Thursday, November 28, 2019

A small personal note

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2019

Waybills, Part 66: the Guadalupe local

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2019

How about a simple kit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Southern Pacific’s 200-ton flat cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Trackwork wars, Part 4

It’s been a whole year since I had to report on any “challenges” with my layout trackwork, so no doubt Murphy’s Law suggests I am overdue to report again. And I have indeed been fighting my way through a problem or two. The main current challenge is the same track area and turnout as in the first of the posts on this topic, back in 2016, which you can read at this link: .
     I have rigorously checked the track gauge throughout this Shinohara turnout, which is the lead to Track 7 at the back of my layout town of Ballard, so I believed that there was not a gauge problem. But steam locomotives of any wheelbase length whatever don’t play well with this turnout. I had long suspected that this turnout may not lie entirely in a single plane, as I noted in that previous post (see citation in previous paragraph), and I decided to borrow a friend’s tool for trackwork evaluation, a clear acrylic plastic “floor” with trucks. This has often been described in model magazines, and usually looks like this:

The turnout in question is at the far right of this photo.
     Moving this vehicle through the offending turnout, slowly and carefully in both directions, immediately showed that there is indeed an out-of-plane problem, that is, that the entire turnout does not lie in a single plane, but has one side or the other elevated at different points. That means that if you could make yourself HO scale, lie on the track, and sight along the rails, this turnout would look a little like a potato chip, with first one side and then the other side elevated.
     The best way to evaluate this in detail is to use a small level, which I proceeded to do. At first, I used the track car that you see above, laying the level across it as shown below, and this kind of works.

     But the truck mounting on this track car is not sufficiently rigid to permit dependable and reproducible observations with the level. Instead, the level was used by itself, both on each line of track converging into the turnout, and across all rails of the entire turnout. This quickly showed the “potato chip” problem. I soon learned to make sure that the level is resting on, and only on, the particular pair of rails I was checking.

     After brief reflection, I decided I should also re-check track gauge throughout the turnout area, just to make sure, and it was good that I did, since near the points the gauge was indeed a little wide. An additional track spike quickly fixed this. Here I am using my new NMRA Mark IVb gauge to verify conditions in the affected area.

     With the information in hand about track levels, I used some styrene strip of various thicknesses, and progressively worked through the whole turnout to correct each local area and bring it close to the full level that I wanted. Here is this turnout (the background track is the lead to Jupiter Pump & Compressor). The bridge here is the pile trestle across Oso Flaco Creek (see my post at: ). The shims are white.

     With the track shimmed and close overall to being in a single plane and in gauge, I decided to try and keep it that way. This turnout has had ballast in place, but not glued down, since I had been continuing to work on making this turnout perform better. But now, with things apparently corrected, or at least improved for the time being, I went ahead and used my regular method with dilute matte medium, dripped into ballast wetted with “wet water,” to tie everything down.
     Once everything had dried thoroughly, I powered up the layout and ran a 2-8-0 back and forth through this area. This turnout certainly performed better than before, though still not perfect. And of course I may have to revisit this yet again, one of these days!
     But the real test, as always, is an operating session. The just-concluded operating sessions over the previous weekend (you can read my account here: ) did find this turnout performing pretty well, certainly without some of the problems of earlier days. In the absence of a perfect outcome, I am happy to accept an outcome that is significantly improved.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

More operating sessions

This last weekend, I hosted two more operating sessions on my layout, the second being the 50th session on the layout in its present form (there were also around two dozen sessions on the layout when it was in Pittsburgh, PA, sessions of varying degrees of formality).
     This weekend I introduced a couple of new features that I have been wanting to incorporate. One of them was that the crew for the branch local train picked up their locomotive at the fuel and water spot by the roundhouse (I showed this in the new video of the layout; my post about it is here: ). They then ran the train from Shumala to Ballard to begin work.
     The other feature was an added mainline train during the session, this one an extra picking up empty ballast cars as part of a track maintenance campaign. I issued a Bulletin (shown below) to the crew at Shumala, and at the beginning of the session they found there were several empty ballast cars in the industrial spurs in town. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

The resulting train, behind a Consolidation and comprising entirely GS gondolas and ballast hoppers (most of them empty), was at least a little different than most mainline trains that operate in a typical session.

     The first day we operated, the crew was four people, as is the normal number. They divided into two groups, one of which was Ed Slintak paired with Tom Swearingen, who you see from right to left below, starting work at Shumala. This was Tom’s first time operating on the layout, and he definitely enjoyed the experience.

The other crew of two began work at Ballard and Santa Rosalia, with the first run of the branch local train, but then worked at Shumala in the second half of the session. Below you see, from right to left, Ray Freeman and Ed Merrin planning their switching.

     On the following day, Sunday, the 50th session, a new crew of four was present. This time the crews were Jim Radkey and John Sutkus, from right to left below, involved in their work at Ballard.

The other crew of two was Paul Chandler and Pat LaTorres, from right to left below at Shumala. I’m not sure why they look so puzzled. You can see the headlight of their switcher, just swinging off the main into the yard at Shumala.

     This was a good pair of sessions, and did implement some additional features that I had wanted to add. That pleased me, of course, and hopefully added to the fun for the operators.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A new video of my layout

Last August, the good folks from TSG Media, John Abatecola and his wife Cydney, visited my layout and shot a few hours of video, along with narration from me, and of course activities on the layout. This is part of their “Layout Tours” series, so it was my job to decide how I wanted to present the layout. I decided to treat it like an overview of an operating session, explaining some of the things I like to accomplish in a session.
     I included a few words about how cars are moved in a session, and showed some trains, particularly, of course, the branchline local that does the work at Ballard and Santa Rosalia. I also tried to convey the complexity of the job at Shumala, with a mainline junction present. But most important to me was that I was given the chance to explain why my layout is the way it is, and what my goals were in building it.
     I provide below a link to the YouTube version of this video. It has a couple of short ads scattered through it, which you can skip after a few seconds if you want (there is a “skip ad” button at lower right of the screen). I enjoyed watching it, and was particularly impressed to see the editing skill to boil down at least three hours of video into what you see (in a few segments, the switching was speeded up so you don’t watch the slow, repetitious bits).

     It was fun to plan how I wanted to show off different aspects of the layout, how best to explain my goals, and how I went about creating an operating scheme for the layout. And it was also fun to work with John and Cydney to create all the video that was recorded. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Brief update on armor modeling

Over the last year, I have posted a whole series of descriptions of HO scale modeling of armored fighting vehicles or AFVs, in connection with upgrading the old Roco model of a U.S. Army 100-ton flat car. Those cars were built to carry heavy AFVs, and were equipped with Buckeye trucks. I won’t list all the links here, though nearly all of them include the series title, “Roco flat car,” which if used as a search term in the search box at right, will find them all quickly. The most recent of the posts about armor and other loads for this flat car is this one: .
     One thing I included in those posts was references to a variety of published resources about AFV appearance, design and history. Recently I received an email comment that the publications I referenced were all more than 20 years old, and asking if there were more recent resources. I had cited the ones I felt were most informative, but yes, there are more sources. One is from prolific military history author Michael Green, whose most relevant book is shown below.

This was published by Osprey in 2014, and remains readily available in both hard cover and paperback, along with e-book versions, and can be purchased used from on-line sellers. It’s a 376-page book and is lavishly illustrated.
     Another book I found interesting delves into the design and performance of tank destroyers, like the M36 model of mine that I depicted in this post: . First published in 2004 in both hardback and paperback, The Tank Killers by Harry Yeide is currently available in a modified edition published in 2018. The cover is shown below.

This is a 5 x 8-inch paperback of 292 pages (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia and Oxford) and contains a great deal of interesting information, along with very thorough documentation (and footnotes).
     (As it happens, I picked up this signed copy at Foyles in London, though the seriously quirky and funky Foyles premises of the past have now been replaced with a more modern bookstore building a few doors away, still on Charing Cross Road — and still of remarkable size.)
     Both these publications, like the ones I’ve cited in previous posts on this topic, provide the most vital of all information for modeling: prototype appearance and time-line for when certain features were added or removed. However good a model starting point, such as a commercial model, the only way to make sure it’s right, or if not, to make it right, is to have the relevant information.
     I think modelers often fail to recognize how much rich information lurks in the world around us, especially conveniently on the internet (where, as the saying goes, Google is definitely your friend) and in many other resources such as published books and magazines.Try and think where all your desired information might be located, and be patient in your search(es). I’ll bet you find more than you expected.
Tony Thompson

Monday, November 4, 2019

Trackside details, Part 2: physical

In an earlier post, I summarized several past projects on trackside details, consisting in particular of signage for my layout. There were a variety of these, all shown with links to details on the individual projects (see that post at: ). In the present post, I want to turn to physical trackside details.
     An important and visible trackside detail is a railroad structure such as tool houses, handcar sheds, or section houses. I have two section houses on my layout, and two tool house/handcar shed buildings, and may try to add one more tool shed (if I can fit it in).
     I showed a section house in my post about details near the mainline tunnel on my layout (the post cited in the first paragraph). Another one was built to conceal a switch machine, as I have shown (see that project at this link: ). One of my tool houses is in Ballard, and is shown below. It’s a Rix “Pikestuff” kit.

Note the phone booth to the left, and the tie pile at right (more on that in a moment).
     Awhile back I realized, after visiting Paul Chandler’s fine layout, that I was missing something quite characteristic of most railroads and certainly the Southern Pacific: pull-outs for track vehicles such as speeders. The SP practice was to have about two per mile. After researching what these looked like, I did four posts about building them (here is a link to the concluding post of the series, and it contains links to the previous three posts; it’s at: ). Here is one of the completed set-outs.

     Another characteristic sight along rights of way might be racks of spare rail and piles of ties. I decided to model both, and did a couple of posts about them. Here is a link to the conclusion about modeling of these features: . An example is the rail rack below, shown also in that post.

An example of one of my tie piles, described in the post just cited,  can be seen in the first photo at the top of the present post.
     Lastly, I might mention something I like to see on anyone’s layout: naming of physical features such as roads, water courses, or anything distinctive. Railroaders have long used such landmarks to describe where they are working or need to move toward or from. I place small paper signs on the layout fascia for this purpose. The example below is in my layout town of Ballard, with both Cienega Creek and Nipomo Street identified.

     These kinds of details can and should enhance the overall appearance of a model railroad. They are items of detail that correspond to the things we see or know in the real world, and thus need to be part of our model world too.
Tony Thompson

Friday, November 1, 2019

Repairing an ancient Devore kit

I still have a stash of ancient freight car models from my youth, some of which I built back in the day (though not well), others of which have simply gotten damaged with the passage of years. In the present post, I want to write about one of these rescue missions, largely an upgrade. (By the way, this is a far more ancient project than the one I wrote about back in May, which is described at: ).
     The kit in question is a Devore depressed-center flat car, a 40-foot car that was cast in white metal all in one piece. This kit dates back to the early 1950s, and when originally built, had oversize grabs and sill steps, along with Varney dummy couplers.
     So what is this kit, really? I’m sure there are readers of this blog who have never seen a Devore kit box, so it’s shown below, in two images, both an angled view and the box end. You can click on the image if you wish to enlarge it.

You will notice in the image of the box end that this beauty cost all of $1.60 in that era.
     Having a one-piece body, the kit instructions are simplicity itself. They did occupy a full sheet of paper, and are shown below. You can find old kit instructions like these on the HO Seeker web site (a great resource of its kind). You can click on this image to enlarge it if you wish.

     I had damaged the sill steps in storage over the years, the Zamac truck sideframes had disintegrated, and the Varney dummy couplers just were not going to operate well with the Kadees on the rest of my fleet. And the paint was flaking off in places. I really don’t know what paint this might have been, but it was probably the Roundhouse 410-M product, of which I used a lot in that era.

     So what’s needed here? I tried paint stripper to clean the paint off, but it hardly touched it, so I resorted to lacquer thinner, which did indeed soften it so it could be rubbed off. I was able to pull all the damaged grab irons from the body, and then used a #75 drill to make sure the mounting holes were all clear.
     At that point, I began by installing the old grab irons to make the end grabs, that are inserted in holes in the bottom of the end sill, and then are bent 90 degrees to make them horizontal. These look somewhat okay, and aren’t very visible on a car in service, but they are quite oversize, as you will see in photos below.
      Next I installed A-Line Style B sill steps at all four corners, and these did fit the mounting holes. The same was not true of the scale 18-inch grab irons I had on hand, so I had to bend new ones to fit the actual mounting hole spacing, about 21 inches. I used some bronze wire I had on hand, 0.013-inch diameter, then secured the grabs and steps with CA. In this photo, the side grab is barely discernible, but the sill step is clear.

A second photo shows the side grab more clearly, and you can compare it to the end grab’s oversize diameter.

     What is needed next, to complete detailing, is to drill holes for the vertical-staff brake wheels at each end, which I clearly hadn’t done when I first assembled this kit (you can see the location in the photos above). That task, along with bringing the car weight up to the desired value, figuring how to install Kadee couplers, and choosing 70-ton trucks, will be covered in a future post.
Tony Thompson