Sunday, May 30, 2021

Freight car handling and distribution: a response

 In recent posts about car fleet proportions, I described my understanding of the ways in which freight cars usually moved about the country, and gave some specific examples. Part of this description was a summary of the Gilbert-Nelson idea (of which, more below). You can find the newest post here: .

A very interesting comment on that post was provided by Dan Smith and is appended to that post. Because I wanted to comment in more detail than seemed appropriate in the “comments” segment, I am doing so here. To begin, here is Dan’s comment (I have taken the liberty of dividing it into paragraphs):

“On thinking about the proportion of foreign and small road cars, it occurs to me that the assumption that foreign road cars were free-running, especially in the 1950s, is probably misleading. In my experience railroads typically divided other railroads into three categories: connections (e.g. UP, to SP), competitors (e.g. ATSF, to SP), and Neutrals (e.g. PRR or NYC to SP). 

“Railroads would generally see many inbound cars from connections, and would be somewhat likely to spot those cars for return loading. Railroads would see few inbound cars from competitors, and would return them empty rather than willingly spotting them for return loading. You might see ATSF reefers in peak ag season when SP was short, but SP would actively avoid providing ATSF cars to on-line customers. (It is true that some customers would specifically make troublesome requests as bargaining leverage.) Pooled cars would be an exception, but it would also be rare for a railroad to enter into pooling with a competitor. 

“Neutrals would show up depending on where on-line customers bought their goods, and would be returned empty. If Jupiter Pumps had a supplier on the DSSA in Duluth, you might see DSSA boxcars regularly. These practices changed in later years as multi-carrier pooling for major customers, such as GM and Ford, became more common. But free-running cars have always been the exception. That exception was why the incentive per-diem boxcar program led to colorful short-line boxcars all over the country in the 1980s.That's also why TTX stenciled "Next load any road" on Railbox cars - it was the exception.
“So bring that DSSA boxcar onto the layout once a month with a load of castings for Jupiter, but be sure to send it back empty!”

Let  me begin by saying that Dan omits one very, very important aspect of freight car supply and handling: the state of the economy. When the economy is slack, and empty car supply accordingly plentiful, every road has surplus empties and, as Dan says, is happy to send them homeward. But when the economy is booming, cars soon are in short supply, and now the opposite case occurs: roads are scrambling for enough empties to serve their shippers, and will use anything available, even in violation of the Car Service Rules, to get that done.

Beyond that, Dan is quite right that railroads were fully aware of their close competitors (like Santa Fe versus SP, as Dan mentions), and would strive never to spot one of the competitor’s cars for loading. The same relationship applied between PFE and Santa Fe’s SFRD. 

There were also connecting roads that might be “friendly” connections, such as Northern Pacific in Portland, for the SP. These might well get a little better treatment in interchange. Dan seems to think that most arriving loads would be in cars owned by these connections, and I have no idea what that is based on. I have never seen any data that point in that direction, and perhaps Dan can direct me to examples. 

My only thought is that Dan is thinking of later years when Special Car Order 90 (SCO 90) began to dominate movement of empty cars, and more and more railroads added themselves to SCO 90 to obtain empties directly homeward. But that’s a later era than I was describing.

But now let’s look at what Dan calls “neutrals,” essentially all other railroads in the country. Dan thinks that the cars of neutrals were not free runners. I know of no basis for this in the 1950s, which was the period I emphasized. In fact, several authorities, including Eugene W. Coughlin (a manager in AAR’s Car Service Division), in his book, Freight Car Distribution and Car Handling in the United States (AAR, 1956), specifically identify the entire national fleet as free-running. This of course does not apply to specially-equipped or assigned-service cars, but certainly to most box cars, gondolas and flat cars. 

Moreover, Dan states that the DSS&A would use its own box car to ship to California, and, he adds, would get it back empty. This violates the Car Service Rules in both directions, and is exactly the reason those rules were set up. Not every car movement was in accord with those Rules, to be sure, but in the early 1950s, over two-thirds of all car movements were in accord. 

In fact, a quite likely car in which that shipper on the DSS&A would load for California would be an SP box car, which is what the Car Service Rules would direct.

Lastly, let’s again remember Gilbert-Nelson. This interesting idea states that at least on main lines of most railroads, the “free-running” freight cars, particularly box cars and gondolas, would move around the country somewhat randomly, as needed by shippers. That in turn suggests that the frequency of observation of any particular railroad’s freight cars, anywhere in the nation, would be in proportion to the size of that railroad’s total freight car fleet, relative to the national fleet.

A number of pieces of actual train consist data from the 1950s supported Gilbert-Nelson, so many of us interested in car distribution accept it as at least broadly true for that era. But if we accept Dan’s description of car handling, it could not be true. “Neutral” empties would always be getting sent home, instead of being loaded, and the further away a particular neutral might be located, the less frequently its cars would show up.

Dan is perhaps thinking primarily about railroading after the 1950s, when, as he says, more and more specially-equipped cars were put in service, and the “general purpose” box car or gondola became a smaller and smaller proportion of the national fleet. Certainly he is right that the IPD box cars, and the Railbox fleet, were aimed at countering those trends; but now we are talking about an era twenty or more years later than what I was discussing.

I will repeat what I said in response to Dan’s comment on my previous post: it is an interesting and though-provoking set of remarks, and I have enjoyed thinking through the topics that Dan raised. Moreover, as stated above, I agree with some of it. But there are other parts that I think are simply wrong, in the 1950s era that I discussed, and I’ve explained why, above. But I still have to thank Dan, for the stimulus and for taking the time to think and comment.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Waybills, Part 85: more on weight agreements

 In several recent posts, I have addressed the topic of weight agreements, the arrangements by which  a shipper could certify weight of a shipment loaded into a freight car, on the basis of the shipper’s own scale, or by counting packages loaded, and multiplying by unit weight. These agreements were indicated on waybills with a stamp giving the agreement number, thereby precluding any need to weigh the car (though railroads retained the absolute right to weigh any car, any time).

I pointed out some time back that there were known to be several regional Weighing and Inspection Bureaus or WIBs that administered these weight agreements, but at that time I didn’t know their geographic boundaries. (That post can be found here: .) 

With the help of prototype waybills from Andy Laurent’s collection, I was able to retrieve several of these regional agreement stamps, as I showed in a blog post (it is at this link: ). An example is below, from that post.

But it would still be valuable to know the regional boundaries, because obviously a waybill originating within a particular region should carry that region’s weight agreement stamp (if the shipper has such a stamp). So I continued to explore this question.

I have now found two maps of the territories of the tariff associations, only slightly different from each other, dating from 1925 and 1940. I will show the 1925 version below, taken from page 28 of a book of that date (Grover G. Huebner, The Fundamentals of Traffic, Traffic Service Corp, Chicago, 1925). I explain some of the details below. My apologies for the center glitch, as the map was laid out across the book’s gutter a little poorly. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

Note in the map that there is a vertical line within Canada, just at the top of Lake Superior. This was the division between the eastern and western parts of the Canadian Freight Association.

Several of the major territories in the map were previously known to me, and the Weighing and Inspection Bureau or WIB for each had approximately the same name. The far Western states under the Trans-Continental Freight Bureau, and the upper Midwest under the Western Trunk Line Committee, are well documented. Two of the other areas are complex because of multiple entities, and I will try to clarify. 

The first area of multiple associations is the northeastern U.S., combining the Trunk Line Association and the New England Freight Association. These later worked together as the Eastern Tariff Association. This region is shown below in color. It is important to recognize that there were indeed separate tariff structures in each of these two sub-regions, but that they worked together in administering the Eastern WIB.

Another complex area is the Southern Tariff Association, combining the Southeastern Mississippi Valley Association, the Associated Railways of Virginia and the Carolinas, and the Southeastern Freight Association. This essentially includes states east of the Mississippi and south of the Ohio River, then wrapping south of West Virginia and including Virginia. I have indicated this below in blue. Here again, the separate tariff territories administered the Southern WIB collectively.

Another interesting point in all this is that the Southwestern Tariff Association territory shown, covering Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, plus Mexico, was later subsumed into the Western Association. This appears to have happened after World War II, but I am still trying to find out more about that history.

So what’s the point of all this? I’ve already stated it: any waybill’s origination point lies within one of these territories, and should bear the corresponding stamp, if it has a stamp. Here’s an example, from the Easter WIB:

With the map shown in this post, I can correctly apply the right WIB stamps to waybills, and in fact will have to go back and correct a few previous waybills that were prepared without sufficient knowledge. Just another step toward more accurate waybills for layout operation. (And by the way, if anyone can offer additions or corrections to my descriptions here, it would be greatly appreciated.)

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Passenger car diaphragms, Part 2

 In my previous post, I introduced the topic of modeling passenger car diaphragms, starting with older cars like heavyweight Pullmans. I showed both the prototype appearance, and the old Walthers diaphragm parts for HO scale. (The post can be found here: .) In the present post, I want to continue with this topic.

First, I mentioned in that previous post that the Walthers diaphragm, though perhaps useful in filling large intercar spacings, is really too big for realistic spacings. It is easy to correct, as I pointed out; one fold or two folds can be removed, as desired (more on the criteria for doing so in a moment). Shown below is my 12-1 Pullman, Columbia Glacier, with a shortened Walthers diaphragm. This car, for those interested, has previously been described (see this post: ).

You may be able to tell, in the above photo, that the face of the diaphragm is about at the inner side of the opening in the coupler beneath it. This is my usual criterion for diaphragm depth. You can see it more clearly below. This geometry allows good performance on curved track, while maintaining near-contact of diaphragms on straight track, perhaps the best compromise.

I should repeat a comment from the previous post (link in top paragraph, above), that in later years head-end cars often lost most or all of the canvas bellows in their diaphragms, leaving the striker plate and not much else. To illustrate, shown below is a detail from a Wilbur C. Whittaker photo of SP 6188, a Class 60-B-2 car at Oakland on April 13, 1951.

In model form, this is fairly easy to duplicate; I showed my modeling of these minimal diaphragms in a previous post (that post is at this link: ). That same post shows my face plate drawing for making new styrene face plates. It also referenced my kitbash of an SP 70-foot baggage car with side windows, for a car that retained the top spring bar and a side fold of a bellows. You can see the diaphragm on that model below, with the top spring element visible.

Brass models of SP head-end cars have sometimes included these simplified diaphragm representations. Below is a photo of a Precision Scale Class B-60-10 car in HO brass; coupler is removed for clarity.

None of these models, in either this or the previous post in the series, include stabilizer rods. I will take up that topic in the next post in this series.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The “unusual” cars on your freight roster

 The present post follows two recent posts, summarizing contemporary knowledge about the proportions of individual railroad representation in interchange, based on considerable existing writing (see the first one at: ), and followed by some details to assess the kinds of cars within those proportions (the post on that topic is at this link: ).   

The idea that your freight car fleet ought, to some extent, mirror the largest parts of the national freight car fleet has been around for some time, and the two previous posts presented several examples. But what about the lesser roads? Not only the smaller of the Class I roads, but the roads that were smaller still? How can you apply these ideas to those kinds of railroads?

{A Class I railroad for many years meant income above $1 million, Class II from $1 million down to $100,000, and Class III below that. In 1956, the Class I distinction was raised to $3 million. Today these numbers are far higher.)

Naturally, smaller railroad fleets will be far less visible in interchange than the cars of bigger roads. But how much less? Well, let’s look at the data. We can begin with the table I showed in the previous post, which I’ll reproduce here for convenience (from the 1953 Cyc).

Note across the tops of the columns that the first column is “all steam railways” (meaning that interurbans are omitted), the second is just the Class I railroads, and the third is private owners. The difference between the sum of the second and third columns, and the number in the fourth column, is the non-Class I railroads. For box cars, it is 3582 cars, only 0.5 percent of the total: one half of one percent.

That is, of course, a small percentage, and in the notional model fleet of 150 foreign-road box cars that I discussed in the previous post, does not quite equal one car. But there are lots of familiar railroads in this category: the Western Maryland with 2284 box cars, the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton with 3151 box cars, the Western Pacific with 2473 box cars, and lots of others. Even the well-known Georgia Railroad only had 709 box cars in 1950. So the 3582-car total of non-Class I box cars is not that small.

But of course we can still portray the freight car fleets of smaller roads, just as some large roads were depicted in the previous post. For example, here is the interesting fleet of the Western Pacific, with considerably higher proportion of flat and stock cars, compared to the national average, and practically no hopper cars.

But let’s return to box cars. What do these small railroad sizes mean, in light of the notional model fleet of 150 foreign-road box cars? In effect, it means that you have to add up the many roads that have car fleets well below one percent of the national fleet, and consider representing the group of them as a whole. In saying this, I am following a suggestion of Tim O’Connor some years back.

In other words, my response is as follows. Yes, any one tiny railroad has a vanishingly small chance of showing up somewhere in the country; but taken all together, the many, many small railroads do add up to something significant. By one estimate, the small railroad car fleets taken all together, comprised more than 5 percent of the national fleet. Going back to that notional 150-car group of model box cars, this would say that about 7 of them ought to represent small or tiny railroads. And you can choose.

Now let’s consider one of these much smaller roads, the Duluth, South Shore &Atlantic, which in 1950 owned 318 box cars. That is about 0.04 percent of the national fleet, and to have, statistically, an accurate representation of the DSS&A fleet, with a single car, your total car fleet would have to be more than 2200 box cars. But hardly any modeler has that many; and the same calculation can be made for many, many minor railroads. 

But of course the DSS&A falls into our estimated 5 percent of all railroad box cars, and can be one of the roads whose box cars are chosen to fill out the “minor road group” in our notional fleet. I’ve chosen one of these cars for my own fleet: rare, to be sure, but just part of the “rarity group” in my fleet. It’s an InterMountain model, shown here being switched by SP Alco 1389 in front of the Shumala depot on my layout.

I continue to muse on these freight car fleet issues, and will doubtless return to the topic in future posts.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Open-car loads: crates, Part 2

 I have mentioned the attractions of crates as open-car loads in several previous posts, not only because they are relatively easy to make, but because they can be built so as to be used on both flat cars and gondolas. In addition, they can carry quite varied signs indicating manufacturer. Examples of my crate loads were shown in the preceding post on this topic (see that post at: ).

Other examples have also been shown previously, such as Richard Hendrickson’s load of multiple crates on a flat car, which I showed in an earlier post (you can find it here: ). I wanted to add more such loads.

I decided I would especially like to build some big crates. Such loads need to be large in at least one dimension, so it is evident they cannot be shipped in box cars, but require an open-top car. I began with a long crate, about 24 scale feet long, usable with either a flat car or gondola. The starting point was scribed styrene sheet, 0.040-inch thick, built into a box with a few internal corners braced with 1/8-inch square styrene.

I then used scale 1 x 6-inch styrene strip to secure corners and to hide the edges of joined pieces. 

A second crate was also built, with the idea for it to serve as a load on depressed-center flat cars. Logically this should be too tall for a regular flat car or gondola (but be aware of your NMRA track gauge, and don’t exceed operable height). The box was built the same way as the preceding one. Both boxes were then painted a light wood color, Tamiya “Wooden Deck Tan,” no. XF-78.

You may notice that I did not meticulously fit every joint in the corner strips. These are crates, not cabinet work. My good friend C.J. Riley once told me of how he had been admonished by a lead carpenter when he was doing apprentice work, taking too many blows to drive a nail: he was told, “C’mon, Riley, hit the nail! This ain’t no gran’ pye-anna.”

Next I needed to add some signs to the crates. Among the great sources of appropriate names and logos, often with color accents, are period magazines. These might include popular magazines, but a more promising source are technical and engineering journals. Nowadays you can photograph desirable ads in such publications with a cell phone at the library, size them to your needs in Photoshop or comparable software, and print them out on a high-resolution laser printer. Or of course hunt on the Internet.

Among other things, this is a chance to add recognizable elements to your layout, by using the names and emblems of familiar, large corporations. These can range from Ford to Westinghouse to Caterpillar to DuPont. You will see below that I’ve done exactly that. And don’t neglect your on-layout industries, which might ship out some product in a large crate or crates.

Below you see one side of each crate. Here I’ve made an outbound shipment from my on-layout industry, Jupiter Pump and Compressor, with a sign that reads “More Pumps From Jupiter...” while the other crate identifies itself as Mesta Machine Company (for background information on that company, see my post at: You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

The other side of both crates shows well-known national companies, in line with my comment above. I might add that styrene painted to look like wood only sort of resembles wood, but since these are loads, not primary models, I found the look acceptable.

You might wonder why the long, low load box has its signs so high on the box. The reason is simple: it’s because I want to use this load in gondolas as well as on flat cars, and I want the sign visible:

I like both making and operating loads for open-top cars, so this small project was fun to do, and will be fun when the loads show up in operating sessions. More on crates in a later post.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Modeling passenger car diaphragms

 The diaphragms on passenger car ends, used to secure passage between cars, beginning late in the 19th century, have always been a challenge for modelers. It isn’t that they are themselves difficult to model, it is because the curves and switches of our model trackage are so much sharper than the prototype. Inevitably we have to make a few compromises — as with so many modeling topics. 

I will begin by describing the prototype diaphragms used on heavyweight cars, particularly Pullman sleepers. These are about the oldest passenger cars I would encounter in my modeling year of 1953. Shown below is a clear view of the “standard” Pullman diaphragm, on the sleeper Alazon (a 12-1 floor plan, meaning 12 sections, 1 drawing room). The photo, dated December 2, 1927, is by Pullman (Rob Evans collection).

You can see the main features here: a face plate, which mated with the adjoining car’s face plate; a bellows of heavy canvas, with a metal frame inside; and a folding gate, closed up at the left side of the opening. At this time, diagonal stabilizer bars —also sometimes called tension rods, anti-rattle bars, or support rods — were not in use (more on those in a following post). 

There has long been an “acceptable” HO scale model version of this diaphragm, Walthers part no. 933-429. It consists of a face plate, of vinyl plastic, and a folded paper representation of the bellows. These are now described on the Walthers site as “availability discontinued,” presumably meaning permanently. One can still find them in some hobby shops, and from various on-line sellers.

I have used these Walthers parts in past years, and the model below is an example of how they look. I think you can see some shortcomings, compared to the photo of Alazon at the top of this post. The rim around the face plate is too wide and the bellows really too deep. But in a coupled-up consist, there is something between the cars, and if, as is often the case, our car spacing is larger than prototype, the over-deep bellows compensates.  

The model here is a Ken Kidder brass “Harriman” baggage car, though the arrangement of roof vents is closer to Illinois Central cars than to SP, and with Central Valley trucks. 

Naturally there have been numerous suggestions of ways to improve the Walthers product. One example, to make a better face plate from styrene sheet, was shown by Bob Zenk in Mainline Modeler, in articles in both 1981 and 1984. I showed the same approach myself, in a magazine article in 1984, referenced in an earlier post (see it at: ). That same post shows my face plate drawing. 

Another suggestion for improvement of the Walthers diaphragm is that you can remove one or more of the folds from the bellows, making it less deep. I will show this later.

Over the years there have been many commercial alternatives to the Walthers diaphragms, which I won’t review here. But for really excellent diaphragms, it is hard to beat the detail, accuracy and multiple designs of the Hi-Tech Details kits. Here’s a link if you’d like to look at the range they offer: . At this point, I will postpone further comment of my own to a future post or two.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Car fleet proportions, Part 2

 This post is a follow-on to the recent post about proportions of a freight car fleet, a much more general topic (you can review that post at this link: ). In the present post, I want to turn to the issue, not of fleet size, but of what cars are in each fleet. The previous post’s graphs were for entire car fleets (minus coal, ore and ballast cars). Now let’s delver further into details. 

I would begin with the national car fleet, as described in ICC statistics for Dec. 30, 1950. The table shown below was published in the 1953 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia, page 69.

What I suppose we could call the “bottom line” is at lower right, the total U.S. freight car fleet size of a little over 2 million cars. These statistics unfortunately combine gondola and hopper cars, both important categories. I only have data for Class I railroads (one of the columns above), but for 1950, there were 556,000 hoppers, 23,000 covered hoppers, and 285,000 gondolas. We can use this ratio, 556 / 865, to estimate that in the above table, the 882,000 combined hoppers and gondolas comprised 572,000 hoppers.

But other categories are clearly called out in the table, and we can recognize that the largest category is box cars (including auto cars), at about 720,000, followed by hoppers and gondolas. With that bottom-line number, we can make a bar graph of the national car fleet at the end of 1950.

Keep in mind, looking at this graph, that no railroad or any car owner could match this graph exactly. As the table above shows, nearly all tank cars and refrigerator cars were in private ownership. Moreover, each railroad owned a fleet of freight cars suited to its territory and its traffic. The graph of the car fleet for one’s layout might look like this, but no individual car owner could do so.

This is an interesting piece of information, the composition of the national fleet, but how do we do the same for individual railroads? We turn to the Official Railway Equipment Register, or ORER, in this case for April 1950 (the issue I have). We can quickly assemble bar graphs like the one shown above, but for individual railroads. 

I will begin with the Pennsylvania. We saw in the previous post that their car fleet was the largest in the U.S., with or without hopper cars. Here is a graph of the constituents of the PRR fleet.  I’ve retained the order of car types from the graph above.

Let us look for a second at just the Pennsylvania box cars. In 1950, they were more than 8 percent of the entire national fleet of box cars, so on many layouts, you might expect 8 percent of the foreign road box cars to be PRR cars. (Note that I separate foreign cars from home-road cars; the issue of home-road car percentages is an interesting but separate one, as I’ve described: .) 

 What that 8 percent would mean can be shown with a numerical example. Let’s imagine that you have, or plan to have, a freight car fleet for your layout that will include 150 box cars that can be foreign-road cars (this is a big number, but just an example). The data above then suggest that 12 of your 150 foreign-road box cars will be PRR cars.

What about a sizeable road, though the smallest one in the bar graph of railroad fleets in the previous post, the Rock Island (formally, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific)? Let’s look at that. First, here’s a graph like the one above, dramatizing how the Rock Island fleet was dominated by box cars. (Many other Western railroad fleets were also dominated by box cars.) Unless you model a road adjoining the Rock Island, you are only likely to see box cars as Rock Island foreign cars. Note also how different was the composition of the Rock Island fleet, compared to the PRR graph shown above.

In 1950, the presumably free-running Rock Island box cars, AAR type XM, numbered a bit over 17,000 cars. The national fleet of such cars was about 720,000 cars, making the Rock Island fleet about 2.3 percent of all box cars. In model terms, that might mean that if my model railroad has 150 foreign-road box cars, about 3 should carry RI reporting marks. 

Now I will show just one more example, the Southern Railway, which is interesting because of the substantial number of flat cars, well above the national average. Moreover, the ORER shows us that fully two-thirds of these were AAR type LP flat cars, meaning equipped for pulpwood service. This was a regional emphasis (the Seaboard fleet was similar in this regard), but the difference emphasizes the need to understand each railroad separately. And one might well decide that those pulpwood flats would not travel far beyond the rails of the Southern or its neighbors.

I will continue with some more observations on individual railroad car fleets in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Monday, May 10, 2021

Modeling heavyweight sleepers, again

Awhile back I wrote a series of blog posts about heavyweight Pullman sleepers, including a post showing how I followed the Thomas Hoff articles in Mainline Modeler during most of 1981 to convert among the various floor plans of the Pullman fleet (see it at: ). In these articles, Hoff showed how to take advantage of the essentially modular Pullman car design, by moving window groups and other parts to reproduce different cars.  

(If you have the 1981 issues of  Mainline Modeler or can lay hands on them, you can read Hoff’s original articles; if not, it may be easier to buy the “Best of Mainline Modeler” compendium volume entitled Passenger Cars, the cover of which I show below. These do show up for sale on line. It contains all five of the original articles.) 

I still have some of the materials for such conversions, having purchased a whole bunch of the AHM (manufactured by Rivarossi) heavyweight Pullmans back in the day. This model represents a 12-1 Pullman, that is, 12 sections and a drawing room, the most numerous Pullman floor plan by far. There were at least 4000 cars with this floor plan, out of a fleet of 8000 or so cars. 

In the Hoff process, one uses a “sacrifice model” to obtain window or other panels to then replace in the window band of the Pullman you are modifying, since these signify what arrangements exist inside the car. At one time, New England Rail Services offered these parts, but they now are getting hard to find, so we ma be back to using old Rivarossi bodies.

The photo below is from the second Hoff article, and shows a paired window (used for individual Pullman sections and some room accommodations) being placed in the car being modified. This may look tricky, but in practice is not, for two reasons. First, you cut out the desired piece oversize, and cut the destination area undersize, and have lots of material available for working to make the two fit. Second, the Rivarossi plastic is pretty soft and files or sands quite quickly. In fact, my view is that the challenge is to work slowly enough. 

One sacrifice body can serve for a number of modifications. I happened to have purchased a couple of cars with the CNJ “Blue Comet” paint scheme, and it was lucky because the window band is a cream color. This makes it really easy to work on. Here is one of those cars, after numerous removals.

The advantage of the cream color shows up when you are placing the piece being moved, as you can see on the body below. I usually strip the old paint from the body to be modified, so it’s then black, and a replacement part like this is easy to see and work with. The window pair shown here serves a drawing room in the sleeper being modeled; the number of sections is being reduced from 12 to 10.

I have already done, with this method, a 14-section tourist Pullman, an 8-1-2 (8 sections, 1 drawing room, 2 compartments), and a 10-1-1 (10 sections, 1 drawing room, 1 compartment). The car shown above will be another 10-1-1, and will be lettered “Pullman” as representing one of the cars not sold to railroads in 1948, but retained in the Pullman pool. I already have two such cars (as I showed in an earlier blog post, which can be viewed at this link: ), and wanted to add one more.

But first the model needed to have some interior partitions, and paint inside and out. More on that in a following post.

Tony Thompson

Friday, May 7, 2021

Proportions of a freight car fleet

 Most model railroaders have a collection of freight cars that meets some expectation or another, from at one extreme, a “what I like” collection, to the other extreme of a carefully curated set that is correct for locale and era. Not everybody is interested in curating their models, and I understand that. This post is about having some degree of realism in the freight cars you own and/or operate, to the extent that realism appeals to you.

I have written about this topic a number of times previously, though today I will touch on aspects not previously discussed. And because of the multiple previous posts, I will move along fairly smartly in the present post, so if any of the material seems unclear, please consult the posts cited at the end of this one, for background. 

Around 25 years ago, Tim Gilbert and Dave Nelson offered a very interesting idea: that at least on main lines of most railroads, the “free-running” freight cars, particularly box cars and gondolas, would move around the country somewhat randomly, as needed by shippers. That in turn suggests that the frequency of observation of any particular railroad’s freight cars, anywhere in the nation, would be in proportion to the size of that railroad’s total freight car fleet, relative to the national fleet.

They provided actual freight train data from conductors’ time books, and at least on bridge-route type main lines, the hypothesis seemed to have support. Gilbert and Nelson were quick to point out that their idea would not apply to freight cars with specialized equipment or assignments, notably tank cars, nor would it apply to most branch lines, for example coal branches.

But it’s clear that the Gilbert-Nelson hypothesis leaves all of us needing to be, as I think Jeff English first said, Pennsy modelers, as the Pennsylvania Railroad had, by a considerable amount, the largest freight car fleet in the United States. It also tends to make us modelers of the other “biggest freight fleets,” New York Central, Baltimore & Ohio, Milwaukee Road, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific. 

What do the data look like on this topic? I believe that the first person to emphasize railroad car fleets entirely by size was John Nehrich, in the January 1989 issue of Model Railroading magazine. He was interested in car reporting marks as such, not in total railroad ownership, so he omitted railroad subsidiaries with separate reporting marks (such as the Omaha road within the CNW). He also chose, for reasons I don’t know, to report data for 1949.

I made a new graph of the same data, correcting them for the year 1950 (from the April 1950 issue of the Official Railway Equipment Register, or ORER), not only to have a “rounder number” for the year, but to go beyond the large bulge of carbuilding after World War II. I also added in the subsidiaries of relevant roads, and produced the graph you see below (road names with asterisks have subsidiaries added in), still listed in the order Nehrich used.

In this graph, the shaded part of each bar is the total ownership by that road of hopper, ore and ballast cars. It seemed to me that in assessing interchange around the United States, we have to recognize that most coal and ore traffic was not long-distance, and moreover in many cases mostly on home rails. In addition, coal and ore cars were certainly not free-running cars in most circumstances. Also omitted are ballast cars, for the same reasons. In other words, the black parts of the bars in the above graph shows the railroad ownerships most likely to show up anywhere in the country. 

Accordingly, I re-plotted the data you see above, keeping just the black bars and re-ordering them by size. That produced the following graph of, if you will, the biggest interchange fleets in the U.S. The PRR and NYC remain the largest.

I of course recognize that if you model a railroad that handled a lot of coal or ore, or adjoined such a railroad, this graph may not suit you; but I believe it suits most of the United States.  

At this point, I know that our Canadian friends are beginning to growl about the omission of the Canadian roads. Where do they stack up in this kind of ranking? In the graph below, I have inserted the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific data from the April 1950 ORER, as orange bars. 

You can see immediately, if you didn’t already know, that CN and CP did indeed own extremely large freight car fleets. But if we focus on the United States, every piece of information I have found about Canadian cars operating in the U.S. shows at most 10 percent, and usually less than 10 percent, of those fleet numbers were in the U.S. at any one time. Obviously if we decrease the orange bars to 10 percent of the size shown above, these reporting marks fall far down the chart. That’s whey I omitted them above.

I’ve written extensively on this general subject, and the foregoing is just a summary. For those who would like to read more, I might recommend first my article in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for December 2011.  There are also a number of prior blog posts, perhaps most usefully these two: and a later example with  more specifics, including some calculations for illustrative railroads: . I’ve also written a discussion about the meaning and frequency of “free-running” freight cars, for those less familiar with that idea (if you like, you can find it here: ). In a future post, I will delve deeper into this topic.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Southern Pacific F-units, Part 4

In the previous post in this series, I carried out the major assembly of a Highliner kit of a B-unit for an EMD F3, and detailed the body for the “phase” that I wanted to model. My goal was an F3-Phase III unit. That previous post can be found here:

(Incidentally, for background on the Phase designations of EMD F3 units, entirely a railfan idea, not EMD factory descriptions, you may benefit from a Wikipedia entry, which is at: . Unofficial they may be, but these Phases encapsulate the identifiers of visual characteristics of the various F-unit locomotives.)

As described in the prior post (see link in the top paragraph, above), I could have begun adding details to the model, followed by painting. But rather than risk paint filling any of the fine detail, I realized I should paint now.

These units, as I observed in Part 3 (citation in first paragraph, above), had very simple paint schemes, a Daylight Red stripe along the bottom of the car body, and the remainder black. As an illustration, the photo below (Morris Abowitz photo, Bill Sheehan collection) shows two F7-B units in 1962. As was standard, the only readable lettering is the unit number. Road names were not applied to B units.

Both these units have a diamond stenciled above the unit number, indicating the presence of cyclone-type spark arrestors. Such stenciling began in the late 1950s and accordingly would not show up on my 1953 models. 

Note also on unit 8083 at right (Class DF-3, delivered in 1949), that the stainless steel kickplate under the door is larger than on the newer unit at left, SP 8270.In addition, unit 8083 has the pointed roof “overhang” at the rear. Lastly, unit 8083 still has a diaphragm; I will return to that topic.

As I said, it was time to begin painting the model. I accordingly began by airbrushing Star Brand “Daylight Red” (STR-34)  along the lower parts of the car body. No need here to worry about exactly where the spray goes, because the next coat is black, and it  covers very well.

After dithering about cutting a piece of masking tape exactly straight and the exact width of the prototype stripe, it occurred to me that I could do the job more easily in two steps: first mask to the top of the stripe and paint the upper body black, then come back and mask to the bottom of the stripe. I used the excellent Tamiya masking tape for this, in this instance the 10 mm width.

You can see slight wavers in the masked line at the side doors, caused by the step beneath the tape at that point; but it won’t matter because that exact area is the stainless steel kick plate, which will be painted a steel color. 

Then when the model was spray painted black and the tape stripped off, it looked like the photo below. Of course, the model at this point being dead black, details don’t show, but the point is to show this stage of body painting.

Next, as mentioned, I masked to the bottom of the red stripe and sprayed everything below that black, with the additional benefit of touching up any areas painted too lightly in the first application of black.

With this done, I will proceed with attaching the various Highliner screens along the upper side (all of which are helpfully already black), along with the fan blades and fan screens, also black. Then the individual handrails and kick plates will become a silver color. More later as this project concludes.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Mainline passenger cars on a small layout

 I have written in several previous posts about the opportunities — and limitations — of a small layout, which has modest staging capacity, to operate realistic passenger trains. My modeling era of 1953 saw the Coast Route trains, such as the Daylight and Lark, operating at almost full size, meaning 11 to 18 cars, depending on the season. I can barely stage half that length (for 80-foot cars) on my layout.

One possible answer is the “Coast Mail,” trains 71 and 72 in my era, which varied considerably in size, and was often photographed with as few as six cars by tireless Coast Route photographer Wilbur C. Whittaker. When asked about it, Wilbur (as he preferred to be called) verified that he often saw short “Coast Mail” trains.

In writing about nos. 71 and 72, I began with introductory material about the Coast Route prototype (at this link: ), then went on to describe modeling options for the SP head-end cars I would need to model mail trains (you can find it here: ), and concluded with a discussion about the painting and lettering options for these models (it’s located at: ).

But another option is the fact that equipment was deadheaded between Los Angeles and San Francisco at times. Both terminals maintained some extra cars for overflow needs and to substitute for cars suddenly unfit for service (often called “protection” cars), and those cars, as well as cars needing maintenance, were also sent regularly to and from Los Angeles General Shop. There are photos of such cars in the consist of the “Coast Mail,” likely not carrying passengers. There also exist a few photos of entire trains of deadhead equipment, for example after heavy movements of cars that served a convention.

This frees me to operate a few lightweight cars, such as Lark sleepers or Daylight coaches, along with various heavyweight Pullmans and perhaps a relief diner, within a deadhead move. I do have some of the specialized cars that operated in Daylight and Lark consists, such as boat-tail observations and the distinctive Daylight combine, but these mostly remained in regular service. Instead, the “garden variety” sleepers would be better choices, or else the protection cars, such as a single-unit tavern.

This is a Soho brass corrugated tavern, which I’ve numbered SP 10310, one of the Class 77-T-1 cars, though it was probably never painted for the Lark (most of its life was spent in Daylight paint).

Years ago, Hallmark Models imported a brass heavyweight MKT diner, the window arrangement of which is similar to the Class 77-D-9 diners of Southern Pacific, including the clerestory roof (there should be one more window in an SP aisleway section). Here is one of those cars, shown trailing a westward deadhead move through my town of Shumala. I numbered it SP 10156, an actual member of this class.

Of course, by my modeling year of 1953, a protection diner was more likely to be a lightweight car. Although the old Rivarossi (AHM) “1930” lightweight diner only generally resembles SP’s lightweight diners of Class 83-D-1, I did paint and letter one in SP’s “pool” paint scheme, two-tone gray with no train insignia. It’s numbered SP 10209, a car originally painted yellow for the City of San Francisco.

Finally, it would be at least equally natural to all of the above cars for a Daylight coach to be part of a deadhead move. Below you see one of the Broadway Limited Class 79-C-2 models, SP 2486, shown at the rear of an eastward train of this kind, just passing the Shumala depot. This model has the full-width diaphragms that many SP passenger cars had until the early 1950s. 

I mentioned Lark sleepers as likely candidates for these deadhead moves. I will return to Lark modeling issues in a future post, but for now, let me just show two Lark paint jobs on the AHM 10-6 sleeper. These definitely show up on the rear of my mail train or on any deadhead move.

(Before concluding, I should mention that prototype data and very extensive photo coverage of all the car types and classes mentioned above are in the relevant volumes of the five-volume Southern Pacific Passenger Cars set, published by the SP Historical & Technical Society.)

For any of the cars you see above, and for others as well, a deadhead move is an ideal way to include these kinds of passenger cars in layout operations without being able to run the full, actual trains for which they were painted and usually serve. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s what I can do.

Tony Thompson