Saturday, January 9, 2021

My latest column in MRH

My latest column in the “Getting Real” series has just appeared in the January 2021 issue of MRH, which is Model Railroad Hobbyist, in the “Running Extra” edition. My topic this time was building a Southern Pacific sand house, for the engine terminal in my layout town of Shumala. A sand house has been needed here for some years. 

I began with an advantage: plans for the “standard” SP sand house are contained in the book, Southern Pacific Lines Common Standard Plans, Volume 4 (Steam Age Equipment, Dunsmuir, CA, 1995). I reproduced those plans in the MRH article, and they were very helpful, in calling out timber sizes and other details throughout the structure.

But examining numerous SP sand houses around the system did not reveal a single one that matched the drawings (of course there might be one I didn’t find). Presumably, this is because a “standard” design like this is intended as a starting point, providing general features of a structure which is then adapted for each place it is built. I decided to do the same.

The nearest SP sand house to the “standard” drawings seems to be the steam-era one in Eugene, Oregon. The photo below from the Bill Decker collection shows it at left in March 1955, with F units at right.

As I describe in the article, starting from the SP plans, the entire model structure was built from styrene strip and sheet, with Grandt Lines (now Tichy) windows and door. Shown below is the nearly complete structure, with windows in place to fit, but door and roof ladder not yet installed.

This was then painted, with the walls becoming boxcar red (SP standard for this type of structure) with black door and windows, and dark gray rolled roofing with some tar patches. The building was then weahered to some degree. All this was described in the article.

. An important decision in finishing the structure was to decide what kind of  sand delivery method was used. Many SP sand houses had overhead bins of various kinds, so that sand was delivered by gravity to locomotives. But many others used compressed air to move the sand, and then there was no bin; the delivery pipe simply ran from the house to an overhead delivery point. The Dunsmuir sand house illustrates this (and clearly shows the timber construction), in a photo from the Shasta Division Archives of SP materials at Dunsmuir.

I scratchbuilt a similar piping arrangement with styrene rod and brass support braces to complete my model. It’s shown below, with the sand delivery parts unpainted (they were later painted gray).  The rest of the model structure can be seen clearly, including the roof ladder at the left corner.

Finally, the structure was placed on the layout. It accompanies fuel and water columns that are located between the inbound and outbound engine tracks to the turntable and roundhouse, and completed my engine servicing facilities (awhile back, an article of mine on model engine terminal components was published in MRH, the issue for April 2017). The view below shows the other end of the model structure that you see above, and has a red fire cabinet installed.

At lower left in the photo above is a portion of one of the caboose service buildings. The locomotive is a Key brass model, and is the San Diego & Arizona Eastern no. 103 that I showed in a previous post (you can see that post here: ). The prototype of this locomotive was assigned to San Luis Obispo for some years in late steam days.

This was a fun and interesting challenge as a project, was basically easy to build, and is a long-awaited component of the engine terminal in my layout town of Shumala. I’m glad to have it.

Tony Thompson


  1. Tony, while I appreciate the nod to my photo collection as being accessible, the real nod belongs to SP author-historian Tom Dill for collecting many photos of the SP in Oregon and photographer David Lange who scaned the images into the format you and I use. --Bill Decker

  2. I entirely agree, Bill, and we all owe a debt to those who took the photos, and perhaps an even bigger debt to those who have collected and preserved them. I hope my post didn't give a contrary impression.
    Tony Thompson