Thursday, May 19, 2022

Getting the car you want, Part 4

 This series of posts is about modeling a car from a specific number series within the Pacific Fruit Express Class R-40-10 refrigerator cars, 4700 cars built during 1936–37 and numbered 40001–44700. The InterMountain Railway Co. kit I am building has been renumbered and details modified in previous posts (see the last one: ); prototype photos were provided in earlier posts in the series.

In the last installment, car body details wee complete, except for the roof. The first decision to make about the roof is the ice hatches. The original fabricated steel hatch covers remained on many cars throughout their lives, but when needed, they were replaced in many cases with the later-design one-piece formed steel hatch covers.

Below is a photo clearly showing these hatch covers, though the car shown is from the later Class R-40-23, obviously with a Morton running board, and with the dot over the reporting marks that designated the presence of fans. The photo is from General American, author’s collection.

Partly because the molded hatch covers in my kit had warped (and were brittle, thus not straightenable), I decided to replace them with the formed steel variety. I had some in my parts stash, I think made by Red Caboose, and nicely including the short hand grabs on the inboard side of the hatch (see photo above). I applied these to the roof, followed by the corner grab irons, the running board (with scribed board divisions added), and end running board supports, latter two things attached with canopy glue. I also applied the hatch cover latch bars from the kit (note how prominent these are in the photo above).

Next came weathering and finishing. I gave the car a final coat of flat finish, then turned to my usual techniques with acrylic tube paints, applied as washes. (For more detail on all that, see my “Reference pages,” linked at the top right of every blog post.) The car at this point is shown below. Note that during the application of washes, I used a Q-tip to “wipe clean” the reporting marks.

Next I added a patch of clear gloss at the points that would receive a reweigh patch, then added the paint patch with a small rectangle of orange decal. Then old Sunshine reweigh lettering was added. 

Lastly, a route card was added on the route card board on the bolster end at the left of each car side, and a few chalk marks were added with white Prismacolor pencil. A final dusting with flat finish, and the car was ready for service. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

This was a simple and fun project, upgrading and renumbering an otherwise standard kit, while making some decisions about age of the paint scheme, etc. The car will definitely be active in my next operating session.

Tony Thompson

Monday, May 16, 2022

Another NMRA regional convention

 This spring, with the pandemic at least less evident, regional conventions of the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) have resumed in many parts of the country. Not long ago, I wrote about attending a convention of that kind in my home region, Pacific Coast Region (you can read that post at: ). Last week I attended another, that of an adjoining region, Pacific Northwest Region (PNR). It was held in Eugene, Oregon.

Because PNR is nearby, I have attended a number of their conventions, and thus know a fair number of people in the region. This makes it fun to attend, and this iteration, even though sparsely attended in comparison to pre-pandemic events, was enjoyable. I also gave two talks, one of them a new clinic, whose handout was posted recently (the handout is available at: ).

One of the pleasures of this convention was a reunion with an old friend, C.J. Riley, who I first met 45 years ago when we both lived in Pittsburgh. Together with the late Larry Kline (see my remembrances of him at: ), we formed a tight group of three, not only traveling to NMRA conventions together but getting together weekly for operating sessions or work sessions on our three layouts.

As it happened, C.J. was giving a clinic at this PNR convention, on the subject of his recent Kalmbach book about scenery and detailing techniques. It’s a fine book and I recommend it highly; he had copies with him and sold a fair number to clinic attendees. (For a review of the book, see this: ). Below is C.J. at right, with the first slide in the clinic.

There were some excellent models in the contest room at this convention. A number of them were fine models that were shown for display only, not contest entries. One of them was Greg Kujawa’s very nice box car, SP&S 13421, which was well rendered with weathering, chalk marks and route cards.

The contest entry that impressed me the most was Ted Kruysman’s Southern Pacific dome car, SP 3600, partly because he had to do an awful lot of work. He started with a Rivarossi passenger car, filled almost all the windows, and cut into the roof so that parts of a two Life-Like domes could be inserted. He then cleaned up the body and repainted, also adding working diaphragms, and passengers inside. Very nice workmanship and a polished final product.

Lastly, I enjoyed the HO scale sectional layout set up by the South Rogue Model Railroad Club, led by Dave Olsen and Bryan Orisen. It’s quite large, filling a lot of a hotel ballroom. Though it wasn’t possible to photograph the whole thing, here’s a view from one corner. Having once been part of a modular group, I admired their scenicked return loops, each comprising several sections. Just visible near the door at photo center is one of their signature scenes, a bascule bridge section.

Here’s a close-up view of this operating bridge (they raised it from time to time). Nice attention-getter!

Like I almost always do, I enjoyed attending and participating in this regional convention. And I’ll repeat my frequent suggestion: if you have never been to one of these, you ought to give it a try.

Tony Thompson

Friday, May 13, 2022

Handout: layout operations

 This post constitutes a handout for a talk on operation of my layout. I have come to prefer a handout in this form because it can easily be updated or corrected, even in real time, and can contain live links to a variety of on-line resources, neither of which is true of paper handouts. In addition, it can readily include color graphics and other resources that get complicated to reproduce on paper. 

This particular talk is about my layout goals, both the prototype aspects and the modeling goals. It also includes a segment on the waybills I use, as a route to more realistic operation. This means finding out about freight traffic on the prototype. I have benefited by the information in an SP conductor’s time book, as shown here:

My layout design and goals are derived from the SP prototype. Below is one example (Dallas Gilbertson photo, Tom Dill collection) of the kind of operation I want to model. It shows the Guadalupe Local, at Hadley as it departs San Luis Obispo, with Consolidation 2752 operating tender-first. The crew had to choose which direction they would operate in this configuration, as there were no turning facilities at Guadalupe.

For background on my layout locale and modeling approaches, for the Southern Pacific Coast Division in 1953, I would recommend these two posts:

For more on waybills, there are numerous sources, including an article in Model Railroad Hobbyist. Below are a couple of links, the first to the MRH article description, but these extend far beyond these two write-ups. Sub-topics within the subject of waybills can readily be found by using the search box at top right of all posts, and selecting a search term for the specific interest that you have.

Below is a summary, showing all the information contained in my model waybills. This closely mirrors the prototype waybill.

When all these elements come together — the prototype-oriented layout design, the trains and the freight cars, and the waybills that make it all function —  can enjoy something like the photo below, a Santa Rosalia Branch local, having finished its work on the branch and returning westward with the cars it picked up, heading to Shumala.

This talk has been interesting to prepare, as it brings together several threads of topics long discussed, but usually only separately. It has been a pleasure to look at all of them at once, and bring them together into a presentation.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The new Rapido Pennsy flat car

 Rapido Trains has recently released a distinctive and well-made HO scale model of a Pennsylvania Railroad Class F30A flat car. It’s distinctive because it was a one-piece freight car: the entire frame, side and end sills and even stake pockets all comprised a single General Steel Castings (GSC) product. This made the car extremely strong and durable, and they survived for decades.

For information on these cars, I naturally turned to the superb book by Elden Gatwood and Al Buchan, entitled Pennsylvania Railroad Flat Cars (Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society, Kutztown, PA, 2008), which I’ve mentioned it before: , and will say again, it’s one of the great freight car books. 

The F30A cars were built during 1933–34, assembled at PRR’s Pitcairn Shops, a total of 1500 cars. This was by far the largest flat car class ever on the PRR.  It was just 50 feet long (in later years, 53 feet, 6 inches became a de facto standard length), but in the 1930s, 50 feet was a long flat car. They had 70 tons capacity, again, large for that day. Below is a prototype photo (PRRT&HS Archives). Note how thin in the side sill.

The one-piece frame/body casting from GSC is shown below (PRR photo, Dave Sweetland collection), whitewashed for visibility. Photo is dated April 18, 1934. You can see that stake pockets were cast onto the body.

The Rapido model is cast metal, thus heavy. (It weighs fully 3 ounces!) It also reproduces beautifully the prototype underframe complexity, as you see below.(You can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish.)

The prototype car was strong enough that it could be built at the absolute minimum height, which is the top of the standard draft gear. As you see below, this was evident on the model (and prototype, of course) as the top of both bolster and draft gear were flush with the deck. This arrangement became a familiar sight in later years, especially after World War II, when many railroad bought similar cars, but this was a pioneer.

The trucks are another impressive part of this model. The PRR used a somewhat unusual truck for these cars, called 2D-F10, similar to the standard 2D-F8 PRR freight truck, but with a wider spring package to accommodate a leaf spring between the two outer springs in the spring package. The spring rate of the two spring types differs, minimizing harmonic “bounce” with these trucks. Below are the prototype truck at left, and the model truck at right. Obviously the latter has been tooled specially. Impressive work, Rapido!

Part of the long-term survival of these cars was their adaptation in later years for several other uses, including trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC) service in the 1950s, including 250 cars of Class F30D built in 1951 with the same underframe design. Rapido offers this variation too (see examples on their site, at: ), though most are now at dealers; I got mine at a hobby shop. Some of the TOFC cars were later sold to Trailer Train.

This is a really nice model, and will certainly find work on my layout! If you find freight cars interesting, even if you aren’t a PRR fan, you might like to pick up one or two of these fine models yourself.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Waybills, Part 97: waybill roles

 In the previous post in this (long) series about waybills, I took up the topic of the various roles that waybills may play in operation of model railroads. In my view. such roles ought to mimic, at least to some degree, the role that waybills play in prototype operation. You can read that preceding post at:

One can route freight cars in a layout operating session in a number of ways, of which waybills are only one. I personally think that some form of waybill, in model usage, captures an aspect of the prototype that is useful and appropriate to include in layout operations, for any era before the 1970s. But if some see it as too complex, what ways can simplify it s help to the reluctant? I mentioned color coding, with stripes or dots on the waybill, in the previous post. 

(Below is an experiment I did for the late Otis McGee to consider for his layout. This was to label through cars with a blue stripe for eastward destinations, pink for westward — this idea was rejected by both of us in favor of just training operators. I will say more about that training presently.) But if not color stripes or dots, what else might be done?

One possibility is to code waybills for destinations, particular trains, or even just direction of movement. For example, you could add a code as well as a color block it to use the block at the top left of a prototype waybill (which is labeled “Place Special Service Pasters here). Such a “service paster” might well be in color, so this location could be used very flexibly, as Frank Hodina did in the example below. Note that this form closely follows the AAR prototype.

Another possibility is to use a code on the waybill, and to highlight such codes to make it even easier for an operator to find. Below are two examples from Ted Pamperin’s Chesapeake & Ohio layout, with codes at top left for through trains eastward and westward (E and W, in the yellow blocks). This approach has the advantage of using soft colors, thus minimizing any intrusion.

These are only a few examples of ways layout owners have chosen a prototype-looking waybill design, but with some “help” addition, often in color, to make it easier to use. I personally admire Frank Hodina’s clever use of the “service paster,” and commend any approach that is similarly  of minimal intrusion on the prototype appearance. 

But my personal preference is to avoid color codes  — I would rather figure out how to make the waybill more comprehensible — and I will take up further possibilities in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

ProRail 2022

The title, as many will know, refers to a nationally invited operating weekend where something like 60 operators gather for three days of operation, typically one layout on each of three days. This happens to have been the 50th anniversary of the first such event, held by “RailGroup” in Chicago in 1972, and so this 50th anniversary was very appropriately held in Chicago. “ProRail” stands for “Prototype Railroad Operations.” For more on the history, you may visit the site: .

I enjoyed this event once again, and had the good fortune to operate on three fine layouts. The first one was Jerry Zeman’s Spokane Southern Railroad, an amalgam of Great Northern and Northern Pacific operations in 1952 in the Northwest. My assignment was Worley Yard, along with Travers Stavac, who was yardmaster. In the view below, Travers is in the distance in the dark shirt. Just behind him is Doug Harding, engineer of an arriving train.

This is a very large layout, not only occupying a large floor space but parts of it built on three levels, connected by a 12-turn helix. One feature of Jerry’s layout that I found ingenious and effective was his method of protecting the operating knobs for the Blue Point push-pull switch controls. He simply added a drawer pull outside of each one, neatly preventing inadvertent bumps.

The second layout I visited was Lou Steenwyk’s relatively new layout, modeling a free-lance railroad serving Minnesosta iron ore country in 1959. The foundation is the Ashland & Iron Range, though two other railroads are also modeled. The large yard at Ashland, Wisconsin is in two parts, and I handled one of them, while Henry Freeman handled the other. Below is a shot of the yard I worked. This is not one of the ore yards, but handles general freight and a number of local industries, some of which are visible along the backdrop. I liked the layout, which operated well and has comfortable aisles.

The last day, I operated on John Goodheart’s LECS (Lake Erie, Columbus and Southern), modeling the former Erie Lackawanna line from Columbus to Cincinnati, Ohio, and set in 1969. It’s a large layout, about 1100 square feet, and was enjoyable to operate, with a very long run to cover the entire layout on its two decks. The large yard on the layout is shown below, with Phil Monat at left, working the yard, and beyond him, John Bauer. At right is Paul De Luca, engineer on a passing train.

This was, as usual, a very pleasant and invigorating ProRail. I was pleased to be invited and greatly enjoyed operating on the three layouts to which I was assigned. I look forward to next year in Kansas City!

Tony Thompson

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Getting the car you want, Part 3

 As I described in the first post in this series, this project is to modify an existing kit so that I can produce the particular car number series that I want. In this case, it’s a Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator car of Class R-40-10, and the starting point is an InterMountain Railway Co. kit — an excellent kit in most regards. I did have to correct a warped body molding, as I showed in Part 2 (see that post at: ).

Applying the kit detail parts to the body is mostly a straightforward task. But the InterMountain bracket-style grab irons, though a beautiful molding, are frighteningly delicate, and break easily even when cutting them from the sprue. And in service on the layout, they are occasionally damaged during operation. Luckily, I have an alternative: brass versions. 

Over 25 years ago, Dennis Storzek (who works for Accurail) had some of these made, by the simple expedient of using styrene offset-attachments moldings as the masters in a “lost wax” process to produce sprues of brass ones. Richard Hendrickson obtained some of them, and Richard passed a few on to me. You can see them below. The “posts” that fit the holes in the kit body are there underneath, of course. Both side and end grabs are included.

Next I spray-painted the whole sprue black, cut what I needed from the sprue with side-cutters, and applied to the body with canopy glue. Meanwhile, I continued adding other side and end details to the car body.

I also added Kadee trucks and couplers, using the 2-56 holes already drilled and tapped in the car body, as mentioned before. These include cutting off the center posts of the coupler box lids, and drilling with a 2-56 clearance hole. I like this step, as the trucks give the model something to sit on when upright.

About this time, I decided to do the renumbering, as described in my first post (here is a link: ). For this, I relied on the excellent Microscale set 87-501. (If you have an older version of this set, discard it and get the current version, superbly updated and improved by Dick Harley and entirely dependable and accurate.)

Incidentally, you may note that the model has no placard boards or route card boards on the car side. As shown in the first post of the present series (see the link in the previous paragraph), prototype photos of the R-40-10 class show that the cars did not have these boards as built, nor were they applied in later years (for example, the 1946 photo in that post). Thus I have not applied any to the model.

One of the “Achilles heels” of kits like this is the delicate and good-looking sill steps, which however are correspondingly fragile. I managed to install all four of the corner steps as kit parts, but first one and then another broke, despite efforts at careful handling. The answer is simple, A-Line Style A steps, for which I drilled holes, installed with canopy glue, and painted black. Here is one of them before painting.

Finally, I will apply the roof details, including decisions on the ice hatches, but I will describe that process, along with weathering and finishing, in a future post.

Tony Thompson.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Waybills, Part 96: computing freight charges

 This topic may seem a little arcane, and indeed it isn’t something we particularly need to model, but I think it is interesting nonetheless to understand how it worked, in the pre-Staggers days when ICC regulations controlled every aspect of freight rates and charges.

A summary can be found in a number of places, but to my mind, the clearest by far is that provided by Larry Sagle in his excellent though often overlooked book ( Lawrence W. Sagle, Freight Cars Rolling, Simmons-Boardman, New York, 1960), of which I show the cover below.

Larry’s Chapter 2 describes the Bill of Lading and Waybill processes very clearly, and also the calculation of a freight charge. It’s based on the sample Bill of Lading shown below. In this instance, the agent has computed the shipping charge, which was then prepaid by the shipper. The stamp at lower right shows that this pre-payment was made.

To complete this Bill of Lading, in order to determine the freight charge for pre-payment, the agent first consults the Uniform Freight Classification, the book shown below, of which I have a copy, You can see its size.

Looking under “lamp shades,” he finds the commodity number, 55790. Then in the back of the same book he finds that the carload rating for this cargo is 85. This is one of the essential numbers in the rate. Next he turns to another book,  the National Rate Basis Tariff, Book 1-A, which was in force in the 1950s; I don’t happen to have a copy of that book.

The agent now looks under the destination state for this cargo, Illinois, where he finds the “rate base,” which in this case is 767. Consulting the appropriate table in the rate book, he finds number 767 in the horizontal column and reads over to number 85 in the vertical column, and this shows, at the intersection of these two, the basic rate, $3.57. This is the rate per hundred pounds, or “hundredweight.”

Let’s assume the weight of the cargo is 10,500 pounds. That exceeds the minimum weight for this class of cargo, therefore the actual weight is used (otherwise, any cargo weighing less than 10,000 pounds would be charged as though it weighed 10,000 pounds). Since 10,500 pounds is 105 hundredweights, we multiply that by $3.57, giving the total cost, $374.85. (The Bill of Lading above has an arithmetic error — one of the many reasons waybills got corrected en route.)

When the cargo arrives at destination, the agent at that destination begins the process of assigning the freight revenue. In this case, as you see by the Bill of Lading above, the routing is B&O all the way from Baltimore to Chicago, thus B&O would receive the entire freight revenue. If more than one railroad were involved in the route, the revenue would normally be divided in proportion to their respective mileages. That is, if one road carried the cargo for 28% of the total miles, they would get 28% of the revenue.

In fact, it wasn’t quite that simple, as the originating railroad got a little extra fee, as did the delivery road, to compensate for their added switching costs. But the idea that each participating road in the mileage got a share of the revenue is the main point to be made. And that’s why, if the empty needed to be sent back over its arrival route, it was routed over those same roads that moved it loaded: they had a share in the revenue, now had to share in the cost of moving the car back to its origin.

As I said at the outset, we don’t model things like rates (or very few of us do), but to me, it’s still intriguing to understand what was involved. That was the point of this post.

Tony Thompson

Monday, April 25, 2022

PCR 2022

 The title refers to the Pacific Coast Region of the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA), to which I belong, and to this year’s convention at Rohnert Park, California (near Santa Rosa). It took place last week, and I can assure you, just about everyone there greatly relished the chance to meet with old friends, enjoy clinics, layout touring, and prototype tours, as well as in-hotel activities like the contest room, sales room etc.

Like almost everyone else, PCR missed its last two annual meetings, so this was especially nice. I always enjoy NMRA regional conventions, for my region or those that are nearby, as the attendees are mostly people I know. As I usually do, I gave a talk, on tank car waybills and operation (see the handout at: ). 

We met at the local Hilton, named “Sonoma Wine Country,” where we also met in 2018. (Like many NMRA regions, PCR rotates the conventions among the various divisions in the region. This one was hosted by our “Redwood Empire” division.) The hotel’s comfortable lobby bar, where both meals and beverages were available, was a nice feature. (Hilton photo).

A large component of the convention was layout visits, of which there are a fair number in the area. A few photos will serve to highlight this feature of the convention.

I will just show a couple of scenes from one visit, Ron Learn’s Northwestern Pacific HO scale layout. First, an accurate rendition of Willits, California, including this view at the Commercial Street crossing, with the depot at right, and the California Western’s railcar no. M80 standing at the depot. I especially like the backdrop, effectively suggesting the typical Mendocino County hills.

Another nice detail at Ron’s layout was this scene of an underpass. There is a mirror, positioned perfectly in the center of the shadow under the bridge, making the road appear to continue onward, though in fact the bridge is nearly at the backdrop. Very nicely done!

I want to mention a model display at the hotel: a delightful project just getting going, a group of people including Dave Connery, Pete Birdsong and others, building modules for several towns along the San Ramon branch of the Southern Pacific in N scale. End to end, it is already over 20 feet long. Shown below is part of their town of Concord, California, with all structures scratchbuilt. This is already an impressive effort, and I look forward to seeing it as it progresses.

This was really a nice regional convention, and one I definitely enjoyed attending and participating. If you haven’t ever been to an NMRA regional convention, I bet you’d enjoy one if you tried it. Watch for the next one near you. I know I look forward to more of these!

Tony Thompson

Friday, April 22, 2022

Waybills, Part 95: role in operation

 The title of this post may seem a little odd — after all, surely the role of waybills in operations is quite clear? But what I mean is something a little more philosophical: what kind of role waybills may play in layout operations. There is a wide spectrum of possibilities, and one can choose whatever fits.

Of course the operation of a particular layout may not require waybills at all. One may simply issue switchlists. In any period later than the early 1960s, this would in fact be prototypical. Or one may run trains that are pre-positioned, perhaps giving full scope to a complex timetable and train order (T&TO) process, with no switching of cars. 

But assuming that waybills in some form are part of an operating scheme (here I would include car card systems also), what are the issues? Obviously one issue is, how complex is the information on the waybill? A prototype waybill contains a great many items of information, and using a full prototype document, even to an experienced operator, can be a challenge to wade through (waybill from the Andy Laurent collection). Which information is the stuff I need to do my job?

In the last decade, there has been a move on the part of a number of layout owners to used a “cut down” or reduced version of the prototype waybill. I am of course among those doing so, producing waybills more like what you see below (as I’ve reported in many previous posts).

But the point is to achieve some semblance of the actual prototype document without all the authentic but extraneous other information on the prototype document. This is, in a sense, a balance between authenticity and efficiency.

So when visiting operators show up at your layout, what do you want them to encounter, as far as waybills? The scene my be something like the photos below, which shows Garry Smith (left) and Dan Burns at Garry’s layout during the Central Indiana regional operating group, called CIRROPS, in 2019 (photo from The Dispatcher’s Office, Vol. 25, October 2019).

I have heard layout owners complain that their “regular” operators can’t stand complicated paperwork. Clearly, there are efficiencies one can devise. An example is color coding on waybills, to guide understanding of where the car goes (which direction from a yard, for example). This isn’t prototypical, but doesn’t really impinge on the “look” of a waybill, so it seems to me a minimal intrusion. Other reduction in waybill complexity can be devised to match the needs of particular crews.

But whatever we do, I urge that the prototype communications be kept in mind. Here’s an example, from the Library of Congress, in the immense files of Jack Delano’s superb wartime photography. This one (negative OWI-13854-E, Library of Congress) is from January 1943, and shows an Indiana Harbor Belt yard clerk at left, giving Conductor Cunningham his train’s waybills.

Another very helpful piece of communication to crews is the agent’s message, something I discussed at length in my recent article in the March 2022 issue of  Model Railroad Hobbyist (you can read my post about it: ). In the article, I showed several messages, some of which are quite extensive, but an important thing to notice in these messages is that the work to be done is described, but not how to do it. An agent wouldn’t dream of telling a crew how to do the work, only to make sure that they understand all that had to be done.

I have only touched the surface of this topic in this introductory post. For background, you might wish to look at the excellent OpSIG book, Compendium of Model Railroad Operations (2017). I will expand on these thoughts in future posts.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Updating the car fleet plan: covered hoppers

I have often written in this blog about fleets of freight cars: what kinds of cars were historically present, how one might identify the needs for a particular railroad, or for a particular area on a particular railroad; and how to proportion a model car fleet in a realistic way. Among the posts addressing those issues, and also containing links to all my 2011 posts about my own car fleet, is here:

 One of the fleet components I have been re-assessing is my covered hoppers. Let me begin by emphasizing that cars of this type were not common at all in 1953, the year I model. They are ubiquitous today, but not in 1953, comprising only a few percent of the national fleet in those days. 

Back in 2011, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, above, I included a covered hopper plan in my fleet summaries (here’s a link to that specific post: ). The dominant cargo carried in covered hoppers in 1953 was cement, by a large margin. Grain carriage was years in the future, and dry chemical shipments were just getting established.

 Accordingly, nearly all my covered hoppers are weathered and waybilled for cement service. An example is below, from Union Pacific’s first class of these hoppers, painted boxcar red. As is obvious, this wasn’t a great choice of color, and all subsequent UP covered hoppers were light gray, along with most of the rest of railroading. The car is being switched at Shumala on my layout, and like all the cars shown in this post, originated as an InterMountain model. (You can click on the image to enlarge.)

But there are a few exceptions. I have rostered several such exceptions, but these are operated sparingly, in light of their relative rarity. Nevertheless, Ed Hawkins and Pat Wider documented a great many different leased covered hoppers, to a wide range of industries, in the Railway Prototype Cyclopedia (RP Cyc), especially Volume 30 (2015). In the photo below, a car leased by North American Car Co. (marks NAHX) to American Postash & Chemical, being blocked for pickup at Shumala, is just crossing Chamisal Road.

Many industrial companies, of course bought their own cars, as also documented in RP Cyc issues 27, 28 and 30. For example, here is a car owned by General Electric used to move glass sand, closely following prototype photos. We see it here in a passing mainline train on my layout.

Finally, the leasing companies kept some cars simply under their own reporting marks for flexibility in assignments. All of the “Big Three” lessors did this (General American, in their covered hopper division, marks GACX; Shippers Car line, under SHPX; and North American, under NAHX). An example is this car from the GACX fleet, seen bringing up the rear of the Santa Rosalia Local in my layout town of Ballard.

This car was one of my “small projects” awhile back (a description is at: ).

All these examples offer a change from the far more numerous railroad-owned covered hoppers in the early 1950s, and though all of these are authentic schemes, as I mentioned, I do operate them sparingly.

Tony Thompson


Saturday, April 16, 2022

A 3-D printed freight car, Part 3

 In the previous part, I completed the minor work involved in adding a few details to the Pere Marquette double-door box car produced by Eric Boone. In that post, I also summarized the assignment  history of these cars (auto racks or not, etc.) and showed a prototype photo (you can view that post at: ).

Now the car was ready to paint. I washed the body in warm water with dish detergent, and let it dry thoroughly. You see it below, resting on “paint shop” trucks.

Without clear knowledge of PM paint colors, I wanted to use a generic freight car color. This seemed acceptable because I planned to weather the car significantly. I chose Tamiya Red Brown, TS-1, to paint this car, and when all paint odor was gone, I added a coat of gloss finish for decaling.

Eric Boone provided a very well-done set of decals for the car, and I followed his advice and added a coat of gloss finish to the sheets to make sure they would perform. as intended. They are a pleasure to apply, nice and thin but with crisp, opaque lettering. Here’s the car, with a few chalk-mark decals to the right of the door.

The model above visibly still rests on my “paint-shop” trucks. The model’s assigned trucks, along with couplers, were installed next, so that they could benefit from the following step. 

That next step was weathering. I pursued my usual regimen with acrylic tube paints, made into washes. The method, along with some details of use, are thoroughly described in my “Reference pages” (see the links at the top right of every one of my blog posts). When satisfied with its appearance, I let the model dry well, then applied a coat of flat finish. The acrylic weathering pigments do adhere, but are vulnerable to a scratch with a tool or fingernail, until given a protective finish coat.

But of course the job of finishing wasn’t done; I still needed to add reweigh and repack stencils. The first step with these is paint patches, exactly as yard personnel painted out the old stencils to give a place to stencil the updated information, with a new date and location for a reweigh or repack. 

I have posted before about how I model these paint patches (see, for example: ), and I have also described the results, with a number of model examples (see: ). 

The present model would of course need both kinds of stencils. For my modeling year of 1953, the reweigh date would have to lie within 48 months in the past, as that was the AAR rule in 1953. I turned to my usual source of these, some old Sunshine decal sets of reweigh symbols and dates, and applied suitable ones over the “fresh paint patch” decals. I also added route cards.

The car is shown below, being switched at Shumala on my layout, perhaps containing a load of furniture from Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the purposes for which these cars were built.

This 3D process makes a nice looking car, and a somewhat unusual body style, and I’m glad to add it to my car fleet. The modeling is very easy with the 3D-printed body and underfame. It’s true that some details like grab irons aren’t as fine in cross-section as would be the case with wire parts, but the speed and ease of assembly are the offsetting benefits. I like the car, and it was fun to work with a new (for me) kind of model.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

A 3D-printed freight car, Part 2

 The potential for 3D-printing of entire freight car bodies has been recognized for some time. But the latest one I have seen is remarkable in the amount of detail parts that can be printed on the car body or underframe. I showed those parts as they come from the printer, produced by Eric Boone, in the previous post (see it at: ). 

When the car body is freed from its supports and base, the underfloor is revealed, containing four hexagonal cavities which accept 2-56 nuts, that will in turn accept the truck screws and coupler box screws.

And with both pieces removed, the underlying “forest” of supports from the printing process are revealed. These are fairly brittle, so care is necessary in cutting the parts free. But I found that this goes very quickly, mostly using a sprue cutter on the outer supports, then a utility knife on the remainder.

Eric recommended that as soon as the underframe part is freed from its base, that it be glued to the car body, in case it should have a tendency to warp. I did that, using canopy glue. As soon as that was set, I looked toward the parts I would be adding, brake staff and wheel, and sill steps. For these, I wanted to compare to the prototype, 2000 cars built in 1930, numbered PM 90350–92349.

My first stop was to look up these cars in the superb book by Arthur B. Million and John C. Paton, Pere Marquette Revenue Freight Cars (Hundman Publishing, 2001), which I reviewed in an earlier post (you can see that review at: ). 

Here I learned that the first 1500 cars of this 2000-car group were built by Pullman, with the last 500 coming from Pressed Steel Car Co. and having end doors. Of the Pullman cars, having side doors only, all but the first 300 cars were equipped with auto loading racks, AAR Class XAR. Obviously our model, not having end doors, models one of the Pullman-built cars. Below is a photo of one such Pullman car (C&O Historical Society).

Note on this car that the sill steps correspond to A-Line Style B. Eric Boone’s kit directions suggest Style C, which would indeed be correct for the Pressed Steel Car products but not for the Pullman cars. 

Starting in 1948, Chesapeake & Ohio (having taken over Pere Marquette) began to renumber the cars we are discussing, renumbering most into six-digit numbers groups within the 254000–256000 series. By 1953, when I model, the Official Railway Equipment Register shows that about 500 of the Pullman-built cars in the series we are modeling remained with PM reporting marks. Accordingly, I will so letter my model. For those wanting to letter for C&O, there is a photo of one of these cars in C&O lettering on page 146 in the Million & Paton book. 

One last prototype detail: by 1953 all but a handful of the surviving PM cars of this kind no longer had auto racks, were then Class XM, and were assigned to auto parts service. Therefore, they did not have the white door stripes indicating auto racks, and would have actually looked much like the builder photo above (except the word “furniture” had been dropped).

Last task before painting was to install a brake wheel and staff. I used 0.019-inch brass wire and a wheel from the parts stash (maker not known), and attached them with canopy glue. I will move on to painting and lettering in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Monday, April 11, 2022

One-piece 3D-printed freight cars

 Ever since modelers recognized the potential of 3D printing, whether in resin or other materials, the idea has circulated of making entire car bodies. And a number of commercial projects have ensued, including at least two that I have written about in this blog. One was Southern Pacific Class W-50-3 ballast cars, produced by Robert Bowdidge (described in this post: ), and the 46-foot GS gondolas, a D&RGW design, offered by Corey Bonsall (described as part of an account of a Collinsville meeting: ). Both are open-top cars.

Recently my friend Joe Binish in Minnesota let me know about a one-piece Pere Marquette box car that Eric Boone has produced. I was immediately interested, and Joe sent me sample parts. Eric gave me permission to show the car parts and to mention that he may decide to offer these as kits. 

When I received the parts that Joe sent, I was immediately impressed, not to say amazed. I show below the underframe part, with all the “runners” needed to produce the desired piece, complete with brake gear and rigging. This is printed from the flat plate at bottom, upwards to the final product on top.

Even more impressive is the car body, with radial roof, Dreadnaught ends, correct 6-foot doors, free-standing ladders and rungs, even open grab irons. Again, this is printed upwards from the flat plate at bottom.

I was perhaps most impressed by the  running board, not only standing free of the roof but also prototypically thin, and with corner grab irons.

It perhaps goes without saying, that there is considerable process refinement needed to arrive at a design which can create all these free-standing parts. You can sense that in the photo above, with the “runners” to the ladders. This view of the car’s B end, with brake platform included, along with running board end supports and the side and end ladders, illustrates the point.

I will proceed with the model in a future post. But once the parts are removed from the runners, all that needs to be added to these two pieces are the brake wheel and staff, stirrup steps, and of course trucks and couplers. Eric has even made decals for the car, and I’ll show the prototype car in the next post.

Tony Thompson