Friday, May 31, 2019

Modern couplers in an Ulrich gondola

Older modelers are certainly familiar with the cast white-metal Ulrich freight cars, including their early-style GS (General Service) drop-bottom gondola. Younger modelers have probably seen them on layouts, at swap meets, or on eBay. They are really a pretty good representation of the Enterprise GS gondola design of the 1920s, purchased by a number of railroads. Southern Pacific was prominent among those railroads, thus my interest, but UP and several other roads acquired similar if not identical gondolas. Here is an original Ulrich kit box for those who might not have seen one.

As the box lid shows, they also made hopper cars, box and stock cars, flat cars, and a War Emergency outside-frame gondola. They also made an extensive line of nice highway trucks.
     One of the challenges of many of these freight car models is couplers. If built according to the kit directions, they are supplied with a cover plate to fit the coupler box that is cast onto the car body. In early Ulrich kits, this cover was a sheet-metal part, but later was a white-metal casting. This cover plate has a small hole in it, which fits over a slender post (with a hollow end) in the coupler box, and the modeler is instructed to rivet the end of the post over the plate, securing it in place. Step 5 of the GS kit directions shows this.

     Shown below is this coupler box before a cover plate (shown resting on the underbody next to the coupler box) is added. You can see how slender is the post inside the coupler box.

     But modern couplers depend on a considerably larger post, so using the original coupler box as-is doesn’t work well. There are a couple of approaches that can  be taken. One is to start with a Kadee coupler box lid, and remove the center post, placing that post over the Ulrich post, then installing the Kadee coupler and riveting on the cover plate. This is simple, but has the drawback that the riveted cover plate precludes any further adjustments or repairs.
     Another approach is to remove the Ulrich post, drill and tap the base of the coupler box for a 1-72 or 2-56 screw, open the cover plate hole to clear this screw, add that center post from the Kadee lid, and then assemble the Kadee coupler with its normal spring. Here’s an example.

     The method shown above does work, but an even simpler method occurred to me. I took the Kadee box lid with its post, and simply fitted it upside down. That is, the lid is intended to be on the top of the box, when the freight car is upright, but I placed it like the Ulrich cover plate, so that on the upright car it is on the bottom of the coupler box. I used a Kadee whisker coupler here (No. 158) to avoid any issues with fitting the sheet bronze spring.
     Next, I glued on the box lid with canopy glue, which might seem to defeat the desire to have access to the coupler for maintenance, but the glue is readily cut with a razor blade or softened with water, so if access becomes necessary, it can readily be accomplished. Here is such an installation, before painting boxcar red.

     Either the screw closure using the original Ulrich box lid and a Kadee post, or the Kadee box lid, work well and are a way to provide modern couplers in this older model, while avoiding the permanence of riveting on the cover plate.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Modeling bill boxes

Some years ago, back in 2012, I posted photos and a description of the prototype Southern Pacific waybill box I had managed to acquire at a Winterail event. You can read that post, including some good examples of the kind of agent’s messages that were sometimes provided to crews in these boxes, at this link: . These boxes, as I showed in that post, were on the outside of SP depots, normally near the trackside door into the office area.
     In that prior post, however, I did not even give the dimensions of the prototype bill box, though they were added in a comment at the end of the post. Just to repeat, my SP box is 13 inches tall at the back, 11 inches tall at the front, 6 inches deep, and 9 inches wide. Of course, most of these boxes were made informally, many from plywood, and may well not have been standard, but these dimensions provide a starting point. And incidentally, a follow-up post showed a prototype SP bill box at a restored depot (see it at: ).
     I have been adding HO scale bill boxes to the depots on my layout. From what employees have told me, in the transition era they were usually SP’s depot trim color, Light Brown, and indeed, B&W photos from that period show a darker color than the Colonial Yellow walls. In the late 1960s, bill boxes at depots still in operation were often painted aluminum, and still later, some were painted red. The prototype one that I have is definitely red.
     The easiest way to make an HO scale bill box for a depot or freight house is to start with Evergreen styrene strip, say, scale 6 x 10-inch size (no. 8610) — not exact but close enough.  Then file a shallow angle on one end and cut it off to be 13 or 14 scale inches tall at the top, and paint to suit your era (mine need to be Light Brown). Here are a couple of them:

Yes, they re pretty small. But they do show up when applied to a model depot. Shown below is the bill box newly applied to my depot at Santa Rosalia (it’s an American Model Builders kit for the standard SP CS-22 design depot). The box is to the right of the doorway to the right of the bay.

     I have even applied a bill box to the depot in my layout town of Ballard, though it is on the side of the depot that would only be visible for someone standing inside the layout (which isn’t really possible, of course). My apologies for the somewhat washed-out photo.

     But these scale-size bill boxes are of course far too small to serve any purpose in an operating sessions. What I have been using recently are old oak file boxes, for 3 x 5-inch cards, to serve as bill boxes. Any waybills a crew needs in a town, along with any agent’s message, can be found here, and crews are by now accustomed to this. That’s the box on the fascia shelf.

     Can one do better? I have often had a brief thought that it would be nice to have a bill box that looks like the prototype, but have never gone farther than that. So you can understand that I was startled and gratified to see just that kind of bill box, when I visited Dave Salamon’s layout in Tulsa, Oklahoma a few weeks ago. He had built exactly what I imagined! The instant I saw it, I had to take a photo.

The top is hinged, whereas the SP prototype opens at the bottom (as I showed the post whose link is in the first paragraph of the present post), but that’s just a detail. Dave’s layout is N scale, but of course that has nothing to do with the size of waybills that would be inserted into this box.

     I was delighted with this discovery, and Dave immediately told me he had written a description of it for N -Scale Magazine, published in the issue for September-October 2017, and he was kind enough to send me a PDF of the article. With Dave’s permission, I show below the dimensions of his bill box (which he uses to serve an interchange with the Frisco on his layout).

     This is neat, and I am strongly tempted to use the idea myself. My waybills would fit in the 3-inch width of this design, though I might make it a little taller (if the front piece is 4 inches tall and the back then increased to 4.5 inches, it would be a better fit for me).
     This was quite a discovery, and full credit and congratulations to Dave for the idea and its implementation, as well as for sharing it in print. Now I find myself having that thought once again, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have more prototypical bill boxes on the layout . . .”
Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Sure spots, Part 5

In the previous post on this topic, I complained about failure to read (or take seriously, or perhaps even understand) instructions for car spotting at industries. I showed the kind of information that switch crews have at their disposal, but nevertheless sometimes manage to misunderstand or ignore. That post can be found at: .
     But I also recognize that there are some other spotting issues, beyond those in the previous post. These are in areas where I need to figure out how to convey information better. It seems obvious, at least to me, that a box car to be unloaded, for example, needs to be alongside an unloading platform, yet model railroad crews will sometimes spot the car well down the spur, away from the loading dock.
     Now in the prototype, of course, such a car can be moved by local workers. One person I talked to told me that prying under a wheel with a crowbar would suffice to start a car moving, then it can be kept moving by a couple of men shoving to the desired spot. But you can be sure that the workmen would greatly prefer the car to have been spotted correctly in the first place, and if not, you can be sure that the local train crew will have been told about it.
     A particular problem is spotting at house tracks and team tracks. By definition, a house track is located at a depot or freight house, and has an unloading platform or warehouse door. So when I have a waybill specifying spotting at a house track, the car should be spotted at the depot (my layout has no freight houses) and alongside the platform so that it can be unloaded. The example below is at my layout town of Santa Rosalia, and the Erie box car was supposed to be spotted at the house. Instead, it is really spotted on the team-track portion of the spur.

Obviously the house, meaning the freight section of the combination depot at right, is well away from the spot of this box car. So what did I want the crew to do? To spot the car at the loading dock so its cargo can be easily unloaded and taken into the depot.

I have seen prototype waybills destined to the “agent, house track” or sometimes just “agent” at the town in question. This usually implies spotting at the house track, and the agent is to take custody of the cargo, likely having it moved inside the depot until the consignee can pick it up. But I prefer to identify the consignee on the waybill, as indeed is usual prototype practice.
     This is something I emphasize in my briefing before an operating session. Consider the waybill below.

A switch crew may cry out, “I can’t find the Torlaksen Construction siding anywhere,” and I quietly point out to them that the waybill does say “team track” right on it.
     This waybill, as it happens, is a good example of where a crew can usefully think about what they are doing with this particular load. By definition, a team track is a place where consignees can unload freight cars into or onto their trucks or other conveyances. (And, less commonly, to load their goods into freight cars for departure.)
     This obviously means that there is flexibility in such spotting, even on our model team tracks, that are typically far shorter than the prototype. But even so, spotting a car so that it overlaps a nearby industry, or is virtually at the fouling point of the switch into the team track, would certainly limit unloading convenience. I only ask that crews take a tiny moment of thought to recognize how a car would need to be unloaded.
      The waybill above describes a load that might be unloaded directly onto a truck, so it would be helpful to spot the car alongside a truck in the vehicle area at the team track, if one is already there, or alongside the obvious loading area. Shown below is an example of what I mean; the flat-bed trailer might well be in place to receive the pieces of granite. The car could have been spotted with its door alongside the trailer, acting as a loading dock. But of course, the truck can move as needed.

Visible at right, incidentally, is the very small freight shelter that I built for this team track, as described in an article for Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH, in the August 2018 issue (that issue of MRH can be read on-line, or downloaded, for free from their site at: ).
     So instead of the truck, a crew might think that the small loading platform at this team track might be used by the unloading personnel, for convenience in moving the cargo. In that case, they might spot the box car as shown below. In this case, at least, either arrangement could work.

But as I’ve already mentioned, too often crews don’t think about spotting locations.
     So enough complaining: what can be done to help? One option is to define sure spots within  locations such as team and house tracks, which would direct crews as to what to do. But as far as I know, this is entirely unprototypical. Instead, I will modify my briefing to direct them to try and recognize how a car will be handled. Certainly local crews did so; they very much had the convenience of the shipper or consignee at heart, and if they did not, their supervision would soon set them straight.
     What else might I do? One possibility, beyond the briefing (which realistically has a limited impact), is to emphasize the use of the "information cards” for each town (for my prior description of these, see the third post in this series, at this link: ). I will have to try this out and see how well it works for team tracks.
     I will also expand the ideas behind my agent’s messages to crews, to make sure they correctly spot certain cars. This is prototypical, as an agent’s way of correcting crew errors in the past, sometimes very explicitly. I gave a number of examples of such messages earlier; you can visit my post at: .
     Although I continue to regard these ideas about spotting cars as mostly common sense, I realize that not every operator has thought or is going to think about the needs of a shipper or a consignee at various locations, especially “indefinite” ones (as someone once said) like team tracks. I will continue to see how I can better convey these ideas to operators.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Fixing Athearn tank car coupler pockets

I have modified a fair number of Athearn "Blue Box” tank cars over the years, both the ordinary type with a single dome (but which I raised in height to make it prototypical — see for example my post about SP cars at this link: ) and the “chemical” tank, as Athearn calls it, the insulated high-pressure car.
     These models are an artifact of an earlier era, and cry out for lots of upgrades, many of which I’ve made. But in the present post, I am only discussing one aspect of these cars. The Achilles heel of these models for operation is the coupler box arrangement. It often develops into “coupler droop,” not at all good for operation.
     Let me begin with the underframe itself. This is probably familiar to most modelers, a two-part design in which the cover plate, as we may call it (the upper part in the photo), mates with the main frame (lower part) and, among other things, forms the couple box lids at each end. The ends of the cover plate are a friction fit between the support braces at the car end, which is the source of the problem. That friction is not always maintained over time.

What is needed is a positive closure to the coupler box lid, so that it maintains its location, and also will also permit maintenance of the coupler, if needed.
     Below is a close-up of the coupler box when built as Athearn intends (though with a Kadee coupler). When new, this arrangement usually works fine. It is what develops over time that becomes a problem.

     Doubtless there are many solutions to this problem, including installation of a completely new coupler box to fit the chosen brand of new coupler. My choice is to fix the Athearn box. First, I use a razor saw to saw through the cover plate, somewhere between the car’s body bolster, and the back of the rivet row which “defines” a coupler box. That gives me a separate box cover.
     Next, I carefully center punch (or scriber indent) the center of the coupler post in the box, and drill it out. Usually I drill it No. 75, then follow with a No. 51 drill, and tap 2-56. This gives me the threaded hole that will accept the future screw closure.

Note here that you can see right through the drilled and tapped hole, and the tank handrail is in fact just visible through the hole. The Kadee spring is in place here also.
     Next, I drill the now-separate coupler box lid with a hole for a 2-56 screw. The hole center, of course, must be located first. There are two ways to do this. One is to use an existing drilled box lid, and just use it as a template. But how do you create the first one?
     That’s the second way to locate the hole. I disassemble the model and remove the underframe from the car, after drilling the coupler post as described above. Then placing the coupler box lid in its normal position in the frame, I drill down through it No. 51 from the top, that is, from the top of the frame as seen on an upright car. Then the hole can be enlarged to a No. 42 clearance drill with the cover away from the frame, or it can be left as No. 51 and tapped 2-56 so that the closure screw holds everything together. Either method seems to work.
     I then reassemble the coupler, the box lid, and a 2-56 screw closure, and paint the screw head black or dark gray or whatever color suits the model. When all this is finished, the only clues to the change are the screw head, of course, and the saw cut where the box lid was separated from the rest of the cover plate. That cut is just visible here as a dark line between the rivet row at the back of the “box” and the bolster.

     Nowadays I would do this conversion as part of any work on an Athearn “Blue Box” tank car. But back in the day, I didn’t always do this part of the project, and have had to go back to some of the older Athearn tanks in my fleet and fix them. But it’s worth the effort. The couplers then stay where they are supposed to be, and the cars operate as they should.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Promontory 2019

As most railfans and modelers must surely know by now, May 10 of this year was the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, completing the first transcontinental railroad. I attended the commemorative event as part of attending the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society’s 39th annual meeting in Ogden.
     As always, it is a joy to be in the presence of the Wasatch Range, which looms over the Salt Lake Valley in dramatic fashion, especially in winter and spring when abundant snow caps the higher peaks. I love this kind of mountain presence, and when outdoors in this area, you can hardly turn your head without noticing the Wasatch. Here is a typical view in Ogden.

     As it happens, this event was a joint meeting with the Union Pacific Historical Society, so the two societies shared clinic access, vendor and model room, and buffet breakfasts in the convention center. And for our banquet Saturday night, the two societies were joined by members of both the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society (R&LHS), and the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS). That made the banquet attendance over 800 people (including a fair number of spouses). Shown below is only part of the room.

Note the large display screens. These were on both long walls of the room, permitting everyone to see the speakers, as well as keynoter John Gray’s slides during his talk.
     I suppose the core event was indeed the commemoration at the National Historic Park site. As had been predicted, it was over 20,000 people. They arrived, we were told, in more than 1500 automobiles and 81 buses. The SPH&TS and UPHS had organized 12 buses to take our members to the site, so at least we didn’t have to drive in the traffic. Naturally, not being VIPs, we did not get particularly close to the reproduction locomotives and the re-enactment of the spike driving, but we sure got the flavor (they had display screens and a PA system). They even had a U.S. flag flying with the correct number of stars for 1869.

     For many railfans, I’m sure the headline event was the arrival of newly restored UP 4014, the 4-8-8-4 nicknamed “Big Boy” from what was chalked on the smokebox of one engine at the Alco plant by an unknown workman. I rather liked the fact that the restored UP engine did carry this same chalked mark near the smokebox top (how it looked is known from a photo). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

I was intrigued with the details of the restored locomotive, many of which are modern applicances instead of restoring only the classic technology of 80 years ago. An example is this air tank.

     Also making a difference in the Ogden area was a street fair to mark the occasion of the 150th anniversary. The photo below, at the corner of Lincoln and historic 25th Street, is only a block from Union Station, location of the display of both the Big Boy and UP 844, plus the UP business train. There were crowds everywhere in this festival, which was fun to stroll through.

     Finally, I always try, when I visit the Salt Lake area, to drop in at one of my favorite bookstores in the world, the King’s English (see their site at: ). Co-founder of the store, some 42 years ago, was Betsy Burton, and she has written a marvelous book about the store’s early days and the adventures of booksellers. If you like books, you would love this one. It’s readily available on line, in either hard cover or softbound. Here’s one link: .

     It was a wonderful five days, and I really enjoyed practically everything about it. A great combination of interesting and engrossing activities, with enjoyable spring weather and marvelous mountain views.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Sure spots, Part 4

The concept of a “sure spot” means a particular point at which a car must be spotted, such as one particular spur, or a particular loading or unloading facility along a spur, or even a particular door at an industry. I wrote about these awhile back (see that post at: ) to define terms, and to describe some of the issues in my own layout operating sessions. The present post pursues this topic further.
     (Part 2 of the series can be found at: .) That post described the need for information cards at various layout locations, derived from the excellent paperwork provided to operators on Al Frasch’s old layout on Whidbey Island in Washington. I implemented Frasch’s ideas to make my own information cards, and then I showed some examples in Part 3 of the series. You can see Part 3 at: .)
     Let me illustrate a problem I am trying to solve (or at least make into less of a problem) with the model tank car shown below. It is an acid tank car, that is, without bottom outlet, which means it has to be unloaded through the dome. It is a 7000-gallon model from Tangent.

This car is classified in the AAR system as Type TA (where originally “A” meant acid, though eventually the designation came to mean any car without a bottom outlet).
     Next I show a possible waybill for this car. Most tank cars carrying chemicals on my layout will go to this same destination, Pacific Chemical Repackaging. Note that the car type, TA, is on the waybill, for those who might not recognize that this is an acid tank car.

Many waybills in my system do indicate desired car spots, but as you see above, many do not, as was prototypical. In part this was because crews that did the job every day knew very well where each kind of car would be spotted. The information card idea, described in the Part 3 post cited in the second paragraph of the present post, is an effort to encapsulate that kind of knowledge. 
     So for additional help when the waybill doesn’t specify the spot, here is my Frasch-style information card for that part of the layout:

     This should clearly describe how cars are to be spotted. Crews may also be using the schematic town map for Ballard, which shows the location of all industries and their designated spots. Shown below is the map portion relevant for Pacific Chemical Repackaging, and this clearly shows where Spot 2 is located on Track 3.

     Yet even with these information resources (the waybill, map and information card), crews do sometimes fail to correctly spot the car. A local crew may not recognize that this car has an acid-type dome, though the waybill directly tells them that it’s a Class TA car, and indirectly tells them that with its identification of the acid cargo. Moreover, the information card instructs that cars other than high-pressure (TPI) cars should go to Spot 2.
     My last backup for information is the agent’s message (see, for example, my description at this link: ). The agent’s message at Ballard for a recent session did specify placing this car at Spot 2. Yet despite all this provided information, the car was spotted between spots 2 and 3, as you can see below. On the prototype, that would mean that without moving the car, neither unloading spot could service the car. So despite all these kinds of guidance, there have still been occasions when the spotted car was like this photo.

Note in the photo above that there is a top-unloader fixture at Spot 2, which of course is what a Type TA car would neeed for unloading. Spot 1, to the right, has all the hoses to unload high-pressure cars.
     The photo above represents, I think, a failure to read (or perhaps understand, or take seriously) directions. I am considering ways to try and make matters even more clear, perhaps by improving the briefing I give crews before they start work.
     Prototype operation requires more than just attention by crews to paperwork. They also need to observe locations and the arrangement of each consignee siding, to determine what might be necessary for helpful and convenient spotting. I hope to convey those ideas to future operators.
Tony Thompson

Monday, May 13, 2019

Completing a REALLY old project

I have, from time to time in this blog, posted descriptions of completing projects that had languished for awhile. Well, my subject today is about a project of in-process antiquity unmatched in my experience. As it happens, it is a WestRail kit for an AAR 50-ton flat car. Now, many of us own ancient kits, still in their original boxes. But this kit is distinguished by the fact that I started building it as soon as I got it, back in 1988 . . . and then it got put aside.
     For those who don’t know, WestRail was a business run by the late Richard Hendrickson, with extensive help from his wife Sandra. WestRail began with several kitbashing projects, using as starting points, the “raw materials” of the day, mostly Athearn Blue Box models. After marketing several such kits, Richard brought out a mostly new car kit, using Athearn 50-foot gondola underframe center sills but otherwise new parts. The gems of the parts were the stake pockets. Richard had these cast in lost-wax brass, and they are exquisite.
     (As a further aside, anyone not sure who Richard Hendrickson was, may be interested to read my “in memoriam” post on his passing. It can be found here: .)
     I had gotten the hardest part of the kit completed, drilling all the holes for the mounting pegs on the stake pockets and getting the pockets straightened up square with the body and glued in place. I had also done the simplified underframe, omitting brake details that would be invisible. But there I stopped, and back into a storage box went the flat car. Here’s a photo of the bottom of the model at that point. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you like.)

You can see that I used a bunch of A-Line weights under here, as one of the biggest potential operation shortcomings of flat cars is inadequate weight. It has all been painted black because the intended prototype is Northern Pacific.
     The biggest challenge remaining was to make the deck. The decks on these cars were what is called “overhanging,” meaning that their width overhung the side sills and extended out to the outer edge of the stake pockets. That in turn means that the deck needs to be notched, if you will, to clear each stake pocket. This is a bit of a tedious task, but with a no. 11 X-acto blade it actually goes pretty quickly. The material I used is Evergreen V-groove sheet with 0.080-inch spacing. I then cleaned up the notches with a small flat file.

You can just see, about one-third of the way from the right edge, where I joined two pieces of the styrene sheet to make it long enough. The next step was to use rough sandpaper to give some texture to the deck, and to gouge some scars into it, reflecting the kind of hard use that flat cars get. I also used the corner of a razor blade to drag down some of the grooves, widening them. One often sees on prototype decks, that boards are distressed in this way.
     With work on the deck completed, I primed it with Tamiya “NATO Brown” (no. TS-62) as a base color, though it will be thoroughly weathered. It could then be glued to the car body. The body is a thick styrene sheet, with the car sides and ends along its outsides, and the Athearn center sills glued to the underside. I showed the bottom view in the first photo of the present post, and here is a view of the top of the car at this point.

If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see the angle-iron supports between each stake pocket, which will support the overhanging deck.
     Now I used styrene cement to glue the deck to the body, and left it under weight to dry thoroughly. When that was done, I used the Champ decal set provided in the kit, no. HC-639, to letter it for NP 62186 (the cars were in the number series 62000–62299), and added a brass wire brake staff, with the kit’s brass brake wheel soldered to it. Here is the car at this point, with my standard Kadee no. 58 couplers and the kit trucks, with Reboxx semi-scale wheels.

     The deck of course needs considerable weathering, which was done at the same time as the car sides and ends and trucks were weathered. I lightly weathered the sides with acrylic washes, then used pretty much straight acrylic paint out of the tube, in a mixture of colors, to do the deck. (At the top of this post, on the right-hand side, are links to my Reference Pages on acrylic weathering.)

     The completed car is shown below, together with  my other WestRail flat car, lettered for Union Pacific. (I started building the UP kit as soon as I got it, also in 1988, and actually completed it then.) Note that the UP car has a deck of a lighter color, suggesting that such a deck has been in service for a longer time. The two cars are of course identical in length, so the apparent difference is just one of perspective.

     As he did with all the WestRail products, Richard Hendrickson chose railroad owners of these cars carefully to correspond with the 50-ton prototype design. I am pleased to have these two WestRail flat cars in my fleet.
Tony Thompson

Friday, May 10, 2019

Modeling open ice hatches, Part 2

Some time back, I posted a description of both the prototype details of ice bunkers, and of open ice hatches on refrigerator cars, and also showed some examples of my modeling approaches (you can read that post at this link: ). The present post is to show some refinements and extensions of that earlier post.
     The first thing I want to emphasize is that ice hatches were part of a closure for the opening at the top of the ice bunker; that what modelers call the “ice hatch” is really just the hatch cover; and that this closure design included a plug. In earlier days, it was a separately hinged part, and when photographed, it was obvious that the hinges were located at slightly different places. This is quite visible in the view below, which shows PFE 91022, the first car of Class R-30-9 (PFE photo). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

Hatch closures with this arrangement present their own modeling challenge, but that isn’t the topic of the present post. 
     When steel hatch covers were first introduced, they likewise had separate plugs like the older wood hatch covers, but soon the cover was designed so that the plug was part of it. You can see that on the builder photo below of a new PFE Class R-40-23 car (AC&F photo for PFE).

     The car that I am working on modeling with open hatches has steel hatch covers, thus will have the plugs integral with the cover. As I showed in Part 1 of this thread (link to that post in the first paragraph of the present post), one can use the Red Caboose molding as-is, merely painting the plug part light gray. Then the underside of the sprue looks like this:

But as I also showed in that prior post, using the hatch covers this way ends up with almost an invisible hatch plug. I decided to try adding a rectangle of styrene to the bottom of each plug, and then again painting the plug light gray. They then looked like the photo below. Note that the plug edges are rather rough, but on the model they really are only “space fillers” under the open hatch cover.

     I have used a variety of methods to install open ice hatches on my reefers. I tried a new one on this car. The idea was to put a spacer under the hatch, raising it to the desired angle, and then glue the hatch hinges to the “hinge bar,” my name for Part #4 on the Red Caboose Sprue A (the sprue shown in the above photos). Those bars are visible to the upper right of the hatch covers in the sprue shown in the first sprue photo. Then let the glue dry thoroughly before adding the latch bar.
     My spacer was a Model Hobbies wood tie, as you see in the photo below. The tie is rectangular in cross-section, and I used it in the “tall” direction. That tie dimension is 0.120 inches, almost 1/8-inch, so any kind of wood or styrene piece of that size could be used.

Incidentally, this model is renumbered from the “bad” lettering on the original Red Caboose decorated model, which had the number SP 96763, as shown in my post complaining about poor manufacturer lettering (see: ). I renumbered it with Microscale set 87-501, with the excellent new Dick Harley artwork.
     With the method shown above, I was able to glue all the hatch covers at the same angle. As I have mentioned in my first post about open hatches (the one with the link in the top paragraph of the present post), the opening angle should not be too large, often of the order of only 30 degrees. Here is my final appearance of these hatches. I like being able to see the hatch plug like this. The model in this view isn’t weathered yet.

     Another detail worth noting on this model is that I used the running board end supports from a Plano etched metal running board set. I also used the steel grid brake step from this step, as you can see in the photo below of the model upside down. The running board support will of course be painted.

The next step was weathering. Since this is the 1950 paint scheme, and I model 1953, I chose to make the weathering fairly light. In fact, these cars got quite dirty, quite quickly, as former PFE employees told me in interviews, but as late as 1953, PFE was still washing cars. That means that for my reefer fleet, age of paint scheme usually will not correlate with degree of dirt on the car. Here is the finished car, with a route card and a few chalk marks.

     This model with open hatches joins several other cars of the same class, R-30-9. I am now nearly done with my efforts to model the very large R-30-9 class of PFE cars. In all, this class contained 7694 cars, more than the total fleet of most reefer owners. Most of them, over 6900 cars, were still in service in my modeling year of 1953, so I need to operate a bunch of them. I’m almost there.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

More on choosing a car fleet

I have written a number of posts for this blog on the subject of choices for freight car fleets. In addition to some rather general ones (for example, see this one: ), I wrote a series by car type, explaining how I chose cars for my layout needs (primarily on the basis of traffic). There were originally 12 of those posts, with five or more later add-ons to the original series, and they are most easily accessed by using “choosing a model car fleet” as a search term in the search box at right.
     But this was brought back to my attention by a recent email from a fairly experienced modeler who is only now embarking on building a layout. He has a fair number of freight cars already, but asked me what I would recommend as a general principle — or principles — in choosing more cars.
     I answered him by starting with the importance (to me) of era. I think it is essential to choose as narrow a time to model as possible. Though there have been some who have chosen a particular month (Richard Hendrickson chose October 1947) or a particular year, as I have done with 1953, some people want a little more flexibility, and choose a longer span of time.
     But as Tony Koester has pointed out this is a slippery slope. His statement of the problem is that if, for example, you say you are modeling the 1950s, what you are really doing is modeling 1959 badly.
     Having chosen an era, ideally not more than about a year, you need to have, or start to develop, a sense of what freight trains looked like at that time. By this I mean, first, color. For example, modeling an era of mostly boxcar-red cars had better have a fleet dominated by cars that color. For any era, it would help to have a sense of dominant colors.
     I still remember being struck by the wisdom of a comment years ago by Rick Tipton in a Model Railroader article (June 1977, page 94). He pointed out that the plainer the colors of the cars in a train, the longer the train would look, because your eye tends to see only the entirety of the plainer consist, rather than picking out individual cars to look at. We always have less layout space than we want, and have to run shorter trains than we want, so anything that makes them look longer is a benefit.
     In the steam era, this would mean a predominance of boxcar red cars, as I mentioned; in more recent eras, it might mean a lot of plain gray covered hoppers and plain black tank cars. The point is to avoid distinctive cars.
     The photo below shows a train on my 1953 layout, with pretty generic colors of boxcar red, orange and black, and one stand-out red tank car. The tank car paint scheme is accurate and authentic for its era (incidentally, it’s an old Athearn metal “shorty” tank car). And this single car does not make the train look odd. But more such cars, say three brightly colored tank cars, would make the train a little odd unless it serves a chemical plant. On the other hand, a 1960s freight train would show many more vivid paint schemes. So fleet color needs to be both period-correct and balanced appropriately.

     In the same vein, I think it’s preferable to keep car lengths to a minimum. Whether we are talking about 40-foot box cars (versus longer ones) or twin-pocket hopper cars or modern cement covered hoppers, the point is to get more cars per foot of train, to make the trains look longer.
     But in talking about how trains look, I also mean car types. Were there a lot of ice reefers, or mechanical reefers? What proportion? If there were covered hoppers, what type and what size? Striving to achieve freight trains that look like prototype photos of your era, in your location, is I think an important element in realistic modeling. Obviously some research is needed to find out what were typical car types in your railroad’s trains in your era and locale. (More on this below.)
     Then we come to a couple of age-old questions. What proportion of the fleet would be home-road cars, and what proportion foreign (non-home road) cars? And which car types? On home-road proportions, I am convinced there is no single answer, because differing circumstances on different railroads gave rise to different home-road proportions. Estimates have ranged from a quarter, to over half, of all cars in the fleet being home-road, and as I state, your answer will depend on your particular era and railroad. For my layout, I described what I need in a previous post (see it at: ).
     I have discussed in previous posts the Gilbert-Nelson idea about the proportions of railroad ownerships among the foreign cars in a car fleet (see the post cited in the first paragraph of the present post), and this can help in choosing railroad names for your freight cars. Most of us already have lots of freight cars we “like” for one reason or another. It takes concentration to decide on buying, and perhaps having to build, cars we don’t feel the same attraction to, just to extend realism. Obviously that’s an individual priority if you choose to follow it.
     Now let me return to car types. An issue of the ORER (Official Railway Equipment Register) for your era will show you the fleet content of your own railroad, and that of every other railroad you are interested in. The graphs below compare the car fleet of the entire United States in 1950, to the car fleet of the Southern Pacific in the same year (percentages are given above each bar). I believe the differences are readily seen to be considerable. This is, in my opinion, the kind of information you need for every railroad you model, and it’s easily acquired. (You can click to enlarge if you wish.)

     Within the topic of choosing foreign cars is the possibility of “signature” freight cars, that is, cars distinctive for and representative of, each railroad’s fleet. I wrote about this topic in two of my “Getting Real” columns for Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH, in the issues for April 2013 and March 2015. You can read on line, or download for free, any of these past issues of MRH at their website, .
     So choosing a car fleet, if you want to achieve some degree of realism relative to a chosen railroad, era, and locale, has several dimensions. Personally, I find learning about all these factors to be not only interesting but actually fun, and it informs how I work on my car fleet and on my layout, and how I set up operating sessions. If you haven’t delved into this topic before, I urge you to explore it a little bit. I think you may well find that you enjoy it.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Roco flat car, Part 6: more about half-tracks

In this series of posts, I am discussing a variety of military loads for the Roco (sold in the U.S. by AHM) 100-ton flat car with 6-wheel trucks. I replaced that model’s original trucks, cleaned up the deck of the second-hand car I acquired, and applied new decal lettering (a post about all that is here: ). In the previous post about the Army’s M3 half-track, I showed prototype photos, including the loading arrangements used when these vehicles were shipped on flat cars (that post can be found at: ).
     I began work by painting the tires on the front wheels of the half-tracks black. I also painted all the seats in the rear of the vehicle brown, as they were leather. I also want to indicate a little dusty appearance, which I will add with an acrylic wash before a coat of flat finish.
     I also left off all the ordnance provided in the Herpa parts bag, machine guns, mortars, etc., as these would not have been mounted in the vehicles during shipping in peacetime. The vehicles can be assembled with front-bumper winches, which only some of the half-tracks received, and some of the models come with a representation of a tarp or canvas cover over the top. Photos do show that some vehicles in transit were fitted with tarps.
     Next I addressed the blocking used to restrain the half-tracks on flat cars. Here the prototype photos in the previous post (link provided at the end of the first paragraph of the present post) were essential in deciding how to do this. I simply used scale 3 x 4-inch and 4 x 4-inch stripwood and attached short pieces with canopy glue.

There is blocking in front and in back of both the front wheels, and the tracks in back.
     Choosing which and how much lettering for these vehicles is an interesting challenge. Photos from wartime almost always show the white U.S. star on the vehicle sides, though training photos do not always show a star. The SP prototype photos in the previous post show no stars. Earlier era photos generally reveal the serial number on the side of the hood, but in later years these are either too dirty to show up in photos, or have been omitted. I will leave one side of each vehicle entirely without lettering, and the other side with some lettering.
     Putting two of the half-tracks onto the Roco flat car, which is where this topic started, gives the result below. As I  said in the previous post about these loads (Part 5), the standard weight of an M3 half-track was only about 9 tons, so two of them certainly would not require a 100-ton flat car such as the USAX cars modeled by Roco. But those cars belonged to the Army and would have been handy in many cases to move military equipment.

     I am happy with these distinctive vehicles as loads, both for my Roco Army flat car and for even a 50-ton or 70-ton railroad flat car, given the modest weight of the half-tracks. Next I want to turn to some armor loads, because those will provide a real need for a 100-ton car.
Tony Thompson