Thursday, May 31, 2018

Still more open-top car loads

I have written several posts about making and using removable loads for open-top cars, both bulk materials like coal, ore and sand, and then also materials like pipe and lumber, that have to be restrained by spacers and stakes. And then there are various kinds of crates and other packages which can be interesting loads. These previous posts are readily found by using the search term “open-top cars” in the search box at right.
     In the present post, I want to show a few more examples of different kinds of these loads. I have mentioned pipe loads in several earlier posts, including showing how I make most of them from drinking straws or coffee stirrers (see, for example, this post: ). I have deliberately arranged these various loads with different kinds of stake restraints, following prototype photos, with some additional guidance from the AAR Loading Rules booklets. (Either I don’t fully understand those rules — certainly possible — or else those rules were not always obeyed). Here is an example of another of these pipe loads, also made from plastic straws.

The gondola, SP 160185, is a Tangent model of SP Class G-70-12 which, having been built in 1953, the year I model, is portrayed as almost clean.
     As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are some good commercial loads that can either be used as-is, or modified to fit particular cars. Shown below is a Chooch molded load depicting coils of wire. It did not fit into this gondola, and had to be cut and trimmed so that it would work. It is seen here in Reading 25034, a re-detailed USRA gondola from Walthers, modeling Reading class GML.

Another example of a commercial load, modified to fit some of my freight cars, is this cable reel set, though I have owned it for so long I no longer remember the manufacturer. Here the gondola, NYC 707698, is again a re-detailed Walthers USRA steel gondola.

     I have shown girder loads before in this blog, and continue to enjoy them as excellent examples of loads the railroads were (in the transition era) uniquely equipped to carry. I have made a couple of such loads by kitbashing Atlas bridge girders, and recently adopted one such load for a 65-foot mill gondola. The bracing is one of the arrangements shown in the AAR Loading Rules. Such a load has no reasonable destination on my layout, but instead moves in mainline trains that simply pass by on the SP Coast Route.

The gondola, a model of PRR Class G26, is built from an E&B Valley kit. You may note that the car’s top chord has some bends and dents, as was common in mill gondolas; these were accomplished with gentle use of a warm soldering iron.
     Sometimes upright girders like the one shown above were more extensively braced. Richard Hendrickson built such a set of bracing for one of his loads that I inherited, as you see below. It is a girder from a Central Valley bridge kit.

This girder was built to be overlength even for a 65-foot gondola, and thus to overhang one end of the car. An idler flat car would be coupled here, of course, during car movement to destination. Richard built two of these girders, so that he could model a group of cars loaded with bridge components (I showed the entire group in a previous post, which is at: .)

This gondola, CRP 89065, is a Precision Scale brass model. The CRP was a Central of New Jersey subsidiary.
     Lastly, I will show a pair of crates, made to ride on a flat car. They are marked for Lucifer Furnaces, a company in Pennsylvania. The flat car is an upgraded Athearn 40-footer, with new Tuttle sill steps, wire grab irons, and a vertical-staff handbrake. You can click to enlarge the image.

     All these loads are part of the variety I like to include in my open-top cars. In the transition era, which I model, there was such a preponderance of house cars that these visible loads make a nice change from the remainder of most trains.
Tony Thompson

Monday, May 28, 2018

Clerks, waybills, and all that: Waybills, Part 62

I have written numerous posts about waybills for model operation, and also a number of posts about how the prototype managed waybills back in the transition era. In the present post, I want to add some interesting information about waybill offices, including the substantial numbers of clerks needed back in the pre-computer age. My examples are for Southern Pacific.
     The traditional yard office operation on most railroads involved lots of pigeon holes for waybills, and groups of clerks passing waybills from hand to hand, both to capture needed information and to re-file them to direct further car movements. Moreover, each group of clerks had a different function. The record-keeping for demurrage was separate from per-diem charges; inbound waybills were handled separately from outbound ones; a clerk was needed to track diversions; manifest or time-sensitive freight was handled separately; specialty movements such as Pacific Fruit Express (PFE) had a separate clerk; and so on. This made a complex paper-handling problem in a large office.

The photo above shows a group of yard clerks, one of the groups just described, working with a large rack of pigeon holes for bills, in the office at Taylor Yard, Los Angeles.
     An interesting change in this process was reported in an article in the early 1950s in the Southern Pacific employee magazine, the SP Bulletin. It was an article about an innovation in the Los Angeles (Taylor) yard office. The innovation was a kind of “Lazy Susan” rotating holder for the bills, in the center of a round table. This allowed clerks to share information and rapidly file bills as they worked shoulder to shoulder, instead of each being at a separate desk. Here is a photo of it:

The most interesting part of this photo is the identifications of the clerks. Given in the caption for this image were the following: Standing, left to right: B.W. Mitchell, superintendent, Los Angeles Division; L. Mayrisch, manager, FPM&SS ( Freight Protection, Merchandise & Station Service); G.J. Matt, terminal superintendent, Los Angeles; and T.F. Marlowe, chief yard clerk. [Note that the three senior management people are wearing their fedoras, an unmistakable sign of SP management in those days.] Seated  around the table, clockwise from front, are: J.C. Girard (arm over chair) and M. Neinbaugh, in-desk clerks (that is, inbound waybills); G. Williams, PFE clerk; F.D. McArthur, photo clerk; L.H. Meyer, H.R. Murdock, and L.W. Altizer, out-desk clerks (that is, outbound waybills); and G.S. Flanagan, assistant chief clerk.
     The article described the operation of the round table as follows. “A revolving drum forms the center of the new table. On it are eight sorter racks which contain the waybills organized by directions. To work an eastbound manifest train, for example, it is only necessary for the outbound clerk to revolve the drum until the eastbound manifest sorter comes around to him. Then he lifts if off the drum and places it on the table in front of him. Then he proceeds to do his work with the proper waybills.”
     But shown in the photo above, of course, is only the staff for the round-table operation. Also part of the office force in this one office was an entire additional group of clerks and other employees, pictured in a separate photo, and again, the identity of the many jobs involved is the real interest. This image, also in the yard office, clearly shows that just about everyone who worked there was pictured, including the janitors.

Here the identifications of individuals are as follows: at the left-hand desks, front to rear, are: G.M. Boyd, assistant service clerk; M.L. Brown, service clerk; P.V. Noller, assistant chief yard clerk; and F. Gifford, per diem clerk. Standing at rear are G. Osborne and P. Boyd, janitors. At the right row of desks, from from to rear, are: H. Smoller, steno-clerk; W.A. Pringle and M.W. Anderson, assistant service clerks; M.R. Heinbaugh, report clerk; and D.K. Farrar, assistant service clerk. Standing, at right, are G.S. Flanagan, assistant chief yard clerk, and (at far rear) T. F. Hayes, train clerk.
     Though I don’t know exactly what all the job titles mean, it is obvious that there were quite a lot of people managing all the paperwork connected with waybills. And a majority of them are wearing dress shirts (probably white) and ties in both photos, another sign of those times.
     We modelers sometimes grumble about handling “paperwork” during layout operation, but I would submit that most of us have little or no conception of what the paperwork was actually like,“back in the day.” This SP Bulletin article offers us just the merest glimpse of the waybill side of railroading in that era.
Tony Thompson

Friday, May 25, 2018

An operating session with clock and timetable

I have occasionally conducted operating sessions on my layout with the use of the prototype timetable, a document included in the timetable offered to layout operators (I showed how this was developed and implemented in one of my columns in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for October 2014 [you can read on-line, or download, this or any issue of MRH at any time, for free, at their website, ], if you are interested.) In the past, I have included that timetable in op sessions by making the layout time the same as “actual” time, in other words, people could use their wristwatches or cell phones to see the time, or else I asked them to use those sources, but to subtract or add some number of hours — that one is really too clunky to believe I tried it — but I did — once.
     However, now that I have a fast clock, as I described in a recent post (it’s at: ), I can simply set the starting time for a session to the time I want. That’s what I did on a weekend earlier this month. One of the days we only had a crew of three, who divided up the work as it seemed best. In the photo below at Shumala, that’s Otis McGee at left, Ray deBlieck at center, and Ed Slintak at right. The latter two are figuring out how to exchange the power on the returning Santa Rosalia local, whereupon Otis will take over switching at Shumala. That’s the fast clock at upper right.

They found the fast clock fit perfectly into the session.
     The next day we had a more normal four-person crew, and ran pretty much the same session, based on the morning hours of the timetable (though “actual time” was afternoon). The starting crew at Ballard with the first Santa Rosalia local comprised Steve Van Meter (left) and Seth Neumann (right).

Meanwhile, the other crew, shown below, comprised Richard Brennan (left) and Jim Radkey (right), who finished their work at Shumala, then took over the second run of the Santa Rosalia local. They are shown figuring out the next move at Ballard.

     I was happy how the clock worked out in directing the work of the session, and it was also fun to be able to operate some mainline trains according to the timetable. For example, here is Train 914, the scheduled morning through freight, passing Shumala, behind Mikado 3251.

     This session worked as I wanted it to, and the “fast” clock, at 1:1, did mesh perfectly with the timetable already on hand. This was yet another step in bringing operation of my layout closer to my overall goals.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Fast clocks, Part 2

Late last year, I posted some comments about fast clocks in model railroad operation, with specifics about my own layout and how it operates, including time issues. I  mentioned that I was leaning toward acquiring such a clock from GML Enterprises, because their product is a physical analog clock, something I wanted to use for my 1953 layout. (That post can be found at: ).
     Although I spent some time pondering whether a conventional “regular” clock would work fine, since I expect that normal time rate, that is, 1:1, would work best on my switching-intensive layout, I did want to try experimenting with a faster rate such as 2:1. I also like the convenience of being able to have the clock begin at the time of day I choose, not at the physical time we actually begin. So I did purchase the GML system.
     The system was easy to install, though I found I had not correctly gotten all the terminal blocks to make good wire contact. Once that was fixed, I was ready to go. I placed a large clock face on the wall above the top of the “T” shape of my layout, so it would be readily visible from anywhere around the layout. To illustrate the visibility, here is Ray deBlieck switching at Shumala on May 12.

Notice, however, that the glossy cover of the clock does reflect a lot of light, somewhat distracting the eye from the clock face itself. But in practice, we are all used to reading clocks, and the reflections did not pose any real problem.
     There is also a control panel, attached to which is the circuitry that drives the clock. I had a place already suitable on the layout fascia, where staging tracks are controlled, so could simply add this GML panel to that area. You can see that. it is a simple set of controls: a “run-hold” switch, and a selector for the desired ratio. The system I chose has ratios of 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, and 6:1. There is also an “extra fast” option at right, to enable moving the clock setting quickly to a desired time. The “1 sec” light at center blinks every second at the time ratio set, so goes faster and faster as you increase the time ratios. You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

     With the ability to start an operating session at any desired time of day, I have several choices, working from the prototype timetable for the Guadalupe Subdivision of the Coast Division in my modeling year of 1953. I can include or avoid first-class trains by choosing a particular starting time, and can include or avoid whichever scheduled through freight trains I wish. I am looking forward to using this clock setup.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 19, 2018

What’s a type foundry?

A type foundry is a place where printing type is cast into molds. Casting of this kind is a typical foundry operation, but because of the low melting temperature, can be done by hand. Type metal classically is lead with added antimony, which makes it much harder and resistant to wear, and usually also some tin. Typically the alloy might be six or seven parts lead to one part antimony, while for very small sizes of type, perhaps only three or four parts lead to one part of antimony, to get still greater hardness and wear resistance. [We metallurgists (ahem) understand this stuff.]
     Foundries doing this kind of casting once abounded throughout Europe and in the U.S., so could I model one? But before thinking about modeling, let’s consider a little history. For centuries after Gutenberg, type and printing changed only slightly, but in the late 19th century, printing by setting of individual pieces of type began to decline. That was because in 1886, the first successful Linotype machine went into use. Invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler, it soon had competition from a similar-concept machine called Monotype. Both could output entire lines of type (thus the name) as a single slug, and were immense labor savers for big-volume typesetting businesses like newspapers and book printers. Within two decades, large printers universally used one of these two slug-setting machines. Smaller printers, especially local job printers, continued to hand-set type from individual pieces of type.
     Meanwhile, the American Type Founders Company was formed in 1892, as an amalgamation of 23 smaller foundries. For the first two years of ATF, all those existing foundries pretty much continued in business, merely using the ATF name, but starting in 1894, a rigorous weeding out of duplicate and inferior typefaces was done, along with closing the smallest and least efficient foundries, in favor of eight regional foundries, chosen from among the original 23. But poor business conditions in the middle 1890s, and the fact that some of the eight chosen survivor foundries were not actually as efficient as desired, led ATF in 1903 to close all but one foundry, their plant at Jersey City, New Jersey, with offices in Boston and Manhattan.  Later their foundry activities were moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey.
     For both ATF and surviving smaller type foundries, it was essential to market new and different type faces, to obtain sales in a declining market. Partly for this reason, in the 1920s emerged a kind of golden age of advertising and promotional printing. Many new and eye-catching typefaces were created, a perfect product for type foundries, because even though type rarely wore out in small job shops, you had to buy the newest faces to keep up with advertising ideas. Thus smaller foundries, along with ATF, thrived in this period. But the Depression greatly changed that, as did World War II, an entire period with far fewer new faces, and less advertising printing.
     Other parts of ATF’s business included the sale of printing presses, along with printer’s supplies, and they offered repairs for printer’s and bookbinder’s equipment. But they, like the few small foundries still operating, were in dire straits by the 1950s. Phototypesetting had emerged as an even faster and more accurate process than Linotype, particularly as offset printing replaced letterpress (type) printing. New typefaces were not always even produced in metal type any more. Only a few stubborn foundries, and a few associated with printing plants, continued in business.
     I wanted to include such a business on my layout, and since an independent foundry was fairly unlikely by my modeling year of 1953, I decided to make it an adjunct to a printing business already on the layout, Caslon Printing. This also simplifies any rail-delivered freight for the foundry, because it would be received by Caslon at their receiving dock. I chose to use a Design Preservation kit, named “Kelly’s Saloon,” as the structure.  Here is that structure, painted but not yet weathered or given signage.

The original sills and lintels here are represented as molded concrete, but because the model represents a non-foreground industry, I have done it as though the painters just painted everything, bricks and concrete, the same color. Note also I boarded up one of the ground floor front windows. Lastly, the various roof appliances are from the Walthers “Roof Details” set (their number 933-3733), though the four little side chimneys are part of the Design Preservation kit.
     For signage, I liked the sign on the Printers’ Row structures from Fos Scale Models, and decided to make one like it. (You can see that kit, now sold out, at this link: .) I also wanted to add a sign identifying the foundry as part of Caslon Printing, right across the railroad tracks behind the foundry. For that, of course, I used the Caslon font. Here is the building with both signs:

     It might be wondered whether this building is too small to house a type foundry. But such foundries can be quite small indeed. For example, at the justly renowned Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium, a former printing company, the type foundry is a single room, dating to the 1620s. Only a couple of small furnaces and some working surfaces are needed for the process of hand-casting individual pieces of type. I visited this room and greatly enjoyed doing so, as I posted some time back (you can see that post at: ). For more on the Museum itself and its remarkable history, you may enjoy the Wikipedia entry (the entry can be found at this link: ). The photo below, from Exeter Working Papers in Book History, shows the Museum’s type foundry room.

In fact, given how little space was needed for the casting work, it is likely that much of any additional space would be used for storage of raw materials and finished type fonts, along with office space, etc.
     So with this understanding of real type foundries, I proceeded with my model. Placed on the layout, my foundry building looks fine in its location at the far end of East Shumala. The tree and billboard are temporary placements, until I decide if another small structure should stand at the street corner (the intersection of Pismo Dunes Road, foreground, and Alder Street). The main building of Caslon Printing is at the rear, across the two spur tracks. (The stock car, stored at the end of one spur, has drifted out into Alder St. but ought not to be there.)

     The idea of having a type foundry as part of my printing business is interesting to me, partly for typographical history reasons, and does serve to generate additional inbound loads of materials for the foundry as part of Caslon Printing. I will see how it works in future operating sessions.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

PFE express reefers, Part 2

In Part 1, I gave some general background of the 50-foot express reefers operated by Pacific Fruit Express (PFE); you can view that post, if you wish, at this link: . In the present post, I want to comment on improving the Walthers reefer, shown in the post just cited, along with some other comments on express cars.
     If one were to set out to “fix” the Walthers model of an express reefer, ice hatch platforms have to be added for any era after the early 1930s. This would involve removing the Walthers ice hatches, and then building new platforms, and replacing the hatches. I haven’t done that to my Walthers model (and may not, as explained below). Here is how it should look, with an Athearn reefer which has been corrected (though not by me). The new platforms are not horizontal but would certainly be more secure to work on than the curved roof.

Note here that the Athearn end has been sanded smooth in the upper part, and boards re-scribed, before a new, curved fascia was applied. This does give the right overall look.
     I said I may not do work like this on the Walthers model I own, at least not any time soon. Why? Because I own some really nice brass ones. some of which I received in exchange for having helped with prototype information prior to the production of the cars.
     Those nice models, done in HO scale brass of the 50-foot express cars, were produced around 30 years ago, by WP Car Corp. Shown below is one of these cars. It has no car number; WP Car included number decals in the box so the owner could choose a number. But no end lettering was supplied. I will add that from Champ sets I have.

The car duplicates the appearance of PFE 50-foot express reefers from 1929 to 1954, and is thus suitable for my 1953 layout.
     In addition to those cars, more recently Challenger Imports also did this car. The Challenger model I have is especially nicely detailed, though its roof is painted the same Dark Olive Green as the sides. Lettering drawings for these cars clearly call out black roofs. That information is in the excellent reference book by Jeff Cauthen and John Signor (Southern Pacific Painting and Lettering Guide: Locomotives and Passenger Cars, SP Historical & Technical Society, Upland, CA, 2013, but notice that that book does not include the black side hardware noted in my previous post (for a citation, see the first paragraph of the present post).
     The Challenger model that I have represents the appearance of these cars after the 1954 rebuilding. There were many improvements, most invisible from outside, but two very visible things did change: the fascia board became very narrow, too narrow to accommodate lettering, and the side lettering was rearranged to resemble the lettering used on freight refrigerators. Here is the Challenger car:

For more on the history of these cars, you may of course consult the PFE book (Thompson, Church and Jones, Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Signature Press, Berkeley and Wilton, 2000). I could always operate this car under a mild, one-year time warp, but have no present plans to do so.
     One reason for the PFE rebuilding is that in the early 1950s, PFE’s fleet of express reefers had deteriorated considerably, and starting in 1954, most began to be rebuilt. As a stopgap, PFE also reassigned 50 freight reefers, 40 feet long, for express use (a bit like what was done in the pre-1920 period!). They chose cars from Class R-40-10, and I’ve discussed those cars, and the modeling of them, in some earlier posts (the first post in the series is here: ). After completing the modeling of the Chrysler trucks used on 25 of the cars, courtesy of Ross Dando’s snubber castings, I showed a finished car (see it at: ).
     An important point for modelers to remember, in planning operation of express reefers, is that a number of owners of such cars placed them in a pool operated by the Railway Express Agency (REA). That meant that cars owned by a particular railroad might roam widely in REA service, and an Atlantic Coast Line car might show up in California, just as a Santa Fe reefer could be seen in Georgia. I described how this pool worked, and showed a table of the contributing railroads, in a prior post (you can see it at: ).
     But since the REA pool cars were only in a cooperative operating agreement, not a lease or sale, the original owners remained responsible for all but minor repairs. That in turn meant that each owner’s cars tended to be operated in its home territory, just for reasonable access to shops. My view of that situation is that I would be reluctant to operate, say, that Atlantic Coast Line express reefer on my California-locale layout, while a Great Northern car would seem more reasonable (both were in the REA pool).
     My own operating sessions, when particular fruit crops are first harvested and thus command high prices justifying use of express reefers, rely on both PFE express cars, and also very importantly on REX cars (REA contributed over 1600 of the 2500 cars in the 1953 express reefer pool). I also use a few other Western roads (Milwaukee, Great Northern; GN had the second biggest non-REA fleet in the REA pool). In addition, I have a very nice brass model of an NP express car and may include that in my fleet one day.
     I enjoy the opportunity to include express reefers in my packing house operations, and am still working to balance my express fleet to my satisfaction. Express reefers are an interesting option for almost any layout in the transition era.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, May 13, 2018

ProRail 2018

I had the opportunity to attend ProRail this year, held in Washington, D.C. over April 27–30, and was also able to join some “preview” sessions before the main event began. All those operating sessions, combined with open-house visits, meant that I saw a total of 13 layouts, and photographed them all. Obviously it is only practical to show a slender slice of all that, so I will just show arbitrarily selected examples, mostly because so many of the layouts were simply excellent.
     One of our preview sessions was Ted Pamperin’s outstanding C&O layout, set in the steam era. I have long respected Ted for the effort he has made toward prototype operations, but the chance to see and operate on his layout was a special treat. Here is just a single view of the scenery technique (the layout is set in November).

     There is a long tradition among some who attend these ProRail events, of attending a professional baseball game in the area if possible. We chose to see the Baltimore Orioles play in their superb Camden Yards ballpark, just a lovely place to watch a game and, perchance, enjoy a ballpark hot dog. You can see that we had terrific seats, arranged by Bob Willer.

    A genuine highlight for me was operating on Paul Dolkos’s layout. I have long admired his work, and had seen his B&M layout on a layout tour, but had neither seen nor operated on the Baltimore Harbor District he is still working on. Among his industries is Esskay Meats, which is still the brand of hot dog sold at Camden Yards! You can understand the trade name, incorporating the owners’ initials, when you recognize that the full name of the owners was Schluderberg and Kurdle.

     I also had the pleasure of operating on both of Bernie Kempinski’s layouts, his Civil War Aquia Line in O scale, and his HO scale Port of Los Angeles, set in 2016. As Bernie observed, when you step from one room to the other, there is a century and half between them. Here is just one of the diorama-quality scenes on the Aquia Line. Bernie had to scratchbuild all the rolling stock, along with buildings, track and scenery.

     During the open  house tour, we were able to visit Lance Mindheim, something I have been wanting to do. His technique using photographs entirely as the basis for modern structures (literally gluing a photo of each building wall to a core) is most effective, as is his weeds, litter and trash. Not every era would have this kind of trash, of course, but on a modern layout it ought to be there.

     Lastly, I had the fine experience of seeing and operating on Mat Thompson’s beautiful Oregon Coast layout. My job was the industrial switching at Tillamook, paired with Ted Pamperin on the other side of town, and under the direction of Phil Monat as yardmaster. That’s Ted at left and Phil at right, with Tillamook Harbor piers in the foreground.

A great job and a great way to wrap up the weekend.
     This was an outstanding ProRail, with terrific layouts and smoothly run events. I enjoyed the opportunity to be there and very much enjoyed a chance to operate on these fine layouts.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Fixing a sag, Part 2

In the first part of this report, I described a distinct sag in a part of the main line trackwork on my layout, a segment of track that had been in place no less than 30 years on a piece of my original layout. (You can read that post at: .) As I summarized in that report, I managed to raise and level the track over the majority of the sag. But further checking showed that I had not actually corrected all of it.
     I showed in that first part my use of a string level to check that both rails of my track were at the same level. That was fine in the track area I showed in that post. But the adjoining road crossing, of Chamisal Road in my layout town of Shumala, was not level in that sense. The rails were level along their long axis, but the rail tops were not level with each other. I had to remove some of the planks in the crossing, and use a small screwdriver to pry up the track until it was level.

As I suppose is obvious, the rails were built slightly above the surface of the crossing and the road, in order that track cleaning can proceed without interfering with the crossing itself.
     In the photo above, the track is not quite level, but reflects the main line profile to the left of this photo. I also had to work a bit to adjust the level off to the right of the photo above, which at the conclusion of the previous work was like this:

This slight out-of-level was opposite to what is present within the road crossing, so it had to be adjusted.
     Whenever work like this is done on a segment of track, there is a danger that the track gauge itself gets altered, either to be wide in gauge, or too narrow. I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of times I have checked track gauge around my layout, but here is one more, using the trusty NMRA Standards Gauge. I would say you cannot work on track without this gauge. (You can buy them on eBay and from a variety of other sources, but I would urge buying them direct from NMRA, which you can do for your scale at this page: .)

     With everything looking good as to level, line and gauge, it was time to try a persnickety locomotive over the track. Years ago, I liked to use a ten-coupled steam locomotive for this task, as one of my Westside engines was very picky about operating over track with the slightest deficiency. This is annoying, of course, in ordinary circumstances, but is quite welcome when checking track. If that engine runs over the track, you can be sure the track is up to standard.
     But today my most picky engine is a Broadway Limited diesel with three-axle trucks. It is a lovely model and runs really well, but simply doesn’t like track that isn’t correctly aligned. So I pulled out that engine and ran it back and forth over the corrected track, both with and without a train, and it ran fine.

     With all these tests passed, this track sag demon can be classified as conquered. There are a couple of lesser sags in a couple of my industrial spurs, so I am not done with this kind of work, but it was nice to get the main line back up to standard. If you have any sags on your layout, these ideas may work for you.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Fixing sags in track

I know that some people, reading this topic title, will think, “Build the track right in the first place, and it won’t develop sags.” They are right. But that isn’t my topic. I’m talking instead about sags that develop over time. Again, I am not talking about soft or poorly supported areas that show sags. I refer to areas built atop the same plywood and Homasote used everywhere else, but nevertheless, a sag has developed in just a few local areas. In my case, these sags have developed in trackage that has been in place for 30 years or so, and as I said, the adjoining trackage is fine.
     That shouldn’t happen, you are thinking, and so was I. But as Jim Providenza has reminded me several times, what “shouldn’t happen” to layout track really does happen.  Jim would probably add, “Get used to it.” But the real point is not why it happened. The problem is, the sags have developed, and short of pulling up the whole area of track and completely re-laying it, what can you do?
     I decided to try ways of lifting the track at the sag. The first idea was to drive something underneath the track and ballast, that would lift it a little, until it came into conformity with adjoining track and was reasonably level. I started with a wedge-shaped tool, the common chisel:

This of course would be abuse of a good chisel, a tool with quite different uses. But this particular chisel is old and worn, so I don’t think I was abusing it beyond its condition.
     This is the area just (railroad) west of Shumala on my layout, and is a good illustration of the problem; the inside track just two inches away, is fine, with no sags. Only the outside track needed fixing. It seemed to me I could wiggle the chisel under the track and raise it.

This kind of worked, but the glued ballast was pretty resistant to hand pressure alone. No problem, we will just use a hammer. (As for the photo, of course you normally hold the chisel with one hand and the hammer with the other, but one of those hands is managing the camera):

This kind of works. It certainly raised the track, but raised it in a way that is not entirely all right; it raised the outside rail quite a bit more than the inside rail. So I went back and used the chisel judiciously on the other side or inside of the offending track, and as expected, it was soon raised enough for the track to have the two rails at a comparable level.
     But of course “comparable” isn’t good enough. I have a small level I use in situations like this, and with its help, shimmed track where necessary to get rails fully level over the whole stretch being repaired. This level is the kind masons use when checking an alignment string (thus the hooks).

     Once I had the track corrected to my satisfaction, the next step was to fill all the voids with ballast and make the track look like the rest of the track in the area. Years ago I mixed a medium gray and dark gray ballast product together to get the kind of variation that real ballast has (it is rarely as uniform a color as a package of model ballast would produce). I use a soft brush to adjust and distribute and contour my ballast.

Once this is complete, my remaining technique is pretty standard. I mist the area with “wet water” until I’m sure it has penetrated, then use an eye dropper with dilute matte medium. I find matte medium superior to white glue for this purpose.
     With these steps complete, the sag is all but gone, track is level both parallel and perpendicular to the rails, and track gauge has been checked throughout. This idea of using a chisel under the track to raise it definitely did work, and I will likely try the same on other sags around the layout.
Tony Thompson

Friday, May 4, 2018

About skylines on backdrops

Recently I happen to have had conversations with several people about simple backdrop techniques, especially the use of highly simplified skylines. I think this is something important to recognize. Let me show a couple of illustrations of what I mean. First, a thoroughly historical example.
     I had an under-layout staging area on my layout in Pittsburgh, PA, and to make it look a little nicer, I painted the track baseboards a kind of ballast gray, and painted all the rails a rusty color. That made the working area look good. The wall behind it seemed awfully plain, so I painted it sky blue. That was better, but still seemed to be missing something. I decided to make a gently undulating sort of skyline, using medium gray paint with a little purple in it, to suggest a line of distant hills. Here is how it looked:

The three black posts supported the layout area above this staging. Although the train on the rear track obscures part of it, you can see the line of “hill profiles” I just mentioned.
     [A few years ago, I wrote a blog post briefly describing the tiered staging arrangement that you see above, though that post is not about the background hill line, but is about the tiers of track in the staging. (The post is at this link: .) At the request of then-editor of Model Railroad Planning (or MRP) Tony Koester, I had written a one-page article for the MRP issue of 1999 about this idea, and that article is available on Google Drive at this link: ]
     What struck me so forcefully at the time was how effective this “hill profile” was. Obviously no actual landscape painting has been achieved here, and certainly no detail can be discerned, because there isn’t any. My guess was that our brains are accustomed to “reading” this kind of dim profile as meaning something far away. Thus we immediately “know” that this simple, undulating gray stripe represents hills or mountains in the distance.
     That was the idea when I needed to paint a skyline on my current layout, depicting the view southward along the Pacific coast at my mythical town of Santa Rosalia (located near the mouth of the Santa Maria River). That skyline is essentially the Casmalia Hills, leading to Point Sal, and having photographed that exact view on a visit (I have blogged about the value of visiting the locale you model, even if your railroad is a non-existent one: ),  I knew my cannery would cover part of it, so didn’t have to complete the painting, but just sketched in the main features I wanted. Without the cannery in place, it looks like this:

In the right edge is part of the marine cloud layer over the ocean.
     But as mentioned, the cannery covers a lot of this skyline, and when it’s in place, the unpainted parts are hidden. But the distant hill line still works in the background.

     Another person needing a simple skyline was Brian Moore in Plymouth, England. Brian models Guadalupe, actually quite close to the location of my Santa Rosalia. (For an illustration of his modeling at an earlier period, you might enjoy watching this YouTube video: ). His layout view is inland, toward hills and mountains of the Coast Range. He chose to make a very simple grayish skyline, as you see here.

Note that he added abut a four-inch strip of green to suggest the fields in fact located east of Guadalupe, and a few trees. Brian says he used ordinary poster paint for this, and the trees are just blobs, but here again, our brain “knows” that these green blobs are distant trees.
     The point I want to make here is that for many backdrops, you don’t need to be an artist to paint it yourself. In fact, an artist’s lovely painting might be a mistake. Remember, it’s a backdrop, meant to support the foreground modeling, not a beautiful scene in itself that distracts attention from the foreground. That’s why simple versions like these work so well.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The problems of Dark Olive Green

There has long been a challenge for modelers of Southern Pacific passenger equipment, and that is to reproduce the color commonly known as “Dark Olive Green” or DOG. The actual SP color drift panel for this, which happens to be Common Standard Color #1, is called “Dark Olive,” and the “green” part is added for clarity. I happen to have one of these drift panels, so can compare various model paints to the SP drift panel.
     Below I show a photo of the drift panel black envelope, and next to it, the drift panel itself, photographed in full sun. You may note the panel is shorter than the envelope length. Some years ago, I cut off a strip to loan to a brass importer (which shall remain unnamed) and never got it back. Nowadays I would not be willing to share information in that way.

I have shown this envelope and its drift panel before, though in that case it was a scanned image, not like the photograph above, taken in sunshine. But the previous post does have some commentary congruent with my present discussion (you can see it at: ). It is in any event obvious how dark this color is, though how dark the image looks to you will depend on how dark your room is right now.
     How can we best match it? There are two parts to any answer. The first part is to find a model paint that matches the drift panel shown above. As it turns out, the military Olive Drab paint colors (in some versions) are very much like the SP color, and so are some versions of Great Northern Empire Builder green. But paints come and go, and some of the paints once recommended for DOG, such as Polly S (Floquil) “Olive Drab,” their no. 500850, FS 33070, is at best hard to find today. The same goes for some of the Badger Modelflex colors, such as their “GN Green,” no. 16-65, though there is a pretty good Modelflex military color, “Olive Drab,” no. 16-96, FS 34097. Of the two, I think the FS 33070 is better.
     (You may ask, what are these “FS” numbers? They are from a set of Federal Standard (thus FS) numbers, strictly from Federal Standard 595C, identifying colors for government procurement. This concept originated in the 1950s for military colors, and does describe a wide variety of U.S. military colors, but now extends to more than 600 colors of all kinds. They do not have official names, just numbers, and the only description is an FS color chip. The entire FS list is now going to be handled by the Society of Automotive Engineers [SAE] as SAE-STD-595, but I understand the numbers will not change. Military modelers regard them as the gold standard.)
     Today we have better alternatives for SP DOG. Both the Star Brand and Tru-color lines now include colors intended to match DOG. The Star paint, STR-29, called “SP/UP/D&RGW Dark Olive,” is quite a good match, and so is the Tru-Color version, their TCP-135, “SP Dark Olive Green.” (Probably most modelers know this by now, but Tru-color paint requires a primer undercoat when applied to a resin model, as it does not stick to resin by itself.)
     I should mention that in this post, I am only discussing a particular paint color, not entire paint schemes. For the latter, there is no better reference that the book by Jeff Cauthen and John Signor (Southern Pacific Painting and Lettering Guide: Locomotives and Passenger Cars, SP Historical & Technical Society, Upland, CA, 2013).
     I am sometimes asked how one should compare model paints, prototype paints, etc. I have airbrushed model paints onto white card or white styrene to serve as something to match to an SP drift panel. I usually match model paints to the SP color drifts in indoor light, since that is where my models will live, but in most cases when I have repeated the experiment outdoors, the indoor good matches remain good, and the less good indoor matches remain inferior.
     I said there were two parts to the answer about matching DOG. The second part has to do with modeling with light levels below daylight levels. However you choose a starting point for a model color (from the discussion above), all these colors are quite dark. Color photos of SP equipment painted DOG usually looks considerably lighter than what that DOG color presents in indoor lighting. Shown below is a Bruce Heard photo, taken at Fresno in July 1958 in full sun. You will note that the car color looks a lot lighter than the drift panel shown at the top of this page, though it is clean and glossy, certainly not badly faded in service.

This photo appears in Volume 1, on coaches and chair cars, from the SPH&TS series, Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, (SPH&TS, Pasadena, 2003) on page 254.
     Modelers have commented on some of my SP passenger car colors, that they seem light. That is true, and entirely deliberate. (for examples, see this post: ). I want my models to look like the Bruce Heard photo above, even though my layout room doesn’t have Fresno-intensity July sunlight in it. Now we enter the realm of what you want to see in a color. I plead guilty to lightening the color of most of my SP passenger equipment, so it looks less like the drift panel and more like the Bruce Heard photo. Of course, as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.
     Shown below is one of my AHM Pullman conversions, discussed in a prior series of posts (you can access them by using the term “Pullman” in the search box at the top right of this blog post). It is a conventional 12-1 (12 sections, 1 drawing room), with air conditioning ducts added and its name, Tuolumne, chosen from the roster of heavyweight sleepers SP purchased from Pullman in 1948.

This color doesn’t really match the Bruce Heard photo above, but it is headed in that direction.
     Incidentally, true Pullman Green is definitely not the same as the SP’s DOG. To my eye, Pullman green is darker and lacks the olive tone, comprising yellows and browns, that is visible in DOG. And as would be expected, paints such as Scalecoat Pullman Green do not match the SP drift panel at all. The point here is that you should not substitute Pullman Green for DOG.
     This particular color discussion, centered on SP’s DOG, can stand for any number of dark prototype colors that we modelers have to “duplicate” in indoor lighting. It’s a value judgement by each of us, not science or engineering, and probably best seen as a question of Art.  As an engineer myself, that seems “wrong” at first, but I have learned to understand and accept it. This is just one more example of a set of modeling paths among which we all have to choose.
Tony Thompson