Tuesday, July 31, 2018

More on road signs

Some time back, I posted a pair of commentaries entitled “Streets, Roads and All That,” covering a number of aspects of modeling streets and roads. This included signage. I began with an overview of street-related topics (see that post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/03/streets-roads-and-all-that.html ), and then went into more detail on the specific subject of railroad grade crossings and the various required signage for them (see this post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2013/03/streets-roads-and-all-that-part-2.html ).
     In the present post, my subject is warning signs (a topic introduced in the first of the two posts cited in the paragraph above), and in particular how road ends are identified in signs. I  mentioned in a recent post that I have on my layout some road endings that are unmarked and without barriers, and that I wanted to correct this.  (That post, including an appropriate photo, is at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2018/07/management-by-walking-around.html .) The first requirement for correcting these omissions is, obviously, signage, so I researched the topic on the internet.
     There are a great many variations on “end of road” signs, including such warnings as  “Not A Through Street” and “No Outlet,” but I wanted something to mark the actual street end, not a warning to motorists entering such a street. Here again, there are a bunch of available legends (the choice here can be up to state highway authorities or in some cases to local jurisdictions as well). Below are a few of the ones I considered using.

     Anyone who does highway design or specification will likely be thinking that there are, after all, national sign standards, but in my modeling year of 1953, this was far less pervasive. Today the guiding document is the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD, though only a minority of states use it even today without modification or extension. The first edition of the MUTCD was in 1935, but widespread federal compliance did not come about until the Interstate highway system was included in the 1961 edition. Warning signs of the type shown above are in the W or “warning” series 14 in the current MUTCD; it observes that local jurisdictions often have variant versions to fit local conditions. (If this subject is interesting to you, feel free to Google a topic like “history of MUTCD” and you will get a great deal more information.)
     Signs like these, of course, are in common use today. One of them that is familiar to me is at the Pier 15 bar and restaurant in San Rafael, California, where a group of friends meets monthly for lunch. Anyone who managed to pass the “End” sign would hit the water!

     Images of signs like the ones shown above, and many, many more, are readily available on the internet, and can be downloaded, then converted down to HO size while increasing resolution so they will print all right. The usual size of yellow warning signs is 24 inches on a side, though larger sizes are used if needed in a particular situation. They are normally placed at least seven feet above the ground.
     I chose different signs for my two road-end situations, matching each to how I perceive each case. For the end of Nipomo Street in my layout town of Ballard (I showed this in the post cited in the second paragraph from the top of the present post) I simply used posts as the barrier, and placed the “End” sign on a pole. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     For the end of Corralitos Lane in my layout town of Santa Rosalia, a street passing between a Richfield bulk oil dealer (at left in the photo below) and the shipping warehouse of the Coastal Citrus Association, I made a barrier with a horizontal board, and attached the “Road Ends” sign to the barrier. Beyond the barrier are the tracks of the SP branch into Santa Rosalia.

     Adding these signs and barriers fulfills one of the visual shortcomings I recognized on my layout, and I’m happy to have corrected the problem. And it was also interesting to have learned more about road signs and sign history!
Tony Thompson

Saturday, July 28, 2018

My latest column in MRH

My turn in the series of “Getting Real” columns in Model Railroad Hobbyist has come around again. There are five of us doing these columns in rotation, and my latest one is in the new August 2018 issue. (Probably most readers of this blog know by now, but if not: you can read on-line, or download any time, for free, any issue of MRH at their website, www.mrhmag.com .)
     I have been researching rail traffic in recent months, and one very important source of traffic, both for loading and unloading freight cars, is the team track. It may not compete with a giant industry for car volume, but steadily hosts a wide variety of car types and loads. Whether in a small town or big city, team tracks are a kind of “universal industry,” with practically any imaginable cargo being loaded or unloaded there. That was the starting point for my column this time.
     What is interesting to me, beyond the “universal industry” aspect, is that sometimes a small freight shed (far, far less significant than a freight house) would be placed at team tracks where some of the cargo handled might need shelter. Of course, if the team track adjoins a depot, that depot can have a freight room and serve the same purpose. But if a depot is not nearby, a shed may serve the purpose.
     My article is based on a couple of small, prototype Southern Pacific sheds, which are shown in the column. My model shed was very simply built from scratch with styrene strip and sheet of various kinds, amply illustrated in the column, and the shed’s loading dock was built in a similar way. The shed was painted the usual SP color scheme of Colonial Yellow, Light Brown, and Moss Green shingle roof, applied to structures used by or readily visible to the public. Here is a view of my model shed, an image that is different from what was used for the column.

You can see that the sliding door is modeled as slightly open This building is only 10 x 12 scale feet.
     In use, a shed like this is simply located conveniently along a segment of team track. Many cargoes may be unloaded or loaded directly between highway trucks and freight cars, but when the cargo needs temporary protection, a shed like this can serve. Here is a view of my completed shed in service at East Shumala on my layout, again a slightly different photo from what I used in MRH.

     This was an interesting though not difficult project. I can now offer better service to shippers and consignees who use the team track at East Shumala.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Adding 40-foot flat cars, Part 2

I began this thread by describing needs of my freight car fleet for additional 40-foot flat cars with fishbelly side sills, such as the USRA flat car design, available in a very nice kit by Red Caboose. This is a straightforward kit, so my assembly of it was not described, except to point out where I deviated from the standard assembly process. You can read that first post at this link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2018/07/adding-some-40-foot-flat-cars.html .
     There are some interesting details to this kit, which offer an opportunity for the modeler to make a variety of changes in its appearance. For example, during the kit assembly, once the stake pockets are installed but before details like grab irons and sill steps are attached, it is worth deciding about a couple of common prototype details that you can add. One of these, that is pretty visible on a flat car, is the brake wheel and staff. We are accustomed to vertical brake staffs, and model flat cars are usually modeled with the brake staff fully extended. But most railroads purchased a drop-staff mechanism for these cars, permitting the brake staff to be dropped down out of the way of long loads.
     Shown below is one example of such a mechanism, this one from Universal Draft Gear Attachment Company. It has a simple locking device which permits the brake staff to be at full height, or for the wheel to be down onto the platform of the flat car, with the shaft still clear of the rail head.

This photo is from the 1928 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia, page 1129.
     This particular drop-shaft arrangement does not have a pocket in the car decking so the wheel can lie flush with the deck top, but the wheel simply rests atop the planking. But a car purchaser could specify that such a pocket be built on the car, if flush placement was desired. For the modeler, it is the work of a few minutes to cut a semi-circular pocket in the end decking.
     It might be noticed by the experienced modeler, that the Red Caboose flat car is designed so the brake staff is near the outside edge of the car end. This was indeed the arrangement on the New York Central flat cars, which are effectively the prototype for this kit. Shown below is a NYC photo of one of the cars of Lot 598-F, when the 300 cars were new in 1930, and the brake staff location is evident.

The photo is a NYC company image, from the John C. LaRue collection, courtesy Richard Hendrickson. (The car was black when built, with an “S” preceding the car number, but by the 1940s both features were gone, and these cars became boxcar red.)
     Most flat cars, however, had the brake gear near the car centerline, as was true on most other freight cars, too. Shown below is an example for a flat car (it happens to be an SP photo of Class F-70-5, and the brake shaft is a drop type). If the railroad you are modeling located its brake gear this way, you may want to modify your Red Caboose kit accordingly. Note also that here the end grab irons are farther from the coupler pocket than on the Red Caboose USRA kit.

I am modeling one New York Central car, for which I will place the brake staff as the kit directs, and one car for Chicago & North Western, for which I will move the staff to the location you see above.
     Freight cars almost always had route card boards. Red Caboose supplies none, perhaps a wise choice, since every railroad seemed to have its own standard location. Prototype photos are your friend in finding out where your model should have these. The NYC cars had them either between the right-hand pair of stake pockets, or between the third and fourth pockets (see photo above). I just used a piece of scale 2 x 6-inch styrene strip.

     Another feature commonly seen but not included in the Red Caboose kit (nor in the USRA design drawings) is end stake pockets. Most railroads specified these for most of the flat cars they purchased or built in home shops. They are readily added by drilling a no. 55 hole, then squaring its shape with a square needle file. It just takes a minute.
     When both the end stake pockets, and also the recess for the dropped brake wheel, are added, you can achieve an appearance like the photo below. And you may recognize that modeling the lowered brake wheel, in addition to being a fairly common prototype sight, also removes the vulnerable tall brake staff from your model. (Note, too, the easily achieved irregular plank ends on the decking.) The lowered brake staff is just visible below the brake wheel. The end grab irons are in the kit location.

     With these details taken care of, I can move on to final decoration of the model. That will be presented in a following post.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Management by walking around

My title for this blog is an old management saying (and not just in industry; a friend who was a petty officer in the Navy said they used it too). But in this post, I’m not addressing that kind of management. Instead, I am going to explain how I use the idea around my layout.
     I always have a short (usually mental) list of layout work that needs to be done. And mostly that’s fine, because as I slowly work through such lists, things do get done. But there is a risk of focusing on a couple of things that happened to have occurred to you, without being systematic about needs. Those “couple of things” may absolutely be needed, but what else are you missing that is lurking out there?
     That’s where the “walking around” part come in. A couple of times a year, I grab a pad of paper or a clipboard, and literally walk around the layout (slowly). Anything needed or desirable or missing or fun that occurs to me gets written down. This is a process just like the classic “brainstorming” directions: any and all ideas that occur to you are to be written down. No ranking of importance, no thinking about how hard or complicated a task might be, just write down all the ideas that pop into your head.
     This of course ought to be a leisurely process, allowing lots of time to look at different features and get ideas about what could be improved or completed, and beyond that, of course, as I said, what’s missing. I make every effort to enjoy one of these walk-arounds. Here I’m “on patrol” with a clipboard at Shumala.

     I often fill a couple of 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper with these ideas. Sometimes I go back around to each one with a clean sheet of paper, and write down more ideas about how a task might get done, or exactly what the desired outcome would be, or whether the task interacts with or has to follow other tasks, and so forth and so on. This fleshes out that first spontaneous list of ideas.
     Often I will take photos (cell phones make this so easy) to make sure I will remember the issue in any particular area. For example, I recently noticed that Cienega Creek in my town of Ballard has had the water surface (made with Gloss Medium) get so dull that the creek looks dry (see below).

This will be easy to fix with another coat of Gloss Medium. As it happens, I have noticed on any number of layout visits that older modeled waterways have become dull and flat on the surface, which certainly changes the look for the worse. I will fix mine.
     Another example is the end of Nipomo Street in Ballard, which has long needed to have one of those “end of street” signs or barriers. I once imagined using the formed sheet steel barriers familiar as guard rails on highways, but realized for my modeling year of 1953, that a plain wooden barrier was more likely, or, in this case where there is an embankment at the end of the street, maybe just a sign. But to illustrate, here is the area I mean, with the street in the center foreground, and you can readily see that something is needed.

     One more example, one that is probably familiar to everyone with a layout more than a couple of years old. It is inescapable that operators’ hands, along with tools, throttles, and paperwork contact the layout in various places, especially at the edges. This is essentially a kind of “wear,” and though one may try to ignore it, looking with a fresh eye shows it immediately. Here’s just one example from my layout, next to the Chamisal Road crossing in Shumala. This was once lush vegetation! (well, kind of). But it needs renewal.

     Usually my next step after writing a list, and (perhaps) taking photos, is to put this material aside, because I know from experience that the ideas will kind of “marinate” in my subconscious, and will gain solidity and detail by the time I come back to them in a few days. I may or may not write down the expanded or “marinated” versions, and in fact the marinating process usually will identify some of the tasks as unnecessary or too complex or not compatible with other tasks. That’s fine, they are easy to cross off the list.
     But most of the ideas usually are indeed worth pursuing, and so I would now try to rank them in terms of importance and urgency. I may also make a list of the various steps that would need to be done to accomplish the tasks of greatest importance. This can lead to a shopping list for the next hobby shop visit, or, failing that, perhaps going on-line to buy what I need — I always try to support hobby shops when I can. (Or someday that hobby shop won’t be there.)
     My final result is usually a three-part list: short-term projects, many of which can be done in an hour or so; medium-term projects, where there may be several hours needed  or some preliminary work has to be done first; and a long-term list, mostly fairly big projects or ones which I am not sure yet how to do. Of course, figuring out how to do one of the latter may move it higher in the list.
     I will confess that one of these “walking around” exercises tends to happen when a layout-oriented event is upcoming, such as a regional NMRA convention where there will be open houses and sign-up operating sessions, and I want the layout to be at its best for that. But I have noticed that if the layout feels a little stale, motivation to work on it is low, other things seem to intervene, then a walking-around exercise often gets me interested again in making more progress.  And inspiration, of course, is how you get from benchwork to trackwork to scenery to operating.
     It works for me. If you ever feel “out of sync” with your layout, you might give it a try. I’d bet you will find a pretty good list of things large and small that would repay some work sessions.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Operating July 13 and 15

With some experience relating to a “fast clock” (though I have been running it at 1:1) and broadened use of mainline trains during an operating session, I set up two sessions recently, for July 13 in the evening, and on the afternoon of July 15. These newer sessions have the same foundation of switching work as I have been using on this layout for some years, but I am trying to add in some trains on the Southern Pacific’s main line on the layout, the Coast Route south of San Luis Obispo.
     These sessions ran smoothly. I was able to include a number of freight cars that had not been previously used in operating sessions. Some of them were subjected to the “rookie test” as I described recently (see that post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2018/07/the-rookie-test.html ). There were also some variations in waybills and switching patterns, partly just so operators would experience variety, but also so I could see how alternative patterns would work.
     On the 13th, I did have a late dropout from one operator who had signed up, and I wasn’t able to find a replacement. We then operated with three. As usual, each crew started on one side of the layout, did the work there, then switched to the opposite and did a second round of work on that side. One of the crews was Ray deBlieck (at left below) and Ed Slintak; in this view at Shumala, Ed is the conductor, and Ray is the engineer.

The Guadalupe local is in town, and Ed is just exchanging blocks of cars with it. (The local switch engine has to do this, as the road crew is limited by union agreement to making one cut and one joint only.)
     Meanwhile, Seth Neumann was dealing with the Ballard switching, and as usual, handling it smoothly and on time. And speaking of time, there’s the clock I mentioned, up on the wall in the distance. This allows accurate use of the timetable, which in turn is closely based on the SP prototype document for September 1953. I talked about development and use of my timetable in an article in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for October 2014. (You can read it online, or download at any time, for free, at their wibsite, which is at: www.mrhmag.com .)

     I made a couple of small changes to the session plan before the Sunday session, and they seemed to make things run a little more smoothly. As an example, two through freights (trains 913 and 916) were operated. Shown below is No. 913, with a large girder load in the Pennsylvania mill gondola (this load was shown and described in a prior post, which can be found at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2018/05/still-more-open-top-car-loads.html ).

     Sunday we operated with a full crew of four, all experienced operators. One crew was Dave Connery and Ray Freeman (seen, respectively, at left and right below), who did the second part of the session at Ballard, as shown here. Ray is the engineer and Dave is the conductor.

     Meanwhile, the other crew was cleaning up all the switching at Shumala on the other side of the layout. The photo below shows Earl Girbovan (left) and Clif Linton doing the work. Clif has the throttle and so must be the engineer in this segment. (Crews often switch off between engineer and conductor duties, so that both operators get to do both jobs, one on each side of the layout.)

     The changes for this session worked well, and I certainly regard them as advancements in the way the layout has been operated. Next time I can reach for still more refinements!
Tony Thompson

Monday, July 16, 2018

Trackwork wars, Part 2

In previous posts, I have commented in several cases about the issues and challenges of maintaining trackwork on an older layout like mine, the earliest of which posts was about a track realignment problem (that post is available at the following link: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2016/09/trackwork-wars.html ). There were also a couple of posts about developing a technique to remedy sags in track, some of which have developed on my layout over time (see that post at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2018/05/fixing-sag-part-2.html ). But the present post is strictly about track gauge.
     Parts of my layout are decades old, though other parts are less than a year old. It might be deduced that any track issues in the older parts would have been dealt with long ago, whereas the newer areas might contain undiscovered gremlins. Well, in fact, some of those new gremlins do surface from time to time, but surprisingly (to me, anyway), there are also variations in track gauge in older parts of the layout.
     These problems are primarily in turnouts. Much of my layout was built with Shinohara turnouts, and for the most part these have been dependable (a few exceptions have been rebuilt to use Frog Juicers, as related in previous posts: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2016/12/electrical-wars-part-12-new-turnout.html ). In the earlier days of the layout, there were no commercial No. 5 turnouts, so I purchased the “kit” turnouts sold by Russ Simpson. These are gorgeous turnouts in Code 70 rail, all of which I laid with individual wood ties, and not one has ever given any trouble. More recently I have installed some Peco turnouts, and generally speaking, I like these and recommend them to others. But: some of them are showing track gauge problems.
     I check, as I have always done, any new turnout before installing it, for accurate gauge. This habit was developed 30 years ago, when a small proportion of Shinohara turnouts would regularly happen to be tight in gauge. These were pretty hard to fix, so I simply discarded the bad ones and bought new ones. The point here is that I developed the habit to check, and even with my new Peco turnouts, I still carefully checked track gauge throughout before installation.
     A couple of them must have shrinking ties or shrinking support underneath, or something, because they gradually have gotten tight in gauge, usually in the frog area. Once that happened, I used a flat file to carefully remove material on the inside of the offending rails, and restored the gauge. But recently two of them are again tight in gauge. I can only think that ties are still shrinking. I doubt it’s the support structure shrinking, because other track in the area remains fine.
     Of course, fixing the problem is fairly simple. First, make sure to identify exactly where the tight gauge exists. Here I’m checking near the frog, with my old Mark II NMRA gauge.

Next I check along the track to the end of the Peco turnout, same gauge, same method.

Having found an area about half an inch long that is a little tight in gauge, I bring out a flat file and grind off a little material, re-check the gauge until it is all okay.

     I should not leave the impression that there is anything wrong with Peco turnouts, as practically all of the ones I have on the layout do work fine. Nor should I leave the impression that problems don’t happen with other turnouts. As I mentioned above, I have had to rebuild four Shinohara turnouts due to inadequate electrical performance, though there are probably 20 other Shinoharas on the layout that are fine. It is only my Simpson No. 5 switches that have been utterly problem free.
     I continue to feel surprise that this turnout gauge problem is cropping up, and it seems to require vigilance to keep it under control, but both the check and the fix are easy, so not a real burden. And of course the reward is that operation in this area now works fine.
Tony Thompson

Friday, July 13, 2018

The “rookie test”

I was recently reminded of something that I had first done years ago, when I and my layout lived in Pittsburgh, PA, and sometimes visiting operators would bring equipment to include in an operating session. Essentially, all I did was tell them that the cars had to meet my operating standards (I have described my operating standards in some previous posts, particularly in this one: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2011/03/model-freight-car-standards.html ), but I called my test a “rookie test,” with their car(s) as the rookie(s) in question. I will return in a moment to what that test involved, but first let me explain what brings it to mind now.
     I hate to mention it, but my very good friend, the late Richard Hendrickson, for all his considerable skills in researching and building model freight cars, did not actually operate them, as the layout he was building never reached operational status. The cars lived in display cases, so there was no need to think about operation. But when he came to Pittsburgh in 1989 as part of a trip to attend an RPM meet in Troy, New York, he brought along a bunch of his freight cars so they could run on my layout. In addition, he had planned to photograph them on my layout, and the photos would be used in one of editor Bob Schleicher’s “Prototype Modeling” features in the then-thriving Railmodel Journal magazine. (It was published in the issue for January 1990, pages 10-13).
     All that was fine, and I was flattered to have my layout as the setting. But as they came from the carrying case, the cars were inoperable. First, most had truck screws turned down tight. This kept trucks aligned with the long axis of the car, making them easy to take out or put into Richard’s display cases. But of course cars like that can’t operate on any but dead straight track. Second, couplers had been painted a lovely rust color, but the paint in many cases had glued the knuckles shut. And third, most trip pins on his Kadee couplers were far too low, and would hit road crossings or even high ties on my layout.
     I trotted out the “rookie test” system, and most of the cars were quickly corrected and put into operation, as indeed was usually the case with other visiting operators’ cars. But what brought this to mind? I inherited most of Richard’s freight car fleet, and there are still a few entering operation on my layout for the first time. I most certainly do exercise the rookie test on each one, to make sure it can run all right.
     All right, so what’s the rookie test? First, it involves checking coupler height. This mostly means the coupler head is at the same height above the rails as the Kadee coupler gauge.

When this test isn’t met, it may mean adding a truck washer to increase coupler height, or perhaps some material removal on the body bolster or truck bolster to decrease height.
     But also it should mean checking the trip pin height. This height really only has to be sufficient to be above the rail head in most situations, but the shelf at the bottom of the Kadee gauge allows one to be conservative and set the trip pins a bit higher than the rail head. I usually do this.

     Third, and very important, couplers must swivel freely and the knuckles must freely open, and then spring back closed when released after opening. This is where paint is the culprit, as it gets into the mechanism and prevents the coupler spring from doing its job. This is not always an easy fault to fix, but touching a brush wet with paint thinner to the knuckle area usually works.

     Last, I check truck swing. The truck should rotate freely and be capable of wide swings. It’s easy to correct if loosening the truck screw fixes it. Of course that may not always be true, as with the brass car seen below, where shortening the spring on the truck screw may be necessary.

     As I said above, I still use the rookie test on any car not recently operated on the layout, just to make sure. Most of my cars today are fine, but I still like to check. And I still double-check any of my Richard Hendrickson cars!
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SP’s whaleback tenders

Southern Pacific steam power had many distinctive features, some of which (like the cab-forward articulated locomotives) were so distinctive as to practically constitute signature power of the railroad. Lesser power often exhibited features different from other railroads, too. The one I am writing about today is the so-called “whaleback” tender. This was called a “semi-cylindrical” tender, classed as SC types by SP, and that is a good description of these half-cylinder shapes.
     Many of the larger SC tenders were built for cab-forwards, and in later years, as some of the older cab-forwards went to scrap, were re-purposed for other locomotives. But there was a smaller class of 7300-gallon tenders that were built new by Baldwin for Consolidations in 1903. These continued in service on a range of smaller steam power in the late steam era.
     The diagram for these tenders is shown below. Dimensions are identified but details such as handrails and appliances are not. This is intended to be just the basic car. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

     Photographs of these tenders in later years show a range of modifications that had happened over their lives. This is of particular interest to me, because I have chosen to model steam power that was assigned at San Luis Obispo toward the end of the steam era. That’s because my layout’s mythical SP branch, the Santa Rosalia Branch, would have used power from San Luis.
     For a number of years, there was a Consolidation assigned there, SP 2592, with one of these 73-SC tenders. It’s shown below in a Rod Crossley photo from January 1954, after my modeling era.

The tender appearance and lettering of my model were matched to this photo, as you see here with the engine switching in my layout’s town of Shumala. Note that my model is fairly heavily weathered, to look like the prototype SP 2592 shown above.

The road  name on the tender is the 9-inch lettering specified for smaller tenders after 1945, as shown in the reference book, Southern Pacific Painting and Lettering Guide (Locomotives and Passenger Cars), by Jeff Cauthen and John Signor, SP Historical & Technical Society, Upland, CA, 2013.
     Most of the 2500-series SP locomotives were Class C-9, one of the larger SP locomotive classes (221 engines, all from the Harriman era; UP had an additional 291 of the C-9 design). The series 2513–2599, 86 engines, were built in 1906-07. A previous group of 47 C-9 locomotives, in the series 2752–2799, had been built in 1905-06, and 26 more arrived in the numbers above 2800 in 1907. They were delivered with both rectangular and Vanderbilt tenders, but like many SP engines, swapped tenders frequently through their lives. Both my model C-9s with 73-SC tenders are in the 2500 number series.
     The photo above shows relatively small 9-inch tender lettering of the road name, but some of the whaleback tenders were given the post-1946 larger lettering, either 12 inches or 15 inches high. Shown below is a Francis Smith photo at Bakersfield in 1950, with Class C-2 Consolidation 2601 as the power, and the tender has the 15-inch road name.

     My second model with this tender type has the larger lettering, and I like the variety. This engine remains freshly painted, and still needs some weathering, though not necessarily as much as SP 2592. It is shown on the turntable at Shumala on my layout, with an SP tank car in the background delivering another load of Bunker C locomotive fuel.

     These tenders make an interesting contrast to the otherwise-ubiquitous Vanderbilt tenders of so much SP steam, and I enjoy having them on my layout. It’s an added bonus that I know at least one such tender was active at San Luis Obispo in the period I model.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The 100th MRH

For the 100th issue of the on-line magazine, Model Railroad Hobbyist (which was the issue for June 2018), editor Joe Fugate came up with the idea that the whole roster of the “Getting Real” column should each offer a short contribution. Normally the five (or sometimes four) of us submit columns in rotation, and that is how they ordinarily appear in the magazine, but for this special issue, we all contributed. (For those who don’t know, you can read on-line, or download for free, at any time, any issue of MRH via their website, www.mrhmag.com .)
     We were all asked by Joe to comment on the following three aspects of our own prototype modeling, and I quote:

“1. You didn't start out a prototype modeler from day one in the hobby I suspect. How did you start out in the hobby and when did the ah-ha moment come for you that led to you being a prototype modeler? What sparked you to choose this route for your modeling?
2. Things almost never go exactly as planned. Tell us how it has gone – what do you really like about prototype modeling, and what hasn't gone like you expected? Any nasty surprises along the way? Any pleasant unexpected windfalls?
3. Any horror stories? Epic fails? Have you done any total re-dos? And also find the silver lining if you can and tell us about that.
     This may be a lot to cover in 800–1200 words, so you will need to be fairly brief. If at all possible, pick things to write about that can be illustrated from your photo collection or with a diagram.”

     As you would see by reading each of our contributions, we all had quite different “takes” on the assignment, along with fairly different backgrounds and trajectories through modeling. My own comments would likely sound generally familiar to anyone who reads much of this blog.
     One image I decided to use in the article was a new one, taken to show Willow Lake Road in my layout town of Santa Rosalia. The town is at the mouth of the Santa Maria River, and has a practically perpetual marine cloud (or fog) layer out over the Pacific.  I enjoyed building an SP CS 22 depot from the American Model Builders kit, and one end of the depot is alongside the road, right across from the Harbormaster’s trailer office. (Both structures have been discussed in prior blog posts; the depot was described in a series of posts, ending with: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2015/05/sp-depot-santa-rosalia-part-4.html , whereas preparation of the trailer office was described in this one: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/05/house-trailers.html .)

In this view, the rails in the foreground are almost at the end of the branch.
     The “assignment” we were all given was a thought-provoking one, and I enjoyed the chance to look back and reflect on how I’ve gotten to where I am today, with prototype modeling. As my essay explains, I have for some years aimed at layout operation that is both prototypically accurate and also interesting for visiting operators. I think I’m getting there.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Adding some 40-foot flat cars

In surveying my fleet of flat cars for service on the layout, I noted that the great majority of them are 50 or more scale feet long. For my modeling year of 1953, that’s actually quite appropriate, as flat cars of that length had become pretty standard in American railroading after 1930. But not only did a fair number of older, 40-foot cars survive into the 1950s, modest numbers of them were even built new in the 1940s and 1950s to serve specific needs. My cars of 40-foot size are mostly Athearn “Blue Box” cars, suitably upgraded and re-detailed (for example, to replace the quite unusual vertical-wheel handbrake on the Athearn model).
     More modern models, of higher quality, are clearly needed in this situation. One option, of course, for a Southern Pacific modeler like me, is the recent Owl Mountain kit for a Harriman flat car. As I wrote in an earlier post, it is a superb model and a pleasure to put together (that post is at: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/09/building-owl-mountain-flat-car.html ). The Tichy flat  car kit also makes up into a very nice model, and I have a group of those, too. But both of these are straight-side designs, and there were other kinds of flat cars than these.
     I decided to burrow into my stash of freight car kits of the “some day” variety, where I was pretty sure I had one or more Red Caboose 42-foot flat car kits. These are intended to represent the USRA flat car design, which though never built under any USRA contracts, had been adopted by the USRA standards committee as a consensus design. In the post-USRA period, a number of railroads purchased cars to this design, making it a good choice for a manufacturer to be able to offer multiple lettering schemes.
     Mention is made of this and other USRA standard designs that were not built by the USRA, in the authoritative article by James E. Lane (“USRA Freight Cars: An Experiment in Standardization,” Railroad History (The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society), No. 128, pp. 5–33, 1973). A drawing for the USRA flat car design was included in the 1919 volume of the Car Builders’ Cyclopedia, page 998. A comprehensive article about the railroads which purchased cars to this design (or very close to it) was written by Richard Hendrickson and published in Railmodel Journal (“USRA-Design 42-foot Flat Cars,” Vol. 8, No. 8, pp. 53–59, January 1997). The article includes an extensive roster of roads that owned these cars.
     Assembly of the Red Caboose kit is straightforward and I won’t describe any of the normal process. However, I did make a few detours which may be of interest. One important item is to add to the weight. The kit weight is a very thin strip of steel sheet, and adding more weight needs to be done. I will return to that in a moment.
     Shown below are two kits in progress, the one at left with underrframe being glued to the weight, the one at right with the center deck being added, both models clamped with reversed clothes pins, a type of clamp I use all the time. Note I am leaving space for additional weight by removing underbody detail.

     Weight is a significant issue with these kits if you plan to operate flat cars that are empty (thus not taking advantage of the weight of an applied load). With a fully assembled kit of this length, the NMRA recommended weight would be 4 ounces. But this kit, with its thin steel weight, is actually below 2 ounces. I added one ounce with A-Line lead weights, though these have to be cut to fit into the center of the underbody. I then added additional weight with lead sheet to bring the weight closer to 4 ounces.

Note at the left edge of the added weights that I  made a pencil line where the limit of truck swing would be. This ensured I would not put weights into that area. My added weight is just under 2 ounces, bringing me into the range of the NMRA recommended weight for this car.
     (Incidentally, lead sheet is easy to buy. My sheet of 0.062-inch thick sheet, a piece 6 x 12 inches, is from Small Parts Inc., their item no. SPB-062-B. I usually cut it with side cutters. If it isn’t quite flat, you can flatten with your fingers or use a small mallet. Likewise if a piece is too wide or too long, just hammer gently and “forge” it to the right shape. It’s very soft. And do wash your hands after handling it.)
    Another important point, at least to me, is to make the deck of the car look like it has been in use. Flat car decks are subject to extensive abuse, with spikes driven into them, holes drilled for bolted hold-downs, heavy loads or loading equipment skidded or dragged over them, and all kinds of tools used to secure loads or to release load securement. In addition, of course, a flat car deck is always out in the rain and sun and industrial dirt of the world. Most models are delivered with decks painted body color, which practically no railroad ever did, so that has to be superseded, along with distressing and weathering the “wood” represented on the deck.
     I scratch and gouge the plastic deck, drag the corner of a single-edge razor blade along some board joints to widen them, nick the ends of some boards, and use 100-grit abrasive paper, dragged parallel to the long direction of the boards, to make the surface rough. (These techniques, and more, are all described in Richard Hendrickson’s Railmodel Journal article, cited above in the fourth paragraph of the present post.) This will eventually be painted to represent well-weathered wood, bur for now, here is how it looked on one of the cars:

     The rest of car kit assembly went smoothly.I will confess it is fairly tedious placing all the stake pockets on these models, but if you take the advice in the directions, to clear out all the locating holes with a #75 drill before starting the attachments, it actually goes smoothly. I will return to some finishing points in a following post.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thoughts on black

By “black” I mean the color black. It comes into modeling in a variety of ways. Most modelers know that objects that are black in the prototype ought not to be painted pure black as models, because it is just too severe. Instead, we use “warm black” or “grimy black” or some other modified color so that we can see the details on the model, rather than have them swallowed up by pure, dead black.
     But there are other places that the color black might show up in modeling, outside of models of such things as rolling stock. These include things outside the layout itself, such as fascia, support legs, and drapes. Here we actually want the effect I just mentioned avoiding with models, namely for everything about the object to be swallowed up by the deadness of black. As many know, this is an old theatrical technique, used for stage props, background areas the audience ought not to notice, and even something like a stool that a single actor might perch upon, but wants attention on him or herself, not on the stool. Dead black, especially flat black, magically makes these things invisible.
     Having hung around with theater people a little bit when I was at Carnegie Mellon University, with its renowned drama program, I was familiar with this trick. So when I was first going to have an open house for my layout in Pittsburgh, I thought of painting the legs and braces under the layout, making them all flat black. I was surprised, though, how powerful this effect is. Suddenly you simply can’t make your brain take notice that there are legs under the layout. Of course, being black, they are visible, but some odd spot in our brains refuses to notice stuff that is dead black.
     Shown below is one example of my old layout legs, black as stated. All around you can see some of the storage containers, wiring, etc. underneath the layout, which I would prefer to hide. But the black legs really did disappear, when these legs were exposed under the old layout. The inner parts of the leg unit, which weren’t visible from the aisle, weren’t painted.

     The same dramatic impact of black applies, of course, when drapes or other coverings are applied under the layout. Most of us do store “stuff” under the layout, and not only do drapes hide it, but if they are black, they fall below our level of notice. My wife was kind enough to make me a set of black cloth drapes, all attached with Velcro so as to be easy to remove or attach, and these are most effective. Here is the same area shown above, but now covered by a drape. This is just cotton cloth.

The difference in appearance is dramatic, and certainly much preferable. It’s nice if legs can be made to disappear, but even better if the entire under-layout area can be made to disappear.
     But what about the fascia? Some modelers have chosen to make the fascia black also, for the exact same reasons. Personally, though, I don’t agree with that idea. Black is awfully stark when adjoining the layout surface, and if anything, calls attention to itself. Something less stark looks better to me.
     I think a fascia ought to be clearly distinct from the layout surface — after all, it is kind of a vertical cut through the world, located at the edge of what we have modeled. To me, it shouldn’t look like part of that world. Black at least meets that criterion, though perhaps too strongly. At the other extreme are choices like green, blending with the green vegetation on the layout, or California golden-grass tan on a California layout. These seem to me to be extending the “layout world” down over the edge, and to me, that looks a little funny.
     Colors like those greens or tans also may fall into another category, the “designer” look. I recall visiting a layout (which I won’t identify) that had a dark blue fascia. It was in a basement where part of the room area was a family room with window curtains of the same blue, so it made the layout look nicer as part of the room, but looked very odd as a component of the layout. Various other colors of this kind, which may be handsome colors but call attention to themselves, seem to me bad choices.
     Then there are what I call “neutral” fascia treatments. These are choices that don’t call attention to themselves, but tend to fade into the background of the room, rather than blending with or strongly contrasting with, the surface of the layout. I have seen a fascia that was a warm, dark gray, and it looked fine. Another choice, which happens to be mine, is to use tempered Masonite and leave it natural in color (though I give it a coat of shellac). Some fascias I have seen are probably made out of Masonite, but are then painted a color very similar to that of natural tempered Masonite. I guess because it’s a natural color, it comes across as neutral.
     Just to illustrate my own choices, the area near what was shown in the photo above does depict the fascia (this happens to be a large expanse of it). The drape below it tends to disappear from view, of course, since it’s black,

     These are, of course, personal choices, and I would never assert that there are “right” or “wrong” answers for these choices. The foregoing commentary just represents my own thoughts on the topic, and whether or not you agree with me, I hope you too find it worth thinking about.
Tony Thompson