of this post. If you model a roundhouse or shop, or a repair track, or even a material car in a wreck train, you may wish to duplicate some of what I’ve shown here.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

This year’s Bay Area RPM

The annual RPM (Railroad Prototype Modelers) event in the San Francisco Bay Area is called BAPM (Bay Area Prototype Modelers) and was held this year on June 18, at the same private school site in Richmond where we have met for several years. As usual, the turnout of modelers was good and the standard of models displayed was really excellent, I would say better than most years. There were also three talks, notably Dave Maffei doing an excellent presentation on SP beet car modeling. But let’s go back to the display room.
     Always among the most interesting display models are the “in-progress” examples, where modifications and additional details have been added, but the model is unpainted (and may still need additional detailing). In such a model, one can really see the modeler’s work and understand the process of creation. Here is just one good example, a Geep by Brian Hicks:

     I personally always like to see layout design ideas, even if this is not the core of the RPM concept. Vince Vargas showed a neatly constructed mock-up of his layout, which is under construction. As you can see, it will ultimately have three levels. Each level is separate and can be lifted out to reveal its details or those on the level below. In the foreground, Vince showed some of his complex trackwork, being built with Fast Tracks fixtures (see their products at: )..

     At BAPM, we normally have a number of vendors, and it’s quite interesting when they bring a variety of wares, along with announcements of forthcoming products. One who made a trip to attend was Ross Dando, of Twin Star Cars, mostly Rock Island products but with some other material too (visit them at: ). I really liked (and have already used) Ross’s castings for Chrysler trucks, as I showed in a prior post ( ).

     Another frequent vendor at BAPM is Cannon & Company, with proprietor Dave Hussey showing off a number of their current products. Cannon is known for superb diesel detail parts, but Dave is adding a number of outstanding freight car models. You can see them under “What’s Coming” on their website, which is at: .

     Last but hardly least was Jason Hill of Owl Mountain Models, showing pre-production samples of forthcoming “Harriman” flat cars for both SP and UP. Jason plans three kits, one for the “late” cars of SP classes F-50-10 and -12, an example of which is shown below. He also plans to do the “middle” cars of SP classes F-50-5,-8 and -9, along with the original cars with Bettendorf underframes, Class F-50-4. You can check on the status of these at their site ( ).

     One of the modern models I most admired at this edition of BAPM was a tank car by Scott Bates, with a rusty upper body that was just brilliantly rendered. Great finishing, Scott.

     Last year I showed the nice Richmond Pacific locomotive models by young modeler Jonathan Izen (that post can be accessed at this link: ). He was back this year with a terrific kitbashed National Railway Equipment Gen-Set, This is the prototype Richmond Pacific’s 2015, rebuilt from an Illinois Central GP9. Seen below are a photograph of the model before painting, and the final product at right. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

     As always at these local RPM meetings, a great day of fun was had by all. It is always fascinating to see the array of models displayed, of which I could show here only a small fraction. There is a lot of sharing of modeling ideas and approaches, a lot of admiring each other‘s work, and great talks to punctuate the day. I look forward to each year’s BAPM, and I would urge you to try one of these local RPM meets, if you don’t already do so.
Tony Thompson

Friday, June 17, 2016

Coal traffic on my layout

Some while back, I wrote a series of posts, describing how I planned freight car acquisitions (or disposals) to arrive at a particular car fleet that I believed was suitable for my 1953 Southern Pacific layout. One post in that series was about hopper cars (see it at: ), and I mentioned there that hopper-type cars in the Far West were more commonly ballast cars, not conventional cross-hopper coal cars.
     But I also emphasized in that post that there was coal traffic in the Far West, even if quite small relative to most other parts of the country. Much of it, to be sure, moved in GS (General Service) or drop-bottom gondolas rather than cross-hoppers, as I discussed in another post in my rolling stock series (this one is at: ). To illustrate, the photo below on my layout shows SP 2829 picking up an empty 46-foot D&RGW GS gondola from Jupiter Pump & Compressor (the model is a W&R Enterprises brass car) — more on what it’s doing there in a moment.

     Coal was not a domestic fuel to any extent in California in the 1950s, nor was it used much for space heating purposes. But it certainly did find a number of uses. Coal and coke fuels were used to some degree in California in foundries and other industrial heating applications into the 1950s, and this largely came from the coal fields in eastern Utah/western Colorado. The originating railroads in that area were D&RGW, UP, and the Utah Coal Route. Although the bulk of that traffic moved in GS gondolas, certainly there were cross-hoppers in use also. In the early 1950s, D&RGW was beginning to buy conventional triple hoppers to supplement its fleet of GS gons.
     Lastly, a small but significant use of coal was by the SP itself. During the 1950s, SP still relied on coal for fuel in section houses, depots, roundhouses and other on-line structures, as well as for use in caboose stoves. I need to model such deliveries, likely in GS gondolas. This latter point is straightforward modeling, because I already have both GS gondolas and some hoppers (D&RGW) for the local SP requirements.
     Perhaps a more interesting challenge is the fuel for the cupola furnace in the foundry at Jupiter Pump & Compressor in my layout town of Ballard (you can see more about it at this link: ). This fuel should be either coke or “met coal” (meaning metallurgical quality) — both were widely used in California. I can of course deliver coal with the same GS gons or western hoppers used for SP domestic coal, but can also include occasional loads from sources farther east. Here’s why.
     I have seen some intriguing documents relating to California coal and coke use during miners’ strikes in Utah/Colorado, with coal coming from the southern Illinois coal fields and even from the Pennsylvania/West Virginia/Virginia area. I can model these kinds of coal origins by occasionally operating C&O or WM or N&W hoppers, of which I have models; all three roads did have substantial off-road customers for coal, much of it marketed through fuel brokers. Here’s an example of such a car, photographed in the Santa Rosalia Local at Ballard, just clear of Nipomo Street, and awaiting delivery to Jupiter Pump and Compressor.

     And because Jupiter has a plant switcher, my SP operating crews don’t have to match cars to their correct spots (the plant switcher will do that). They only need to set cars out on the Jupiter lead. I had originally planned to  have the local crew do this spotting, but the plant can obviously handle it, as well as putting cars back on the lead for SP pickup. That’s what you saw in the first photo of this post.
     Why am I going into all this? Likely very few people have any interest in how or why my layout operates as it does. My point is to encourage you to try and understand your industries, your era, and your region, so that you know what happened commonly, and what happened rarely or never. You can of course choose to have any events you like on your layout, but finding out what would have happened in the area you model, at the time you model, is part of the fun for me, and you may find it fun too.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Electrical wars, Part 10: DCC refinements

In a recent post in this series about my efforts to conquer electrical problems, I depicted my installation of a circuit breaker device which permitted separate layout districts, each with its own circuit breaker. That post can be found here: .
     My initial solo operation with this arrangement worked great, and so did my first operating session with the new arrangement. That is, it worked fine until a persistent short occurred (a car wheel resting on a gap that we didn’t find right away), and I discovered that the circuit breaker for that district wouldn’t reset. If layout power were turned off, then turned on again, it would reset fine, but if we shorted the track with power on, it would not reset. This was mentioned in my post about recent operating sessions (at: ).
     As always with the trouble-shooting of such problems, I am very much offering the short version of the story. Disconnecting wires to various layout areas was tried, moving locomotives and cars was tried, etc. at some length, and various hoped-for remedies were tried, but there’s no need to repeat all of that. My friend Ray DeBlieck directed me to an explanation of the problem, and also a solution.
     The clearest explanation is an essay by Mark Gurries, posted in 2004 to the NCE-DCC Yahoo group. It can now be found on-line in a variety of places. I think probably the most informative discussion is on the site at , which has further description of the issue and solutions to it, as well as the full text of the original Gurries article.
     In brief, the problem with older circuit breakers such as the NCE EB3 I have (installation of it was described in the post cited at the top of the present post) is that with multiple sound-decoder-equipped locomotives in a single district. the “inrush current” to capacitance in the decoders as soon as re-set begins, fools the circuit breaker into thinking there is still too much current flowing, meaning the short is still present, and it opens the breaker again. Net result, it fails to reset. I’m not an electrical engineer, just quoting from the Gurries piece.
     The solution is to insert a resistance into the circuit, usually suggested as an automobile brake lamp, so that the lamp lights when a short occurs, and thus is present when the breaker re-sets. The light goes out when reset is completed. Here is the suggested arrangement for an EB3, with the track power leads at right.

The automotive bulbs I chose to use are the widely available no. 1156. These are recommended in a number of web discussions. They are available as either filament bulbs or LED lights, and I chose the filament bulb. I also bought the automotive sockets for them.
     The bayonet sockets for no. 1156 lamps have a 3/4-inch  diameter. I just drilled holes that size in a small rectangle of plywood and painted it flat black, to serve as a mounting board for the bulbs. The mount went underneath a fascia support so it is out of the way, but since the bulbs are very bright when lit, there would no problem spotting the light.
     When all wiring was done according to the diagram above, I tried the classic DCC short method, namely a quarter placed on the track. This of course trips the circuit breakers, and the bulb for that district comes on. As soon as the quarter is removed from contact, the circuit re-sets and the bulb goes out. That is just what was supposed to happen. Then I put four sound-equipped locomotives in one district, so I could test the “inrush current” correction feature. The circuit breakers still worked the same as just described, no problem. Here is a view of the operation:

Yes, the bulb really does have a blue cast, as the photo shows.
     This is really “short insurance,” for a persistent short rather than a momentary one, but that was the problem in the last operating session. With this additional circuit, it shouldn’t happen again. (He said cautiously . . .)
Tony Thompson

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Spring operating sessions

I hosted a couple of operating sessions at the beginning of May and of June, much of the action comprising the usual mix of freight car movements, but emphasizing seasonal crops (for more on that point, see the post at:  ). I also included express reefer movements for the early cherry crop in May, and early apricots in June, as I had done in an earlier session also (for that session, see: ).
     The first of these sessions went well in some regards, and I know the crews had fun doing the switching. Here is just one photo from the May session, showing Jim Providenza (left) and Harry Wong sorting cars at Shumala.

The second crew was Paul Weiss and Andy Schnur, for whom I didn’t get a good photo. Paul’s friend Hans Kurdi was also along, and participated in the session as a novice operator.
     The less positive part of the session was a series of electrical problems, culminating in a persistent short we couldn’t find, and a “reluctance” on the part of the circuit breakers to re-set. I will say more about this problem, and a solution to it, in a future post, but during the session, it did create a stoppage in the action.
     In June, a second session with a similar script was conducted. Part of the reason for it was to host Paul Hobbs, visiting from New Zealand. Here is Paul (left), working with Ray DeBlieck at Shumala.

Paul found a number of aspects of my operating scheme different from his experience, particularly the waybills, so his comments were very interesting to hear. Paul is a frequent visitor to the U.S. and has operated on lots of layouts, so that kind of insight was instructive.
     The second crew for this session was Ken Harrison and Ed Slintak. Ken, like Ray, an East Bay Club member for many years, had not operated here before. He too found the waybills an interesting part of the operating scheme. Here he is the conductor at Ballard, while Ed (at right) is acting as engineer on the Santa Rosalia Local.

     As almost always happens, each crew finds new wrinkles in how to do the various tasks in the session, and part of the pleasure I have in observing each session is to see the sequence and logic of the work each crew does. Usually everybody has a good time, too, and it’s nice to be able to host such a session. As I sometimes say to layout owners who don’t have operating sessions, you are definitely missing something, and it’s something I bet you would enjoy.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Trucks, truck springs and snubbers, Part 2

A month or so ago, I posted a description of how prototype truck springs are arranged, and some of the challenges we have with our models in reproducing those arrangements (you can read that discussion at: ). In that post, I showed a photo of a model truck with “real springs” and mentioned that these springs in HO scale are far too thin, and permit us to look right through the spring group, a highly unprototypical experience. Here is another example.

     I also mentioned in passing that my late friend, Richard Hendrickson, had experimented with putting a kind of “view block” behind such springs, so that even though the springs were way too thin, at least you couldn’t see through them. It occurred to me that it might be useful to show an example of how he did this.
     One of his models was of an Erie gondola, the prototype of which had one-level Dalman trucks. Many modelers are familiar with the two-level Dalman truck, with its distinctive stepped height of the spring groups (American Steel Foundries photo):

There are superb HO scale versions of this truck available from Tahoe Model Works. 
     But there was also a one-level Dalman design, which had all the extra spring groups of the two-level truck, but without the stepped bottom support (Richard Hendrickson collection):

I hardly need to emphasize how different these prototype spring groups look, compared to the model photo at the top of this post.
     As I mentioned above, Richard was modeling an Erie gondola. It was from the 14500–14949 series, built by Greenville in 1930, and it had these one-level Dalmans. The only model truck he could find of that kind was a brass truck, unfortunately with the “see-through” springs. He used a strip of 0.010-inch styrene sheet, glued behind the spring opening, to improve the look of these trucks. This strip is visible on the far side of the truck, on the inside of the sideframe. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

Note also in this photo the color Richard liked to use for wheel backs and axles.
     At one time, Richard also tried cutting a styrene piece to fit into the back of the spring opening in the sideframe, so that nothing would extend behind the back of the sideframe. It is fussy to fit a small piece like that, and he only did it once. But the use of a backing strip, as shown above, is much easier. There were several examples of this approach among his freight car models.
   Having shown above the truck modification for this model, I should also show the complete model, right side up. Here it is.

     If you too have sprung trucks for which there is no good solid-sideframe replacement, or you just don’t want to have to replace the sprung truck, this “view block” technique is one easy way to make those trucks look better.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, June 5, 2016

More railroad stories

Awhile back, I wrote a post to point out some of my own favorite sources of informative railroad stories, stories from which I learned something about prototype operations and work. That post can be found at this link: . In the present post, I want to add a few more titles to this, and mention again the one that is still my favorite.
     I mentioned Dan Rehwalt’s series of very interesting and readable books about railroad work. Probably the best, because it is about all the brakeman’s work on a local freight, is Westsider (Grizzly Press, 2004). The title refers to a local out of Portland, Oregon on the SP’s Westside line, and every page has insights into how those jobs were done.  It’s worth finding on-line, used or new.

     I know in the previous post I mentioned Linda Niemann’s book, Boomer (University of California Press, 1990), though I didn't say much about it. But it is as gritty and realistic as story about learning to be a brakeman (or perhaps, brakeperson), even if it is also a rough-edged story about her battle with alcohol and personal self-esteem while working on the railroad. But it’s a great read for the railroad content, even if the other parts may not be to your taste. It’s available in trade paperback.

     I recently re-read Set Up Running (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), a story about  engineman Oscar Orr’s career on the Pennsylvania, and though I’m not particularly a fan of Pennsy steam, it is a vivid and engrossing set of stories. If I had to make any criticism of the book, it’s the son John relating his dad’s stories, so a little second-hand, but the stories are all interesting and informative.
     I should definitely mention Bill Knapke’s classic The Railroad Caboose (Golden West, 1968), though for me the book’s stories of railroad work are badly diluted by an effort to provide a wide-ranging history of cabooses, and lots of examples of odd or unusual caboose uses or experiences. Still, there is good stuff there.

     Last, I have to say it again. Head and shoulders above all the books just listed, and above any others I know, is Ralph Fisher’s Vanishing Markers (Stephen Greene Press, 1976), especially Chapter 8. I showed the dust jacket in the previous post on this topic, so here I’ll show the title page. Just a great book. I don’t know how many times I have re-read Chapter 8 (just did last night for the ump-teenth time), and it’s just as fresh, interesting, and enjoyable every time. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

     Well, these are all books I’ve found instructive as well as fun to read. All are available used from internet booksellers, so are relatively easy to obtain, if you want your own copy. Your local library may have some of them too, and if not, can often get them via inter-library load, so you’re not obliged to buy them. But do try and get a chance to read them.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A wheelset work area

Recently I posted a reflection on the modeling of trucks and wheelsets (at: ). My goal was to create a work area near my roundhouse wheel track (portrayed in the post just cited) for workmen to change out wheelsets or do other needed work on car trucks. The photo below is repeated from that previous post, showing the wheel track at that point in its development, surrounded by dirt.

     There are photographs I’ve seen of work on wheelsets being done with dirt surfaces around the work area, but obviously it would be far easier to roll a 2000-pound wheelset onto or off the rails with a hard surface, such as asphalt or concrete. I decided to make a small concrete pad next to my wheel track. I cut a piece of styrene sheet to an approximate shape to fit alongside the wheel track, then scribed it into rough squares.

The next step is for this styrene piece to be faired into the layout surface contour with paper mache. Here it is, as installed, with a stack of sideframes at left.

     I painted the paper mache area you see above with my usual Rust-Oleum “Nutmeg” ground color, then sprinkled it with real dirt and scenic materials. The pad surface was painted with Floquil Concrete, and dirtied up a bit. As freshly scenicked, it looked like this:

The ties between the rails are to help workmen who need to roll a wheelset off or onto the rails. One could also, of course, just extend the concrete between the rails and even to the far side, if desired.
     Here is the work area as it now exists, with a couple of wheelsets in the picture. Both are Tichy wheelsets, but the one at left has only journals painted silver (a new wheelset, not yet used), with the reddish Tichy plastic darkened a bit with Burnt Umber. The wheelset at right represents one that has been in service, so has wheel treads silver also. Inside faces of wheels, and the axle, are a dirtier color than the new wheelset, and outside faces of wheels are dark, oily dirt, for which something like Grimy Black or equivalent works for me. There are a couple of brake beams on the pad.

     I now need to add workmen, various tools, etc. but for now, the wheelset work area is coming along the way I want it to look.
Tony Thompson