Monday, December 16, 2019

Prototype lettering, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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