Saturday, December 29, 2018

Roco flat car, Part 4: military loads

The U.S. Army had transported military vehicles on railroad-owned flat cars for years, though at times the availability of suitable cars did strain logistics for the Army. This came to a head in the Korean War, especially in the early phase when tanks and other kinds of equipment were being frantically moved to ports of embarkation and off to Korea. This led the Department of Defense to build 800 flat cars, all from Magor, in 1953. Of these, 650 were 100-ton cars with Buckeye trucks, the prototype for the Roco model (usually sold by AHM, Associated Hobby Manufacturers, in the U.S.). Upgrading one of these cars was my previous thread (see the immediate prior post at: ).
     This post introduces the subject of military vehicle loads for these flat cars. Given the heavy-duty implication of the 100-ton flat car capacity, the vehicles that come to mind first are tanks. This in turn raises the question of what tank models were in service in 1953, the year I model, and how to model them.
     I recognize that this isn’t model railroading in the usual sense, but one can address it, because there does exist a considerable literature about armor and military equipment in general. I turned to those kinds of sources to find out what would be likely loads in my era. Let me hasten to say that I don’t wish to be, or even to appear to be, an armor modeler. I just want to get the broad outlines of prototype practice correct.
     The mainstay of American armor in World War II was the M4 Sherman tank. These were produced in huge numbers, and after the war, though a great many were scrapped, a substantial number were refurbished. They were assigned to occupation forces in Europe and Japan, were given or sold to a long list of Allied military forces, and were retained for training in the U.S. [There are numerous reference books about the Sherman, but the most useful one for me is Michael Green’s book, M4 Sherman (Motorbooks, Osceola, WI, 1993), because it contains extensive coverage of the post-war use of these tanks.] So the Sherman is one kind of armor load I can use.
     At the very end of World War II, American armor development had created two new tanks, both of which barely served in that war, but were mainstays of postwar armor fleets. One was the M24 Chaffee light tank, the other was the M26 Pershing medium tank. The M26 essentially used the existing Sherman engine and transmission design, both of which were less than ideal for a heavier tank, and postwar development provided better versions of both. When retrofitted, these tanks were reclassified as M46. The Korean war saw both old M26 and refitted M46 tanks in service, along with the M24.
     But the M46 was still underpowered and had a cramped turret, and during the Korean conflict, the Army mated a newly developed turret onto an improved M46 hull to form the M47 Patton tank. Though this tank never entered service before the end of the Korean war, it became the standard U.S. medium tank thereafter. [I relied on Steven J. Zaloga’s informative book, The M47 and M48 Patton Tanks (Osprey Publishing, London, 1980) for background, including the M26–M46 details.] So for my 1953 era, the M47 would be among the armor species that would be appropriate as railroad loads on my layout.
     There have been, over the years, an immense number of World War II and subsequent-period armor models produced in HO scale by Roco (more recently, under the Herpa name). Unfortunately, they have never done the M46, but they have done different Sherman versions as well as an M47.
     Recently, the Walthers “SceneMaster” line has included a World War II-era tank destroyer, the M36. This was essentially a Sherman chassis with a 90-mm gun that could readily take on any of the late-war German tanks, unlike the undergunned Shermans. It was used in Korea also, both as a tank destroyer and as mobile artillery. [A helpful reference on all the armor used in Korea is Simon Dunstan’s book, Armour of the Korean War 1950–1953 (Ospey Publishing, London, 1982), with considerable detail.] So this vehicle can be added to the possible armor loads for my Roco flat car.
     Shown below are two examples of models, the Roco Sherman (left) and the SceneMaster M36 (right). The open-top fighting compartment of the M36 is evident.

Though not identified as such on the model packaging, the Sherman appears to be the M3A4 variant, with the mostly welded hull and what looks like the retrofitted 76 mm main gun. (Neither gun has a muzzle brake, as most or all would have had by the 1950s.) I will comment on other HO scale armor models in a subsequent post.
     There are two important things to note about the models shown above. First, they are glossy (evidently as-molded styrene), and this would certainly be inappropriate for armor in combat situations, but armored vehicles in the U.S. often had glossy paint. So one can choose glossy or flat finishes.
     Second, they are completely unmarked and unlettered. I have seen extremely few tank photos, even for very muddy and grimy tanks on the battlefield, in which the vehicle does not exhibit some lettering. So these really call out to be lettered. As it happens, Microscale makes an HO-scale decal set for U.S. military vehicles, including armor, “Mini-cal” set MC-4279. This is not a great set, and does not readily do multiple vehicles, but is at least a starting point.
     Shown below is a restored Sherman (internet photo), not the same variant as the Roco model, but it does show a simplified 1940s paint scheme, and this was carried over in several cases into the Korean War and the 1950s. In combat, the large white stars were often overpainted or muddied, lest they provide a convenient aiming point for enemy anti-tank efforts, but in Stateside training or arsenal situations, the stars are usually prominent. The muzzle brake is very evident in this view.

The vehicle serial number is just visible at the left rear of the hull, with unit designations on the front lower hull. Any other lettering, unit insignia, or cartoons, though frequently seen on combat vehicles, was less likely in a training environment. This Sherman also has the wide track used in later years, while the Roco model has the original type of  narrow track.
     I plan to use something along the lines of the above photo as a basis to use the Microscale set, to letter these (and other) military vehicles. I will postpone that description, along with flat-car loading diagrams for these vehicles, to a future post.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Upgrading a Roco flat car, Part 3

My previous post about this flat car showed completion of re-detail requirements, as well as replacement of the original Roco trucks with correctly-sized Buckeye trucks (you can read the post about all that at this link: ). Now to finish the model, I am going to re-letter it.
     As I stated in the previous post, the original Roco lettering was not of good quality, nor did it match the as-built lettering on these cars. I decided to replace it with the Mt. Vernon Shops decals mentioned in the previous post. I tried to remove the lettering with isopropyl alcohol, but that didn’t work. Next, some old Scalecoat stripper did get it off neatly. This left bare plastic. Sometimes decals can be applied well to such a surface, but I prefer to put a coat of gloss on first. I used an old rattle can of Testor’s gloss. As with any rattle can, direct the first spray onto a discardable surface, as any spurts or “blorts” from the nozzle usually happen at the beginning. I had no problems.

     Now for the goal. I have seen several prototype photos of these flat cars, but all in later years. I was pleased that the decal set from Mt. Vernon Shops contained a prototype photo of the original lettering. Here is that photo (you can click to enlarge the image if you like):

Note the prominent Transportation Corps emblem at car center.
     The Mt. Vernon Shops decals for this car are very good quality, with crisp lettering and provided with a range of car numbers and reweigh dates. I would also like to mention that if you purchase these decals on line, the service is very prompt, always a pleasure to discover (their website, again, is here: ).
     These cars were built by Magor in the spring of 1953. I chose a car number in the earlier part of the 650-car class so I could use the earlier NEW date of 4-53, with this result:

This is quite an improvement over the quality of the Roco lettering, and also backdates it to its new-car condition, with the Transportation Corps emblem.
     The car now needed the paint color on the deck repaired. I do love weathering flat car decks, and have written about my method of doing so (you can read a summary at the following link; just scroll down to the flat cars: ). But in my modeling year of 1953, this car is either brand-new or close to new, so instead I need to create the appearance of a nearly new wooden deck.
     I began with painting over the deck inserts and previous glue scars. I wanted to use a paint similar to but hopefully not identical to the factory paint, to get some variation in the deck along its length. By the 1950s, pressure-treated wood was pretty standard for flat car and gondola flooring, so a natural wood color is appropriate. I mixed two Tamiya paints, XF-59, “Desert Yellow,” and XF-64, “Red Brown,” in a ratio of about three of the yellow to one of the brown. The mixture was applied with a brush. Lastly, the model was given a coat of Tamiya Flat.

     My next part of developing this flat car for service is to make some suitable military loads. This is a potentially complex topic, and one I have enjoyed researching. I will delve into it in several following posts.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, December 23, 2018

An excellent NP shipper’s guide

In a growing series of Shipper Guide reprints, Ted Schnepf’s Rails Unlimited has released another of these railroad-produced documents, this time for the Northern Pacific, dated 1954. As always, these guides are an absolute gold mine of information for those interested in freight traffic. I have reviewed a number of Ted’s previous releases (see, for example, the earlier post at this link: ), and they are invariably superb sources for those of us interested in freight cars and what freight cars carried.
     The release of this NP “Industrial Guide” is a great addition to the series, not only because it is a railroad not previously covered explicitly in this series (Ted’s  GN guide includes some NP information), but also because it is a guide with excellent detail. To begin, here is the cover of this new guide:

Like all of these, this particular guide can be purchased on-line from Rails Unlimited (which can be found at: ), though I don’t know that the website has been updated yet for this new guide. If it hasn’t, it soon will be.
     You may be thinking, “Well, sure, but I don’t model the NP.” Actually, like all the guides, this one is really more productive for those who model other roads. Why? Because you need to find out shippers and receivers of cargoes all over the country, to and from your railroad, and this NP guide covers a whole bunch of states. Ideally, your bookshelf would contain guides like this from every corner of the country, so you could devise shipping patterns in all directions.
     I will give just a couple of examples of the richness of material included in this guide. Many towns are identified as to whether they are, to use the railroad term, “non-competitive,” meaning only NP-served, or jointly switched with one or more other railroads, or have a “reciprocal switching” agreement. (I discussed this kind of switching agreement in a previous post, which is at; .) Just to illustrate, here is the listing for Forest River, North Dakota:

The footnote below the listing identifies this a a reciprocal-switching location with the Soo Line. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish)
     Many town listings, of course, contain fascinating bits of local industrial and business history and intriguing regional and local names of various businesses. Also of considerable interest for anyone interested in operation are the many footnotes at the back of this guide. For example, this one describes a situation of a shipper (Pope & Talbot Lumber) not on a direct rail connection, located across Puget Sound:

     Another couple of interesting examples, especially footnote 32 for several British Columbia industrial sidings served by boat:

     Last example, a description of several switching districts within the city of Seattle, including the meaning of some terms seen in the city listings in the Guide:

     This kind of information is simply invaluable for development of waybill and traffic patterns. I highly recommend this or any of the guides available from Rails Unlimited. If you haven’t ever gotten one, choose a railroad of interest, splurge on the modest investment, and see how much rich information one of them contains. You may find yourself buying more . . . I do!
Tony Thompson

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The SP 4-8-2 from Athearn

The Athearn Genesis model of the Southern Pacific 4-8-2 Mountain-type locomotive is not new (they have been sold out at Athearn for years), and I have owned two of them for some time. Before doing a commentary, however (I can’t call it a review at this late date!), I have been waiting until I had a chance to finish weathering the model and give it a thorough operating test. That’s now been done.
     I was intrigued when Athearn first released this locomotive in HO scale, because it is such a distinctive and handsome example of Southern Pacific steam power. Also, I’m pretty familiar with the type because I helped Bob Church edit and lay out his revised edition of the landmark book, The 4300 4-8-2’s, Southern Pacific’s Mt-Class Locomotives (Revised Edition), Signature Press, Wilton, CA, 1996.
     Like most steam locomotives on most railroads, the Mt classes underwent many changes in their lifetimes, some subtle, others quite dramatic. Any model manufacturer has to consider such history and choose which one(s) to build.
     That is certainly true for the SP Mountains. They were built without skyline casings, but that design feature was a success on the GS-class 4-8-4s, so it began to be added to the Mountains in 1939. Most engines received casings by the end of 1942 (58 of the 84 engines), with all the rest getting them by 1950. Shown below is an image of an as-built engine, while on display in Salem, Oregon (photo courtesy Bob Church). This is SP 4345, last engine of Class Mt-3.

You can see here the prominent as-built features: no skyline casing and a 12,000 gallon tender of Class 120-C-6. The indicator boards are at the front of the boiler, and the headlight is the original 18-inch “Sacramento Shops” design. All drivers are spoked, the engine has alligator crossheads, and the boiler front is the same graphite color as the smoke box.
     In addition to the skyline casing additions that started in 1939, SP also decided to move the indicator boards back to mid-boiler for better visibility, starting in 1943, and this change was made to all the engines fairly quickly. About the same time, aluminum-painted smokebox fronts became standard, and most locomotives had received visored Pyle headlights instead of their “Sacramento” originals. Here is an example, SP 4311 at San Francisco in 1949 (Doug Richter photo, Bob Church collection)

     This locomotive still has all spoked drivers, and still has its alligator crossheads, as well as a 12,000-gallon tender, though starting with the Mt-4 class, many received instead the new-design 16,000-gallon tender. This engine also has a corrugated-steel pilot, something installed whenever the original boiler-tube pilots got damaged or destroyed, but many engines kept the original pilots.
     After the immediate post-war period, another change began to be made. Some locomotives developed cracks in the spokes of the main driver (the second driver from the front, where the main rod is connected), and these were replaced with disk drivers. Many engines, however, were never so upgraded by the end of their lives.
     That brings us to the model I own, lettered as SP 4349. Shown below is a photo of the prototype engine at Gerber, California on October 30, 1949 (Alan Aske photo, Bob Church collection). It has the features shown above on SP 4311, but has a front-end throttle (as did the entire Mt-4 and -5 classes). Like many Mt engines after 1945, it has received multiple-bearing crossheads in place of the original alligators. It is pretty dirty, suggesting that it may have been due for a shopping, at which times locomotives were often painted.

     My Athearn model faithfully follows everything in this photo: all spoked drivers, skyline casing, 12,000-gallon tender, multiple-bearing crossheads, Pyle headlight, and mid-boiler indicators. This engine, assigned to Shasta Division at the time, does have a snowplow pilot; such pilots were installed or removed, depending on division assignment.
     These examples show vividly how complex are the choices a manufacturer has to make. Athearn made some good ones, in my opinion. First, back in 2008, they offered a version of the original engines, that is, without skyline casing, and with 12,000-gallon tenders (Class 120-C-6), visor-less headlight, front-mounted indicators, and alligator crossheads. In 2010, they announced a skyline-casing version, and also introduced the 16,000-gallon tender (Class 160-C-3). Those features enabled them to offer the much-loved “semi-Daylight” paint scheme, and also to offer black engines with both tenders and both crosshead types. This spans a wide range of time and locomotive features.
     I chose the skyline locomotive with 12,000-gallon tender, in part because I already have an excellent Max Gray brass Mt with a 16,000-gallon tender, and wanted to have both kinds. But because SP routinely swapped tenders of steam locomotives being shopped, a particular engine might have either size of tender applied at any time, because front tender decks were the same height, making them interchangeable.
     Shown below is my model, with some light weathering added. I still need to add a few details, such as crewmen in the cab, water column hook on the tender deck, and so on. I may also add another weathering wash to further soften the original black paint.

     Performance has been quite nice, in multiple test runs with different trains on my layout. I am really happy with this model, and though I recognize it is pretty late in the day for me to do so, I commend Athearn for the fine choices they made in producing these locomotive models.
Tony Thompson

Monday, December 17, 2018

Upgrading a Roco flat car, Part 2

In the previous post, I discussed the Roco (AHM) 53-foot flat car, modeled as a 100-ton car owned by the United States Army and often sold with military vehicles glued to the deck. This is a model I wanted to upgrade so I could model military loads myself, using some of the fine vehicles available in HO scale. My post is at this link: .
     In addition to the corrections to the car’s deck and sill steps, I needed to add better trucks. The trucks supplied with the model are indeed the right type, 6-wheel Buckeye trucks, but are somewhat undersize and have terrible wheelsets. Awhile back, I had bought a pair of metal Buckeye trucks at a swap meet, though they were not identified as to model manufacturer. I also have an ancient pair of Athearn Buckeye trucks from the early 1950s, which are similar but not identical to the ones I bought recently. Both sets of trucks are sprung and have a pivoting mechanism that allows the the truck to flex in the center as did the prototype.

In the photo above, you can see the truck bolster of the newer trucks (foreground), which does not match the Athearn bolster (note my very original Athearn box at photo top), though the sideframes are identical. Here is a side view of a new truck. The wheel faces have not yet been painted a grimy black color.

     The Roco trucks had been held in place with press-fit pins. This was not an option for the new trucks,  and the openings for the pins were quite large, too much so for any reasonable screw size. The solution was that the press-fit pins were glued into the bolster openings, cut off flush with the bolster face, and drilled and tapped for 2-56 screws, using a bottoming tap.
     The rather oversize holder for a brake staff needed to be filled before anything could be done to replace the hand brake. I had some styrene rod on hand, 1/16-inch diameter (Evergreen 222), so drilled out the original hole to No. 52 and inserted a short piece of this white rod, using styrene cement. Visible below are both this brake fix, at the right edge of the car, and the tapped bolster hole.

     At this point, I could attach the new Buckeye trucks. They fit well and have as much swivel as did the original Roco trucks, so will perform as well as the originals. As you can see in the photo below, the new sill steps have not yet been painted.

I also added a brake wheel in the appropriate place, but as shown above, it is depicted in the lowered position, as would likely be the position of a drop-shaft brake wheel for many of the loads carried.
     The Roco lettering on these models is not very well done, and is thus a candidate for replacement. It is true that the lettering on my car, visible above, is in general agreement with prototype photos, but only for cars of a later era. Since these cars were built in the spring of 1953, my modeling year, they should be pretty clean and have the original lettering, including the Transportation Corps emblem.
     There do exist nice decals for the lettering applied to the prototype cars when new, from Mt. Vernon Shops (see their listing of decal sets at: ; you can click on “USAX” to see the decal sheet itself). I will continue with relettering this model, and refinishing the deck, in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Friday, December 14, 2018

Track car turnouts

In an earlier post, I wrote about some of my thoughts stimulated by visiting layouts, either to operate or just for viewing. As an example of something learned, or more precisely, finding something I should add to my own layout, I mentioned the pull-outs for track cars (motor cars, hand cars, or whatever) that I saw on Paul Chandler’s fine layout (that post is here: ). This post is about how to model those features.
     The first thing I learned by looking up the Common Standard drawings for these track car items is that the Southern Pacific called them “turnouts” (thus the title for this post). The drawings can be found in Bruce Petty’s excellent five-volume series, Southern Pacific Lines Common Standard Plans (Steam Age Equipment Company, Dunsmuir), and the specific drawings for track-car turnouts are in Volume II, pages 64 and 65. The general drawing is CS 551, and it is shown below. You can click on the image to enlarge it if you like, but you might do better, if you need details, to consult Volume II itself.

Notice that the “scrap tie runner” which accepts the flanged wheels of the track car are centered on the track gauge. That means that a set-off track car has its wheels running on top of the scrap ties, not operating as though the ties were rail-like supports at track gauge spacing for the wheel treads.
     Two provisions of the drawing are of interest to modelers. First, Note 1 states that these turnouts should be placed about “two per mile,” making them quite numerous along any line of track. Second, Note 6 mentions an alternate construction, replacing the paved center area shown in CS 551 with an all-timber set-off, shown in detail in CS 554. That drawing is below.

This drawing clearly shows a prefabricated assembly, and Note 1 of this drawing indicates that these set-off units will be shipped to the needed site. It will be noted in the cross-section at the bottom, and at right, that this is a somewhat complex assembly, with differently shaped timbers between the rails.
     To return to the upper drawing, CS 551, all dimensions needed to build one of these turnouts are provided, except the length of the scrap-tie runners that extend perpendicular to the track. These scale out at about 12 feet of length. However, the upper sketch in the drawing indicates the length can be variable, as long as a track car spotted on the turnout is at least six feet clear of the nearest rail. I felt like the 12-foot length would work for me. Standard ties are about 8 feet long, so one and half ties will make up the needed length.
     I will return to modeling of these turnouts in a future post. I have been reminded that Blair Line has a kit that makes three turnouts (see their photos of the kit at: ), and although they show the turnouts as above ground and arranged to act as rails for the track cars, it would be easy to bury them flush, as the SP standard shows, and re-space the track timbers to have the track gauge center-to-center on the timbers, as the SP drawing specifies. Other details of the Blair Line kit would also have to be modified. On balance, I’m not sure modifying the kit is any less work than building the turnout from scratch. I can address that after I have scratchbuilt a couple of them.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Keeping up with details (PFE)

One thing I have always found interesting and stimulating about model railroading is that there is apparently no end to how much you can learn about prototype railroading, whether it be locomotives and rolling stock, or company history, or structures, or operating details, or whatever. And when new knowledge comes along, you have the always-intriguing question of whether and how to apply it. This post is about one such instance.
     I particularly like finding out new information on subjects I already know fairly well. Why? Because even the smallest tidbit is readily fitted into the framework of what you already know. I remember, during the writing and research for the PFE book, how gratifying it was, to find some new item of information, because with the richness and extent of knowledge about PFE then in my head, I could immediately slot it into its proper place in the framework.
     (For anyone not familiar, the “PFE book” is: Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd Edition, by Thompson, Church and Jones, published by Signature Press, Berkeley and Wilton, CA, 2000.)
     The particular item that forms the background for the present post comes from the recent book, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide, by Dick Harley and me (Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society, Upland, CA, 2016), and the title is misleading in the sense that it does not convey the fact that 81 of its 191 pages are a Pacific Fruit Express painting and lettering guide, created by Dick Harley. I presented a broad-brush PFE lettering guide in the PFE book, but Dick has given us a much finer-grained document, based on the extensive surviving drawing archives at Union Pacific and the UP Museum.
     In browsing the PFE part of the book, which I like to do, I noted something that was in force for a limited time. It related to placard boards. In the days of wood-sheathed cars, any placards or other notices were simply tacked to the wood car side. In 1936, PFE purchased its first reefers with all-steel bodies (Class R-40-10), but these were delivered with no placard boards. It was not until 1941, when all-steel Class R-40-14 was delivered, that PFE first put placard boards on the sides and ends of its reefers. The intriguing detail is that these were painted black, on both sides and ends.
     The photo below, a detail of a shot taken of a string of new -14 cars leaving the Pacific Car & Foundry plant in Renton, Washington, clearly shows the contrast between the black placard board and the boxcar red end. (The complete image of this photo, by PC&F for PFE and from my collection, appears in both the PFE book and the SPH&S lettering guide.)

     This is relevant because awhile back, I modified a couple of Athearn steel reefers to represent PFE classes R-40-14 and -20, both of which should have received the black end placard boards when new. My model of the -14 car (see my post at: ) is presented as a repaint, but I chose to leave the -20 car in its original paint. Accordingly, it needs to have a black end placard board.
     The black color for end placard boards remained in force from 1941 to June, 1946. That means that the rebuild classes PFE produced during World War II with steel ends would also have had these black end placard boards when first rebuilt. Those would be classes R-30-18 and -19, together with about the first half of Class R-30-21 (actually about the first 1500 of 2420 cars in the class). Again, any car repainted after 1946 would have lost the black end placard boards, but any still with their as-rebuilt paint schemes should have black end boards.
     I decided to pull out all the PFE reefer models I own, that have pre-1946 paint schemes and, if they have steel ends, repaint the end placard boards in a faded black. As it happens, Tamiya’s “German Grey” (No. XF-63) is excellent for this color, and that’s what I used.
     I will just show a couple of examples here. First, the all-steel Class R-40-20 car, which, since it dates from 1944, might well have still had its as-built paint in my modeling year of 1953; steel cars were repainted by PFE every 10 to 12 years, or sooner if repaired.

Note that the end placard board is not as clean as the side placard board. In the period I model, PFE frequently washed its cars, but normally only the car sides, so that is what I am trying to show here.
     There were only 1000 of the Class R-40-20 cars, but around 5000 cars in the rebuild classes I mentioned above, so they are statistically important. With their wood side sheathing, however, they fell into the PFE standard repainting interval of only 4 to 8 years, so only a few of them would still have the original pre-1946 paint by 1953. I only have two such models, out of 10 cars in these classes. Here is one of them, an InterMountain model using Terry Wegmann parts, from Class R-30-19:

     I would be the first to point out that this color change for end placard boards is merely a detail (and as I pointed out in this blog title). But I continue to feel that keeping up with these kinds of corrections is how the freight car fleet continues to improve.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Eighth anniversary of this blog

It seems impossible, but this post completes eight years of my writing this blog; the first post was on December 8, 2010. I have tried to get used to the longevity and size of what this has turned into, but still have difficulty grasping both the amount I’ve written, and the immense (to me, anyway) amount of page views I’ve gotten in these eight years — more on page views in a moment.
     As of today, I've actually posted 990 individual pieces. Some of them have been short, a few have been long (though I resolved in the beginning to keep them readily readable in length). There has been a concerted effort on my part to vary the subjects and not get into ruts, and whenever I find myself going back to some topic repeatedly, I try to put it on the shelf for awhile. Of course my modeling may continue for some ways in that “rut,” but I will postpone describing more of that particular work until other subjects have been aired for awhile. I think I have gotten better at maintaining that variety, and also at recognizing the “size” of topics, and figuring out whether a single post can encompass the topic or not.
     I have occasionally gotten an email, complaining that my subject is supposed to be “Modeling the SP,” but that most posts are not about anything specifically Southern Pacific. The complaint is correct, but perhaps misses my point. To model the SP, with an operating layout, means modeling a great deal in addition to the SP itself. On-line industries are  not directly SP; many freight cars that arrive or depart these industries will not be SP cars; scenery is not SP except in a regional sense; and many aspects of operation may not be visibly SP-specific either, though I do try to reproduce what I know of SP operating practice in my layout scheme. So maybe I need to reiterate my goals from time to time, so my title does not appear misleading.
     But certainly an important part of my goals is capturing the spirit of Southern Pacific. The spirit of the SP, as for any railroad, may be an elusive concept, but fans of every railroad know it when they see it. I’m no exception. Shown below is an image that speaks that way to me, from a slide I bought on eBay awhile back. It shows AC 4164 as a rear helper, shoving on SP 103982, a box car of Class B-50-29. I don’t know the photographer or location. Date must be in the middle 1950s, as the box car still displays its “NEW” date of 9-51 (so the photo date cannot be later than 9-55). The car is fairly dirty, suggesting a date closer to 1955 than 1951. But whatever the specifics, it’s a great image to me.

     As always, I hope that each post contains something of more than routine interest. Obviously describing the assembly of a kit, while carefully following the exact kit directions, would not be of any real interest or value, and the same goes for any project that is simple and straightforward. I try to pick up any things I do that go beyond kit directions or the ordinary, everyday approach, as a way of showing some of the methods and techniques that go beyond the routine.
     In the same way, I try to recognize when I have found or used some prototype information that is not obvious, or may not be understood. I enjoy prototype research and can happily spend hours in a library or archive when I get the chance. That can mean that I find information beyond the ordinary, and I like to pass that along in the blog, when it fits with a modeling aspect. Sometimes, of course, digging into archived resources can be daunting . . .

. . . but usually it’s not this bad. (And if you think I exaggerate, I should tell you some archive stories.)
     A year ago, the page views of this blog had just passed 1,080,000 in total, meaning that the previous year had seen about 200,000 page views. That seems to be a consistent number in the more recent years. This past year, there were again more than 200,000 page views, bringing the all-time total to more than 1,295,000 views to date. This is certainly gratifying, and even though I did not set out to write this blog for some expected amount of viewing, I do feel pleased that it enjoys the attention that it does.
     Another thing I have noticed in recent years continues to be a considerable part of the total page views. This is the number of readers coming to any particular post from search engines. This means, in part, that the blog is functioning as an archival resource, which I had not really thought about. In fact, in some cases, it functions much like a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), since people get referred to certain posts by others who already know of them. I am pleased that the blog can serve this purpose, along with its regular presentation of “what’s new” in my pursuit of Southern Pacific modeling.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Upgrading the Roco “Army” flat car

Long familiar on the outskirts of prototype modeling in HO scale has been the flat car produced by Roco in Austria and marketed in the United States by AHM (Associated Hobby Manufacturers). This flat car was usually sold with Buckeye 6-wheel trucks, and was usually painted black, though it has been produced in Army olive drab and even in a camouflage scheme. It was ordinarily sold with two vehicles on it, from half-tracks and 6 x 6 trucks, to bulldozers, front-end loaders, and even Sherman tanks. Here’s an example.

     Does this represent a real car? It is lettered as a 100-ton capacity car, though it looks much like any garden-variety 70-ton flat car of 53- or 54-foot length. As it turns out, the usual car number on the Roco models, USAX 38065, does indeed fall within a 650-car group of U.S. Army flat cars of 100-ton capacity and 54-foot length. I remember Richard Hendrickson once saying that this model could be upgraded to be usable in a prototype context.
     I have had a second-hand example of this model buried in the “some day” stash for years, and it might have remained there, except while digging for something else, I came across it. I don’t think it ever had vehicles on it when I owned it, and did have large blobs of Walthers Goo or equivalent all up and down the deck, doubtless indicating the location of loads applied by a previous owner.
     I decided to see if the old glue would come off, and indeed it scraped off nicely, with an X-acto chisel blade. But you can see the glue “scars” in the photo below. (These scars not only don’t matter, they can even be seen as a plus, since decks on cars like this take quite a beating in service, and these scars are a good start on modeling that service damage — more on that later.)

Note also the four large rectangular openings in the deck, probably the place where some kind of load attachment frame was inserted, as can be noted for several different loads sold on these flat cars. (You can click the photo above to enlarge.) These will have to be filled, or the deck replaced.
     Experimentation showed that the rectangular deck holes are very close to HO scale 6 x 10-inch styrene strip (Evergreen no. 8610), so I cut four short pieces of that strip that would sit flush with the deck, and glued them in with styrene cement. Roco flat cars which originally had other kinds of load attachment frames might call for other sizes of filler material.

     The Roco Buckeye trucks are not bad looking, though undersize, but have really poor wheels, about 30 scale inches in diameter and with “pizza cutter” flanges, as they are sometimes called. Whether the prototype had smaller-diameter wheels for clearance purposes, I don’t know for sure, but the deck height of the cars is shown in the Equipment Register as 4 feet, 2 inches. As a comparison, the postwar flat cars bought by SP from AC&F had a deck height of 3 feet, 10 inches, and those cars had 33-inch wheels.
     Accordingly, I don’t think these USAX cars had undersize wheels. But as stated, the flanges alone rule out the use of these Roco wheels. The Roco wheelsets can be replaced, of course, but I thought I would search for better trucks. I went through a couple of prospects for replacement, and will return to that topic in a following post.
     The molded-on grab irons on this model could easily be replaced, but on a black flat car are far from obvious. The rather thick sill steps are another matter, and really should be corrected. An example of the original step shape is shown below (a photo taken before correcting the deck).

I sliced off these heavy steps and replaced them with A-Line metal sill steps, using my usual method of first placing a styrene block behind the side sill so that drilling into the sill is supported.

     The main reason I wanted to upgrade this car to layout standards is that I have some military loads, and these certainly did move on SP’s Coast Route, with the abundance of military bases in California in the early 1950s. I will come back to loads for this car in a future post, along with completion of work on the car itself.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Tie piles and rail racks: modeling

In my first post on this topic, I mentioned the ubiquity of stored ties and rail along rights of way, and showed the Southern Pacific Common Standard drawings for both standard tie piles and for rail racks. The latter usefully showed where the “standard” location was, at sidings. (That post can be found here: ). In the present post, I take up modeling of these features.
     The ties are pretty easy. You just have to have a source of prototype ties, and then assemble them into appropriate piles. Modelers often don’t recognize the actual dimensions of prototype ties, because the tie strip we use represents ties buried in ballast and is rather less than full depth. I have long owned a huge supply of correct-size ties, produced by Model Hobbies decades ago. The box end is below. Quantity isn’t given but I would guess there were 500 to 1000 ties originally, all stained “creosote black.”

The dimensions given, 3/32 x 1/8 x 1-1/8 inches, corresponds to about 8 x 10 inches cross-section in HO scale (a standard tie is 7 x 9 inches), and about 8 feet, 2 inches long (most ties are 8 feet, 6 inches long, but length does vary). So they are a little oversize in section and slightly short in length, but do give a pretty good representation of a real tie. Incidentally, a prototype tie weighs around 200 pounds, so don’t show a single workman handling one.
     I simply used canopy glue to assemble some tie stacks, following the CS 1901 drawing shown in the previous post. The CS drawing shows the alternate crosswise stacking only for untreated ties, but I have definitely seen that stacking style used for creosoted ties on the SP, so obviously not every stack was entirely “standard.” I just made three stacks (for now) to try different arrangements.

     I installed one of the tie piles (the left-hand one in the photo above) alongside a section tool house on my layout at the edge of the town of Ballard. Shown below is the installation, with a seated figure added for interest.

     For a rail rack, I decided to make some HO scale four-foot lengths of 8 x 8-inch rail supports from styrene. I also chose to make the “platform” for the rail rack from a piece of sheet styrene, which I could then ballast over, a simple means of making a flat area. I somewhat shaped the styrene platform to conform to the rail area I wanted to use, making it 41 scale feet long, as on the drawing. The rail supports were then glued to the styrene, 23 feet apart, and the entire thing given a primer coat of light gray. The primer served two purposes: first, to ensure that any gap in ballast cover was not snow white, and second, that “wet water” used in ballast application would wet the flat paint surface, unlike how it behaves on bare styrene.
     Shown below is the primed platform, with its rail supports 23 feet apart, shaped to fit a broadly curved area of track.

The rail supports still need to be painted dark gray, to look like creosoted but used timbers.
     I chose to use Code 83 rail for the first rail rack, since it is alongside the Coast Route main line, and that rail locally is Code 100. I have seen rail on rail racks that is plain rail, and also rail with bolt holes at one or both ends for fish plates (joint bars), so I think either is okay. I decided to drill a few holes (No. 75), then paint the rail dark brown, to look like old rust. The rails were then set onto the supports. Remember that a 39-foot length of rail, say 90-pound rail, weighs something like 1170 pounds, and need not be tied down in storage. Here is a plan view of the site, conforming to the SP dimensions.

From more of a side view, you can see how the rails look.

     I am pleased with the addition of these tie piles and (so far) one rail rack. I plan to add more of them as lineside scenery.
Tony Thompson