Thursday, July 29, 2021

Reprise: my staging table

 My layout’s staging arrangement has come under discussion numerous times since I first posted about it, some years ago. It’s my own design in detail, but much of the idea was borrowed from John Signor’s very impressive 16-foot table of the same kind, on his layout. 

More broadly, the idea has been around forever in a variety of forms. I observed transfer tables of several kinds on many weekend display layouts, during the year I lived in England, almost 40 years ago. So certainly I am far from an innovator here.

What I want to do in this post is to provide links to some of my original blog posts, but also to repeat some of the photos and collect a complete story here. That way I have a single source to which I can refer when questions arise about my staging.

To begin, I had read John Signor’s Model Railroader article, and had seen his staging table in person, which works beautifully. Thus I pretty much knew what to do. (For my original background on that, you could look at this link: .) I built mine with 3/4-inch plywood, supported on a pair of L-girders. You can see this below, as the upper part of the photo. A sheet of 1/2-inch Homasote is glued to the top of the plywood.

I used heavy-duty “no slop” drawer slides for the motion of the drawer (Accuride #3600), the same slides that John used. In the photo above, the slides are between the pairs of L-girders, and the lower L-girder in each pair is being attached to the lengthwise L-girder across the bottom of the photo. 

The black-painted legs, which are 2 x 2-inch size, are temporarily clamped before verifying that the table is level, and carriage bolts will be used to bolt the legs to that lower L-girder. Bar clamps temporarily attach the outer drawer-slide L-girders to the frame.

I should say that there really isn’t nearly the solidity and squareness in my 7-foot table that is evident in John’s table that is more than twice as long. He had a local cabinetmaker build his drawer, and he advised me to do the same. He also advised four drawer slides, not two. I wish I had done both of those things. Mine has more flexibility, side to side, than is healthy.

Next came track indexing. John’s table is very solid and nicely lines up tracks between the table and the layout. Mine is just not that repeatable. For indexing, I placed a long strip of hardware-store aluminum strip, 1/8-inch thick and an inch wide, along both ends of the table, with holes drilled every 2-1/4 inches. I spaced it out from the table end with blocks of Homasote. I then placed a simple hardware-store barrel bolt so it could lock into those holes. 

Once this locking strip was in place at both ends of the table, I laid track on the table with each successive barrel-bolt location locked, to match with the adjacent layout trackage. I placed Atlas re-railers at the center of each 7-foot track, and half a re-railer at each end of each track, to protect against any derailments entering or leaving the table. Each adjacent layout approach track also has a re-railer. The photo below isn’t quite the final state of construction, but shows the idea.

Recently I had to repair some of these end re-railers, because they developed a separation of the rails from the plastic ties at the very end of the re-railer. I described that repair, using PC-board ties soldered to the rails, in a recent post (it is at this link: ).  

I have also written several times about a refinement of my indexing system. The barrel bolts work well at both ends to get the adjoining rails close to alignment, but in HO scale, “close” isn’t always good enough. I shamelessly stole the system Roger Nulton uses on his layout in Tacoma, Washington for my own use. It’s been well described in a prior post (you can find it here: ). 

Essentially, this system comprises a short length of brass tube on each rail, and a close-fitting brass rod that runs through the two tubes. In the photo below, the locking rod is engaged through both tubes.

I set up the entire table electrically so that I could power any track singly, or power none of the tracks. When I operate a train from the staging table, I power only its track, and when it returns, I can turn off that track. I said a little more about that, and showed my control panel, in an early post about the staging table (post located at: ). 

Finally, I do get questions, even from people who are standing alongside the layout looking at the track, about what the track plan is for  my main line. It is a simple loop, one side of which is one of the staging tracks. You can see a drawing and more commentary here: .  

The staging table continues to be a dramatic sight when open, with complete trains, some stored locomotives, and additional freight cars, filling most tracks. Here is a repeat photo from my recent post about repairs (link to that 2021 post shown in the second paragraph above this one).

This staging table does work, and comes into play during every operating session, for whatever mainline trains are part of that session. It isn’t perfect. It wasn’t as solidly built as I was advised to make it, and it has required some modification and maintenance over the years. But it does do its job.

Tony Thompson

Monday, July 26, 2021

The challenge of full-width diaphragms

 The full-width diaphragms adopted by Southern Pacific for its new streamlined equipment in 1937 and thereafter pose an interesting modeling challenge. Certainly to install and successfully operate such diaphragms in model form, with the excessively sharp curves and switches on nearly every layout (relative to prototype), is quite difficult. And this applies to other railroads, too, but I will only address the SP issues here.

Of course, SP and others who used these diaphragms did so for the appearance. Here is an SP publicity photo from 1941, showing new Lark cars. You can see how the joint between cars is completely hidden, and that the paint scheme extends across the joint (Steve Peery collection). The whole train would look like all the cars were articulated. I illustrated that point in a previous post (see it at: ).

Modeling these diaphragms involves two challenges. The first is to duplicate the appearance at the car sides, with the flexible outer part of the diaphragm. I’ll return to that in a moment. The second is the face plate. 

Especially with Pullman’s lightweight equipment built before and just after World War II, a distinctive face plate was used for the diaphragm. The photo below shows the end of a Pullman built for the Golden State in 1947 (its color is Simulated Stainless Steel, as was the lower half of these cars in their original paint scheme). The photo is taken from the definitive history, Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, Vol. 2 (“Sleepers and Baggage-Dorms”), SPH&TS, Pasadena, CA, 2005), from page 338. We get a full-face view of the shape (Steve Peery collection). This face-plate design has been called the “opera window” version.

An angled view of this type of diaphragm shows the diagonal stabilizer bars, a newly introduced feature of diaphragm design with lightweight Pullman equipment (Rob Evans collection). I described these bars in the same post that is cited above the color photo at the top of the present post. This view also allows you to see other features of the side extensions around the periphery of the entire full-width diaphragm.

Finally, of course, we need to remember that in-service face plates got rusty, due to rubbing against the mating diaphragm during operation. I discussed this in a previous post, and showed model as well as prototype examples of face plate appearance. Shown below is a good illustration, a painting by the late Ernie Towler (which he gave me permission to use). It was created for the Four Ways West book, Southern Pacific Passenger Trains (Volume 3), “Night Trains of the Coast Route,” by Dennis Ryan and Joseph Shine, 1986. 

The painting depicts the eastward Daylight, heading from San Francisco down the Peninsula at Burlingame behind a GS-5, passing the inbound Lark. The Lark’s observation and two rear sleepers had been cut off at San Jose for their trip to Oakland, thus showing us the rear of another sleeper — and of interest here, a fine view of the face plate of the full-width diaphragm.

As I mentioned, there is a second challenge for the modeler, depicting all the hardware of the full-width diaphragm (see the third photo from the top of the present post), and if possible, making it flexible so it can operate on model curves. I will return to both that challenge, and the face plate issue, in future posts.

Tony Thompson

Friday, July 23, 2021

Trackwork wars, Part 5

  This title, “Trackwork wars,” may remind some readers of an ongoing series in this blog, called “Electrical wars.” (You can use either phrase as a search term in the search box at right, if you would like to see some of the earlier posts.) But here I focus on trackwork. My latest challenge has been in connection with my staging table, as explained below, and as so often is the case with largely complete layouts like mine, it’s a maintenance problem.

This staging table is an idea I got from John Signor, who has one on his own layout that is 16 feet long, and who wrote about it in an article for Model Railroader (for more background and description of this, you may consult my post at this link: ).  Below is an end-on view of the table currently, showing ten of the twelve tracks (despite how it may look from this camera angle, it really is level).

The track at each end of my staging table has a rail-alignment device, copied from a Roger Nulton idea, that permits the tracks on the table and on the adjoining layout to align perfectly. I showed a photo of Roger’s device, and the implementation on my layout, in a previous post (you can see it at: ).

Part of the alignment at each end is half of an Atlas re-railer, to protect against derailments as trains enter the staging table. Below you see one of them, disassembled from the track on the table, in preparation for repair. That’s the table edge at right. You can also see the brass tubes soldered to the outside of the rail end on the near side of each of these two tracks, and on Track 2, above, you also see the latching rod that slides into a matching tube on the layout side. 

The problem that had developed is that the rails at the right end of the Track 1 re-railer, foreground, have become detached from the plastic ties.

Incidentally, the more “experienced” readers may recognize the track at left as fiber tie strip! I had forgotten that an old piece of such track had been pressed into service on the staging table. 

My plan to correct the problem in the end section was to remove the inoperative plastic ties, and solder the rails to copper-clad PC board ties. I had some of those ties on hand, but they were old and one of them had recently exhibited debonding of the copper cladding when soldered. I decided to use new ones, and purchased CopperHead 1/16-inch PC board ties from Fast Tracks (view this product at: ). 

I cut several ties to about the right length, notched the copper cladding on both sides with a file, tinned one side and also tinned the bottom of the rails you see above (these are the normal steps for a job like this). Then it took only a touch of the iron to  make each joint. Here is how it turned out:

This end section was then re-installed as it had formerly been installed, and the right-hand edge of the staging table then looked as you see below, with the repaired ties in the lower right corner of the photo.

In the foreground, on Track 1, is my streamlined SP relief diner, bringing up the rear of a passenger extra. At the top of this image, on Track 6, you see a 2-10-2 assigned to some kind of test run, with a dynamometer car in tow. Other tracks contain various other mainline trains.

With this change, the track gauge at the end of this staging track is solidly maintained. My first tests of the repair have worked fine. Now the test will be whether this is a sufficient fix with repeated operation, or if something more may be needed. But it may be awhile before I know that.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Layout evaluation

 I know that the subject line for this post could mean many things. But I’m referring to my own layout, and to an evaluation I was asked to make, as a member of a discussion panel about layouts, on “Lessons Learned.” This took place as part of the recent NMRA National Convention, nominally hosted in Santa Clara, California, but in fact entirely virtual. The discussion panel was one of many virtual events that was held.

The layout owners on this panel were asked to identify the features of their layouts that were “good,” meaning turned out as planned or were good features that just developed. Also requested, of course, was identification of mistakes or well-intentioned features that simply did not work out. This seemingly simple charge soon proved, to me at least, to be rather more thought-provoking than it seemed at first glance.

I should begin with the layout itself. As experienced readers of this blog will know, my layout is T-shaped, with the two legs of the “T” each about 15 feet long. It is essentially located as a peninsula in the room (the vertical leg of the T), with a cross-piece along the far wall of the room. Here is an overview of most of the layout, looking up the peninsula:

Several things are evident in this photo, that I deliberately chose as features, and that I think are among the successful aspects of the layout. First, aisles on each side are wide, 3 feet at left and almost 4 feet at right. I have operated (and still operate) on layouts with much narrower aisles, and believe me, I like this much better. Second, the large hill at the end nearest the camera acts as a view block to keep the two sides of the “T” visually independent (the photo is taken standing on a stool — this is not a view a visitor would get unless 7 feet tall). 

Third, my previous layout had 2 percent grades, uncompensated, to and from staging located on a lower level. I resolved to keep the entire main line, including staging, perfectly level in the present layout. I did accomplish that, and have been glad ever since that I did.

It’s a minor fourth point, but it turned out that the end wall in the photo above is an excellent location for the layout clock, visible from every operating position. This isn’t a fast clock, it runs at 1:1, but it permits “layout time” to be the part of the prototype Guadalupe Subdivision timetable in which I want to operate. (I have posted several discussions about fast clocks and my use of the clock seen above; for an introduction, you might like to read this one: ). And I will mention in passing a kind of fifth point, that adoption of DCC considerably simplified some aspects of layout wiring, but that wasn’t a design choice.

My sixth and last point about things going as well or better than I planned is the amount(s) of switching in the three towns on the layout. I do proportion the work in each town when I set up an operating session, but generally operators have found the amount of work to be about right. Below is a snapshot of SP 2829 backing across Nipomo Street at Ballard, in the midst of switching. In the background can be seen six of the industries here.

What about things that haven’t been so satisfactory, either design errors or defects that have evolved over time? Well, there are some of both. One of these was a choice of convenience, to re-use the backdrop created for the layout when it was set on the Pacific Coast east of Surf, with high hills right behind the SP tracks at what was then called Jalama (Shumala on the present layout). But Shumala is set a little south of Oceano, and though there are hills in the distance there, they aren’t like my backdrop. Well, most people don’t know that, and I guess I will continue to live with it.

I did learn something from that backdrop issue, and have made the backdrop on the new part of the layout, at the end of the branch at Santa Rosalia, on the Pacific Ocean shore, accurately displaying the view you would get looking southward along that shore. In this view, you can also see the bill boxes on the shelf under Santa Rosalia, for both the towns of Ballard and Santa Rosalia. There is still one industry to be built here, but most everything else is completed.

Another point which has occasioned a lot of comment from visitors is my staging arrangement, basically a transfer table. I got this idea from John Signor, who has a 16-foot one on his layout, and his operates flawlessly. But unfortunately I ignored John’s advice on building it. He had a local cabinetmaker build his, and it is beautifully solid and square. Mine is only 7 feet long, so I thought, “Heck, I can build that with plywood and 1 x 4s.” I was right that I could, but wrong that it would perform anything like John’s professional version.

I was a little surprised how interesting it turned out to be, to step back and assess the layout from a wider perspective. On balance, my feeling is that the layout has turned out well, very much the kind of thing I wanted to accomplish when I started on this version, now about 12 years ago. None of the things I regret, or have realized should have been better, have been serious drawbacks, and I suppose you can hardly wish for more than that.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, July 17, 2021

More about vehicle and armor loads

 Among the vehicle loads I have previously shown have been a number of military and armor vehicles (the latter often called Armored Fighting Vehicles, or AFVs). In the present post, I want to show some of these again, so I can illustrate the use of the Heiser chocks described in my previous post on this topic (see it here: ). 

(Many of the prior posts about AFV loads were part of a series about upgrading the Roco 100-ton flat car, and you can use “Roco flat car” as the search term in the search box at right to find them. But they also included extensive background material on the individual AFVs.)

Though the Sherman tank was at best obsolescent after the end of the Korean War in June 1953, it continued in service at a number of armor unit bases for crew training use. Accordingly, I can include these tanks as SP Coast Route loads in my modeling year of 1953. (For background on this tank and its successors, you may visit my previous blog post, which is at: .)

Most Shermans weighed about 35 tons or so, perfectly suited for shipment on 50-ton flat cars (and numerous photos confirm that this was done). But a pair of them was considered a bit much for a 70-ton flat car, emphasizing the importance of the Army’s 100-ton flat cars. These two Roco model Shermans are shown in a train, riding on my upgraded Roco flat car.

Another vehicle I have shown before is the M7 howitzer, a 105-mm howitzer mounted on a Sherman hull, making it essentially a self-propelled artillery piece. These proved very effective in combat, far more flexible than towed guns, and were a valuable asset in both World War II and the Korean War. Here too, I have given background on these AFVs before (see my post at: ). 

In the photo below,  a Roco model M7 on a Proto2000 50-ton flat car, C&O 80709, is shown in a train passing the Shumala depot on my layout.

Another of the AFVs I have shown previously is an M36 tank destroyer. Though these were built upon modified Sherman tank chassis, their much larger gun required an open-top fighting compartment. (Here is a link to a previous post about these: .) Here again, I show this model to illustrate use of the Heiser chocks and boards. It’s riding on a Red Caboose 70-ton flat car, SP 140558, in a train entering the Shumala siding.

Of course, many military vehicles other than AFVs were handled by rail, including Jeeps and trucks. Here is a pair of Army trucks, on Proto2000 flat car ITC 1133, shown in a train on the Coast Route main track at Shumala on my layout. This model was originally assembled by Richard Hendrickson. This is a different view of a model that I’ve shown before.

And many other kinds of vehicles can be moved on flat cars too, of course. For an additional example, I used a Woodland Scenics road grader, adding wheel chocks and a box of parts, shown here at the team track on my layout at Ballard. It’s riding on a kitbashed Athearn flat car, modified to approximate SP Class F-50-15.

All these vehicles make interesting loads, almost too interesting, and I do operate them sparingly. But I have enjoyed learning about the individual AFVs, and the availability of the nice Roco models of them in HO scale obviously makes the modeling straightforward.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Modeling SP passenger cars, Part 11: the Lark

One of Southern Pacific’s signature passenger trains in the pre-Amtrak era was the Coast Route’s overnight Lark between San Francisco and Los Angeles. First streamlined in 1941, the consist had a handsome two-tone gray scheme (often abbreviated TTG) derived from Pullman’s own “night train” scheme. (This same scheme was used on the joint SP-UP-CNW train, the San Francisco Overland, and on Santa Fe’s Pullman-Standard lightweight sleepers. It has been called the “Western gray” scheme.) 

To illustrate the scheme, shown below is one of the 10-6 (10 roomette–6 double bedroom) sleepers SP purchased in 1949 from Pullman-Standard. There were 18 of these cars, variously assigned to the new Cascade and to the Lark, as well as other trains, numbered SP 9030–9039 and 9045–9052. (There were also 9 more 10-6 cars in the purchase, in the form of blunt-end “observation” cars, which I’ll ignore.)

I show this photo (from Pullman-Standard) in part to demonstrate that although the dark gray and light gray colors as seen on color chips were only slightly different in darkness, in sunlight the prototype cars usually showed considerably more contrast, as you see in this photo. In model form, I have usually lightened the "light gray" to achieve a look somewhat like the example above. 

The photo above is also relevant because the car is quite similar to the HO scale models produced by Rivarossi and sold in the U.S. by AHM (Associated Hobby Manufacturers). Most of the lightweight Lark sleepers, produced for the 1941 train, were 10-5 (10 roomette–5 double bedroom) cars. These had somewhat different window patterns than the postwar 10-6 cars. I have relied on the convenience of the AHM 10-6 cars for my Lark equipment, and have several, in fact more than I can stage on my layout!

Shown below is a photo of just one of those sleepers, SP 9046, one of the cars I touched on in a post a couple of months ago, about passenger operation opportunities on a small layout (you can see that post here: ). The photo shows essentially a stock AHM “1930s” streamlined sleeper, painted and lettered for the Lark. It doesn’t yet have any representation of full-width diaphragms, a topic to which I will return.

For my modeling purposes, some of the individual sleepers and head-end cars might be usable on my layout, but not the triple-unit Lark Club diner-kitchen-lounge car, for its sheer size. So one way to operate a model Lark train would be with a single-unit “relief” diner, doubtless quite a rare event but a possible modeling option. My single-unit tavern could be included too (see the post just cited in the previous paragraph). What other cars would I need for a reasonable representation?

 In my early-1950s modeling era, the Lark still operated with a “boat-tail” observation, so I would need one of those. The old Balboa brass streamlined observation is similar though not identical, and I have painted one for Lark service. In the photo below, you can just see parts of the interior furniture in the car. I also have a Lark “neon” tail sign made by Tomar, not yet installed. It also lacks the large red “emergency” light on the rear roof.

On the head end, the Lark operated with a pair of heavyweight cars, a baggage and an RPO, both “stream-styled” with roof contours to match the lightweight cars in the rest of the train. I painted a Coach Yard version of the RPO as SP 4119. Having just one head-end car at least represents part of what should be there.

For additional information (of a general sort) and a number of photos of the Lark train and some of its interiors, you may find this site interesting: . But for serious information on the cars, there is no alternative to the five-volume set, Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, published by the SPH&TS (visit the Society’s website for more information on current availability: ).

Those cars, along with perhaps three of the AHM 10-6 sleepers, could almost make up a believable Lark, or more likely a second section. And that’s a useful concept anyway, since I ordinarily only operate the layout during portions of the timetable that are designated as daylight hours. The Lark’s second section, running late in the morning hours? That I could do.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Waybills, Part 87: more original forms

 As the sequence number of this post illustrates, I have been writing on this subject for some time, on a rather wide variety of topics relating to waybills. (To find earlier ones, use "waybills part" as the search term in the search box at right.) In the present post, I show and discuss some prototype documents sent to me by Richard Townsend, each of which I think has potential to be adopted in some form for model operation use. I  thank Richard for providing these.

I will begin with a blank Southern Railway waybill, interesting because it shows what was a common practice for large shippers: the pre-printed waybill with the shipper information already included. On model waybills, this could readily be indicated by using a non-typewriter font for the shipper info, while the rest of the waybill is made out with a typewriter font.

Note here that the shipper, American Limestone, is a division of American Zinc Company. Presumably this Southern waybill was so pre-printed because numerous carloads of limestone were being shipped from the facility in Mascot, Tennessee. 

An especially interesting card to me was this Baltimore & Ohio “weigh card,” used to designate a car needing to be weighed. This would naturally occur if such a car were picked up from a shipper with no scale, and the car moved, probably in a local train, some distance to a yard where there was a scale. This card identifies such a car for the yard crew.

Note the directions near the top that the card, 4.25 x 8 inches in size, should “extend above waybill,” presumably if attached to the bill, for example with a staple. On this card, the agent at Neville Island (outside Pittsburgh) has typed Section I, and the weigher at the scale has filled out Section II by hand.

Obviously this card could readily be adapted for use in model railroad operations, particularly for cars picked up in towns with no scale, but needing to be weighed (in other words, cars with waybills not identifying a weight agreement for the cargo). 

Here is another B&O form, this one designed to be attached to a route card board, and is about 3 inches square. In the upper left corner, it reads “50M-5-17-27,” which means 50,000 copies printed on that date, so this is an old form. The 1920s-style typefaces used on the card confirm that. There would be a parallel notation on the waybill for such a car, but this route card would convey the information to yard clerks walking a yard track.

I can well imagine using something like this in model operations, for example inserting a suitable size version of it into a waybill packet. I have described in a previous post a different document aimed at the same situation, to ensure that cars to be stopped actually do get stopped for partial loading or unloading (see it at: ), and I use that document on my own layout. This one is a tempting alternative.

As I have mentioned several times before, I like to see examples like the ones in this post, of documents the prototype used in moving freight cars. Sometimes there is no obvious way to adapt them for model use, but as with the three shown here, often one can readily imagine such uses. I will  likely post again about one or more of the documents shown above, if I do choose to use any on my own layout. And thanks again to Richard Townsend for sending these forms to me.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, July 8, 2021

More about vehicles on flat cars

 I have posted several descriptions of vehicles loaded on flat cars, and using the search box at right, with “vehicle load” as the search term, you will readily find them. In particular, I wrote a series of ten posts about upgrading a Roco “Army” heavy-duty flat car, 6-wheel trucks and 100-ton capacity, and choosing a variety of armor and other military loads. All those posts are most easily found using “Roco flat car” as the search term.

My topic for today is about an important part of such loads if they are placed on flat cars. That is the blocking required to immobilize these heavy vehicles on the flat car, while it moves over the railroad. There are many approaches that can be taken, including starting with the appropriate military Manual, but I just want to mention one of them. That is the set of parts from Heiser’s Models. I show below the label of the kit. Heiser’s is now in business as Lakewood Heiser’s Models. These do show up on eBay and other on-line sellers.

What is contained in this kit is two resin “sheets” of chocks, and two resin sheets of boards of varying length, and some short flat car stakes. The chock sheets, shown below, have two different angles, 31 and 38 degrees, with the steeper ones better for wheeled vehicles, the lower angles better for tracked vehicles. About half also have a short timber behind the chock, which would be nailed to the flat car deck to hold the chock in place. Obviously I’ve already used some from these two sheets.

To further demonstrate what is intended with these chocks, I show below the Heiser directions, showing chock placement and use of boards alongside the vehicle. In previous posts, I have shown prototype views that illustrate these same features. (You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish.)

In the past, I have cut the chocks as 45-degree angles in a scale 6 x 6-inch timber, but these are pretty small. They really should be built up with a flat piece and an angled piece, so they have more height. I show below a pair of Roco Sherman tanks, with the one at left having the chocks cut from scale 6 x 6. I think it is obvious that the more substantial Heiser chocks at right are more credible looking. The tank at right doesn’t have the board alongside yet.

As I mentioned, the set of chocks includes steeper-angled ones that are more suitable for wheeled vehicles. Below I show a military tractor, a Herpa model. This one also is photographed to show the chocks, but boards will be added along the length of the wheels.

[Let me observe in passing, though I’m not remotely an expert on military vehicles, or even very knowledgeable about them, that I’m told this is an M931 tractor, a late 1970s vehicle. That’s long after my modeling era, but these vehicles were in fact rebuilt from M809 6x6 trucks that in turn came from the M39 series, a 1949 6x6 design first produced in 1951. The M809 series emerged from, but did not replace, the M39 designs in 1969. So I decided it’s not so severe a time warp to imagine this vehicle as an M39. Now wasn’t that admirably clear? Corrections or additions welcome.] 

Of course, the same kinds of chocks can readily be made from stripwood, and setting up an assembly line to turn them out in quantity would work fine. But the Heiser chocks are definitely a shortcut, and I enjoy using them for a variety of vehicle loads. I will show more of them in a future post. 

Tony Thompson

Monday, July 5, 2021

Selecting cars for an op session

 After my recent post about an operating session, I received an interesting question via email. The question was, how do I make the choices of cars that are in that particular session? (That post can be reviewed, if you wish, at this link: .)

Just to show an example, below is a snapshot taken awhile ago of part of the town of Ballard on my layout. I really took this for the industrial structure relationships, but of course there are a bunch of freight cars visible. So for the present discussion, imagine these cars as the “holdover” cars from a previous session. In an upcoming session, any one of them may be picked up; or equally likely, any particular industry may not be switched in the upcoming session, thus the car will remain where it is.

Moreover, when I set up my layout for an operating (or op) session, I not only choose cars on the layout which will be switched or not switched in the session, I also choose cars which move onto and off of the layout during the session, via the Guadalupe Local. In some cases, I may also, prior to an upcoming session, add or remove cars on the layout from a previous session, even though they didn’t arrive or depart by session switching. So, just as the questioner inquired, how are these choices made?

I have over the years used several systems for these choices. Even on my previous layout in Pittsburgh, PA, I devised and was guided by (though not ruled by) a car distribution schedule. This was pretty fully described in a post of mine some years back (see it at: ). I have an updated version of this for the current layout, and do consult it from time to time, to keep my frequencies of car pickup and delivery consistent.

But the schedule really doesn’t have realistic meaning with actual operating sessions. That’s because it may be weeks or even months between operating sessions. No one, not even the layout owner, has a clear memory of exactly what happened in the previous session. So the new session really is not “the next day,” as a distribution schedule would have it. Instead, it is just some following day. The power of the schedule is to provide overall guidance, but it hardly needs to direct operation rigidly.

Instead, I modify overall patterns with respect to seasons and other factors, as I described in a previous post about “going beyond the schedule.” (That post can be found here: .) I was interested, in this context, to re-read my post from some years ago, giving advice about setting up operating sessions by giving a broad description of the process I usually followed at that time (that post is at this link: ). 

I should emphasize that not all cars follow a full cycle. An example of a car that was delivered on-layout as a load, but will not be picked up as an empty in a following session, is the gondola shown below on the team track at Ballard, EJ&E 32386. I inherited this car from Richard Hendrickson, including its glued-in load of pipe. So this car literally can’t be moved as an empty. Instead, it will simply be removed from the layout and returned to storage, prior to the next session.

By way of contrast, here is a flat car that was spotted on the team track at East Shumala in our most recent op session. Because it has removable loads, it will likely be picked up as an empty in the next session. Regular readers may recognize the crate loads, described in a recent blog post (here’s a link: ). 

But the foregoing discussion only addresses whether particular industries or cars are switched. It doesn’t touch on the questions of selecting individual cars, for example emerging from storage for use. Which cars are selected? To some extent, that does depend on the car flow schedule. Let’s say the schedule (assuming I’m following it) calls for an inbound tank car of fuel for my cannery. When I look at my waybills for the cannery, there are only two made out for fuel cars, so either I choose one of them, or make up a new waybill for some other car.

In thinking about those “other cars,” I do make an effort nowadays to seek out cars in my fleet that haven’t operated for awhile, or even in some cases that have never operated on the current layout, and I make sure I have appropriate waybills for them. Then they can be worked into future sessions, either as cars arriving via the Guadalupe Local to the branchline junction at Shumala, or even placed at an industry to be picked up in the next session. This needn’t contradict the car flow schedule, but only implements specific cars to fulfill it.

This topic is one that continues to interest me, and I continue to think about ways to improve how I go about my car choices in setting up sessions. No doubt I will return to this topic in future posts.

Tony Thompson

Friday, July 2, 2021

Passenger car diaphragms, Part 4

 In the previous post about diaphragms, I showed what stabilizer bars look like, both on a heavyweight car and on a lightweight Daylight car, and gave some prototype historical background. I then turned to the modeling approach I used for the “tall” face plates seen on some diaphragms of lightweight equipment after World War II. That post can be found here:

To complete a diaphragm with use of face plates like the one I showed, I began with one of the American Limited kits for diaphragms. The best bargain in these kits is their no. 9686 (officially for Walthers Pullmans),  because it has material for six cars. 

The one visual drawback to this kit is that the stabilizer bars are very slender. I have simply replaced them with brass wire, 0.035 inches diameter, attached with canopy glue (as is the face plate).

Shown below is a pair of the American Limited diaphragms, with brass wire substituted for the stabilizer bars and “tall” face plates added. One is right-side up, the other upside down. These will be painted SP’s Lark Dark Gray before attaching to the single-unit diner I showed earlier (see the post at: ).

The stabilizer bars here are too tight into the side of the diaphragm, but will at least be visible. For some cars, I will want to have the bars more outside the diaphragm sides. These American Limited parts also make up into nice diaphragms without stabilizer bars. I needed pairs like that for some of the head-end cars, such as various Ken Kidder “Harriman” brass models, that are in my fleet. 

Once these kinds of diaphragms are built (I attach them to the cars with canopy glue), the face plates need to have a realistic look of mostly rust, due to wear against adjoining cars in service. Here’s a prototype example, SP 2341, photographed at Sacramento on May 31, 1962, by Bruce Heard (from  Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, Volume 1, Coaches and Chair Cars, page 255, Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society, Pasadena, 2005). This is a detail of Heard’s photo.

You can see the somewhat rusty look of the face plate. Of course, the degree of rust, versus body color paint, depended on time in service. Some face plates also looked as if there was a residue of grease on the plate. For my face plates, I have used Burnt Umber to depict old rust, while reddish rust like that shown above is closer to Burnt Sienna, and on most diaphragms I would combine the two colors. 

For example, here is one of the “tall” diaphragms shown in one of the model photos above (brass wire stabilizer bars added), applied to my “relief” single-unit diner mentioned in connection with that model diaphragm photo, depicted at the end of a deadhead equipment move at Shumala on my layout.

One of my “Harriman” baggage cars, a Ken Kidder brass model, is shown below with a virtually stock American Limited diaphragm, including the face plate (though stabilizer bars were omitted), but obviously painted body color and face plate rusted.  

Of course most passenger cars in a moving train do not reveal the appearance of their face plates, but the last car in the train certainly does so, and to a lesser extent, the first car behind the power. I am going back through my passenger car fleet to make sure all diaphragms look realistic. But the kind of diaphragms shown in this post can’t portray the full-width diaphragms that SP used on lightweight equipment. I will return to that topic later.

Tony Thompson