Monday, December 30, 2019

Bad order cards

Some time back, I wrote a post about the Southern Pacific bad-order card I had discovered, of a 1950s vintage, perfect for my 1953 modeling era. As I described in that post, that card is now used on my layout. (You can find the post here: .)
     I had reference to this SP card in my previous post, about possible reasons for a through train to set out a car at my layout’s town of Shumala, such as a defect that would prevent the car continuing its movement. That post is at this link: .
     My attention has been called, however, to the fact that railroads today, and many railroads for years, instead employed two bad-order cards. One of them is for company-owned cars, and the other is for “foreign” or off-road cars. Recently I was given an example, a BNSF card with these two functions provided on opposite sides of the same card.
     What one might describe as the “home car” side of the card is a very definite red color, actually making the printed categories of defects a little hard to read (I have lightened the image a little to make it more clear, below). One can understand this level of detail as a help to the home shop workmen. You can click on the image to enlarge it if you like.

     Here is what the other side looks like, the side for the “off-line car,” with the very evident headline, “Home Shop,” indicating the destination for the carded car.

The diagonal pink stripe is a common accent for cards like this (though I have seen other colors); the old SP card I  mentioned in the paragraph at the top of the present post has a deep red stripe. The example of this card that I have was retrieved from a prototype car, and had been exposed to sunlight, so the pink stripe may originally have been a deeper color.
     I am now thinking I need to make up a bad-order slip for off-line or “foreign” cars, inspired by this BNSF example. I will show progress in a future post.
     I should mention, however, that in layout operating sessions I always emphasize to the visiting operators that if they encounter anything at all that is defective or doesn’t work right, to please let me know right away. Obviously, I can’t fix defects if I don’t know about them. I keep a sheet of paper handy during the session so I can write down any observed problems.
     So for operating sessions, the use of defect card for freight cars is perhaps superfluous (it’s obviously faster and easier for a visitor to simply tell me about a problem, rather than take the time to fill out a slip). But I like the Bad Order cards as a visual component of layout operations.
Tony Thompson

Friday, December 27, 2019

Waybills, Part 67: through trains

I have posted a number of descriptions of how waybills are used in the operating scheme I have for my layout, and I think the basics have been well covered. But there is one area that I know is not clear to some readers, because I have gotten questions about it. That is the use of waybills for cars in my through trains.
     What is the problem? Through trains on my layout, which mimic the prototype practice (Southern Pacific practices in train operation have been covered in one of my posts: ), simply run from staging, along the Coast Route main track through my layout town of Shumala, and back to staging. That is like the SP movement from division point to division point.
     These trains ordinarily don’t stop at Shumala, leave alone do any switching, as described in the post cited in the previous paragraph. So why would any cars in such trains have waybills made for them? Presumably no one would look at them if they existed, nor have any reason to do so.
     But occasionally one of them does have a reason to stop at Shumala. There are two reasons that I have used in sessions to date: one is a “bad order” car, that has to be set out because of a defect; the other is a car of some importance that can’t wait for the next local train that would serve Shumala.
     For the first of these, a train’s set of waybills, usually handled in a small cut-down envelope for convenience, would have one car with the Bad Order slip atop the waybill. The plastic sleeve for that waybill might look like this:

This Bad Order slip isn’t filled out, though for an operating session I might fill it out. But the crew running the through train would tell the crew at Shumala that the car needed to be set out. They would then hand them the bad-ordered waybill sleeve also, and the local crew would go ahead and cut out that car.
     For a “hot car” set-out, one possibility is a stock car, perhaps having missed a connection and coming up on its 28-hour limit, at which stock must be rested outside the car. Then the arriving through train, still subject to the division’s work agreement, could only make one cut and one joint in doing the setout, thus requiring the local switcher at Shumala to get into the train and pull the stock car. So the waybill might look like this:

This would be retained by the local crew, then the train reassembled and able to depart.
     So even though any through train would normally not need to carry waybills, there can be occasions when they do. That’s why I do make up waybills for the cars in through trains, to make a suitable package for the local crew to examine.
     On the prototype, of course, the conductor on the through train would ordinarily climb down off the caboose and hand to the agent the single waybill for the car being set out, and we can work it that way too. I am experimenting to see which way I like better for my operating sessions.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Fixing sill steps (one more time)

Not too long ago I posted a description of some sill step replacements I had done, because I’d put cars into service with the fragile plastic steps they were manufactured with, and those steps were soon broken. The post about those repairs is here: . More recently, I realized that the same thing was happening to my several Red Caboose SP flat cars, excellent and accurate models of SP classes F-70-6 and-7, but not equipped with durable sill steps.
     I decided to replace the fragile plastic with A-Line Style A metal sill steps. I use a lot of these and like their sturdiness, even if their bottom corners are a little more rounded than prototype sill steps.
     What was most interesting is that I found a simple and durable way of replacing them. I simply glued them inside the side sill using canopy glue. Normally I would have glued blocks of styrene inside the sill, then drilled the blocks for the legs of the sill steps, as I have done in other cases (see the same post I cited in the first paragraph, above). But noticing that the length of the legs on the A-Line steps was just right, I simply glued them in place.
     This does locate the step somewhat behind the side sill, as you can see below, but from any distance this isn’t very evident. And the step is no farther behind the car side than if I had supported it with a styrene block on the inside of the side sill.

The step in the above photo may look as though it isn’t attached, but since the canopy glue dries clear, you can’t see the glue.
     I found that several of my Red Caboose flat cars had missing steps, once I looked closely, and have now replaced all of them with the A-Line steps. Now the cars look right, and the new steps will not break with handling. A simple but quick and satisfying solution.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The shortest day (again)

December 21 is a day that resonates in my memory, for a range of reasons, and back in 2012 I wrote a post exploring some of the background and reasons why. (That post is here: .) Re-reading that post recently, I enjoyed it all over again, and decided to repeat it this year. The original text follows.

One of my vivid memories from childhood is my father relishing this day, which seemed odd to me then, what with the days shortening and the nights closing in, and of course colder and rainier weather. But he always said, “Now the days will be getting longer,” and of course, so they will.
     What hadn’t occurred to me in those days was that humans for many, many centuries have had the same feelings about this day that my dad did, and in more primitive times, for better reasons.
     Ever since my wife and I discovered the performances known as Christmas Revels, we have attended here in the Bay Area, more years than not. Revels was created by John Langstaff in 1957, and the tradition gradually grew and extended over the years. Today Christmas Revels is performed in nine cities around the country (for the location of those cities, you can visit their map at this link: , and from there go to their home page to learn more about their history and what Revels is).
     A favorite part for me of the performance of every Christmas Revels is the reading, toward the end, of a poem by Susan Cooper, written for Revels in 1977 and for me a delight. I reproduce it below, with permission from Cooper, to whom I wrote an email and requested the use. (The poem is all over the Internet, in both written and spoken form, though often mis-punctuated and sometimes with words changed — imagine the nerve!)
     She sent me a copy of it as she wrote it, so that it could be presented correctly. (If you’d like to know more about her, you can go to her web site at: .) She also mentioned that she was happy to give permission for use in this blog, as she is descended from three generations of English railwaymen!


By Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen,
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us -- listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year, and every year.
Welcome Yule!

     A far more eloquent presentation of our traditions than I could ever have written. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Southern Pacific’s whistle post

Southern Pacific, like all railroads, employed whistle posts, though they called them “whistling boards.” And they were of course used to notify engineers when they were approaching grade crossings, so that whistle (or horn) signals could be sounded as warnings.
     The standard SP whistling post was for many years an actual wood plank, 6 feet tall (above ground), painted white, and with a 10-inch high letter “X” near the top. (Many railroads used a letter “W,” to indicate “whistle,” for a grade crossing. SP used an “X” instead, no doubt standing for “crossing,” which perhaps makes better sense after all.) There was a Common Standard (CS) drawing for wood posts, CS 14, but I have not found a copy.
      To illustrate what these looked like, the photo below shows a post alongside the first car behind the locomotive. (The photo shows Mogul 1644 doing some switching at Winters, California in June of 1950; it’s from the Eddie Chase collection, courtesy of John Signor.) The post may not look like it’s six feet tall, but it’s hard to see exactly where the bottom is.

     There were variations in the original wood post design. Jerry Kitts sent me a photo of an NWP whistle post that he has in his yard, and it is interesting both that the letter “X” is routed into the board surface, and that the “X” is only 7 inches tall. The board is 12 inches wide. The post originally had white paint on the entire face, like the photo above, and the “X” was filled with black paint.

     Some time in the early 1950s, as a couple of former employees stated to me, the SP began to put a smaller sign onto a galvanized steel post. Interestingly, it had the same tapered top as the ones you see above, and also that shape at the bottom. I don’t know how widely installed these newer posts may have been, but the one in the photo below dates from 1956. (The photo shows Ten-Wheeler 2366 at Gustine on the West Side Line south of Tracy on March 24, 1956; it’s an Alan Aske photo.) The sign is alongside the first box car in the train. You may wish to click on the image to enlarge it.

     I should mention that there does exist a successor drawing, CS 1360, a 1972 revision of the original CS 14 drawing, and like most such signage drawing revisions in the 1950s and thereafter, it primarily replaced wood with aluminum. As the drawing below shows (scan provided by Bruce Morden, and much appreciated, Bruce), this was a one-foot-square sign, standing 6 feet above ground.

Some of the text at right states that these were to be placed one-fourth of a mile from the crossing indicated, and were to be on the engineer’s side of track, 13 feet from the track center line.
     I want to add some model whistling boards, and will probably use the simple plank design as the likeliest installation for 1953 on the branch line I model. (Or maybe one board will be the newer style on a post . . . then it will be a test to see if any visitors ever notice.) I will return to the modeling aspects in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Monday, December 16, 2019

Prototype lettering, Part 2

I have long spoken up about accuracy in model lettering, using as a standard, what else, the prototype. Among  my explorations of this topic is this one: . That is part of the background to the first post in the present series, Part 1, which showed several examples of stencil lettering practice (you can see it at: ).
     Continuing in the same vein, Southern Pacific used stencils for entire words in lettering in later years, for example after 1946, when the initials “SP” were replaced as the reporting mark by the spelled-out road name. Here is an example of the process, with a spray gun being used (SP photo, negative 30630, CSRM).

Note against the car door another of those “half ladders” used for decades by SP painters.
     Another point, mentioned in the previous post, was the widespread use of what was called “stencil paste,” not a liquid paint but a semi-solid material, applied with a short, stiff brush. An example of that use is the photo below, which depicts a workman applying reweigh data by hand, using individual number stencils. Obviously such application did not always result in perfectly aligned and spaced characters.

     At this point, I want to mention something raised previously(see the first post cited in the paragraph at the top of the present post). Nearly all railroads used lettering characters they had designed themselves. Someone on the drafting room drew up a set of letters and numbers, and such a drawing was the basis for making stencils. Naturally this meant that a separate drawing had to be made for every height of letter, from 1, 2 and 3 inches up to 9 inches or more. It is always intriguing to compare the letters of different sizes. Invariably, the thinner parts of each letter are much lighter in the large sizes.
     There has long been, among modelers, a belief in a kind of lettering usually called “Railroad Roman,” and decal sets have been so identified for decades. There is in principle a possible prototype for this, because early in the 20th century, the Master Car Builders suggested a "standard letter," and this was sustained by the ARA and later the AAR. The catch is that no railroad of which I’m aware followed it entirely, though a few (CB&Q comes to mind) did use parts of the AAR alphabet.
     To show what I mean, below is presented the AAR characters, and below them, the actual SP 4-inch letter drawings for each letter and number in the AAR set. You can readily see that they do not match, with the SP numerals in particular being distinctly more condensed than the AAR numerals.

     To conclude, I show the SP lettering process of later decades, now with the workman wearing protective gear, but still using single-character stencils. There is a least a chalk line to guide the application. This was taken at Sacramento General Shop (SP photo).

     Being aware of these processes helps guide us as modelers in how we apply lettering to models, and tells us where we can permit irregularities in lettering, and where it really has to be done right. I will return to this topic in a future post about modeling.
Tony Thompson

Friday, December 13, 2019

SP 200-ton flat cars, Part 3

In the previous two parts, I showed the Southern Pacific prototype 200-ton flat cars, riding on four trucks under span bolsters (Part 1). I then followed up with a description of the Athearn model of this type of car, including my efforts to make it look better (Part 2). Citation of a link to Part 1 is in Part 2 (which can be found here: ).
     At the end of Part 2, I mentioned that there is a new resin kit from Funaro & Camerlengo, their number 8471, for exactly this type of flat car built from a General Steel Castings (GSC) one-piece frame. I purchased one of those kits, and looked forward to seeing what modern resin casting technology could do with this prototype.
     The body is all one piece, in the spirit of the GSC original, and includes the deck. Here is a view of the body from below. I have already cleaned up some sprue marks and drilled out the truck screw hole.

     Perhaps the most interesting part of this kit is the trucks. The prototype 100-ton trucks had very short wheelbase, shorter even than 50-ton trucks. The F&C truck frames are cast in resin, and look quite good. One might wonder how durable they would be if a model is operated for large numbers of scale miles, but most of us will only run this unusual car occasionally, so I doubt it’s a problem for many. Shown below is the unpainted F&C truck frame, sitting atop a conventional AAR 50-ton truck from Kadee. You can see it is shorter overall, but note where the centers of the journal boxes are located. This shows you the dimension of the wheelbase.

You can also see that the 100-ton sideframe is a deep and heavy design, compared to the 50-ton truck.
     The kit also includes a nicely made and suitably dimensioned span bolster. In Part 2 (link provided in the top paragraph of the present post), I showed the Athearn span bolster I had filed and sanded down to give a reasonable appearance. The F&C span bolster is even thinner, and really looks nice when placed on the trucks as a test. Note you can see the tops of the wheels behind the bolster. The trucks and bolster here are unpainted,and nothing has been assembled yet.

The trucks are shown here with Kadee wheelsets, as recommended in the kit, but in fact these have axles too long for these sideframe castings. They barely roll at all. I substituted Reboxx 1.010-inch wheelsets and they roll nicely in these frames.
     Next came drilling and tapping the various screw holes to put these truck arrangements together. The only interesting part was drilling the hole into the car body for the screw that holds the span bolster. You need to avoid drilling all the way through the body, for cosmetic reasons, and then you need a bottoming tap (or “gun tap”) to thread that blind hole. If you don’t have one of these taps, you can readily buy one on line from any of a number of sources.
     When completed and with 2-56 truck screws inserted, the span bolsters look quite good. Shown below is one of them, now with the Reboxx wheelsets, and all painted with Tamiya ”German Grey” (paint no. XF-63). The top surface isn’t painted as it will be invisible under the car.

Testing these span bolster assemblies showed that they roll freely and swivel nicely into the tightest curves and turnouts. I am pleased with their looks and performance.
     Next in kit assembly are a number of straightforward steps that simply require following the directions, and I won’t go into them. But in a following post, I will take up addition of weight to the car, as well as painting and lettering.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Fixing lumber loads

I  have written a number of posts about lumber loads for open-top cars, both on the prototype and for model freight cars. (You can readily find those previous posts by using “lumber” or “open top cars” as search terms in the search box at right.) What I am going to focus on in the present post is a project to correct the lumber loads on a friend’s layout.
     I will say more about the problem(s) to be fixed in a moment, but I will begin by stating that these loads were made from the cast resin lumber stacks produced by Fine N-Scale Products or FNSP, and yes, they do produce these stacks in both N and HO scales. I first discussed these lumber loads awhile back (see: ), and I observed that they are really too narrow for modern flat cars. The way to make them useful is to put a wider spacer between the lumber stacks, as I showed in that post.
     I followed up that first post with some additional investigation, exploring whether the narrow lumber stacks of the FNSP kit would be suitable for gondolas, since gons are narrower than flat cars (you can read that post here: ). The post showed that they can indeed be used in gondolas, and it’s one good way to use these nicely made resin castings of lumber.
     But let me return to the problem with my friend’s loads. An example is shown below, with the FNSP lumber stacks simply glued onto a Red Caboose model, an accurate rendition of Southern Pacific Class F-70-6 or -7 flat cars.

The model shown has two problems, for  me. First, operationally, the loads are glued down, which means there are no empty cars to return to the lumber mills, but the cars have to operate in both directions with their lumber loads on the cars. Second, visually, the stacks entirely lack side stakes and cross-ties, which secure prototype stacks to the car, and they have their edges well inside the inner edge of stake pockets, so that you cannot very well add stakes to such loads even if you accept them being glued down. This is the narrowness issue of the FNSP lumber stacks.
     Obviously the first step was to remove the stacks from each car. I slid a razor blade under each stack and gently sliced through the glue areas. Then the deck could be cleaned up, distressed to show use, and finally weathered. You will note in the photo above that the deck is painted body color, but SP did not paint flat car decks. Thus this deck needs to be stripped, re-colored and weathered. My method of doing so has been described already (here is that post: ).
     But to return to the lumber stacks, they were first cut apart in the center, and larger center spacers used to widen the complete stack. The spacer needs to be 10 or 12 scale inches wide. I showed this in the post cited in the second paragraph of the present post, and show again below how this looks when the stacks are assembled using scale 10 x 10-inch stripwood.

Here I have applied two different colors to the stacks.
     With the spacers inserted, it remains to add “stickers” (as they were called) under the stacks, as well as dividing the stacks into two, one atop the other, in some cases, and then using stripwood for stakes and cross-ties. The stakes are carefully placed so they are exactly at the stake pocket locations on the destination flat car, in my case entirely the Red Caboose models. The finished stacks look like this, and of course are separate so they can be removable. Stakes vary in height, as did the prototype.

     Next, I want to show these stacks in place on one of the Red Caboose flat cars, carefully placed so that their side stakes line up with those on the flat car. In most operating situations on layouts, these will not particularly move around on the flat car deck during train movement. Here is an example.

You can see here that I have placed the stacks on the same car you saw in the first photo of this post, so that there is no distraction with the different appearance of a properly weathered car.
     These modified lumber stacks (widened and with side stakes) are steadily being made ready for service on my friend’s layout, and all the old glued-on loads have now been removed from service. This makes operation more realistic, because empty flat cars can move in the reverse direction of loads, and when the cars are loaded, the loads look much better. But I have a bunch more of these to do yet, so it’s still a work in progress.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Completing the ninth year of this blog

As we reach December 8 again, I reach another anniversary of this blog, which I began with my first post on December 8, 2010. That’s nine years ago, and as always on these anniversaries, it seems an impossible span of time, looking back; but as the saying goes, “time flies when you don’t know what you’re doing” (see: ).
     I have continued to post something roughly like every third day, subject of course to innumerable constraints and intervening issues. That amounts to around 120 to 125 posts a year, and such a total obviously implies, over nine years, that I must have done something in the vicinity of 1100 posts by now. In fact, the number, including today, happens to be 1115 altogether. To me, that’s even more strikingly large a number than the nine-year history.
     The other aspect of writing this blog, at first mildly surprising and eventually completely amazing, is the page views that the blog receives. In recent years, it has run around 200,000 views a year (not counting my own visits), and this last year it was once again in that ballpark, totalling more like 225,000 views. The total now, spanning the entire nine years, is more that one and half million page views. Wow.
     But enough on performance. It has been an interesting modeling year. One of the projects I really enjoyed doing on my layout was the installation of “pull-outs” for speeders along the track, something I described in a series of posts (concluding with this one: ). These are very familiar in the prototype but are seldom seen on model railroads, so I was happy to add them. The photo below is a depiction of a double-track arrangement on the Southern Pacific, similar to what I had shown in the posts for other railroads (SP photo, negative N-2009-1, Shasta Division Archives). The location is the Sierra Nevada.

     Other projects that were satisfying included the Union Oil gas station that I kitbashed from a City Classics kit (the concluding post about that project is here: ). This not only filled an empty spot on the layout but was a scenic feature I had long wanted to include. I still enjoy it, every time I notice it on the layout. Here’s how it looks:

     A long-postponed project that finally moved ahead in the past year was the activating of the “back track,” called Track 7, in my layout town of Ballard (see this post: ). This permitted several industries already located there to be switched, such as Santa Maria Tool and Machine, a machine shop housed in this Quonset hut (built from an old Tru-Scale kit: ) and with a scratchbuilt loading dock.

     Another long-running series of posts began with upgrading the Roco model of a U.S. Army flat car with six-wheel trucks, and extended into creating a variety of loads for the car, including a number of examples of armored vehicles (see this one: ). A photo from that post is repeated below, with an M4 Sherman and an M7 howitzer gun carriage being shipped on the Roco car.

It was interesting to me to research this car as well as the loads, and to complete HO scale versions of them. That combination of research and modeling is one of the things I like best in the hobby.
     It’s been another fun year for me in doing this blog, and of course even more so in the research and modeling that lies behind many posts. I look forward to what may come in the next year.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Prototype freight car lettering

As modelers, many of us are interested in, and often strive to accurately reproduce. the lettering on freight cars. I am certainly in that group. In that light, I thought it might be useful to describe a little of how the prototype does this lettering.
     Certainly in the 19th century, and in some instances such as billboard refrigerator cars in the 20th century, this lettering (and decoration) of freight cars was done by people with the skills of sign painters. That is, it was done essentially freehand, though certainly guided by drawings or sketches, and the lettering was intended to be of sizes that were standardized, first by individual railroads, eventually by the Master Car Builders for all railroads.
     With the rise of standards came the widespread use of stencils to reproduce the desired characters. Many of the smaller stencils were thin sheet metal. An example is the 1920s photo below of a Class A-50-6 automobile car about to be lettered after repainting at Los Angeles General Shop (SP photo, Steve Peery collection).

Note that the stencils are shaped to fit between the side posts and braces, ensuring that the letters are at the correct height, and that the lines to go above the initials and below the car number are also present. The “half ladder” being used is interesting too.
     Naturally the railroad emblem or medallion was even more suited to stencil reproduction, and in this 1922 photo, you see one in use. Note that the frame hangs from the roof edge, guaranteeing correct height. The photo was taken at Los Angeles (SP photo, Jim Seagrave collection)

Here the painter is using stencil paste and a brush with short, stiff bristles. You can just see the brush in his right hand, in a “fist” grip. (Click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)
     By the 1930s, hand-stenciling with stencil paste had been largely superseded by spray painting, at least for new or major lettering. This was an especially valuable tool for larger stencils, such as the Santa Fe slogan shown below. This photo is from the ATSF Annual Report for 1951.

Evident are the many slender connectors holding the interior parts of the stencil in position. A stencil like this, once spray painted, would be touched up by hand to cover all those connectors.
     With new cars, it was common to make up a stencil for all the capacity data, since presumably every new car would have the same light weight. The photo below, depicting the lettering on what would be UP 101604, shows that the first four digits of the car number, not yet applied, are on a single piece of heavy stencil paper. (UP photo, Clark Bauer collection)

The two men are not wearing any protection against paint dust and vapor.
     Finally, an example of Pacific Fruit Express technique, showing a painter adding end lettering with one stencil having both the initials and the first digit of a series of car numbers (resting on the coupler). He then adds each additional digit by separately stenciling it from a set of all ten digits. The painter’s “eye” was vital in the lettering being aligned and properly spaced. This photo is a PFE’s Los Angeles shop in 1946 (PFE photo, author’s collection)

     These examples show that the prototype took pains to get the lettering in the right place and entirely standardized as to characters, though of course mistakes were possible. The famous example below (D.F. McFall collection) shows a case of the second and third stencils for the word “Maryland” getting interchanged during lettering.

     Understanding how the prototype applied car lettering helps us recognize the places we really need to get the lettering exactly right on models, and where the prototype offers us some leeway. I will return to this topic in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, December 1, 2019

SP 200-ton flat cars, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I showed prototype photography of Southern Pacific’s 200-ton flat cars, which in the transition era were all four-truck cars. All were built using General Steel Casting’s one-piece cast steel underframes, which included side and end sills. Only decking needed to be added, along with brake gear, trucks, and couplers. That post can be found at this link: .
     I now want to turn to modeling these cars. For many years, there has been an HO scale model of this type of car, produced by Athearn. It was not a great model, but close to the right length and appearance. One of its big drawbacks was how high it sat on the span bolsters. Below is Athearn’s own catalog photo, and you can see the height of the side sills above the trucks.

Just for comparison, shown below is a photo of the prototype from the previous post. Toward the left of the photo, you can clearly see how close the top of the truck sideframes are to the side sill, and can compare that appearance to the Athearn model shown above.

     The Athearn model can be improved considerably in appearance by sanding or filing down the span bolsters in thickness, removing material from the top of the bolster. This is not difficult and the function of the span bolster is easy to retain. You could easily do this with an existing model.
     Years ago, I did that work on an Athearn model, and the resulting span bolster is shown below. You can see that its top is only about as high as the wheel diameter, just like the prototype (a prototype photo of a span bolster assembly is included in the previous post, cited in the first paragraph of the present post).

     The completed model was then lettered for SP 44095. As you can see below, the car does sit down low over the trucks, as it should. But this model still suffers from a serious problem. The car body is unaltered from what Athearn produced, and the side sills are much too deep. But because the overall appearance is all right, this model has served on my layout for some years.

     Now comes news of an actual correct model of the General Steel Castings four-truck flat car, in the form of a kit from Funaro & Camerlengo. It actually has prototype dimensions! (The SP version is kit 8471.) I will report on the kit, and building it, in a future post. I am also interested in sufficiently big and impressive loads for such a car to carry, and will report on some of those prospects, too.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A small personal note

Since it’s Thanksgiving and a day devoted to family events rather than modeling, I will indulge in a very small personal note.
     I happened recently to be looking at some old magazines at a neighbor’s house, and among his stacks were copies of Science magazine, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS. Back when I was on the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, I was a member of AAAS and received Science weekly. It covers every nook and cranny of the world of science and engineering research, and many of the professional articles are opaque to any but those in the article’s particular field. But they also have news relating to research and research funding, which was the main value to me.
     It’s been years since I had any reason to even look at a copy of Science, much less continue to belong to AAAS, so looking at old issues was kind of nostalgic. But I happened to pick up one from the late 1960s, and boy, did it take me right back to my days as a graduate student. Why? On the back cover was an ad for the Siemens transmission electron microscope, the model 101, that I had learned on when I was a student. Here’s the ad (click to enlarge if you want to read the text):

     This shiny instrument was advanced for its day, though rapidly outpaced by new Japanese electron microscopes that were making major strides in both capability and ease of use. I will never forget peering into those little apertures at the bottom of the column, near the model’s left hand in the ad, and trying to interpret what I saw.
     But after receiving my Ph.D. and moving into a job in industry, I soon was able to make use of a JEM-100B microscope, produced by JEOL in Japan (originally standing for Japan Electron Optics Laboratory, but eventually the initials became the official corporate name). What a revelation! Suddenly I went from a ham-handed beginner who could barely make the instrument do what I wanted, to a skilled and capable microscopist. By no means an expert, mind you, but definitely capable. I actually began to enjoy transmission electron microscopy or TEM. And as I’m implying, it really wasn’t me making a giant improvement, it was a case of a far easier to use and more capable instrument.
     But it was just seeing this ad, with the unmistakable image of the Siemens TEM, that took me back to those days, both good and bad. Today there are immensely better TEM instruments, but I’ll never forget my struggles with the Siemens Model 101.
Tony Thompson

Monday, November 25, 2019

Waybills, Part 66: the Guadalupe local

I received an interesting question from a person who had watched my recent TSG video, showing how my layout is operated. (I posted earlier some comments on that video, along with a link to it on YouTube, at this link: .) The question had to do with how I convey to operating crews in a session, how the Guadalupe Local train is made up.
     In the TSG video, the Guadalupe Local arrives in Shumala at about the 18:15 mark in the video. Its local function is described, to set out and pick up cars to and from the Santa Rosalia Branch, but it isn’t explained how that works.
     This Local is one part of the typical pattern of Southern Pacific train operation. I described this pattern awhile back by using examples from the Coast Division, one part of which I model. That post was intended to show all the variety of ways SP ran freight trains, not only through trains (division point to division point), but also turns, locals, and haulers. (See it here: .)
     When the Guadalupe Local arrives at Shumala, the local crew does the switching of cars into and out of the train. (This was a labor agreement to protect local switch crew jobs.) How does the Shumala crew know what they are dealing with?

In the photo above, you see the 9-car train just halting at Shumala, and the Consolidation power will cut off and pull ahead to make space for the local switch crew to work. To sneak a peek at what is coming, note that there is a gray covered hopper in fourth position in the train, followed by a tank car.
     The Local’s conductor hands the train’s waybills to the switcher’s crew. On the front end of the train will be some cars for Shumala and for the Santa Rosalia Branch. But behind them will be cars for Guadalupe. It is not evident from looking at the rear of the train where the division might be. At the left of the photo below is the same covered hopper seen above.

(On the prototype, the conductor would have exited the caboose and gone into the depot to hand the set-out waybills to the agent, who in turn would have handed the waybills for the pickups to the conductor. But my layout doesn’t have a depot interior for this event.)
     So in our operation, the switch foreman now has the waybills, which are in train order, and finds these two for the fourth and fifth cars in the train:

     Since the waybills are in train order, he expects (and finds) that all cars behind this tank car are also going to Guadalupe. Some are loads and some are empties, but all are destined to Guadalupe. That means that the switcher will pull off only the front four cars of this particular train.
     Then there are usually some cars that the Guadalupe train will pick up, and the switcher places them in the train. The locomotive of the Local then returns to the train, the switch foreman hands all the waybills for the continuing train to the conductor, and the Local proceeds (railroad) eastward, leaving the switcher with its cut.

    The Local is now proceeding to Guadalupe (off layout, in other words, back to staging) and the Shumala switcher has its next batch of cars to sort. This is a simple process, relies on waybills for the crew to do its work in switching out the local, and gets the Guadalupe train on its way fairly quickly.
     Sometimes the train is not so well blocked, and the Shumala switcher will have to pick out the cars to be removed from the train, but ordinarily the San Luis Obispo yard has prepared the train so the work goes as I’ve just described. This is just one of the waybill-based features in an operating session on my layout.
Tony Thompson

Friday, November 22, 2019

How about a simple kit?

I get emails from time to time, essentially asking the question that is today’s title. I don’t believe that many of my blog posts are about terribly complex projects, but I decided to choose something all could agree is simple, and show what I did. This won’t be particularly revealing to experienced modelers, but hopefully will show that even with a very simple kit, there are enhancements you may like to make.
     I chose a kit from my modest remaining stash (some years ago I sold, traded, or gave away a large part of my own personal “hobby shop,” a possession familiar to many of us). It is an Accurail box car, one specially decorated for Western Pacific by 5th Avenue Car Shops for sale by the California State Railroad Museum. I happen to serve on the Museum’s Collection Committee and like to support the museum’s activities when I can, so I bought one of these. It is in fact simply different lettering on an existing 4100-series Accurail kit. Currently Accurail markets WP kit no. 4117, with the as-built lettering (shown below).

The car sides and bracing pattern are indeed similar to the WP prototypes, 1000 cars built by Pullman in 1916, numbered 15001–16000. But there are three issues with what you see above. First, you can see the kit’s fishbelly underframe,, which the WP cars did not have. Second, you can see an outside metal roof, whereas the prototype had an outside wood roof, covered with asphalt roofing sheets. And third, the prototype rode on Andrews trucks throughout its life, not the AAR trucks shown. Finally, in 1947 WP began renumbering some of these cars as 26001–26125 and adding the then-current lettering scheme. Here is a prototype photo of WP 26072:

This image is from Jim Eager’s book, Western Pacific Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment (Morning Sun Books, 2001), and is a Robert Larson photo taken at Oakland, California in April 1970. You can discern all of the three differences from the Accurail kit that I mentioned above.
     As it happens, the Accurail/CSRM kit has exactly the lettering of this prototype photo. Trucks and underframe can be changed to match the photo. The roof would be a bigger challenge to file smooth and add a representation of tarpaper, but a few of these cars did get outside metal roofs in later years, so the kit roof could be retained. So I decided to go ahead with this project.
     Viewing it just as a kit, this is of course an extremely simple project, the directions for which require only installation of center sills, insertion of brake components into shaped holes, and mounting of a vertical-staff brake wheel. But I did decide to do a few things differently, both in terms of how I like completed kits to perform, and in terms of this specific prototype.
     First, I almost always change the Accurail car weight, because I don’t like covering the screw holes in the underframe with the full-length weight. I simply use a hacksaw to cut the weight approximately in half, then glue the halves to the floor with canopy glue Here is how it looks.

     Second, for this car, the prototype did not have the Accurail fishbelly center sill (5th Ave. Car Shops inserted a notice to this effect in my particular kit). You can either cut it down to about 1/8-inch height, or just use 0.030 x 0.125-inch styrene strip. I chose the latter. With brake gear installed but no brake levers or rods yet, it looked like this.

The white additions will of course be painted dark gray.
    To install Kadee #158 whisker couplers, I sliced off the post on the underside of the coupler box lid, drilled out the post location, then tapped 2-56 all the way through the box and floor, so I can install the box lid with a screw. For trucks, I used some cast white metal Quality Craft Andrews trucks I had on hand, installing suitable Reboxx semi-scale wheelsets. Last, the brake staff was cut to length, and placed with CA, as was the brake wheel. A coat of flat finish completed preliminaries.
     For weathering, I used my acrylic wash methods (to see a thorough description of the method and its uses, consult the “Reference pages” list at the top right of this blog post). I also applied some slight color differences to individual boards, in both the side sheathing and the running board, using artist’s “Prismacolor” pencils. Lastly, the usual route cards, reweigh and repack stencils, and occasional chalk marks were added to complete the car.

     This is indeed a simple kit, and was enjoyable to complete. I likely don’t have as many Western Pacific cars on my layout as I should, so this will be a useful addition to the fleet.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Southern Pacific’s 200-ton flat cars

Like nearly all large railroads, Southern Pacific had on its roster a few heavy-duty flat cars, both depressed-center types and straight-deck cars. I am going to address the latter here, specifically the 4-truck cars of 200 tons capacity. There were five of these in the transition era, all essentially comprising one-piece steel underframe castings from General Steel Castings (GSC), with very minor differences among them. These have been described as welded cars, but in fact the car bodies were essentially one-piece steel castings, with a sheet-steel deck welded on the body.
     The first four cars, classed as F-200-1, were assembled from GSC castings and delivered by Mt. Vernon Car Company in 1941, and were numbered 44091–44094. In June 1953 they were followed by a single car, SP 44095, also built from a GSC casting, classed as F-200-2. This time the car was completed at the T&NO shops in Algiers, Louisiana.
     (More about these cars can be found in my Volume 3 of the series, Southern Pacific Freight Cars [Signature Press, 2004], covering automobile cars and flat cars. As that volume is unfortunately out of print, I will summarize here, repeating some material from the book.)
     Included below is a photo from General Steel Castings, showing the underframe/body casting for the F-200-1 cars. You can see that no deck is present. The cars had independent brake systems at each end of the car, thus no need for brake rodding to pass through the heavy cast ribs in the center of the underbody (GSC photo).

These cars rode on pairs of trucks under span bolsters. They were 100-ton trucks, with 6 x 11-inch journals, but unlike most trucks this heavy, had a wheelbase of only 5 feet in order to fit under the car. Note that the top of the span bolster lies below the wheel height (Mt. Vernon Car Co. photo).

     The completed cars of the two classes are difficult to tell apart other than by car number; the earlier four cars have slightly sharper corners where the side sill profile drops down at car center. Here is a photo of SP 44093 when new (Mt. Vernon Car Co. photo). The choice of the “B” end is arbitrary, as each end has an independent brake system and handbrake wheel.

     A nearly identical design and assembly was used for the additional fifth car in this group, SP 44095, built in 1953, though this car was assigned to a different class, F-200-2. All five cars were only 45 feet long. Here is a view of the new car at Sacramento General Shops.

     These cars were of course used for extremely heavy loads. I will just show a single example, a pair of chemical reactor vessels that required a 200-ton flat car for each vessel. The nearer flat car is SP 500600, formerly SP 44091. (This SP photo, negative N-7731, is from the Richard Buike collection.)

     Though these are rare cars, they offer the opportunity to modelers for interesting loads, and thus are something we often wish to model. I will turn to modeling in future posts.
Tony Thompson