Monday, July 29, 2019

More about lumber loads

In my previous post on this topic, I described how a cast-resin type of lumber load could be adapted for use on flat cars or gondolas (you can see that post at: ). In the present post I want to do a different kind of load.
     I will begin by referring back to a post in which I showed a variety of loads built by my late friend Richard Hendrickson (that post can be found at: ). One point I like to make, amplified by the Hendrickson loads just mentioned, is that not all flat car lumber loads were the same. The size of lumber varied, of course, and so did the amount of lumber. The cars with lumber loaded as high as box car roofs were certainly often seen, but a variety of lower loads can also be seen in photos. One example is shown below, a photo I took myself in 1955 at SP’s Midway Yard in Los Angeles; the load is about half the height of the switcher cab.

This kind of photo suggests that one should field a variety of sizes of flat car lumber loads. By the way, switcher 1382 is a Baldwin VO-1000.
     With the goal of building some shorter loads, I have collected coffee stirrers for awhile, especially the wooden ones that are about 5.5 inches long, 1/8-inch wide, and 1/32-inch thick. Then I start gluing up layers, with the layers above the bottom only represented by short ends, looking like this:

     The height of course is something you are free to choose. I wanted to make these two stacks shorter ones, like those shown in the prototype photo above. Once I got to about 15 layers, I felt like I was about where I wanted to be. Before closing the top of each stack with full-length boards, the stacks looked like this.

     When finished with 15 layers of boards, 7 boards wide, with only the top and bottom layers made entirely with full-length boards, and each intermediate layer with a full-length board on each edge, the finished stack contains 170 pieces of wood. Richard Hendrickson once said that every modeler ought to build one lumber load board-by-board, but would then have to decide if they wanted to repeat the experience — ever. I now understand his point.
     With the two stacks finished, I now added stakes to the load, spacing them to match stake pocket spacings on the flat cars usually used for lumber on my layout, the Red Caboose SP cars. I deliberately made some of these stakes rather longer than really needed, in accord with the prototype photo at the top of this post. When that was complete, cross-ties were applied. The prototype photo shows no longitudinal ties, though those are shown in the AAR Loading Diagram, and in fact photos of many prototype lumber loads of this general kind show an absence of longitudinal ties. Compare this view to the prototype view at top.

     To demonstrate the contrast of these shorter lumber stacks with “full-height” stacks, I show below the same locomotive and flat car of lumber shown above, with an additional flat car with full-height Owl Mountain lumber loads (if you wish, you can read a review of those loads at this link:  ).

     I should also mention another way to build lower-height loads conveniently, which is with the lumber kit from American Model Builders (kit no. 289: see it on their web page at: , and scroll down to no. 289). Here are two kits worth of stacks.

     My own preference is for the individual-board kind that I built, but the AMB stacks look quite good too. Either way, I look forward to having both full-height and low-height lumber loads on my layout, to suggest the variety that would have been seen on the prototype.
Tony Thompson

Friday, July 26, 2019

Waybills, Part 66: car movement system

In my previous post, Part 65, I wrote about what model waybills do in a layout operating session, and of course the main purpose is to direct car movements, loaded and empty, as the operating plan directs. This can be accomplished with a wide variety of waybill types, including stunningly unprototypical ones, but all of them can work. That post, should you wish to read it, is here: .
     In a comment to that post, Jeff Aley made some additional points. With Jeff’s permission, I want to develop those, because they are important in model railroad operation. Here is his first point:

     “I think there's one additional objective for the CC&WB. In systems
     where a Car Card is mated to a Waybill, the system serves as a means
     to track shipper's demands for cars, and the subsequent delivery
     of loaded cars to consignees.”

This is quite true, and any system for car movement on a layout needs to do exactly what Jeff describes. It need not be a car card-waybill combination (what Jeff refers to a CC&WB), but can be any of several systems.
     For my layout operating sessions, I create an “Actions” list for all industries, though some of them will have no cars at them, and others will have cars at them that don’t move. The point is that I know what is going to happen at every one of them. Here is just the Shumala part of such a list. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

Note that I contemplate two cycles of work, though only the first one is shown above, and for each cycle, I list what the starting point will be, and what action takes place in each cycle.
      This kind of planning is one way to address car movement cycles. The general problem of car cycles, that is, the patterns of car movement over a series of operating sessions, is a real one. It isn’t solved directly by waybills, nor directly by any CC&WB system, though of course something like a four-cycle waybill does direct four cycles (and why stop at four?). There has to also be a tracking process, unless you stack multiples of four-cycle bills into a car-card holder.
     I keep track of what cars go to what industries with what I call a “pairs list.” This is just a list of all industries and the waybills which exist for cars going to or coming from that industry. I’ve described the construction and use of such lists in a couple of posts. The first of these posts is a topic introduction, and it is here: . I have followed that up in several places, perhaps most usefully in this one: .
     Jeff also made a second point, related to the first. Here is his statement:

     “The system may also implement the home routing of empties.”

Here of course we recognize that both prototypical model waybills, and most CC&WB systems, readily accept an additional Empty Car Bill in a sleeve, or empty cycles on the four-cycle bill. The question, though, may be routing, and this is what I think Jeff means. If you model a railroad in the center of the United States, homeward empties may go in all directions, and you need a way to correctly move them, assuming of course that you wish to follow the Car Service Rules in most cases.
     There are a number of versions of Empty Car Bills out there, as I have identified in several posts (you can use the Search Box at upper right of this post to search using “Empty Car Bill” as the search term). Hopefully most people want to do better than something like this, where one simply removes the waybill:

     As Jeff pointed out, the drawback to switchlist systems is that you don’t immediately know where a car should go for the next operating session. On my layout, it isn’t an issue since most outbound cars return to storage (I have way too many cars for my layout, which has the good point that there is lots of variety among operating sessions, but obviously the drawback of repeated car handling.) But in any case, I dislike the idea that we program long series of car movements. I generally only program two: loaded and empty.
     On Otis McGee’s layout, partly on account of the complications of dividing northward (railroad east) trains at Dunsmuir for movement over either the Siskiyou or Cascade Mountains, there need to be more waybills in a certain fraction of the car sleeves to permit variety. I described this problem and the current solution to it in one of my waybill posts (you can find it here: ). This applies to the selection of both loaded and empty paperwork, as it has to apply to either route.
     I thank Jeff Aley again for raising what I think are significant points about the use of waybill systems for layout operation. (Of course, I may not be addressing the points that Jeff actually intended to make . . . if so, I hope he will respond.) Maintaining realistic car movement in an ongoing series of operating sessions is an interesting challenge, and there are a variety of ways to approach the problem.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Beer as an industrial commodity

Those who have followed this blog for awhile will know that my layout includes two shippers of wine grapes and wine, products that fit into the area I model. As background for those who might not understand how the wine business works, I wrote a blog post, with a title parallel to the present title, some time back (to read it, go to: ). I have also included commercial wine information in a clinic I’ve given several places recently, on wine tank cars.
     I have no reasonable way to do anything similar for the beer business, or even for the ingredients that go into it, in the area I model. But that doesn’t rule out depicting shipment of those ingredients, nor the by-products of beer making. I can identify a couple of these, as I will now describe.
     As we know from the classic German beer purity law of 1516, real beer is made from just three ingredients: barley, hops and water. (Never mind our friends at Anheuser-Busch, who use immense quantities of rice.) Today, even in Germany, a fourth ingredient is in use: yeast. Centuries ago, the fermentation of beer was allowed to proceed with airborne wild yeasts, whatever might happen to land in the fermentation tank, but nowadays a chosen yeast is added to gain control of what happens.
      Of course, the process has gone from a small scale (in the Middle Ages, most peasants made their own beer at home), to production facilities like the one shown below from the 16th century (internet), to enormous industrial plants today.

     The barley is used in the form of malt, that is, grain that has been steeped in water to begin germination, during which enzymes develop and the starches stored in the grain start converting into sugars. The germination process is stopped by drying the grain with warm air, then “toasting” it to the desired degree for the kind of beer to be made. It is then called “malt.”
     The hops are the flowers of the hop plant, and add both bitter flavor and stability to beer. For a number of years, the United States has been the leading hop producer in the world, followed by Germany and the Czech Republic. Today, American hop production is almost exclusively in Oregon and Washington states, but prior to World War II, Sonoma County in California was an important producer too (some hop kilns survive in that area; the hop flowers were dried in the kilns before shipment).
     Where’s the railroad part of this? Obviously both malt and hops have to be shipped in bulk from where they are produced, to breweries. Malt is shipped in bulk to large customers, and can be moved in covered hoppers. Nowadays it usually is shipped in huge plastic bags, but not in the 1950s.
     Hops are usually compressed into bales of about 200 pounds and burlap wrapped, and in the 1950s then shipped in insulated cars to keep it cool. Before insulated box cars, shipment was often in (un-iced) refrigerator cars, or, if in bulk, in covered hoppers.
     I decided to model something to represent these shipments. One of the major Western malting companies was Great Western Malting, formed in 1934 as Prohibition was ending, by all the major Northwest breweries (Olympia, Rainier, Blitz-Weinhard) and some grain companies. The plant was located in Vancouver, Washington.
     Until 1960, there was also a company called California Malting, in the City of Commerce (Southern California), just outside the city of Vernon, where I had a summer job at Alcoa during college. I well recall their towering silos, which I could see some blocks from where I worked. Here’s a detail of a photo looking northwest, from the Kelly-Holiday Aerial Photos collection at the Los Angeles Public Library; you can see quite a few railcars on the near side of the plant. At the right edge of the plant is Malt Avenue.

In 1960, California Malting was merged into Great Western Malting, and for a time was called the California Malting Division of Great Western.
     I decided a covered hopper could work to represent this part of the story, and with a modest time warp, decided to label it for Great Western’s California Division. This is an InterMountain SHPX covered  hopper, though I don’t know if Great Western actually leased SHPX cars. (You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish.)

     Hops are a somewhat fragile product and lose freshness readily. They are usually stored at low temperature, and preferably are protected from temperature in shipping. They would not be shipped in covered hoppers in most situations, except perhaps for very large customers. Nevertheless, awhile back (over 40 years ago, in fact) I created a covered hopper labeled for a hops cooperative. It’s actually an original Varney model, which is simply a hopper car that has had a roof with hatches added to it, and isn’t actually a prototype. Here that’s okay, since I didn’t use a prototype lettering scheme either.

This model was actually described in the Model Railroader “Paint Shop” column in the issue for March 1982, page 128. I had replaced the cast-on roof corner grabs and side handrail grabs with wire, and added correctly sized and located AB brake gear. When General American first began to lease covered hoppers, their reporting marks were GATX, like tank cars, but were soon changed to GACX. I have modeled that change, implying that this was a very early GA lease car.
     Both these covered hoppers operate in my mainline trains, but are not switched on the layout. However, there is another bulk-shipped product associated with brewing, which is the spent malt, after fermentation is completed. It is washed and dried, and is then valuable as animal feed; it can be composted to make fertilizer; and can be dried and used as fuel for the brewery’s energy needs. But that’s another post.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Weathering a freight car for 1999

This subject, a freight car in 1999, may seem wildly improbable for a 1953 modeler like myself. But it was a challenge I took on for a friend, Seth Neumann, who models part of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999. He wanted to have a model on the layout of a freight car, quite old by 1999, which could be on its way to the Western Pacific Museum in Portola, California. He chose a Kadee PS-2 two-bay covered hopper, a Western Pacific car built in 1958.
     Obviously the first issue was how it might have deteriorated in service (externally) after some 40 years on the rails. Small (by subsequent standards) covered hoppers like the 2003-cubic foot PS-2 were originally mostly used for cement service, but were superseded in the early 1960s by larger-capacity cars, and many were re-purposed for other cargoes. The Southern Pacific, for example, reassigned many cars of this size to carry chemicals or rice. I know that at least some of the WP cars were similarly re-purposed. I decided to model that kind of car instead of a cement car.
     Shown below is the manufacturer’s photos of this model. Obviously work was needed to reflect its 40 service years.

     The first thing of course is the weathering degree. I decided to begin with acrylic washes to provide a base of general dirt. I then applied a light coat of gloss and applied rust streak decals. These were the same Weathering Solutions decals I used and written about before (see my post about them at: ), I didn’t want this to be too heavy or extreme, just enough to suggest a car late in its life.
     Next, I needed to deal with all the changes in car maintenance lettering over the years after 1958. Cars had to be reweighed periodically until the 1970s; cars with plain bearings like this car had to have them repacked periodically; brake gear had to be oiled and tested; and in the late 1960s there were ACI labels applied. I needed to reflect all these things. I’m not a historian of the post-1960 era, but will summarize below what I think I know (corrections or additions welcome).
     The ACI (Automatic Car Identification) labels were introduced in 1967, and it was mandatory for all railcar owners to apply them, although as late as 1975 only 90 percent of all cars had the labels. But by that time, it was already evident that the system could not continue. Dirt accumulation on the labels caused false readings, as did physical damage like scrapes. Railcar owners were supposed to have an active maintenance program for the labels, but that didn’t really happen. The system was abandoned in 1977, but labels, evidently applied with a really good adhesive, remained visible for many years after.
     In 1972, a  consolidated stencil was introduced by the AAR for air brake maintenance, and was called a COTS label (Clean, Oil, Test, Stencil) to record work that was done. This was a single black box, and was adopted slowly. In 1974, a two-box label that added lubrication information for the wheel bearings was introduced, and the Federal Railroad Administration made it mandatory for all cars. But the exact format varied from railroad to railroad. There is also a 3-box version used by some railroads.
     Finally, cars had been required for decades to be reweighed periodically to determine light or tare or empty weight, but as all-steel cars became predominant, weight variations essentially disappeared, and in the 1970s the reweigh requirement was eliminated. Of course this 1958 car would have been reweighed multiple times, and should display a 1970s date as its last one.
     As an illustration about these various elements, shown below is a  photo I took in 1981 in San Luis Obispo, California, of a car in a passing train. It’s SP 400502 (SP Class H-70-8, originally numbered 165077), and exhibits the color-bar-code ACI label, and one of each of the COTS stencil types, all in three adjacent panels. This car happens to be heavily cement-stained, but that wasn’t the look I was aiming for. Instead, as mentioned, I wanted to do more of a general service car.

You may also notice above, the ‘yellow dot” U-1 wheel label. These were the result of a 1978 program to identify safe (yellow dot) and “unapproved” (white dot) car wheels, and were mandatory for a short time, but were never required to be removed. They were often painted out or had COTS stencils put over them in later years, so I decided not to add a U-1 label.
     A variety of modern freight car decal sheets have some or all of these elements, so I dug into my collection and pulled out a few. Where do they go? Perusal of 1980s and later freight car photos shows the ACI labels, and COTS stencils especially, in all kinds of locations on cars (the photo above is definitely only one example). To illustrate this point, I can show photos of covered hoppers with the ACI label in the rightmost panel, in the second panel from the right, and in the third or fourth or fifth panel from the right. I just chose a few suitable places.
     Once I had applied all the rust streak decals, and the various special stencils just described, I went back to the model with some acrylic paints and dry-brushed things further to make sure the older elements (such as ACI labels) were suitably dirty, and to increase the “crud” buildup around roof hatches. Here is the model at this point.

     Last comes the issue of graffiti. I know many modelers truly detest this aspect of modern railroading, and have banished any hint of it from their layouts. But to me, it’s just plain old reality, folks. Modern freight cars without graffiti are as unrealistic, to my eyes, as modern freight cars with pristine paint schemes and no rust or dirt. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I know it isn’t universal. So I contacted the owner of this model, Mr. Neumann, and asked if he wanted some graffiti added. He said, “In 1999? Sure.” I just used felt-tip pens to approximate some of the lettering I have seen here in the Bay Area, not the full-car, many colors, shading galore kind of artwork, but just lettering, along with a few tags.

Incidentally, the word “Nesta” is Bob Marley’s middle name, and is frequently seen locally. It seemed to me that the other side might as well be different, so I added the tag “OAKT” that one sees being used to suggest Oaktown, the residents’ tongue-in-cheek way of referring to Oakland (sports fans will know that one of the Warriors’ jerseys in recent years was lettered “The Town” with the same idea).

     Remember, this car is supposed to be a retired car, on its way to a railroad museum for restoration and display. But hopefully it looks like it has some history.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Waybills, Part 65: Why the fuss

In the previous post, Waybills Part 64, I described the main reason I think a modeler might be interested in prototypical-looking waybills: for the same reason as having interest in prototypical-looking timetables or train order forms or switch lists, or for that matter, any other railroad printed matter. Here is a link to that post: .
     But as I noted in that post, this is only one aspect of the question as to why one might want to use prototypically designed waybills. There is a second aspect too: what do such waybills accomplish on the layout (beyond their appearance)? So in this post I will address that question.
     Of course, in one sense, all model waybills do what any car forwarding system does: direct the car to its destination. This is as true of the 1961-era Doug Smith car cards, as for any more modern version of car cards and waybills, and the same is true for any switch-list procedure. In that sense, there is nothing distinctive about “realistic” waybills.
     But when a switch crew, for example on a local freight train, looks at the paperwork for what they need to do, compare the following possibilities.  First, this is Allen McClelland’s minor 1970s modification to the original Doug Smith idea, described in Model Railroader in 1961 (“Card Operations,” Dec. 1961, p. 52). It’s a 3 x 5-inch card.

The blank car has been typed at left with car information, and at right, inserted into a taped-on plastic sleeve, is a waybill, also typed. It does give an origin and a cargo, but for a switch crew, most importantly gives the destination, the freight house at Ballard. (I used this system when my layout was in Pittsburgh, that is, prior to 1994.)
     On other layouts, a switch crew might be working with this:

This is the familiar four-cycle waybill, originally described in print by Don McFall (Model Railroading, Vol. 13, Fall 1982) and available commercially from a couple of sources. It only gives a destination and a cargo, though origination points could be added. Car routing could also be added, though I have rarely seen that done. The particular destination shown here is actually a staging yard.
     Neither of these, of course has resemblance to the prototype waybill (the point I made in the preceding post), nor does it contain the kinds of information in a prototype waybill. I have discussed prototype and model waybills in a number of blog posts, and also in published articles on waybills, such as my update in the January 2018 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH (you can download that issue, or read MRH on-line, for free, at their website, ). So I will just summarize.
     Shown below is an example of the waybills I use in operating my layout, continuing with the same Milwaukee Road box car shown in the previous examples. This time the car is destined to the House Track in Shumala.

     Obviously the document above contains far more information than the preceding examples. It may be worthwhile to clarify what some of this information is, with the annotated example below (taken from the MRH article just cited), for a different freight car. Indicated on it are the various items of information, some of which identify the shipper and consignee, along with other parts of prototype waybills. (You can click on the image to enlarge.) Note that car routing is included. The car in this example is destined to the Team Track in Shumala.

You may also notice some hand-written marks on the bill, as was common with the prototype.
     This bill, as I mentioned in the previous post (see link in the top paragraph in the present post), has the virtue of looking like the prototype document. But in operational terms, it provides little more than the other two waybill types shown above (other than routing), and indeed, provides no more directional instruction than could a switch list. The example shown below can direct cars as required just as well as any sort of waybill.

The missing part of a switch list, of course, usually is car routing, if yard work needs to be done, but as you see above, a column on the list for “destination” can even do that part of the work.
     Operationally, then, a prototypical waybill does not do more to direct switching work than would the earlier, more primitive waybill types that do not resemble the prototype. But they have the advantage of realism, looking like an actual railroad document instead of a card you might draw while playing a board game. Whether that’s important to you is a personal decision.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, July 14, 2019

“There should be something there.”

The simple sentence of the title  is one I often heard from my friend Richard Hendrickson, when we discussed modeling. What did he mean? He was referring to smaller details, things that weren’t major features of a model, but nevertheless could be noticed. (For anyone who doesn’t know or may not remember who Richard Hendrickson was, I wrote a memorial post about him, which is here: .)
     One detail about which he used the sentence, was cast-on grab irons. He maintained that the lack of a separate, free-standing grab iron was secondary to the fact that there was a linear, three-dimensional object in the right location. I emphasize “right” because that was the key point about this principle. The viewer’s eye sees something in the right location and moves on — provided, of course, that it isn’t a major detail. And naturally, modelers may differ about which details are “major.”
     Back in the day, before resin models or high-quality styrene models from InterMountain and others (not to mention Kadee, Tangent, or others that we have today), freight car modelers mostly had to start with the simplified products available in the Athearn “Blue Boxes,” and their equivalent from other manufacturers of the time. And these had cast-on grabs and ladders, not to mention seriously oversize sill steps.
     I mention those details because they became a topic of genial disagreement between Richard and me. I invariably would carefully carve off the cast grab irons and install a wire replacement, but leave the sill steps because I wanted them to be durable. Richard, by contrast, would often leave a cast grab iron in place but without fail would replace the sill steps with metal parts, equally durable as the originals and far better looking. Here’s an example (you can click to enlarge if you wish):

This is Richard’s conversion of a standard Athearn 40-foot box into a 40-foot auto car. In hindsight, I think I agree with him that the cast sill steps were more obvious than the cast grabs.
     Of course there is no “right” answer here; the preferable decision was to replace both the grabs and the steps. And in later years, both Richard and I went back and completed the redetailing of most cars like this, so that eventually all had both wire grab irons and metal sill steps.
     But the idea that “there should be something there” had gotten established in my mind, and I soon realized that Richard applied it in a whole bunch of areas. A dramatic one was repacking data. For those not sure what or where this is, I show below a photo detail. This car has had old repacking stencils painted out over some length, then the new one added just above the sill, right next to the ladder.

 This car is SP Class B-50-28, photographed in the summer of 1952. (For background on what this repack data block describes, see my post here: .)
     Here is another example, a T&NO car showing a very different appearance of a paint patch for application of repacking data. These two photos are probably the extremes of length and height of such paint patches, though prototype photos certainly show a very wide variety of such patches. The good news here is that the modeler is free to pretty much do what is convenient. (detail of Paul Dunn photo, Sheldon King collection)

     Before there were decent decals of the 1-inch lettering used in repack stencils, it wasn’t clear what to do in representing “what should be there.” Richard for some years used N-scale dimensional data decals, cut to the right size and then applied upside down so there was no risk of reading them. Again, it would be nice to have “correct” lettering for repack data, but the most important aspect is that there be “something there.”
     I recently replaced a terrible-looking running board on a friend’s model, not a great model but a rather ordinary commercial product. Rather than install wire corner grabs, I followed the principal of there being “something there” at the corners of the lateral running boards (the new boards are styrene strip). I used shaved-off corner grab moldings from old plastic running boards. It looked like this before painting.

When painted, the intent is that the viewer’s eye will see something there at the corner, where there should be something.
     I don’t advocate this kind of modeling in general, though there are times it may be appropriate. But just like Richard’s upside-down data decals, things like this are definitely better than having nothing there at all, and do most of the job of convincing the observer that where something is expected, indeed, there is “something there.” I’d bet that most modelers can extend these examples well beyond what I’ve described!
Tony Thompson

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Thoughts on John Allen, Part 2

At the risk of beating this topic from the past to death, I do have a few additional comments I would like to make about John Allen and his legacy, following my first post on the subject (that post can be seen at this link: ).
     Some additional aspects of his modeling deserve emphasis, and I will begin with another of the famous back-cover ads from Model Railroader of the 1950s. (There is an irony here, in a way, because all of these famous ads were photographed before John began his final version of the layout, the one that became so famous in later years.)

This ad was on the back of the February 1953 issue of MR. Allen had become a friend of Gordon Varney and photographed Varney products for the ads, but note, for example, that the Varney 4-6-0 locomotive in the background of this photo is not lettered. Like Varney’s diesel locomotives and streamlined passenger cars included in some ads, Allen did not actually run most of these products on his layout and didn’t letter them for his railroad.
     The ad shown was intended to promote the steel refrigerator cars spotted at the ice deck, and the stock car in the foreground. Note that the stock car is lettered for Allen’s railroad, the Gorre & Daphetid (intended to be pronounced “Gory and Defeated,” a too-cute name Allen was to regret for years), but the car was never available from Varney in that scheme. More about that in a moment.
     In the prior post, I mentioned the dinosaur switcher that Allen had invented, named Emma. He even used Emma in one of the Varney ads, here promoting the separately available power truck and twin geared drive truck from the diesel switcher shown at right, tellingly still lettered New York Central. This was the back cover in April 1953.

     In the previous post, I mentioned that Allen had a locomotive roster that was well weathered, and it was entirely steam (except for a gas-electric . . . and a streetcar). One of the illustrative photos is the one below, of the garden tracks of his engine terminal at Great Divide on the layout, showing an entirely weathered fleet. This photo, like some in the previous post, is from the Kalmbach book, Model Railroading with John Allen, by Linn Westcott (1981), and is used with permission from Andy Sperandeo. Some of these engines are modified from the locomotive kits of the day, others are modified brass imports. All had working headlights, a far from universal feature in those days.

You have only to read issues of Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman as late as 1970 to notice that very few others were accomplishing this kind of appearance.
     Some years ago I decided I wanted to have some sort of G&D freight car in my fleet, and I turned to the Varney ad you see at the top of this post to know what to do. I used some of the graphics Allen had published to make tiff images, and reproduced them on a laser printer, then applied them to a Train Miniature stock car (frankly, it’s a better model than the Varney stock car). Here’s the result, and you can compare to John Allen’s version in the photo at the top of this post. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

I will admit that this car is rarely part of an operating session, but it was fun to create, and occasionally appears on the layout.
     John Allen’s legacy is now receding into the past, and I know that most younger modelers have little interest in Allen’s layout or photographs. But he was one of the pioneers of much that we do today, from weathering to completed scenery to realistic operation and photography, and his accomplishments certainly have my respect. Of course I recognize the caricatures, some of which do grate a bit, and not all the humor is very funny; those things have to be balanced with the positives. And I guess it’s a kind of tribute that I have a G&D stock car in my own car fleet!
Tony Thompson

Monday, July 8, 2019

Modeling highway trucks, Part 6

Awhile back, I wrote a group of posts for this blog, about ways I have approached the modeling of highway trucks. One of the posts was entirely about semi-trailers, mostly Ulrich metal models, and in it I introduced a source I have really valued for truck graphics, Graphics on Demand (you can visit them at: ). You can read that earlier post at: .
     I followed that post with two additional posts, merely giving more examples of the truck lettering variations I chose to apply. Those posts can be found by using the search box at right, with the search term “modeling highway trucks.” In most of the models I used the Graphics on Demand lettering, which to be clear, is not a water-slide decal but is thin, clear vinyl that is peel and stick. With a coat of flat over it, you would find it hard to detect the lettering sheet.
     Previous posts have been about box vans and closed semi-trailers. I wanted also to model a tank truck, partly so I could represent another regional oil company. Of course there were many cargoes in tank trucks other than petroleum products, but that was one goal. I was able to find an Ulrich tank trailer on eBay awhile back, and cleaned it up preparatory to a coat of primer. I then added Reefer Yellow to the trailer. I think the prototype trailers were probably a lighter yellow, but decided to go with the bright color anyway. Photos of Signal highway equipment vary considerably in paint scheme details, so it does not appear that any one scheme is essential. Below is an internet image of one example, with a black underbody. This tractor is yellow, but Signal used black tractors too.

     With the tank body yellow, I applied the Graphics on Demand lettering for Signal, a little different from what you see above, bu certainly in the same ballpark. I also added Signal Gasoline emblems on the sides and rear. With a coat of flat over this, the glossy stick-on graphics pretty much disappear.

The trailer is shown here with a Mini-Metals International Harvester tractor, not one that I might necessarily pair with this trailer on the layout, but one that was handy for the photo.
     I have continued to develop other semi-trailers, as in previous posts. One example is the Denver Chicago Trucking body, which I showed in a previous post to have been painted with a blue roof by some prior owner (see that post at: ). The Ulrich roofs are held on with a single screw from the bottom, so I could remove it and repaint aluminum. This becomes an attractive trailer, with these original Ulrich graphics on the body.

I don’t know for sure that this company used aluminum (rather than green) roofs, but the photos I was able to find on the internet for this prototype were ambiguous, so I am going with this.
     One trucking line I especially wanted to represent on the layout was one that was very familiar to me, growing up in Southern California. It was Pacific Intermountain Express, or PIE. Their huge lettering on trailers, decades before the era of “supergraphics,” were really eye-catching. Graphics on Demand offer this scheme, so I added it to one side of a silver-painted Ulrich trailer:

This semi-trailer, pulled by an Ulrich cab-over tractor, is shown on Pismo Dunes Road on my layout.
     These new trailers add variety to my fleet of these models. I like to have a whole group of tractors and semi-trailers that can be mixed and matched on the roads of my layout, and can be varied from operating session to session. This is part of making sure the layout looks at least a little different every time people visit.
Tony Thompson

Friday, July 5, 2019

What can you say about John Allen?

Recently I was digging out an article from a Model Railroader (MR) issue of the 1950s, and happened to look at the Varney ad on the back cover. It took me right back. In those days, these rear-page ads were often built around John Allen photos of his layout. They were always interesting, and I know from speaking to lots of people who remember them, inspirational to many. I show an example below, and will comment.

This was on the back of the September 1953 issue of MR. It was promoting the newly released Varney flat car, and of course one of Varney’s mainstay products, the Dockside 0-4-0.
     Today, with many, many fine layouts around the country, it might be asked why this photo would be inspirational. The first reason is that the modeled area shown was completely scenicked, and also has quite a number of HO-scale figures. All you have to do is look at the layouts featured in MR in those days, or at the “Trackside Photos” section of each issue, to realize that this degree of completeness was pretty unusual. Secondly, it depicts a railroading scene, not just rolling stock, which of course was staged for the photo, but nevertheless dramatic. And third and not least, it’s an excellent photograph (Allen was a  professional photographer), and far beyond most of what was published in those days for layout photos.
    But even before the Varney MR ads, which began in June 1952, Allen was already a familiar name and image to modelers, because his photographs had created an impact in the hobby. His professional ability to photograph under strong light, to make it look like daylight, and to choose low viewing angles, along with his use of realistic sky backdrops, made the photos a revelation in that era. I will just use a single example, from Allen’s “tabletop” period, before he had a layout. In the 1950s, this was one of the most familiar photographs in model railroading. (Used with permission. Years ago, Andy Sperandeo told me I could use some Allen photos for this blog.)

The figures, incidentally, were mostly made by John himself, using wax over a wire armature. And yes, that’s another photo including a Varney “Li’l Joe” Dockside.
     This brings me to the point of Allen’s legacy. He died way back in 1973, so he has been gone a long time, but to older modelers, his memory is indelible. It is probably best captured in a Kalmbach book, assembled by Linn Westcott from Allen’s photos and with Allen’s own comments from many letters and articles. I show the cover below of the original 1981 edition. This was reprinted a few times, and eventually re-issued as a hardback in 1996.

It has now even  been re-issued in an “expanded” edition by Benchmark Publications, in 2011 (with a few added photos). There also exists a DVD of visitors’ film clips. You can buy any of these items from on-line sellers.
     In addition to his photos, the other matter that had made John famous was the engine house he submitted for the 1948 national model contest that MR used to run. It’s a marvelous structure, mostly made of cardstock with big windows and skylights for viewing the detailed and lighted interior, but it caused a stir (to put it mildly — you should read the letters to MR!) because John not only weathered it, but added bird droppings along the rooftop and model pigeons (though they are not in this photo). John was not the first to weather structures, but as a contest winner, this instance got a great deal of attention.

In this particular image, John added track and two figures that are O-scale in the foreground, to accentuate the perspective.
     Something else that got a lot of attention directed to John was his whimsy, usually expressed on his narrow-gauge railroad rather than on the standard-gauge part of the layout. For example, he described the yard crew finding a stegosaur in the woods and pressing her into switching service. Allen said that she “wasn’t very smart but was obliging and very strong,” while having the further advantage that she could switch narrow-gauge and standard-gauge cars equally well. Unfortunately, she  never learned to use the ash pit. Here is Emma at work.

John liked to say that he had things like this on his layout, “because they amuse me, not because I don’t know better.”
     Less recognized by most (though included in Westcott’s book) was Allen’s interest in prototypical operation. His operating sessions were well-known for his insistence that crews understand and use prototype procedures, long before most modelers even could have understood “operations” beyond the kind of session where “Joe, you run the passenger, and Stan, you follow him with the coal train,” or equivalent. Allen doesn’t often get credit on this front, but he was a true pioneer of realistic operation.
     Now his nay-sayers will get exercised about what can be called his “caricature” scenery (including some mechanically dubious bridges), and certainly a lot of it was exaggerated. Also often raised is the issue of the dinosaur switcher and other foibles. But the idea of a completely scenicked layout, operated in a quite realistic way, was far beyond his own time. As I said, you have only to read MR issue from the 1960s and even into the 1970s, both the articles about layout visits and in the tell-tale “Trackside Photos,”  to know what I mean.
     I guess on balance I have great respect for what Allen showed the hobby, about scenery, photography, and operation. He used heavy weathering of buildings and equipment when few did, built many fine structures and pieces of rolling stock, was a creative modeler, and explored scenery techniques long before most of his hobby. Yes, there is caricature in some of what he did, but for me, the positives deserve as much emphasis as the negatives.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The 36-foot box car

As early as the turn of the 20th century, there were some railroads that began building 40-foot box cars and never looked back. These included the Harriman roads, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific. But other major railroads, such as the New York Central, built many thousands of 36-foot box cars in the early 20th century, and some roads continued to build them into the 1920s.
     But most of these cars had wood superstructure frames and many had wood ends, which would shorten their lives. Already by the beginning of World War II, much of the 36-foot fleet nationwide had been scrapped or rebuilt into other forms, and by 1950, few were still in service.
     Still, there were cars like this in service in my modeling year of 1953. Why am I mentioning this? Because my car fleet should contain at least a couple of these cars. Rarities by 1953 they might well be, but certainly not all vanished. Thus my interest in the Accurail offering of a variety of 36-foot box car models in HO scale.
     These models were first announced at Trainfest in Milwaukee in the fall of 2015. At first, only a limited number of paint schemes were made available, but gradually there have been more and more of them introduced. Within the Accurail 36-foot car offering are four body types: the 1300 series, with steel outside metal roof, steel ends, and an underframe with a fishbelly center sill; the 1400 series, the same as the 1300s but with a straight steel center sill; the 1700 series, with the steel outside metal roof, wood ends, and a fishbelly center sill; and the 1800 series, the same as the 1700s but with a straight center sill. You can see current paint scheme offerings at the Accurail website, at: .
     Ray Breyer has done a superb job of summarizing each of the Accurail series, in terms of the prototypes that used the cars, and their lifetimes. These reviews are available as PDF documents at Eric Hansmann’s site, which is located here: . You will see separate PDFs for each of the Accurail number series just listed. These are great sources of information, and I recommend them highly. And thank you, Ray, for the help!
     I approached the potential acquisition of one of these Accurail cars in just the way I described in an earlier post about choosing new cars for the fleet (you can read that post at: ). But the number of useful cars for modelers of 1950 or later comprise a rather short list. Moreover, perusal of Ray’s document shows that very few Western railroads were indulging in 36-foot cars of this kind.
     Anyway, I went ahead and studied Ray’s information, and then I could list the following prospects for my 1953 modeling year: 1300 series, Missouri Pacific (photo below); 1400 series, L&N and maybe D&RGW (the latter requiring a bit of a time warp); 1800 series, D&H. But as it happens, Accurail to this day has only listed the L&N and D&H paint schemes as future releases; neither has actually appeared. So that leaves me with this prototype (photo from Ted Culotta collection):

A distinctive feature here is the reverse corrugated end, nicely modeled in the Accurail kit.
     The Accurail kit for this car is no. 1303, and as Ray Breyer points out, it is a fairly close match except for the fascia board on the MP car. I acquired one and assembled it, a simple process with Accurail kits (aided by the Ray Breyer “tutorial” on the underframe, on the same Hansmann-site page as the car summaries). I installed Kadee no. 158 “whisker” couplers to avoid the reported size problems with the Accurail coupler box.
     I then proceeded to weather the car in three stages. First, a light weathering with acrylic washes, and a coat of flat. Then, some very slight emphasis of individual boards, suing Prismacolor art pencils, followed by another grayish wash.

Completing the car included reweigh and repack data patches and a few chalk marks. The route cards remain to be added in the photo above.
     I also have one other 36-foot box car in my fleet, an L&N model inherited from Richard Hendrickson. I don’t know how he modeled it except that I remember he had mentioned once that he had kitbashed it. It’s from a group of L&N cars that was rapidly shrinking in Richard’s model year of 1947, and in fact gone by 1953, the year that I model. But I’m keeping it anyway, at least for now (there’s that time warp again).

     So what’s next? I may choose to build the Accurail 1800-series car lettered for D&H, whenever it’s released, or I may decide that two 36-foot cars is about the limit for 1953. But in either case, I have a very small representation in my fleet of the disappearing 36-foot box car in 1953, and that was my goal.
Tony Thompson