Monday, June 29, 2020

My tank swap article in RMC

Back in 2011, an article of mine was published in Railroad Model Craftsman (July issue), aabout a project I did that swapped the tanks and underframes of two different manufacturers of model tank cars. These two models were an InterMountain 8000-gallon tank car, and an Athearn “chemical” insulated tank car, the latter tank cut down in size. I have mentioned this article before, but didn’t try to make anything available more than a summary. Here’s the link: .
     More recently, I have had inquiries about this article, because the new owners of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine (RMC) are not making back issues as far back as 2011 available, so that my article is now essentially lost unless you happen to have that particular issue. To remedy the situation, I have uploaded a PDF of the original article, as I wrote it and submitted it (not as RMC printed it), to Google Drive. It is a layout with photos inserted close to the relevant text. You can access it at the following link, and either read it on line, or download:

     The article ended up creating a particular 8000-gallon car with a GATC-type underframe, a car leased to El Dorado Oil Works of Berkeley, California (edible oils, not petroleum products), and an insulated Warren Petroleum car on an AC&F underframe. Following are photos of the final product in each case. First, the El Dorado car, lettered with custom decals, and shown on my layout:

The prototype for the model is the following photo, a Wilbur C. Whitaker photograph taken at West Oakland, California in 1939, of this same car number.

     The other model tank car suffered from not having an exactly correct decal set (an old Champ set), but enough to make the most of what was done. The tank was cut down in length to fit the InterMountain underframe, and a new dome created. This photo also is on my layout.

     This article describes an interesting exercise, not because either of the tank car models produced are necessarily of wide interest, but in showing the techniques used. Those techniques may have far wider application beyond these specific projects.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, June 27, 2020

An Athearn metal SP tank car

Over the years, I have written several times in this blog about Athearn tank cars. One important reason is that the old “Blue Box” plastic models, both the single-dome and the three-dome, have been very widely used in the hobby. The size of these tank cars, about 12,500 gallons, is pretty large for the steam and transition era, but as has been widely noted, Athearn almost certainly was following a Southern Pacific prototype. The SP tank car fleet in the transition era was dominated by 12,500-gallon cars.
     That plastic Athearn single-dome car can in fact be converted into a fairly solid representation of the SP prototype. The basics of converting an Athearn tank car to SP prototype were described in my article from the SP Historical & Technical Society magazine, Trainline, issue 71, and  that original article was updated and refined in a previous blog post; it is at:
     Also of interest is the predecessor Athearn tank car models, all metal and very nicely done. I described both the early Athearn line, and the Globe Models tank cars that were acquired by Athearn in 1951, in one post (see it at: ). To briefly summarize, in their own line, Athearn offered a 10,000-gallon car they called a “Shorty,” and two 12,500-gallon cars, a single dome and a three-dome.
     I restored one of the “Shorty” cars to service some time back, and enjoyed its excellent prototype lettering. I only had to upgrade to modern trucks and couplers (a project description is here: ). I have not written, however, about the Athearn metal single-dome car of 12,500 gallons capacity, and that is the subject of the present post.
     One scheme Athearn has repeatedly produced over the years is the yellow “gasoline service” tank car of the Southern Pacific. One of my upgrade projects for the plastic Athearn tank car was to make that model more accurate, primarily increasing dome height, as I showed in a post (it’s here: ).
     (History and extensive photography of SP tank cars, including the yellow gasoline scheme, can be found in my book on the subject, Volume 5 of the series Southern Pacific Freight Cars, subtitled “Hoppers, Covered Hoppers and Tank Cars,” Signature Press, 2008.)
     But this yellow scheme was also offered in Athearn’s metal tank car line. A few years ago I spotted one of these models at a swap meet, and immediately bought it. You can see what good shape it is in.

     The model has obviously been carefully handled and stored over the years, and it’s pristine. But it does have a couple of problems. First is that the modeler who built it put the body onto the frame backwards. The safety valves on the dome should be a the “B” end of the car (at left in the photo above).
     The simplest remedy would be to unscrew the frame from the body, rotate 180 degrees, and re-attach. But this would likely wreck the ladder attachments, which are peened over into the running board. What would work is to move the handbrake to the other end of the car (and re-locate the brake gear). In that process, it would be desirable to replace the somewhat crude brake wheel. That’s what I decided to do, in combination with ignoring the underbody brake gear; it isn’t too visible.
     A second problem is that the model has a dome walkway on both sides, whereas the SP cars only had dome walks on the left side. This is more difficult to correct without some surgery. Also, dome grab irons are missing. And finally, the SP cars had bottom sheets as well as the upper body in the same Colonial Yellow color, but the model has black bottom sheets. I decided to leave the problems along that required surgery or paint matching, and fix one problem that is easy to fix: the lack of any end lettering whatsoever.
     End lettering was pretty easy to fix. The decal set that I designed, originally for Gerry Glow and currently available from Tichy (set #10052), is intended for transition-era SP tank cars and is available in either white or black lettering. Obviously this car calls for the black. Here is the end with its new lettering. All of this, including gallonage and SP class number, are from my Tichy set.

Also visible here is the oversize and unrealistic brake wheel (which will be removed), and the metal two-rung sill steps at the ends. Also evident are the nice stanchions for the handrail. This model compares favorably in details with many newer models.
     I dug out a horizontal style brake wheel from my parts collection, added a phosphor-bronze wire staff, drilled a hole the same size in the opposite end sill from the one shown above, and cemented the staff in place. A little touch-up with black paint, and presto! we have reversed the location of the B end! while also adding a much better looking handbrake. Of course the brake gear underneath is now wrong, but it is closely attached to the center sill and not very visible, certainly far less visible than the handbrake staff.

Here you see again the nice two-rung sill steps, and of course the safety valves on the dome are now toward the correct, B end of the car, as intended.
     Despite the shortcomings described above, I will be pleased to include this car in mainline trains on my layout. In that service, not even SP freight car experts would likely spot the inaccuracies, and I will have the pleasure of operating a true classic, at least 60 years old and possibly closer to 70 years old. In model railroad terms, that can be called “ancient,” and I’m glad to have it in service.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Electrical wars, Part 17: staging

I have written a number of posts on the topic of finding and fixing electrical problems on my layout, as you can perceive from the series number of the title. (To readily find any of the previous posts in the series, use “electrical wars” as the search term in the search box at right. ) These posts do not represent any particular sequence or linked events, but describe separate electrical challenges I have dealt with.
     (I guess this series of posts is about “wars” because electrical problems make me feel like I am about to confront a challenging task. Luckily it’s not always that bad in the event.)
     This latest challenge arose in my layout staging, which is a 12-track transfer table. It has generally been pretty dependable since I built it, about ten years ago, based on a design by John R. Signor  (though some of the trackwork needed revision after some time operating with this staging, as I showed: ). Here is an overall view of the table, located beneath the town of Ballard on my layout.

This view shows the staging largely filled with freight cars, mostly consists of through trains, with only a few of them having locomotives. Since the photo was taken, this has evolved to where the majority of tracks contain complete, powered trains.
     When my staging tracks suddenly went dead recently, I started investigating what could be wrong. One problem I quickly discovered was that one of the staging tracks no longer had power at one end. Putting my trusty meter to work, I soon found the reason: a somewhat wide rail joint (foreground) had a broken solder connection, making it connect only intermittently. (That’s half an Atlas re-railer at left.)

This was quickly re-soldered and the track then functioned as it should. 
     But the larger problem recurred, essentially all tracks in the staging table going dead. It happened once, corrected itself, and then went very reproducibly dead. I then had to trace the path of power into the table and its distribution to the 12 tracks.
     Electrically, my control of the staging relies on a pair of 6-position rotary switches so that I can select any of the 12 tracks, with a switch between them to select which rotary is live. These controls were set up on a pretty simple panel (photo in this post: ). Shown below is the back of this panel, shown not because it is any kind of electrical marvel nor because of its incredibly neat workmanship, but only to illustrate the area in which I had to trace continuity,

The two rotary switches, at top, and the selector switch between them, are all evident. Below them is a pair of “on-off” switches, so that even when a track has been selected, it is not automatically powered unless I operate that switch.
     Power comes to this panel at the selector switch, then to the two “on-off” switches below, then to the rotaries. From the rotaries, the wires carrying power to each individual track head off to an array of terminal strips, as you see below, and thence to the tracks themselves, as are visible across the bottom of this photo. The view is looking up at the underside of the staging table.

The track numbers 1-12 are identified next to their part of the terminal strip and also by the feeders below them, through the plywood. The two multi-pin connectors visible (one of them end-on), bringing track power from the rotary switches, are so that the panel can be removed from the layout for work, without un-soldering or unscrewing anything.
     All this is documented in my “Layout Notebook” which contains many sketches of benchwork construction and of electrical arrangements, including identifying every wire by color and by its purpose in a particular area (I showed a page from this Notebook in an earlier post, which is at this link: ).
     With this information in hand, I could start tracing the path of track power through all the complications shown above. I soon found a broken wire at one of the panel switches — how it was broken I don’t know — but readily re-soldered. Sure enough, the staging table then functioned perfectly.
     I tell this tale only to illustrate how one can trouble-shoot even complex wiring arrangements: if there is good access to that wiring, and if it is all documented so that you know what you are looking at, even ten years after you assembled all of it. That was this case for this problem.
Tony Thompson

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Waybills, Part 70: other waybill forms

In the previous post on this topic, I described an approach to the design and preparation of model waybills that was quite different from earlier methods, methods that had been aimed at creating compact documents. Instead, I designed a 5 x 7-inch waybill, which permitted the freedom to come much closer to the appearance of prototype waybills. (You can read that post at: .)
     In the present post, I want to show bill designs beyond the standard freight waybill I showed in that prior post. First, the perishable freight waybill. These were printed on pink stock by railroads that followed the AAR recommendation to do so. The prototype bill has the complexity of considerable space provided for multiple diversions or reconsignments en route, as well as space for multiple entries about icing, top icing, heater installation, and so forth.
     I decided to include those features only in minimal amounts, sufficient for most modeling purposes. Below is a portion of the center section of the bill  that I modified from the AAR original to approximate some of the perishable bill details.(You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish.)

On the left side of the center line are some reconsignment blocks, and on the right are very simple icing directions. This should be enough to convey those aspects of perishable shipment.
     Incidentally, among the many examples of prototype waybills that I have seen, few happen to have been for perishable shipments. But you can view the AAR standard perishable form in the very useful book, Railway Accounting Rules (AAR, Accounting Division, Washington, DC, revised and reissued every few years; I use the 1950 edition for modeling 1953). This book is usually available from on-line book dealers for modest prices.
     Here is an example of a complete perishable bill with the features shown above, filled out. (Again, you can click to enlarge.)

Note the Weight Agreement stamp and a few handwritten notations, very common features of real waybills in use.
     Another familiar type of waybill is the livestock waybill. Here also, the prototype contains considerable space devoted to accommodating notation of unloading, feed, rest, and reloading occurrences, along with extensive information about stock loading. And again, I decided to include enough of this to make it visible, but considerably less than the prototype.
     Here is the loading and bedding section as I compressed it. Note that most of this just asks for a yes or  no answer. I have seen a filled-out prototype livestock bill with all of this section filled out by hand, though the rest of the bill was typed.

The part about resting, feeding, etc. is at the bottom of the prototype form, and I located it the same way, but substantially abbreviated. This is the entire bill bottom, exclusive of the railroad name.

Here is a Union Pacific example of my version of the livestock waybill, only partly filled out with typewriter font; the rest will be filled by hand.

     Finally, there is the transit freight waybill. This is substantially the same as a freight waybill but has spaces at the bottom of the bill to document the information about inbound loads that are the basis for transit rate privileges on the outbound load. But because “milling-in-transit” is a complex subject, I will postpone it to a future post, along with a summary of all the prototype background.
     I am enjoying doing this re-examination of prototype bills, and the decision-making to evaluate and choose the parts to incorporate into a model-operation-suitable format. And I continue to be very pleased with how much these new bill designs look like their corresponding prototypes.
Tony Thompson

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Freight car graffiti, Part 17: decals

I received an interesting suggestion recently, that because I had been applying graffiti as both paper overlays and from several sources of decals, that I could write a review of how I evaluate the various decal brands. That is the topic of the present post. (Previous posts in this series were about applying graffiti to post-1980 freight cars. They are most easily found by using “freight car graffiti” as a search term in the search box at right.)
     In applying this type of decal, the first issue that may come to mind is that many are quite large, and applying them over ribs on car sides, for example, may be a worry. All of the decals I will review here perform acceptably in this aspect, but a sharp-edged rib is a challenge for any decal.
     A second point that may not seem obvious is opacity. Here is where decal makers differ considerably, and I will mention my experiences  below.
     A further criterion may be the type of graffiti portrayed in the decals. These naturally range greatly in size, both in the prototype and in decal form. Many prototype graffiti are what I might call “flat bottom” style, meaning that they completely fit along the bottom of a car side. Others could be called “free standing” since they do not have a pronounced bottom edge. Both types are common on freight cars.
     I will begin with a very large range, from an early maker of model railroad graffiti decals, Blair Line. They have a good range of both flat-bottom and free-standing images, though they tend to be smaller. Their opacity is pretty good. Their line can be seen at this link: . If you browse through my past posts on this topic, you will see a fair number of Blair Line decals used.
     Rapidly gaining in size of offerings is Microscale. They now have five sets in stock, and all of them are large sheets. These pieces are a wide range of sizes, including quite large, and thus pretty versatile, and they mix flat-bottom and free-standing styles. They are quite opaque and can be applied over anything. Here again, if you browse my previous graffiti posts, you will see lots of Microscale decals in use. I will show two examples below. First, one of their “modern graffiti” sets, 87-1533:

Another of their sets which might not at first seem usable is 87-1536, entitled “Irish and Scottish Graffiti.” But of course graffiti art styles have been international for some years. I would maintain that none of these graffiti pieces look out of place in North America; for confirmation, I would recommend the excellent book, Freight Train Graffiti, by Roger Gastman, Darin Rowland, and Ian Sattler (Abrams Books, 2006).

I especially like this set because of all the free-standing pieces and tags.
     I also used a few decals from two other sources. One is Dave’s Decals (their site is at: ). The range of graffiti styles is decent and there is a good balance of flat-bottom and free-standing images. But even with the “white” background (you can buy them with background either “white” or transparent), they are pretty transparent. That is no problem on white or light gray cars, but on any other color, the background color dominates whatever colors are in the decal. Moreover they cannot cover any lettering, and that lettering will show through strongly. I like the available art and certainly have used most of the ones I bought, but only in situations within the limitations just listed.
     The other source I have used is T2 decals (you can view their offerings at: ). These have a nice variety but are nearly as transparent as Dave’s Decals. Their best advantage, for me, is that they are mostly small, free-standing graffiti and can readily be used on cars where multiple graffiti are applied.
     One other source of HO scale graffiti decals used to be Weathering Solutions, but their website is down and I don’t find their products for sale at the moment anywhere. I was told last year that they are “temporarily” shut down, but I don’t know any more than that. Their rust, oil and dirt decal sets are excellent, and I will look forward to using their graffiti decals — if they come back to life.
     Lastly, I should mention again my paper overlay technique, beginning with photographs I have taken myself. This technique was described in my Model Railroad Hobbyist article (January 2020) and summarized in a blog post (see it at: ). This permits one to extend graffiti beyond whatever is provided by the decal makers.
     So what are my preferences? I like and use Microscale, though their sets lack smaller pieces and sometimes have shaded colors pixilated. I also have used a lot of Blair Line, nice smaller pieces though heavy on flat-bottom images. I like the images provided by T2 and Dave’s Decals, but their near transparency can be a limitation. You can see all of these, along with paper overlays, if you browse the images of the cars to which I’ve applied graffiti.
     I have heard the comment from modelers that there just aren’t enough decals available to apply graffiti to a fleet of modern freight cars. Of course it would be nice to have even more variety, but the sources I have listed above certainly provide a very large number of graffiti images, with a wide variety of styles and sizes. And of course paper overlays or homemade decals can extend the range even further. Today one can definitely add a huge range of graffiti to one’s freight cars if one chooses to do so.
Tony Thompson

Monday, June 15, 2020

A Greg Martin memorial

Greg Martin passed away this spring from complications of the coronavirus, and many people on different modeling lists expressed their memories of Greg, and their respect for his accomplishments. Prominent among them was certainly his leadership in the so-called “Shake ’n’ Take” (or S’n’T) series of kitbashing projects. Greg had this idea originally, and led the effort most years at the annual Prototype Rails meeting in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
     Greg’s idea was that many modelers hesitate to kitbash or even to modify models, though that attitude cuts them off from both satisfying modeling efforts and from attainment of prototypes otherwise unobtainable. He was encouraged in this by Richard Hendrickson, as skilled a kitbasher as we have seen.
    In the beginning Greg thought some projects would be easy enough that they could actually be completed during a clinic session or two at the Cocoa Beach meeting. This soon proved not quite possible, and in any case, would rule out almost any multi-step project, leave along painting.
     Several kit manufacturers have donated car bodies and other parts as starting points, most notably Accurail, and several resin casters have produced replacement parts for some projects. Fifth Avenue Car Shops has produced decals for a number of the projects. The 40 people who make the Cocoa Beach sign-up get all these materials free, and hopefully go home and built what they received.
     In the years since the first S’n’T project in 2006 (a rebuilt KCS box car), until this last January’s Santa Fe box car rebuild, there have been a wide range of prototype ideas. There were several refrigerator cars, a stock car and a gondola, and a bunch of box cars (some of them automobile cars).  A number were devised and produced entirely by Greg, but some have had other “leaders,” including John Greedy, Schuyler Larrabee, Fenton Wells, and John Barry. They have varied considerably in how much work or skill was required, but all have produced really nice models.
     I decided to look through my S’n’T stash (I confess I have only built a little more than half of them so far) and wanted to build another one in honor of Greg. The oldest unbuilt one I had was the Hormel reefer of 2011, a John Greedy project using an Accurail wood reefer. (I can always use another meat reefer). And it’s a pretty straightforward build, much in Greg’s spirit.
     The first part of the project is to remove the Accurail cross-bearers and make even deeper ones, using a separate piece of Accurail center sill. Here those new cross-bearers, which happened to be boxcar red, can be seen. (The white shape is the styrene pattern used to lay out the new parts.)

Brake gear was installed next, pretty much as intended for the Accurail model.
     The next step, for me, was to carve off the ladder rungs (just the rungs) and grab irons from car sides. The rungs are removed but not the stiles or the bolt heads on the stiles, so that new free-standing rungs of 0.015-inch styrene rod can be added. I used a ground-down X-Acto chisel blade for this, which you see here just cleaning up inside the stiles (though it’s a little hard to see on the unpainted white styrene car side). The siding grooves are then re-scribed.

Once the new rungs were installed, the ladder looked pretty good. Spacing is not perfect, but this is a close-up photo. It’s virtually undetectable at normal viewing distance.

     Last, the roof needed work. The S’n’T kit directions describe removing the original Hutchins ribs and replacing them with 13 flat styrene strips for a conventional outside-metal roof. But prototype and finished model photos only show 12 ribs, the same number as the Hutchins roof molding. I decided to thin the ribs down and remove the distinctive Hutchins bolt head and end closure near the outer end. I also replaced the corner grab irons with wire.
     The molded plastic running board is a little too thick, so I filed the edges to make it look thinner. It also has minimal board joints. Real running boards were almost always made of multiple boards, and they got weathered, so I scribed the running board joints deeper to give that appearance. Last, I added the vertical-staff brake wheel to the B end of the car.
     With these modeling changes, all the car parts were ready for paint. I will return to this project for the painting and lettering in a future post.
Tony Thompson

Friday, June 12, 2020

Blocking big loads, Part 2

Awhile back, I posted a description of two very nice 3-D printed loads that I purchased from Multiscale Digital LLC, and how I chose to paint them (you can find that post here: ). These loads are based upon Bethlehem Steel foundry photographs, provided by Eric Thur, and digitally modeled by Multiscale Digital.
     I then showed how I made blocking for one of the loads, a large press crosshead from Mesta Machine, and I included some background on the Mesta Machine Company of Pittsburgh. That post is at the following link: . In the present post, I turn to the second of the Multiscale Digital loads that I purchased.
     As I mentioned in the post cited in the top paragraph, above, I was inspired to proceed with these loads when I saw Eric Thur’s model at the Cocoa Beach meeting, Prototype Rails, last January. His model was a “double shaft bearing” casting on a flat car. He was kind enough to send me one of the Bethelehem Steel images of this casting, complete with a workman posing alongside for scale.

     The model that Eric brought to Cocoa Beach was a heavy-duty flat car, P&LE 6887,  a 110-ton car, built from a recent Funaro & Camerlengo kit, and with blocking and elegant (prototype) sign attached, looked like the photo below (this is not the same image that is in the post that is linked in the first paragraph of the present post).

     I don’t have a flat car like that one, but do have a 90-ton New York Central flat car that could carry this load. It’s a depressed-center car, so wouldn’t be blocked the same way as Eric’s model. But of course it will have “DO NOT HUMP” signs and just has to have that foundry sign. Again, Eric sent me an image of the sign.

     So adding the sign to my load, and then fitting the blocking to the car (I again used scale 10 x 10-inch stripwood with bolt heads), I obtained this result:

This is a Walthers model, equipped with Eastern Car Works Commonwealth 90-ton trucks, and lettered as NYC 499056.
     As I said with the previous Multiscale Digital load, these are really interesting and worthwhile load projects. I don’t have too much industry on my layout that can justify receiving a load like this, but of course they can be very correctly seen, and will be seen, in passing trains on my layout’s SP Coast Division main line.
Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Waybills, Part 69: another approach

I have written extensively in this blog about various waybill topics, as is evident from the Part number in the title. In the present post, I want to describe an entirely different form of model waybill. (To find any or all of the prior posts in the series, the easiest way is to use “waybills” as the search term in the search box at right).
     The waybills I use on my own layout were designed and created by scanning, then cutting down, a prototype waybill (this approach works because every railroad used the standard AAR form, or a near-exact copy, so any prototype waybill from close to the right era is a suitable original). I’m often asked, what type face did I use? I didn’t need to choose one; I use the actual scanned AAR form lettering.
     I described how I did this cutting down in an article in Model Railroad Hobbyist or MRH; that article appeared in the issue for May 2012, and issues of MRH from that era are available to read on-line or download, for free, at their website, .
     As I described in that article, I began with an actual Pennsylvania Railroad waybill that I happened to have, shown below. Absent the pin-feed edges, it’s 8.5 x 11 inches in size. Note that very few of the boxes contain anything filled out (you can click to enlarge). This was common.

A great deal of the space on this document is for things we do not utilize in model railroading, so I simply discarded all the excess, shown below in pink.

    But note that I was removing a great deal of material that gives a prototype waybill its distinctive appearance, because I was aiming at a fairly small document for model use, either 2.5 x 3.5 inches for my layout, or 2 x 4 inches to substitute for four-cycle waybills on Otis McGee’s layout. One of my own examples is shown below. It’s quite workable but doesn’t look a great deal like the original, shown at the top of this post; there just isn’t room (remember, it’s 2.5 x 3.5 inches).

There isn’t even room to include the Pennsy keystone emblem of the original, which I regretted.
     I recently had the opportunity to revisit this process and entirely re-think how to make a useful model waybill. My friend Paul Weiss (and helpers!) is well along with constructing a large layout that models the Central Vermont Railway across Connecticut. He sees no reason to make waybills as small as what I use, and thought a good compromise with the 8.5 x 11-inch original would be 5 x 7 inches. Switch crews can carry these on clipboards when working local freight, or, if folded in half lengthwise, in a pocket.
     This much larger size was actually a liberating idea (note that it is four times the area of my own waybill form). I went back to the original PRR waybill scan shown at the top of this post, and re-cut the removals. After a first run-through, I had arrived at what you see below, not yet ready to be 5 x 7 inches nor final in content, but heading in the right direction.

Note that I have not yet removed most of the original typed entries. I now had to carefully consider what finally to remove or re-arrange. This went quickly, and I drew upon the many waybill railroad-name headers that I have collected to start making up some final 5 x 7-inch bills. Here is an example, incidentally an Erie bill, chosen in part to show that I now have space to include the railroad emblem for those roads that did so:

     I experimented further by filling out a few bills for Paul to look at. Here is one example, directed to one of the industries on his layout:

     This has been very interesting and enjoyable, to go back to the foundation of our model waybills and re-think what we can include. I have long been envious of those using larger model waybills (especially in the Chicago area, Dan Holbrook,  Frank Hodina, Bob Hanmer and others), so I welcomed the chance to explore them myself, and to try once again to get a document that looks closer to the prototype that many of us are striving to represent.
Tony Thompson

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Blocking for big loads

In a previous post, I showed some very nice, large loads for heavy-duty flat cars, that are produced by Multiscale Digital LLC through the efforts of Eric Thur. Should you wish to read that post, you can do so at the following link: . In the present post I address the blocking needed to ship one of these loads, a large Mesta Machine casting.
     But before getting to the blocking issue, I have had a question directed to me about Mesta Machine Company and its products. There is quite a bit of history on line; in particular, I think an impressive look at the variety and size of Mesta’s products, is the 130-page book of 1919 that illustrates the range of Mesta products and the plant: .
     Here is one example from the 1919 document, a 2000-ton steam-hydraulic press. The crosshead is the moving part in the middle, riding on four columns. There is a large steel bloom under the crosshead in this photo. But far heavier presses were built in later decades.

     Crossheads much larger than what you see above, and more like the Multiscale Digital model I purchased, are well documented. Below is a brochure image of one such large crosshead being machined. The man standing inside one of the lightening holes provides scale.

     I happen to have an interesting photograph of large press parts like these being shipped, all on heavy-duty flat cars. The photo has no identified date or location (I am told it is Los Angeles), and is from the Union Pacific Museum (courtesy of and permission from Don Snoddy). It’s shown below. You can click on the image to enlarge it if you like. Note there is a brakeman at the handbrake on every car.

These are the parts for a large press, the crosshead on the nearest car and the base on the farther 4-truck flat. In between is a depressed-center car, and next to the locomotive is a regular flat car with some crates on it.
     Note the sign on the nearest car, reading “Birdsboro Steel Foundry & Machine Co.” and on the second line, “from Bethlehem Steel Co., Bethlehem, PA.” This is the exact sign Eric Thur used on the flat car load I showed in the previous post (cited in the paragraph at the top of this post). Moreover, the same sign is on all four flat car loads.
     Now let’s look at the nearest car more closely, to see the blocking. Here’s an enlargement.

There are some fairly small boards underneath, perhaps 2 x 4-inch boards. More prominently, there are very heavy timbers at each end of the crosshead, one crosswise and two longitudinal in each case. A couple of bolt heads can be seen, suggesting that the timbers are bolted through the deck (these decks were provided with very many bolt holes for just this purpose). Finally, note the four coverings over the openings for the columns of the press.
     I decided to go ahead and block my Mesta Machine Co. hydraulic press crosshead in the same way as what you see in the above photos. (My load is described in the post linked in the top paragraph of the present post.) I decide to use scale 10 x 10-inch stripwood for the blocking, as it looked generally like what you can see in the prototype photos above. I made a transverse piece at each end of the load, and a pair of longitudinal pieces, again as you see above, with bolt heads indicated.
     Next I had to decide how to orient the load. I turned the crosshead on its side for loading. Set on its face, it would be too wide for the flat car, and the photos above show the crosshead on its side.
     I also wanted to add closures for the four openings of the vertical columns in the assembled press, similar to what you seen in the large loads in the above photos. I used Avery Label 1/2-inch round color dots, spray painted a light tan color, for the closures, and with a timber across each opening. From mostly above (our typical model viewing angle), it looks like this at this point:

The load still needs a banner from the manufacturer, something permitted as an attachment for a temporary load. The Mesta company book (link in second paragraph of the present post) includes several photos of large loads on flat cars. I chose one of them, squared it up in Photoshop and improved the contrast. I may later re-do it in color, but for now B&W works okay.
     The last thing to add was a “DO NOT HUMP” sign, invariably displayed on each corner of such loads for obvious reasons. I have in my stash a set of Jaeger HO Products “HO Scale Signs” and included are the desired signs. Note in the prototype photos above that they are just tacked to the blocking, which is how I show them here (you can click on the image to enlarge it).

     This excellent 3-D printed piece makes an interesting load and certainly is one that would call for a 200-ton flat car to carry it. Like  many foundries and machine manufacturers, Mesta Machine has an interesting history, and it has been fun to learn about that background as part of preparing this load.
Tony Thompson

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Freight graffiti, Part 16: Granite Rock again

I have mentioned the rock hoppers lettered for the Granite Rock company in previous posts in this series, and in the present post I will wrap up the topic. (Previous posts in this series are most easily found by using “freight car graffiti” as a search term in the search box at right.) These hoppers operate on Seth Neumann’s 1999-era layout set here in the Bay Area. Granite Rock still uses its original quarry near Watsonville, California and its cars are familiar sights in the area (background on the company is in this post: ).
     Given the amount of space already devoted to graffiti on freight cars in this series, I only want at this point to illustrate the range of graffiti images available for use, by showing them on some of the Granite Rock cars I have decorated.
     I will begin with Granite Rock (GRCX) cars 1012 and 1053. Shown below are two cars, one side of each. Both cars have had the original car number covered by graffiti and then received a paint patch so the number could be restored, as I have shown before (see post linked in the first paragraph). The right side of GRCX 1012 (at left) has a large graffiti piece from Blair Line set 2262, and a small piece from Microscale 87-1536, while the left side of 1053 (right) has a piece from Microscale 1536.

The other sides of the cars are shown next. The left side of car GRCX 1012 (at left) has a large piece from Blair Line set 2262 and a smaller one from Microscale 87-1536. while the right side of car 1053 (right) is graffitied with two pieces from Microscale set 87-1536.

     For another pair of these cars, I show GRCX 1019 and 1047.  First, the left sides of both cars, and once again, the car numbers have had to be repainted on a paint patch. Car 1019 (left) has a piece from Blair Line set 2257, while car 1047 (right) has two pieces, both from Microscale 87-1523.

Next, the right sides of the same cars. Car 1047 (at left) has two graffiti, one from Microscale set 87-1533, one from Blair Line set 2262, while car 1019 (at right) has one piece from Blair Line set 2263 and one frm Microscale set 1535.(As with all these images, you can click on them to enlarge.)

     A further car of interest is GRCX 1078, with both sides shown below. On the left side, at left, are graffiti pieces from Microscale sets 87-1533 and 1536; on the right side, at right, are again two Microscale pieces, from sets 87-1535 and 1536. Both sides are weathered and tagged.

    Two more cars portrayed as a pair are GRCX 1029 and 1056. First, the left sides. At left is car 1029, and in this case the reporting marks and number are repainted in the left panel of the car side, using Herald King set PR-127. The graffiti piece is out of Microscale set 87-1534. At right is car 1056, with a piece from Microscale set 1535.

and the right sides are as below. At left is GRCX 1029, with the black paint patch renumbering, and graffiti pieces from Microscale sets 1523 and 1534. At right is car 1056, showing graffiti from Microscale 87-1523.

     Lastly, I will display GRCX 1036 and 1051. First, the left sides. Car 1036, at right, has the black patch renumbering, and graffiti pieces from Blair Line set 2263 and Microscale 87-1536. At left is car 1051, with the Herald King renumbers and a graffiti piece from Blair Line set 2263 (the numeral “3”) and a paper overlay from a local photograph.

On the right sides of these two cars, below, GRCX 1036 is at left, with a large piece from Blair Line set 2261 and small pieces from Microscale 87-1636. At right is car 1051,with graffiti from Microscale 1533.

    This concludes this large group of Granite Rock cars (though not the entire fleet I have worked on), and this will certainly equip Seth Neumann for rock car shipments! The cars vary greatly in size and style of graffiti coverage, and in degree of dirt and grime, so this is likely a realistic batch of cars for layout use.
Tony Thompson